The Stupid Idiot’s Guide tackles 10 of our most-pressing plugged-in problems (plus II from those pesky ancient Romans)

Share story

SOMEWHERE, DOWN DEEP, every single one of us stupid humans knows that it’s only a matter of time before smart tech gets the best of us.

Oops. Try on “got” for size. That day actually arrived a few years ago, while most of us, understandably, were deeply engaged in our time-honored civic duty of passionately arguing about the color of a dress in an online photograph (smarty-pants 9-year-olds who look everything up should go ahead and look this up).

Accepting for the sake of argument the premise that we as a species are 99 44/100ths percent stupid, the best one might hope for from here on out is a mild degree of success in the noble struggle to push back an inevitable dystopian future in which most of us will be relegated to changing the oil-fouled underpants of our chip-brained robot overlords. (Yes; we know this already is occurring in some distribution centers, but for now it is a niche occupation.)

THE BACKSTORY: The story behind ‘Ron Judd explains how to outsmart your smart technology’

It is in this spirit of not-wholly unenthusiastic civic mindedness that we hereby enjoin this generally futile battle by offering up a handy …

Stupid Idiot’s Guide to Smart Technology.

Problem I:voice recognition, AKA, “Alexa: Make me a cheeseburger!”

Most major government-espionage portals — sorry, online retail/information services — now offer consumer-friendly, always-on listening devices. Outraged by this encroachment on our privacy, most of us have responded by scrambling — with the vigor of tackling from behind and clubbing senseless friends and relatives during a Black Friday mob-shopping scene at Target — to self-install one in every single room of our homes, providing “voice control” of our lives, such as they are.

You could argue this is a reasonable trade-off, as this capitulation does allow one to, just to use one popular example, ask an electronic listening orifice how the weather is — or might be for the next half-hour — on the other side of the nearest window. This is information we used to have to look outside to obtain, and who has time for that?

Occasionally, though, “mathematically improbable” circumstances might conspire to make this tech appear, to nattering nabobs, problematic. Such was the case in May in Portland, where an Amazon Echo reportedly recorded portions of a couple’s conversation (bad), then sent a transcript of same (hoo boy) to a random person on their contact list — in this case, a work colleague (D’oh!) in Seattle.

The Portland couple, who described the experience as “nightmarish,” were quite circumspect about what was actually recorded and shared, saying only that one passage referred to “hardwood floors,” which, as anyone who knows anything about Portland knows, probably was a code word for some sort of underground kombucha ring. In fact, a source in Portland city government recently paused from pushing one of the city’s futuristic, Fred-Flintstone-foot-powered organic compost delivery wheelbarrows to reveal exclusively to us that the couple’s recorded conversation included these passages:

“ … couldn’t help noticing that the Smith-Johnsons at the drum circle were using hemp-burlap coffee filters to make their fair-trade, bird-safe, dolphin-endorsed coffee. Can we get those at the co-op?”

Followed by this: “Has anyone seen the organic arugula?”

And then, finally: “Frankly, I didn’t find it very funny; but I guess some people think everything Fred Armisen does is frickin’ comedy gold.”

So, you can see how devastating this must have been when shared with an acquaintance, particularly one who is triggered by unwarranted Fred Armisen criticism.

Actually, we can relate to the horror of this phenomenon (“extremely rare” — Amazon Division of Extreme Rarities) ourselves. Not long after the Portland incident, our own Amazon Echo picked up snippets of highly embarrassing convo inside the Judd home at Escrow Heights, which we reveal here only in the hope for immediate government intervention, preferably directly from the American Colonial Directorate at the Kremlin:

“… and then he did that thing again where he pooped about 19 times, all in a straight line, over in the neighbor’s yard: Squat, drop, step. Squat, drop step. Squat, drop, step. Like a B-52 carpet-turd-bombing a golf course. What are you feeding him, anyway?”

And even worse: “So our password for the password-lock app that unlocks our password list with its own password is WHAT again?”

Needless to say, this was horrific, and legal action is pending as soon as we discuss our complete disconnection from the internet to a TV reporter, via Skype.

Given all this, our best advice is:

When engaging in household conversations within eavesdropping distance (about 1.2 miles, downwind) of your personal digital assistant, it is best to have a voice-scrambling device and corresponding decoder unit — or perhaps a pair of Klingon code talkers — nearby to protect your verbal content. Backup plan: pig Latin.

