Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Reinventing the Wheel

I get a lot of magazines, most of them dealing with science or technology in one form or another. Most of them publish a “Top Ten List” of history’s greatest inventions at least once a year. Teh interweebs are full of top ten lists as well. All of these lists are pretty similar, the wheel, the clock, antibiotics, the personal computer, the telephone, etc.

Bah! I shake my little arthritic fist in derision at your lists. Bah!

Those things are okay, I guess, but great inventions? Hardly. The wheel led to the car, which led to California highways, which led to highway shootings. The clock? I’m retired, I don’t care what time it is, half of the time (heh) I don’t even know what month it is. Antibiotics are just making the germs stronger and more intelligent by killing off the weak ones, pretty soon they’ll own us. The PC? Yeah that led directly to Windows Vista, there’s a great invention, sure. The telephone gave us telemarketers and “Family Plans" and people who discuss their intestinal polyps in loud voices on public transportation. I could go on, really I could keep this up all day, but for your sake I'll stop there.

You want the best of technology? Try this:

1. Indoor plumbing: A couple of years back we went to the Maryland Renascence Festival. It was a fun day, no doubt about it. Where else can you dress up in coffee can armor and eat roast turkey legs with your bare hands, dripping grease on your sandals like some medieval barbarian? But there are people who seem to think that this is somehow an accurate representation of life in the Dark Ages. I’ve heard people talk, in complete sincerity, about how much simpler life was back then, easier, better, every day like the Renascence Festival. Are you kidding me? I could make a list, a long list, of why these people are dangerously insane and why they shouldn’t be allowed to wander around without a keeper. That list would include things like, oh, not being somebody’s property (what? You don’t know what the word ‘surf’ means? Not everybody was a knight, princess), eating on a regular basis, dentistry, and on and on. But I’ve gotta tell you, right at the top of that list would have to be not having to go outside at 3AM in 10 below weather to take a leak. If you don’t have to get up twice a night, don’t gloat, you’ll be in your forties sooner or later, and then you’ll see I'm right. Hot showers, too, also.

2. Internet: Seriously, how can you live without online Poker and free porn? Okay, I don’t gamble, online or otherwise, and pixels, no matter how they’re arranged, don’t do much for me. But seriously, before the internet how did people find out the really important things? Take this show I’m watching, I know I’ve seen this supporting actress somewhere before, something about her reminds me of Firefly but I know she was never in the series or the movie because I just watched the whole dammed thing on DVD. Before the internet I would have had to just live with the aggravation of not knowing, like an itch in my brain. Arrgh! But, with the internet, viola! It’s Moon Bloodgood from the canceled show Daybreak, also starring Adam Baldwin from the canceled show Firefly. Hah! See? See? The entire world’s information at my fingertips, all the time. God bless Al Gore for inventing the Internet.

3. Self Cleaning Cat Box: That’s right, a self cleaning litter box. See, we got cats, big ones, one grey, one white, brothers. So far as I can determine the only purpose they serve is to generate big balls of hair (seriously, I get enough hair on a daily basis to knit another cat, twice life-size) and turn perfectly good Frisky Liver Bits into cat crap. Do you know how much manure two big cats generate? I could do nothing with my day but clean the dammed litter box. Internet Friends, there’s something you should know about me – I’m squeamish when it comes to cat boxes. I don’t know why. Some people fear snakes, or spiders, or big-nosed men in turbans – me, it’s cat boxes, they just give me the willies. Why doesn’t somebody else in your family who likes cats clean the box, you ask? Yeah, why is that, I wonder. Anyway, we got one of those self-cleaning jobbers, but get this, you have to empty the little plastic tub like every day. Duh, what the hell good is that? I cut the bottom out of the waste bin, mounted the whole gizmo on top of a stand, put a large tub under it with a hinged plastic flap door, and lined the tub with one of the those industrial strength flex garbage bags. No smell, no muss, no fuss. Every couple of days toss in a scoop of litter, and empty it once every two weeks. Easy, sanitary. I’ve also got an automatic cat feeder too, that holds fifty pounds of cat food. It’s like the 21st century they always promised us on the Jetson’s, robots shovel it in, robots shovel it out.

4. Automatic Drip Coffee Maker: If I have to explain this one to you, you really wouldn’t understand the answer. There’s also something seriously wrong with you.

5. Heated Leather Car Seats: Whoever came up with this deserves a Nobel Prize. I’m in pain most of the time these days; I use the heated leather seats in my truck as a heating pad. They’re wonderful. I’ve got them turned on pretty much all of the time. In fact there are nights where I’m temped to get out of bed and go out to the garage and sleep in those seats. I will never own a vehicle without them again. After I become Emperor of the Universe, I’m making it mandatory that all vehicles incorporate heated leather seats – and that most especially includes commercial aircraft.

