Salient White Elephant

May 4, 2009

Hammer Hat

Filed under: Brash Environmental Commentary — Salient White Elephant @ 9:14 am

The other day I was watching a talk show about the technology of fried chicken. The inside is fairly white, the outside crispy and with an appealing orange-brown color, and a little bit of steam comes out when you take the first bite. Best of all – it’s cheap! The show featured a scientist who was telling all about the amazing technology that is used to produce the foundation of the western diet. They showed how hormones were injected on an hourly basis by automatic needles that came down from the ceiling to make the chicks grow faster (translating into lower cost for you and me). Each chick was fitted with a garden hose that poured water down its throat to make it plump and juicy. As an engineer, I couldn’t help admiring the technological challenges that back-room designers had overcome to develop this highly automated and efficient culinary production system.

We all know how scientists can sometimes be a little clueless, and how they don’t always know how to make an idea appealing to people because they just aren’t in touch with who we are and what we like. It is as though they live in a different world. But not this guy. This guy was good… oh yeah, he was real good. He was so smooth and natural that I couldn’t help wondering if he was really an actor from General Hospital in a white coat. But as I watched the needles jabbing into the chickens, I felt a little queasy… you know, like I went to a dinner theater where they served fine wine and prime rib, but the action on stage featured a doctor performing hemorrhoid surgery. And there I was… watching hemorrhoids as a waiter swirled a sample of wine beneath my nose and asked if it met with my approval… and I was wondering how any of this could possibly be appetizing. But just then the cool scientist (General Hospital star) pointed out that test after test after test had proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that putting hormones into chicken could not possibly cause cancer or any other debilitating condition. You see what I mean about this guy? He had to be an actor. No scientist could possibly have so much mojo. He went on to explain that the orange-brown food coloring is carefully adjusted so as not to resemble fish that tastes fishy. He said the vat where they mix the dye is solid titanium, and is monitored by the latest high tech sensors for measuring acidity levels and whatnot. Contrast this with the old way of making chicken, which didn’t have anything titanium, and was probably just some sweaty guy in an apron.

I listened in fascination to his words, watching the beautifully detailed and colorful illustrations flash across the screen as he  casually pressed the “next” button on his Powerpoint remote. I couldn’t help wondering why us cave men of mechanical design don’t adopt some of the same principles for creating exciting new products. Products that would be developed and marketed by exciting new corporations with inscrutable mirrored windows. Corporations that don’t even exist yet, living only within the pages of business plans. Business plans that rest in cool leather briefcases, bouncing at the sides of sharply dressed Wall Street financiers.

Suddenly it occurred to me that once you’ve seen somebody else do it, it really isn’t that difficult to think of personal augmentation devices that won’t kill you or permanently damage your health. All you need to do is provide the device with a means for tuning its effects to the weight, height, and body type of the individuals who own them. For example, on the surface, hitting yourself in the head with a hammer seems like a kind of a thing that nobody in their right mind would want to do. But let’s ask what if. What if the hammer is mounted on a small supporting tube. What if it is able to rotate about a horizontal axis going through the top of that tube. And what if the motor that actuates its motion is controlled by a couple of simple dials that regulate the torque and frequency of hammer hits. The torque control allows a sleight woman of (say) 100 pounds to get just the lightest little tap, whereas a big guy like me could get a medium-sized rap. The frequency control varies from (say) one tap per minute up to a konk every ten seconds or so for a ripple muscled construction worker type. You can see that not only would a hat like this not kill you, in fact, as long as it is kept properly adjusted, you wouldn’t even need to pop an Advil:

Hammer Hat

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