(Illustration by David Miller / The Seattle Times)
(Illustration by David Miller / The Seattle Times)

Problem II: voice rec, transcription-style

Conveniently, the voice-recognition tech inside your NSA-endorsed listening device employs the very same technology that allows your incoming phone calls (remember those?) at the office to be transcribed into a user-friendly, readable text format. Last week, this allowed yours truly to start his day with some important reader feedback, transcribed into an email:

Hey idiot this Burgeoning Manhole, one of four breeders who still ingest your shirts. You know I read the thing you put up your nose web page seek milk cow bucolic sculpin and I have to say it’s wontons. What do you see when you listen to arachnid mower pustules? Pho? Shall I emaciate ambergris inundating heroines? Are you really that flippant low rider? I really wonder if malarkey libido aretes are venue considered! So listen me now: Fluoridate my meat scraps! Again, this is Balsamic Mendacity. Maybe get back to me if you have the gnomes timestamp, comma drumstick.

All I can say is that I am sorry our executive editor feels that way. And as you can see, this tech has a ways to go. But who among us does not?

Problem III: “auto-correct”

(See Problems I, II)

Problem IV: smartphones

Don’t even get us started. The impact of ubiquitous “smartphones” on what used to be life has been well-documented — and immediately broadcast to the planet’s current 17 billion operable pocket-size computers, which excel at many things, excluding making telephone calls, which only old people do any more anyway, as we are constantly reminded.

Some important things to keep in mind about smartphones:

• The phones themselves cost a thousand bucks, and if you oafishly violate your user agreement by exposing one to damaging external elements, such as air, you’re essentially out a thousand bucks. That is, unless you “got the insurance,” which is paid via smaller monthly extortion payments that eventually add up to a thousand bucks.

• At some point, the digital being inside your smartphone will without warning begin speaking to you extremely loudly, usually at a piano recital. That person will always be British.

• Usage plans start at about a thousand bucks. This seems like a lot, but only until you have successfully shared, with the entire Solar System, a photograph (using the “sauerkraut” filter) of a particularly well-constructed Reuben sandwich.

• Smartphones DO serve useful purposes, such as scheduling, looking up how to fill out a score card at a bowling alley, finding a decent restaurant based on the opinions of people who consider “Uncrustables” a solid lunch choice, learning the date of the next Super-Duper Harvest Wolf Blue Red Blood Moon, or pathetic self-gratification of the President of the United States (not necessarily in that order).

• If you use your smartphone more than two or three times a day, the device in very short order, due to your boneheaded, uneducated abuse of its capacity — which was clearly enunciated right there in plain Lilliputian English in your original User Agreement Language — will require a new battery.

New batteries start at a thousand bucks.

Problem V: Roman numerals

V is a five? On what planet? Someone please Google this on your smartphone.

(Illustration by David Miller / The Seattle Times)
(Illustration by David Miller / The Seattle Times)

Problem VI: smartwatches

At least a decade ago, most younger people we know stopped wearing wristwatches, because they can just as easily tell the time using a sextant and sun dial, or by glancing at their smartphone. Unfortunately, this was accomplished by “unlocking” it, which involved submitting fingerprint, retina, hair, skin and urine samples, and then drawing out their mother’s maiden name in blood on a nearby sidewalk.

Fortunately, this problem has been solved by the “smartwatch,” which allows you to carry around all the above cutting-edge voice-rec technology for simulated Dick-Tracy-sleeve conversations. It also contains a bevy of specialized applications that can walk you through adult behavior such as checking the next high tide, or changing the oil on a KitchenAid mixer. Or even telling time.

Note: The latter function is not always reliable, and in fact often only serves to memorialize the time that the battery on the smartwatch died — usually about an hour and 35 minutes after it was first turned on in the morning.

Problem VII: “livestreaming”

Livestreaming allows one to broadcast, in real time, important life events to potentially millions of like-minded, purposeless boobs, most of whom are now in Congress. These events include weddings; surprise parties; births; loud Thanksgiving family fights; bitter custody battles; and, most often, drunken rants about the state of race relations in America.

Due to its unique ability to capture breathtaking action, such as asparagus lying in repose on a paper towel, livestreaming has replaced lunch-plate photography as the most popular form of smartphone social-media engagement. (If you haven’t seen what super-slow-mo on the new iPhone will do with a slice of Jell-O pie, you can stop reading now.)

