Not long ago, amidst research for an interview with a big Silicon Valley guy, I Netflix'd a copy of the 1996 PBS series Triumph of the Nerds
. Re-watching the program, a brief history of the early adventures of such personal computer pioneers as Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates and Paul Allen, I came away with two impressions: surprise at how nineties
everything looked — boy, I never thought I'd say that — and approval of the hosting skills of that guy in the glasses, khakis and tucked-in polo shirts. (That's how we dressed in the nineties, you see.) He not only knew his stuff, but his skills at what us Max Funsters might call "dad humor" were honed to a fine edge.
He of the shirts and the specs is one Robert X. Cringely, a veteran observer of and commentator on the computing scene. He's done a handful of other PBS series, including one nobody but me has heard of where he builds an airplane by himself. More to the point, he writes a weekly column called I, Cringely and, still more to the point, it's available in podcast form [iTunes link].
Robert X. Cringely is many things: "sex symbol, airplane enthusiast and adventurer," his about page modestly proclaims. "A dirty old man," he calls himself in one podcast. Googlism says the following:
- robert x. cringely is well known throughout the computer industry
- robert x. cringely is simply the net's best commentator
- robert x. cringely is in fact a real person
- robert x. cringely is full of shit
- robert x. cringely is really getting on my nerves; i'm trying to remember why i signed up to get his column in the first place
- robert x. cringely is a fun
(I like that last one the best.)
Clearly there's some controversy here. Are we talking about a titan of tech journalism, or some gossipy hack? As anything about which opinions so widely vary interests me, I couldn't help but catch up on his body of work. Agree or disagree with his pronouncements — I considered using the word "opinions," but no, they're pronouncements — you have to admit that he's the most reliably entertaining computer pundit in existence.
I, Cringely tackles the critical technology questions of our time, including, recently: What do information technology consultants actually do? [MP3] Why isn't Apple getting on board with Blu-Ray? [MP3] What's going on in Steve Jobs' head? (That one's sort of a Cringely leitmotif, actually.) [MP3]
Cringely regularly exhibits two tendencies: a fixation on Moore's Law, and a penchant for bold predictions. He's not always on target — his current official batting average is .571, which still beats pure chance — but at least he's not one of those of mealy-mouthed, ass-covering equivocators who play it safe but don't play it with guts. Plus — and this is the most important part — he admits when he's wrong. Bob's predictions for 2008 [MP3] include the personal computer's giving of ground to smaller devices that are already morphing — to use a nineties term — into something more PC-like themselves, venture capitalists' turn away from ad-revenue-only firms like Facebook, and Apple's replacement of the mouse with something more happenin'.
(He also predicts that his program NerdTV — billed as "essentially Charlie Rose for geeks" — which gets my blood moving, as I am the biggest Charlie Rose fanboy who has ever lived, and also something of a geek — will return for a second season. You can download the first one now as podcasts and vidcasts.)
Do note that not every I, Cringely column is of general interest: good luck understanding, for example, his piece on Azul Systems' new mainfraime [MP3] if by quirk of fate you don't happen to do a lot of mainframe computing yourself. And hey, isn't this just Robert X. Cringely reading his column out loud? Yes, but he's hell of good at reading. Besides, reading it yourself would be so Web 1.0.
[Direct all correspondence to colinjmarshall at gmail. Podthoughts discussion thread available here. I'm working on a special series of Podthoughts on podcasts by Max Funsters; if you do one, let me know about it here.]