Friday, June 22, 2007

Not Exactly a Sonic Screwdriver

Weekend Assignment #171: Talk about the most unusual piece of technology or machinery that you've ever used. It could be some specialized machine or tech you use for work, or perhaps some off-brand curiosity you found at an electronics store, or even (if you're technologically inclined) something you've created yourself. The key is that it's got to be something that makes people go "Huh. That's weird."

Extra Credit: Mp3/music player or cell phone: Which would you give up first?

My first thought om this was that I haven't used anything unusual. I was therefore tempted to give a fictional answer. I could claim that I really did invent the M-box 3000 Personal Empathy Device, or put myself in the place of my characters, living in a time bubble or taking part in weird physics experiments.

Then I remembered some real life bits of odd technology from my Worldwide Travel days. When I started there in 1993, I occasionally used a check printer that dated back to the 1950s or earlier. I would set the dollar amount, load the check and pull the lever - ca-chung! Result: nice, large, old fashioned raised numbers on what would otherwise be a handwritten check. Later on, after a change in banks, Mal just handwrote them instead, the ones I didn't generate on the computer.

The other unusual item was what I liked to call the ca-chung machine. It looked like a old style credit card imprinter, which you load with the card and a charge slip with several carbons and then slide the bar across - ca-chung! - to get the card number onto the charge slip. Only the machine I'm talking about wasn't for charge slips. It was for validating accountable ARC documents, which is an industry jargon way of saying it was for preparing handwritten airline tickets, PTAs (prepaid ticket advices) and MCOs (miscellaneous charge orders). Sliding the bar across - ca chung! - put the date and the agency's name and IATA number on the ticket, along with the name and number of the desired airline, transferred from a metal plate the size and shape of a credit card. Worldwide Travel used to have two columns of old metal plates displayed on the wall of the conference room, each representing a defunct airline: Eastern, Western, Braniff, PanAm, and on and on. The head of a regional airline once told Mal he decided not to issue metal plates, so that his airline's plate would never hang on our wall. And yes, the airline did go under a couple years later.

I thought of calling Mal and Dave today and asking if I could come photograph the check imprinter, but I decided that was beyond the pale. Instead I'll show you this:

This is the Igia Ultra Advanced Hair Removal System. Yeah, right. You know what it really is? A pair of electric tweezers. Seriously, that's what it is. You plug it in and it supposedly delivers heat or vibration or a low-level electrical current to the hair follicle, so that it comes out easily and doesn't grow back as soon as it would otherwise.

Here it is, the business end of the electric tweezers. You push the little button on the side and the tweezers close on the hair, and do whatever it is that they're designed to do. But it doesn't really work. The short tweezery bits are harder to maneuver than regular tweezers, the hair is no easier to pull out, and it grows back just as fast.

And really, I'm not surprised. What are the chances this thing actually delivers heat or a vibration or electrical current to the follicle? As soon as I got the electric tweezers, I was strongly reminded of quack electrical health devices from the early 20th century. I wouldn't be surprised if the power does nothing except light an LED to show the device is turned on. I certainly never felt any definite heat or current or vibration, though it's possible it was there to some tiny degree.

It occurs to me that it's almost the opposite of the Doctor's sonic screwdriver. His "sonic" is cordless, compact, and can do almost anything with sound. The electric tweezers are surprisingly bulky because of the cord, and do almost nothing, silently.

As for giving up the cell phone or the iPod, the truth is that I hardly ever use my iPod unless I'm going to the gym, which I haven't done in a shamefully long time. The phone doesn't get even daily use, except to tell me the time; but I use it more than the iPod. I guess I'd give up the iPod - and then buy an iPhone instead. Ha!

I'm plugging away on my Heirs edit. I'm up to Chapter Three, page 100. (Yes, it's a long book.) I've revised away bits of awkward or wordy writing that had persisted for years, draft after draft: nothing major, just individual phrases and the occasional sentence. Never again will an editor consider the odd comparison between clothing and the price of corn, or read about a "soldierly male" selmûn guard. And I found a disappearing cornfield by the Ot Lôven, and changed later visits to that spot so that the descriptions don't actively preclude its existence.

Oh, and there was a missing word in Chapter Three. Is that why I never heard back from Tor? Probably not, but it's still embarrassing! And the twins were simultaneously seven months and a year old at the time of the kidnapping. Oops! Fixed.



boliyou said...

You've used more weird stuff than you realize! Great post!

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