Just Technology

When “Smart” is Stupid

As a technology descriptor, “Smart” waxes and wanes in the various cycles of hype and marketing overreach, but looking at “Smart Home”, some of the real life examples are pretty Stupid…

If you look at the definition of Smart technology in general, you will see the sort of key attributes that look like this…

1. Defining “Smart” technology – key attributes

Those being:

  • Connected, by Wi-Fi or whatever, with some Cloud services and remote access to your devices
  • Friendly UI, typically connected to a mobile app
  • Automation of some sort, often by linking to Alexa (or similar, other virtual home assistants are available), or IFTTT
  • Using data analytics and processing to drive some level of intelligent behaviour
  • Being part of an eco-system of devices

In the home, central heating is one of the more mature uses of Smart technology, with the possibility of managing your home heating efficiently and effectively, using a mix of distributed WiFi/Zigbee thermostatic valves on the radiators controlled centrally and accessible by voice command using you home assistant. It’s a beefing up of the older analogue thermostatic controls

2. Smart Central Heating – a good application of Smart technology

Looking in the kitchen or utility room and you will however see another story, the sorry tale of woe that is “Smart” home laundry.

3. Home Laundry – not Smart Technology

Yes, the big names will sell you a “Smart” Wi-FI enabled washing machine or tumble dryer, but the marketing doesn’t match the reality. For example:

  • Cloud connected. Generally yes, the remote diagnostic feature can be useful…
  • Friendly UI. I suppose having a cute mobile app to programme the machine might be nice, but you need to be standing in front of the machine to load it, so just twiddle the knobs…Pointless.
  • Remote access. What is the point of being able to programme your washing machine when you are 20, 30, 50 or 10,000 miles away – you are not there to put the washing in. If you forget to put in it before you went out, then you are royally stuffed. (It’s not like a Wi-Fi enabled cooker that you could use to check if you left the gas on which would be very helpful, especially if you could command it to shut the gas off.) Also pointless
  • Automation. Having an alert when your washing cycle is finished might be useful if your house is sooo big that you can’t hear the washing machine when it finished, but if the house is that big, you are probably in the demographic that doesn’t do their own washing anyway. Again no use if you are far away, it will just have to stay in the machine and get wrinkled and fusty smelling. More pointlessness.
  • Analytics. OK, this part might work in some way, in that the machine can work out how much you put in and then adjust the water level and wash and spin cycles to match. Otherwise it’s not going to give you much useful advice like “last time you turned me on at this time you used the cotton cycle programme, would you like to do that again” or “55,345 people are watching this cycle now“, or “your friends are currently relaxing and watching TV whilst you are doing the washing“. Annoying
  • Ecosystem. This is the killer issue. The home laundry process is an almost entirely manual and labour-intensive, and so there is no automated continuous flow of washing passing through for which to apply Smart technology. Showstopper!

So, there you have it; it’s Stupid.

You can envisage some ways of changing the Home Laundry paradigm:

  1. Don’t wash your clothes – the Null solution, but loses you friends very quickly
  2. Outsource and send your clothes to a central laundry which is continuous flow, may being picked up and delivered by a Johnny-cab auto-taxi
  3. Truncate the whole process with self cleaning clothes – these sort out the bio-stink with little copper wires in the fabric but I am sure they would need to have the dirt washed off them, or maybe you just recycle them. You could try the HercLeon Apollo Self Cleaning T-Shirt which to quote the sales blurb “can be comfortably worn for days, weeks, and even months without having to be washed with soap” [my bold]
  4. Build the Laundry Jet laundry collection systems into your house
  5. Buy a Panasonic Laundroid laundry robot if they ever launch (apparently they invested $60m in this)

Time will tell what innovations will arise…

You can consider some other examples of Stupid and work out what differentiates Smart from Stupid like this, to the left of the donkey…

4. When “Smart” Technology is Stupid

Stupid technology shares a lot of the attributes of Z-list celebrities, that is, like a showroom dummy with a pretty face and all the intelligence of pond life which needs a handler and has nothing to say worth listening to.

