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Tomorrow is arriving fast

Some 150,000 people travelled to Las Vegas last week to get a glimpse of the future, said the LA Times. And according to the tech giants displaying their wares at the Consumer Electronics Show, it's a world in which more and more of our lives is outsourced to web-connected gadgets.

Picture the scene:

You arrive home from work. It's cold outside, but inside, it's bright and warm, because your phone has alerted your boiler and lighting system to your imminent arrival. You look in the fridge. You're running low on milk – but that's fine. The fridge has sent an alert to your online shopping list, and more milk will arrive in the morning. Later that evening, you have a date. Your calendar knows this, and summons your driverless car from where it parked itself the day before. That night, your bed notes that you're sleeping fitfully, so it directs your coffee machine to make you a strong brew for the morning. At the same time, a wristband spots that your blood pressure is high, and notifies your GP.

This is the "Internet of Things" (IoT) – and it's on its way, said Sophie Curtis in The Daily Telegraph. Owners of Google's Nest system can already turn on their heating remotely, and Samsung says that by 2020, every product it makes will be web-connected.

But this isn't just about gadgets for the home, said Jessica Bland in The Guardian. Councils might invest in bins that can send signals to waste trucks when they need emptying; manufacturers are increasingly using IoT to monitor their supply lines in real time, resulting in big efficiency savings.

That's all to the good, said John Arlidge in The Sunday Times – but what of the risks? Hackers recently hacked into a Wi-Fi baby monitor, and used it to scream obscenities at the baby. What if they hijacked a driverless car? And who will own – and store – the thousands of megabytes of data that we, our home and our car generate every day? Even if that data isn't stolen and exploited by criminal gangs, or misused by the state, it's sure to be sold. It's not hard to imagine a future, for instance, in which Google discovers that a couple sleeps in separate rooms, and starts bombarding them with advertisements for relationship counselling. "Like it or not, the whole world is becoming the web. Log on, if you want, but look before you click.


Customer complaints. Ooops!

"My sister found herself in an awkward conversation with her broadband services supplier to whom she was making a complaint. After a sticky exchange she finally interjected: 'If you don't mind me saying so, you aren't dealing with this complaint awfully well.' To which the woman on the other end replied: ’Actually, I've just been on a course on how to deal with difficult customers.'

When my sister gently suggested that her training hadn't been altogether successful, she replied: 'On the contrary, I got a distinction."'

Daniel Finkelstein in The Times

Warm hearths cause pollution

Diesel engines are always cited in the debate about urban pollution - but according to a new study, there is another culprit: wood-fired stoves. Researchers at King's College London have calculated that up to 13 % of urban pollution is caused by burning wood in stoves and on open fires. "Although the apparent carbon neutrality of wood-burning may make it appear environmentally friendly, there is growing evidence of adverse health effects,"  the scientists told The Sunday Times. "Even modest wood-burning in urban areas may lead to particulate exposures comparable to those from traffic sources."

iPads are not for bedtime reading

If you want a good night's sleep, don't take your iPad to bed. A study has found that people who read off a backlit screen in the evenings take longer to fall asleep than those who read from a book, and are less alert in the mornings, reports The Guardian. The research adds to previous studies which have concluded that the short-wavelength enriched "blue" light emitted by such devices suppresses (even more than other kinds of light) the produc­tion of melatonin - the hormone that controls the body's day-night patterns. For the research, at Harvard Medical School, 12 people were given either an iPad or a book to read for four hours for five consecutive nights. Those who had read from an iPad took ten minutes longer, on average, to get to sleep; they spent less time in REM sleep, and produced less melatonin. They were also significantly groggier in the mornings.

Hazardous homes

Home may feel like the safest place - but it's not. Improvements in road and workplace safety mean that more people are now killed and injured at home, or while pursuing leisure activities, than in car crashes and industrial accidents. "The reality is that you're more likely to die sorting out the Christmas lights than an electrician is on a building site," said Dr Cliff Mann of the College of Emergency Medicine. NHS figures show that 25,000 children a year attend A&E after being accidentally poisoned at home; 26,000 after being burned or scalded; and 4,200 after falling down stairs. Among adults, the most serious accidents often involve DIY. "The use of chainsaws and drills can lead to very severe injuries," said Dr Mann. "Falling off a ladder is another risk. Some people who do that die and some never work again."

An ‘interesting’ point of view

What's the best way to die? Given a choice, said Dominic Lawson in the Daily Mail, most of us would opt to peg out quickly with something like a heart attack. But according to Dr Richard Smith, the former editor of the British Medical Journal, this instinct is selfish. It doesn't take account of the devastating effect that sudden death can have on the deceased's loved ones. The best option, he claimed in a BMJ blog last week, is actually to die of cancer: the disease gives you time to "say goodbye, reflect on your life, leave last messages, perhaps visit special places for the last time". It is preferable to dementia (being "slowly erased") or organ failure, which involves an excessive amount of medical intervention.

Quick Quotes

"Some people drink from the fountain of knowledge, others just gargle."
US writer Robert Anthony,  quoted in USA Today

Anybody can become angry – that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody's power and is not easy."
Aristotle, quoted on

"To know how to say what others only know how to think is what makes men poets or sages; and to dare to say what others only dare to think makes men martyrs or reformers — or both."
British author Elizabeth Charles, quoted in the Associated Press

Statistics of the week

Britons ran up £1.25bn of new unsecured debt in November (2014), more than in any month since February 2008.
The Guardian

The proportion of single-child families in Britain grew from 42% in 2003 to 47% in 2013.
The Sunday Times

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