Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

‘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’.

Innocent laser sensor, or tool of Skynet?

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.)


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It’s easy to complain about technology.  It’s so integrated into our day to day lives that it’s a real pain when something goes wrong.  When something does break and I have to work on getting it fixed it never fails to surprise how much work and behind the scenes effort goes into making sure even the smallest things work right.  At times like that I end up wondering how so much of our world works as well as it does since there are so many moving parts behind the scenes.

The dog thinks Steve Jobs was a genius.

It’s not all complaints though.  Every now and then, for no apparent reason, I get struck by just how cool and useful some of these little technological details are.  I’m going to try and memorialize some of those little things, so I see this as an intermittent ongoing series of posts.  It’s also a good way to put an exclamation point on how old I suddenly am.

Anyway, today’s ‘Ain’t technology grand?!’ moment is video chatting.  More specifically, Apple’s version of video chat, which is called Facetime.  Video phones have been a sci-fi staple as long as I can remember.  The technology has always seemed easily reachable and teenage and twenty-something me often wondered why they weren’t around yet.  (Thirty-something me figures it’s a social or cultural issue.)

I picked up an iPhone back in October when the newest model came out and my dad and brother both ‘went Mac’ around the same time.  So we quickly realized we can use video chat to let the twins talk to their grandparents and their cousins.  They have a lot more interaction with their cousins than I did at their age because they can see them on the little screen.  We used it so I could sit in on bath time last week even though I was three states away and so the twins could talk to their mama at home when I took them to grammy’s for the weekend.

I realize Facetime isn’t really the same thing as a videophone.  It does require an internet connection.  It’s just another version of Skype and the other types of internet video chat that have been around for awhile.  I was never a great believer in those because I didn’t want to be tethered to my desktop or carry a laptop around.  Now that it has slimmed down to the point it can be used in a truly mobile application it’s going to really become common.

You may want to use Facetime with family and close friends though.  The iPhone front facing camera is guaranteed to make into a troglodyte (with the exception of dogs and small children, obviously).

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