Wishing is easier than buying

The fascinating thing about doing Christmas shopping on the Web is that it actually takes longer than fighting the traffic and going to the mall, or to the seemingly hundreds of Christmas craft sales. I did my usual prowl and counted up the hours. Seems I spent far more time looking at the pictures in the electronic catalogues than I would by prowling the aisles of a store.

On the other hand, I didn’t have to pay Starbucks’ prices for a coffee, and I could listen to Mozart rather than some whining teenaged pops singer slaughter Christmas carols. I could also shop at two in the morning while the Ghost of Christmas Past made suggestions over my shoulder. It’s when you start to hallucinate that a bony finger is pointing to something on the screen that you know it’s time to quit.

The other thing that takes time is falling into the trap of wishing rather than real shopping. As usual, I checked out the BMW Z3, but I had to look at Honda and the new Mini Cooper. Suspicions confirmed; I still can’t afford them and I don’t know anyone that wants to put any one of them – or all three – under the Christmas tree. On the other hand, sailing through the ships chandlers seemed easier this year, with products better presented.

There were quite a few pre-Christmas sales that were attractive. Binnacle, my favourite, is still there, as are Steveston Marine and Nikka Industries out west. One thing I discovered is that Ethernet has gone to sea. Furuno, the radar and electronics folks have come up with an Ethernet 10-Base T network for the recreational boaters. If you purchase a GPS (Global Positioning System) you have a flat panel screen that accepts moving chart software. If you add a depth sounder, you can use the same screen and it automatically integrates depth onto the GPS. Add a small radar antenna and you now have an integrated system giving you as much navigation information as you need, all accessible on the same panel. Adding stations in a larger boat is done by plugging another panel into the Ethernet hub. All of this is possible in any boat longer than a dinghy. Oh, one other thing, with the appropriate antenna you can also watch television or surf the Web.

Try this on for size

Land’s End has added a virtual model so that you can build your dimensions into it and then try on clothes from their catalogue. If you’re anything other than tall, willowy and anorexic, you’ll appreciate the opportunity to see the clothes on you rather than a handsome or beautiful (pick one) model. Mind you, my model looked a whole bunch younger and didn’t have a beard, but most of my friends would call that an improvement. The interesting thing is that a Canadian firm designed the MyVirtualModel software. I’ll do some more homework and make it a future topic. It’s a great piece of customer service.

Speaking of models, if you’re really into expensive lingerie, the infamous Victoria’s Secret diamond bra and knickers can be ordered on-line for a mere 12 million dollars and change. I don’t think my Visa card will stand the strain and the bank may not understand the need for a dressing room in the vault. Well, you wouldn’t want to store this stuff in the knickers drawer would you? I suppose when they wear out you can use the bits to cut glass or make a chandelier.

There are some neat electronic toys that would make Dick Tracy green with envy. How about a watch that doubles as an FM radio, or the watch that includes a digital camera? Those are around the $100 mark. There’s also an MP3 watch that’s rather more expensive.

Warm fuzzies

There are several varieties of robot pet, but the Sony dog that responds to voice, touch and can learn tricks is clearly the winner both in talent and in price – $2,500 and 32 computer chips. Great if your apartment won’t allow you to have pets. Personally, I think I’d at least get it a fake fur sweater – steel and plastic don’t have a doggy feel. On the positive side, you don’t have to clean up behind it or give it a bath. You can calculate the ROI yourself.

The rest of the appliances world continues to change the outside of the appliance without changing much on the inside. The prices are somewhat lower in response to the economy, but the combination of the dollar exchange rate, duty, shipping and even the ability to have things shipped to Canada continues to make it difficult to shop on the Web. In some cases, the companies are Canadian, but their prices on the Web site are American. It seems business is going to convert to the North American dollar before the politicians.

My problem remains not knowing what gift to buy, but knowing I’ll recognize the right one when I see it. So far my computer and the Web have yet to make sensible suggestions, although they provide lots of opportunities for wishful thinking.

Here are some special New Year’s wishes to some kind people, who have commented on, argued over, or discussed my articles.

– To Marcus Redivo, a Web site that is finally registered.

– To Walter Moser, the necessary industry-specific tools outside the ERP.

– To Roman Kashmarsky, a strong team and a well-delivered collaborative project.

– To Andy Aiklin, a successful year with good partners.

– To Ben and Shelley Durda, a Sony robot dog for Stormy the wallpaper cat.

– To Craig Parkins, a single malt or two in January.

– To Rick Hamm, an Ethernet hub for a Catalina 22.

– To David Smithers, absolute control of information and a Dilbert calendar.

– To Gail Balfour, my articles before the deadline and an increase in circulation because the on-line news articles bring folks to the paper version.

– To Bill Huva, an automated scheduling package that will look after the logistics of moving the nippers around.

– To all of the readers of ComputerWorld Canada: May all your projects be on time and under budget, may your software be bug-free and may you all be blessed with a happy 2002 and business folks who love you. A very merry and cheerful Bah Humbug to you all.

Horner is a partner at Sierra Systems Group Inc. in Vancouver. He can be reached at alhorner@sierrasystems.com.