Charles Petzold

"A room without books is like a body without a soul" (Cicero)

February 13, 2008
New York, N.Y.

I was paging through the Sunday Business section of the New York Times when I saw a drawing of what was claimed to be a home but which to me looked more like a well-equipped hotel room:

Where are the books? I wondered. Doesn't every home have lots of books? But of course that was the whole point: This is a home of the future as described in the accompanying article "Pushing Paper Out the Door". There are no books in this home because books are made of paper.

I gradually came to see the sense of it: If there's nothing to read, there's no reason to be forced to make a choice between classical incandescent bulbs and modern energy-saving flourescent bulbs. You don't need any lightbulbs at all, thus greatly reducing your carbon footprint.

Eventually I spotted the e-book reader on the table next to the sofa — the very same sofa pointed at the TV set. Presumably in case you get tired of watching American Gladiator, The Biggest Loser, and Supernanny, you could pick up the e-book reader and catch a few episodes (I mean chapters, of course) of a book.

And then it hit me — my billion-dollar idea.

I get one or two billion-dollar ideas a year but they never go anywhere because I don't have the entrepreneurial gene and can conceive of nothing more dismal than running my own company. So I get the billion-dollar ideas but then I throw them away.

This one I'm throwing away in public in case anybody wants to take it and run.

As you may know, one of the big marketing problems of e-book readers like the Kindle is that they don't really do that much. Unless you want to read a book, they're pretty much useless. So here's my idea, inspired by seeing the e-book reader on the table next to the sofa facing the TV: Combine the e-book reader with a universal remote, so it becomes a Universal Media Controller (UMC). With the UMC you only need one device to turn off the boring TV to read a book, and the same device to turn the TV back on after you've had enough reading of the boring book.

Is this brilliant or what?