The Future is NOW!

I love living in the future!

Granted, I don't have a flying car or jetpack, but I don't know that those would be good transportation choices for someone with acrophobia. I don't even like going up in high buildings. I certainly wouldn't want to live in one of those flying apartment things. You can keep your Jetsonian future, thank you very much.

I think I am relieved that the Gibsonian* cyber-punk future hasn't become the present. Not because of the dystopian thing like you would think. I remember reading Neuromancer and thinking how cool it would be to be able to plug directly into a computer. Considering the drain on productivity that Facebook and the Zynga games have become, perhaps it is best that I don't have that direct interface.

No, I am quite pleased with the futuristic items which are now part of my present. I carry a communication device which allows me to connect to anyone almost anytime and anywhere. If I choose, this communication can be textual (my preferred method), vocal, or what-ever the "al" word for face to face video conferencing is. This same device is also a still camera, a video camera, contains a library of reading material, a second library of music, and a whole toy chest full of games that I can play alone or with others.

That's just the one I have in my pocket. There is also the slightly larger device which does all of that and more. The one that I am writing this on right now.

To be honest, the inspiration for this entry was neither of these devices but actually an accessory which works with each and the applications which are associated with it. I'm not really sure why I am making such a big deal out of it. What I do know is that when I set it up I had that "I live in the future moment."***

The item in question is a little gizmo which plugs into the audio out jack of my iPhone/iPad and allows me to read the magnetic strips on key cards.

More simply, I have a credit card swiper.

GLAHW has been knocking around the idea of accepting credit cards for about a year now. We make a number of appearances each year. We usually have books, magazines, and other merchandise available for sale. Sometimes people just simply do not have the cash on hand. Being able to accept credit cards would solve this problem.

I am going to pause here for a moment and draw your attention to what has me all wired.*4
Credit cards went from being something used primarily by traveling salesmen to the predominate method of making purchases in a roughly my lifetime.*5 I distinctly remember standing in line while people wrote out checks for their groceries. The bookstore I worked at in the late 80s was using cutting edge technology when it moved to the Veriphone Zon Jr (a smaller swiper/numeric keypad/printer) and we only had to use the big CHA-CHANG thing when the system went down. You know what I mean. That thing that looked kind of like a shoe store foot measuring device that the clerk put your card in. Yep, we were very glad to not have to spend five minutes every night washing the purple mimeo ink off of our fingers.*6

Fast forward 30 or so years. Last year I used my credit card for a couple of purchases at the Renaissance Festival. And no CH-CHANG for some of them. Just a quick swipe and a sign the screen please.

In a temporary storefront without electricity or phone lines in the middle of a wooded area.

Think about all of the developments that were required for that to happen. Not only did someone have to develop the actual technology to read the magnetic strip on the credit cards, it had to evolve to the point where it could be carried anywhere. Miniaturization and coding, hand in hand. There had to be a digital infrastructure in place which allows immediate access to financial information (thank you internet). Mobile technology had to develop to the point where it could access the internet from anywhere. This meant network coverage which extends just about everywhere (in North America).*8

We won't even start on the touch screen signature part.*9

And now I'm part of this!


There were actually a number of things for the group to consider. Most of the credit card verification companies will give you the little swiper dealie for free when you sign up, so price wasn't an issue that way. The financial question was how much use of the service would cost us. Some of the services charge a monthly fee, others a per transaction fee. Our sales cluster around specific times of year, namely the spring conventions and Halloween appearances. Paying a fee for the other 8 or 9 months doesn't seem all that practical.

One area where the actual gizmo did have to be considered was who would be using it. The four or five people who usually work the convention tables own a diverse selection of mobile devices. All of the big ones are represented: Android, Apple, and Blackberry. The gizmo would have to work on all of them.

Similarly, the software application would have to be able to be run on multiple devices. By this I mean that it would have to be compatible with them. Also, it would have to allow access to the account from different mobile devices. We couldn't ask someone to give us their phone for the weekend so we could work a con that they were not attending.

SquareUp seemed to fit the bill nicely. We will get our first test this weekend at the
Motor City Comic Con.

So the gizmo itself is pretty cool. That's not what put the ridiculous geek grin on my face. I got up one morning and was goofing around with the application. I wanted to get familiar with the interface and what I would have to do to use it before I actually have to use it. I discovered that you can create inventory lists with pictures and price points. You don't have to put in the price, just tap the picture of what the person is buying.

How cool is that?

While I was taking pictures of all of the GLAHW anthologies, a little pop up appeared asking if I would like to download something called Register which would allow me to better control inventory and bonuses for repeat customers.

Would I like to have the ability to organize the information about the items for sale in multiple ways? Is CDO the correct order for the letters in OCD?

I downloaded that application (free!) and set it up on my iPad as well. I am logged into the group account in one and my own in the other. Yeah, I set it up so I can sell my own merchandise as well as the group's.

Now that you have set through all of this techno-hype, I just know that you are dying to come see it in action. I'll look for your bright shiny faces at the
Suburban Collection Showplace (46100 Grand River, Novi, MI 48374) for the Motor City Comic Con. Hours are:

Fri (18 May): 12:30 - 7:00
Sat (19 May): 10:30 - 6:00
Sun (20 May): 10:30 - 5:00

For more information on the MCCC, see the previous post here.

Looking forward to see you all (and maybe even selling you something)!

In the spirit of full disclosure I will mention that this entry was going to be about two different technologies that I was playing with at the same time. The second, my surprise for
Penguicon, did not quite pan out. I am going to tweak it and try again next year so mum's the word for now.

Besides, this was long enough without it, don't you think?

*Please pardon my neologism. I'm sure most of you got the reference to the Jetsons. For those not familiar with William Gibson what you need to know is that his book Neuromancer (the first book to win the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K Dick awards -- a sci-fi trifecta) started what came to be known as the cyberpunk** movement. If you haven't read it (or have only seen the Keanu Reeves cinematic adaption), I highly recommend it. While reading, keep in mind that it was published over a quarter century ago. Gibson imagined a future where everyone is jacked into a virtual computerized world back before HTML was invented.

**Hopefully you aren't looking for a definition of cyberpunk. This foot note is just me stating that cyberpunk was the first of the literary "punk" sub-genres. If cyberpunk focuses on computers and the melding of mind and machine in a gritty future (there, I defined it anyway), the other subgenres focus on other aspects while maintaining that dark tone. Just about anything can be and has been termed something-punk. The more recognizable include biopunk (genetic hacking), splatterpunk (ultra-gory horror), and the new favorite steampunk (variations of modern technology set in the Victorian era).

***When I consider what actually inspired this feeling I feel a little shallow. Have I really embraced consumerism that much? Apparently so.

*4 Pun intended.

*5 However, there have been credit cards since before I was born. I'm not that old. Stop talking about bartering for chickens and animal skins.

*6 Sadly we did not generate much revenue so we were among the last stores in the company to get barcode scanners. We never did get fully computerized. We used to look up titles on microfiche.*7

*7 Yes, microfiche. Look it up kids. Go on. Google it with your phone you whippersnapper.

*8 We can debate the pros and cons of this at another time. Right now we're relishing in the "gee whiz golly."

*9 The best thing about touch screen signatures? I no longer have to be embarrassed by my handwriting (I once had a sales person look at my signature and ask when I was legally changing my name to Illegible Scrawl). I can just blame it on the screen.