Light bulbs and Me: Internet of Cursed Things

[Fair warning, even my notes for this blog post have too many curse words in them.]

A couple of days ago I was skimming articles on the upcoming wave of Internet-connected objects and one of the titles jumped at me: Sticker Shock: How the internet of things has turned a $10 lightbulb into a $99 lightbulb.

This is troubling to me because I have a lightbulb problem. Namely…It pisses me off to pay for light bulbs at all.

I dropped out of college in the beginning of my sophomore year for reasons now obscure but still private. [Yes I went back.] My dad’s policy on the matter was that I didn’t have to pay rent as long as I was working. The economy was good then, I’d taken a couple of classes in Microsoft Office, and I easily found a 40 hour a week temp job in a light bulb warehouse.

The number of insane stories about this job…it would take months to catalog them all.  However, one of the perks was every Tuesday you could fill out a request form and the stock guys would go pick a bag of light bulbs for you from the remaindered orders. Effectively, it was an all you-can-eat buffet of perfectly normal, in some cases very expensive light bulbs.
It was the dawn of the compact fluorescent era and it was glorious. I think my parents still had a stash of remaindered light bulbs with them when they moved to Florida a decade and a half later. The result, though, is that every time I have to go buy light bulbs ACTUALLY SHELLING OUT MONEY for them grinds my gears a little.

Second part of my issue is that residential light bulbs are now seriously fucking complex.

It wasn’t until I moved to the new house that I realized how bad it’s gotten. It’s not a question of wattage or base width any more- although those two items will pound you unexpectedly if you get them wrong- but also chemical components, prong sizes, lengths, shapes, relative opacity. It’s a cascade of details the insides of which I can never fully grasp.
What’s worse, Home Depot- where you think you go to buy such simple things as light bulbs- is a big pit of lighting lies.
“Oh sure,” says the orange-aproned guy staring at the two light bulbs I had in each hand, “that one will work. Sure it’s the same thing.”
Not so.
Six months of light bulb purchase failure and I was brought low enough that I collected them all, taped them to a piece of poster board, and dragged the board to the local specialty shop.  It’s pictured below. Note the fact I had not only the number of bulbs necessary for replacement but the actual paperwork from the light fixture.

This is the board.

This is the board.

They saw me coming. I think it was about $200 later I got out of there with what should have been the full company of weird bulbs. It wasn’t. I still had to go back, because in one case simply eyeballing the original bulb wasn’t enough to make the right decision.

So here we are, once again at  the dawn of the new age, where these light bulbs will be able to talk to us but at a cost of $99 PER BULB. Can you imagine getting a $99 bulb home from the specialty store and having it be the wrong one? Can you envision the fury possible under those circumstances? Relationships have been shredded for less. Wars have been started for smaller offenses.

I’m a believer, though. In the spirit of embracing the future, I’m going to propose what I think a $99 light bulb should be capable of doing.

As an Aside: one of the hard-to-reach and confusing-sized light bulbs in my bathroom [ the one marked “toilet” in the poster above] is dying again, making the experience of using the bathroom at night seem like waiting for surgery in a creepy post-Soviet hospital basement.

It’s unpleasant.

If we could go ahead and get my miracle bulb on the market as soon as possible that be great. Thanks.

The $99 dollar light bulb should and must:
1) Be controllable from my smart phone. Both on and off, and with a timer.
2) Tell me when it’s about to go out. Email is good for this, as it’s not an emergency and I’m probably not going to do anything about it right away. There’s no real need to tell me that it’s actually out, as I’ll know that the first time I flip on the light switch.
See? I just prioritized that requirement for you YOU’RE WELCOME.
3) Text me a note with its identity when I ask it to. Size, wattage, shape, base, etc.
And the all important WOW factor: 4) Tell me whether or not it’s in stock at the local home depot. With the appropriate SKU number so that I don’t have to ask one of the orange-aprons whether it’s the “Right” bulb. That road leads to tears.

Honestly, I would be willing to pay for something that accomplishes all of that. I’d probably be willing to pay more than $99 if it was an extensible set of bases that just executed  those types of things with a normal light bulb.

$99 for one light bulb though? EEEHHH.

Maybe if it’s powering a lighthouse and I’m at sea with no binoculars? Then we can talk.

On the origins of ‘The Unexamined Life’

In conversation with my dad yesterday he mentioned that he didn’t know where the phrase “The Unexamined Life,” came from but he was sure it was deep.  Come to that, I didn’t know where it came from, so I decided to make sure I had cribbed it from someplace cool.

And I did! Here it is, in Apology, Plato’s account of the trial of Socrates.

“Someone will say: Yes, Socrates, but cannot you hold your tongue, and then you may go into a foreign city, and no one will interfere with you? Now I have great difficulty in making you understand my answer to this. For if I tell you that this would be a disobedience to a divine command, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe that I am serious; and if I say that the greatest good of a man is daily to converse about virtue, and all that concerning which you hear me examining myself and others, and that the life which is unexamined is not worth living — that you are still less likely to believe.”

