Dear Santa,

How’s tricks? I know you weren’t expecting to hear from me — or anyone, probably — so soon but I have a feeling that some of the stuff I want won’t be around later so I thought I’d better ask now. Besides, Hallmark has been selling their ornaments since July and I think I saw some decorations going up at the mall, so I know you’ll be flooded with letters in no time.

Um, I know you’re probably not going to get me everything on my list, and some of the stuff (well, most of it, really) is kinda pricey, but I’ve been a very good boy this year! I hardly pissed anyone off, except people who emailed me (and I’m trying really, really hard to be better about that!) and I gave blood lots of times. You can check!

Okay, the first thing on my list isn’t very expensive at all, considering. $50 bucks! It’s a game, believe it or not. And, yes, if I get it I’ll probably be spending even more time at my computer than I do now, but it’s a really good game! And no one gets shot, there’s no blood, it teaches me creativity and sharing and economics and sh… stuff like that. Remember a few years ago when I wanted SimCity2000? Well, Maxis is bringing out SimCity3000 and it’s even better than ever!

The newest version of this classic game where no one wins adds alien invasions, sound effects, more realistic rendering and cities that are up to four times larger than SimCity2k. Plus I can build and destroy San Francisco and New York! How much fun is that? Not that I ever enjoyed destroying my cities with fires and tornados and such, of course. But these things happen.

Next, I want to go back even farther in my childhood and combine three of my favorite toys; erector sets, Legos and the Radio Shack catalog—only without the free batteries. Lego Mindstorms is finally coming out, but they’re only making 75,000 boxes in time for Christmas! I know it’s kind of pricey at $200.00, but I bet you could swing it for me if you really wanted. Cut back on the reindeer food — do they really need that premium Purina stuff?

Plus, Mindstorms teaches me how to build robots that will run into walls and deal cards and all sorts of stupid things! Which I’m sure is somehow good for me. I’ll leave that up to you.

Under The Tree

I’m afraid we’re going to get really expensive now, but not without reason! I mean, I need these things! Really! I do!

Now, I know this might sound like poor justification but hear me out. You know how much I travel, right? Hours on planes, hours on trains. Hours and hours of nothing. And I used to bring along my portable CD player and a couple dozen CDs to occupy my head, right? But sometimes I don’t want to hear the whole CD, which is why I bring so many of them. But if I could record only the songs I want, I wouldn’t have to bring as much stuff with me meaning I would take up less space and be less of a bother to my fellow passengers, right? And, um, analog is so 80’s. Everybody knows that if it ain’t digital, it ain’t worth squat.

So, MiniDiscs are finally hitting mainstream and Sony just came out with this really slim, really tiny, really cool portable MiniDisc player/recorder! The MZ-R50 functions as a full-featured MD deck, allowing you to record via either analog or optical digital input. And instead of getting some full-size home MD recording deck and then having to buy another portable MD player, you get both for about $350.00. You can record up to 74 minutes of stereo music or double that if you only need one-channel for, like, voice or something. The headphones have this cool remote control stick on the cord so you can leave the unit in your pocket and control all the functions from that. The U.S. version only comes in silver, but since you go all over the world, maybe you could pick me up the wild orange version in Asia? That’d be sweet!

I’m afraid things only get more expensive from here, but isn’t that what a wish list is for?

Everybody and their dog has a digital camera. Have you seen them? They save pictures either on inboard RAM or to various portable memory cards, or even to regular floppy disks. You don’t need film, you don’t have to wait to get anything developed. Only some of the pictures look, well, really crappy. The reds are sometimes washed-out, sometimes over-saturated. The pictures are usually saved as JPEG files, and you know how those look when they’ve been a little too compressed. Stanky!

I don’t mean to educate you, I know you’re a man of the world and you have to keep up on all this digital junk. But it used to be that if you wanted a decent digital camera that took megapixel images — meaning the saved pictures were composed of over a million pixels so they’re clearer and reduce more cleanly — you had to pay $5,000 to $20,000! Sure, professionals could afford that, they make their living from the pictures they take! But what about you and me, Santa? We want good pictures, too! Don’t we deserve it?

