Look at this. It’s worthless – ten dollars from a vendor in the street. But I take it, I bury it in the sand for a thousand years, it becomes priceless. Men will kill for it. Men like you and me.
– René Belloq, Raiders of the Lost Ark


Whether it be changing jobs, moving to a new house or office, or simply cleaning out clutter, every so often I find myself sorting through the bits of technology-related junk I’ve accumulated over the years. There’s a fair amount of trade show goodies, some of them entirely too cool or valuable to part with. The bulk of it is reluctantly thrown away, including stress-relief squeezy things, can coolers, light up pens that no longer light, and the like. But there are items that always survive the cut, ones that have some sentimentality attached to them.

Professional Developers Conference 2000 pen

I cannot believe this thing still writes after 11 years. It has lived in the glove box of the three different cars I’ve owned since 2000. This was the PDC where Microsoft formally introduced the .NET platform to the masses. I vividly recall the stunned looks on thousands of keynote attendees as they realized all their Win32 mastery was just rendered obsolete. The pen has actually outlasted several .NET technologies introduced at the conference. I’ve got one from the 2003 PDC ready to go once this one runs out of ink.

Cyrix x86 processor

A leftover from my system building days. It was the first real ultra-cheap x86 alternative, and prompted Intel to develop the Celeron line. I placed this in a slapped-together spare parts budget computer (running Windows 95) that I assembled for my wife’s grandparents. Cyrix as a company didn’t last long, but this chip powered that system for over a decade. Now that the grandparents are gone, I can’t bear to toss this hunk of silicon junk.

NeXT Step poster

I got this gem in a trade with my wife’s uncle, a sysadmin, for a Windows Server 2000 license. It’s a panorama of the first generation NeXT system, replete with all black computer, keyboard, monitor, and printer. I’ve been meaning to put it up on my office wall, but I can’t bring myself to stick pins through it, and I can’t justify the cash it would take to frame it.

Do you have anything like this that you can’t seem to part with? Please share by leaving a reply!

A quick scan of technology headlines might lead one to believe all competing software and hardware companies are locked in a never-ending death-match. Hardly a week goes by where the latest incarnation of the tablet computing platform is held up for evaluation as the next “iPad killer”. Remember how each new first generation Android phone was seen as the iPhone’s most lethal threat. And most recently Google+ has been trumpeted as the current aspirant to the “Facebook killer” crown. Why the need for such violence?

I think most technology companies understand there are only two real dangers to a market-leading product’s lifespan: self-inflicted wounds or a failure to evolve. The introduction of a new competitor does not foretell an impending winner-take-all contest.

While Apple has been churning out hit after hit for the past five years, Final Cut Pro is in danger of dealing itself a knockout combination of radical UI redesign and reduced functionality. Facebook may indeed need to be wary of Google+ as the most recent barbarian at the gate, but they also need to make sure they don’t turn themselves into MySpace.

The public perception nightmare of Windows Vista did more damage to the Windows brand than any Linux distro could ever hope to inflict. Personally I found Vista to be a fine upgrade from XP, and never understood the reason for such vitriol pointed its way. But nevertheless the criticism was loud and frequent.

Quick! What killed the Palm Pilot? Was it some hot new portable? Plenty of Windows Mobile touchscreen devices certainly wanted to take a swing at the champ. (Like my Viewsonic V35, which I finally got around to recycling last year). But no single device spelled the demise of the Pilot. Rather the entire PDA segment was washed away in a tide of irrelevance and redundancy as cell phones acquired this functionality. At least the 3-pack of replacement styli I bought for the V35 comes in handy when my son misplaces his Nintendo DS stylus.

So while the bloodthirsty tech media may attempt to paint the competitive landscape as a gladiatorial arena, I believe most tech products leave the battle under their own declining power, and not in a body bag.

I do my best to keep up with the latest technology and I like to read a lot about what’s going on in the world of programming.  However, I also have a limited amount of time to read.  Lately, I’ve been taking a hard look at my reading habits.  This is usually made up of going to my favorite group-think sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon and see what the latest programming blog posts are.  Over the last few years more and more of my reading has turned to blogs.  It feels more in touch with the community as a whole and keeps me on the edge of what’s going on.

The let down happened when I started thinking about the content of what I’m reading now versus what I was reading about 5-10 years ago.  Blog content is great, but it’s like reading a newspaper that’s nothing but a big editorial section.  Most posts are packed with unfiltered content that often falls into one of two categories; “You know what I think?” and “This is cool, check this out!”.   Both types of blog post are great and I’ve spent many, many hours reading these.  When I really thought about the content I’m reading though, I realized that I’m actually learning a lot less than I used to.  That wasn’t the only problem either.  Reading primarily in the browser has turned me into a skimmer, something I rarely used to do.  There’s so much pure bloggage out there that you have to skim and filter what’s worth reading and what’s not.  While that’s not awful in itself, I’ve noticed that I tend to retain a lot less when I read this way.  I also found that reading the blogs was only half of the reading I was doing.  The rest was reading people’s comments about what I had just read.  I can easily spend more time reading that than reading actual blog content.

At some point in your life, you say things or do things that make you think to yourself, “I’m really getting old.”  Everything is turning digital now.  Do I sound old yet?  In addition to programming, I’ve been a photographer for a long time, almost thirty years.  I started back in high school doing black and white film and eventually built a darkroom in my house.  About three years ago, I realized that buying film, paper and chemicals and spending countless hours in that darkroom could be replaced by spending a fraction of the time, at no cost, in front of my computer with Photoshop.  It was a sad realization, but I moved on to a digital SLR and turned the darkroom back into the original walk-in closet.  The only thing missing from Photoshop is actually feeling the film and the paper.  It may not sound like much, but after so many years I can say that those things are significant.  There’s something about handling the materials that puts you in touch with the process, and I haven’t found a replacement for that yet when I “develop” my photos the computer.

Reading is the same way.  There’s something about sitting down with a book that puts you in the mode of committing to read.  I can’t browse away from what I’m reading in a book with the click of a mouse.  Actually opening the book, holding it in my lap and turning the pages makes me feel like I’m ready to learning something new.  This is all about the experience of reading, and retaining what you read, without distraction.  It’s the same reason I wasn’t allowed to do my homework with the TV on when I was in school.  I can say for sure that I retain more when I read a book than when I read a blog at the computer.

Most computer books are also directed at actually teaching something.  Whether it’s a book about a programming language, a way of approaching design, or how to see a development project through to completion, most books teach.  However, it’s a rare occasion when a blog post really teaches you something.  Opinion pieces are great and have their place, but when the scale tips from spending time reading books to reading blog posts, you’re also tipping the the scale of how much you’re learning.

So now you’ve read a blog post about why you should try to read less blog posts.  You should probably eat more green vegetables and get eight hours of sleep each night, but I’ll save that for another post.  I’m going to try to make a change in my blogging, and do more writing that leaves readers with something more useful than a simple conversation piece.  Until then, try turning off the browser and go pick up a book… the trees will forgive you.

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