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"And then I woke up and it was all a dream"

(Taps microphone: "is this thing on?")

I've been neglecting this blog a little of late. Sorry 'bout that; I've been busy — I'm currently working on my third novel of the year, and though it won't be finished by Hogmanay I've managed to just about double my work output relative to last year, albeit at the price of being frequently absent from these parts.

Today I want to talk about ... well, I had a couple of things in mind. I'm gearing up for a discussion of Closure in fiction, which is kind of on my mind right now because I'm writing the sixth and final book in a series and I need to tie up, if not everything, then at least enough Important Stuff to satisfy my readers. (NB: This is not necessarily going to be the last Merchant Princes book ever; it's just the natural end of the current series, and the last one I'm currently under contract for. So no need to yell at me. Okay?) And then my gizmo habit caught up with me and told me I want to write about something different. Like: who killed the PDA?

I remember the first time I ever saw a PDA in the wild: the shock of the new. It was 1991, and I was riding the Metropolitan Line in London, in a mostly-empty carriage. And a man sitting opposite me reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out one of these and unfolded it and started typing on it with his thumbs.

Now, be aware that in 1991 laptops were not unheard-of. (I actually owned one; a 286 with 2Mb of RAM and a 20Mb hard disk.) Pocket-sized PCs were not unheard-of; the HP-100, the Poquet, HP-95LX, and Atari Portfolio were all out there already, running DOS. Psion's Organiser machines had developed a solid niche in business (mostly in stock-taking and EPOS applications). But this thing was something a little bit different. With an icon-driven interface, a suite of productivity apps (address book, alarm clock, agenda), and a link to a software suite running on a desktop PC with which it synchronised, it made no pretence whatever at being a PC. It was a PC companion, a new type of gizmo.

There was of course another model for the PC companion: the Apple Newton. Newton was John Sculley's pet project, allegedly started after a high-level Apple meeting in which he realized everyone present was using a Cambridge Z88, and said "why don't we make one of those?" The target market was seen as management, 1989 style: folks who didn't use keyboards. So the Newton project focussed on the idea of a touch-screen and a pen and handwriting recognition. Conceptually it was far ahead of its time; practically, it fell flat on its face for the first couple of iterations — the computing power to do full cursive handwriting recognition on the fly simply wasn't available in 1990. Apple's engineers persisted, and they were close to getting it right with the Messagepad 2100 in 1998 when the entire division was shut down: there's still a fanatical fan-base for the Newton OS even to this day.

Apple's inability to get handwriting recognition to work was another company's entry: Palm started out as a software company, selling Graffiti as a simplified, much more computationally tractable shorthand for PDAs (as the new category of machines were known). Subsequently, they looked at their software, and at the Newton, and thought "why does the computer need to be so big and heavy to do the job?" The original Palm was a fraction the size of the Newton (which typically weighed 0.5-0.6Kg — as much as a modern Asus Eee 701). It did very little, serving essentially as a smart Filofax that could synchronize with a desktop PC. And it sold like hot cakes.

Microsoft, of course, took one look at the competing PDA models from Palm and Psion, and declared war. The resulting mess of trademark-compatible embedded operating systems (Windows CE, Windows Mobile, Pocket PC, Windows Smartphone — go on, you untangle the family tree!) sold well enough to take the #2 spot (after Psion's management in 1999 made the most momentously bad decision in British personal computing history and surrendered to Microsoft's bluff). But even Microsoft haven't been making money out of PDAs. The sorry truth is, PDAs are a commercial rat-hole. The only folks who really made money at them were Psion (hors de combat) and Palm (whose abject failure to modernize their OS since 2001 amounts to the longest drawn-out suicide in portable computing history).

What were PDAs good for, and what killed them?

Well, they're not entirely dead yet — the corpse is still twitching. Sitting on my desk is an HP iPaq 214 enterprise PDA. By the computing standards of the year 2000, it's a bit of a monster: it has a 614MHz processor, 128Mb of RAM, about 16Gb of storage (expandable to 64Gb), a VGA screen with 3D graphics acceleration, Wifi and Bluetooth and USB, and it weighs around 200 grams — a third as much as the last generation Newton. It also cost about a quarter as much. The times, they have been changing. Even Microsoft eventually got it not too terribly wrong with Windows Mobile 6.x; with some tweaking by HP, it's not entirely vile, and it doesn't crash very often.

Yet despite delivering the initial promise of the Newton — yes, you can scribble anywhere on the screen and it will decode your notes; yes, it does the agenda and contacts and notepad stuff well; it also takes voice memos; it's got a decent word processor and spreadsheet on board; it's a desert topping and a floor wax — it's fundamentally obsolete.

It turns out that people don't want that stuff in a notepad-shaped machine. What they want is a mobile phone that does the address book/agenda stuff — and is an entertainment gadget besides, with a camera and music player built in. Sure the iPaq can play MP3s and videos, and even some games, but it's a Serious Business Tool, like an executive's bulging Franklin Covey planner. The market for such gizmos is vanishingly small compared to the market for iPhones which don't even have cut and paste, or Blackberry devices, which have a keyboard so bad it would have caused Psion's 1990s engineers to piss themselves laughing.

What seems to have happened is that sub-notebook sized PCs got better, and cheaper, until you can buy an entry-level Eee for about the same as the serious-end PDA, with a keyboard and a bigger screen and some proper laptop-grade applications. The signal failure of the UMPC market to take off, coupled with the explosive growth of Netbooks, seems to demonstrate that folks who use computers and want a mobile device want a real computer that has shrunk in the wash, not some bizarre tablet thingy that forces them to write with a pen. Sculley's 1989 executives might not have known how to use a keyboard, but it's 2009 now, and only luddites and geriatrics have failed to come to terms with QWERTY over the intervening two decades. The keyboard has won, as long as you class such abominations as Apple's on-screen touch keyboard for the iPhone as a real keyboard. (Look ma! No moving parts!) And the mobile phone has won the other battle, for control of that Filofax full of contacts. When the iPhone overtook the Motorola RAZR as the #2 top-selling contract mobile phone in the US, the writing was on the wall for dumb phones. The PDA concept survives — in the shape of devices with built in phones, and cameras, and annoyingly small keyboards. At the high end, it's been subsumed into the laptop market by way of Netbooks — many of which now come with SIM slots and 3G phone connections. But as a stand-alone computing device, where does the PDA go from here?

