Smart Phones and Dumb Technology

      35 Comments on Smart Phones and Dumb Technology

I have mixed feelings about technology. I’m a blogger, so obviously I appreciate the power of the internet to spread information. Heck, I gave a whole speech on how the internet and social media have enabled the Wisdom of Crowds to shove aside a lot of the official (and bad) dietary advice.

I also love having production tools at my disposal, stuff only professional studios could afford not long ago. Earlier in the week, I was going through interview footage for the film version of the book. I had to shoot much of that footage in less-than-ideal circumstances, using the available light in a hotel room, a cruise-ship room, etc. In at least one case – an interview with Dr. Ann Childers – something went goofy in the camera during the shoot.  Partway through the interview, the footage suddenly looked like this:

Yikes. I tried randomly fussing with the color wheels in Premiere but couldn’t get a natural-looking balance. Once again, internet to the rescue. I logged into my account at (an outstanding learning site) and watched some tutorials on using Adobe SpeedGrade. A few hours later, I understood what the various color scopes are telling me, how to work with gain, gamma, contrast, saturation, shadows, midtones, highlights, etc.  Then I opened the footage in SpeedGrade and adjusted it to this:

Not many years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to afford anything with the power of SpeedGrade, and even if I had access to the technology, I wouldn’t know how to use it.  Now we have the entire Adobe suite at our disposal for $54 per month.  When I need to learn a technical skill quickly, I go to and get instruction from working professionals who are excellent teachers.  Chareva’s been doing likewise to learn InDesign for laying out the book.

That’s the kind of technology I love. Now here’s the kind I can’t stand …

On my way to work this morning, I was sure I was going to get rear-ended by a woman in an SUV. I was sitting at a red light and saw her approaching in my rearview mirror. Hmmm, she doesn’t seem to be slowing down, I thought. Just as I was bracing for impact, she hit the brakes and managed to stop in time. Then I noticed the @#$%ing smartphone in her hand. Like millions of other people these days, she apparently can’t wait until she stops somewhere before checking that oh-so-important tweet, email or Facebook post.

That’s twice in the past several months I’ve almost been creamed by idiots with their eyes pinned to a smartphone while driving. I see plenty of other idiots with their eyes pinned to a smartphone while attending (physically, anyway) a baseball game or concert, or while sitting in a restaurant with three other people. I don’t get it.  I’ve yet to see the Facebook post would tempt me to ignore my wife while we’re out for dinner.

Love technology, hate technology. And then there’s technology that’s utterly pointless, like the one mentioned in a Science Daily article:

Carrots and apples not only taste different. They make distinct sounds when chewed.

I learned that years ago while sitting next to people who shouldn’t be allowed to eat in restaurants … even if they don’t check Facebook while eating.

This may seem like trivial knowledge, but it’s not in the laboratory of University at Buffalo computer scientist Wenyao Xu, who is creating a library that catalogues the unique sounds that foods make as we bite, grind and swallow them.

If I need a person chewing carrots sound effect in the film, I know who to call. Perhaps there’s a person who wasn’t told ‘chew with your mouth closed’ as a child chewing carrots in a crowded restaurant while checking Facebook sound effect that would work even better.

The library is part of a software package that supports AutoDietary, a high-tech, food-tracking necklace being developed by Xu and researchers at Northeastern University in China.

Described in a study published February by IEEE Sensors Journal, AutoDietary is like Fitbit and other wearable devices. Only instead of tracking burned calories, it monitors caloric intake — in other words, what we eat — at the neck.

Good grief. So this contraption says, “Hmmm, that sounds like carrots. Logging 30 calories into today’s record.”

AutoDietary wraps around the back of the neck like a choker necklace. A tiny high-fidelity microphone — about the size of a zipper pull — records the sounds made during mastication and as the food is swallowed. That data is sent to a smartphone via Bluetooth, where food types are recognized.

Then the data is automatically routed to the NSA, where super-computers run algorithms to see if you show a marked preference for falafel or other Middle Eastern foods.

“Each food, as it’s chewed, has its own voice,” says Xu.

I’ve noticed that.  I recently chewed some Brussels sprouts that sounded just like Christopher Walken.  Or maybe I was hearing my nephew across the table.  He’s a whiz with voices.

The device could someday help people suffering from diabetes, obesity, bowel disorders and other ailments by enabling them to better monitor their food intake and, thus, improve how they manage their conditions.

Uh … because it’s so darned difficult to write down what you eat? Or log what you eat into that smartphone you take into restaurants so you can ignore your dinner companions? I give it two years before this thing is covered by ObamaCare to assist people with diabetes, obesity, bowel disorders and other ailments.

