Smart…

I saw an article this afternoon calling for the development of a “smart toilet.” Let me leave you with that thought for a moment. A. Smart. Toilet.

It’s not enough that the modern toilet needs to have a heated seat, LED mood lights in the bowl, UV self-disinfecting lamps, and a spritz of water up your backside to give you that perfectly fresh feeling. Now we can apparently look forward to an internet-of-things connected loo that evaluates our leavings. I suppose since it’s wi-fi enabled it can communicate with the web-enabled refrigerator and make sure we’re getting more roughage added to the grocery list. It beggars imagination to figure out why a toilet needs to know when, precisely I get up in the middle of the night to take a leak. But there is is, the future out there just waiting for us to catch up.

When I was a kid the old outhouse still stood on the family homestead. Sure, it was being used to store rakes and shovels, but the building itself was still there. It was young enough not to have been rotted away by time and weather. Jump now 30 years later and we’ve technologized even the simple concept of the indoor toilet.

There is an almost endless array of reasons I find the 21st century largely stupid and abhorrent. That this smart toilet is a thing that could even exist has now rocketed to the top of that list.

I seriously can’t get to my little cabin in the woods fast enough.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Designer kindling. The internet just tried to sell me a $50 cardboard box of L.L. Bean branded kindling. The biggest problem I have with any of this is that if Bean has bothered to assemble a 35 pound box of kindling and put it on their sales rack, more than one person has actually bought it. That means there are people out there among us that spent $50 to have kindling shipped directly to their door. It feels like there are so many better ways to start a fire – shred a bit of newsprint, tear off some parts of that empty cereal box, soak a few cotton balls in petroleum jelly, or put a match to some of the lint you cleaned out of your clothes dryer. Throw a few small, dry sticks aboard and you could have saved yourself $50 plus shipping. Then again, you’d have missed out on the chance to impress your guests with your big box of designer kindling. The deeper we wade into it, the more I really do hate the 21st century.

2. Freedom of Speech. No, the NFL is not taking away anyone’s “free speech.” The First Amendment specifically prevents government from restricting speech, so unless you live in some Bizzaroland where you’re being governed by the commissioner and franchise owners, you sound like a ranting lunatic when you make that argument. The league, like most other business, is identifying what they deem acceptable behavior in the workplace. Knowing those conditions, people are then free to work for the NFL or not. As it turns out, even millionaires aren’t exempt from having a few limits placed on what they can say and do at the work place. After all, if it weren’t for those kind or rules, who in your office would decide that their version of “free expression” was dispensing with pants for the duration of their 8-hour shift?

3. LED bulbs. Over the last 3 years I’ve worked steadily to replace all the incandescent light bulbs on the homestead with LEDs. There’s been a surprisingly respectable reduction of power consumption (and corresponding reduction in cost) over time. This week, the bulb in one of the garage door openers went out and I dutifully replaced it with one of the spare LEDs I had laying around. It turns out there’s enough wattage running through the opener even when it’s “off” that it keeps the bulb lit at what I’m guessing is about 10% of it’s full output. It’s probably not enough to burn the house down, but it’s enough to be aggravating. I’d rather have a old-fashioned bulb burning for 5 minutes than a fancy new LED that burns all day every day until the end of time.

Hypothetical…

Let me ask you a hypothetical question… Let’s assume for a moment that you are hosting an event for somewhere between 50 and 75 of your closest friends. An absolutely unavoidable part of that event is providing those people with between 300-400 pages of information, some of which changes on a daily basis.

Knowing no other information than what was provided, would you rather:

A) Get all 300-400 pages in hard copy, knowing that some of the information contained therein is already two versions out of date.

B) Get 100 pages of hard copy that’s pretty much set in stone and a link to the additional 200-300 pages that is updated daily/weekly.

C) Get a link to all 300-400 pages of information so you can access it electronically, because this is the 21st century and who wants to lug around 400 pages worth of binder all day.

D) Neither. Timely and accurate delivery of information has no place in the contemporary decision-making environment.

Take your time. Your answer won’t be graded, but it’s very possible I’ll judge you based on your answer.

Darkness at dawn…

It occurs to me that when I wake up at the customary weekend time of 6:30 it’s going to be absolutely dark again at a time of day I’ve just started getting use to having light. Tomorrow, though, the sun will follow me up in short order. The big problem is coming on Monday, because 6AM looks awfully bleak when it’s pitch black outside.

There’s probably a fine balance that we could strike between springing forward and falling back. As I’ve covered before, I’d say just do away with the whole mess completely and let the time and daylight operate independently of one another rather than making a hash of yoking them together as we have for the last hundred odd years. Surely tinkering with the time could simply be solved by letting individuals adjust their own wake-up time to accommodate the mount of daylight they want earlier or later in their respective day.

Frankly the whole concept of daylight saving time feels like a concept that has outlived its usefulness. Now that we’re well into the 21st century and even farming can be done by GPS in the dead of night, why we can’t simply pick one or the other and stay there is simply beyond my meager abilities to understand.

