WILTSE: Build a better talking alarm clock

May 24, 2012


I was looking for a gift for a friend who has impaired vision. She is getting older and somewhat forgetful. She never realizes what time it is, hence misses appointments. I thought I would get her a talking alarm clock. A clock that is simple to use because she cannot read direction.

This is not the sort of thing that you run down to Meijer or even up to the mall to purchase. So what better place to find it than the Internet? After all, you can purchase almost anything there and receive it in a couple of days.

Well, we got it a few days after we sent for it, so I thought I would check it out to see if it was as simple to use as the advertisement said it was. It was not. I could not set the alarm. I read and reread the instructions (printed in extremely fine print and in pigeon English – not exactly conducive to the visually impaired) and it just did not behave the way the instructions said.

If I couldn’t set it, it would be impossible for the intended recipient. After a day or two, I finally came to the conclusion that it was defective and sent it back. The whole thing cost me 10 or 12 bucks in shipping charges and a whole lot of frustration – for which I received absolutely nothing.

We ended up getting one from the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Grand Rapids. One that is manufactured in England, I might add. This is the second or third time I have had a similar experience with the purchase of an object over the Internet.

I’m sick and tired of slap-dash engineering and shoddy manufacture of objects made in China with instructions written in very poor English. It’s clear that their only interest is in getting your money with a slam-bam, thank-you ma’am attitude.

If I were a whole lot younger, I might be tempted to manufacture such objects and put my name on them, together with my address, and guarantee them with the agreement that I would personally be responsible for its correct and efficient use. It seems to me that a young entrepreneur could make money with the manufacture of such an object and make money at it by selling it for about $50 or less (the actual cost of the above mentioned alarm clock). It turns out that we paid $51.25 for the clock manufactured in England, which our friend is extremely delighted in its ease of use.

It seems to me that the time is ripe for young entrepreneurs to make a lot of money by the manufacture of simple objects such as a talking alarm clock. Such an object seems complicated, but in fact is very simple for the engineering is well-known. A savvy high school kid should be able to do it within a year or so.

It seems to me that young people are wasting their time with trying to become another Zuckerberg and making billions with pipe dreams about forming another Facebook instead of concentrating on something simple such as another alarm clock, and thereby making a few thousand bucks instead of billions (I’d be satisfied with that).

I know I would gladly pay for such an object made in America, especially if someone puts her name on it and say that she is personally responsible for its correct function. It would be beneficial if the purchaser realizes where it is made and, more important, who made it. I know I would like to know that the thing is made by real live people.

Of course, I’m not only talking about alarm clocks. I can think of many more simple objects that need to be rethought out and manufactured efficiently and properly. More important I would like to know that these objects are made by responsible people.

It sounds kind of corny, but I’d like to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” But they won’t beat such a path if they don’t know where to find the door.

— By Ralph Wiltse, Tribune community columnist



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