I've burned through a remarkable number of PDAs over the past two decades. I was a staunch Psion user until they quit the field, despite a brief fling with Newton. Then I transferred my loyalties to Palm, although I've had a few one night stands with Windows CE (mostly followed by morning-after regrets). I've been more flexible with phones: I hung on with Palm's Treos long after I should have given up, and I've even flirted with Symbian, the obese, hectoring descendant of Psion's once-svelte and seductive EPOC/32 operating system. But I'm now looking at my desktop. There are two devices on it: the powerful, grown-up iPaq with a decade of software development behind it, and the new upstart iPhone. And I know where the future lies.

This iPaq is probably going to be my last-ever PDA. by the time you factor in a case, a folding keyboard, and some storage cards it costs as much and weighs as much as a netbook, and does less. And I don't see that equation ever changing back again. The iPhone may acquire more PDA-like features (such as cut and paste, and an external keyboard, and a word processor), but no amount of tweaking will turn an iPaq into a rival for a netbook. It's probably the last of its kind, or near enough as makes no difference, the swan song for a computing niche that once looked promising, spawned a thousand hopeful startups, and is now dwinding to a dot of light in the centre of a darkened screen.

And that, my friends, is the secret of narrative closure.




PDA has been integrated in cell "phones" (the term "phone" does not even apply to that objects).

I bought a Newton in 1994, my handwriting is so bad that a cluster of 1024 Quad Core would not figure out what I wrote. I was proud of my Newton and I used it a lot. In 2000 I got an iPAQ as a business gift. In 2001 I used iPAQ a couple of time to write memos in flight after meeting, following the 'security' madness after 9/11, but I quickly put it aside and used it as testbed for Linux iPAQ distro installation.

Now I have a Nokia E71: telephone, 3 Mpix camera, GPS receiver, maps, games, antivirus/firewall (SIGH!), WiFi, bluetoth, radio FM receiver, MP3 player, calendar synchronized with Google, email, QWERTY keyboard...

I think that the PDA has been assimilated by cell phones. Resistance is probably futile.


Luigi, that was sort of part of my point, although my real point was about writing fiction.


Less about the PDAs and more about what seems to be driving force; the keyboard (shrink it, replace it, remove it, redesign it) and its interaction with small sizes.

Consider one of your concepts, the Intelligence Augmentation glasses. It would seem these are the obvious next step, good image size, easy access to the audio ports as well - just they need a workable input mechanism. Are we going to go round the same loop again, focused on the keyboard and how we do away with needing one?

Can't have people muttering to themselves (just how dumb do cordless headset users look) and although eye tracking might be OK for a mouse replacement, what do we do about that high information content input side?

The SF answer for this is direct brain input. Nice, but with obvious problems ("Dear Sir, In reference to your ... corr, don't get many of those to the pound"). We are obviously at least a few decades away from that anyway; an age in these terms.

Therefore I'd suggest musings on portable device form factors and tweaks is less critical than working out what could replace the keyboard in the near term? Fix on that one and you can map out at least one aspect of the near term future.


This wasn't an essay about PDAs.

It was a demonstration of narrative closure.


I was also a staunch Palm user until, I think it was the Palm V, where most of the manufacturing run seemed to have lemon digitisers, rendering them essentially unusable. And as Charlie points out, the OS stagnated utterly.

The thing is, Palm got so much right in the early days, so many decisions just spot-on: the ease of sync (both software and hardware), the "mostly single-tasking, but instant seamless switching, so you rarely notice" model, the lack of overt filing system -- fundamentally, the recognition that this was a companion to a computer, not a replacement for it.

Picking up my iPhone last year was eerie. Much deja vu: Here was the rightful heir to the Palm legacy, with all those same smart decisions intact, but all built on a base of Unix, with a serious chunk of processor behind it. They also went further, and realised that on a tiny device, you really don't want to just port big-screen user-interface conventions across, and abandoned most of the window frames, scroll bars, and general "fiddly little buttons". So more of the screen is available for actually working with your text/pictures/etc and you don't have to jab at a button 6 pixels across with a toothpick in order to get around.

It's also easier to hold in one hand, and use the thumb of the same hand to control it, which is useful if the other hand is holding luggage, or a bus handrail. Both Graffiti and the Palm's on-screen keyboard were made of fail on public transport. And those folding keyboards, though gorgeously-engineered (I still have one, though I can't use it, and it still has that precision-engineering satisfaction when you open or collapse it) were only practical if you had a supporting surface.

The big question-mark of course was the closedness; but most people forget how closed-off Palm development was when it first came out; it was only after geeks reverse-engineered it and built their own gcc-based toolchain that Palm opened it up officially, recognising the power of 3rd-party to apps to raise the utility of the device by an order of magnitude at essentially no cost to themselves. Yet more deja-vu.

As a result, the iPhone is the first PDA worthy of the name in about a decade, because it actually Assists, as opposed to being a Neat Toy To Play With (at least, with a couple of third-party apps).

This wasn't an essay about PDAs.

It was a demonstration of narrative closure.

Yes, but the comment threads are full of PDA geeks :)

My first portable computer was the Z88; one of the reasons I like my BlackBook so much is that its keyboard is laid out very much like the Z88. The latest iteration of MacBooks and the small Apple Bluetooth keyboard also feature this layout; I kept my BlackBook instead of switching to a MacBook Pro during the last iteration almost solely because of the keyboard. Next time I upgrade, I'll have my Z88 keyboard back!

The iPhone, for all its limitations, really beats the pants off any PDA out there. I've tried most of them except the Newton (I saw it was too limited, for the price) and the Windows nonsense, starting with the original US Robotics Palm Pilot, moving through various Palms and Palm variants, running Linux on an iPaq, then Symbian E-series devices through the E61i. I was about to buy an E71 when Apple started selling unlocked-from-the-factory iPhones in Hong Kong; I snapped one up, and the rest has been history.

The iPhone, even with all its (mostlly self-imposed by Apple via software) current limitations is marvelous. Once it gets cut-and-paste (in the near future), true multitasking (a matter of time), Bluetooth keyboard support (within the next year), and more storage (again, a matter of time), and some tweaks to some of the software apps like Mail (once again, a matter of time), it'll be a casual laptop replacement for many people. Once I can plug a CF card from my 50D into an iPhone with 64GB or greater storage and have it grab the RAW images and store them until I return home to process them in LightRoom, I won't need to take my laptop on holiday at all - the iPhone will take care of all my communications, navigational, and information collection needs.

