After witnessing the global marketing push for the Apple iPhone in recent weeks, it occurred to me that I’ve been slacking on my own uber-phone initiative – the dFone. Though the dFone, as in “Daedalus phone,” has a more humble origin story than Steve Jobs’ newfangled communicator, let’s explore it nevertheless as another example of American ingenuity.
The genesis of the dFone can be traced to a spring day a few months back when I was strolling from headquarters to the Espace Café across and down the street. My cohort and collaborator, Brodie Giles, had alighted on the notion of coffee a few minutes earlier than I and consequently was several paces ahead of me. To spare myself the walk, I attempted to place an order with Brodie via his cell phone, unaware that it had recently met its end under a tire on Riverside Drive. I hollered at him but West Napa’s mid-morning traffic drowned out the words “iced coffee.” Resolute, I cupped my hands around my mouth as I had seen done at school sporting events and yelled. It seemed to work and I made a mental note to examine the phenomenon further (I learned later that Brodie had just stepped out of earshot).
How such a primitive technology could prove so effective I’ll leave to the acoustic technicians. Suffice it to say, I was convinced I had stumbled upon a cheap but effective communication technology. I rushed back to my office to draw up plans. Nothing came at first, that is, until I finished the iced coffee (when Brodie returned I demanded that he give me his, which he did with a fiery look in his eye that I took for esteem). I noticed when I spoke into the cup (that is to say, when replying to questions posed by managing editor Tim Omarzu that I could not adequately answer – “Where’s your column, Howell?” for example – my mumbled response was actually louder than I expected. Embarrassingly so. Enough that I instantly regretted my comments about Tim’s ancestral home of Slovenia. However, I made a valuable observation: Sound can be amplified when bounced through a conical device. Who knew?
I commandeered the scissors from Ryan Lely’s photo desk (why a photographer needs such implements is beyond me, I mean, they shoot digitally, don’t they?). I cut the bottom from my cup, entreated Brodie’s assistance with the promise of a replacement iced coffee and scurried to the nearest field.
“Can-you-hear-me?” I queried through the mouth of the cup, confident that the sound emanating from the small hole in the bottom would be transformed into a roar.
Brodie sighed and hunched his shoulders. A mustachioed passerby on a BMX bicycle suggested that I turn the cup around and speak into the smaller hole, then asked me for a dollar – a pittance for the breakthrough that followed.
“Can you hear me, now?” I asked.
The brilliance of my innovation sent Brodie’s eyes rolling. After a stunned moment, he finally said “Uh, yeah, sure. Now can I go back to work?” It was if I were Alexander Graham Bell uttering those fateful first words over the newly invented telephone – “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you” – except that it wasn’t Mr. Watson, but Mr. Giles who declined my invitation to “come here” and strolled back to the office shaking his head. Indeed, it had been an overwhelming moment for us both.
My prototype in hand, I went to the Plaza to test the compatibility of my invention with other telecommunications devices. Amazingly, everyone I had said “hello” to through the dFone was clearly receiving my signal. Many were so impressed by the clarity and volume of my voice that they turned away or would sometimes pull their young children from my path to protect their tiny ears. A success! Fate had called and I answered it with the dFone.