The Distracted Driving Epidemic

The National Safety Council released statistics last week about highway fatalities. The news about driving on the open road in America is not good: the NSC’s preliminary estimate is that 46,000 people died on U.S. highways in 2022. That’s a 22 percent increase over pre-pandemic 2019, and puts highway fatalities among the leading causes of death in the United States–especially for people under 30.

The NSC’s president and CEO, Lorraine Martin, makes the point that almost all crashes are preventable. She notes: “Words matter, and as a country, we need to learn and understand that there are no vehicle accidents. Each crash that occurs on America’s roads is entirely preventable and unacceptable. We must change the way we think about designing and moving around in our communities, understanding that people will make mistakes and the cost of those mistakes should not be serious injury or death.”

One of the mistakes that people routinely make is distracted driving caused by cell phone use on the road. It’s hard to estimate precisely how many crashes are caused by texting or other uses because reliable statistics aren’t being collected–but the vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Bruce Landsberg, believes the impact is tremendous. He calls the problem of distracted driving caused by cell phones an “epidemic” and notes: “Everybody talks about fatalities, but there are hundreds of thousands or more life-altering injuries — broken limbs, brain injuries, horrible burns. This doesn’t have to happen. These crashes are not accidents. They are completely preventable.”

Experts believe that as many as one-third of crashes are caused by distracted driving–and if you’ve been on the road recently, and seen a driver drift from one lane to another for no apparent reason or passed a car driving erratically only to note that the driver is checking out their phone, you credit those estimates. People are addicted to their phones, and that fact is making our highways more dangerous than ever. Efforts to prevent distracted driving, like “text stops” along highways, don’t seem to be making a meaningful difference, either.

You wonder if the ultimate solution to distracted driving will be technological, achieved either through reliable self-driving cars, or through dampening fields or automatic deactivations that prevent the use of cell phones in moving vehicles, or through some other invention. Cell phone users seem incapable of voluntarily stepping away from their phones, even when they are behind the wheel. They just believe, mistakenly, that they can safely look at their phones and tap out a message when they are barreling down a highway at 70 mph–but when they realize in a split-second that they are wrong, it is often too late to recover.

The Vinyl Rebound

We got rid of our vinyl records decades ago. They were a pain to maintain, and little kids and turntables, toner arms with delicate needles, and easily scratched vinyl records are not a good combination. When CDs were introduced, I figured vinyl would inevitably go the way of the dodo.

But I was wrong–vinyl has made a comeback. Last year, for the first time since the 1980s, the sale of vinyl record units outpaced the sale of CDs. Of course, both physical forms are far behind streaming services in the delivery of music–but still, vinyl obviously has its fans.

Interestingly, no one knows exactly why vinyl is hot (or at least lukewarm) again. Some diehards insist that the sound produced by vinyl is superior to streaming services and CDs–richer, fuller, more robust, more nuanced. Others believe vinyl fans like the album as a kind of art piece, and clearly some classic covers, like that of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band, look a lot better on a full-sized album sleeve than on a shrimpy CD box. Others believe that album lovers like the tactile sensation of playing an album and its related elements, like carefully removing it from its sleeve, placing it on the turntable, keeping it clean to avoid those annoying skips, and deftly replacing it when the playing is done.

And here’s proof that the album renaissance has some legs: manufacturers like Sony and Victrola have started to produce new turntables again. Obviously, they think there is a market there, and one that is probably here to stay.

Fake Quotes

The culture of fakery on the internet is strong. One bit of evidence for this is the prevalence of fake quotes attributed to famous historical figures. You might be scanning the comments to a particular news article and see that some unknown person or bot has inserted a bon mot from a trusted, respected person from the past, with their picture, hoping to quash further discussion with the weight of their authority. The pictures are of the person, but the quotes often are phony.

Abraham Lincoln seems to be a favorite source for fake quotes. So many spurious sayings have been attributed to our 16th President that “fact checkers” write articles to debunk them and Lincoln scholars are forced to weigh in to try to correct the record. You also see fake quotes attributed to Albert Einstein, Sun Tzu, Winston Churchill, Thomas Jefferson, Oscar Wilde, and just about anyone else of any historical significance. The idea is to trade on the reputation of the historical figure to make your point by coming up with a fake quote that is reasonably plausible, or may even have been said by somebody else. It’s unfair to the historical figures and an appalling approach to argument when you think about it–but unfair and appalling often aptly characterize discourse on the internet.