It’s shocking to me that I managed to snatch this one right out of the air, because I would have told you I spent my sophomore year in Philosophy class doing a crossword puzzle and seething about being surrounded by moonbats.  Evidently somewhere along the line I did the reading.

So here’s an odd list.

Things about which Socrates and I agree:

  •  Being a smartass is a divine command.

Things about which Socrates and I disagree:

  • That you need to examine every aspect of your life in order to make it worth living.

And in the great spirit of philosophy classes everywhere, I leave you with the following essay question:

What would Socrates – advocate of the examined life- have thought of wearable technology?

The Blerch, Wearable Tech and Me

Hard to believe that it’s already been a few weeks since the world first glimpsed the Apple Watch.  I had the distinct advantage over much of the consumer populace during that announcement because I have already completely converted my entire mobile chain of command (Tablet, Phone, Camera, and yes, a Gear) to Samsung products.  Much as I might be tempted, there’s no reason for me to purchase this impressive new timepiece.

The iWatch renewed my interest in the wearable tech market.  Or more accurately, the rise of the wearable tech market and the impending demise of the unexamined life.  Before I delve too deeply into that, though, here’s some background.

A week ago I ran my second half marathon, a race called Beat the Blerch.  A year ago- almost to this exact day- I started running.  It’s really  easy for me to tell you the exact day because I started running using an App called “Couch-to-5K.” .  The app integrated GPS, music, and an audio coach with what I now understand to be a well phased training plan.  It delivers exactly what it promises- it took me from being a complete running-hating non-runner to finishing a 5k in 30 minutes.  It did this in 9 weeks, but well before that it had turned me into a ravening running fan.  I had signed up for a half marathon before I’d even reached week 6.

A couple of times the app lost my run.  No data? No mileage? No average speed? It was like the run hadn’t happened. Another couple of times I did the run using a different phone.  The app had no cloud behind it in which to save data.  That meant there were orphaned runs that were not being tabulated into the whole.  Panic struck . Spreadsheets were created.  A second running app was downloaded to merge the spreadsheets.  But that one reckoned time and distance differently because it didn’t include warm up and cool down as separate from the run.

It was about here that  wearables started proliferating.  I needed a single source of truth for my data, one that didn’t vary with the phone I was carrying.  I needed to stop my earplugs from bouncing out of my ears.  I needed to make sure that the mileage was properly recorded in my IBM-funded Fitbit..  Sometimes I wanted to take pictures if I was on a particularly scenic (or taxing) run.  So on a typical outing here’s what had to be suited up before I could leave.

1) Phone, because it contained my music and my training plan.

2) Bluetooth headset, because the armband for my phone swung too far away from my body and yanked out my earplugs.  Also, I like to be able to change songs.

3) Garmin 610 GPS watch, newly acquired during a doorbuster sale the day after Thanksgiving.  There was a heart monitor I could have worn that came bundled with the garmin that I remember absolutely requiring and haven’t used once.

4) Fitbit.

5) My samsung gear.  Because I found it confusing to have watches on each wrist, the gear and the GPS would be next to each other on my left arm, a fashion statement no one has signed off on since the end of the Swatch fad in the 80’s.

I was a christmas tree of wearable tech.  None of this prep included things like sunscreen, camelbak backpack, my inhaler or my house key.  As things got more intense during the training for the half, I had to add mid-run electolytes and caffeine.  So the suit up phase could last for up to 20 minutes while I found all of the various elements needed to properly facilitate, soundtrack and record the use of my own legs.

The rise of the wearables is being facilitated by our addiction to data.  As with most addictions, the onramp seems worth it until we find the downside.  A couple of days ago I came across this article in The Suit .  The article discusses the potential dangers of having employees bringing networked devices into the workplace, which is a variant on the current thinking around BYOD.  But the kicker sentence is right here:

From an administrator’s point of view, a business can monitor and track employees through their use of wearable tech

As I mentioned earlier, the fitbit I was wearing during my christmas tree days was an IBM-funded device.  As part of our personal vitality rebate, we had the option of having IBM provide us a fitbit, then linking the fitbit account to a third-party wellness program.  This saved us the trouble of having to manually log our activities, and also gamified the process of leaving our desks by providing points for different levels of activity.  These points were redeemable for Amazon rewards.

I am ambivalent at best about my employer being able to read my activity data.  I went into the program knowing that I was training for a half marathon and was therefore going to shatter whatever bar was set for the game.  My  fitbit fell off my wrist while I wandered around the expo floor of SXSW – which I now realize was the fitbit equivalent of running away to join the circus- and therefore never got to redeem any of my accrued points.  But there’s a balance here that we need to contemplate.

1) Is it a good thing that we can no longer work out without data-driven feedback?

2) Does our employer have any place whatsoever in that data?

 

If we accrue too many points in one day, are we spending too much time away from our desks? If we spend no time away from our desks, are we then a health insurance risk?  To me this seems like a door we need to be very deliberate about opening, as it will be very difficult to close again.

P.S. Wearable tech skepticism be damned,  I saw this at SXSW and raved about it then:  “Ring,”  should be the standard for design of these devices going forward. [Buy one.  I mean be careful and everything, but Buy One.]

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