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Reading This Column Will Make You More Attractive

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Michael E. Duffy
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Columnist: Michael E. Duffy
June, 2012 Issue


Good headline, huh? Alas, it’s completely untrue. But reading this column is guaranteed to make you think about TVs, glasses and your fingers!

Big screen. My wife and I made one of our periodic trips to Costco last weekend, and while she was ruffling through a stack of clothing near the entrance, I leaned against the cart and did some people watching. Readers who’ve visited Costco in Santa Rosa know there’s a ginormous display of big-screen televisions at the entrance. What you may not know is that you can now buy an 80-inch LED flat-screen TV for $4,500 (the particular model was a Sharp AQUOS LC-80LE633U, and it looked pretty darn good). It was interesting to observe people entering the store: Almost without exception, every man entering the store was transfixed by the sight of this six-foot-wide technological marvel. On the other hand, women seemed to pass by without a second look. Cultural or genetic? Who knows?

Regardless, the advent of affordable, truly large-screen displays offers businesses new ways to display information to customers. Digital signage lets you augment your storefront display with images of all your products, or special marketing messages. Starbucks already uses modest digital signs in its stores to communicate both what’s playing on the music system as well as product offerings. Charles Schwab displays current market information on TVs in its offices. Some companies, like Dick’s Last Resort, even run their own TV networks. Because of the rise of streaming videos services like Netflix, YouTube and Hulu, more TV sets (like the monster I mentioned) are equipped to connect directly to the Internet, making it even easier to display your business-related content.

A word of caution before you run out to Costco: Even though you can easily draw attention to your message on a large screen, you still need to have something interesting to present—and to present it in an interesting fashion. An HD-quality (1,080p) display like the Sharp magnifies every bit of cheesy production value that finds its way into your content. Still, smart business owners should be thinking about ways to use large displays in place of the static displays (like signs and whiteboards) they currently use to communicate with customers and employees. For examples, check out the gallery at www.risevision.com (Rise is a Web-based digital signage provider—I have no experience with it).

Besides, in your heart you know you want an 80-inch TV.

Small screen. At the other end of the display spectrum, Google recently announced Project Glass, a wearable, augmented reality display. If you haven’t seen a picture, let me describe it for you: Imagine a set of glasses. Remove the round parts of the frame that hold the lenses. Remove one lens. Shrink the other lens to the size of a postage stamp. Make the frame transparent. Make the part that curls around your ear into a tiny Bluetooth earpiece. That’s more or less what they look like (or just do a Google image search for “Project Glass”).

The idea is that information (temperature, time of day, messages, maps, directions, video and so forth) can be displayed on top of what you’re seeing with your own eyes, so-called “augmented reality.” In addition, you can give voice commands (in the fashion of the iPhone’s “Siri” voice application) to respond to items on the display. The postage-stamp-sized display is clear, so it doesn’t obstruct your vision, much like the heads-up displays (HUDs) used in fighter aircraft.

Google created a pleasant/exciting short video that shows the hypothetical user experience of wearing these “glasses.” If you watch the video, you may find (as I did) that the elements being displayed on top of what the wearer is actually seeing appear much lower in the field of view than seems possible with the tiny display of the prototype hardware. I guess it’s just movie magic.

Others had somewhat harsher criticism of the video. In an interview with WIRED magazine, Blair MacIntyre, who directs the augmented reality program at Georgia Tech, said, “In one simple fake video, Google has created a level of over-hype and over-expectation that its hardware cannot possibly live up to.”

So, watch the video with a grain (or two) of salt. It’s nearly impossible that you’ll be able to purchase something like Project Glass in the next year or two, but within five to 10 years, it will almost certainly be a reality. And, candidly, I’d wait for the Apple version.

Wood shop. If you ever took wood shop in grade school, you’ll remember the strong admonition to avoid interaction between your fingers and the table saw blade. Most people who’ve used a table saw have had at least one close call, myself included. And, of course, some people sadly do lose parts of their hands to table saws every year: About 80,000 people per year are treated in hospitals and emergency rooms for table saw-related injuries.

I want to call your attention to a line of table saws from a company called SawStop, which stop almost instantly on contact with human skin. If you go to its website, you can see a cool HD video of them running a hot dog into the spinning blade, which stops before any visible damage is done to the dog. It works by running a small electric current through the blade. If human skin (which is conductive) touches the blade, the current drops and an aluminum brake is driven into the blade, stopping it. Of course, that destroys the blade, but you’ll still have your finger.

The blade/brake is designed as a replaceable cartridge that costs about $70. The one downside is that you can’t retrofit an existing saw: You have to buy a SawStop saw. Models start at $1,599. On the other hand, one injury can easily cost that much in raised premiums and out-of-pocket medical expenses. Definitely worth a look if you regularly work with table saws, especially for schools and contractors.


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