  • Coffee machine. A coffee machine would only be smart if it was part of a caffeine delivery flow system, ordering fresh capsules, cup management robot, free flowing water and liquid waste pipework, and disposal / recycling system for the capsules and grounds. But they don’t, just a pretty UI and pointless Wi-Fi connection, like the Delonghi Primadonna Soul Bean-to-Cup Coffee Machine, a snip at £1299
  • Toaster. The crew of Red Dwarf had issues with the Talkie Toaster, so maybe a full continuous flow toast making eco-system could be an issue, but the current generation of Smart Toaster are just a pretty face, like the Revolution InstaGLO R180B Touchscreen Smart Toaster, yours for £366 on Amazon, and it doesn’t even have Wi-Fi
  • Pressure Washer. As my family would tell you I have a love-hate relationship with pressure washers. Even allowing for that bias, in my humble opinion, the use case for Smart pressure washers is pretty well non-existent. I suspect, however, the purpose is actually a dark, spooky objective to gather customer data (somehow). The Karcher K7 Premium Full Control Pressure Washer has a Bluetooth connection linking to the Karcher mobile app – why?. I installed the mobile app, couldn’t see the point and deleted it…

The key insight that we learn from this analysis above is that to be properly Smart, technology has to be part of a continuous flow system which is largely automated, otherwise it is just lip-stick on a pig.

So we can revise the first chart at the top of this article, and add that continuous flow requirement to the key attributes, thus…

5. Defining Smart Technology – key Attributes (Revised)

So there you have it, now we can spot when Smart is Stupid, and also have the signpost on the road to make things proper Smart

Digital, Phygital, Fiddlesticks

Digital is a rather abused term that has been round the block a few times, and now we have “Phygital” which is a load of bull..

I was prompted to think about the meaning of “Digital” recently by the unlikely conjunction of two disparate events, viz:

The first is a great step forward for a brand that has up to now been firmly “bricks and mortar”, and the second is apparently something “phygital” with the incursion of technology into actual clothing for reasons.

I get the commercial consumer driven logic of the first, but the second is somewhat more puzzling and perplexing. However, I don’t really care about clothing and fashion so it is a market logic that I would have to work hard to understand, so we’ll see how that business model succeeds over time.

Anyway, it set me thinking about words…

Digital has been around for many years, but “phygital” is a much more recently coined term, attributed to Chris Weil, Chairman of Momentum Worldwide, in 2007 (Thanks, Chris), picking up momentum c.2017. You can look at the frequency of some key technology terms in Google NGram Viewer…

NGram frequency of key technology terms by year

PCs were obviously quite a thing back in 1985 and also gave mainframes a little bump at the same time too. I tried “minicomputer”, but that barely features in this scaling, so apparently was not something that people talked about so much back then. Whilst departmental computing was a big wave of change versus mainframe in the 1970s and 80s, it was only in the business domain and so general awareness and interest was lower, I suppose.

Web and Internet were clearly also big talking points in 2000-ish, and beat down the Microcomputer Revolution in volume. But throughout you can see “Digital” growing steadily until it has actually overtaken what were the leaders, “Web” and “Internet”, with Web taking a sudden down-turn.

Most of the other newer terms like AI, “blockchain” and “metaverse” still bumble around at the bottom of awareness at this scale so not hitting it by the current 2019 end date of the NGrams corpuses. “Fintech” also is a relatively low scorer, even though it has now spawned a constellation of many new digital “<ANYthing>Tech” neologisms, like “InsureTech”, “PropTech”, “FemTech”, “EdTech”, “LegalTech”, “FoodTech”, “AgriTech” and so on). These are also probably more business vertical specific than broad-based so don’t get the volume of attention.

And don’t bother looking for “phygital” which also dribbles along the bottom of the chart if you add it to the query.

Before around 2015, “Digital” used to mean stuff related to computers generally. However, from then onwards it started to acquire jazzy new meanings related to exciting things like customer experience, digital marketing, mobile apps and otherwise being a “Digital” business, and with “digitalisation”, the process of becoming that thing. McKinsey had a go at defining it which you can read at your leisure.

