Updated on 09.10.08

The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Theoretical Technology Edition

Trent Hamm

Yesterday, I was talking to a close friend about what sort of technological device would actually make our lives easier. I took a look at the things I actually use all the time already – my pocket calendar, my pocket notebook, Wikipedia, my RSS feed reader, and my book collection – and I basically described what, for me, would be the one ultimate technology device that I would buy. I’d like to see a very sturdy device, roughly the size of a sheet of paper, with a screen that you could write on like a tablet. It would allow you to effortlessly store and bring back these jottings. You could also flip it sideways and use it for touch typing if you wanted to. It’d include an integrated calendar and an integrated web browser that could be manipulated with the fingers quite easily. It’d also have the ability to be an Amazon Kindle-esque book reader, and would have the ability to both use Wi-Fi and cell phone signals to access the internet, as well as built-in GPS for mapping purposes. It could also function as a cell phone with a Bluetooth headset. The ability to work on a presentation (i.e., a version of Office for it) would be stellar, too. The technology is out there in bits and pieces, spread all over the place across tons of devices. There’s some company out there (Apple, are you listening) that could pull this all together – and it’d be huge.

This is the device that I want, one that actually serves a lot of very useful functions in my life. It’d save me a significant amount of time, enable me to get productive creative work done in a lot of places that simply don’t work well right now, and make work-related traveling significantly easier.

But here’s the interesting part. Knowing the exact item I want – and seeing other items fall short of that standard – keeps me from wasting my money on gadgetry. I know what I want – I’ve described it above. Until that device comes along, I’m not buying a gadget that takes care of some of those features. I’ll get by with my old beat-up cell phone, my old laptop PC, and my pocket notebook.

Knowing what I want and waiting for it versus falling in love with the neatest thing that comes along that does a few of these things (hi, iPhone!) is saving me money, because it keeps me from even being interested in such halfhearted devices. I have no technolust for the iPhone because I see all the things that are missing in comparison to the device that I actually do want.

I’ll keep waiting, and putting $5 a week away into a fund for that device. I’ve been doing it for about eighteen months and that account has about $400 in it. By the time someone gets it together, I’ll be able to get what I actually want with little effort.

Anyway, here are some interesting articles of note.

Do We All Really Spend More with a Credit Card? My feeling on this is pretty simple. If you find yourself spending more with a credit card than you would with cash, you shouldn’t be using a credit card. A credit card is a tool to give you buying protections and some benefits. If you use it as “free money,” that’s inherently dangerous. (@ free money finance)

Quick and Easy “Survival Menu” #1 There are simply some periods in your life where the events overwhelm you – and in those situations, many people fall into a rut of eating out. MSM’s solution to the problem is a bit different – she has a “survival menu” to help deal with crises. Excellent idea – it saves big money as compared to eating out. (@ money saving mom)

The Sunk-Cost Fallacy: Good Money After Bad Before you click through, a hint: the article is not about World of Warcraft. He’s using it as an example to describe something much more important. (@ get rich slowly)

Taking a Deep Breath Stress is one of the biggest reasons that people fail in their carefully-planned financial resolutions. When the chips are down, don’t respond by picking up the credit card. (@ my open wallet)

Do You Really Care What Other People Think? “The reason most folks overspend is that they care too much what other people think. They’re trying to keep up with the Joneses, so they spend and spend.” I like that quote. (@ no credit needed)

How Does the Fannie Mae and Freedie Mac Bailout Affect You? Good answers. I don’t think corporate bailouts are good for anyone. In my opinion, they should have been allowed to fail and their assets auctioned off. Their CEOs certainly shouldn’t have gotten the golden parachutes that they did. (@ wise bread)

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  1. Nick says:

    There is a fine line between device size, power and usability for something like that. The iPhone does some of those things you mentioned well, but not others. Apple would make a killing if they could make a tablet like device like you mentioned. Make it small with really good battery life. Wouldn’t care so much for processing power. A 1ghz dual core processor would suffice. 512mb ram would be fine. A decent screen would be a requirment for myself. The ability to use 3G or evdo on the go is nice and for it to be able to use it when your not actually using the device (i.e. downloading a season of ER on iTunes in the background while you walk to the park).

  2. Johanna says:

    “If you find yourself spending more with a credit card than you would with cash, you shouldn’t be using a credit card.”

    I would amend this to:

    If you find yourself spending more with a credit card than you would with cash, and if you’re having trouble meeting your savings, debt-reduction, and other goals, you shouldn’t be using a credit card.

  3. K says:

    There actually is something out that is a lot like what you have described. It is a laptop (thicker than a paper), but after you open the screen, you can twist and close it upside down and it turns into an electronic tablet. A friend of mine has one for work because she needs to fill out electronic forms and then also get people’s signatures and take notes by hand during meetings with clients. The cool thing is that you can store your hand-written notes as they are, or convert them to text (the computer recognizes script). I don’t think it has a GPS or cell phone, but I suppose you could use skype if you had one of those universal wi-fi
    receivers. I’ll try to find out the name of it.

    As a side note, I think that you sometimes overuse the word “stellar.”