Special occupational side note:

Livestreaming, technically, allows just about anyone in the world, at any time, to become “citizen journalists.” Along with this comes all the trappings, benefits and honors of that profession, including lifelong self-doubt; low pay; constant public ridicule and/or derision; and the feeling that at any moment, the floor will collapse beneath you, plunging you into a pit of starving, rabid alligators. But otherwise, this is a perk.

Special facial-hair side note:

Thanks to livestreaming and its bastard stepchild, video posting, the entire world can now be made aware of neighborhood developments of global significance, such as the sighting of a bear in a woodsy area, acting suspiciously like a bear. Better yet, the action now can be viewed in 60-frames-per-second HD splendor, an exciting new high-resolution technology that has made the world ask itself, “Whoa! How long has Grandma had that nasty ’stache?”

Problem VIII: “Facebook Messenger”

Don’t. Just don’t.

This smartphone app — designed by engineers at Facebook in conjunction with the people who invented Ebola — will take over your entire smartphone in about 12 seconds, insinuating itself into every phase of its being, and eventually making it bleed through its eyes and other orifices.

Do not install it on your phone. If you believe in Karma, do not install it on your worst enemy’s phone.

Should you fail to heed this advice and actually install it on your phone, deprogramming services are available to remove Messenger from that device, your home, your spouse, your pets, your life and every crevice of your body.

Packages start at a thousand bucks.

(Illustration by David Miller / The Seattle Times)
(Illustration by David Miller / The Seattle Times)

Problem VIIII: Roman numerals (cont.)

There is no VIIII. It’s IX. Duh. See Problem V (5).

Problem X: Wi-Fi cams

Thanks to digital technology, we now can see what is going on everywhere, both inside and outside our homes (for people who serve on corporate boards, all seven of their homes), at any moment. These devices, jokingly nicknamed “pet” or “nanny” or “Russian spy apparatus” cams, also have raised (paranoid) privacy concerns. These of course are laughable in the face of the tremendous advantage afforded by the technology. Speaking from personal experience, it has on occasions enabled the Judds to enjoy a pleasant night out that is made even more pleasant by the ability to constantly check in via webcam, on Cooper, our unusually huge Labrador recliner.

Sample stimulating conversation on these occasions:

Her: “What is he doing?”

Me: “He’s lying there.”

Her: “Where?

Me: “On his memory foam bed.”

Her: “Oh, good.”

Me: “Hey, now he’s scratching.”

Her: “Where?”

And so on. And to think: We previously were unable to do that.

Problem XI: The scourge of GPS

Location, location, location. Anything, everything, all the time.

Fortunately, we live in a country in which many people risked their lives to conquer space, into which they installed roving satellites that today allow us to ask our home digital assistant where in the name of &*#$)@! we have left our keys/purse/wallet/dog/cat/woodchuck, each now wearing a small plastic locator chip.

How this works: Your lost item’s last known location, identified by its last correspondence with a local Wi-Fi network, is recorded in a bank of computers in downtown Ephrata. When you inquire about said location, these computers instruct a computer linked to your home and other homes throughout North Korea to search the Wi-Fi network and match the last signal from the item up with the nearest deep-fissure sofa-cushion crack, where said object invariably resides.

Problem XII: The “internet of things”

This should keep you up at night, and if not for all that Ambien you borrowed from your mom, it surely would.

The term refers to the interconnectivity of all the electronic devices in your home through an, ahem, highly secured network not generally susceptible to hacking, except in extremely rare circumstances, such as the power staying on in Vladivostok.

The upshot: Your thermostat can talk to your toaster, which can talk to your fridge, which speaks to your Jeep, which monitors your kidneys, which are on a first-name basis with your washing machine, which is being hit on by your dishwasher after having been dumped by your bread machine, which once was involved in a highly experimental lifestyle with the Seal-A-Meal, if you know what we mean. And all of them are tight with Alexa.

We look at this as a good thing. When the deal goes down, Skynet goes live and we’re all asked to choose a side, surely your household appliances will have your back.


Alternate ending inserted here, not to be repeated out loud: We’re all going to die. Some of us have already, and one of these days, the Vitamix is going to get around to notifying our next of kin.

Don’t say our app didn’t warn you.