‘Ain’t technology grand?!?’ is my intermittent series on appreciating the little things that technology does for life. In these posts I dwell on how things are cooler now than they were back when I didn’t have gray hair, mouths to feed, creaky knees, and a pill a day pharmaceutical habit.
Lasers were the weapon of choice when I was a kid. Space ships, guns, light sabers… they all used lasers, or so I assumed. The best use of a laser in fiction officially belongs to Real Genius though. There’s an extended scene where the merry band of nerds and misfits gets revenge on someone by placing a giant foil packet of corn in his house and then hacking a military fightersatellite to focus its laser on the house. The laser heats up the corn and before you can say ‘Yes I want butter!’ the house is full of popcorn.
The other day I was taking care of some business* at work and I realized that venerable go-to weapon of decades of sci-fi writers was actually watching me whizz**. The office men’s room had gotten the ultimate power-up, automatic flush toilets.
* By ‘taking care of some business’ I mean ‘peeing’.
** By ‘whizz’ I mean ‘peeing’.
Auto flush toilets aren’t that new, we’ve all been using them for years in airports along with their HATEFUL brethren, the automatic faucet. But I hadn’t really considered the amount of technology that goes into one. They actually use infra-red wavelength lasers to determine when somebody is in front of them so they know when to flush.
I did a little Googling before I started writing and discovered that auto-flush toilets are a bit of a controversy. Some think they aren’t green enough, and others just want to pre-flush or courtesy flush. Myself, I’m pro lasers-that-watch-us-pee (at least until the rise of Skynet). Being an engineer means spending your days around a LOT more men than women so our men’s room is heavily utilized, and a good majority of the clientele are apparently germ adverse. So it’s pretty common to see some yahoo flushing with his foot.*** An auto-flush means I don’t have to touch that handle after some shoe that also walked across the nasty men’s room floor has been all up on it.
*** I HATE foot flushers. I dream of finding a would-be stomper in a puddle on the men’s room floor because of a mid-flush loss of balance.
I have to admit, they are a problem for children too small to be seen by the sensor. I can’t blame a 3 year old for being a bit concerned when that huge flush goes off while they’re already swinging bare bottom in the breeze. A friend had trouble with her newly potty trained twins refusing to go in public restrooms because they were afraid of the flush. She ended up having to carry post-it notes in her purse and cover the sensor. It’s an untapped market that 3M Corp should look into.
So if you see those TDOT guys on the side of the road standing a little straighter now, you know the auto-flush toilet has made them healthier and happier. (Or if it’s me, then you’ll know I finally saw a stomper lose his balance.)