True Colors

This year, the megapixel camera fell under $1,000. Which is still a buttload of cash, I think we can agree, but the pictures! And the best camera out now is the Olympus D-600L. Oh, sure, you keep hearing about Kodak’s newest dream machines and even Nikon has brought its legendary Nikkor lens to “affordable” megapixel digital photography on the Coolpix900. But what Olympus offers that no other sub-$1K offers is a true through-the-lens viewfinder! You don’t have to use a battery-sucking LCD display or try to figure out is what you see through some plastic window is what the camera sees, too. It works just like the 35mm camera we’re all used to! And the pictures… Can you say, “gorgeous?”

I should mention that “sub $1,000” means it retails for $999.00, which is still sub, but just barely. If you can’t swing that, you can save $200 and get the pocket-sized D340-L for $799. Yeah, I know prices will continue to fall and next year we’ll get multimegapixel wonders for the price of today’s cameras, but how can one look cool by waiting?

Speaking of cutting edge, did you know that all the cool kids are using DV? Digital Video, man! Where you been, the North Po… Oh, yeah.

Anyway, the whole digital thing is changing the face of video. The new DV standard is supported by just about every major electronics manufacturer, from Sharp to JVC to Panasonic, so we luckily avoid that VHS vs. Beta thing from a few years back. DV cassettes are about the size of a matchbox and you can get 60 minute and 90 minute cartridges. And since we’re talking digital — and a byte is a byte is a byte — most DV camcorders also store still pictures! You could have a family album you watch on TV! And instead of worrying about smart cards and floppies and RAM, you store the pictures on DV cassettes (you can store up to… ready? 700 on a 60-minute DV cassette. That’s Hundred, with an “H”, Claus!)

Changing The Face

Leave it to Sony to lead the pack again down this road. Their DCR-PC1 is “the world’s smallest digital camcorder” measuring just 2 inches wide, 3 2/3 inches long and 4 2/3 inches high. But in that little blocky case, you get a 10x optical or 120x digital zoom through a Carl Zeiss lens (if you’re not into lenses, let’s just say that’s a very, very good lens) plus all the other crap they load into camcorders today like picture stabilization and 16bit digital stereo audio recording, a 2 ½ inch anti-glare anti-fingerprint LCD screen, a color viewfinder, all that crap.

Now, don’t have a heart attack when I tell you the suggested price is $1,900.00, Santa. You could pay $4,500 for their top-of-the-line “professional” DV camera, so you’re getting off cheap here! And pretty much any DV camcorder you buy at this point runs in the two-grand range, which is a fairly nosebleed range I’ll grant you. But think how my friends will “ooh!” and “aah!” at me. Beside, Auriea already has one!

Oh! While you’re at Sony, could you pick up their brand-spanking-new carousel DVD player? It’s such a hassle having both a multi-disc CD player and a DVD player. With this machine, I can load in five CDs or five DVDs or any combination thereof and save an extra four inches of space on my stereo rack! Plus, when I get tired of watching James Bond blow shit up in “Goldeneye,” I can hit the remote, spin the platter and watch Helen Hunt’s truck crash on the road in “Twister” without ever getting off my ass!

With all that new video equipment, I’m going to need something to show it off on, right? If all I wanted was “cool,” I’d ask for Bang & Olufsen’s BeoSystem AV9000. Sure, it only has a 28″ screen. Sure, it’s old fashioned analog TV. But it comes on a motorized stand that raises, lowers and pivots via remote control (even remembering where it was positioned when “on” and settling back down when “off”), it has a hidden, built-in VCR, it automatically adjusts its own brightness and contrast as the room brightens and darkens and, weirdest (or coolest) of all, it has an electronic screen “curtain” that opens so you feel like your in the theatre as the show begins.