And, sadly, it works. People get taken in by the ruse. Years ago, the Republican Party Twitter feed attributed an obviously phony quote to Lincoln and had to endure a few weeks of embarrassment at its foolishness. But even the debunked quotes continue to circulate, next to the pictures of their alleged sources, ready to mislead the gullible. And many people don’t exercise skepticism and try to check the actual facts before reposting that Lincoln zinger that they saw.

My grandmother used to say “believe none of what you hear and half of what you see.” That’s wise advice as applied to life generally and the internet specifically. If you see a quote attributed to Honest Abe that seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Banking On The Power Of Annoyance

How do you incentivize someone to pay their bills? The Ford Motor Company has come up with an approach that would invoke the power of annoyance, in conjunction with “smart” technology, to encourage people who have fallen behind on their car payments to catch up.

Ford has filed for a patent on technology that would allow the car maker to take certain vehicle-related actions when a car owner misses payments. The technology could permit Ford to remotely turn off the car’s air conditioning, shut down the radio and sound system, disable cruise control and automatic windows, cause constant beeping in the car’s interior, and ultimately to lock the car owner out of the car altogether. (A car without air conditioning, radio, and working windows sounds like one of my battered ’70s cars, but I digress.) And, if the car has self-driving capability, the technology could even cause the car to drive itself to a location where it can be picked up by the repo man.

Ford’s patent application acknowledges that the disabling power of the technology “may cause an additional level of discomfort to a driver and occupants of the vehicle”–which really is the whole point. Ford also says it has no plans to deploy the technology at present, but the patent application gives us a glimpse of a future where manufacturers of items that are often paid off over time equip their devices with technology that gives them self-help options in the event of non-payment. And, once the technology is installed, manufacturers would no doubt establish an order of priority that would steadily increase the annoyances until they reached the unbearable point: perhaps starting with disabling the windows and the sound system, then nixing the air conditioning during the summer, and finally counting on an irritating, incessant beeping, in combination with everything else, to bring the car owner to his knees and finally pay up.

Really, this kind of remote-controlled activity is just part of the price of “smart” technology. Once it gets rolled out in new cars, I predict it will invigorate the used car market.

End of (Tech) Life

It seems like virtually every kind of consumer device that is available these days can be purchased in a “smart” form. Smart phones, smart toasters, smart lighting systems, smart refrigerators, smart TVs–they all are equipped with software, they all are linked to the internet in some way or another, and they allow you to do cool things, like control your lights turning on and off from hundreds of miles away or get messages from your fridge when you’re low on milk.

Recently, though, people have begun focusing on one of the downsides of the “smart” stuff: the fact that, like any software-based product, at some point the manufacturer is going to stop providing technical support, software updates, and patches. The manufacturers call this having an “end of life” policy for their tech. Purchasers of the product get notice of the policy being invoked, and they often feel blindsided when they realize that they are either going to have to replace a perfectly good device that isn’t being supported any more, or, after the end-of-life Grim Reaper visits, they are going to have to run the significant risks involved in continuing to use an outdated internet-connected device that is thereby especially vulnerable to hackers.

The manufacturer-customer push-and-pull of tech end-of-life policies recently played out with a security camera manufacturer called Arlo and its customers. Arlo announced that some of its cameras were reaching their end of life and software support and cloud storage services would be ending, the customers pushed back, and Arlo announced that it was deferring the end-of-life point for the devices–although the end of life will inevitably come.

You can understand why manufacturers want to establish a clear and definite end of life for their products. They want to focus on the new products that are on the market right now and new products that are under development, and not have their software designers and code-writing wizards focused on fixing problems or vulnerabilities with old tech. What some might call planned obsolescence others would call an efficient allocation of workforce resources and brainpower.

But for consumers, the end-of-life issue means thinking carefully about what you really want before making your purchase. We all accept the need to periodically obtain new laptops, smartphones, and other devices where the software and internet access are a core element of the product’s purpose. But do you really want to buy a “smart” toaster, oven, refrigerator, or other major appliance, knowing that one of these days you’re either going to either have to replace a perfectly functional object or run the risk of a security breach? Smart appliances might have some cool bells and whistles, but their dumb cousins might just be the better option as a long-term strategy.

New Year, New Tests

One of the interesting things about getting older is that, as you hit new age milestones, you’re recommended for new medical tests and scans that you’ve never heard of (or, for that matter, thought of) before.

