Data Crystal

In every long running Science Fiction franchise, there is the notion of a tiny device that carries within it the capacity to store a ludicrously large amount of data by present day standards. Normally, you’ll see some character pull one of these out of his pocket, holding it up to shine in the light on the set, and then someone will pop it into a reader and the complete schematics for an entire planet will appear on the holographic screen. In Star Trek, these storage devices looked like little plastic cards. In Babylon 5, they were crystal shaped. The notion of the data crystal always intrigued me because I grew up storing data on large floppy disks or even larger disk pack type devices.

I think with the arrival of the new iPod nano, the age of the data crystal is here in force.

At the beginning of this year, when i got my iPod Shuffle, I thought it was ludicrously small for a device that could store 1GB of data. I decided to see if a device that small could fit the largest single musical work that the Western World has ever seen: The Wagner Ring. It took a while to run the experiment, but this week I finally determined that the whole thing will fit in the shuffle with more than 200MB left over if you encode it at 128Kbps.

Armed with this evidence, I was ready to declare to the world that the age of the data crystal had arrived.

Then, the iPod nano arrived. Holding one of these in your hand, you realize that even though it is barely larger than the Shuffle (it’s wider, but thinner)

1. It holds four times as much data. In fact, I’d guess that the nano can store enough to hold the working set of most application developers who work on products of average size.

2. Oh my god, it shines as if lit by a thousand suns. I always figured the color screens were useless, but they sure are pretty.

The nano, then, is a shiny device barely the size of a credit card that I could use to carry my whole job around with me. It is the very definition of the data crystal. Sitting on your desk, it looks like a piece of sculpture, almost perfectly smooth with a black metallic sheen. Hook it up to your computer, and you have four times the storage that my graduate school provided for its entire computer science program back in 1990.

Of course, the iPod is not a data storage device. It is a music player. As such, the nano works just like a full sized iPod. It looks, feels and sounds exactly the same. Get the black one.