On the other hand, none of B&O’s video products could be considered “normal.” The BeoCenter AV5 comes in 6 designer colors and includes a built in FM tuner and a CD player on the top edge of the screen that plays discs exposed. I mean, the edges of the disc just hang out in the open! And its loudspeakers, um, stretch out silently via internal motors. Wanna impress the neighbors? I figure one of these babies’ll do that, no problem.

If I had my ‘druthers, I’d ask you for Panasonic’s 42-inch Plasma Television. It’s 4 inches thick with built-in digital stereo speakers — you can hang it on your wall and uses the cinema-standard 16:9 ratio so “widescreen” presentations won’t have those nasty black bars anymore! A steal at only $15,000.00. But it won’t be available until next year, which is too late for Christmas. A company called QFTV in California is already selling 42″ flat panels, but they want around $20 grand. A little steep, don’t you think? So I’ll settle for Mitsubishi’s DiamondPanel. It’s the standard TV screen 4:3 ratio, unfortunately, but it’s available now at around $9,000.00.

What’s Next?

You know, Santa, everybody’s going on and on about the iMac. But you also know, Santa, that I could give a rat’s ass about Apple so why would I want a $1,200 Web terminal that looks like something magically excreted from an elf’s butt? No offense to the elves. Anyway, I don’t wanna see the guts of my computer. I want my computer as stealth as possible, and they don’t get more stealthy than IBM’s new M Pro Workstations. You can outfit a 6889 with two Pentium 450’s, three hard drives with a total capacity of 36Gig, 1Gb RAM and an ultracool 16″ flat panel display. Of course, that’ll run ya about $11,000.00, but I figure I’m worth it. And I know I don’t need a new computer, but when did need ever count more than want in my life, hmm?

And finally, Santa, I know, I know I just got a new car last year and it’s very nice. But as long as I’m asking, I figured I’d put one more thing on my list. After all, the worst thing you could say is, “No!”

When you’re talking dream machine, everyone gets a different idea in their head. For some people, it’s all about speed. They want a set of wheels so low to the ground that you have to lie down to get up. Others think extreme luxury is the only way to go, with wood panelling here and 42-speaker stereo there and buttery leather everywhere. Me, I need to strike a balance. Sure, I want sexy speed, but I need to be pampered. Don’t we all?

I bet you’re thinking, “Lance wants a Jag.” After all, it’s been one of my longtime fantasies to drive down the street in a sleek British chassis, and there’s no Jaguar like the XK8 convertible, is there? A beautiful combination of speed and luxury, and it can be sitting on anyone’s driveway for only $70,000. Imagine! But, see, the thing is I see them just everywhere! I mean, where’s the exclusivity? Where’s the panache? Where, in short, are all those people I am better than when I drive it if they’re all driving it, too?

No, Santa, if you’re going luxury sports convertible, I say go all the way. And it’s hard to go much further than the Aston Martin DB7 Volante. Let me just quote the brochure:

On first encounter the DB7 Volante takes your breath away such is the exquisite beauty and purity of line of this sleek and perfectly proportioned thoroughbred.

To drive DB7 Volante on a fast, winding road is to drive the car in its element. As you take the wheel you can almost taste the crisp tang in the air and feel the ebbing warmth of the late afternoon sun on your face as you steer a precise and purposeful course.

For despite its stunning looks and relaxed cruising potential Volante is a convertible of dynamic substance and precision.

The balance and poise are only too apparent. It is clear there is something special about Volante but then elegance—physical and dynamic—is the DB7’s core attribute. Its soft yet assertive styling gives the initial clue, its deeply rewarding performance, handling and comfort provide the confirmation.

Are you hard? Thinking about trading that old sleigh and those mangey reindeer in? All that for a mere $148,000.00. Oh, sure, there are more expensive cars (you could pay as much as $350,000 for a Bentley Continental T), but how many of them did James Bond drive?

Who could ask for anything more?

September 3, 1998

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