The study describes how 12 test subjects, male and female, ages 13 to 49, were given water and six types of food: apples, carrots, potato chips, cookies, peanuts and walnuts. AutoDietary was able to accurately identify the correct food and drink 85 percent of the time.

Well, that’s going to be a HUGE problem. According to the calorie freaks, miscounting your calories by 10% can lead to obesity. So we’re going to have people getting fat and then yelling, “That @#$%ing necklace logged my nightly serving of apple pie as a carrot!”

While promising, a wearable necklace that measures sound has limitations when used alone. For example, it cannot differentiate similar foods such as frosted corn flakes and regular corn flakes.

Another HUGE problem. If you have corn flakes for breakfast, you’re eating crap. If you have frosted corn flakes for breakfast, you’re eating crap frosted with crap. Once again, you’ll get fat and you’ll have nobody but the necklace to blame.

To address these limitations, Xu is planning a biomonitoring device which would complement AutoDietary. The device is underdevelopment but it would be activated once the necklace recognizes that the user is eating a general category of food.

The biomonitor would then determine the nutritional value of the food via blood sugar levels and other measurements.

So buy a blood-sugar meter. You don’t have to wear it, which means you don’t have to accessorize it tastefully during the fashion season.

The system then gathers and presents this information on a smartphone, while providing suggestions on healthier eating.

And I bet that will be sterling advice … something like “eat more whole grains.”

Here’s my suggestion for healthier eating: don’t eat corn flakes, with or without sugar. Don’t eat bread, cereal, chips, sugar, or chemically extracted “vegetable” oils. In fact, don’t eat any “food” substance that only exists because of industrial processing.

Do that, and you can live without the necklace … even if you can’t live without your smartphone while driving.


35 thoughts on “Smart Phones and Dumb Technology

  1. j

    Why learn to be healthy and eat right for free when you can be a willing sucker and pay someone lots of money or buy an expensive piece of junk to (falsely) help you. If something is free it’s either not good enough or it’s too easy. It’s a psychological human deficiency..

    Just ask anyone that bought this—

      1. Mike (another one)

        Dear God. So those vibrating strap things from the ’50s that were supposed to help women, have a modern descendant.

  2. Onlooker

    This is truly absurd. The limitations to this form of food tracking are so obvious, even beyond what they have pointed out. No way to get there from here. So it’s just another boondoggle using other people’s money; i.e. government. And if there is private money involved here somehow it’s an indication that we’re at the top of yet another govt-induced business cycle/bubble, with misallocation (read: waste) of resources galore.

  3. chrismorse

    Whomever thought machines are ‘needed’ to help people make choices? I thought most of those sciency-techie guys have already decided that free will is an illusion and that every single behavior is hardwired in the DNA and nothing can change that. If you think like that, then how can you fantasize about making machines that have the ability to second-guess the almighty laws of nature?

      1. Bob Niland

        re: If I were a diabetic, that would be a useful device.

        Wider than that.

        Sure, people can today check BG with a meter every 15 minutes, for weeks, but it’s annoying, expensive, and you wouldn’t get any sleep. HbA1c is supposed to make that easier by telling us the area under the curve (AUC) for BG, but it has limitations too.

        With CGM, someone transitioning to a sane diet is immediately confronted with what target BG to shoot for. Then they quickly learn what foods are provocative (many of which they might not have suspected, and some of which may be unique to their genetics or incep status).

        Then they may further learn, as Attia did, that they have a genetic idiosyncratic discordance between AUC BG and HbA1c.

        And finally, as they settle into sane diet, and in particular remediate microbiome, they might learn that some carbs that used to cause BG excursions no longer do. It will be like a FitBit, but more useful (and probably will use the FB or smartphone for logging and reports).

  4. Dianne

    If makers of those smart phones were REALLY smart, they’d figure out a way to make them non-functional in parking lots. Or at least while in motion in parking lots. I don’t know who scares me the worst:
    1. The woman (usually a woman) who gets into her car, dials somebody, and starts yakking on her phone as she’s trying to back out of her parking spot, or
    2. The person of either gender and any age who appears out of nowhere from behind the huge SUV parked next to my little car and walks right behind me as I’m trying to back out, talking or texting on an electronic device and completely oblivious to the world around him/her. I try to be as careful as I can, but people need to take some responsibility for their own safety. Parking lots are dangerous places!

  5. The Older Brother

    I think you’re missing out on the value of this device.

    It fits like a CHOKER necklace.

    So, suppose some idiot is chewing their carrots with their mouth open while checking Facebook. You can just reach behind them and…

    Just sayin’.


  6. Jim Frake

    Tom, I normally disagree with very little you publish. Your analysis, wit, humor, and sarcasm combined with tenacious ability in diseminating the data put you at the top of my list … Except this one sits all wrong with me …

    To me a biomomitor for blood sugar is the et all / Nirvana of everything that is anything in the health arena (OK maybe a bit dramatic lol). A real time blood sugar device that could notify at a set number would be invaluable. The advice given after the data may or may not.

