Thursday, May 30, 2013

Please Pass The Mustard!

By Keith McDowell

It was a simple act. I inserted the plastic credit card with the magnetic strip purposely aligned on the top left into the card reader at my local Shell gas station pump and rapidly withdrew the card, certain that once again, I would be authorized after typing in my area code and punching credit. But alas, all I got was a message to see the attendant inside.

I tried again. Same message.

Not wishing to appear insanely stupid and knowing that my credit line was impeccable, I trudged inside muttering to myself about accidentally getting the small magnets on my clip-on sunglasses too close to the magnetic strip on my credit card. Scientists like me always have such a ready explanation for unexpected phenomena.

The busy attendant interrupted her processing of a line of paying customers, all of whom were giving me the evil eye, and informed me that I should change the speed at which I withdrew the card from the reader since that often was the problem. She was obviously processing me as a silly old man who had not joined the credit card generation.

Retreating sheepishly and somewhat embarrassed to the gas pump, I tried several more times while varying the speed of insertion and withdrawal. Same message each time. Frustrated beyond measure, I did the manly thing, got in my car, and drove off for a soothing meal at my local MacDonalds.

Like all great connoisseurs of burgerdom, I appreciate the fine distinctions between an old-fashioned ranch-style burger with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato and pickle versus the synthetic Big Mac with its secret sauce. And, of course, there is the Angus burger with plenty of onion and lots of strong, spicy mustard. Sadly, Texas doesn’t have those wonderful green chili burgers found in New Mexico.

I choose the Angus burger meal and reached into my pocket to extract the misbehaving credit card when what to my wandering eye should appear but the logo on said card. Too my horror and chagrin, it wasn’t the expected overlapping red and orange circles on my MasterCard, but the blue logo of my Randal’s grocery card. I was using the wrong card! How could I have missed the obvious?

Like any typical husband, I wanted to blame my wife for shuffling my wallet full of plastic cards, but this time I was stuck with my own malfeasance. The MasterCard was located where I always keep the grocery card. So much for force of habit!

But let’s be clear about this! Exactly how many cards do I have? Let’s see. There are two credit cards, a debit card, two grocery cards – one for Colorado, three hotel chain cards, a restaurant club card, two airline cards, one international SOS card, a passport information card, a AAA auto card, a bank card, three business association cards, two health cards, several government ID cards including a driver’s license, a couple of retailer cards, an REI membership card, several partially used Washington Metro cards, a compliance HOTLINE card, and a VIP entry card. Did I miss one?

Even in retirement, I clearly need one of those Lifestyle Lifts compliments of the TV commercials featuring Debbie Boone. The sag under my chin and all those wrinkles around my eyes were clearly caused by dealing with too much plastic and the embarrassment of choosing the wrong card.

But do we really have to deal with all that plastic in the modern electronic-IT age? Actually, NO! Believe it or not, you can now replace your plastic cards with a cellphone and some wireless technology. At Verizon, it’s called the ISIS Mobile Wallet. You pay by synching your cellphone at checkout and clicking away. Hopefully, the bill is achieved through RFID tagging of the products you want to purchase. While not widely available, it’s clearly the future. So much for that fistful of plastic!

Even better, you really don’t need to leave the comfort of your home to shop … and I’m not talking about the standard web surfing experience. Real shoppers want the feel of being there and the tactile experience. Enter the 3D graphical user interface attached to a virtual reality headset complete with electronic gloves and in the future, a sniffer to provide the olfactory dimension. So much for a static 2D computer screen!

Just image going to your favorite mall anywhere in the world and entering the store of your choice. The smell and the atmosphere will be there including the ability to reach out, touch, and pick up anything of interest to you. Can I still squeeze the bread loaf to check for freshness? Merchants will go out of their way to insure a quality virtual experience, coupled with the ability to purchase their products with ease and have them arrive quickly on your doorstep. You don’t believe me? Such simulated 3D tours already exist on the Internet.

But what about my craving for a Big Mac or an Angus burger? Surely that will not be satisfied by a virtual world? I’ll still have to get into my car, purchase gas with my mobile wallet, and head to my local MacDonalds. Not so fast! The Star Trek Food Replicator is here … or kind of here.

Let’s refresh our memory on the production of “food” as a generic item. In the olden days, pioneers stored up on salt, pepper, flour, cornmeal, sugar, molasses, vinegar, fiber from the garden, protein from animals and beans, potatoes, and so forth. They used these primitive ingredients to prepare “food.” The modern food replicator will do – and does – the same thing. Starting with containers of the basic ingredients, the proper proportions are injected into a preparation vessel and microwave cooked as appropriate.

And out pops a Big Mac. Or, at least, it will “taste” like a Big Mac. With experience, some measure of “texture” and “smell” will also be achieved. To future generations, it will become the “Big Mac” experience. If you don’t believe in multiple “Big Mac” experiences, order a Big Mac in South Korea and see what you get!

Yuk is all I have to say. I like my Big Mac and I want mustard on my Angus burger. And will I have to tip electronically the virtual waiter who responds to my voice command on the food replicator?

Just imagine the TV fare fifty years from now. You’ll be able to choose between the geek chef cooking competition for the best replicator recipe or a half-hour show entitled “Replicator Review” for those desiring haute replicator cuisine. Captain Kirk, what have you done to us?

So the next time you insert that plastic credit card into the gas pump, let’s hope you don’t get the message: “see attendant.” Who knows what will happen to you after that? Just don’t forget to ask for the mustard!

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