Inventions not always works of wonder

July 20, 2013

One of the inventions I dislike in today’s world is the product code scanners some grocery stores feature. The scanners offer a chance for customers to check out their own totals – and allow the stores to lay off as many people as possible.

I first noticed this more than a decade ago in another part of North Texas. The trend spread to a number of other major chain stores, even outside the grocery realm.

From the start, I resented what the scanners represented and what they could mean for the future of those who want those types of clerical jobs. Those folks know they’re not going to get rich, but it’s a paying job – and more productive than sitting at home watching Judge Judy.

Then there’s the annoyance of having to scan the items yourself. Who wants to weigh their own bananas?

PARALLEL PROBLEMS

Some vehicles now have the technology to parallel park for you, but I would almost be tempted to campaign to stop that nonsense.

I can’t wait for the day someone driving a Volvo crushes a fender on my car and leaves a note saying either that the steering system went haywire, or that I should contact the car manufacturer if I have a complaint.

Here’s a tip for those who think that they can’t live without a vehicle that can parallel park itself: Practice. If that doesn’t help, practice some more. If that doesn’t help, maybe you shouldn’t be behind the wheel at all. Maybe your lack of driving skill makes you a menace to a peaceful society.

Some vehicles on the market feature sensors that allow automatic braking and steering, intended to avoid collisions while driving. What could go wrong there? I feel like this sort of mechanically controlled movement could lead to some dangerous situations worse than the scenarios these inventions are meant to prevent.

COMFORTING

Then there was this stunning tale of Big Brother gone crazy that almost came true a few years ago in California. Thanks to another clever invention, technology exists for utility companies to control our comfort in the privacy of our homes. No problem with that, right?

A January 2008 article on the website sfgate.com quoted a spokesperson for the California Energy Commission as saying, “New building-efficiency standards drawn up by the commission would have required new buildings to include thermostats that could allow utilities to control a building’s air-conditioning or heating during emergencies.

After a public outcry, commission officials … said the regulation would be revised so that the devices would still be required, but configured so that customers could override outside control by utilities.”

‘AWESOME’ INVENTIONS

According to the website science.howstuffworks.com, in 2010 there were 520,277 patents filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The website then listed 10 of what it called “awesome inventions you’ll never hear about.” Most of them are either impractical, unnecessary or are not cost-effective.

One invention, the P&P Office Waste Paper Processor, is supposed to turn paper into pencils. However, you must provide the erasers, glue – even the lead – to make your lifelong dream of creating your own come true.

I’m going to hold out for the deluxe model, due out next year.

The rumor says that it will turn spare pencils made with the P&P Office Waste Paper Processor into fine home furniture. Now that would be an invention I could believe in.

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