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Welcome to the Internet of Silly Things

Dan Tynan

The Internet of Things — the idea that every little thing will soon talk to the Internet — will change our lives in many ways. Some of them will prove highly useful, others extremely silly. Here are a few of the latter from Quirky, a community of inventors that uses community tools, like crowd-sourced ideas and voting, to develop and improve new products.

Your Internet dashboard
Nimbus is a $100 “at-a-glance” dashboard that pulls data from the Internet but looks like the cockpit controls of a B-29 bomber. Glancing at mine now, Nimbus tells me I have 66,346 unread messages in my Gmail inbox, 24 outstanding Facebook friend requests and that my last Twitter post has been retweeted 294 times.

Welcome to the Internet of Silly Things

Depending on the Internet services I choose to connect to it, Nimbus can tell me the outside temperature, how many minutes until my next appointment, the amount of traffic between two destinations, the number of calories I burned in my last Fitbit-clocked workout, how many likes my last Instagram photo garnered and more.

It’s also an alarm clock, with a particularly irritating alarm I never succeeded in turning off for more than five minutes at a time. You’re supposed to tap the top of the Nimbus’ analog dial to shut it off, but all I could manage was snooze. Unfortunately, that’s hardly Nimbus’ biggest problem. For example, I don’t actually have 66,000+ unread emails in my inbox, 24 outstanding friend requests or 294 retweets; all of those numbers are off by varying degrees. More importantly, why in the name of Gates would anyone need something like this?

Who let the dogs in?
I also tested a Quirky product called Spotter. A wall-mounted sensor the size of a hockey puck, the $50 Spotter can detect motion, bright lights, loud sounds, and changes in temperature or humidity — all at the same time, if you’re so inclined — and send you alerts.

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I told Spotter to send my wife, who was on an extended trip on the other side of the country, an email every time the dog barked his head off in the middle of the night. I figured if the mutt was going to wake me up, he might as well wake her up, too. After a day of this — and roughly 200 alerts — she begged me to please turn it off. I stuck the Spotter back inside its box, where to this day it continues to send me motion alerts at odd hours of the day and night.

Getting these new things to work as intended is both weird and frustrating. You start by downloading an app called Wink from the iTunes or Google Play store, then select Add a new device from the setup menu. After you plug in the dingus, you hold your phone or tablet close to it, whereupon the app displays a series of seizure-inducing flashing white lights that program the thing to connect to your network.

For me, it required multiple runs through the setup routine and calls to tech support before I could get either device to sync with my network. To get the Nimbus to respond, I had to cover it and my iPad under a dark blanket during the sync to reduce the amount of ambient light. 

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A pointless piggy
A third Wink device I didn’t test, the Porkfolio, looks like a piggy bank. That’s because it is a piggy bank, one whose nose lights up whenever you insert a U.S. coin. The $50 porker also lets you track your bank balance and set financial goals. (Insert your own joke about bringing home the bacon here.)

Are these devices clever? You bet. Useful? Not so much. Though I can see some limited use for the Spotter — to detect intruders, for example, or if your teens are trying to sneak out of the house in the middle of the night — the Nimbus is one of those things you put on your desk so when your friends stop by you can brag about what an uber-connected geek you are.

Trust me, your friends already know all about it.

Photos courtesy of Quirky.com. 

Questions, complaints, kudos? Email Dan Tynan at ModFamily1@yahoo.com.

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