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A cabbie speaks about planned obsolescence

I've heard before that cabbies are the repository of all modern wisdom.

This post isn't about digital audio, but rather about a topic that pertains to the entire consumer technology industry. When I got to CES, I realized that I'd brought the wrong USB connector for my digital camera, aKodak EasyShare DX4530. (Guilty: I didn't read the CNET review, but I've liked it better than the 6.8 rating might suggest. Although I'm not a fan of the integrated EasyShare software, which tries to hide the file system and in the process makes it really hard to use anything but EasyShare!) It's about four years old, and since then, Kodak's switched from the printer-like USB connector (upper right-hand picture on this page) to a different one that I've never seen on any other camera, so I couldn't borrow one of the connectors from the newer EasyShare cameras that CNET had on hand. I went to the Kodak booth--nice perk of being press and here a day early--and they were nice, but said they didn't make these types of cables anymore, so the wisest thing would be to take a cab to Best Buy and buy a card reader.

Snowy weather in Vegas. Matt Rosoff

On my way, the cabbie overheard me talking to my wife about my dilemma. When I got off the phone, he asked "so what are they planning in there to make me throw out my DVDs?" I told him it looked like Blu-ray would be the winner. "Planned obsolescence," he replied. "That's the key to the whole industry. I was already supposed to throw out my $3,000 VHS tape collection. Now I'm supposed to throw out all my DVDs." I responded by telling him about an increasing countertrend, in which companies like Ion and Neuros making devices that let you convert a stream from any analog output to a common-format digital file that can live on your PC's hard drive, or a backup drive, or an optical disc. Forever.

He was glad to hear it, but responded by suggesting that the government needed to intervene more often and define standards, like they apparently did for coaxial cable and electrical plugs. Free marketers would flip, but then again, why do there need to be so many types of USB connections? Or cell-phone chargers? Or digital audio formats, for that matter. He also gave me an excellent summary of how the phone companies took a huge subsidy from the U.S. government to build out fiber optic to the home and proceeded to deliver very little.

Maybe it was the weather--cold and cloudy, with snow in the mountains.