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Archive for September 23rd, 2010

Fobbed Off

Posted by Dirck on 23 September, 2010

I have mentioned time and again in this rambling document my one-time love of modern technology and futuristic living, and the growing disenchantment with the same as my life takes me ever further into what the fiction of my childhood declared was the dazzling future.  As the 2010 equinox passes without any sign of a joint US-Russian manned expedition to examine an alien artifact in orbit around Jupiter, I find another example of domestic technology which is simultaneously an example of the fact that we’re living in the future and of the future’s failure to quite reach expectations.

They’ve changed the locks at The Regular Job.

How is this a source of the bi-phase experience above?  Well, the locks which are going are either the sort of pin-tumbler keyed type which have been current since the late 1800s or the five-button combination lock one frequently sees in industrial settings.  They are being replaced with electronic gizmos of modern science, a little black box on the door frame commanding the door to open to friends and remain shut in the face of strangers.

How does it tell who’s who?  I will quote from the e-mail we were sent (being careful to make sure no corporate secrets are revealed):

The new system is a series of proximity locks.  These locks are designed to open when either a preprogrammed fob or card comes in proximity of a door installed with the technology.

Well, doesn’t that sound neat?  Very Star Trekkish indeed!  When I got my “fob”, it promised to live up to the billing, being an angular thick plastic oblong the size of a finger-joint.  It looks, in fact, very like a prop for the film Aliens.  My inner conspiracy theorist wonders whether carrying this thing through the building renders my movements trackable (and a boring surveillance that will be– “He’s on the move… to the file cabinet, again“), but the neat-o aspects of the affair put that on the back burner.

The system came active today.  With a sense similar to that of a child about to disrobe a Christmas parcel, I walked toward a door.  The little black box stared at me with a single square red LED, but did nothing.  Closer.  Nothing.  I gripped the door handle.  Nothing.  Taking my key-ring from my pocket, I moved it ever closer to the receiver… and at last the light went green.  The lock was released silently.  “Proximity” apparently means a distance of 10cm or less, which means either getting the fob out of your pocket or getting very intimate with the door frame.  Bah.  That’s not Star Trekkish.

I spoke to one of the IT folks in the wake of the disappointment, since the central guidance of the system is in their hands.  I was told that to have a system which acts as I’d expected, the reciever would have to be the size of a hat-box, or at least its lid, and cost a mint of money.  Really?  In a past episode of Top Gear, a prank is played predicated on the fact that a similar set-up allowing access to and ignition of a modern Dodge muscle car– while Hammond was in a diner, Clarkson got into his car and drove some distance before it noticed it wasn’t anywhere near its key.  I rather suspect that this vehicle’s cost is not based on the size of its security system reciever.

This isn’t a personal issue, of course.  It inconveniences everyone here equally, and I suspect the IT department, who are often passing through doors with awkward bundles, are as cranky as anyone else.  Future Shock was expected and braced for.  Future Rash?  Future Chaffing?  All around us, and no sign of a useful ointment.

Today’s pen of proven technology:  Conway-Stewart 106
Today’s soothing ink:  Herbin’s Poussiére de Lune

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