Per the above, there are still frustrating limitations on what one can do with the iPhone right now, but even with those deficiencies, it really beats any other PDA or mobile phone - or just about any other portable gadget one can think of - hands-down. I was up and running with the thing and browsing the Web in 3 minutes, handling email in 5 minutes, IM in 10 minutes, and reading syndication feeds in 20 minutes. Yes, it's a fascist system, but, so far, the dictator seems largely benign.

Putting this type of functionality into a package which is easily used by non-techies, and which *appeals to women*, is a tremendous achievement, with many ramifications. Unlike other smartphones, I see plenty of women using iPhones for non-phone things, running various apps, browsing the Web, et. al., and generally fiddling with the things just as skillfully and compulsively as men, which protends a huge technodemographic shift (hell, my girlfriend keeps pestering me for one; as soon as support for her birth language is added, I'll have no choice but to buy her one).

The commonplace and committed enagement of women within the technosophere * brought about by the iPhone and its successors* is going to have substantive long-term societal ramifications, IMHO. In fact, it gets us quite a bit of the way over the initial hump towards the pervasive technology of _Halting State_ - for better or for worse, heh.


And, yes, I know this post was about narrative closure - quite handily done, by the way.



That was an excellent essay on PDAs and (as seems to have been the idea) a superb demonstration of narrative closure.

I suspect the next thing would be even less obtrusive devices with Good Voice Recognition (don't think we're quite there, yet, even if the dictation software is getting pretty close).


Charlie, this isn't quite on topic, but perhaps you could give me some advice about buying a phone. It's not for me, incidentally(I was happy with a Nokia, and still would be.) But my daughter has been complaining this season that the razor phone we got her in '04, once the envy of her friends, is just plain pathetic. Not her style. She's been hinting about a G3, but unless it's got some overwhelming advantages over other, lesser phones, I'm unwilling to sign onto a two-year contract.


I think the only closure will come if we manage to blow ourselves up or get hit by a planet killer astroid. I have been an active observer since the days of slide rules and warehouse size computers that did less than calculators you can get free now as advertising trinkets. I think there will be a coninuous and accelerating explosion in capacity of the devices humans use to help them store, manipulate and share data. I will enjoying watching for the next 20-30 years and perhaps will get a glimpse even further than that through imaginative ScFi writers like Charlie. I too feel naustalgic for the Palm OS that over the last 15 years has been a huge part of my life. But I'm ready for a younger sexier technology. My big concern about the iPhone is battery life. I use my PDA a lot and I'm not always near a handy plug.


ScentOfViolets@10 - the only rational choice is an iPhone. E71 would be the very, very distant runner-up, but iPhone is what all the cool kids use.


Buy her one for use on prepaid, without a contract (I'm assuming you're in the US, and thus trapped in the land of Mordo^H^H^H^H^H AT&T).


Personally, I'm inclined to think that Android is the wave of the future. IMHO, Apple just have too many restrictions on the applications for the iPhone and iPod Touch, and once more it gets a bit more polished and there's a few more Android phones available, I really think it'll take off.
Don't get me wrong, I love my 32GB Touch, but phone-wise I'm just waiting for the right Android phone to come along.


Matthew: Apple can remove restrictions on the iPhone/iTouch OS more easily than they can impose them on an open system. If they're out-competed by Android, expect 'em to fight back.

What's interesting to me is that the traditional smartphone OSs -- Symbian, PalmOS, and Windows Mobile -- have run out of guts just as three newcomers are chewing up the market: RIM (Blackberry), Apple, and Android. Meanwhile, PDAs and smartphones have stopped being executive toys and are rapidly turning into a genuine mass market (possibly because the old OSs were too recondite for mass adoption, just as the hardware required to run a high-end smartphone OS has become commoditized).

I expect the onrushing recession and resulting consumer famine is going to kill a number of uncompetitive technologies. And the traditional PDA will be one of them.


Don't forget one the major reasons Smart Phones defeated PDA's in the market: a clear path to for income. A PDA is a one time purchase, whereas a Smart Phone is an up-front cost with years of monthly fees to follow.
Sure Smart Phones looks cheap, when a company knows they have you for years of outrageous fees they will gladly subsidize the initial cost of hardware, they just want to get a hand in the billfold. Especially in the USA, where the cost of simplistic data services like SMS are vastly overcharged for.


I also started with Psion in 1994, moved to palm in around 2003 and over to sony's iteration of the palm OS. Never touched the microsoft stables.
I currently have a Palm C and a Sony TH55 hanging about somewhere. Both unused for around a year.

PDAs are already dead, Charlie. The only PDAs I've seen people use regularly in the past 4 years apart from my own are the occassional Ipaqs by NHS researchers and Blackberries by government staff.

And hordes of neds using iPhones, but they don't count as a PDA.


Ironically, I read this post on my Palm TX, in bed. I adore the thing, and will be sad if I can't replace it with something equivalent when it dies.

On the other hand, what I wanted when I bought it was a portable writing solution for short trips, and if the Eee had been available then I'd never have gone down the PDA route. The Palm is great for whiling away bus rides and such, and with the folding keyboard (or even Graffiti, at a pinch) I can write on it, but what I really wanted was an affordable pocket- or handbag-sized laptop, and with the Eee I have that. (Also, the Eee works better as a music player.)

This reply comes from an Eee 701.


Maybe pure-play PDAs aren't dead yet. The iPod Touch?


seems to me as if the readership is too geeky as to recognize a demonstration of a writing technique when they see it :)


JDC: I was purposely not discussing portable media players (or satnav systems, for that matter) because they muddy the water; HP's recent line of entertainment-oriented iPaqs, for example, or the Nokia web tablets, blur a whole lot of boundaries. The Nokias have address books, email, browsers, and can do Skype -- the next-gen model is also going to have WiMAX. When is a smartphone not a smartphone? When it's a PDA with wireless broadband and a SIP client, or something like that, I suppose. The iPod Touch I classify as an iPod that has grown up and acquired PDA functionality (hell, my old Nano syncs with my Mac's address book, for that matter), or maybe a smarphone that has lost it's phone.

Tommy: or maybe they just don't care. Sigh. They only love me for my gadgets ...


