Dead Mouse

Unfortunately, we’ve got a dead mouse in the house.  Fortunately, it’s not a mouse of the furry, four-legged, cheese-loving, living in holes in walls and getting chased by cats in cartoons variety.

Instead, it’s our ancient computer mouse that isn’t working.  It was doused in coffee as a result of a desktop spill yesterday, and the soaking apparently has affected its innards and batteries enough to render it inoperative.  It’s an incident reminiscent of the old Saturday Night Live “Pepsi Syndrome” skit, where a knocked-over soft drink on a computer keyboard caused a nuclear meltdown.  This morning’s task list therefore will include trying to figure out if there is some way to get the old mouse scampering again, short of going out and buying a new mouse — which might not even be available given the advanced age of our home computer.

And, by virtue of the spill, we are reminded yet again of interconnectedness of our modern world, where every link in the technological chain is important.  It’s great to have a fully functional computer, but there’s not much you can do with it when a working mouse is not in the house.

 

Dr. Toilet

We’re used to “smart” devices these days.  Smartphones, of course.  Smart TVs.  Smart security systems.  Even smart refrigerators.

So, is it really a surprise that people have been working on the “smart” toilet?

eut3628s__98071.1512066915An Asian company has created a toilet that has built-in sensors that can detect, collect, and analyze waste samples.  The test results are then transmitted to an app on your phone, which gives you health advice based on the test results.  This particular smart toilet is supposed to be able to monitor heart disease and also to evaluate urine samples for symptoms of cancer and heart disease.

Health advice and real-time test results, directly from your toilet to your phone?  We must be living in the 21st century!

But that toilet is not the only “smart” stuff that will soon be available to increase the IQ of your bathroom.  Other powder room devices that have been exhibited or developed include a toilet and bathroom mirror that use the Alexa voice assistant (although exactly how Alexa helps in this particular area isn’t clear), a pressure sensor toilet that measures heart and blood vessel information, a toilet seat that checks blood pressure, and toilets that are linked to wi-fi, analyze out sugars and proteins that appear in your deposits, and also evaluate your body-mass index.  And some of the new devices even helpfully have LED night lights built in to the toilet lid.

In short, we may be on the cusp of the next great advance in toilet technology, when your home bathroom turns into a laboratory of devices that collect and analyze number one and number two, evaluate the blood flow in your cheeks, and consider God knows what else in order to provide you with a detailed, up-to-the-minute report on your personal health status — all of which will be transmitted and stored somewhere.

Terrifying, isn’t it?

Big Bro’s Apps

Every time I update my iPhone, weird new apps appear.  I have no idea what they are.

garageband_ios_iconThere’s one app with a guitar on it called “GarageBand.”  There’s another with a Hollywood Walk of Fame star on it called “iMovie.”  There’s also “iTunes U,” with a mortarboard cap, and “Keynote,” with a podium, and “Measure,” and “Numbers,” and “Pages,” all with their own different square icons.  What do they do?  Beats me!  I have no idea what they are or what function they are designed to perform or how they got where they are.  I didn’t consciously put them on my phone — they just appeared there.  Because I have no idea what they do, I haven’t tapped any of these apps.  I’m afraid that if I do, I might be charged for something I don’t want, or have to go through some long process to sign up for something I won’t use.  And, by using them, I probably would be transmitting data to someone somewhere would could sell it to some marketing firm who would use it to target ads to my phone.

The addition of these unknown apps makes me think about the reach of Apple and the power of its updates.  Somewhere, some unknown person is deciding what applications should appear on my phone.  I have no idea what process they use to make that decision or what they are trying to accomplish.  I get why Apple wants me to activate “Apple Wallet” — which I haven’t done, because I think my normal wallet works just fine.  But why would Apple decide that the standard iPhone set-up, which is what I have, should include an app like “GarageBand”?  What kind of design and standardization approach is at work here?

Cellphones are great, and the functionality they provide allows us to stay connected wherever we may go.  But there’s something about them that’s a little Big Brotherish, too — except that Big Bro isn’t the government, it’s some big company that is deciding what should and shouldn’t be on a device that you carry with you everywhere you go.  It gives me pause.

 

 

Seriously Sick Of Surveys

Some time ago we made a significant purchase.  For purposes of this post, the product or service in question is irrelevant.  It could be a phone, it could be a vehicle, it could be a major appliance, or a stay in a hotel, or some kind of streaming service, or a political contribution.  The item makes no difference, because it is the experience surrounding the expenditure that is the point — and the experience is, unfortunately, pretty much the same no matter what you spend your money on these days.

survey-11In virtually every case, you’ve got to make the decision on whether to give your email address and get the app that is specific to the purchased item.  These choices raise key decision points for the consumer:  do you give out your email address, knowing that you are losing control of an important bit of your personal privacy, and do you clutter your phone with apps that may give rise to unwanted beeps and buzzes and messages clogging your primary communications device?  I try to be judicious about this judgment call, and think about what I might really want and need as a result of each particular purchase.  If I think I may need to get an important message — like a product recall alert, or a warranty issue, or a service call — I’ll grudgingly give up the information.  Otherwise, I politely decline.