This month I was introduced to two of them, both of which involved my new friend the ultrasound machine. I last encountered the ultrasound device when we were in the child-bearing years, and it was used to produce dark and murky images that were indecipherable to anyone who wasn’t having a baby. The new tests obviously had a different purpose.

The first test was an abdominal ultrasound scan to look for aortic aneurysms, which is a one-time test recommended for men over a certain age. Aneurysms are bad things, and the scan is an early screening tool designed to allow doctors to spot and treat them before they burst. That made sense to me–who wants to deal with a burst aneurysm, really?–so I found myself lying on a treatment table and lifting up my shirt so a medical technician could apply some transmission gel to my stomach and then use the scanner to move gradually around on my torso to get a good look at my abdominal aorta. The scan took about 30 minutes and was no big deal.

The second test was a carotid artery ultrasound, which is designed to look for blocked or narrowed carotid arteries. Since the carotid arteries carry blood directly to the brain, blockages are bad and can lead to strokes. This test was even easier, didn’t require any clothes adjustment, and literally took about five minutes. I reclined on a treatment table next to the machine and the gel and the ultrasound scanning tool were applied first to one side of my neck, then to the other. The technician gazed intently at her screen, we heard the rhythmic whooshing of my heart pumping blood through the carotids, and then I was done.

My primary care doctor is a big believer in preventative medicine and early testing and using the amazing tools that are now available to detect and avoid potential medical issues. With the wear and tear inflicted by years of use, I’ve become a prime candidate for blockages, burstings, and other bodily breakdowns. Now that my aorta and carotid arteries have been checked out, I’ll wait patiently until I hit another milestone that puts me in the age range for another recommended screening or scanning. I expect I’ll be seeing my new friend the ultrasound machine again.

Content For Content’s Sake

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock somewhere, you’ve read about recently released content-producing artificial intelligence programs that can draft a letter, create a PowerPoint, or write a chat message, or news article, or legal brief in about as long as it takes Google to do a basic search. The technology evidently represents a pretty amazing advance in the ability to rapidly sift through, synthesize, and reassemble reams of existing material to produce “new” content.

The reaction to these AI programs is even more interesting. Setting aside the articles that ring the legal alarm bells–there are issues galore under the copyright and trademark laws arising from where the AI-generated content comes from and whether it represents fair use, for example–the reactions seem to fall into two general camps. One reaction thinks the technology is like a super-cool new toy that can do a credible job of mimicking virtually every form of actual human work product, and goes on about how the new tech can be used to write a speech in 15 seconds that could then be given virtually without editing to an unsuspecting audience. The other camp presents dire forecasts about how the new software will eliminate the jobs of reporters, marketing professionals, and even lawyers, allow tech-savvy students to skirt any remaining vestiges of academic honor codes as they use the AI to write their papers, and cause other calamitous changes to life as we know it.

I think the predictions of calamitous consequences are probably overblown. Much of the clickbait content you see on the internet is so formulaic it has probably been produced by robots for years, and we know that one of the longstanding issues with Twitter has been how many of the tweets on the system are bot-generated. For high school and college students, the internet has already provided them with a handy tool they can use to avoid doing their own thinking and work, if they are so inclined. As for the pieces extolling the uber-coolness of the new AI programs, I suspect that the bloom will wear off, and people will tire of asking for and receiving generic writing.

One question about the new AI that seems to be overlooked in all of the current buzz is why any well-intentioned person would want to use it. If, like me, you enjoy the process and act of writing, you’ll view the new AI programs as anathema. Part of the fun of writing is coming up with your own idea of what to write about, and the rest is trying to do honor to your idea and put something of yourself into the effort –to write a compelling paragraph, to think of just the right word or phrase to best express what you are trying to get across, and to tackle the other challenges involved in creating your own work. AI allows you to come up with the idea (like asking the AI to write a best man’s speech in the style of Winston Churchill) but the second part of the process–the part that stretches your brain and your vocabulary and, perhaps, your perspective on the world as well–is totally missed. Why would anyone want to pass off generic AI-generated content for content’s sake as their own work, and miss the opportunity to truly express their own thoughts in their own words?

I’ll never use these new AI programs because they eliminate the fun of writing. I enjoy facing the empty laptop screen and keyboard first thing in the morning and trying to come up with something to get my brain started for the day. If you read a post on WebnerHouse, you can always count on it–typos, triteness, predictably ill-advised opinions, and all–being the legitimate work product of an actual human being

Tipping And Taxes

Earlier this month, the Internal Revenue Service announced a new proposed program related to workers who receive a portion of their income through tips. The IRS describes the Service Industry Tip Compliance Program (“SITCA”) as a “voluntary tip reporting program between the IRS and employers in various service industries” that “is designed to take advantage of advancements in point-of-sale, time and attendance systems, and electronic payment settlement methods to improve tip reporting compliance.”

