Tuesday, April 27, 2010


High tech solutions to low-tech problems

Yesterday, Eric Taub reviewed an interesting device in the Gadgetwise blog in the New York Times. It’s a pair of transceivers that help you locate your car even if you’re a half mile from it. You leave one transceiver in the car, take the other with you, and then use it to find your car as you’d use a Geiger counter to find a source of radiation.

It seems, from the review, that it’s pretty slick — Mr Taub says it works as advertised. But the real point, I think, is how he ends his review:

While the product will most likely solve your lost car problems, if you don’t want to spend $80 for one, or $100 for a deluxe version that includes a carrying case, there is a cheaper and easier solution: spend $1 for a pen, and write your location down before you walk away.

If a pen is too low-tech for you, make a note of it in your BlackBerry — you can even do it as a voice note, to bump up the technology a little more while still keeping it short of brain surgery.

We have a lot of that going around. I remember the first time I saw a game you could buy in the store to play Battleship, consisting of plastic peg-boards in which you could stick plastic pieces representing the different sizes of ships, plus the “hits” and “misses”. That’s fine, but we used to play it on paper, which was easy, and free; I had no interest in buying a plastic game that cost money, took up space, and didn’t help if it was at home and you weren’t. The paper version was available anywhere you could find paper and pencil.

Later, of course, we had computer versions, and I expect there are versions for the Game Boy and the iPhone. These do have an advantage over the paper ones: you can play against the computer, so they work if you don’t happen to have an opponent handy.

The point is that we often look for high-tech solutions when low-tech solutions are easy, cheap, and entirely adequate. The plastic Battleship game is one example, and the Auto-Finder is another. You might say that the latter will save your ass — or at least your pride — when you forgot to write the location down when you parked... but you still had to remember to bring the transceivers, leave one in the car and take one with you, and turn them on. If you can handle that setup, you can probably handle jotting the location down.

On the other hand, then you couldn’t show people what cool stuff you have.


Brent said...

Barry - you and I both go back far enough to remember using a mainframe computer in the 1980s to remember where we parked and what time the coffee cart was coming by our office :-) In the 70s we used the AI computer at Stanford in a similar overkill fashion.

Barry Leiba said...

He-he... true. But, then, [1] that was a lark, done just because we could (like the phase-of-the-moon EXEC), and [2] it's more akin to jotting down the location in your BlackBerry than to the Auto-Finder device.

Yes, we had a good time writing all sorts of fun, silly little mainframe programs to tell us where the coffee carts would be at particular times, and so on.

Nathaniel Borenstein said...

Yeah, but it was my buddies at CMU who wrote the *really* useful application -- the one that allowed you from your terminal to find out how many cans were in the coke machine and whether they'd been there long enough to be cold. What a time saver!

HL said...

But, as you and I -- and probably many others who read this blog -- remember, It's Better Manually. [Henry Law]