What got lost is that many businesses have been digital for years and that technology rubbed up against the real world in many places, often not so glamorous. Like in manufacturing, supply chain, vending machines, door locks in hotels, the kitchen systems at KFC

To get to grips with this you can draw up a simple gameboard that maps out business typology against its manifestation.

Business classification – Typology vs manifestation

The business typology separates the places (“venues”) where people interact (e.g., actually trade or just get together and interact to do people stuff, like throwing sheep) from the actual trading businesses themselves, i.e., those those that generally exchange some value for some thing or benefit. These can be actual products, services and money but also in the wider context, could be social kudos, environmental benefit or other non-monetary value. For these purposes, broker-type businesses fit in the “trading” slot as they facilitate other peoples’ trading.

By the way, for the bankers reading this, we shall deliberately ignore where the trading transactions (financial, social, emotional, environmental, or otherwise) are cleared and "payments" handled, let's keep things simple for the purpose of this treatise.  

The manifestation dimension separates the real from the non-real. Physical covers what you expect (to be construed according to context as the lawyers say): buildings made of straw, sticks and bricks in locations with actual geographic locations, or cars, or books made of paper. The virtual covers everything that isn’t that, a nicely mutually exclusive definition. So can include virtual assets like photos, videos, software, financial products, and virtual businesses that provide places for people to connect and trade.

You can map out some businesses onto the landscape to see how the Pickup Sticks fall.

Digital business classification – some examples

What you can see (obviously) is that those which fall into the virtual column are heavily technology based (indeed, since we have selected this to exclude ectoplasmic spirit world businesses, wyverns, harpies, vampires, magic wand shops and other virtual manifestations of a more mystical sort). Whilst some of the virtual venues like Facebook support virtual interactions, a virtual platform like Uber facilitates real world transactions between car drivers and their passengers. And Utility Warehouse is a virtual business that loosely speaking brokers people-energy trading.

In this classification, the Metaverse is just another venue, and it could yet be a three-star Michelin restaurant experience or just a greasy spoon, as we shall see. But like the financial exchanges of today, the venues (exchanges) make a dribble of money in comparison with the eye-watering value that flows in the trades they facilitate. It’s largely what you do that makes the money, rather than where you do it (whether you have Meta-legs or not…).

The caveat to that is that a business with a captive supply base, and monopolistic channel control, like the Apple App store, can make shed-loads of money at its 30% transaction tax. Similarly, Facebook as a venue makes lots of money by selling access to its users for advertisers compared to the unfathomable value of the social interactions that take place upon it.

The key point here is that the businesses in the right-hand Physical columns also use technology, and often extensively, although not so visible to the untuned eye. Even the Louth Livestock Market, a very physical place with real farm animals and open outcry selling round the ring, also has a website and online auction trading. In other words, they are Digital businesses too.

So Digital is embedded in both Physical and Virtual manifestations and forms a solid and critical substrate on which almost all businesses run today. Like a seam of gold running through quartz…

Digital substrate embedded in most businesses

What does a “Digital” business actually look like these days? Well, it would undoubtedly include, internally, solid chunks of systems for Customer, Product & Operations and Performance & Control, and externally, multiple channels, non-linear supply chains and the like. But that is is a story for another day,

We used to see businesses sprout silo’d business units separate from the mainstream and built on electronic channels (oh yes, Digital channels) back in the early 2000s. This is less xenogenesis to birth something new and quite unlike its parent, than it is temporary firewalling to incubate a new way of doing things in the same business. Consequently, these offshoots have long been absorbed back into mainstream business models as they matured.

Many businesses have been omni-channel for years; it is no longer a rocket scientist level insight to suggest that, for example, you should have common stock management between an online store and physical shop, for example. However, the wave of the reworked “Digital” businesses in the last 5-7 years regurgitated the concept as something new, when indeed it is not.

The upshot of all this above this is that the newer Virtual businesses were called Digital by their over-enthusiastic and imprecise evangelists in thrall to a form of cognitive bias and so Virtual has been confused with Digital. This created the misbegotten conflation of two terms to describe an omni-channel experience across Physical and Virtual.

So we got “Phygital”. However, Digital embraces Virtual and Physical, so “Phygital” should really be “Phyrtual”, or “Virtical” or someother bull.

