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3G Alan

Suffering from terminal technolust, I went to the Vodafone shop and said, "I want to buy a mobile phone with so many bells and whistles that I can't even pick it up without falling over."

"Fortunately," said the Vodafone man, "you've come to the right place. By a strange coincidence, that is exactly what we sell here. Our phone designers have all been recruited from the secret school that trains the designers of Swiss Army Knives. Have you any other, more specific, criteria?"

"Yes I have," I said. "It must be a beam me up Scotty model, and it must have a keyboard I can actually see and use, as opposed to my current phone whose key caps are so minuscule as to be all but invisible, and whose keys cannot be pressed with the ball of the thumb. Only my thumb nail can reach the tiny, tiny keys and so I am obliged to maintain my right thumb nail in such a state and at such a length that I am in danger of being arrested for the possession of an offensive weapon."

I brandished my thumb at him and he recoiled from the nail in shock and horror. "You could use that for slashing throats!" he exclaimed.

"Indeed," I said. "I killed a mugger with it last Saturday, and it still had such an edge left on it that I was able to use it to sharpen the pencil with which I wrote my statement to the police."

"What an inspiring tale!" said the Vodafone man.

"Show me some phones," I said, "and rescue me from my current horror."

There were several beam me up Scotty phones, most of which combined the functions of a phone with the ability to take photographs, and movies. Some were MP3 players and Organisers as well. One had a built-in electron microscope, an infra-red spectrometer and a gas-chromatograph, all suitable for performing DNA analysis. And as an added bonus it had a coffee percolator, a gadget for opening wine bottles and a device for removing stones from the feet of Boy Scouts.

"I'll have that one!" I declared.

"A very wise choice, if I may say so sir," said the Vodafone man. "That model comes with a free trolley for pushing your phone from place to place as you walk around with it. The trolley fits nicely in a shirt pocket. It's a marvel of precision engineering!"

"Show me the details," I said, "and let me play a while."

"if u do this u cn snd txt msgs," he said. "& this btn wll add pxt of yr bum"

"!" I said. "I hve 1000s of uses 4 tht. xqs me I 2 p"

"thru dor & 1st lft. rmbr 2 flsh"

When I returned, we continued our exploration of the phone.

"It's a 3G phone," said the Vodafone man. "That means you get access to Vodafone Live!"

"What's that?" I asked.

"It's a sort of cell phone version of the internet with a trimmed down web browser built in to your handset. It's major purpose is to let you download enormous quantities of soft porn, music and ringtones."

"What's the difference between music and ringtones?"

"Nothing at all!"

He pressed buttons with his thumb. The nail was trimmed close to the flesh and there was no dirt at all underneath it. I was jealous.

Soon Vodafone Live! sprang into view. He pressed more buttons and Maxim TV asked me to confirm that I was over sixteen. Once I'd done that, it asked me to wait while my video downloaded. I waited, and soon scantily clad ladies with enormous boobs were to be seen leaping around my phone as they played tennis, volleyball and basketball. I think one of the basketball players threw her left breast into the net thereby scoring the winning goal.

"How about that!" said the Vodafone man.

The Vodafone Live! front page seems to have been designed by a male chauvinist pig who speaks in txt. Under the heading Pics & Images I am offered the opportunity to view Babes, Celebs, Cards.... Under the heading News & More I have access to Weather, biz, Lotto...

"What age group makes most use of cell phones?" I asked.

"Probably teenage girls," said the man. "They appear to have the phones permanently fixed to their fingers with superglue. Have you ever noticed them walking down the street, completely oblivious to their surroundings, flashing their thumbs for all to see and crashing into lampposts, telegraph poles, post boxes and passing pedestrians? Have they no shame?"

"Why would teenage girls be interested in pictures of Babes? Why would they want to watch massively endowed mammals playing basketball?"

"Why not use Vodafone Live! to check your email?" asked the Vodafone man, subtly changing the subject. "That's a wonderful feature."

"How do I do that?"

"You press these buttons 513 times in this sequence and then you walk across the room and lose the signal and have to start again."

"Wow," I said, impressed. "I've always wanted to do that." And so I gave the Vodafone man lots of money and took my new phone home.

It's an extremely Shiny! phone and I'm overcome with happiness at owning it. But let's face it -- the thing is nothing but a toy. Virtually everything it does is something I neither want nor need. Doubtless I will make use of all its features at some point, simply because they are there. That's what technolust is all about, of course. We all want to live in a Dick Tracy comic at least once in our lives. I have two friends who make video phone calls to each other across their lounge because they don't know anybody else who has a phone capable of doing video calls, and they really, really, really want to play with video calls.

The phone came with Windows (spit!) software for connecting it to a computer. I do actually have a Windows (spit!) computer sitting in a dusty, neglected corner of my study. So I installed the software and clicked on its icon.

"Hello," it said. "Where's your phone?"

"Here," I said.

"No it isn't," said the software, rather annoyed. "Stop messing about. Where's your phone?"

"It's here," I said. "Look!"

"No it isn't," said the software emphatically. "Come on, you can't fool me. You haven't actually got a cell phone at all, have you?"

"Yes I have," I insisted. "Here it is." I held the phone up and showed the software that the phone was plugged in to the right socket and was switched on, ready and eager to communicate.

"Rubbish," said the software, sneeringly. "I know you haven't got a phone. Go away and don't bother me again until you actually get yourself a phone."

Then it performed an illegal operation and vanished up its own protocol port.

So much for that. I immediately connected myself to that there intraweb thingy, and went looking for Linux software that would talk to my phone.

"I'll give it a go," said one program. "Actually I'm designed to talk to Nokia phones, but I'm sure your Motorola phone will do just as well. They're all the same really, you know."

I connected my phone to my Linux laptop and turned the phone on.

"Oh look," said the software. "A cell phone! Hello."

"Hello," said the phone, shyly.

"How about you give me your contact list?" asked the software, seductively.

"No problem," said the phone and promptly dumped its guts all over the disk drive.

The file the phone gave me was in a very odd format indeed. For a moment I thought there was no data in it at all and that I was back to square one. But closer investigation showed that there really was information in there, it was just hiding. For those who care, the file was UTF-16 with 0xFEFF in the first sixteen bits.

Once I got that sussed, it was all completely straightforward, of course.

I soon realised that the data in the file was quite unsuitable for easy modification on the computer – the layout was rigid and complex, full of auto incrementing numbers used as keys by the phone and arcane text strings that defined whether the number was to be stored in the phone's memory or on its SIM card. Fiddling with it directly was far too awkward.

Never mind, it was nothing that two small C programs and three shell scripts couldn't fix, and it wasn't very long before I had my contact list in an easily editable file that I could quickly reformat into the idiosyncratic layout that the phone demanded. Now I could upload the data back into the phone any time I felt like it, at the touch of a button. No sweat. Problem over.

I opened up my new phone and I said, "Beam me up, Scotty."

And he did.

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