February 24, 2003

from the archives

Legacy technology integration has been much on our minds recently, now that Mena and Ben have shown us the way. Somehow I foresaw this excitement and got on the bandwagon twenty years ago.

A piece first typed on my KayPro II, I offer you the following oldie from my digital archives:


Imagine, if you will, being able to take your personal entertainment system with you on your spring vacation. You walk down the sun-drenched beach, searching for that particular combination of sea, sand, and sky. At last you find it--the perfect spot. Far from any electrical source, unencumbered by battery packs, cordless receivers, or headsets, you stretch out on your towel and silently begin to enjoy your program.

Sound impossible? The Japanese have done it again. At a press conference yesterday, Aif™ru-yu Corporation announced a new product for the personal entertainment market. The latest model of this new system is being advertised and sold under the name 800K in U.S. and British markets. Initial availability will be limited, but an Aif™ru-yu corporate spokesman said that the company expects to be able to supply all interested dealers by the end of June.

What is this new form of personal entertainment? The 800K is a non-electronic analog information/text storage system. It is self-contained, portable, and light weight--many models are the size of a videocassette, some even smaller. The necessary hardware is cheap (generally costing less than $25) and the library of available, compatible software is enormous. Hardware and software are integrated permanently, so a user must buy new hardware to get new software, but industry representatives maintain that this is far outweighed by the system's advantages.

A prototype 800K, called the scr-011, was shown at the Consumer Electronics Show in 1981. However, that early model had serious limitations. The scr-011 was unwieldy, and it had no good indexing system, so a user could not scan it quickly. It was not easily made in quantity; not much recent software was available; and the only available program languages were compatible with very few American machines. All in all, the scr-011 was not practical.

The 800K is the next generation of the scr-011. Last July, when central air conditioners broke down at the Aif™ru-yu corporate headquarters in Osaka, some employees pleated scr-011s, attempting to make fans. One young engineer realized that this might be a solution to the scr-011's indexing and scanning problems. A person could now skip directly to the interesting parts of a text without having to view 30,000 words of historical background first. Further refinements involved attaching one edge of the fan to a protective cover, and reducing the bulk of the storage system by slitting the folds and printing on both sides of the pressed pulp medium.

If you examine an actual 800K, you will note that some information or entertainment is printed on every sheet inside the cover. These sheets may be read sequentially, skimmed, or skipped manually. A brief menu in the front, (i.e., beginning of the program) called the "Table of Contents," lists parts of the program, in order of sequence with corresponding sheet numbers. More useful, but not available in all models of the 800K, is a rudimentary (manual) indexing system found after the main body of the text. You do not have to scan the entire program to get to the index. Simply turn your 800K over (printing on the cover facing down) and open the other side of the cover. Called "turning to the back of the 800K," it is one of the most efficient and dependable ways of finding the index--if, of course, your model has one.

If you are interrupted, you can put down your 800K, and come back at any time (even years later) and pick up right where you left off. You can also scan the same scene over and over again, as many times as you like. The 800K is designed to open first to the section most opened to in the past. It helps you find your favorite parts with a patented "broken binding" memory.

The 800K still has some limitations. Most of them result from the fact that once hardware and software are integrated, the software cannot be altered or in any way debugged. Sceptics point to this as a major drawback; however, projected production costs may be low enough that second generations (updated and debugged) of any existing 800K may be built as demand warrants.

Perhaps you were one of those who doubted that the Sony Walkman would catch on. You may also remember that within one year it captured an impressive portion of the international entertainment market. Some industry insiders are predicting that the 800K will be equally popular. Certainly it is today's novel gift.

Posted by EGP at February 24, 2003 10:34 PM

This is wonderful. I'm surprised you didn't wait until April 1st to "publish" it!

Posted by: RPW at March 18, 2003 3:27 PM