Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Better Living Through Electronics

A few years ago a friend sent me the following. I found it moderately amusing at the time.

I Cannot SeeI Cannot PeeI Cannot ChewI Cannot ScrewOh, My God, What Can I Do?My Memory ShrinksMy Hearing StinksNo Sense of SmellI Look Like HellMy Mood is Bad -- Can't You Tell?My Body is DroopingHave Trouble PoopingThe Golden Years Have Come at LastThe Golden Years can Kiss My Ass!

Every year, it's a little less amusing. I've been deluged with offers to have my hearing tested, and several times I've taken them up on it. The tests have verified what members of my family have been saying all along: I don't hear very well. While the tests are free, the proposed solution is not, and after hearing the cost of the device, I've always skipped the free trial. But they keep on calling and writing so this year I said what the hell, let's see how it works. I was given two little metallic slivers that are slung over the back of each ear and wired to a small plug inserted into the ear. These things are custom tuned to amplify only the frequencies that have been lost with time. I must report that they work rather well. They also made me very nervous I could suddenly imagine how a woman might feel wearing clip-on diamond earrings. My life could definitely be improved by hearing better. But then, it could also be improved by a new car or a trip around the world, either of which might be had for a similar price. If I'm to make an investment in hearing of this magnitude, the device needs to be mar more sophisticated. Hearing normal conversation is a big help but what about filtering out the screams of small children. Better still, a device that just shuts down when it registers a commanding or nagging tone, ideally adding white noise to make orders inaudible. Two weeks into my free month, the devices stopped working due to an accumulation of ear wax that my attempts to replace the batteries did nothing to alleviate. This made me even more nervous and I just turned them in ahead of time, but it got me thinking of other electronic devices that could improve my life if only they were available.

  • An electronic fence- I know, such devices have been around for some time, but your dog or cat must wear a collar to activate it. I'm thinking in terms of keeping unknown animals, from dogs to rats, porcupines to wild boars, off one's property. We don't necessarily want to keep people out so perhaps three or four points of contact with the ground might be the trigger. That would have the added benefit of limiting the range of crawling babies.
  • A baby dissuader- To be attached either electronically or physically to cell phones, TV remotes and computer keyboards, it will emit an electric shock sufficient to inhibit the child from ever touching the protected device again. Extended exposure may keep children from ever becoming adept at the use of electronic gadgetry, but they can become an elite group, conversant with poetry and the spoken tradition. We need more poets.
  • A radar buster- While I've always opposed graffiti and other malicious vandalism, with the current spate of radar speed traps documented in an earlier post, the public needs a clean and neat means to defend itself from this epidemic of governmental overreach. If we can fly unmanned bombing sorties in Afghanistan from offices in Las Vegas, I can't imagine why we can't be electronically armed to fry the brains of these insidious devices as we inconspicuously drive by.
  • MP3 remote volume adjusters- Anyone who's ridden a bus or subway has been exposed to people with earphones whose “music” leaks out to envelop their surroundings. This device would allow gentler souls among us to lower the volume, while allowing the rest of us to instantly triple the volume. The owner would immediately discard or shut down the offending device or, if already effectively deaf, be throttled by enraged people nearby.
  • Electronic cat flap- Standard issue cat flaps are wonderful home improvements but they are deficient in two ways. Once your domesticated cat has been seen entering or leaving through her own little door, clever feral cats will learn to use the same entrance, with disastrous results. Your own sweet cat is free to come and go, with whatever prey, dead or alive, it chooses to drag in. Rat tails under the dining room table are always an embarrassment. The new electronic cat flap must provide identity checks and rat screening, not an easy task, but our airports have managed similar functions.
  • Intelligent cell phones (not to be confused with smart phones)- We see drivers wandering to the wrong side of the road, waiting to move when the way is clear, and then plunging into traffic when they should wait. Inevitably, there's the telltale hand pressed to the ear and the mouth moving. This is illegal in Italy but the law, being unenforced, has no effect. Our proposal would see to it that when a cell phone is activated the car's ignition would shut down. Many details need to be resolved to avoid unwanted side effects. We neither want to deprive passengers in a car the use of their cell phones nor do we wish to paralyze bus service. Connecting the shut off device to a sensor in the driver's seat is a possible solution. Still, the effects of engine shutdown at high speed may need further study before this device can be brought to the market.
  • Eyeglass finders- Finally, it has come to our attention that eyeglasses have a way of being lost or misplaced more than other objects. Despite appearances, they are rarely stolen or moved by ghosts or evil spirits. A simple alarm device could be implanted in each pair of glass frames which could then activated by a locater button fixed in a known and permanent location in the home.

Time for all you young entrepreneurial electronics wizards out there to get busy. You keep developing ridiculous new phone apps for kids and yuppies, but there are plenty of us aging curmudgeons awaiting your help.

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