SITCA would replace no less than three existing tip-related IRS initiatives–the Tip Rate Determination Agreement (“TRDA”), the Tip Reporting Alternative Commitment )”TRAC”), and the Employer Designed TRAC (“EmTRAC”). (The IRS clearly like acronyms.) SITCA would have several important features, including “[t]he monitoring of employer compliance based on actual annual tip revenue and charge tip data from an employer’s point-of-sale system, and allowance for adjustments in tipping practices from year to year.” Participating employers can “demonstrate compliance with the program requirements by submitting an annual report after the close of the calendar year, which reduces the need for compliance reviews by the IRS” and “have flexibility to implement employee tip reporting policies that are best suited for their employees and their business model in accordance with the section of the tax law that requires employees to report tips to their employers.”

Tip income always has been a bit of a bugaboo for the IRS, as indicated by the fact that there are three existing service tip income programs that SITCA will be replacing–and that doesn’t count a fourth tip program, the Gaming Industry Tip Compliance Agreement (“GITCA”) program, which the IRS says won’t be affected if and when SITCA is adopted. In fact, the only person I know who was audited by the IRS had that experience when they worked as a waitperson and made much of their income through tips.

Tip income traditionally was a challenge for the IRS because tips were always paid in cash, and reporting was therefore entirely voluntary and difficult to monitor. With the advent of credit card receipts and tip prompt systems like the one shown above, that reality has shifted: now there are records that show who served who and how much was paid as a tip. For service industry workers who rely on tips for part of their income, technology is a game-changer. That’s part of the reason why SITCA is replacing TRDA, TRAC, and EmTRAC,

Doggie Bag

It’s becoming more and more common to see dogs in airports–so much so that it’s almost rare to have a flight without at least one canine companion on board. It therefore makes sense that luggage manufacturers, pet supply companies, and creative inventors would be developing new products to help dog lovers manage and transport their four-legged pals in airport surroundings.

This contraption, seen yesterday afternoon at John Glenn International, is one example of what innovation has produced. The pooch’s body was zipped securely into the little bag, like a child snugly tucked into bed beneath a blanket, but its head was out in the open. The bag rolled along, like a standard roller board piece of luggage, so the dog got a fun ride and could check out its surroundings, and the device was sufficiently lightweight that when the dog and the lady reached an escalator, she could use the straps on the side to lift and carry the dog on the downward ride.

This product seemed to have a lot of advantages over the mesh holding pens that you often see on planes; it wouldn’t have the cage-like feel that some dogs object to, and the rollers made it as easy to maneuver down the concourse as any piece of luggage. For the other passengers like us, keeping the dog secured in the bag was better than letting the pooch trot loose alongside the owner, giving rise to the risks of inevitable nervous dog accidents or some of the dicey dog versus dog encounters we’ve seen recently.

Our society is still working out the parameters of acceptable approaches to dogs in airports. This device, which obviously is designed for smaller animals, seemed like a good way of accommodating the varying interests of the dog, its human companion, and other airport users who might be leery of an up close and personal interaction with a strange dog.

The Quietest Room In The World

We’re used to the sounds of the world around us. Whether it is traffic noise from a nearby road, the unintelligible hiss of distant voices, the thrum of an elevator, the drumbeat of people walking, or the throbbing of an air conditioning unit, our living and working spaces are filled with noises–so much so that many humans heartily wish for peace and quiet.

That’s why I was interested in an article I ran across about the opposite end of the noise spectrum: a place where engineers worked to consciously eliminate all noise. It’s a room in Building 87 at the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington called the anechoic chamber that engineers built to test certain equipment. Measuring 21 feet in each direction, the room is a cube located inside six successive concrete chambers with thick walls to block out outside noise. The anechoic chamber floats on a bed of 68 vibration damping springs, so the room doesn’t make direct contact with the building where it sits. Finally, the room is lined with sound-absorbing foam and has a floor made from steel cables, as shown in the photograph above.

