27 Dec. 2009
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 Three Screens

Since nobody yet makes full-surround LCD displays, researchers at Microsoft determined that one of the most efficient ways to deploy monitors is as three portrait-oriented displays.  In so doing, they verified my intuitive feeling that this, my setup, is a good one.  The reason for three instead of two or four is that you can use the middle monitor for your most important display functions and be able to look in front of you without encountering a seam.  The two peripheral monitors can be used for more nearly static displays and windows that you use less frequently.  For example, my right-hand monitor has the remote screen for a server, and the left monitor a process I watch that will beep at me if it needs attention.  Most of my "work" resides seamlessly on the center monitor.  I mention this because if you get the urge to set up your monitors more efficiently and would do so if you actually had three monitors, this is an excellent time to get them.  The price of monitors has plummeted so much in recent months that you can now get a 23-inch, 2048*1152 resolution monitor for $200, and one with slightly lower resolution  (1920*1080) for $160.  Hence you can have almost the equivalent resolution and even greater efficiency than two giant $1000 monitors for $500-$600.  And you can use standard rather than "dual-link" video cards with them.  (Unlike most of my hyperlinks, these will probably disappear within days.  But similar bargains are available even from your local Best Buy.)  However, this has nothing to do with the real subject of this blogitem.

The Ideal Book Reader

Q:  If that isn't the real subject of this blogitem, then what is?
A:  Look at the section heading, silly Q person.

A few blogs ago I mentioned what for me is the main reason to NOT purchase a book reader, such as the Amazon Kindle, the Barnes and Noble Nook, or the cleverly named Sony Reader.  It's the same reason nobody would now buy an MP3 player if it could only play newly purchased music:  No library.  I have over a thousand books and I want them all with me.  Many years ago I "ripped" many LP "records" to computer files, and those fond musical memories have been following me around since the beginning of this century.  My books remain sadly planted and gathering dust.  What, then, would persuade me to spring for a book reader?  Why, it would have to do everything my other gadgets do, of course!  And the problem with that is today's book readers do only one thing well:  They display monochrome printed pages.  Good resolution, but slow speed and no color at all.  The Nook has a bit of an improvement - a small color screen with a few icons below the "electronic paper."  But it's still a book reader only.  I have a Blackberry Storm, which is a cell phone, camera, MP3 player, and messaging device.  Would I read a book on it?  Perhaps if the book contained a certified treasure map, but that's it.  So, why not combine both functions?  If I were in the position to design the ideal device, it would have three screens, a keyboard, and a really good hinge.

The Really Good Hinge

I have been reading books most of my life, and I like much of the experience.  Books have a lot of crisply printed words on each page.  They open to near the page of my selection by a gentle pressure of the thumb on the side.  When I open a page, I don't have to wait seconds for it to "reformat" before the text appears.  On the other hand, electronic readers have advantages as well, e.g., selectable font size, text search, annotation, and more.  Perhaps I'd be willing to make the trades-off if it didn't have the flaw of being an expensive, separate device.  But I still want as close to a book reading experience as possible, which to me means resolution, speed, and two pages side-by-side.

Let's imagine a new device comprising two electronic book readers next to each other connected by a hinge that allows the screens to lie flat against each other, screen to screen, when closed.  When opened, the screens would, of course, be next to each other.  If both screens were of the "electronic paper" type, one would have the equivalent of an opening book.  If there were some sort of touch control on the side that would allow rough page selection, so much the better.  We now have a book reader with twice the reading area. 

Next, fold the screens together again and note the blank outsides.  Can't have that!  Why not put a standard LCD screen on one outside, and a QWERTY keyboard on the other?  Unfold the device, turn it over, and voila, a small computer/communicator!  Sure, it has three screens instead of one, but it has all the features you need in a portable device.  No more carrying an iPod and cellphone and book reader.  There is nothing technically remarkable about this device except the hinge between the halves - it would have to bend in one direction for the book experience and the other for the computer experience.  Can Silicon Valley handle such an exotic hinge?  Somehow I think so.

And, do I need to mention that, when folded computer-out, making the LCD a touch screen turns it into a tablet computer?

A Killer Synergy

You don't see me using "killer" as a synonym for "really, really good" very often, but I am now.  Combining the reading and computer functions in one device eliminates a major objection to small computers and also to book readers.  If the two devices are integrated, it would be trivial to transfer the data from one screen type to the other.  You wouldn't have to read long text reports on a small LCD screen with the attendant paging and scrolling.  And if the "ebook" you are reading happens to have a few color illustrations or something that would benefit from display on a faster and more versatile screen, a simple touch would transfer it to the other side.

Speaking personally, even if I couldn't put my whole library of books on the device (yet), I'd seriously consider getting one just for the advantages I have listed.  How much would such a device cost?  In effect, it would be the combination of two book readers (say, $300 each) and a netbook (say, another $300.)  But, of course, that $900 would cover triplication of all functions, while really all that is necessary in addition to a netbook and its CPU and keyboard are the two "electronic paper" screens.  Let's arbitrarily charge $600 for a small-screen (thick paperback) version, and $900 for a larger-screen hardcover book or small netbook-sized version.  (In fact, some enterprising netbook manufacturer could put the dual electronic-paper screens on the top of the netbook lid, so it can be read when the cover is closed.  Not foldable, but a lot less design effort to start with.)

The Apple Tablet

The recent rumors of a pre-announcement of the rumored announcement of the rumored Apple Tablet (with which Mr. Jobs is rumored to be "very happy") got me thinking about this subject some more.  I doubt that Jobs reads my blog (at least not faithfully) and at this point his Tablet is what it is.  But just in case he's been thinking along these lines, I do want to get in one request:

Please let us change the battery, even if you do have to make it thicker by a millimeter or so!

Not As Rare As I Said

My "Haunted Halogen" blogitem had a colossal (or, depending on how you look at it, a truly minuscule) error.  Worse, it was the kind of error for which I am always calling others to account: a grotesque example of innumeracy.  I asserted that astatine was so rare that there is "only a single atom of the naturally occurring element present on the earth at any given time."  What nonsense!  I wrote that in good faith, from my alleged memory of something I thought I had previously read.  In fact, there are estimated to be about 30 grams of the element, still pretty rare considering the size of the earth, but nonetheless an error of about 10^23

An awesome item of lush blog malfeasance, for which I hereby apologize.

"Light is Faster Than Sound"
Big Brother and the Holding Company




The Dave Matthews Band went on a world tour in 2001.  At least this T-shirt, not the most reliable substitute for research, says they did.  As usual, I'm not quite sure how I ended up with the shirt - I certainly didn't attend a concert.

I find the Dave Matthews Band "interesting."  In other words, I'm not much of a fan, but I like that I can always pick out their songs on the radio, and they're different from everyone else.  A big plus!

Save Matthews Band World Tour 2001 T-shirt
Richard Factor

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