Programmed cellular relief - Embedded.com

Programmed cellular relief

Some jerk sits down next to you, pulls out a cell phone, and begins yacking at the top of his lungs. You'd like to kill him. But isn't there a better way?

Can good engineering defeat bad behavior? Specifically: can something be done about people who use cell phones annoyingly?

The problem is familiar. You enter a caf, get a coffee, and take a sip. Then some jerk sits down next to you, pulls out a cell phone, punches some buttons, and begins yacking at the top of his lungs. You'd like to kill him. But isn't there a better way to solve the problem? There is.

A product called “Apoptosis” may be just what you need. The word apoptosis comes from biology. It means “programmed cell death” (biologists have found that many cells are “programmed” by their DNA to die after some particular span of life). Apoptosis the product is a new piece of hardware from WormWare Productions. Apoptosis costs $4.95 and is available exclusively from Staples office supply stores.

What is so wonderful about Apoptosis? Simply this: it disconnects any cell phone call within earshot of you. Apoptosis has an effective range of fifteen feet—wide enough to get the job done, tight enough that it won't disrupt the phone connections of innocent neighbors.

Apoptosis is small and inconspicuous. It fits on a key chain. It looks like a worry bead. When someone nearby starts to gab, gab, gab on a cell phone, you just adopt an innocent facial expression, squeeze your little “worry bead,” and instantly see your wish come true: the jerk's cell phone connection dies. It's like rubbing a tiny magic lamp.

Devotees, of which there are many, sometimes call this a “Blackberry tamer.” Indeed, many Blackberry owners carry one with them to use on undisciplined fellow Blackberrians.

True, this product is the subject of various lawsuits, but they haven't gone anywhere. Telecommunications companies dislike the customer complaints (about dropped calls) that Apoptosis causes. Yet nearly all of these companies are investors–happy investors–in Wormware Productions.

Just as apoptosis the biological process occurs in myriad creatures, Apoptosis the electronic device will soon be found in manufactured goods of many kinds. Last month, Wormware Productions began licensing Apoptosis-on-a chip, under the brand name PhoneScrew.

Look for it to appear in some surprising items. One of the first is a toy, of sorts, called Brickster. Brickster is a PhoneScrew chip encased in a clay brick. If you come within throwing distance of someone who's yelling into a cell phone, you throw the brick at him. Even if your aim is bad, the device still cuts off the phone call.

What's our final verdict on Apoptosis? Thumbs up, bigtime. This is the rare case of something that benefits the common man, the public good, and your stock portfolio. All for $4.95. Such a deal. And so satisfying–your neighbor's irritating conversations will end never with a bang, but always with a whimper.

Editor's note:You can see Mark Abrahams in person this month at the Embedded Systems Conference in Boston. He'll deliver the keynote on September 26 at 11a.m. For more information go to www.embedded.com/esc/boston/events#keynotes.

Marc Abrahams is the editor and cofounder of the Annals of Improbable Research (www.improbable.com), creator of the Ig Noble Prize ceremony, and author of several books. He has a degree in applied mathematics from Harvard and has developed optical character recognition computer systems, simulators, and educational software. Marc insists that the material in this column is “probably fictional.” He can be reached at

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