Watch…

Since sometime in the middle of the last decade, I’ve been using my phone to keep track of time. Wearing a watch seemed like a throwback when I had a device in my pocket that told me the time based on knowing wherever in the world I happened to be at the moment. As phones got smart it became possible to know the time anywhere on the planet at more or less the same time. Progress. That’s how things are supposed to work in the modern world. Except, of course, the Swatch Watch Flumotionsmodern world brings it’s own set of inconveniences… like spending an inordinate amount of time in rooms where your cell phone isn’t welcome. Maybe it’s a function of my OCD, but I like knowing what time it is, how much longer a meeting should run, or how close to on time I am for whatever comes next. That’s hard to do when your only time-teller is locked up in your desk drawer halfway across the building.

Somewhere in the detritus of my past, there’s probably a box full of watches. Some subtle dress watches, some big clunky dive chronometers, and more than a few cheap Casio and Timex models that were cheaper to replace than to fix when they inevitably broke. The problem is, I have no idea where that box might be. I’ve looked for it from time to time, but it really is nowhere to be found. Maybe I purged them when I realized the time-telling cell phone was going to be the wave of the future. Still, I’d love to know where my collection of wonderfully tacky Swatch Watches ended up. They’d be a real conversation starter in a room full of button down serious people.

Alas, the old watches are nowhere to be found, so in a fit of not being able to tell what time it was this morning, I pulled up Amazon and have a very sturdy looking stainless steel number heading my direction even as I type this. Nothing gaudy or over the top. Just a simple face and durable band… a workhorse of a wristwatch that hopefully won’t mind living in my desk drawer when I’m authorized to be a child of the digital age.

Limited (dis)agreement…

So let me get this straight. You want me to sign a “limited telework agreement” that basically says management can tell me to work from home any time it’s convenient for them (i.e. whenever the office is closed due to some outside condition like snow, hurricane, or wildfire). In return, they may possibly consider allowing me to work from home a few days a year on days when I would usually take some kind of leave (i.e. dthe cable guy coming to fix the TV). I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t jump at the opportunity to sign on for something that’s a whole lot of upside for management, but that gives me pretty much nothing in return.

Oh, and just in case you were considering signing up for the program, you’re signed agreement will give your employer the right to come into your home to inspect for “safety”. Sure that will probably never happen, but even knowing it’s possible is more than a little creepy; a creep factor that I’d be willing to deal with if it were for a regularly scheduled day where I’d get to read memos and build PowerPoint decks while wearing my fuzzy slippers and sitting at my kitchen table. It’s not a creep factor I’m willing to get onboard with just to have the privilege of working the next time we get snow deep enough to make the roads too hazardous to get to the office. Honestly, if it’s so bad that I consider coming to work a hazard to life or limb, I’ll go ahead and exercise the unscheduled leave option if the powers that be are too hardheaded to close up shop for the day.

For me, it’s a simple fact of living in the 21st century: Telework is either a good program or it’s not. It’s something worth doing right or it’s not. For an organization that does business in 100+ countries to say that individual productivity depends on sitting in a cube so people have physical access to them is farcical… or it would be farcical if they weren’t so serious when they said it. I’ve been at it long enough to know that you don’t gain a damned thing from swimming against the tide. I’m not going to wage war for the sanctity of telework and I’m certainly not going to fall on my sword for it, but the chance of my signing a “limited” agreement are somewhere between slim and none.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.

Welcome to the 19th Century…

As we prepare to celebrate Independence Day, it seems perversely fitting that million of our fellow citizens are sitting, literally, in the dark sweltering in the summer heat illuminated by the contemporary equivalent of candlelight. I mean it was good enough for the Founding Fathers, right? While I like irony as much as the next guy (maybe a little more), this should remind all of us of something we collectively never think about until it’s suddenly not working… The fact that we’re running a 21st century economy on top of 19th century infrastructure.

Overhead distribution lines probably worked well enough when all they were running was a few light bulbs in each house. When nearly every conceivable item in the modern house runs on electricity, though, thin copper cable strung on wooden poles seems like a less than ideal solution to delivering uninterrupted service to nearly every home in the country. If the way we distribute electricity isn’t hardened against falling tree limbs, I think it’s safe to assume that it would fare poorly against an actual person or group of people determined to bring the system down.

It’s probably cost prohibitive to bury every mile of every cable in the country, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give it a hard look in places where it makes sense (i.e. in areas of dense population, areas prone to severe storms, etc.). At some point, the cost of continually repairing outdated infrastructure surpasses the cost of, you know, replacing it with something better. Most people don’t drive the same car their great-grandparents bought in 1916, but we’re using the same distribution model they came up with back then. Infrastructure improvement across the board needs to be a national priority because as more people and new technology put increased demand on outdated utilities, the Great Power Outage of 2012 is probably just a preview of good times to come.

Yep, fixing the problem is going to be expensive, but just wait until your power is out for a week or two and tell me all about the cost of doing nothing.