6. TiVo (or even better, HD DVR Cable Boxes): Being able to watch what I want, when I want is the one of the great ideas ever. Being able to pause a live show or fast forward through Cialis commercials? Genius! Throw off the chains of network programming, free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I’m free at last!

7. Amazon: I pre-ordered Larry Niven’s Fleet of Worlds from Amazon last week, while I was on the site, Amazon (who knows what I like, how do they do that?) asked if I’d like to also order Joe Haldeman’s The Accidental Time Machine. At a significantly reduced price if I bought both books. Hell yes! No muss, no fuss, they already know my credit card number and I get free shipping (to Alaska!), I push the order button and three days latter Haldeman arrives in my mailbox. Brilliant! Other retailers need to take a lesson from Amazon, to wit: Alaska is a state. The 49th State, the biggest state (you could cut Alaska in half, and Texas would be the third largest state) with the single largest per capita pool of folks who order most of their goods via mail, with the largest USPS and FedEx hubs outside of Memphis. Half of online retailers won’t even ship to Alaska, or want to charge more for shipping than it would cost to ship the product to Zambia! Jerks.

8. Hi-Definition TV: We bought a 70” Mitsubishi Plasma TV and a Toshiba HDDVD player a while back, plugged into the living room Sony surround sound system, all I can say is Holy friggin’ crap! It’s realer than real. When we watched The Thirteenth Warrior (one of the best movies ever, screw the dammed critics) I could practically smell the blood. I can’t hardly watch regular TV any more, if you haven’t seen Raging Planet on The National Geographic HD Channel, you really, really should. More HD, more! In the future, scholars will divide history into BHD and AHD (figure it out).

9. Portable Video/Music players: Because it’s the only thing that makes 10 hours on an airplane, shoehorned into the torture device they call a seat next to some sweaty sumo wrestler, tolerable. I’ve got a Creative Arts ZEN and I can load a dozen movies and thousands of songs and I put the headphones on the minute I sit down. Never, never again will I have to listen to that irritating “safety brief” (Yeah, right, you go down in the Pacific and you’re going to live long enough to deploy the life raft, sure. How often has that happened, ever?) or the bored pilot who thinks he’s some kind of tour director constantly telling passengers to look out the window at things 30,000 feet below on the other side of the cloud deck. Shut up and drive already.

10. Duct Tape: which really doesn't require elaboration, other than to say: is there anything it can't do?


  1. I hear, ya', brother.

    Why is it when people play "The Dark Ages," it never includes an episode of "Dying a Horrible Death From Amoebic Dysentery?" I guess I'm just not very romantic, but I'm all, all, all about shaving my legs and washing my hair on a daily basis without suffering from hypothermia.

    And TiVo? The best invention EVER!

  2. Why is it when people play "The Dark Ages," it never includes an episode of "Dying a Horrible Death From Amoebic Dysentery?" Yeah, or chronic boils. I especially can't believe when women talk wishfully of Medieval times, WTF?!

    Steve, well I was thinking more like After HD, but Anno Homminus Digital sounds way cooler, so yeah, let's go with that.

  3. Hm, yes. Childbed fever. There's a fabulous bonus! Hand-in-hand with high infant mortality rates! Yay Dark Ages!

    Or yay modern medicine and indoor plumbing. Yay clean hair!

  4. Janiece, yeah I don't get it. Men, maybe I can understand, you know, that good ole days when men were men and women were livestock bit. But women? Besides no clean hair, think no feminine hygiene products, no birth control, you're property of a guy that has never seen a dentist or a bottle of Listerine. I really, truly don't understand these people.

  5. Hmmm. Coincidentally I run a roleplaying game set in the Dark Ages, and horrible diseases isn't on my list of things to play through. I suspect my players are thankful for that - they're much more for running around fighting off bad guys. ;)

  6. MWT, make it more realistic, give them all a case of amoebic dysentery, or the Black Plague (depending on what you have handy), have them pull out a couple teeth to simulate the lack of medieval dental hygiene, don't let anybody shower for a month prior to the game. During play, make everybody go out back to the privy instead of using 21st century plumbing. Oh, and you're going to need a big box of rats...

  7. I appreciate the suggestions, if only for the giggling fit that it induced. However, I think those definitely belong in the "excessive" category of fun. ;)

  8. Well, yeah, I've always wanted to go to many of these reinactors and say, "you'd have been tied to the land." I can at least say that my ancestors (because of my father's name) would have been permitted to have carried a sword (many of them were probably hired out as mercenaries) and had the right to hunt for meat. But then, even the Civil War guys, more of them would have succumbed to disease than battle. People tend to forget those things, like the influenza epidemic of 1917-1919.


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