The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

December 24, 2014

The Sledgehammer 2014 Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide: Procrastination is the Last Refuge of the Scoundrel

Filed under: Holidays, shopping — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 2:09 am

Well, you blew it again.  This year, you swore that you would do your Christmas shopping at a reasonable time so you wouldn’t need to scramble at the last minute.  You figured that you’d have plenty of time to do it, but just never got around to it somehow.  As the time creeps closer, you think you’ll take a quick trip to the mall and get everything done at once,  And then you realize that this is what you’re going to have to wade through to get to the mall…

And it suddenly dawns on you that maybe you’re in just a bit of trouble here.  Once again, you’re doing your shopping at the last minute, and once again, you’re pretty much doomed.  Well, I’m here to help…  Sort of.  You see, by the point you’ve waited this long, pretty much all the good stuff has been taken, packed up and placed under some unsuspecting tree.  By this point, you’re pretty much stuck with whatever happens to be left, and there’s a pretty good chance someone is going to be very disappointed in you.  But there’s hope.  In what has become a more-or-less annual tradition (although I didn’t do one last year due to spending most of the Holiday season in the Caribbean) allow me to present my Sledgehammer Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide, filled with ideas for stuff you should be able to easily find on the shelves.  Of course, there’s typically a very good reason that most of this stuff is still sitting on the shelves, but that’s just a minor detail, right?  Anyway, without any further ado, let’s get to the gift guide, which you will find after the jump.


December 16, 2014

The Joy of Collecting Pointless Data

Filed under: Random Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 12:28 am

Over the past couple of days, I have learned that the hot water in my apartment runs about 125 degrees.  And that the freezer seems to be somewhere around -8 degrees in the back.  I also learned that the temperature in my apartment varies by several degrees from the outside of the building by the windows to the part that faces the inside of the building.  None of this is really all that surprising to me, but thanks to an impulse purchase off of Amazon last week of a cheap infrared thermometer I bought off Amazon on a whim last week when it went on sale for $12 with free Prime shipping (currently it’s $19, but still a relative bargain.)  Granted, for that much money you’re not exactly looking at a top-of-the-line model, so you’re not exactly going to get scientific grade accuracy out of it (if you need that, be prepared to spend at least a couple hundred dollars)  but for any purpose I might use it for around the house it should be more than adequate.  It’s actually something I’ve wanted to pick up for a while, but the last time I looked at these they were still somewhere around $40, which is a little bit on the high side for a random impulse purchase.

Still, regardless of what I plan to actually use the thing for (I’m still kind of trying to figure that part out myself) it’s kind of a neat thing to have around the house.  Need to figure out how hot something is on the stove or in the oven?  Grab the infrared thermometer.  Need to figure out where a draft is coming from?  It does that too.  Not that I’d actually fix anything if I did find a problem with this, but it’s kind of interesting to know these things anyway.  Just in the course of our normal everyday comings and goings we have a tendency to generate a whole lot of data.  Naturally, for the most part we don’t even pay any heed to this as this data comes and goes, never to be noticed for more than a few seconds at a time.  Then again, over the course of the past few years, it seems that people have taken a lot more notice of this data, as the concept of the “Internet of Things” has taken hold.  For example, about a year and a half ago I got a Nest thermostat installed in my apartment, which not only makes it ridiculously easy to set up timers on the heat and AC (at least compared to some of the notoriously convoluted “programmable” thermostats I’ve used in the past), but it also includes all sorts of tracking information, and sends a monthly e-mail to tell you how your heat/AC usage compares to other months.  To be honest, after I did the initial setup I haven’t really done much tweaking to the schedule at all, but it does allow me to see how things like outside temperature affect energy usage.  It also has features that allow it to automatically adjust the schedule based on my history and other factors, but in practice I have found that it doesn’t seem to do a whole lot of that.

And that’s just one example.  These days, it seems like just about everyone you see on the street is using some sort of fitness tracker.  I have yet to join in on this particular craze, but these have started popping up all over the place lately.  I can see where it might be useful though.  After all, the toughest part of the whole diet and exercise thing is actually remembering to do it, so if nothing else one of these things would remind you to actually do it.  One of the main attractions of these fitness trackers is that they collect quite a bit of data as you go along, which you can then use to see what how many steps you’ve taken during the day, what your heart rate was at any given time, how well you slept (I’ve always been wondering about that one myself, although I suspect the answer is probably “not as much as you should”) and other things like tracking of runs and other exercise.  It’s all sorts of information that could be useful if you made it useful, but I suspect a lot of people who use the things don’t necessarily do so.  But at least you know how guilty you’re supposed to feel at the end of the day, right?

And those are just as couple of the more obvious examples.  Pretty soon, you’ll see people trying to integrate things like smartphone integration and data monitoring all over the place, and I’d be willing to bet that most of it will get applied to stuff that has absolutely no use for it whatsoever.  Right now, the most egregious example of this I can find is a Crock Pot slow cooker that is Wi-Fi enabled to allow it to be controlled by a smartphone application, all for the low price of only $129.  Last time I checked, a Crock Pot typically has one control knob on it with three settings (four if you buy one of the fancy ones) so I have no idea what the point of one of these things is supposed to be, even if it does allow controlling virtually every aspect of my Crock Pot remotely instead of having to walk twelve steps to the kitchen to do it.  That’s definitely got to be worth an extra $80 over one of those other (sort of) fancy Crock Pots where you have to actually control it by hand.  On the other hand, I’m pretty sure I have no idea how the heck I’d enter a WPA password onto the not-so-fancy one.

For better or for worse, technology has started finding its way into places where we don’t particularly need it.  And as a result of all this, prepare to have all sorts of new and exciting sources of information at your fingertips that you didn’t even know you needed.  And in most cases you won’t actually ever need it after all, but I suppose it’s still neat to have it anyway, right?

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