Thursday, 20 January 2011

How things work

How things work (in the manner of Stephen Fry)

Part 1: The Pedometer
The pedometer is one of the most lovely inventions of our age. The old-fashioned and wasteful GPS has been utterly replaced in outdoor pursuits and other arenas of most marvellous human activity by peachy pedometers. Not only are they the pinnacle of human endeavour, but they also require virtually no battery power, running off something as simple as a watch battery for a positive eternity of years.

So how do they work? (Oh, I love sounding like that all-round good egg Robert Llewelwyn.) To push a metaphor a pinch too far, a bunch of the best boffiny scientists the world could find got together for a hush-hush chinwag in Budapest. Their mission: to develop a positional and velocity-determining unit that would not need any of those expensive, messy and dreadfully inconvenient satellites.

Take a close look at any of these pretty little bundles. You may notice a little indent looking remarkably like a hole; perhaps it is even disguised with a little screw. Well, my bundles of unperpetuated joy, that is really the disguised black-glass bifurcated lens of a laser. The laser beams down to a foot; generally the left. The signal splits into two; one part of which bounces back to the hole. The other half bounces over to the right foot and back up to the unit. Using some of the infinite marvels of what I like to call mathematics, the timing between the return of the two signals can be used to generate the distance and angle between the two pedestrianising items. These figures allows the unit to keep track of your position and the distance walked. (*)

Yet there is more: the technology developed by the virtuoso scientists have found far more wonderful uses. Blu-ray players use a derated version of the laser used in the pedometers. The swarthy lasers are used in all cars, the data being transmitted by the imponderable wonders of wireless to speed cameras. And that stupendously fabulous sat-nav in your car? The antique GPS technology is so expensive that manufacturers use the exotic pedometer technology instead. And that is why there are so many of the aforementioned speed cameras scattered around out lascivious leafy lanes and curvy cul-de-sacs - they transmit signals to the GPS units to give the units up-to-date positions.

As usual with technology, there is a price. The electrons and magic that whiz around within a pedometer are as fragile as a Peking Poodle; just a smidgen too much aggressiveness and they will break. If you hear even a decibel of rattle then it is broken and will not grant you the accurate illumination that you doubtless so richly deserve.

But, my friends, the more astute amongst you may have noted that you can only access speed and distance on your consumer-grade body-hugging units. That is because a cabal of governments have agreed to remove the position-determining from the units that you, or even I, dear reader, can spend out hard-earned coinage on. That is why a bunch of equally-Einsteinian engineers have been developing an app - Fryshbull - for the stupendous iPhone. I recommend that you download it soon; we're going IPO soon and I need the libidinous notes to fill my mattress (oh bother, I shouldn't have mentioned that, what's the delete gesture on this damned thing)...

(*) I actually used this explanation on one of my friends at university. He utterly believed it.

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