It must be mid-January, allegedly the most depressing time of the year.
I am usually quite excited about January, it can be a month of fresh starts, renewal, planning and excitement at the year ahead, but this year I really toyed with the idea of keeping the Christmas tree up, cracking open another box of Ferrero Rocher and hibernating until the clocks go forward (I actually kept up a few fairy lights to add some sparkle to the days).
One reliable fixture of January are stories of weird and wonderful gadgets from the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas. It’s the most influential tech event in the world, where companies go to showcase their new wares to prospective buyers, and technology journalists try to work out what new gadgets will soon become part of our lives .
In normal times, it is an enormous occasion, with more than 180,000 attendees, this year the event is a hybrid version with most presentations happening on virtual stages.
Fifteen years ago, I escaped a dreary January for the open blue skies of Las Vegas to attend CES and got a taste of what some might call gadget heaven.
My favourite gadget at the time was a little green $100 laptop due to be distributed to children living in developing countries. Dubbed One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), its basic and robust design was supposed to be easy to use, survive harsh conditions and give access to learning for children who barely had access to electricity.
In the midst of all the consumerist technology on offer that January, it was an ambitiously noble project. I’ve kept an eye on it’s progress over the years and, while the non-profit OLPC Foundation has distributed three million laptops since its inception - and many of those decade old computers are still running perfectly - the OLPC never took off in the way that was hoped.
Actually building a laptop that cost $100 was impossible, and other low cost technologies like tablets came on the scene.
The organisation is no longer all about building a cheap laptop and is instead on a mission to provide every child in the world with a rugged, low- cost, connected computer that empowers individual learning, it is a good example that, despite marketing hype, the future isn’t always realised in the way that companies or designers want.
As technology magazine Wired.com put it: “One thing to remember about CES is that it’s mostly make-believe. Sure, many things unveiled in Las Vegas actually ship, but the expo is also rife with experimental concepts, flights of fancy, and pie-in-the-sky demos.”
The more fanciful concepts this year included BMX’s all-electric iX SUV colour changing car. Why would you need to change your car from black to white at the touch of a button?
Tide Infinity laundry detergent was launched “for use in space to solve malodor, cleanliness, and stain removal problems… This innovative laundry solution will advance cleaning solutions for resource-constrained environments like deep space and water scarce areas on Earth,” said the press release.
Poor astronauts, even escaping the Earth’s atmosphere and enduring the perils of space exploration isn’t enough to escape the drudgery of laundry.
To be honest, much of what was on offer left me cold. CES can keep its fancy cars and gaming headsets, I just want technology that will save me from doing mundane household chores.
Samsung launched stackable, AI-powered washer and dryer units, which “rely on machine learning to prioritise user’s favourite washing modes and times, and optimise detergent use and duration of wash.”
Interesting, but I’m waiting for the the fully automatic laundry bot that will take care of the whole cycle of laundry, from picking up discarded underpants in my kids’ room, to loading the washing machine, detecting and saving the wool jumper about to be washed at 60 degrees and finding and paring mismatched socks. This is the kind of gadgetry that would change my life!
Is it just me, or has the world gone mad swimming in winter seas?
I know it was unseasonably warm over the Christmas break and I get the Christmas Day plunge for charity concept, but it seems that subjecting your body to near hypothermia has become a mainstream hobby!
There is even a radio ad advising people how to cope while swimming in cold temperatures. It says: “As water temperatures fall, swimmers and dippers need to stay warm to stay safe. Wear a wetsuit, booties, gloves and a swim cap or two. Shorten your swims. Be prepared, coming out with a dry towel, warm layers and a thermal cap. This is Water Safety Ireland. Better Safe than Sorry.”
A swim cap or two! Surely if you’re wearing two swim caps the water is just too cold?!
At Robert’s Cove on New Year’s Day there were processions of swimming martyrs baptising themselves in 10 degree water. A blue-hued chattering person asked my strictly-observing-the- antics group of friends were we tempted to join in the fun.
“Alas, we didn’t bring our togs,” retorted one.
“I heard one swimmer describe the water as ‘painful’, so not today” said another.
“I didn’t bring any grit or willpower,” I offered.
The swimmer smiled at our wimpy responses, but in hindsight I think her face was simply frozen into that expression.