Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Control Freak

I've always been a control freak. Not the stereotypical Type-A style control freak. I leave that particular disorder to my partner, JB. I'm way too lazy for that. (I prefer to think of it as "ambition economics".) I'm talking automation. As a kid I watched the Jetsons and wanted that lifestyle right then and there. Not so much the flying cars, although those would be cool too. I wanted that level of push-button convenience, like a bed that dressed me in the morning, and hands-free oral hygiene. And I got tired of waiting for it.

At age eleven I was building robots. I wasn't so much interested in an artificially intelligent companion, I was imagining an obedient servant. Looking back, it's ironic how much time and effort I spent trying to avoid making my bed.

My first attempt resulted in a trash can that rolled around in circles and spoke pre-taped lines recorded in a "robotic" version of my own voice. It was less Rosie and more C3PO, except even more useless and gay.

While Dad allowed me access to his workshop, my mother was never supportive of my hobby. Probably because household items, small appliances and wigs would go mysteriously missing only to turn up weeks later, assimilated into some fresh
Rube Gold-Borg monster. "Get that thing out of my sight!"

The robots got better over time but never really performed anything more useful than entertaining my friends and family. My final creation, Hankie 2, was a notorious womanizer; don't ask me how, don't ask me why. Countless hours of soldering and programming only to end up with a machine that moved and spoke like Steven Hawking but with the brain of Benny Hill.

One Christmas my relatives watched as Hankie 2 rolled up to my most prudish aunt and then, as if his proximity sensor failed, just kept rolling. To everyone's delight, Hankie disappeared under her skirt. Everyone, that is, except Aunt Judith who squealed and cursed at the electromechanical violator. Hankie's gears finally stopped grinding as he exclaimed to uproarious laughter, "It's dark in here!" At least his light sensor was still working.

Hankie even managed to eventually win Mom over when -- one night on his charger -- his infrared sensor detected her lighting up her 4am smoke and he asked, "What's cooking, good looking?" I sensed the shift when Mom started calling him by name. "Get Hankie out of my sight!"

I guess it should come as no surprise I went on to get my Electrical Engineering degree in control theory. Or that Casa Midtown is under complete computer control. Control which JB steadfastly refuses to relinquish without a fight. My programming efforts are constantly subverted by unplugged controllers, lamps and stereos which don't turn on because they were turned off the "wrong way" and systems mysteriously switched to manual override.

To accommodate JB's irrational need to decide for himself when lights should turn on and off, I've had to alter my dream of ultimate automation. The casa now keeps track of JB's whereabouts at all times and has a "Half_Jetson" mode and a "Full_Jetson" mode. Now I just have to figure out how to get Muncher (our Roomba) to only come out from under the bed in Full_Jetson mode. I'm tired of JB telling me, "Get that thing out of my sight!"


  1. Each time I find out there is a black out in the city, I expect to hear your neighborhood mentioned.

  2. I want you to come by and automate my new house!