Four Technological Holy Grails

By  |  Friday, April 15, 2011 at 1:45 am

If you could somehow transport me as I was fifteen years ago to 2011, the old me would be flabbergasted by how much technology improved in so little time. In fact, I’m pretty sure that if you showed 1996 Harry an iPad, I’d insist that it was either a hoax or witchcraft.

But if 1996 Harry stuck around in 2011 for a while and used modern tech products, I’d also be surprised by some things that haven’t changed. Annoying things. Annoying things that I would have assumed would have been fixed long before the second decade of the new millennium rolled around.

Here are four technical innovations which I feel like I’ve been waiting for…well, forever. I think of them as holy grails, and whenever they do show up I’m going to be thrilled:

Painless Web Conferencing. I like the idea of participating in meetings via my browser, but the actual experience often leaves me gritting my teeth–especially the process of getting up and running. Some services demand versions of Java that I have; some don’t like my favorite browsers; some hate Macs. It can take several minutes for a session to launch, too. I do have a favorite service–the surprisingly pleasant Adobe Acrobat Connect–but when you’re sitting in on a conference rather than conducting it, you’re at the mercy of the organizer.

Goof-proof external display hookups. If I added up all time I’d spent either futzing with projectors and trying to get them to work properly or sitting while other people futzed with them, I’d probably discover that I’ve lost a good six months of my life to the process. Sometimes nothing shows up; sometimes the aspect ratio is wonky; sometimes the images runs off the right-hand side of the screen. And both Windows PCs and Macs are prone to problems. I think that the situation here has gradually gotten better, but I still hold my breath and cross my fingers every time I plug in the cable.

Point-and-shoot digital cameras that truly work great in low light. Camera manufacturers love to boast that new models have high ISOs, big sensors, anti-shake capabilities, image-processing technologies, and other features that help you snap good-looking photos in lousy lighting. All of this stuff helps–I really like my Canon PowerShot S95 a lot–but I still take plenty of photos that are murky, fuzzy, or otherwise disappointing. I’m waiting for some sort of breakthrough that lets pocket-sized cameras see just as clearly in less-than-optimal environments as we human beings do.

Syncing that never screws up. I’ve been using syncing services to shuttle data between devices since before there was such a thing as a PalmPilot. The state of the art has advanced considerably, but to this day, I still sometimes end up with duplicated entries or duplicated fields within entries. The services I use have also been known to overwrite new information with old stuff and blow away records unexpectedly. I get that this stuff is complicated, but I’m still surprised that even the best current services aren’t all that seamless.

Got any technological holy grails of your own you’re still waiting for? I’d love to hear about them.

[NOTE: This story was republished Technologizer’s T-Week newsletter–go here to sign up to receive it . You’ll get original stuff that won’t show up on the site until later, if at all.]



12 Comments For This Post

  1. pond Says:

    Allow me to add:

    faultless OCR and

    perfect voice recognition and

    perfect translation from one language to another.

    I want that ‘talk to me’ Star Trek computer!

  2. The_Heraclitus Says:

    You nailed it pond.

  3. Theo Says:

    MobileMe of Apple works great for me. Use it on 4 macs and pc's, an iPad and an iPhone.
    99% success rate with syncing.

  4. Harry McCracken Says:

    Someday I'll write about my syncing issues in more detail. I use MobileMe, but I also use a service called SpanningSync to sync iCal with Google Calendar, and Google Sync. Getting them all to play nicely is tough (they do work -most- of the time)…


  5. stonemirror Says:

    Good article, Harry. Here are mine

  6. Otto Nordpol Says:

    Oh, for the merest sip from the Grail in the following areas:

    Improved fidelity for phone connections. One occasionally hears harps and angels on Skype and other VOIP technologies, but most cell phone connections are abominations. Even when calls don't drop, compression and signal degradation make it impossible to hear anyone. So much so that I must honor my landline phone covenant until a day of judgment in favor of a wireless alternative dawns.

    Please cast Comcast, DirectTV, ATT, and others who presume to package and throttle content into a lake of eternal fire and leave me free to access streaming media content over the Internet. Likewise envelop politicians, dictators, and others presuming to censor content in the absolute zero cold and infinite darkness they wish to impose on others.

    Grant us decisiveness and direction in migrating to energy technologies that are clean, inexpensive and plentiful. Likewise, I welcome any revelations that shine a light on higher density batteries, super capacitors and other benefits from on high.

    Please maintain the vacuum tube factories of Russia until the end of my days. Your servant has found no substitute for 12AX7s, 6DJ8s,6550s, KT88s, or 300Bs for the amplification of audio signals. While convenient in extremis, signal compression and other abuse of audio information is a practice to be regretted, although not necessarily a mortal sin in blocking out noise on airplanes and other premonitions of hell.

    Likewise, remind us that we are meant to be civilizable beings and let us use our unique gifts of discourse without rancor, profanation, spam or ALL CAPS unless absolutely necessary.

    Lead us not to 3D video and grant us respite from CGI special effects that look just as tacky as anything from the 1950s once you observe them without suspension of disbelief.

    May all portable devices levitate themselves and not gain mass over the period of a long business trip. Your servant once bore a Mac Book across Japan and was constantly reminded of Robert DeNiro dragging his armor and swords through the jungle as a penance in the film "The Mission."

    To conclude, Lord, you know I do not ask for much, but do insist on the highest quality. Amen and may market forces be with us.

  7. Dave Says:

    "Point-and-shoot digital cameras that truly work great in low light."

    This is a physics problem. You need a large sensor (or a tripod and a long shutter time) to capture more light in low light situations. The S95 is only good compared to other compact cameras, but is not very good over 400 ISO. A large sensor requires a large lens if you want any amount of zoom. The best option now is a Sony NEX camera that uses an APS-C sensor used in most SLRs. Micro 4/3rds cameras, like the Panasonic GF2, are close as well and use smaller lenses. The main drawback is that they are really only compact with a prime lens.

  8. Dave Says:

    My choice would be unlimited HD video (or high speed data generally) streamed over the internet for a reasonable price. With limited spectrum, it would require a huge leap in data compression.

  9. IcyFog Says:

    Never had a problem hooking up an external display to my Mac.

  10. tech84 Says:

    There should really be some form of standardization for Syncing between different Phones, OSes, and Tablets so that you can easily sync all your different devices with ease.

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