Digital is perfectly good…we don’t need Phygital, let it wither and die, like the eCommerce business units of old

The Bluetooth Boy is now powered by WordPress!


After some thought and consideration, the Bluetooth Boy and the 6log blog have now moved to a new blogging platform.

6log used to run on the Simple PHP Blog, which was, well, simple, indeed, one of its best points.  But alas, some of the fancier features of the blogging world have passed it by, like mobile access, social network sharing and such sorts of goodies.  And with pressure of life and stuff I have been finding that the hand-cranked way I was loading HTML formatted blog posts, was just too time-consuming, so that my blog-rate had reduced to a crawl.


So, Single Retail Banana, Unhappy Voucher and the Crunchy Octopus have now found a home on an upgraded service based on WordPress 3.5.1.  The migration was aided by various bits that other people have left lying around the Web after their own efforts, mainly a migration script by Miguel Herrero (with significant mods to cope with the new WP term tag/category structure), and an SPHP permalink plug-in from Florian Klien.

So we shall see now, if I can fight my way through the comment spam…

comment spam seems to be endemic to WordPress linked blogs, compared to good old SPHPBlog – the first arrived as I was writing this post!

…and post a bit more frequently


Technology and the Zone of Uselessness

They let me out for a short trip to the shops today, and whilst I was waiting to pay, I watched an old geezer struggling to put his chip'n'pin card in the right way round.  Which set me off thinking about what happens when you get old, and at what point does the pace of technology evolution overtake and you are left in the dust, a crumbly, fumbling, useless old curmudgeon, no longer able to function properly nor interact sensibly with the environment.

To further the analysis we can consider this table of the evolution of user interfaces (keeping a fairly tight scope to cover mainly electronic means)…

Primary Mode
of Interaction
Examples Era of invention
Tap Telegraph key (button) Late Georgian
Shout Candlestick phone Victorian
Rotate Rotary phone, Wireless with Bakelite knobs, steering wheel (drive by wire) Victorian
Bash / Prod  QWERTY keyboard, keypad Victorian
Look Eye tracking Early Miss-Marple
Wiggle Joystick Wilson-WhiteHeatian for electrical (although Early Edwardian/La Belle Époque (for mechanical)
Blow Typing aids,
Blow controlled mobile phone, ignoring the Captains speaking tube…
Waggle Mouse Engelbarto-Xerox PARCian
Scribble GridPad, Apple Newton, Palm, Ipaq, Tablet PC Yuppie-time
Fondle & Stroke Smart phone, tablet SonyEricssonian-Jobsian
Wave Nintendo Wii, Xbox Kinect, data glove TomCruisian
Shout 2 Speech Recognition Rock and Roll, but it hasn't really happened yet properly, maybe JeremyClarksonian, when it does (JC is famously unable to use any voice operated equipment)
Think emotiv EPOC neuroheadset Yuppie-time

…and whilst you can see that a lot of stuff was actually invented a long time ago, having been around for over 100 years in some form, there has been quite a rush of invention in more recent years, hanging on the cot-tails of the primary evolution of computing technology, no surprise there, I suppose.

One of the more interesting insights, for me as an analyst and connoisseur of number crunching, is that whilst many of the newer inventions have been for various methods of computer control,  there is a paucity of newly invented data entry methods, beyond the humble and ancient keyboard.  

With the dominant design of the QWERTY keyboard to the fore, there have been really no successful disruptive plays, and most inventions have focussed on just reworking the layout (e.g., DVORAK, frogpad, FITALY and their kin).  Chord keyboards made a bid, but, of course, like any shorthand method you need to learn a new language, and they never took off.

The FITALY keyboard is a nice design that fits well with modern joy-pad units like xBox and smartphone touch interfaces, as it minimise the amount of clicks, or finger movement movement to type a letter so is quite fast , however at $49 for a tablet computer it is never going to amount to much

Extending the idea of chord keyboards and use of non-verbal language, there is undoubtedly some scope for non-keyboard data-entry devices using gesture control  to recognise sign language (and that hopefully avoid Gorilla-arm that afflicted early days vertical touch screen users).   Although, the new “language” learning problem still exists, and Babel will always be an issue, unless we all adopt Ameslan or Microsoftlan, or AppleJobsLan.