Ellarien: they still manufacture Palm TXs, you know. And you can buy aftermarket replacement batteries for them (and new screen/digitizer units). There's a shareware app to provide support for SDHC cards up to 32Gb. So there's life in the thing yet. I prefer the iPaq because it's better equipped to run FITALY (my preferred pen-based text input method), has better web browsers (sorry), and runs the excellent TextMaker word processor (which is by far the best word processor on any PDA) -- not to mention having a VGA screen -- but I'll be the first to admit that it's a bit of a beast compared to the slim Palm TX. (It's about as bulky as the Palm Lifedrive.)

I gather Palm are trailing some kind of major announcement coming in January at CES. I hope it's good news about their new OS, and that they haven't forgotten the PDA market they pioneered -- I might just fall for a Palm son-of-TX all over again, if they've got the OS and software right. But I fear they lost their way years ago ...


Charlie Stross@20,successful narrative closure spurs the reader on to his own thoughts, inspired and influenced by the arc of the story. I'd say this is simply an anticipated outcome of a successful experiment in narrative closure, wouldn't you?



I wonder if cording keyboards will ever gain acceptance. They'd be pretty useful for portable devices, you can write at about 300cps with a 7-key corded keyboard on fairly wobbly surfaces if need be. As a matter of fact, I learned to use a corded keyboard (of a sort) before I learned qwerty, since braille typewriters (and their successors) are basically corded keyboards. Still prefer qwerty though, when I have the space.


Posts like this always remind me of the stark difference between the people who grew up watching these developments happening, and people like me, who have a massive sense of entitlement because we were born (or acquired maturity, or majority, or both) after much of them had already happened. Because I wonder if there's not a line between people who are impressed with the capabilities of their tech and those who simply expect those abilities to come as part of the package -- and if not there, then as a plugin that somebody else has already designed, a sort of Rule 34 for add-ons and hacks. The idea that if someone wants something, then it must exist somewhere, is so endemic to young, first-world, middle-class culture that it's almost difficult to notice, like all the seamless biases and pre-sets to which it is similar. Not that it's a good attitude -- it tends to reify all the hard work put forward by engineers, not to mention the history that made it possible -- but it might explain, on some level, the lack of youth audiences for hard sf. That "sensawunda" just isn't there for a group of people for whom everything shows up, eventually. Just as one must be willing to suspend disbelief in order to enjoy stories about magic, one must be genuinely awestruck at innovation in order to enjoy stories about the same.

This can't be a new thought, and I don't intend it to come off as a "damn kids" tirade, and it has little if anything to do with narrative closure, but it is what this post made me consider, so there it stands.


Madeline: it is, nevertheless, an interesting thought, so thanks for contributing.

Looking back over 30 years, the explosive proliferation of information technology in my life has been just wild. And yes, it makes perfect sense that kids who've grown up with PCs, modems, mobile phones and CDs would have a different attitude to sense of wonder. As in, if they want technological fireworks they can get them down the high street, wholesale: but actually they're kind of boring.

And we have the fingers-in-ears luddites, be they religious fundamentalists or environmentalist fundamentalists or whatever, who not only don't want to know, are not only unwilling to listen, but are actively hostile to the message, because they find the source of sense-of-wonder -- advances in scientific knowledge of the world around us or technological change, respectively -- threatening.



The thing about closing is it's pretty heavily constrained by opening. If you start with 3 Musketeers, you can't kill them all off halfway through the book and expect a clean and satisfying ending. One of the things endings have to do is reduce the chaos resulting from what you've done in the middle of the story to what you found at the beginning to something that at least looks like you planned the whole thing from the start.

The PDA story went a lot like that. An iPhone is not a direct descendant of a Newton, but if you forget about the insides for a second and look at how you use it and what it can do, it looks like someone shrunk a Newton and cleaned up and enhanced the user interface. All the other complications that were tried out in the epoch when PDAs roamed the Earth have dropped off or been subsumed into the infrastructure where the user doesn't need to see them. The hero, introduced at the beginning of the story, having gone through many changes, is present at the end to speak the closing monologue:
These our devices,
As I foretold you, were all prototypes and
Are melted into air, into thin air:


Tommy @19

It's as if a sculptor entitled his latest piece "Examination on the Use of a Chisel", then got pissed off when people remarked on the size of the wedding tackle on the output - rather than the merits of the Mk9 RockWacker.

'Narrative Closure' is a tool and unless you're a writing dweeb its not exactly going to elicit much comment or interest.


my dad used to have an old Psion, he called it Boxy.


Just as much as the PDA has been subsumed by the smartphone, the cellphone seems headed in that direction as well.

My first mobile, which I got ~1998, and was quite brick-like, had one feature: phone calls. It did have a phone book, which seemed like quite a luxury.

Today, even "dumb" phones can fill most of the functions you would have found in an early Palm Pilot, plus a few extra (music playback, camera). But these seem to be on their way out.

Despite the name, the "phone" part of the iPhone is certainly a useful feature, but it doesn't seem to be the central one. Its physical design reinforces this, dispensing with a keypad entirely—in terms of the iconography of everyday objects, the keypad (or dial) is what makes a phone look like a phone. Other new-ish phones are following this lead, either going for a touchscreen or adding a QWERTY thumbboard.

People will still talk on cellphones (and talk, and talk). And we'll still call them "phones." (Until all our mobile gadgets become some kind of wirelessly interconnected PAN constellation, with the cellular radio disconnected from the control interface and audio I/O, and turned into a blank, self-contained server-puck that never leaves one's pocket. At which point it'll be hard to say what exactly the phone is.) But in terms of what they do and how we use them, it would be just as accurate to call them PDAs.


Thank you for the interesting perspective, Charlie.

I'm constantly experiencing sensawunda from the iPhone. I was born just early enough that a comparable device did not exist outside of science fiction: my first computer was a BBC Micro, and the first mobile phones I saw were big clunky devices that people kept in their cars. I remember seeing a device called a "wristo" in some kid's Visions of the Future book; even that seemed a long way off, and it's capabilities were practically zero in 2008 terms. University had an intranet; the first moving image I saw on the internet was a webcam of the famous Cambridge coffee pot. It's sometimes hard to remember just how fast things all this stuff has appeared.

I was always tempted by a PDA but never saw much use for one, because they were largely business orientated and the interface was rotten. The iPhone, on the other hand, is astonishingly user friendly: it's one of those devices that even non-geeks learn how to use because they like playing with it.

Eventually it would be nice to see future iterations of smartphones/PDAs/whatever hook up to some kind of eyesight display: cyberspace overlays on physical reality, tagging of real world objects the same way you have wikipedia tags on Google Earth....


