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Shady Illuminations

The Ulteriority of Ultraness

by John Shade

Generic image illustrating the article
  John reflects on the Ultrabook hype and thinks he sees ulterior motives.  

“It was thanks to Ultra that we won the war.” -Winston Churchill

I’m on Twitter now. Bad idea. I no sooner sign up than I read this post by Gina Trapani on the downside of web fame. Fortunately I haven’t done any of the things that Gina has, so I doubt that I’m in danger of become one of the web one percent. Anyway, I’m @JohnShade1.

I ought to come up with a playlist for this column. Music to listen to while reading. “Not Dark Yet” by Dylan. “Paint It Black” by the Stones. “Dirt in the Ground” by Tom Waits. OK, make that any Tom Waits. Pretty much any music that’s cheerfully dark. All of Brecht and Weill. Nina Simone’s version of “Pirate Jenny.” Like that. Maybe I’ll get around to it someday. For now, the headings in this column are all song titles from Depeche Mode’s “Ultra,” so if you want to put yourself in the right mood while reading it, that’s what you should be listening to.


Right after CES, two articles on the Ultrabook phenomenon arrived in my inbox. One told me to pay attention to it. The other said to ignore it. So they net out at zero information. Useless, right? I don’t see why they had to appear in my inbox at all. In an ideal world, two messages with opposite information would cancel each other out, like a particle and an antiparticle, consuming zero bandwidth and their interaction doing some Feynman time-reversal deal so they were never sent.

I guess if I were smart I’d just ignore them. The trouble is, these Ultrabooks have interesting specs and will probably sell very well. So I guess I have to pay attention to Ultrabooks even though the name makes my flesh crawl like being followed by people obsessed with photographing cats. Why did I have to enter the world of twits?


On second thought, though, what about that name?

“Ultra” has various shades of meaning, but essentially it means “beyond.” Ultraviolet is beyond violet, past the tweakiest color of the visible spectrum. The ancients allegedly carved ne plus ultra in the Pillars of Hercules at the Strait of Gibraltar. Yes, they carved it just like that, in italics. They were italic, so of course they wrote in italic. That’s why the Leaning Tower of Pisa leans. Anyway, the italics were warning sailors that there was “nothing more beyond.” They’d reached the end of the ancient world.

So is Intel saying that there is nothing more beyond this spec? That this is the end of the line? They wouldn’t be alone in concluding that the personal computer has no future. That we’re moving on to other platforms. And Intel is always looking at least one generation beyond the vision of the OEMs.

Is the Ultrabook the ultimate personal computer, the final embodiment of the concept before it is displaced entirely by tablets manacled to the clouds?

The Love Thieves

What is an Ultrabook, anyway? Besides trending on Twitter?

I decided to research that question. Using the best practices of journalism today, I googled up a random blog post and scrolled through the comments until I found something that I liked.

As someone calling himorherself dicobalt put it whereever it was that I found this, “They are thin... and they are light. They are thin AND light. With the advantage of being thin and light! While still being thin and light.”

That seemed clear enough. In fact, everthing else I read from OEMs claiming to have an Ultrabook only muddied the waters. I’d just about decided to settle on dicobalt’s definition when I came upon this:

“Neither AMD nor ARM will be able to use Ultrabook branding.”

I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to understanding marketing strategies. But I get this one, because I’ve seen it before.

When you come up with “the first and arguably most successful ingredient-branding program” ever, you don’t abandon it easily. You figure maybe you can get some more mileage out of it if you change the label.

The Bottom Line

The one defining feature of an ultrabook is that it uses Intel technology. Ultrabook means one thing for sure, and that’s the thing that matters:

Ultrabook = Intel Inside. Case closed.

John Shade was born under a cloud in Montreux, Switzerland, in 1962. Subsequent internment in a series of obscure institutions of ostensibly higher learning did nothing to brighten his outlook. Send the author your feedback or discuss the article in the magazine forum.