snarke (snarke) wrote,

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Kitchen of the fuuuuuture (part one)

Well, I just finished watching Food Network's show "Kitchens of the Future," a retro/modern look at cutting edge (pun intended) kitchen tech from the turn of the century through today.

Naturally, it was great fun watching housewives twirl and prance around the Fabulous Electrified Kitchen of the Future as envisioned by Frigidare and Westinghouse in the '50s and '60s.

On the other hand, the 21st century versions were mostly painful. Current kitchen prototyping featured research from Microsoft, MIT, and IBM.

Microsoft's kitchen, naturally, was all about computerizing; moving information around. The head researcher put a mixer and some flour on the countertop, and the kitchen perked up and asked if it could help, projecting a menu onto the countertop from overhead.

Now, surface projection is smart. You get a big display surface that you don't have to worry about getting greasy fingerprints all over, although I wonder about how you clean the lens in the ceiling. But good grief, I think I'll check with the kitchen before I get the mixer out. The kitchen offered a selection of recipies that would need a mixer and flour, and the researcher decided to make foccacia bread. Chocolate chip cookies were on the list too, but with a note that the kitchen currently didn't have any chocolate chips.

Er, duh. If I was *planning* on making cookies, focaccia bread isn't an acceptable alternative. So now I'm putting the mixer back where it came from. I think I would have checked first, and guess what. It's probably faster to stick my head in the cupboard or pantry and look than start mousing through web pages (or worse, talking to the computer and waiting for it to answer). Sure, if I could just say "Hey, computer, do we have any chocolate chips?" then that'd be handy. But that's not going to happen. For crying out loud, as part of the broadcast television show, the researcher was trying to say something, but the computer thought it was being addressed and started monologuing, interrupting her.

Oh, and please don't make me any cookies with bread dough, eh? Since the focaccia came out perfect, I'll just assume that's what kind of flour she set out. Too bad the computer wasn't smart enough to figure that one out.

How does the computer know what you brought home from the grocery store? How does the refrigerator know what you're running low on? Both Microsoft and IBM had the same (non)solution: RFID tags on the packaging. [Expletive deleted] idiots! Yes, supermarkets are going to drive RFID tags onto packaging in the next 10 years, give or take. Margins are so razor thin that the instant it goes from "too expensive" to "cost-effective," it'll blast into grocery stores with mind-spinning speed.

But I don't put unopened cans of chili in my fridge, people! I put half a can in a plastic container and put THAT in the fridge. Now what? Huh? Sheesh.

A good news/bad news item that went completely unexplored in this perky vision of the future is related to the only-mentioned-in-passing RFID tags, by the way. I've seen speculation about dust-sized tags being embedded in $20 bills, and more probable concerns about tags in clothing. Say you get some shirts at Target, which you bought in record time because the store could ring you up as you walked past the checkout counter by pinging the embedded RFID tags. (A shirt costs more than soup, so it'll probably have RFID tags sooner.) Come back in three weeks wearing your new shirt, and the store will be able to detect that their shirt's come back through the door.

Now, exactly how this is useful to them isn't entirely clear, but it's kind of creepy nonetheless. There's also the distinct possibility of malls or even random strangers tracking people via clothing-embedded RFID tags.

Not to fear. There's a very easy solution. You've probably heard the dire warnings about how a nuke detonated in the atmosphere, or even in space, would generate an electromagnetic pulse that would throw the nation back to the stone age by destroying all our computers and other electronics. I'm rather skeptical of the doomsday scenario, myself, but RFID tags are particularly susceptible to EMP pulses, and you probably have a handy home EMP pulse box conveniently nearby. It's called a microwave. If you want to see exciting pyrotechics sometime, put a cup of water in your microwave along with one of the RFID tags that come in most books from big bookstores these days. You know, those 2" square pieces of paper with the silvery concentric rings? Set that on a piece of paper, not too close to the cup, and give it about a 15 second burst. You should see bolts of lightning crawling all over the tag. Same effect as zapping a CD, really.

While I'm not especially concerned about being kidnapped because some bad guy's monitoring the RFID tag in my pants, I'll probably microwave RFID'ed clothes on general principle. They aren't going to do me any good. No, I don't expect to keep track of where my new shirt is or what I could wear next week, since they'll almost certainly decay after being washed enough times.

Back to food. No problem for RFID tags on canned goods, although I wonder how well they'll work stuck to a big chunk of RF-shielding metal like that. But it becomes a bit trickier on a TV dinner. It can't go on the part that goes in the microwave, now, can it? I do not want copper or aluminum RFID antenna vapor blowing all over my food, thank you very much!

Tags: cooking, food, kitchen
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