The powers that be let me out of my cube long enough to attend the JavaOne Conference a couple of months ago in San Francisco. While I was there, I got the chance to meet some of the movers and shakers behind Java Developer's Journal. Of course, I had already met a couple of the "big cheeses," but by no means all of them.
At one point I was introduced as JDJ's "resident iconoclast." Naturally, I smiled a big smile, puffed out my chest, and tried my best to look genuinely proud of myself. Then, at the first opportunity, I made some excuse to steal away and look up the word "iconoclast."
Well, as it turns out, my feigned pride was a good guess. It seems that the term iconoclast historically originated with wild-eyed 8th-century Byzantine Christians destroying religious images and idols - and later came to mean anyone who attacks cherished beliefs and traditions. Today, it has finally come to mean something like, "incredibly nice fellow with closely-trimmed eyebrows."
Actually, I guess the middle definition of "iconoclast" - the one that talks about attacking cherished belief systems - is the one I would most hope to embody for JDJ. (After all, I made up the one about the eyebrows.) Basically, if I were to set out to try to describe myself, I know the phrase "cynically skeptical" would figure prominently (as would the phrases "dashingly handsome" and "conditionally conscious").
Personally, I'm simply unwilling to take much of anything on faith, or because so-and-so says so. A couple of my heroes are James Randi and the late Richard Feynman, so you could say I'm not exactly in the mainstream of modern belief systems. So be it. With any luck, I'll do my eyebrows proud.
So, along those lines, I needed to come up with some cherished belief system to attack for this month's column. I couldn't just go after the low-hanging fruit though, like tarot readers or the Psychic Eyebrow Network or somesuch. And whatever I did come up with should be at least tangentially computer-related to fit into the context of this fine publication.
Well, a couple of weeks ago I just happened to be viewing the big screen - I had my remote control deftly clutched in the Random Button Access with Embedded Tobacco Harness position, and was flipping joyously amidst the tripe - when I suddenly experienced a catalytic inspiration for the choice of this month's "target" belief.
The image is of a young fellow, standing in a courtyard, positively raving about how he's listening to the radio outside...without any wires attached.
Naturally, I was a little confused. I mean, radios are wireless by definition, right? Didn't Guglielmo Marconi send wireless radio signals across the Atlantic Ocean almost a century ago? Didn't I snap my fingers to a wireless transmission of "The Immigrant Song" in my $100 1962 Studebaker Lark? I mean, what's the big deal?
Then the commentator went on to explain that this is Internet radio he's listening to on his little handheld device. It's streaming audio arriving over a 24Kbit/sec wireless Net connection (barely phone quality). I guess what struck me as funny was the amazement in the commentator's voice.
"Wow! I'm actually standing out of doors listening to this streaming Internet radio! Who could've imagined?" Of course, the whole kit and portable kaboodle - hardware and software - would set you back almost $1,000. (Hopefully, it might also do other useful things, like provide driving directions to that poorhouse in your future; he didn't say.)
Oh, I know this Net radio device is really just a "proof of concept" for the whole "wireless connectivity" belief system. One of the most prominent features at JavaOne was the ubiquity of connectivity, both on the show floor and among the attendees. Everywhere you looked, people had tiny phones that could start their cars, feed their pets, and ignore their e-mail.
I can't deny that this connectivity has its upside. But do I really want to need a cell phone? I'm not so sure.
Currently you're effectively antediluvian if you don't have one of these devices, the tinier the better, hanging from your belt or your ear or your spaghetti strap. I'm going to theorize that it won't be long before the lucky ones are those who don't have to be connected. Frankly, most of the time I don't want to be 10 dialed DTMF digits away from anyone in the world. In fact, there are times when I'd simply like to say, "Gone fishin."
How's that for radically iconoclastic?
Blair Wyman is a software engineer working for IBM in Rochester, Minnesota, home of the IBM iSeries.