Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Any nerd can do it

In the more and more frequently visible category of “Geeks with Too Much Time on Their Hands,” we find the HAPIFork.  That’s right.  The HAPIFork is among the new products on display at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. 

HAPIFork’s developers remind us that regulating the speed at which we eat may help with weight loss and blah blah blah blah blah!  

They go on to say that it takes about 20 minutes for our stomachs to alert our brains that we’re full; and eating faster means we consume superfluous calories… before… the message is… delivered…   

Oh!  ‘Scuse me.  I nodded off. 

Responding to the communications standoff between gray matter and the gut, this latest marvel of good intentions gone horribly awry records how often and how quickly it moves from your plate to your mouth.   

Looking like a smaller version of your typical fast-and-furious shoveling device attached to an electronic toothbrush, HAPIFork can track the number of mouthfuls per minute and per meal.  It even times the intervals between each bite. 

Then, and here’s the fun part, it lights up and vibrates to alert the conscientious diner when there are fewer than 10 seconds between forkfuls.  Isn’t that nice?!  And you can carry it in your pocket right into the French Laundry. 

We are not told what the consequences might be if an epicure violates the prescribed meter for healthful consumption:  For example, if you’re too zealous with the mac and cheese, does HAPIFork post a snide remark on your Facebook page, issue a citation or simply deliver an electric shock?   

Skeptics argue that eating slowly with a regular fork can provide the same benefits as HAPIFork.  But regular forks don't come with their own tracking software!  And, at $99, the HAPIFork will reduce your budget for groceries, a proven technique for cutting calories. 

In a related story, Japanese engineers at the Fukuoka Institute ofTechnology are finalizing a safety system for cars that will provide speeding drivers with specific feedback regarding what could happen if they don't slow down.   

“Specific?” you say.  “How so?” 

"You would die if you crashed right now," is a message that could be delivered if you’re hurtling toward the back of the car in front of you in your righteous effort to keep that jerk in the SUV from squeezing into the space.      

In a most delicate manner, the developers of this patent pending “safe driving promotion system" assure us that "a sense of danger will be awakened in drivers that makes them voluntarily refrain from dangerous driving."   

How very kind. 

Their system works by using the different types of sensors already found in a typical modern car or submarine - radar, ultrasound, sonar and laser - to work out the kinetic energy, compute the distance to the vehicle in front and keep watch on its brake lights.  

Then, like a bookmaker in hell, an onboard app that has learned the driver's behavior and reaction time over all their past trips calculates the odds of a collision.  If the driver is careening like a lunatic, it then displays the scale of damage that could result and generates warnings like, “Hey you!  Behind the wheel!  Back off before you sustain a ‘whiplash injury due to a rear-end shunt.’”

A what?!  I’m all about clarity, but I don't want to know about a “rear-end shunt.”  They’re right.  I’d probably slow down.

Anyway, the engineering team believes current warning systems which only show the distance between the driver and the car ahead aren't enough since they don’t “awaken drivers to the real dangers of speeding.”  Hence, their proposed warning of an impending “fatal, car-crushing collision with fire.”  Got it.   

Thank you.  I’m definitely awake now.  And grateful that the thing is display only - no screaming or gnashing of teeth.

Inspired by such technological innovations, I’m working on a hybrid of these two gadgets:  A safe-eating meter that sounds an alarm and displays the disasters that will ensue if a bon vivant gets too happy at the table and burns rubber between her appetizer and dessert.  

“Slow down!” it’ll shout.  “You’re approaching a ‘no-more-zipping your skinny jeans zone!’”   

Las Vegas, here I come!