8 gadgets in 8 weeks

I have been tasked to write about one gadget a week for eight weeks, to result in 8 articles, aka a tech-writer’s dream, aka a golden opportuntiy to manhandle and abuse things I could never afford if I earn twice as much, aka an enjoyable and productive writing opportunity, aka a reason to blog about our country’s dire need of strong leadership and direction, the loss of quality professionals to nursing opportunities abroad, and the general decay and misopportunities befalling our nation.

Say what?

Well it’s a bit complicated I guess. I’ll start with relaying how my sister has been bringing home complimentary copies of the rather excellent Asian wall Street Journal. Aside from finally being exposed to what I deem as superior journalism on a regular basis, the paper also hosts a special event called the Asian Innovation Awards.

At this point, I could start with the all-too-familiar decrying of the sad state the country is in, as a quick perusal of above site will reveal there is no mention of one, not even one award emanating from the Philippines. However, doing that is akin to Aga Muhlach’s requisite extended crying sequence in Dubai, where after a seemingly interesting 40 minutes of actual interesting story, the director suddenly remembers that hey, we’re making a Filipino film here, we need to have a brainless accident scene come out from nowhere so that our lead actor could show his acting crying chops. Predictable and disappointing.

At any rate I digress. Yes I watched that movie, but that’s for another blogpost. What I initially felt upon seeing the list is the sheer variety on it, encompassing hi-tech to mere improvements of what’s already there. From the onset, there are those you would expect to come from agricultural countries, such as a “Modified pulley for wells; locking mechanism stops rope from slipping into wells“, a “Machine that digs for groundnuts and separates them from the soil“, and a “Amphibious bicycle that has floats which allow it to run on water” (all from India).

But there are also very high-tech solutions, such as the “Technology which allows users to input Chinese characters by drawing with a finger on a mobile phone’s key-pad” (Hong Kong), “Electric walking stick for blind people” (India) and what happens to be the most interesting to me due to my background, a “Method for paying bills via encrypted email without having to visit a Web site“, which uses already-existing email technology plus encryption to improve on bills payment – an idea that I’ve always wondered about since studying Postfix, plus some experience thinking about a bills payment system way back in my Meralco days. (In fact I have another email server idea that I’ve always wanted to execute, that has to do with sending automated pricelists to dealers, but that’s fodder for another blog post).

Though varied, the underlying tone in all this has to do with something I’ve started to believe, over the years, have been lost to technology pundits, users and manufacturers over the years. Above innovations have one thing in common, and it’s that these things actually help people, a statement so corny and so out of synch with the press releases we’re so regularly fed, that we’ve, well, kind of forgot, imho (except maybe for that improved bill statement delivery system, which I’d rather prefer to get lost in the mail for obvious reasons.).

A case in point is my suspicion about Bluetooth technology, which for the life of me seems to have been built and developed for one and only one reason = to add yet another cool function to the overly laden gamut of abilities fancy gadgets already have, so they can sell more of it. To this day, I have yet to explain to non-techies just what it’s practical for. Not that I don’t understand it, of course I do, but the only thing I’ve seen it used for is to transfer the latest amateur porn some unlucky couple decided, in the spirit of using the latest technology no doubt, to record their amorous adventures, save it on their cellphones, and send to each other, so that they can whip it out whenever they feel like it to watch. And after an unfortunate trip to some enterprising phone technician, now for anyone to quickly whip out whenever they feel like it to watch – and share with their friends.

Does that mean to say that Bluetooth is completely useless? Of course not. However, I’ve personally not seen an application in popular use that makes use of its capabilities as intended to be, but more to the point, I’ve yet to hear a local conversation amongst friends and other ordinary users that has to do with Bluetooth without involving the nocturnal talents of some starlet, model or hapless student (Which may also serve as an indication of the type of people I hang out with).

Anyway, so back to that “help people” thing.

Granted, I will not venture to push this line of thought, knowing as much that contradicting the powers that be, and the argument that “people still buy it, so they’ll still make it”, is a powerful, and wholly realistic statement.

However, just yesterday, I took a longish bus route from Alabang to Baclaran, then to Ortigas via Makati and Edsa, then another bus home, allowing me an extended, and thankfully traffic free view of the city as it was all in the early morning. You know, the kind of trip that makes you just think and think. And so I thought. I thought of 8 gadgets in 8 weeks. I thought of the Asian Innovation Awards. I thought of this blog post. And I thought all this with the backdrop of garbage littered across ugly, dirty streets from Alabang to Cainta. Of little kids running around the streets on an early Sunday morning, still high from whatever chemical they took the previous night. Of rows upon rows of shanties from a birds-eye view of Roxas boulevard. Of people living under bridges and in makeshift shanties on top of open canals all over the city. Of presidential daughters displaying their underwear in enormous signages, and their dirty laundry in distasteful noontime gossip shows. Of sell-out television networks grooming their news anchors and reporters for political careers under the guise of public service and charity. Of the terrible stench from Baclaran church and the surrounding nearby stores selling of all things, skimpy underwear for showgirls, alongside ampalaya-based concoctions promising relief from unwanted pregnancies.

Of wondering why aren’t there people, quality people, running this country making sure streets are clean and children are protected, then realizing that they must all be abroad by now, or at this very moment preparing for a nursing exam, in pursuit of a better life abroad. I thought of all this against the backdrop of headlines from newspaper hawkers, screaming the callousness and insecurity of a leadership that claims to be giving protesters their worth, after hosing them down with a water cannon, within it a former Vice President and a Senator. I thought of a leadership undermining the one thing it has done successfully in the past ten years – cheap, mass transportation -, by introducing graft and corruption into it and buying substandard equipment, providing low quality service and overpaying contractors in expectation of kickbacks, all in broad daylight without fear of reprisal because the public is too fragmented, passive, disillusioned, or all three to do anything about it.

And I seriously thought, in my limited view of life, that technology is the key. Technology like this blog that lets me vent with no worries of making it through an editor or publisher that may have justifiable concerns. Technology like Google ads that award owners of quality websites by allowing an alternative way of earning US dollars without having to go there, letting me pay my bills and put food on the table. Technology that gives people “A locking mechanism that stops rope from slipping into wells“, a “Amphibious bicycle that has floats which allow it to run on water“, a “Electric walking stick for blind people“, and yes, even a “Method for paying bills via encrypted email without having to visit a Web site“, (although when they do apply this, I would probably look longingly back into the past when bills would just get lost in the mail like they’re supposed to).

Technology that will actually help people.

Anyway, 8 gadgets in 8 weeks. I’ll make a separate review for this blog.

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