Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Two things I saw yesterday that exemplify my complaints about the modern world:

At the convenience store counter there is often a bunch of gee-whiz trinkets for sale to try to grab an extra five bucks off of you. Usually it's some quirky cigarette lighter that changes colours or plays music or something. This one, though, takes the cake: Do you want a magnetic flexible laser led light? Of course you do! Everyone needs one of those. You're looking at a small barrel, abour as long and big around as your little finger. Add to that about four inches of flexible, bendy-straw hose and tip it with a little LED light -- the whole thing looks like a very minature vacuum cleaner. On the barrel of this sucker are two tiny metal buttons. One of them turns on the LED flashlight, you’ve seen the kind, at the end of it. LEDs, being something like ten times more efficient than a standard incandescent filament bulb, can be impressively bright for their size, and this one is blue-white. The other button activates the laser built into the barrel. Yep, a little laser pointer. Pretty darned weak.

The net effect of this thing is that it looks like one of those random tools you’d see on an episode of Star Trek sitting on a tray that the engineer would pick up at an appropriate moment, point the light at some component he was fixing, flick the laser a few times, and say he had “re-modulated the inverse flux capacitors.” In short, it’s absolutely useless.

Think about it. What possible use is this device? Sure, a little flashlight is a good thing to have on a keychain or in a glovebox, sometimes. But what’s the point of the bendy bit at the end? How could this possibly help? This thing is smaller than your hand – if you needed to point it a funny angle, you’d just point it. Any opening too small for your hand to fit into, well, it’s going to be to small to fit your HEAD into, either. Second, it’s got a laser pointer. Um, all right. In a classroom or to give a presentation, a laser pointer occasionally comes in handy. But what it has to do with a flashlight, or why you could ever need the two devices combined is beyond me. Anybody need a combination screwdriver and hair dryer? Also makes Julienne fries! Will not break!

Oh, and it’s magnetic! Not as cool as it sounds – it’s not a “Magnetic LASER.” I don’t know what that would do, but it sounds spiffy. It’s just got a cheap magnet glued to it so you can, I don’t know, stick it to your refrigerator, or, if you do put it in a toolbox, you’ll get every loose nail and bolt stuck to it. Great.

Why is this thing worth a rant? Because it is utterly useless, and yet someone designed it, spec’d it out, produced it, advertised it, shipped it, and now it can be yours for four ninety-nine, plus tax. Conventional neo-classical economics would suggest that this is a good thing: the purchase and sale of the magnetic flexible laser led light adds to gross domestic product, and that in turn raises the “standard of living.” I heartily oppose the notion that, at any level, these little bits of landfill fodder do ANYTHING to improve the quality of our life, on the whole.

Next: The playground.


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