The issue of keyboards is, while accurate, lamentably euro-centric. Ever seen someone typing Chinese? It's remarkably better suited to a 'write, point' system than the roman alphabet. There's a lot of work on stylus interfaces ongoing on that side of the isle.

My expectation is that the direct brain interface stuff -- which gets a lot of black money from the usual US suspects -- will show up sooner than generally expected, since it's leaking out into prosthetic limbs already. It won't be transcribe-thoughts; it'll be think about typing, and characters appear.

My major annoyance right now is OpenSync; a framework that, in theory, ought to connect anything to anything and in practice appears to connect nothing to /dev/null. One more reason to want a Netbook; I can stop having to deal with a gods-be-feathered special case for connectivity.

(One can even claim to see the demise of the PDA in how well the open source tools for "Palm Sync" work, or don't.)


Charlie@21: Thanks! My TX isn't two years old yet, but I have been wondering whether I should stash another one for future reference before they go out of production. I hadn't been paying attention to Palm's future plans; I'll be interested to see what they come up with.


SOME of us are old enough to remember real, actual CORE STORE - and use it ...
80 chars per row, one row per card - the delights of FORTRAN IV..

However, some of us are reactionary / old / determined enough to want SEPARATE objects for separate purposes, because most of the compromises made in the multi-useable "objects" render them clunky kludges.
I DON'T WANT a camera on my 'phone - I carry a separate camera on my belt, most of the time.
The keybords of most 'phones are a disaster - I echo what Charlie says about BlackBerry (My wife got one from work).

However, will this improve, with unfoldable/unrollable screens, and pop-up/unrollable/unfoldable touch-screens for keyboards?

Note that this is the direct opposite of closure, though ...


If someone with a literary background would be so kind to dissect/analyze the narrative-closure-subtext of Charles' essay, that would be cool. And potentially helpful to aspiring writers.


And I'd hoped that we'd all be using wearable computers by now.

(It might be for the best that we're not.)

Nice essay, anyway.


More from your PDA-geeking audience Charlie, sorry!

As someone whose used PDAs for years - partly as a kind of 'I want the future in my pocket dammit' fetish, partly for work and mostly for stashing ebooks on - I agree a lot with what's said here, both in the OP and comments.

The weird thing about the latter days of Palm was how much energy went into pressing the Frankengarnet OS into doing things it really shouldn't be able to do. The results were spotty, but somehow you could get reasonable email, slightly dodgy web browsing and even audio/video to run, as well as the increased memory needed to do so.

As for the closure... probably not yet. Palm claim new hardware and OS 'sometime in '09' and rumoured to be January... but they've probably shot their own bollocks off at this point.

Meanwhile, the Nokia Internet Tablets have a very acceptable Garnet emulator freeware available.
"It's ALIVE!!"

The ITTs are a curious beast - made primarily as a kind of smaller Foleo (but a sliding qwerty board under screen in the new 810 model, much like some smartphones), to integrate with your smartphone while not actually being a phone or much of a PDA!
The given PIM system isn't great and the 3rd-party versions are rough. It has a pretty good browser and (unfortunately) a kack email program. But since the underlying OS is Linux (2 years before Android), there's a lot of geeks starting to make/adapt good things for it. Plus, it's a real QWERTY board and a good sized screen for video. Fits in a cargo pocket, can run up to 32gig in card memory... great toy for a geek to play with, but still with a steep learning curve if you're not a native Linux speaker.

I run a N810 model with the pulldown qwerty and find it great for thumb typing. Not really any of the Zen of Palm design-wise, but a handy and workable gizmo to back up the phone when bigger screen and something like proper typing is helpful.

And guess what? The next generation of these things will have 3G/HSPDA radios. Will this make them a new smartphone, or a wired mini-computer ( as Nokia have tried to market them as...) or a linked PDA?
And, of far more importance, who besides hobbyists and those of us with the need (professional or fetishistic it may be) to have reasonable linux boxen that fit in our coat pocket and we can watch YouTube on, and carry a few hundred favourite books and a couple of emergency manuals... will actually buy them?
Probably not the iPhone users.

(Anyone wanting to see what Nokia are up to with these gadgets should head out to www.internettablettalk.com - and no, I don't work for 'em!)


Charlie: Thank you!

I agree with you that wonder is the catalyst. And things can look bleak when the spectrum of reaction seems to span between the jaded and the fearful, but I think in between is genuine fascination and curiosity, or at least a refusal to take things for granted. It seems like the young people who are most interested in science now are the ones educating themselves in it, and they're part of DIY/make/hack/jam culture. But even that can be a reflection of apocalyptic thinking for some, a belief that sooner or later everything will go pear-shaped and we'll all have to forge entire supply chains from raw materials to end user. (For most, though, I suspect it's genuine dissatisfaction with personal ignorance regarding technology and science, and the way traditional globalized supply chains contribute to the suffering of others, and plain old distrust of the big box world.) So perhaps what wonder does, dissatisfaction can also do, as they both awaken a person to reality, and knowing the finer points of reality can always inspire thoughts about the future.


The closure has occurred post mortum. imo.


I have a Palm PDA - it's my three-inch D-ring binder, that I use to haul my genealogy database around. (Actually, at this point, with 20K people, it's more like two binders worth.) It still hasn't needed to use the additional memory card.

Genealogy is an open-ended application. Closure is when you decide you've done enough; I'm going to hand off to my nephew, as it's been handed off to me.


Charlie, you're getting at something I've been thinking about a lot both professionally and personally lately - the distinction between when something ceases to be significant, to be an influence, on someone and when it's truly dead in the sense of broken, unavailable, or whatever. There are real problems for folks trying to make new stuff sometimes from the stalwarts who've banded together out of love for the last thing (which isn't bad) and have convinced themselves that it would still be a success if it weren't for the evil/incompetence/conspiring of the people making it, and that therefore the makers are fair game for hate and abuse (which is). Even when the stalwarts don't go to that active length, a lot of public sighing and wistfulness can end up skewing discourse about present alternatives and their present merits.

There have been times when I felt like I was in a Robert Charles Wilson novel (specifically, The Harvest) in dealing with former customers who wouldn't take no as an answer and didn't care to listen to explanations, because no wasn't acceptable anyway.

