Wednesday, August 12, 2009

bad bad bad bad bad, bad technology*

*to the tune of Red Guitars' forgotten gem "Good Technology"

Sure, everyone's got their own "We can put a man on the moon, but we can't do Apparently Simple Technological Task X" homily. My grandmother's favorite was to lament how WHIS couldn't come in clearly at our house 15 miles away from the transmitter, even though we could get clear footage from the Moon.

Well, the footage from the Moon would have been clear at our house if WHIS had a stronger signal or if we could have gotten ahold of a Greenbank antenna, but that's another story.

The story I'm about to tell, and I do have one, is about my pick for the Most Volatile Technology of the Modern World. It's my own personal We Can Put a Man on the Moon, But... story.

I have traveled all across this great land of ours, and one thing is true, no matter if you're in Roanoke or Raleigh, San Francisco or Sarasota, Nashville or New York, Peoria or Pittsburgh:

The Frozen Coke machine doesn't work.

It doesn't matter if it's called an Icee or Slushee. It doesn't work.

It's not frozen enough.

It's too frozen and doesn't want to come out of the machine.

The Coke - or flavoring of your choice - isn't mixed correctly and tastes icky.

Most likely, the machine isn't working at all.

I myself am not a fan of nor a connoisseur of Frozen Cokes or similar beverages, or my list of maladies might be even longer. But I have been involved with significant others who scour with eagle eyes every gas station, convenience store, food court, food avenue, and other possible fountain-drink-dispensing venue, ever hopeful that they'll spy a Frozen Coke machine.

Sadly, even when they've identified their prey, their initial jubilation oft becomes disappointment within minutes, even seconds.

Why? Because the Frozen Coke machine doesn't work.

Forget about obvious, general advance in technology during the past few decades, like how a $5 flash drive you can buy at any discount retailer has over 100 times more storage than the hard drive on my first computer. Many food technologies have improved greatly over my lifetime as well. Soft drinks in two-liter plastic bottles no longer taste like plastic. Frozen pizzas still aren't as good as the real thing, but the gap has narrowed considerably from the cardboard-with-bad-pepperoni-esque-meat-pieces days of yore. Packaged cookies were once all brick-hard, but now soft and moist prepackaged cookies - if that's the kind of cookie you're after - are abundant and tasty.

But the Frozen Coke machine still doesn't work.

Forget putting another man on the moon by 2020. What our government really needs to be pouring those R&D dollars into is into doing something that hasn't been done before, i.e., solving the greatest technological hurdle of our time: making a reliable Frozen Coke machine. T. Boone Pickens, are you reading me?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

oh those overflow women gimme gimme gimme the overflow blues

At my alma mater, Concord College (now pretentiously remonikered as Concord University), the two largest dorms are twin buildings on the west of campus, Men's and Women's Towers. My cousin Rusty and I roomed together in Men's Towers for the duration of my time there.

At the beginning of the new school year in both 1986 and 1987, there were more women signed up for the freshman class than could be housed in the dorm space normally allocated to the fairer sex. So both years, Concord's administration decided to clear the bottom two floors of Men's Towers to house these women.

Bizarrely, the college decided to call the women residing in Men's Towers "overflow women."

I kept expecting one to float up through our toilet, or for a torrent of them to rush out of the lobby and into the street - a cataract of buoyant females and random dorm room jetsam flooding downtown Athens. Could the administration have come up with a more unflattering term?

Both years, the situation didn't last for long. The normal attrition of no-shows and early drop-outs allowed the tide of overflow women to recede into Women's Towers and Wilson Hall within a week, probably to the disappointment of the men who wasted all the time they spent drilling peepholes into their floor.

But still... overflow women? Seriously?