Stupid Design of the Week: Toyota Yaris

Rental cars can be fun!  Some say a rental car is the ultimate off road vehicle.  For me though, it’s a great chance to examine different product design philosophies, in some of the most expensive consumer products on the market.  On this trip, my rental car was a bright blue Toyota Yaris…a class of rental car I usually avoid but have been curious about. 

So, the good: drop this car into a low auto gear (3 or 2), and it’s a peppy, fun car that reminds me a lot of a Mini Cooper.  Driving dynamics are downright decent. 

The bad: everything else.  No, really,  the stereo is one of the most counter-intuitive I’ve seen.  A peice of plastic trim came flying off when I removed my laptop bag from behind the driver’s seat.  The brakes work eventually.  The driving position is reminiscent of bad Italian design from decades ago, with arms extended and legs crunched up around either side of the wheel.  The worst design detail though?  The door locks,  I haven’t had a car without remote locks in ages, but that’s not a big deal.  What’s bad is how the locks work.  Unlock the doors by rotating the key clockwise.  Ok. Got it.  Now unlock the rear hatch…by rotating the key *counter* clockwise.  What kind of moron decided they’d actually ship a mass produced vehicle like this?  Redesign the locks so they work the same, it’s just idiotic to do otherwise.

A Smart Home can lead to increased energy usage

I’m in the process of making my home ‘smart’.  Which is a horrible, trendy marketing label that is completely inaccurate.  I mean, the home isn’t smart.  It’s just establishing connections between the home and a remote server, along with software to facilitate programming and interoperability.  But I digress.

I’ve noticed something fascinating as more devices in my home become connected and programmable.  Energy usage is increasing.  That floor lamp in the corner?  It was too much of a pain to walk over and turn it on, so the room was never well lit.  Now, Alexa turns that on when asked, and it’s also part of my routines for when I wake up, return home, etc.  Same thing applies to many of the lights in my home – normally it’d be too inconvenient to turn them on, and I’d just live in a house that was not lit up like Clark Griswold’s home at Christmas.  But now I have a choice.  Siri or Alexa take care of it for me, usually unprompted (yeah, I have to competing AIs in my life now…more on that later).

So, add in the increased energy usage, plus added energy required to produce a connected LED bulb instead of a standard one, and operational energy of the bulb’s connection and the AI hub communicating with me…and I’m not seeing a gain here.  But the geek side of me still loves it. 🙂

I’m still figuring out the best way to set up all this connectedness…the software is not as friendly as it needs to be, nor as complete.  I’ll delve into that in the near future as I figure this out.  For now, it’s time to say goodnight to Alexa and Siri.  And if you’re curious about Alexa…this scene from a recent episode of Mr. Robot did a cool job of showing how humans can find themselves interacting with this emerging technology:

Moving along at a furious pace…

The weekend is here!  Let’s get it started with a classic from Darude:

In other news…my Oculus Rift has shipped!  Look for a review here next week.  My fear is it may not live up to the hype, and my own expectations…I’ve wanted something like this for a long time now…

Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce

The Environmental Working Group has published their updated 2016 version of the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.  This guide looked at pesticide residue data from the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration to rank 50 common fruits and vegetables by the amount of pesticides on them.  The results were  a bit surprising, and yet another reason why it’s better to buy organic when possible!

Here’s the full list, from worst to best:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Apples
  3. Nectarines
  4. Peaches
  5. Celery
  6. Grapes
  7. Cherries
  8. Spinach
  9. Tomatoes
  10. Sweet bell peppers
  11. Cherry tomatoes
  12. Cucumbers
  13. Snap peas (imported)
  14. Blueberries (domestic)
  15. Potatoes
  16. Hot peppers
  17. Lettuce
  18. Kale/collard greens
  19. Blueberries (imported)
  20. Green beans
  21. Plums
  22. Pears
  23. Raspberries
  24. Carrots
  25. Winter squash
  26. Tangerines
  27. Summer squash
  28. Snap peas (domestic)
  29. Green onions
  30. Bananas
  31. Oranges
  32. Watermelon
  33. Broccoli
  34. Sweet potatoes
  35. Mushrooms
  36. Cauliflower
  37. Cantaloupe
  38. Grapefruit
  39. Honeydew melon
  40. Eggplant
  41. Kiwi
  42. Papayas
  43. Mangos
  44. Asparagus
  45. Onions
  46. Sweet peas (frozen)
  47. Cabbage
  48. Pineapples
  49. Sweet corn
  50. Avocados

Until there’s proper, scientific human testing of the effects of long term exposure to pesticides as well as the combination of pesticides used on different produce…I recommend sticking with organic!

You can read more at Treehugger.

Advances in nuclear fusion

Scientists in Germany reached a major milestone when, after around 19 years in development and 1.2 billion Eutos spent, the Wendelstein 7-X created hydrogen plasma. It’s one big step closer to a fusion power plant, but it got me thinking.  Why are we doing this?  Maybe 19 years ago it mad sense, but these days, solar energy production has dropped in price to the point where it’s nearly cost competitive with fossil fuels already.  Fusion is still many years awat before a large scale design can even be considered, let alone built.  Solar is a clean energy solution that is ready to implement now.  Instead of sinking billions of dollars into fusion (the reactor in Germany is just one of many being built), we should invest that money in building large scale solar energy power plants instead.

Ah, but if we did that, what would happen?  With the economies of scale, prices of solar panels would drop even further.  More people would opt to install their own,  and maybe add a Tesla Powerwall to the system and go off grid.  Fewer customers will be available to pay for maintenance of the power grid.  It’s a disruptive technology,whereas fusion power maintains the power (literally and figuratively) in the control of large corporations.  Solar gives that control to the people.  So of course those with the money to invest opt for fusion.  But I’m not seeing how it benefits people…just corporations.