I'm interested to find myself a lot less elegiac over the passing of my personal Palm era than I'd have guessed - I'm inclined to the gothic on such matters. But my new Touch does so much of what I like to do, so well, and has opened up enough new options for me that it's a really clear genuine step of progress, for me. So for me the "well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter into the rest which is prepared for thee" is a happy, contented sort of thing. But that's my story; someone else's would lead off to something else.

I may have a point here, but if so, I sure don't know about it.


I'm just waiting paitiently for the phones from Halting State to arrive. Until that happens everything else I see is a pale imitation.


So what is the difference between a cellphone with PDA capability and a PDA that has cellphone capability?


So what is the difference between a cellphone with PDA capability and a PDA that has cellphone capability?


Charlie, I had an HP100 and it had an icon interface, mini-apps of regular programs, and could be synched. I sold it (for the same amount I'd paid three years before) when I couldn't connect to AOL with DOS anymore.

And today, I was given an Eeeeeeee! Oh boy!


Charlie, you have successfully illustrated the phenomenon of people being more interested in the narrative itself than how neatly and satisfyingly you bring it to an end. I am now waiting to see whether you are going to demonstrate thread closure as effectively..?


G. Tingey, "However, some of us are reactionary / old / determined enough to want SEPARATE objects for separate purposes"

Oh, that's normal. We're still in the domain of "Computers are rare and expensive, so we must make each one do as much as we possibly can." Only nowadays it's, "TPC wants to charge $toomuch for each connection to their wireless network so each terminal must be made to do as much as possible."

Oh, well. I am noticing that LCD displays are common enough to be an architectural element, these days.


# 47
Because the "combined "objects" we have got, all too often (like about 96% of the time) are VERY BAD at doing their "peripheral" tasks - they'r clunky kludges, as I said.

My first degree is in Physics, and I have an M.Sc. in Engineering, and I do like things to be FIT FOR PURPOSE.

I wonder if anyone were to revive the Psion, with modern capabilities, and a colour-screen, natch, WOULD IT FLY?

Remember, the "new" isn't ALWAYS the best, and it often pays to wait for the second or even third wave of innovation to come along, before making the switch.
Though waiting too long can also carry its penalties - you are so far behind, you can't catch up.

It's interesting to see how fast, and also how SLOWLY some technologies took off, especially when you compare initial demonstration/invention, the development curve, then worldwide application.

Look at the contrasting cases of:
Steam traction: Trevithick 1802/8, Stephenson 1825-30, RAILWAYS! 1831-3 onwards.
Turbines: 1884, Turbinia 1897, Ocean Liners/worldwide 1905
Flight: Gliders late 19thC, Wright Bros 1903, miltary applications 1912-18, LIMITED commercial uses, especially for governments 1919-52, true commercial flying (DH Comet) 1952 on...
Computing: German/US/Brit appliocations during WWII, massive, expensive mainframes 1949-80, PC's thereafter, and now ....

A lot of these depend on several constraints.
COST, how easy is it to build, does it require ADDITIONAL developments (Railways needed the improvements in loco-design 1828-33 + changes in steel technology; computing really didn't get going until valves, and cores were superceded) can you OBVIOUSLY make shedloads of money out of it (Turbines, railways) - what else have I left out?
Government interference, both pro and anti?
Failure of "will"?


Martin@42 - for me, user expectation was a big part. I was disappointed with my first PDA after wanting one for years and finally obtaining it, I realised it wasn't a PC in your pocket so much as (as Charlie notes) a companion to a PC and quite limited when taken out of that context. Traditionally a phone, on the other hand, only really has to exceed as a phone and everything else is a bonus.

Of course, as time moves on people's expectations shift. Already we expect phones to have decent cameras, to handle audio (possibly even video), to have rich full colour screens, bluetooth, WiFi - all standard features today which were novelties (if they existed at all) just five years ago. Soon people won't see any distinction - we'll simply have multi-purpose mobile devices, regardless of origin.

The annoying thing is how much the technology has been hobbled in pursuit of locking users down, either to networks, or specific file types, to operating systems or content providers.


PDAs might be dying but I didn't actually find a use for mine until 5 years after I got it - sure it might only run PalmOS3.5, have 8Mb of storage, and have a black and white screen, but via a few freeware programs it makes a kickass ebook reader that stores ~15 novels, has batteries that last a week, and fits in my back pocket. I never would have discovered your novels Charlie if I didn't have it.


Someone up above touched on the importance for Apple and others of the iPhone (and its ilk) as a source of continuing revenue. I've noticed something unexpected about being on the customer end - because the iTunes store makes it so easy to buy things, I am pirating a lot less than I used to. There are still plenty of things for which I resort to Bit Torrent, but there's been a really significant shift in how I use the dollars I've budgeted for entertainment.

This evening, for instance, I've been fighting the sort of stomach trouble calculated to make you think the gnostics were really smart. I was idly browsing iTunes' cartoon listings, found some classic Looney Tunes, thought "$1.99 for a two-pack of cartoons I love both of? Sure!" So I bought them, loaded them up, and went off to bed for a while to view them. I laughed a lot, marveled at the quality of the restoration, and feel the better for it. I do the same sort of impulse purchase in the app store, as well, and with cheap movie rentals, and like that. And I'm happy to do so.


For my money, Psion failed because like many British companies they didn't understand the consumer electronics market. They didn't bundle the PC connectivity software and lead long after it was absurd not to.
Also, like British car companies, they were working on a release cycle an order of magnitude longer than that of their competitors.
And, in a fine example of Moore-On's law, their 18 MHz ARM machine was slower than their 4 MHz 8086 CMOS variant one.
I speak as probably the only person the country mad enough to by a GeoFox (the first Psion 5 licenced clone) with my own money. If you tried to have the back-light on at the same time as anything computationally intensive, it rebooted. Must donate it to a museum some time :-)


Madeline @24 This brings to mind a conversation I had with a friend I work with. She was explaining how her kids (in London) spoke most days with their grandparents (in S.Wales) via their respective webcams. They both have their computers set up in their living rooms with cameras looking out at the whole room, and this has been the case for at least the last 4 years.

They may only see the grandparents in the flesh once in a blue moon, but they know them as well as if they lived just down the street. Now this was a sensawunda moment for me as I hardly knew my grandparents growing up in a different city as I did.

But her kids expect it! They don’t, or can't yet, conceive of a world where it is not possible.


