Thursday, August 21, 2014

Per Capita Davis: Do we need all these electricity-gobbling gadgets?


From page A5 | November 15, 2012 |

Everything, it seems, is getting more energy-efficient. Compact fluorescent light bulbs use a fraction of the energy of the old incandescent bulbs. Cars are getting many more miles per gallon than just a few years ago. Utilities, including PG&E, are rewarded for programs and technologies that reduce the amount of energy consumed. It’s all good, right?

Well, it sure is progress, but consider the proliferation of electricity-consuming devices. There are many more such products in our homes and businesses than there used to be back when each home had a refrigerator, a toaster, a TV, a radio, a vacuum cleaner, an iron and maybe a couple more appliances.

Nowadays, there are many more such products, some very common like computers, cell phone chargers and flat screens. But there also has been an amazing proliferation of gadgets. Part of this is the electrification of tasks that used to be manual, like brushing your teeth, but there also has been an amazing level of invention of electricity-consuming appliances and machines we never knew we needed, wanted or even dreamed were possible.

Consider some of the following:

* Got cold feet? Consider purchasing a battery-powered insole, complete with a wireless remote that controls the heat setting to warm up your tootsies.

* Are the birds not at your bird feeder when you are there to watch them? You might be interested in a programmable feeder that dispenses seed at intervals you select so you can train the birds to come to the feeder at specific times. The product manufacturers advertise another advantage: The birds can’t pig out on the seeds as fast as they might on a gravity-fed feeder, so you don’t have to buy as much bird seed. And the birds, I’m sure, appreciate the effort to moderate their waistlines.

* Do you listen to music while cooking in the kitchen, but worry about adjusting the speaker volume while your hands are coated with olive oil, flour or other foodstuffs? Not to worry; you can now purchase a speaker with a volume control system that can be adjusted by waving your hand over the top of the device. Also, one of the seven hand gestures that the speaker responds to enables the messy cook to skip a song that doesn’t fit the mood of the moment.

* Do you worry that your laptop heats up too much and the higher temperature might be damaging the machine? One notepad now on the market offers a customized ventilation system that lets the user locate two little fans at areas of the device that need extra cooling.

* Many cars now come equipped with seat warmers to keep a driver’s bottom warm. OK, but what about those of us who spend most of our time sitting in a chair, working at a computer (I’m a desk top dinosaur, soon to migrate to a portable device), and the problem is that the chair can get too warm rather than too cold? There is now a chair on the market with a built-in ventilation system to cool your derrière and make working during the summer a more pleasant experience.

* Are you a teacher who finds it hard to proctor an exam in the age of cell phones and other devices that can be used to cheat on a test? You might be interested in the device from a company in Berkeley that can “sniff out” and detect a cell phone in use at a distance of 75 feet. This is also being marketed to security personnel at prisons and jails who have trouble controlling unauthorized cell phone use.

* Are you tired of hauling out the ladder every fall to get up on the roof to clean out the rain gutters before the rains arrive and spill water where you don’t want it instead of down the downspout? Take heart; you may have seen those robot-like vacuum cleaners that you just turn on and let them go and they move around the room, bouncing off walls, chair legs and whatever is at floor level, until they have completed a random roam around the entire room.

Well, there is now a gutter-cleaning “robot” that works sort of like whatever machine Roto Rooter uses to clean out pipes. Turn it on, set it loose in a rain gutter and it moves forward while its blades throw leaves and other debris out of the gutter and onto the ground, where you are relaxing and getting ready to start up the your new mosquito control system (see below).

* The mosquito control system looks like a great big mushroom. Turn it on and heat generated from an LED activates a special coating to react with the air to produce CO2 (oops, not a good thing) which, in turn, attracts mosquitoes that are then sucked into the maw of the mushroom by a small fan. I suppose this might be more energy-efficient than one of those bug-zapper things that appear to me to use lightning bolts to kill the bugs (with sound effects).

There seems to be no limit to the imagination in terms of how we can use electricity but, really, do we need all this stuff?

— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis. This column is published on the first and third Thursdays of each month. Send comments to



John Mott-Smith



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