But when you do give up that information, the upshot is as predictable as an overnight Trump Twitter storm — you’re going to be getting surveys.  And in the modern world it won’t be just one survey; now, you’re likely to get a survey as soon as you make the purchase, and then get additional survey requests in the future, even if you’ve faithfully filled out the initial survey.  The survey bombardment is relentless.  Each survey request promises that it will take “only” a few minutes, but it’s pretty clear from the questions that what the survey is really seeking is not customer satisfaction information about the specific product or service you’ve just bought, but rather information about you and your personal preferences and perceptions and lifestyle, so that the seller of the item can better market things to you in the future.

I hate this reality of modern life.  The survey onslaught really irritates me, and also negatively affects my perception of the product.  It’s obvious that the seller that sends the survey doesn’t place much value on my time and also thinks I must be a sap, besides, if I’m going to gladly divulge personal information that enriches them and provides me with no benefit.  Maybe sellers with surveys are like email scammers — they know most rational people will just delete the message, but if they get just one sap to participate they’ve received a significant benefit at minimal cost.  I routinely delete the survey requests, and spend a few seconds steaming about the arrogance of the sender.

Do sellers understand how people like me react to surveys, or do they just not care?

Uber Choices

I’m still a green-as-grass novice when it comes to Uber, and I’m trying to figure things out.  Like, which option to choose when I trigger the app and am offered different choices for the ride.

1141770989.jpg.0There’s obviously a price difference between the options, but I’m not quite sure what the price differences fully mean.  I’m assuming that some of the more expensive options feature larger cars and SUVs, so if you’re part of a group you’d want to choose them.  But, are there other differences lurking in the price points, too?  Does the age and condition of the car, the cleanliness of the vehicle, the skill and experience and ratings of the driver, or the presence of a pine tree air freshener hanging from the rear view mirror, enter into the price as well?  I’m sure there is a website somewhere that explains all of this, but life’s too short to spend time trying to puzzle out pricing for what is supposed to be an easy, convenient service.

I’m only the Uber decision-maker when I’m traveling by myself; if other people are part of the travel equation I let them make the call.  But when I’ve got to decide, I invariably choose the cheapest option.  I’m a cheapskate by nature, and I figure I’m only going to be in the car for a short period of time.  Given that fact, the car would need to be a real mess before I’d regret going for the cheapest option — which happened once, incidentally.  I figure that Uber is like a taxi, and if you’re flagging down a cab you pretty much take whatever stops to pick you up.

But I also think by taking the cheapest option I am helping out the driver.  For many people, including recent arrivals in the Columbus area, Uber seems to be a kind of gateway job.  They might not be able to afford the biggest and newest cars, but they’re trying to make a go of it.  Why not give my money to them, rather than to somebody driving a roomier and more luxurious vehicle?  And include a tip, too.

The Wearable Chair

In the new product development department, the other day I ran across a news story on the “wearable chair.”  It’s a contraption of bands and extendable aluminum legs;  you strap it to your keister and it allows you to sit wherever and whenever you want to do so.

1693822_web1_lex-chair-It’s an ungainly looking device, to be sure, and it gives the people sitting on it a distinctly bionic, quasi-insectoid appearance.  It seems like a pretty clumsy thing to wear around, and if you’re in a crowd it looks like it would take up space that might not be appreciated by the other people on, say, the subway train.  Presumably there are rigorous weight limits for the wearable chair, too.  It’s supposed to help with your posture, though — which doesn’t surprise me, because the photos of the product make it look like you need to sit in a particular, erect way or weight distribution issues would otherwise cause you to go tumbling to the ground.  No slouching when you are strapped into the wearable chair!

I guess we’ll find out whether there’s a market for the wearable chair.  It seems hard to believe that there are enough people who become so fatigued at the spur of the moment that they can’t find a chair or bench — or even spot on the grass — where they can sit, and would rather extend limbs from an exoskeleton on their butt and draw curious attention to themselves.  Maybe modern people have become so lazy and in need of instant comfort that the wearable chair will be a big success.  In a world struggling with obesity, however, it seems like we’d all be better off if people had to actually stand while waiting for a bus or train rather than plopping down wherever they wanted.

How long do you suppose it will be before somebody decides to combine a wearable chair with a standing desk?

Asking “What Could Go Wrong”?

Most actions have a potential upside, and a potential downside.  Some people are very good at envisioning about the rosy, positive consequences of an action, but not so good at identifying the possible negative outcomes.

Take scientists, for example.

aedes-aegypti-696x392In Brazil, disease-carrying mosquitoes are a huge problem.  Authorities there are keenly interested in wiping out the pests that spread the Zika virus, dengue, and malaria, but the issue is how to do it in an environmentally safe way.  Some scientists then came up with the idea of using gene-hacking techniques to tackle the problem.  The scientists would modify the genes of a control group of male mosquitoes so that their offspring would immediately die, release the mosquitoes into the wild, and then watch as the mosquitoes mated and the mosquito population plummeted.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way.  Initially, the mosquito population did decline, but then it returned to its prior level.  Puzzled scientists looked into what had happened, and discovered that the genetically modified control group had in fact mated with wild mosquitoes — but at least some of their offspring survived.  What’s worse, the offspring carried genetic modifications that may make them even more resistant to future attempts to wipe them out.  In short, the gene-hacking experiment may have produced a new strain of superbugs that are more robust than their predecessors.

One of the researchers who looked into the issue commented:  “It is the unanticipated outcome that is concerning.”  No kidding!  We should all remember those words the next time somebody proposes messing with DNA and genetics and confidently assures us that their efforts will produce nothing but positive benefits.  Just because somebody wears a white lab coat doesn’t make them infallible.