Till @34

Narrative closure is arguably easier to demonstrate than to explain adequately - which isn't to say that it's at all easy to do well. The important thing is tying up all the thematic loose ends while leaving space (in most fiction, at any rate) for the reader to wonder what happens next - if you like, for the story to continue in their head (yaay, fanfic:). Good closure ties the loose ends up to each other, rather than just nailing them to a wall with "the end" written on it. Probably the most impressive example of narrative closure I've encountered is Neil Gaiman's Sandman; if you haven't read it, do, but be prepared to take your time. (There's a lot of it, and you'll need to read it through at least twice to spot all the things he's doing to bring the closure about. I say this as someone who worked out what was going on with aineko early on in my first read-through of Accelerando.)

Essentially, though, there are two basic types of narrative closure: back where we started, and this is how we're different (The Hobbit) and that's over, now for something new (Lord of the Rings). The two actually have more overlap than an unsuspecting observer might expect, and indeed the same ending can often fall into either category depending on the viewpoint from which it's written. (Reader quiz: which kind is Charlie's essay on PDAs?) The really tricky part is to leave the reader both feeling satisfied with the ending and wanting more....


# 53

Second category, obviously.
The world has changed, completely, as shown in #52 about webcams ....


@53 There was a TV drama recently (made recently) where a father without custody (who didn't seem to see his child much anyway because such is the drama of TV cop shows) was lamenting that he ex-wife and child were moving to Canada. And, of course, because TV writers live in a strange world unconnected to ours no-one said 'well, at least you can use a web-cam, email etc'.

I found Life On Mars unwatchable because of the lack of attention to detail, but since TV writers can't do the modern world what chance is there of them doing the recent past.

And how can Reginald Perrin possibly be remade? Office life has changed beyond measure in the intervening years. Sunshine Deserts would have been taken over years ago, no-one at Reggie's level would have a secretary...

(sorry, drifting off topic)


@53 There was a TV drama recently (made recently) where a father without custody (who didn't seem to see his child much anyway because such is the drama of TV cop shows) was lamenting that he ex-wife and child were moving to Canada. And, of course, because TV writers live in a strange world unconnected to ours no-one said 'well, at least you can use a web-cam, email etc'.

I found Life On Mars unwatchable because of the lack of attention to detail, but since TV writers can't do the modern world what chance is there of them doing the recent past.

And how can Reginald Perrin possibly be remade? Office life has changed beyond measure in the intervening years. Sunshine Deserts would have been taken over years ago, no-one at Reggie's level would have a secretary...

(sorry, drifting off topic)


It will be interesting to see if the market swings back around for another go when(if?) these ultra-flexible OLED displays become viable.



From one perspective, yes; the wider world has moved on, and dedicated PDAs look to be a dying species. From a different way of looking at things, we're in much the same position at the (historical) end of Charlie's essay as we were at the beginning (ie in 1991), but with a new technology (Smartphones) taking the place of the old one (PDAs) in the next round of the story. It takes a bit more effort to do that way, and isn't as satisfying (at least in this case), but you can make it work either way, which is what I meant about viewpoint.


Tingey @33: I'm one of those card people, but I think your giving phone cameras a bad rap. The dedicated version and the phone version are for doing different things, I think. If storage ever gets that good, I'd like to see the camera-phone employed as a general-purpose cop-monitor, for example. You don't need a high-quality image for that sort of record.


Charlie @4, see http://mjg59.livejournal.com/104279.html and the followup http://mjg59.livejournal.com/104463.html

"When I provide shower-related metaphors about software design, it is because I am interested in software design. Not showers." - Matthew Garrett


"And that, my friends, is the secret of narrative closure."

Indeed it is. The question is, was the narrative fiction? It was a perspective, it followed some semblance of the history of PDA devices, but one can question whether the narrative was just setting up the conditions for tying up the narrative. Then again does it matter? For me it does, as I distrust, neat, pat answers to complex histories, especially those that I have experienced and read reams about. OTOH, novels that don't close can be less satisfying than ones that do.


If you want a free, objective way to check the reception in your area BEFORE you lock yourself with a specific carrier, you should really check out "Got Reception?"


Chrisj @54, thanks!


Since I'm a reader, not a writer, the subject matter is of more interest to me than the writing exposition (but please keep doing them as I might someday cease to be a literary Philistine). My wife will be very sad if you are correct about the demise of the PDA. She is a doctor who travels around staffing small hospital emergency rooms, and she carries the equivalent of a dozen medical texts and drug formularies on her PDA. It has saved her much time and many backaches not having to carry her medical library around with her and having the information in a pocket-sized and manipulatable format.

It seems to me that there will be at least a small niche market for something that fills the PDA role. The question will be if there is any interest in filling that niche. Some doctors have gone to a tablet computer, but the PDA is more manageable and convenient for my wife. For her purposes a tablet would be too much.

I hope someone chooses to maintain the PDA format in some form, if only for those few people like my wife who truly need something like it.


Papapete: she's not going to be out of ebook readers soon -- if she wears anything at all with pockets (white coat or scrubs, I guess) there ought to be room for a Sony Reader there! And pocket sized tablet computers of some kind -- not necessarily the classical PDA, but something like the OQO -- are going to stay available.


You call that closure? What about ebook readers!?

...sorry, couldn't help myself.


Disclosure: I work for a company who write most of the world's mobile phone software...

What's interesting to me is that the traditional smartphone OSs -- Symbian, PalmOS, and Windows Mobile -- have run out of guts just as three newcomers are chewing up the market: RIM (Blackberry), Apple, and Android.

While the 3 later are chewing up the press, they're not exactly making any inroads into, for example, Symbian's market share.

PalmOS is dead, just as UIQ is. I expect to see Series60 going on for quite some time and I'll admit that the N97 Nokia Touchscreen phone I played with last week is a tasty piece of kit.

RIM are interesting because I still think they're living on borrowed time. They're under huge pressure at the moment to keep justifying the cost of their service side to IT departments who can role our Exchange Server for Symbian/Series60 and iPhone devices without any changes. Given the pig's ear they've made of the Storm launch I'm curious to see if they make it through the next 2 years.

The one wild card is Android which is certainly the OS du jour, but there are a lot of problems. HTC got the butt ugly G1 into the market by basically canabalising their Windows Mobile support code. While Android is a fantastic applications platform, they've missed out a lot of the core phone functionality and they do have a fairly, in my opinion, naive view of the consumer electronics market, especially the phone market.

