One Device to Rule Them All...

I think I've found a good analogy that describes my experience thus far with the Mac:

Let's say this remote is my Mac. Obviously, very simple. Some might say even stylish in it's simplicity. This remote probably has about 10 features, and each one of those features it probably does flawlessly. Everything's laid out intuitively and you never have to worry about getting lost. You don't have to worry about it accidentally turning on/off any of your other devices, because it only works specifically with the TV that it came with. It's not a universal remote - you can't put codes in it to operate your other entertainment systems. And not much thought is required about "how" to use it - you use it the way it's designed. If you had some other ideas about how a remote should work, you should forget them.

Now, in my house, I own a universal remote called the MX-500. It's a fully-programmable universal remote. You can map actions to the hardware buttons. You can program macros commands (I have a macro that turns on/off the tv, cable, audio receiver, and DVD with one button. I have macros that change the tv and audio receiver configurations for, say, DVD-viewing vs. VCR-viewing, etc.) The buttons illuminate. The remote can "clone" another remote by pointing the IR sensors together. It can even be programmed to remote control light dimmers should I be adventurous enough to install them.

Nevertheless, as a result of all these features, I will admit that this remote is not very "friendly" to the casual user, including my wife. (over the years, she has grown to live with it and learn just enough of its features to get by) You would not be able to just look at this remote and figure out how to use it the way I do. (You wouldn't know to press "Main", then hold down one of the panel buttons to run a macro). And if you pressed the wrong sequences of buttons, you might find yourself stuck in some state that you would not easily be able to recover from, thus making the remote useless [for you] until I came over and helped you out.

But - and ay, here's the rub - I wouldn't trade this 1 remote for any of the 6 stylish and simple remotes that it replaced in my house. I gladly give up simplicity and even stability for the God-like power to control and interface with any and everything, and to do things with this remote that perhaps the manufacturer hadn't even thought about. Many times, I do experience limitations. It happens when my TV's manufacturer, for instance, doesn't give my remote the proper access or code authorization to access all of it's features. So, every now and then there's some sublte, hidden feature of my DVD, for example, that I can only access by getting up off the couch and doing by hand, or (heaven forbid) grabbing that DVD player's remote to access the feature.

But do I fault my remote control for this? No, I give it a pat on the back for doing a 85% good job of interfacing and playing nicely with all these other components. My remote has made a decision to bravely enter and play in the world of other electronics. It has not required me to make my home on an island called Basic Remote - an island with one TV, and one set of rules, and one way of thinking.

Rather than being the ruler of that island, a small kingdom though tightly controlled, I'd rather rule the world. Yes, I may have only loose control: a few riots every now and then, a recession or two, a stock market crash maybe, a war here and there. But still - I rule. Ask your boy GW Bush - he'll tell you the same... :)

(originally posted 1/21/08)

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