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By Joel Klebanoff

Massaging the Message

There are limits on what I'm allowed to say here. Anything with sexual overtones, or undertones for that matter, is usually banned. As evidence of this policy, BYTE-ing Satire, the compilation of the first year's worth of these tirades, contains two paragraphs that were censored out of one of the original columns, and I've written a few innuendo-imbued phrases that didn't make it into either medium. Consequently, if I want to see any of this week's writing published, I'm going to have to proceed carefully because what I'm going to talk about is a very touchy subject.

I'm a little worried (what, me worry?) that I might have already overstepped the bounds by referring to it as a touchy subject. If so, you'll learn that only if there's a sequel to BYTE-ing Satire with the expunged sentences reconstituted. If the whole column is banned, you'll probably see a "best of" article in this space. Of course, you'll never know the reason for that because you won't see these words. One thing that might save me from that fate is the difficulty that Victoria, the exceptionally distinguished, magnificent, skillful, gifted, beautiful editor who decides what gets cut, will have in digging up an earlier tirade that is worthy of a "best of" or even a "modestly acceptable" label. (An editor's note here suggesting that I'm wrong about that would do wonders for my nonexistent self-esteem. A sudden flood of orders for my book wouldn't hurt either.)

But enough about me; as part of her never-ending quest to ensure that I have something to talk about each week, Victoria forwarded to me a link to a blog under the banner of Gearlog, a Ziff Davis Publishing Web site. The blog entry noted that Motorola had recently filed a patent for a vibrating phone. Vibrating phones are nothing new, but this patent application is not for any ordinary vibrating phone. The vibration is not there only to silently alert the owner to an incoming call. The owner will also be able to use it for therapeutic purposes.

If you're a regular reader of this column, you can probably guess how much confidence I place in blog entries, even when they appear under reputable banners. So I clicked on the patent application link provided in the blog. That took me to what, based on the Web address, appears to be the real US Patent & Trademark Office Web site. Sure enough, there it was, patent application number 20060084480, filed by Motorola, Inc. What's the title on the application, you ask? Let me preface the answer by swearing that I've copied this verbatim. The title is "Apparatus and method for stimulating one or more areas on a wearer."

Above, I referred to this as a vibrating phone, but that's probably an over-simplification. If this phone is developed, you will place a stimulator pad somewhere on your skin to receive the massaging effect. Or to be more technical, quoting from the patent application, the device will include "a simulator [sic] pad for applying stimulus to an epidermal area of a body, the pad comprising: at least one set of conductors, each set including a first conductor and a second conductor adapted to apply an electric potential to an epidermal area of a body."

The primary function of the stimulator pad is to alert the wearer to incoming calls, but the patent application notes, "Because muscle stimulation is known to have therapeutic effects, the wireless device can also be utilized to deliver muscle stimulation at a time and manner selected by the wearer and delivered to specific areas of the body. A stimulation pattern can be input to the wireless device and the pattern produced at a designated time by the wireless device."

Now you know my quandary. No matter how respectable the patent filer, how can I possibly a) talk about a prospective new portable gizmo that is designed to stimulate one or more areas of the wearer's body and b) inject a little humor as is my usual wont in this space, without c) falling afoul of MC Press' editorial guidelines? I can't help thinking that I'm writing this week's column for only myself. My normal, probably justified, self-deprecation usually forces me to accept all blame for any failings in my work, but if this article is even more boring than normal, it just might be the result of a few edits beyond my control.

My guess as to why Motorola is working on this is that cell phone companies have run out of ideas for new stuff to shoehorn into their phones. First they gave us text messaging capabilities. Then they added ring tones, still cameras, video cameras, MP3 players, video messaging features, and now, coming soon to a postage stamp-sized screen close to you, broadcast television. Now what?

(For the benefit of readers who are so young as to not be familiar with any person-to-person communication vehicles other than cell phones, email, text messaging, and instant messaging, postage stamps were cell phone screen-sized pieces of paper with glue on one side that we bought from the post office to prove that we paid for its services. The post office is (in most countries) a government-owned organization that hires people to sort and deliver letters and to, occasionally, go ballistic inside postal facilities. Surprising though it may be to you, post offices are still in existence. Letters were comprised of messages that we wrote on paper and inserted into envelopes on which we affixed a postage stamp. Envelopes were...oh, never mind.)