  4. Kris says:

    The problem with having an all-in-one device is that when something goes wrong with it, now you are without your phone, GPS, e-Book Reader, MP3 Player, PDA and whatever else it does. Where now if my iPod goes out, I still have a working cell phone and a working PDA… I am not instantly “blinded”. Though to be honest, I would like a device that does all that too, but smaller than the tablet PCs that are out.

    I always find it funny how these studies are done showing human behavior ( such as spending more with a credit card ) and then everyone denies they behave like that and instantly insist its the other guy. You should view these studies as warnings, just like the studies that say smoking causes cancer… not everyone gets cancer, but the danger is there and is undeniable. Not everyone spends more money just because they use a credit card, but the danger is there and should be undeniable.

  5. Kevin says:

    By your description, it sounds like a notebook computer with a couple added features.

  6. Madame X says:

    thanks for the mention…

  7. Kristine says:

    Brilliant. I will come up with my own dream list of features- but yours is close. I would add-can function as a large button calculator, or one of those old-fashioned shopping click-tallies. And as a sketchbook saved as JPEGs.

    My graphic design friends cannot understand why I am still happy with my G4, and CS2. Among creative types- computers are the biggest keeping up with the Jones’s there is.

  8. Joe says:

    Kris makes a GREAT point about the consequences if such a device malfunctions for some reason.

  9. J says:

    Sounds a lot like a Tablet PC


    The missing features can be filled in with PCMCIA cards and/or USB devices.

    One of the “problems” is that people can wait for “the perfect thing”, rather than getting one that’s “good enough”. I’m not advocating running out and immediately purchasing a tablet PC by any means — but sometimes you need to just jump in and make do with what’s out there, rather than continually waiting on “the next big thing”.

  10. Macinac says:

    I followed the Fannie-Freddie link, and found that they are silent on the bonds. Are holders of these going to be winners or losers?

  11. Kurt says:

    Agreed, this is why I recently invested in a Palm Z22, it’s about the cheapest PDA you can get, has good software (I owned an original Palm with 128k, and the task list/notes/etc are all basically the same, clean, well designed) and more importantly can synchronize with Google calendar/contacts/etc. if you spend $30 on the software. This device falls woefully short of what I ultimately want in my dream device, but it’ll do in the meantime, and it was cheap.

  12. Mark Nelson says:

    Credit cards get way too many people in trouble. They are a great tool though. The key is that you have to be disciplined in how you use them. You can get a false sense of being able to buy what you want.

    Keep watching your budget.

  13. mdlpda says:

    Trent, the theoretical device you seek already exists.
    I’m using one now.
    The Nokia N810 Internet Tablet

    RSS reader,PDF reader,GPS,WiFi,Bluetooth,Skype, slide out thumbboard or on screen handwriting recognition,
    Runs Linux and the GUI is fantastic.
    Software:(Mostly free, a few donation ware apps)
    FBReader for Project Gutenburg etexts,Gutenbrowse to find them,Maemowordpy for posting to blogs-blogger or wordpress,gpodder for podcasts,panucci player for audio books

    Check it out.

    I’m posting this from mine right now.

  14. Ryan McLean says:

    This item sounds really really cool.
    It does everything.
    I am after an iPhone for my personal needs of notetaking, web browsing, calendar and phone.
    his comes pretty close to what you are talking about though it is little too small.
    Thanks for the round up

  15. Mizzle says:

    The new version of the One Laptop Per Child project (it’s not there yet, but I’ve read announcements) sounds a lot like what you’re describing.

    It might not look professional enough, though – it’s geared at children in third-world countries, although there are plans to allow consumers in first-world countries to buy two: one for themselves, one for a child somewhere who could really use one.

    Worth looking into, perhaps?

  16. Nefretete says:

    Check this out: http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/08/30/update-on-the-techcrunch-tablet-prototype-a/

    It’s not all that you want but quite a lot. Plus the story how it comes to life makes it worth bookmarking for future checks imho.

  17. @macinac

    bond holders will be winners, as this is what the Chinese primarily hold. Their fixed income market rallied big time after the announcement.

    Our federal govt should also get a return on their investment.

    Current holders of preferred and common are screwed, those that bought in on the crash Monday might get themselves a good return, but this would be years away.

    This is not an endorsement or opposition of what was done, just stating a fact.

  18. Hi Trent,

    Have you checked out:

    — Nokia N810 (not a cell phone itself, but tethers to any phone with Bluetooth. Has all other features)
    — HTC Touch Pro (http://www.engadget.com/2008/06/04/the-htc-touch-pro/)

    Both of these sound quite similar to what you want, and are available today (N810) or next month (Touch Pro). You can summarize what you want by saying “Internet tablet.” ;)


  19. Jeff says:

    Sounds like an iPhone + tablet labtop sized about like a steno notebook.

  20. I have thought a very similar thought before. I have often begrudged the fact that I have to cary a GPS, PDA, MP3 Player, Phone, etc. Although many of these items are beginning to come together, you are right, they are still not here in one form. I have bought 2 pda’s in my life and I rarely used them because they were a pain to carry around. I have had several mp3/video players, but again, pain. Check out Modu. It’s interesting.

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