The Tweener Paradox

The void between smartphones and ultraportable notebooks has been called the “tweener” space in computing. This week, in his review of the so-called Netbook, space, the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg dinged this not-a-phone-not-a-laptop device as one that has never taken off. UMPC is a perfect example.

So what is a tweener? To demonstrate I like to line up my ThinkPad X200 and my Blackberry 8300 and in between drop down a 7″ x5″ moleskine notebook. That, in my mind, is the Tweener, the device that hasn’t lit the world on fire yet. But … I’ve owned a tweener for two months now – an Amazon Kindle – and while it is version 1.0, it has definitely found a place in my life, even if I can’t run a spreadsheet on it or make a phone call.

Why? The interesting thing about the Kindle — aside from E Ink, the technology that permits it to display text in such great resolution – is the points in has in common with phones. Instantly turns on – no boot time, long standby battery life, and pervasive, always on wireless connectivity (switched on or off with a hardware switch at my discretion). That wireless service, unlike a phone, does not carry usage or monthly charges, doesn’t require a separate relationship with a carrier like Sprint or TMobile, indeed, is “free” in the sense that it is subsidized somehow by Amazon to provide a channel for me to buy books and have them delivered to the device.

Whispernet – the name of the service built atop Sprint’s network – is a big innovation, but not one necessarily conducive to always-connected internet. Yes, there is a web browser on the Kindle, but the device is not intended to be anything like the crop of 7″ to 10″ mini-laptops that have taken the market by storm thanks to Intel’s Atom processor. Those machines, which are moving rapidly towards 3G wireless connectivity, has so far relied on ordinary Wifi (802.11 wireless lan) connectivity atop XP or various Linux flavors.

Would I seek out a reading experience on a netbook the way Amazon has positioned the Kindle? No. Kindle is optimized for ambient light reading and as such is indeed a book replacement. A netbook … I need to get my hands on one our Lenovo S10s and see what the fuss is about beyond the sub-$400 price.

Anyway, long way of saying I think the future is bright for Tweeners, especially when connectivity becomes pervasive and people begin to seek them out for dedicated tasks such as e-books, GPS nav devices, etc.


Critter from the Bay: Mantis shrimp

I went sculling this morning under grey, windless skies, taking advantage of a rare chance to get out on smooth water in November before things shut down late next month. I walk down Old Shore Road with the shell on my head, and launch at the bottom of the hill next to the new boat ramp. As I stepped into the shallows I saw this cool creature, about eight to ten inches long, dead, but only recently so gauging from its good condition.

This is a mantis shrimp – at first I thought it was a lobster tail some well-to-do bait fisherman had discarded after an expedition for a big striped bass (lobster tails are legendarily good bait, but at current prices, better in one’s stomach) – according to Wikipedia, mantis shrimp are so named for their resemblance to a Praying Mantis, but they are not shrimp. They are also known as “thumb splitters” by scuba divers because of their ability to destroy an appendage brought too close to their mandibles. Indeed, they can allegedly shatter aquarium glass and are apparently highly intelligent creatures.

The Chinese call them “pissing shrimp” for their penchant to void their bowels while being cooked.

I have never seen one of these on Cape Cod before, but know from saltwater fly fishing that they do “move” into southern New England waters in the fall and have the fastest “strike” time of any creature in the world. The Cape is their northernmost range on the eastern seaboard, and I know from experience that the south side of Cape Cod, jutting out as it does into the Gulf Stream, is last stop for a lot of tropical species which work their way up the coast all summer, only to get stunned and stranded by the first chills of the fall. A manatee died last month after making its way to Dennis, and there have been catches of tarpon, barracuda, and tiger sharks in Nantucket Sound in the past.

Here’s a video of one attack a crab.

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