Inspecting Gadgets

A Speech Gun, a Phone Tattoo,
the Book Machine & a Laser Ray

Ever want to mute the lout screaming on his cellphone in a crowded train? We can help you. Want to be on call, hate BlueTooth and need your free hands? Let us get back to you. Got fed up with publishers’ rejection to your great American novel? Do we have a machine for you. And if all else fails, and something needs to be done about those killer drones, meet the drone-slaying laser ray.
And you thought that it’d take at least a few years for this kind of news to be reported. But as that sage used to say, the future ain’t what it used to be. These gadgets are hardly breakthroughs and, in a few years, what’s most likely to happen is that you’ll be reading this as if it’d been written circa 1980s, which is when the technology that made them possible was developed.
There’s no way of knowing which of these will find its way into widespread use within a few years, or even whether any of them will even resemble, in appearance and purpose, to what they are now. Inventions have a way to evolve into many different things before (more)
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even reaching the market. And then they may as well die there, all the same.
But if one keeps in mind the core principle of each one of them, and the reasons they may have been invented, it’s possible to have a limited glimpse of some of what’s coming ahead, for those who’ll live to see it. Even if such reasons will no longer hold, if the gadgets themselves are grounded in no-nonsense ideas, then they may be able to last beyond their novelty value.
It’d take the Japanese, a people not particularly known for being talkative, to invent a machine that’s undeniably biased towards those of a discreet persuasion. With more cellphones than people in most cities of the world today, and the explosion of social networking, those who prefer to keep most of what’s on their minds to themselves are now a dying breed.
The Speech Jammer is a bulky, car-battery-sized device that ‘can jam a person’s speech from up to 98ft away,’ according to inventors Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada. A directional mic records the distracting speech, adds a 0.2 second delay, and then fires back at the offending talker through its speaker.
It’s said that the loudmouth will get so disturbed by the sound of his or her own voice, that it’d cause them to shut up, at least for a moment, to regain footing of the situation. That’s the cue for the polite platoon to express their distress and desire for their right to be undisturbed be respected. Or something like that. It should work with reasonable people.
Trouble is, loudmouths are rarely intimidated by evil eyes and shshsss admonitions, and often take an aggressive, you-know-who-you’re-talking-to attitude, or worse, what’s your freaking problem? an almost certain prelude to a hardly verbal confrontation. So good luck with all that, even though we applaud the initiative. Oh, sorry, we’ve just told to keep it down. What’s their freaking problem?
Not to steal anyone’s thunder, but we saw this one coming. The tendency for phones, which are, in fact, miniature computers we carry around, is to be getting ever smaller, until they can literally be attached to one’s body. Such as a tattoo, naturally. And we may have even figured that it’d take a corporation, in this case Nokia, to apply for its patent.
To be sure, the patent they’re seeking is for the ability to implant a chip under your skin, that would vibrate under a tattoo whenever someone would call you. But it’s fair to expect that it’d be a gateway to insert electronic devices into your body, which opens a whole new can of spying cookies. And the fact that you’d still need to carry a phone kind of defeats the purpose, somehow.
What we envisioned is more along the lines of some kind of holographic device, that one could actually touch and input commands to a computer in another, remote location. That’d be something less intrusive, say, a ring that could project images on a wall, for example, with the advantage of having all the files one’d need, including your phone, in a separate, WiFi-reachable location.
As an idea, is not even original, of course, so we don’t mind if tomorrow it’d be available at the Apple store. And it probably will. But the operative mode here is how it’d work, and what kind of demand it’d meet. We all have ideas, some even original. It’s the drive and ingenuity to put them together, to make them work that makes the difference. But ours still beats Nokia’s concept.
For a long time, we had no doubts about what would be our favorite machine, one we’ll revel using it every morning: the Espresso Machine. Many a strong shot of caffeine were able to revive us from a zombie-like state to a fully operational individual in society, morning after morning. But then we fell in love with another machine and had to add a new word to our dream.
We came across the Espresso Book Machine, and that took our cake away. All of a sudden, life’s full of possibilities. We could just walk into the McNally Jackson bookstore with a pile of typed pages and come out with another of our masterpieces. Poetry, fiction, chronicles, the dream was never that accessible to Burroughs, Miller, Bukowski, Rimbaud.
So, OK, the more we think about it – now that it’s no longer a dream machine but a real working beauty which we make sure to stop by every day just to stare at it for a few minutes – we’re not sure we’ve got what it takes to make our musings into an appealing tome, one more in a million a day. Yes, sadly, now we only stop and stare at it.
But the fact that’s still there, inviting, non-judgmental, ready for my innermost cracklings to be chewed up by its inner working gears and turned it into a book, a certification we may have longed for so long, that now we’d have our own to speak of. All vanity, of course, so it’s the wrong way to approach it, any way you print it. But it’s still there. Go, take your out-of-town guests and pay it a visit.
Perhaps, as the frustration builds up, one may be inclined to switch dreams and just hope there is indeed a way to prevent someone in an windowless office from bombing by mistake again another impoverished village, thousands of miles away. It’s really sad that the dream of having machines doing our dirty work, by fighting other machines, exist only on video-game consoles.
Again, it took a corporation, a military contractor to be precise, to develop a portable laser weapons system that can take down drones (or passenger airliners), and it may be available by the end of the year. What’s shameless is not just the fact that such contractors are the ones who usually operate drones in the world’s many theaters of war, but also its name: Hellads.
Before we dwell on what kind of Darth Vader-mindset would come up with such a demonic name, it’s instructive to know that this laser-ray drone-slaying flatbed-truck sized machine was created by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. Its light-speed laser beams make it impossible for drones and planes to dodge them.
From the 1980s’ Reagan-inspired failed Star Wars technology to the clanky Patriot missiles of the first Gulf War, to the devastating mistakes that just a few years of drone weaponry has caused mostly in the Middle East and North Africa, one would think that other, more beneficial uses for such a complex system would have been envisioned by now. No fat chance, though.
They’re still at it, spending billions of dollars in research on how to better annihilate each other with the latest toys. The U.S., Israel, Russia and even that country, which has almost a billion miserably poor people, India, have been developing similar weaponry. The fact that’s mostly ineffective in real-life conditions, and can be greatly impaired in the presence of clouds, haze, and dust, doesn’t seem to faze anyone. And one can be sure that, while some develop weapons to put down drones, controlled from a windowless bunker, others have their eyes on the bunker itself. And on and on. The truth is, we’ve had just about enough of this brave new world.
(*) Originally published on Aug. 15, 2011.

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