I can just imagine the feverish meetings going on at Communications Research Under Design Corporation (CRUD Corp.), a small niche manufacturer of cell phones.

Mitchell Mamser, chief of radically advanced phones (CRAP), leads off the meeting by exclaiming with considerable trepidation in his voice, "OK, people, we have a serious problem. We've already saturated the market with our current portfolio of useless technology that we've managed to stuff into our phones. If we want to get any new sales going forward, we'll have to come up with a few new baubles to ensnare all of the gadget freaks out there. Any suggestions?"

Mitch notices that Stewart Shmegeggi, national engineering research director (NERD), is spinning the propeller attached to the beanie that he always wears on his head while he's at work. This usually signals that Stew has an idea that he'd like to bring forward, so Mitch yields the floor to Stew. "The answer is so obvious that I don't know why no one thought of it before. Let's build a miniature deep fryer into our phones. Then, regardless of where they are, whenever our customers feel hungry they can just pull out their cell phones and cook some French fries."

Mitch responds condescendingly, "Stew, I know you're a NERD and you're trying to be creative, but after all these years of being CRAP I've learned to recognize pitfalls that don't immediately occur to other people. Your idea is full of holes. First, you need potatoes to make fries, and I doubt that many of our customers keep potatoes in their pockets. That aside, deep fryers boil oil. Inevitably, some of the clumsier of our customers are going to spill it. The product liability legal sharks will sink us as soon as that happens. Then there are all of the anti-obesity and healthy heart special interest groups. They'll have a field day if we make it easier for people to eat deep-fried foods. As if all that's not enough, we're talking about a cell phone that's supposed to fit in a pocket. You wouldn't be able to cook more than one fry at a time with a gadget that small. Then again, that would get the obesity and heart people off our backs, but the idea's still not going to fly. Anyone else?"

Mary Gorownd, manager of advanced design (MAD), who recently completed an MBA with a specialty in marketing, offers her suggestion. "The way to go about this is to consider our market segments. Our products target two groups: business people and social butterflies, both of whom are addicted to being constantly connected. In addition to their need to never be out of touch, two threads link these market segments: members of these groups are always on the go and they never have enough time. We can best increase our sales by finding ways to meet the pressing needs of these people. The answer is to put jet packs in our phones so they don't have to worry about traffic or parking."

Mitch reclaims the floor, "That's an incredible idea! I'd like to move forward on it as soon as possible, but I see that Stew is twirling his propeller at a speed that's going to sever his finger if he's not careful, which usually means that he has a serious objection. What's on your mind, Stew?"

Stew shouts, "Mary, you are truly MAD. There's just one small problem with your idea. We'd have to reinvent a few laws of physics in order to cram a jet pack into something that fits in a pocket. We're good, but not that good."

The meeting continues for several hours. The team members introduce and shoot down thousands of potential innovations until they finally give up and decide to include a pen and pencil set with every new phone, overlooking the fact that CRUD Corp.'s customers have totally forgotten how to use pens and pencils and no longer have any clue as to why they would want to use them in the first place.

All that having been said, I think that the idea of combining a massager with a cell phone is excellent. After becoming totally stressed out by hearing cell phones, your own included, constantly ringing loudly around you all day and by compulsively viewing and responding to the incoming email and text messages that arrive on your cell phone every few seconds, a nice relaxing massage would be quite welcome. And, speaking on behalf of all of the lonely people in the world who are deprived of a willing partner, a portable device designed to stimulate one or more areas of my body suggests opportunities that approach my wildest dreams. (And yes, I'm talking about a neck or shoulder massage. You betcha that’s what I’m talking about. Absolutely, positively, no doubt about it. Then again, I was told that I could only publish the "wildest dream" sentence if the "neck and shoulder" clarification was added, so you be the judge of my intent. You didn’t actually believe I’d be capable of making it all the way through this particular tirade without any editorial changes whatsoever, did you? I guess I just proved what I’ve been told some people at MC Press already think about me: I’m incorrigible.)

This article originally appeared as part of a weekly series of "Tech Tirades" in MC TNT from MC Press Online. The first year's worth of Tech Tirades does not appear here. Instead, you can find them in BYTE-ing Satire.

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