Less can be more, cost less

August 02, 1999|By Bill Husted | Bill Husted,Cox News Service

Imagine what it would be like if your best friend owned a pig that could sing.

You'd be able to invite everyone over on a Saturday night and have the pig perform -- maybe Shubert's "Trout."

At first it would really be neat. Everyone would forgive the pig for not having a voice like Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald.

But pretty soon the novelty wouldn't be enough and -- when you really wanted to hear music -- you'd turn to someone who was less of a swine and more a singer.

In the technology world, there are plenty of pigs that can sing. There's a temptation to create a product just because it is technologically possible without regard for whether the new technology is better than the old.

Sometimes these gizmos are nifty and impressive but just aren't as useful as the technology they attempt to replace. Enough philosophizing -- let's listen to some pigs that sing off-key.

* Using your computer as an answering machine is dumb. Many PCs come with software to let your PC's modem answer the call and then use the PC's hard disk to record the incoming messages as voice files. Truth is, it works. But so does a $30 answering machine -- in fact, the cheap answering machine works better. It also doesn't require keeping your PC on 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

* Several companies, including Panasonic, now make tiny DVD players. For just under $1,000, you can watch a DVD movie on its 5.8-inch screen. But imagine watching "Saving Private Ryan" that way, or picture a basketball game played by ants (some users say they can't even read the movie title on the little screen).

To be fair, this sucker will hook up to your regular TV. But if that's what you want, get one of the $300 AC models that are meant to work that way.

* E-books. These electronic gizmos allow you to download the text of a book and then read it on the screen. You'll pay about $500 for the Rocket eBook. Then you'll pay about $20 for each book you buy. Would you rather buy a $6 paperback you can read in the bathtub and then lend to your buddy, or do you want to spend $20 on an e-book and read it on a machine? Also, if you drop the paperback or hardback, it will make a loud slapping sound and then work just fine. If you drop the eBook, it also will make a loud sound, and you'll be about $500 poorer.

Using your computer monitor to wattch TV. You can get TV cards that let you attach an antenna or a cable connection to receive TV signals and then watch them on your computer monitor. Think about it: I can sit in my leather reclining chair and watch TV on my big-screen monitor, or I can sit at a desk chair and watch TV on my PC's 17-inch monitor. Duh.

These are my singing pigs. I'm not telling you that they'll be your pigs. There's almost certainly someone out there with a special circumstance just made for one of these gadgets. But you probably aren't that person. Save your money and, instead, get a good CD recording of Ella or Frank.

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