    Synonymous with the internet we need not attack the medium.

    Thank you for all the awesome blogs and for the movie that kicked it all off.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Real-time blood sugar, sure. But a necklace that tells you what you’ve been eating? Pointless.

    2. Mike (another one)

      Handy as they would be, one negative consequence might be food producers who sweeten food with fructose, to keep the glycemic index down.

      1. Bob Niland

        re: …one negative consequence might be food producers who sweeten food with fructose, to keep the glycemic index down.

        They already do that. Check out the promotional spin, but more importantly the actual ingredients in the “Sugar Made Healthy” product Whey Low® (which contains no whey, and is not low in anything that matters).

        And yes, people recovering from T2D, and managing T1D, need to mind their TG (triglycerides) as well as their BG (Blood Glucose). They also need to assume that any product prominently claiming to be low GI and/or Diabetic is no such thing.

  7. Firebird

    Mel Blanc use to chew on turnips when Bugs Bunny ate carrots because Mel didn’t like carrots.

    And is excellent. I learned how to use Final Cut Pro watching their videos whereas the workshop that I paid $900 was useless. The guy blew through the seminars and if it wasn’t for the guy next to me who was Mac savvy, I would have been lost.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I’ve become a huge fan of I used to subscribe to for tutorials, but I found that has more of them, they’re updated more often, and they usually go into more depth. Plus VTC still produces their tutorials in 800 x 600 format. I doubt anyone using Premiere Pro these days has such a small monitor.

  8. Lori Miller

    Today a coworker was fiddling around with her phone and a little later, she said she messed up what she was working on to the point that she had to start over.

    On the positive side, you’ve got me thinking about learning SQL and starting a new career. I’m a little hesitant, though, because of my background: mechanical engineering degree (useless) and courses in C and web design (useless and expensive). I’m not inclined to spend any more time and effort spinning my wheels, but I’ve liked working with databases in the past and I’m willing to put the effort into something I could make a living at. Suggestions?

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Sure. Download SQL Server Express — free from Microsoft. Join or and watch some tutorials, then practice what you’ve learned. You can watch a few sample tutorials at either site before deciding to join. If you join, look for courses by Mark Long. He’s terrific at explaining programming concepts.

      If you have a degree in mechanical engineering, learning the SQL language will be a piece of cake.

  9. Elenor

    Recently, I read (and of course, can no longer find {frustrating}) a good essay about the “kids at a restaurant all looking at/texting on their phones instead of talking to each other.” The author pointed out — and I found somewhat persuasive — that it’s often the case that all these kids are NOT texting people not present, but are, in fact, having the conversation with their (physical) companions. That, rather than trying to shout over each other (or a noisy crowd), or catch up on the conversation at the far end of the table, or miss parts — these kids are holding an *orderly* conversation where they do not any miss parts, because all the parts appear, sequentially, in their phones. The shy and/or quiet (and/or hard of hearing) participate just as fully because they don’t have to try to wrest control of the conversation to say their piece. So, everyone gets the whole conversation, contributes to the whole conversation, and no one gets left out!

    THERE is a concept I never considered!

    1. j

      Sounds like the author would have a great future as a tobacco lobbyist…so much spin, it would make a clothes dryer jealous.

  10. Anne

    Talking about technology….my kids and I went to a friend’s wedding this last weekend. Kids were welcomed at the ceremony and party so there were quite a few. I looked around during the ceremony and noticed that 75% of the kids, ranging from 3 to 16, were plugged into some device, playing a game or watching a video, instead of witnessing such a beautiful ceremony. Now, I know a wedding is boring for kids BUT they need to learn about our cultural ceremonies and “be present” during such important events. My kids’ electronic devices stay at home except for when we take my elderly mother to the doctor’s office OR we’re going to take a very very long car trip. I want my kids present and taking in all that’s going on around us…..just like we adults need to be present and interactive with life and not just hiding behind a screen.

    So, yes, it’s not just us adults that have acquired screen issues.

    Oh! And talking about adults talking on their cell phones – I was driving down a freeway in the outskirts of LA and almost rearended a car in the 2nd to fast lane driving 50 mph when the rest of the traffic was going 70 to 80. Cars were swerving into other lanes to get around him without having an accident or starting up a chain slow down. When I passed him, I glanced into the car to find the driver talking on his phone. Well, that’s one way to die – on your cell phone on an LA freeway.

      1. Walter Bushell

        Yes, I wish they would commit suicide in private and not cause problems for the rest of us. Some people in NYC throw themselves in front of a subway train during rush hour, causing long delays for thousands of people. I consider this most impolite.


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