My History with Gizmo Wristwatches

The Casio C 80 calculator watch. It's a nerd thang,   you got to understand!

When I was in college back in the middle Eighties, I had a Casio calculator watch. This was the expensive apotheosis of nerdery back then. In the Eighties Japan was kicking everyone’s ass in consumer electronics. At the time microchips had become so cheap that towards the end of the decade, they were giving away cheap watches in cereal boxes. Smart people in the wristwatch industry–that is to say, nobody in Switzerland or the US–realized that the only way to keep the prices up was to jam more functions in the box, thus the Casio C 80 calculator watch. Walking around with this thing strapped to my wrist made me feel like Mr. Spock or Dr. Who.

Anyway, fast forward to the beginning of the Twenty-first Century.

My Xonix wristwatch, which served me very well for more than four years partially broke several months ago. Actually it would have served even longer. It’s just that I broke the stem for the analog watch when trying to replace its battery. I now have no way of setting the watch but, everything else still works–the digital recorder, the thumb drive, the ear buds, everything. In our diminished expectations of product quality in these modern times, I consider that pretty good endurance. But if the analog watch doesn’t work, I just can’t stand to wear it on my wrist. I’m keeping it as spare parts for a friend’s Xonix watch of the same model.

The Xonix 512 MP3. Respect!

I bought the thing back in 2004 for about 120 dollars:

  • It was a USB thumb drive with 512 mebibytes of memory
  • It could play WAV and MP3 files and had a very simple equalizer–more a four mode tone control really.
  • It was a simple digital audio recorder with a condenser microphone on the band
  • And it was a wristwatch

I probably could have got it for less in 2004 if I really shopped around. Regardless, it’s 2008 and things have not stood still in the faceless electronics foundries of China. (Now China is kicking everyone’s ass in cheap consumer electronics.)

For about 60 to 80 dollars I can now get a watch with:

  • A 4.6 cm diagonal screen for video, ASCII text and still image display
  • A USB2 thumb drive with 4 gibibytes of memory
  • FM radio reception and recording
  • A player that supports JPEG, MP3, WMA, BMP, WAV and a proprietary extension to MPEG-4 called MTV.
  • Display of ASCII text files
  • A digital audio recorder

I don't even know who manufactures this thing!

Anyway, for me in these post-Linux days, the deal breaker is the lack of format support. It’s hard finding wristwatches with Ogg Vorbis support or that fully implement published video formats. Sorry but, MTV and AMV are not published formats. They’re just undocumented binary cooked up by bright sparks in Chinese gadget houses. I don’t want to have to convert video files as I move from platform to platform. I want to encode things once and expect every serious gadget to support it.

So I’m still looking around. At the moment the perfect wristwatch would have at least 6 gibibytes of storage, full support for Ogg Vorbis and full support of major video formats. What I’d like to do is devote 2 gibibytes of storage to install Linux or XP and then use the thing to fix machines with broken boot records. The remainder of space I’d use to save and play music, images, video and data.

For me, it would fire my nerd pride circuits if I walk around with my super-watch strapped on, shaking my head all the squares with their iPods. I would literally be marching to the beat of a different drummer.

I hope to live to see the day when these watches are powerful enough to store a human personality. Never say never.

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