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Techwit: Digital dieting is NOFUNS

Posted: Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Right now your coffee maker is talking to your alarm clock wanting to know, "Is it time to start brewing yet?" Your refrigerator is talking to your leftovers to make sure they are cool enough.

Techwit By Jason Ohler

Depending on your income level, your home security system may be on high alert ready to call the cops, and the CCC (Clothes Coordinator Custodian) built into your full-length mirror may have just sent you a voice message through your radio telling you not to wear the striped shirt with the plaid coat. Darn machines. They talk behind our backs all the time. They're worse than relatives! But just wait until your refrigerator talks to your toilet, which talks to your doctor.

Of course I'm talking about the NOFUNS (Networked Overlord of Food Under Nutritional Surveillance), a new technology being developed by the military's special covert dietary operations unit. It knows more about your eating habits than your mother ever wanted to. It works like this.

As the jar of mayonnaise is pulled from the refrigerator, the NOFUNS uses an advanced bar code scanner hidden in the butter compartment to identify and weigh it. The mayo gets scanned and weighed again when you put it back so that the NOFUNS knows how much you used. It also reads fruits, vegetables and OWOWBCs (Other Weird Objects Without Bar Codes), like dead pets stored in freezers awaiting burial (a national problem the government refuses to acknowledge). To help dissuade you from eating high fat foods, NOFUNS will send an electrical shock through the door handle whenever you pull out fat-laden junk. For a few dollars more it will display a full frontal nude of Rush Limbaugh when he was really fat on a screen built into your refrigerator door. Not pretty (but effective).

But what about the stuff you don't put in your refrigerator, like Twinkies and all that leftover Halloween candy that you intentionally bought too much of? No problem. The NOFUNS is also wired to your toilet, where it performs sophisticated chemical analysis of your personal "output." This is referred to as the back end of the system.

At midnight each day your personalized weight-a-base is analyzed and the results are sent to you as an e-mail message. An optional feature: The same message can be sent to your doctor, weight watchers club, parole officer, relatives, whomever. Bottom line: Thanks to the NOFUNS, it will become impossible to lie about your eating habits, depriving us of one of our most therapeutic forms of self-deception. Well, almost impossible. Secret beta tests in classified suburban homes throughout the country reveal the following creative ways to outsmart it:

• Eating out. The restaurant lobby absolutely loves the NOFUNS, and is considering using the slogan, "Sure you love your mom, but isn't one enough?"

• Covering the bar code with your hand as you pull items out of the refrigerator. In time you learn to ignore the obnoxious beeping sound that follows. The computer printout shows this event as "blocked." The NOFUNS identifies the blocker by reading fingerprints, a feature that also prevents you from having a friend take the food out of the refrigerator for you.

• Filling the mayonnaise jar with just enough water to make up for the mayo you used, making it appear as though you didn't use any. Messy, but it works.

• Using BCMs (Bar Code Manipulators). They make your jar of mayonnaise look like a tub of tofu. But gosh, they're expensive.

• Eating well. Not a serious threat at the moment.

So, a word to the wise: Start doing all your major food inputting and outputting at work. The old saying, "You are what you eat," is being replaced with, "You are what you can fool your NOFUNS into thinking you eat." But another old saying from the technology world will never change: "Garbage in = garbage out."

Jason Ohler is professor of educational technology at the University of Alaska Southeast and can be reached at jason@jasonohler.com. © 2002 Jason Ohler.



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