Freedom, Comfort and an Outhouse

My uncle (who’s approaching 80) once told me about growing up in a rural farm house without indoor plumbing. When he was a boy, the family’s toilet was an outhouse. He said he remembers his mom’s reaction upon hearing his dad’s plans to install a bathroom in the house. She was horrified and deeply offended. She said, “I will not live in a house where the outhouse is inside!” Worded like that, her argument makes perfect sense!

It’s funny how easily we adapt to life’s situations, except when it comes to modern technology. There, we maintain a level of frustration and dissatisfaction, searching for a balance between freedom and comfort.

Not that long ago, we all wanted a desktop computer at home. As soon as we had one, we felt overly confined to the desk. After all, we want freedom over comfort. Technology gave us laptops. Then we got wireless networks, which only revealed how short our laptop power cords were.

We turned to the freedom of smart phones and smarter phones, and tablets of all shapes and sizes. Our laptops seemed clunky by comparison, heavy with excessively large screens and out-dated keyboards. And that short cord.

Our complaints today center around the tiny displays and small keyboards on our mobile devices. So our screens get larger. Now they’re selling docking stations for mobile devices. Ah, comfort!

Once docked, our expensive tablet becomes little more than a screen, but with the mobile device immobilized and plugged into the wall outlet, we are able to type in comfort from the luxurious full-sized keyboard on our desk! After all, we want comfort over freedom.

If only they made a portable version of the mobile device docking station, maybe one that I could can use from the top of my lap. That would give me more freedom…

Some days I think if I removed these pesky contraptions from our home, we’d finally have real freedom and comfort. I’m sure somebody would build large mainframe versions and install them in corporations around the world, and I’d want a personal version of my own.

Last night, my wife, Alane, and I shared our frustrations with the poor battery performance of our gadgets. Perhaps this is the one common complaint in mobile computing: the dang pesky batteries that always need charging and recharging, and lose energy capacity as they age!

As an electrical engineer with two engineering degrees, I understand rechargeable battery design. I think. If you want to maximize the life of a rechargeable battery, put it only through full charge cycles. Charge it fully, use it until fully drained, then fully charge it again.

That’s how the battery is designed to perform, but but that’s not how we live. Our lifestyles won’t allow us to use rechargeable devices to the point of exhaustion, then wait until they are fully charged again before using them. Buying extra batteries and keeping them charged is out of the question.

This morning, I noticed a tweet by Twitter follower, @treehugger. We might be getting there with the 2012 release of this solar-powered case for the Kindle by It comes with a built-in solar panel and reserve battery that powers the reading light. Not only is it solar charged, but the Kindle’s battery is not drained by the light. I’m not endorsing the product. I’m just reporting my obversation… Unless, that is, they wish to sponsor the blog. Then I love love love it!

Now if I could only have a sun that shines after dark …

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