Now I believe that I can rightly consider myself  pretty well up on the world of technology and there is very little that fazes me.

In fact, many pieces of broken equipment will just fix them in my presence, or so it seems, when my family call the DadHelpdesk, and I just lean over languidly and in my calming presence, and the recalcitrant kit just bursts in to life (maybe with a judicious key press or two)

But don't ask me about *&^$*^%ing plumbing – compression joints, meh!

So I do think that my threshold of uselessness is likely to be pretty high (or do I mean low), and consoling me today, my elder son told me that “people don't get dumb, they just get old” (i.e, if they were stupid to start with, they will be stupid, old people), so maybe there will be some hope…

However, like VCRs, which kids can programme with ease whilst their parents just fumble, the evolution  of new technologies and UIs in particular, is much influenced by the volume of fluent, capable users, which itself flows with the generations.

To this, one area of technology that I do not really bother with is computer games beyond a half-finished PC version of Dune in 1992, I'm just not interested in playing them (I can feel my life slipping away).  Therefore I am not particularly adroit when it comes to using a joypad, and have not built up great dexterity and flexibility in my hands and fingers (unlike most teenage boys) for that type of device.  The one time I played Castle Wolfenstein, I spent the whole game bumping into walls whilst staring at the floor or sky!  And Second Life, oh so bad!

More so, I  have never been able to make the three-fingered boy scout sign – I never was a boy scout, also just not interested – my hands just don't bend that way.

And finally, I have a very highly tuned embarrassment inhibitor which tries to stop me doing things that would cause a red face (it doesn't always work, even with my personaility type…)

So what is my old-age technology nightmare scenario?

  • having to visit Castle Wolfenstein to get my pension…
  • …electronically bruised after a long, slow, meandering (virtual) walk from the entrance of the Cyberspace Business Park…
  • …inputting my data by waving my arms wildly whilst holding my walking stick trying not to fall over…
  • …and making complex mudra with my crippled and twisted old hands.

Ye gods!  Build me a Bluetooth neural uplink, and make it snappy!

Easter Snow: Devant le Deluge

First an earthquake, now a White Easter, if I were superstitious, I should be expecting some further meteoro- geo- or otherological event to be coming up soon.

The snowy countryside is certainly pretty…
..but maybe it could presage the inundation of the low-lying lands by the rising seas.

In that event, the Lincolnshire Wolds where I live (ringed in yellow on the map below), would become an island off the east coast of South Yorkshire.


Almost serendipitously, I read that the Met Office launched its new “traffic light” severe weather warning system, which was rushed out a day early to announce the snow-storms over the weekend.

I am sure that traffic light afficionados, highways engineers, and railway signalling engineers all over the country will be grinding their teeth because it really is nothing like a proper traffic light at all. It does have the good old red and green, which do not work for the one in 10 red-green colour blind men in the population, but bizarrely, it has both yellow and orange aspects, just to confuse the other 90% of the population. Very democratic, but not very ergnonomic.

My wife and I have been telling the neighbours for some time that we are going to build a jetty at the end of the lane and park a boat there ready for the floods. So in anticipation of the Deluge, and our future status as island dwellers, it seems an appropriate moment to take a leaf from the Met Office book and create a localised version of the Severe Weather Warning System, below. The legend is helpfully mostly coloured blue…


From Antiques to Comedy Electronics

Horncastle in Lincolnshire is quite well-known for its antiques shops where you can filch through piles of broken crockery, dusty books, rusty buckets and dead peoples sheets.

It is less well-known as a venue for comedy electronics. However appearances can be deceptive, as indeed I discovered when wandering through the town centre in the vain hope I might find a shop selling something less than ancient.

I was actually looking a phono-to-3.5mm jack convertor cable, but when I saw this…
…I had to have it.

No chance of losing this one down the back of the sofa!

Shaken, not Stirred

Well, that was exciting…It is not often that this remote and dusty corner of England shows up on the national news, but the earthquake of last night was certainly an interesting seismological experience.