While Android is free, the Non-Recurring Engineering costs for getting a phone out of the door remain amazingly high - in the region of 50-90K man hours. Even at Chinese rates, that's a fairly non-trivial number. Add in local market radio testing and tuning and you can add another 15-20K on non-low cost onto those.

Google are just starting to see that pain and I suspect that, like with Windows Mobile, HTC will have the run of the market for a good portion of next year. There will be some prototypes for the Press Corps at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in Feb, but we're not working on anything that can make the cut for Holiday 09. (1)

Finally, my good old friends in Redmond. They ain't dead yet.

But my they do make a meal of things.

As Charlie points out 6.x is a huge leap from the previous versions, but it's still a dog. 7 is monsterously delayed. However, I still have hope for them.

Oh, and actually the WinCE product team do make money. That's actually a nice OS if you're building an embedded system that needs to multitask.

(1) - to be in stores for Christmas, a phone typically needs to be code complete and in the radio test lab at the Operator for June.


I haven't used ebook readers so I don't know what their features are, but her programs are more than just ebooks. Her drug formularies are like rather sophisticated. You can look up drugs by generic or name brand, by list of symptoms, by types of problems covered, drug interactions, warnings, etc. Her other programs have differential diagnosis, recommended treatments, other masking problems, warnings and other features.

As I said before, I haven't used ebook readers so I don't know if they will be able to do what her PDA does.


The PDA failed, not for being obsolete, but for being premature.

The PDA lacks what my 1973-1977 "Molecular Cybernetics" Ph.D. dissertation advisor Oliver G. Selfridge, whom I mourn since he died 4 Dec 2008, described:

"I want an agent that can learn and adapt as I might," he once told a meeting organized by I.B.M. Such an agent would "infer what I would want it to do, from the updated purposes it has learned from working for me," he went on, and "do as I want rather than the silly things I might say."

By being his student, I'm a student of a student in two different ways of Norbert Wiener. I used Wiener's math and Selfridge's insights in my PhD dissertation (which is also arguably the first in Artificial Life and the first on Nanotechnology) and I tried to keep the social conscience of "Human Use Of Human Beings: Cybernetics And Society."

The PDA died because it wasn't smart enough.

What we want is yet to be built.

Then: closure!


THREE points.
I : #64 ... The OQO LOOKS brilliant, but is it available in the UK (the links didn't work from their page) and how many Shekels does it cost?
II : #66 RIM/Blackberry is dead - but presumably still twitching a lot?
Redmond - well MicroSHAFT are very good at crushing opposition (c.f. Psion) They are still not as evil as Interstellar Master Traders "Big Blue" used to be, but they're close.

III : Original title - Charlie.

A dream?
More like a horrible recurring nightmare.
See the story of the CRASH here, and wonder ....
[a] Is Charlie's story of the biggest Fraud EVAH now junked, or doesn't said modus operandi apply in this case?
[b] If we are now between 1929 and 1931-equivalents, as seems likely, then: -
Who is the presently obscure extremist politician/religious "leader" who is going to take us into the abyss in between 8 and 10 years down the road?
NOT a pleasant prospect.


G. Tingey: Expansys (www.expansys.co.uk) have stocks of the older OQO model 01+, which they're remaindering for 350 notes. Main drawback is battery life (the external battery pack isn't cheap and the built-in one is good for under 2 hours, allegedly). They've got newer models for more money (in the 600-1500 pound range depending on spec) and other related UMPCs -- you might want to look at Raon's machines.

As for my biggest fraud EVAH plot, I'm having a rethink on that; Bernard Madoff topped it by 400%! So I'm probably going to refocus on my second-string plot thread (the much smaller, local one) which is still viable.


Oh BUM (as the saying goes ...)

However, am I being too pessimistic in suggesting that we are very close to a complete re-run of the crashes and frauds of 1929-31, which made conditions suitable for Adolf to take power?
And which country(s) are candidates?
I hope not, but it doesn't look too good at the moment ....


When I finally cracked and picked up a portable device, it was a Nokia N800. It's an interesting device: it does one or two things pretty well and lots of things badly. Firstly it's a portable web browser that has a modern html renderer with flash support: This bit just works, and has is probably the main selling point. Tether the thing to the mobile you probably already have and off you go. Carrying two devices isn't to everyone's taste however, although nothing else matches the Nokia devices screen at the moment AFAIK.

Secondly, it makes a pretty good portable video player, although the format restrictions mean re-encoding of video is pretty much mandatory sadly. (Due to internal bandwidth restrictions you can't play 25fps movies at greater than about 400x240 resolution, which is scaled up by the hardware. It looks fine, but the inability to play standard PAL res MPEG2 is irritating.)

It's notable that the main use for the N800 in our household has turned out to be as a portable BBC "Listen Again to Radio 4" player & as a media player for the kids in the car.

I drag one around as a PDA, but I'm not a very demanding PDA-user: a diary app is pretty much all I really require.

They make reasonable eBook readers thanks to the high DPI screen as well, although no device has really hit the spot in this space so far IMO. (The Sony eBook reader is nice though.)

Sorry to have missed you in Oxford Charlie!


I think there's also room for devices like the iPod Touch to move into the PDA market. There's no reason why a device that can play music and video can't serve as a PDA as well, if the software is written for it. While for some people having it all built into a phone might be handy, leaving the phone service out lets you drop the price even further.


Re: Narrative closure.

Very nicely done, sir.


The inbuild note spftware on the iPod touch is actually suprisingly good for limited note taking. Good enough for jotting things down on the bus and emailing to ones-self for later, anyway. The lack of cut and paste is probably the biggest drawback.


Art, three words: "cut and paste". Yes, I have an iPhone. No, it's not going to be there until it does cut and paste.

(Yes, it's coming, allegedly. So are Documents-To-Go, QuickOffice, Mobipocket Reader, and all the usual PDA suspects. I live in hope.)


iPhone cut and paste? Just out of curiosity, have any of you that own an iPhone tried this yet?

demo on youtube...


#77 Charlie, you forgot the "Paperless Office" ....


Not on PDA (Sorry the only thing I can say I never had, desired or needed one, but maybe it is just me).

I just spotted this article in Nature on
"Towards responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy" (see http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/456702a.html)

An excerpt to whet your appetite

"The drugs just reviewed, along with newer technologies such as brain stimulation and prosthetic brain chips, should be viewed in the same general category as education, good health habits, and information technology — ways that our uniquely innovative species tries to improve itself."


GTingey @ 79
I keep hearing about that one. What's its projected arrival date again?