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Swing A Dead Cat, Hit Technology

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The “Kudos & Calamities” column was the brainchild of its original co-authors, AdamTheTech and Tyler Thompson. The idea behind the column was to be able to alternate authors every week who each tackle an interesting personal topic or news headline related to technology. The column was inherited by PCM members Kram and Ryan Passey, and was eventually retired as PCM evolved into more of a blogging format.

AdamTheTech takes a tour around town and scours the area for technology that’s used in everyday life; some in obvious places, while some in not-so-obvious places.

There comes a point in time when you reach your maximum endurance point and you just have to rest.  Sports, work, club hopping…whatever it is that you do the most–you just need to take a break, rest up, and do something else for a while.

Guess what?  I took a week off from my regular job.  Having a bit more time than usual on my hands, I took this opportunity to scope out downtown and the surrounding area more thoroughly to see exactly how much computer technology and tech gadgets were utilized in every day life.  How much do we actually depend on computer technology to get things done?

One of the largest centers for technology, gadgets and gizmos is the arcade, so I headed there first.  They’ve got joystick consoles, gun fighter games, and virtual simulators that you sit and “ride” in.  As an added bonus, they also had a line of computers in the back with Internet access, which charge $1 for 10 minutes.  Pretty expensive considering you can get a broadband connection for about $30-$45 per month these days.  I guess they make a nice little profit off of that.

Anyhow, one virtual simulator I came across was a virtual roller coaster ride.  This particular game had acted up on some customers and one of the floorwalkers was there trying to repair it.  From what I could see, the game had minimized and was displaying a standard Windows XP desktop.  Amazing…arcade games now run on Windows rather than proprietary game systems.

Now that I had visited the one place with more electronics than anywhere else with the same amount of square footage, I needed to find a place that would rank second for implementing computer technology.

As I wandered around looking for a likely target, I noticed that more than half of the parking meters on the streets were digital.  It kind of makes you wonder how those things actually get powered.  No, there is no power coming up the poles they rest on because there used to be mechanical meters mounted on them.  I wouldn’t think batteries would be powerful enough to run those things all year round, but I guess they’re similar to a digital watch…only a bit bigger.

Moving right along, and after wandering in and out of stores for a few hours, there was only one dominant technology that could be found: digital cash registers.  Not every store had these, but it was often the larger and well-established stores that had those technological wonders at the purchase counters.  Typically, these digital cash registers where just touchable LCD screens manned by tall and slim young women, or gangly and awkward young men.  The college boy would haltingly punch the LCD screen with their index finger as if he was pressing the firing stud on a game controller, while the young woman would nimbly tap in the amount with all her fingers, snap her gum, and put out her hand expecting the money to magically appear on her palm.

As I wandered away from the smaller shops and boutiques, I decided to take a look in the large chain grocery stores.  Wonder of wonders, they have self-checkout machines.  I had almost forgotten about those fascinating marvels.  They’re huge contraptions where you can bypass the flesh-and-blood cashiers and play the zip-and-bip game by yourself!

Throughout my entire expedition, I noticed that ATMs are all over the place these days.  The arcades, the pizza parlors, the restaurants, the grocery stores, the bars, and the street corners.  Some of the ATMs on the sidewalks looked like they could be easily carted away on a hand truck or carried away by two people.  That’s not exactly secure, especially if they’re merely sitting on two blocks of wood, and not all chained up and secured with half a dozen alarms and warning lights.

Some ATMs still use the older green monochrome screens with all the buttons surrounding the screen, while newer ones have LCD screens that you can touch, eliminating the need for the buttons that would surround the models with a monochrome screen.  There are two things bug me about ATMs these days.  The first is that drive-up ATMs have Braille on the number keys.  What vision impaired person is going to drive up to the ATM?  If you say braille comes standard on every machine, take a look the buttons on the side of the screen.  How are the vision impaired supposed to know which ones to press when the information is only displayed on the screen?  Interesting when you think about it, huh?

The second thing that bugs me is how people refer to ATMs.  Some people simply say “ATM”, while others go the extra yard and tack the word “Machine” at the end of the acronym.  It’s redundant!  ATM stands for Automated Teller Machine, so when someone tacks on the extra word, they’re really saying “Automated Teller Machine Machine.”  Now doesn’t that sound a little silly?

After pondering the wonders of the machines that spit out free cash, I found myself at an “Ol’ Time Photo” place.  It didn’t dawn on me earlier when I passed it a few times while pacing the sidewalk, but they actually rely heavily on technology for their business.  What they do is dress people up in period outfits, snap their picture, “age” the picture, and stick it on a wanted poster template from the 1800’s or early 1900’s.  So, if you wanted to look like a roughrider outlaw, they would set you up with cowboy boots, a vest, six shooters, and a lariat.  If you wanted to look like a gangster from the roaring 20’s, they would set you up with that and hand you hat and a prop tommy gun.  The fun part is when they actually snap the picture.  They manipulate the photo on a computer, add aging effects, put it on a wanted poster template, and 15 minutes later, you’ve got a printed copy of yourself looking like a wanted outlaw of whichever time period you have chosen.  It’s quite a neat little novelty shop they have going there, if I do say so myself.  That’s what you could call bringing back the past with the tools of the future.

After completing the self-guided tour of the area, I stopped at the public restrooms before I started the journey back to my dwelling.  Guess what?  There’s technology in bathrooms, of all places.  Automatic flushing toilets, automatic sinks that turn on when you but your hands under the faucet, automatic paper towel dispensers, and automatic hand driers.  I think the two areas with the most advanced technology was the arcade and the public restrooms.  Who would have thought that the bathrooms have more bells and whistles than most other places that you would find in a town?

So after the pit stop and the conclusion of my search of the entire area for signs for technology, I was actually marginally disappointed.  Many people still rely on technology that’s 20 years old.  Sure, if something works, keep using it until it’s useless and can’t be fixed any more.  However, there comes a point where the oldest technology isn’t always the best.  Heck, even if that’s NASA’s policy on technology, why should we follow their lead?

I leave you with this thought for the week: “You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting technology.  You don’t even need to extend your arms with the cat anymore.” –Chris Urban

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