Lincolnshire is not exactly an active seismic area, as the BGS press release shows
The last event of any note was in 1703 in the Humber Estuary, so it is the first time my house has had a good shake since it was built.

Having been briefly shaken out of bed last night, I have spent the morning working playing with Google Earth to plot the epicentre of the earthquake and see how close it really was. Just 3-4 miles, in fact, although the location moved from east to north of Market Rasen as the BGS updated its reported data in the morning.

Of course, Google Earth is like a chinese meal, you want another hit shortly after, so I also had to look up the official Dullest Place in Britain (Grid square SN8323) as determined by BBC Home Truths listeners who must have quite a bit of time on their hands to have scanned through the full set of OS Landranger maps to find the emptiest square.

This notable location is not so very far away in North Lincolnshire. I should however say that Lincolnshire Wolds are much more interesting than that, we do at least have contour lines, and we now also have our very own seismographs…

The interesting technological feature of the night was that almost as fast as thought itself, my daughter received many texts from friends from the local area, reporting example, that their parents were running around panicking, but that they were chilled (of course).

In the end, my wife summed it up stoically to my daughter:
“It’s just an earthquake, dear, go back to bed”

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Stupid PIN machine design

According to statistical studies, being taller than average is supposed to bring some advantages in love and money. However, being 6’4″ tall, my experience is certainly different when it comes to being a taller person in an average sized physical world, and I have for many years harboured a paranoid suspicion that there are some chippy design Napoleons out there (you know who you are) deliberately trying to make life miserable for people of greater than average stature.

Air travel is probably the worst: I cannot achieve the “brace” position, instead just bite the seat cushion in front and hope for the best. Also, much touted flat beds are just flying coffins to me, packed like a sardine as I am into a space just wide enough but 4″ too short. Sleep, huh!

Over the last couple of years, various pieces of technology have got closer to the ground to accommodate the needs of wheelchair users and other such. Whilst it would certainly be churlish and ungallant to complain about that in our post-modern world, I will however strongly criticise the engineers who come up with the appalling ergonomics of equipment requiring a CHIP & PIN machine, which they embed three inches into the metalwork at knee level. In the picture shown below, you can see the view I get of a supremely bad example at a local car park…

stupid pin machine

Come on, guys, get a grip and design something that works for everybody!

On Traffic Lights…

I was disturbed by Martin Cassini's report on Newsnight proposing the abolition of traffic lights, which surely don't deserve such a fate.

Being fascinated by many forms of technology and their place in their world, traffic lights are often one of the first things I have seen when I go on business trips around the world.

Although most other people will not have spotted it I am sure (or be remotely interested), there is actually quite a variation between countries, and the style of lights can maybe even indicate something about the self image of the parent country.

For example, Paris has those pointlessly tall, rather haughty and arrogant faux-gold painted posts (so tall indeed that they need little repeaters at driver level), largely ignored by everybody.

In Dublin, I have seen a huge variety of different types from that looked like they had been bought in job-lots from the US and UK when they had some money to spend – a bit like the apparel of a deranged and eccentric old maiden-aunt.

US lights are for the thrill-seekers amongst us who love that random moment when the red light flicks to green.

In Sweden, lights are very logical and have a green-amber phase instead of a plain amber to bring balance to the coruscating display.

In Switzerland, the lights are totally prescriptive, every red and amber filter light has a simulacram of the green arrow carved on it in black. No confusion there then, unlike the UK, where modern installations leave you wondering just which red light you should be watching (usually the wrong one).

Actually racking my brains, I cannot remember much about the traffic lights I encountered in Australia as I was negotiating the notorious “Melbourne hook turns “.

And to Nigeria, where the only traffic lights I saw there in the glittering capital of Abuja were switched off…

Creating Picture Blogs

I fancied the idea that it would be good to be able to create blog postings that look more like that standard text plus a picture.

I actually achieved the goal of tweaking SPHPBLOG so that it can display HTML cut out of a Microsoft Publisher created web page.

Of course, this suddenly makes production of each entry much more of a performance than just text + a picture, and raises the pain threshhold beyond that which would make me actually want to create anything.

So, now I am happy I could create Picture Blogs if I want to, I'll just give the simple format a go to see if anything flows from my virtual pen…