First appeared in The Apple COREspondent
Newsletter of LAMALUG, Mac User Group of Lansing, MI



Digital Tape Recorder

Early in December (1994) while doing some Christmas shopping, I bought a digital telephone answering machine, which inspired me to start thinking about the how technology will influence the future.

First, this gadget can record an outgoing message up to 2 minutes long. As soon as you let go of the button, it adds a beep. None of the old 5 second pause after your message ends.

Any memory not used in the outgoing message is added to the 27 minutes of memory allotted to incoming messages. The caller can leave a message up to 4 minutes. And they can bypass my outgoing message by hitting the * button on their phone. The machine puts a day and time before each message.

When I listen to the messages, I can skip foreword or backward to the next message and selectively save or delete any number of messages--and I can do all that from a remote phone.

It sure beats the clunky old answering machines with the cassette tapes that have to be replaced every 6 months. This has no moving parts to wear out--except, of course, the buttons. I've even seen machines that have a jog shuttle wheel to listen foreword and backward at various speeds.

I guess all of this is no surprise to anyone who uses a voice mail service. Heck, even the phone company offers it for a monthly fee. But I sure find it exciting when new technology is right in my face. Sure I could get one of the phone answering cards for my computer. But we get some serious lightning storms around here. When I go away, I unplug my computer. I'll let the $110 answering machine get fried and leave my precious desktop computer for other things. A direct hit will jump right past any safety power strip.


I was describing all this to John Whiting one afternoon. He foresees digital tape recorders that use PCM-CIA cards. Come home, slap it into your desktop computer and it'll convert your speech to print. Well, why not!

I was telling him that I was excited by the idea of Sony's new Digital MiniDisk for music. Right now I use individual cassettes with backup music for each song I do in my entertainment shows. That way I can get to any song in any order instead of working with a pre-set show. With the MiniDisk, I could get rid of the cassettes and store 15 to 20 songs on a single MiniDisk. I'd be able to get to any song faster than it now takes me to pull out one tape and put in another.

But as we talked, I realized that the player might not survive my occasional airline travel. At least with cassettes I can get my hands on a substitute deck should my own be demolished by the baggage wreck... uh, handlers.

My show stored on PCM-CIA cards might be something else altogether! With no drive mechanism, the unit would probably weigh less than a quarter of what a regular tape deck weighs now.

I've also been seeing ads for some Virtual Vision Sport TV goggles. Consumer Reports isn't very impressed, complaining of such problems as focus, and a sagging, coarse image. But the gadget does point in an interesting direction.

What if you could speak and have a To-Do list appear in your view? Or you could record all communications for future reference? When your spouse tells you something, you wouldn't forget it. Your personal digital assistant (now this is my idea of a PDA) would flag the important part of the communication and schedule it for you and alert you of any conflicting engagements. It could do the listening for you at times when you're tired and not paying attention.

Little PD could have an interpreter built in so you wouldn't misunderstand what someone's telling you. There's no reason that it couldn't speak the "Husband" or "Wife" language just like it would be able to speak any other language. Can you image the arguments you could eliminate with such a device?

My wife thinks that I won't be happy until computers control every aspect of my life. I don't see it that way. I don't want to be controlled. I want to be "assisted." I want a device to free me from my own stupidity, inattentiveness and the personality weaknesses that make me otherwise jump to conclusions and react defensively--all unnecessarily. Or at least it will be unnecessary in the future.

I want to be freed from drudgery so that I can be more creative. I tried to convince her that such a machine would help her with employees at her bakery. Once they established a procedure, the PDA could train new workers on the job. It could watch over their shoulders and correct their work. It could help them develop speed and efficiency, and do it all in a style that could delicately handle their individual personalities.

>She said it would do away with individuality. But I wonder if it would. Or would we be free to be more creative once we're liberated from spending years of learning the basics?

With the use of computers in the field of music, we're finding young performers who are putting out highly polished albums after a short time on a given instrument. They don't have to spend 10 years in a conservatory before they set foot in the studio. If someone has the imagination, they can get to work using it.

Back in the 50's, when predictions were first made about the daily use of computers, many people swore it would never happen to them. It wasn't long before even the most resistant person could see the value of a pocket calculator. I think everyone will feel the same way about these wonderful new tools once they see them in action. There's no question, that's where we're headed.


© 1994 Jonathan Stars

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