All of this effort has produced a room that has been officially recognized as the quietest place in the world, with a background noise measurement of -20,6 decibels–below the limits of human hearing. To put that in context, a human whisper is 30 decibels, and the sound of normal breathing is 10 decibels. The room is so absolutely quiet that people can hear their blood pumping in their ears, the movements of their joints, and other bodily sounds that would normally be drowned out by background noise. Not surprisingly, most visitors to the room find the experience otherworldly and profoundly unsettling, and can’t stand to be in the room for more than a few seconds. Even those who regularly work in the room don’t like to stay in the anechoic chamber for more than a few minutes.

I don’t mind background noise. If you’re one of those people who is constantly wishing for a few minutes of quiet, the anechoic chamber is the place for you–although you may end up regretting what you wished for.

The Father Of Peeps

Easter is two months away–it falls on April 9 this year–but most Easter baskets that will be assembled in 2023 are likely to have predictable contents. You can bet your bottom dollar that nestled deep in the fake plastic grass, next to the chocolate bunnies and the speckled malted milk eggs, you will find bright yellow marshmallow chicks–known to all as Peeps.

Peeps are the favorite Easter candy of some people; for others, Peeps have a dangerously addictive quality. For those people, if Peeps are in the house they must be promptly discovered and immediately consumed–perhaps, in some cases, after first briefly exposing the Peeps to the air, so that the yellow skin hardens. And then, after the lust for Peeps is fully sated, the guilt about gobbling down multiple delectable Peeps will cause the Peeps addict to banish the candy from the house until the next Easter rolls around.

Why I am writing about Peeps in early February, two full months before Easter? Because the guy who invented the machine that allowed Peeps to be mass produced and delivered to millions of Peeps fans just died.

His name was Ira Born, but he was known as Bob. After serving in the Navy during World War II, he returned to the family candy business, called Just Born. In the 1950s, Just Born bought a small company that produced marshmallow candy by hand. Bob Born decided to try to create a device that would produce the marshmallow treats mechanically, and spent a year designing and building the machine that ultimately would produce a package of Peeps in six minutes, whereas the hand production approach would require 27 hours of labor. Bob Born’s machine successfully mechanized the process and was in operation for more than 50 years at the Just Born candy company, and the technological concepts he developed are still used in the making of Peeps. That’s why he’s known as the Father of Peeps.

Bob Born died at age 98, having revolutionized a candy production process and allowed delectable, bright yellow marshmallow chicks to become a beloved staple of Easter baskets throughout the land. Peeps fans owe him a debt of gratitude that can never been repaid. That’s a pretty good legacy.

The Last 747

This week, Boeing produced its last 747 “jumbo jet.” A freighter model, the last 747 was delivered yesterday to Atlas Air and will be used as a cargo carrier. It was the 1,574th 747 produced by Boeing, and its delivery ends a remarkable 54-year run for that airplane, beginning with the first test flight of the first 747, pictured above, on February 9, 1969.

To give that longevity record of the airplane that came to be known as the “Queen of the Skies” some context, that means the first 747 took off before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, when Richard Nixon was President and the Vietnam War dominated the news. For most people who have flown on 747s, 1969 is ancient history. It’s hard to believe that a single model of an airplane could be so dominant for so long in the field of air travel.

The Seattle Times published an interesting article this week about the 747, and some of the people who designed and built this remarkably successful engineering marvel. If you’ve ever been on an international flight, you’ve probably been on a 747–the plane that is far wider than domestic flight aircraft, with nine or ten seats across, two aisles, and lots of space (relatively speaking, of course). The plane was designed, built, tested and delivered on time. It could carry an astonishing number of passengers–more than 400, far more than its predecessor, the 707. It also had amazing range, allowing airlines to fly nonstop between faraway cities.

The Seattle Times article quotes some of the many people who designed, built, and were involved in the 747’s long run, and who are obviously proud of what they accomplished with that one ground-breaking model. They should be, of course. The 747 was a plane that revolutionized international air travel and made it what modern travelers have come to expect. As its long run comes to an end, it is worth remembering the creativity, ingenuity, and hard work that produced it–and hoping that those same qualities can be employed to produce another, newer quantum leap in travel technology.

Bursting Bubbles

In case you haven’t been paying attention, the economic news in the tech field isn’t exactly great. Recently, Microsoft announced plans to lay off 10,000 workers, and Alphabet, the parent of Google, disclosed that it would be handing the pink slip to 12,000 of its employees. Amazon also has announced sweeping job cuts. By some accounts, almost 50,000 people have been laid off from their jobs in the tech industry already in 2023–and we aren’t even through the first month of the year. That follows a 2022 in which about 100,000 employees of private and public tech-related companies are estimated to have lost their jobs.

This shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone with some seasoning. The tech industry grew exponentially during the early days of the pandemic, as the world shifted more to on-line commerce, and it was predictable that, as conditions changed and economic cycles occurred, there would be some retrenchment. What’s interesting, though, is that some of the tech leaders apparently didn’t see this entirely predictable result coming: they were confidently predicting that there had been a permanent paradigm change and the growth would continue, as one recent article notes.

And the company bigwigs weren’t alone in this view. Some young tech workers reportedly are shocked that their cutting-edge companies could–and would–lay them off; they thought they were set for years to come. Interestingly, however, their older and more experienced colleagues aren’t surprised, because many of them have been laid off before in prior tech boom-and-bust cycles.

It’s a valuable tutorial for everyone, although people seem to quickly forget the teaching: economic cycles are inevitable, retrenchment typically follows rapid growth, it’s wise to build some bad news into your business and personal planning, and confident predictions of impending future success frequently turn to ashes in the mouths of the know-it-alls who voiced them. A dose of humility and rationality isn’t a bad thing for tech company leaders–and those shocked young workers have just received a valuable life lesson that they probably will never forget.

Five Steps To Glory

My cellphone spies on me. The phone and its ever-increasing array of apps, evidently added whenever I engage in one of the required software updates, seem to be constantly monitoring my activities, conducting some kind of unknowable, algorithmic analysis, and then sending me unwanted messages to announce their conclusions. As a result, I get weird, random notices like “you’re using your phone less this week than last week.” Since I don’t personally log the time I spend on my phone, I have no way of knowing whether these reports are accurate or not. I guess I just have to take my phone’s word for it.

This week I got a new message, one that I think came from an “exercise” app that was added in a recent software/operating system update. The message said something like: “Hey, you’re using the stairs more than you usually do!” My initial reaction was that it is creepy that my phone is tracking my stair usage and trying to function as a kind of clapping, enthusiastic personal trainer, urging me to get off my keister and continue to increase my daily count of steps. But then I wondered how in the world my stair count has increased, as I have not been making a conscious effort toward that goal.

After some careful consideration, I realized that the phone’s stairstep analysis had to relate to a domino-like series of events at work. The first domino was that the coffee maker on my floor stopped functioning. That meant that I walk over to the nearest coffee maker on my floor, which happened to be one building over–a journey that requires me to go up and down the five stairs shown above. Add in the fact that I guzzle a ridiculous number of cups of coffee each work day, so that I have been constantly ascending and descending these five steps, and you evidently end up with enough stair usage for my phone to take notice and send along some encouragement.

My initial reaction to this realization was to be surprised that even a few trips up and down five steps would make a difference to my phone. Then I thought that maybe, to keep my phone pal happy, I should continue to use the coffee maker in the next building, even after my coffee maker is fixed. And I also started to think that maybe there were other things I could do to add a few additional stair-climbing episodes to my workday, so that my phone and its apps will be even more thrilled at my efforts.

Why should I care whether my phone thinks I’m a lazy lard-ass? I don’t know, but I do. Having a Type A, get a good report card mindset in the cell phone age has its challenges.

Key Advances In Beachfront Technology

Our excellent resort in Aruba, Bucuti & Tara, is at the cutting edge of beachfront technology. I say this because the resort’s beachfront options feature developments I’ve not seen before in the essential umbrella, towel, and lounge chair categories. For example, you reserve your umbrella using a tablet in your room, with reservations becoming available at 5 p.m. for the next day’s umbrella location–and you’d better be quick with a click at 5 o’clock on the dot if you want one of the front row umbrellas.

I’m been more impressed, however, by two nifty advancements that avoid some common beach seating annoyances. The first is a towel design that has a kind of hood that fits over the back of the chaise lounge, as shown in the photo above. As a result, the towel stays snugly atop the back of the chair, and you don’t have the issue of the towel slipping down a chair that has been put into 45-degree reading position and then uncomfortably bunching up behind the small of your back in a wrinkled, damp wad. The second advancement is a kind of belt at the foot of the chair cushion, shown in the photo below. This thoughtful option allows you to slip your towel under the belt and anchor the towel so it doesn’t slip off the end of the chair and get all sandy–which can be literally irritating.

I don’t know the names of the Edisons who came up with these inventions, but I salute them. Now, if someone could just invent suntan lotion that doesn’t attract grains of sand and cause them to bond to your skin like Superglue . . . .