Friday, June 15, 2007

Water warnings and phone bugs

A few years ago, when I slipped on the wet slopes of Gamone and broke my leg (while carrying my midget billy-goat Gavroche to the sheep shed, to shelter him from the rain), I had to crawl back up to the house on my hands and knees. Once there, I was able to phone for help. Since then, the portable phone has become a reality, even in such a remote place as Choranche, and I try to remember to carry it with me whenever I leave the house.

People concerned by seniors who lead a solitary existence, even in urban environments, can find it difficult at times to know whether a mishap (accident or health crisis) might have occurred. In my own case, people have often found it difficult to contact me by telephone. When it's sunny here at Gamone, for example, and I'm fiddling around outside the house, I simply don't here the phone ringing. If I then leave the house to do some shopping in Valence, the duration of my telephonic absence builds up rapidly, and people are soon ready to imagine that there might be a problem.

Yesterday, the French TV news presented an ingenious solution to the challenge of being constantly reassured that such and such a senior is OK. The idea consists of attaching an intelligent electronic alert system to the water meter of the person in question. Normally, if he/she uses water several times a day [shower, WC, dish-washer, etc], everything's OK. But, if the system were to detect that the person has not used any water whatsoever for a significant period of time, this would trigger an alert signal, to be transmitted to local agents concerned with the welfare of seniors. I find this an ingenious idea, even though it wouldn't work in the case of an unfortunate individual who slipped while under the shower and suffered a knockout blow to the head.

I've been thinking about a computerized project in this field, which would be feasible using Apple's iPhone, provided that ordinary people like me will indeed be able to develop software for this gadget, as Apple chief Steve Jobs has just promised. My idea is simple. I program my iPhone to call me several times a day. If, for any reason whatsoever, I do not react to such a standard call [by responding with some kind of an OK message], my iPhone will be programmed to send out standard alert calls to various relatives, friends or neighbors, saying: "William is not responding to his guardian angel's phone call. It might be a good idea, if possible, to check that everything's OK."

Steve Jobs has often pointed out that a basic risk, in allowing independent developers to create software for the iPhone, is the possibility that their stuff might contain bugs. I agree entirely. I can easily imagine that my guardian angel approach could start to behave crazily, because of a fault in my iPhone programming, and start phoning up all my relatives, friends and neighbors, and scaring shit out of them when there's nothing really the matter with me.

To be fair, we must admit that the same kind of situation could arise with the water-meter approach. Imagine, for example, on a hot summer's day, that I forget to have a shower, that I drink beer instead of tap water, and that I decide to have a late-evening leak outside in the moonlight, instead of urinating like a serious citizen in my WC and pulling the chain that informs everybody that I'm still alive and kicking [well, at least, pissing]. In the middle of the night, a red fire engine might arrive at Gamone with its siren blaring, and a diligent fireman might wake me up and inform me: "William, everybody was terribly worried because you haven't consumed a drop of water all day." Naturally, if this kind of situation arose too often, I would of course get around to leaving a tap dripping permanently, to avoid getting woken up in the night by firemen. But there's an obvious flaw in that "solution". I'll have to do some more intense creative thinking.


  1. Ha-ha! Great story!
    I was in a bad mood this morning - I have to fight with French administration...
    I feel much better since I read your post.
    Thank you!

  2. If my blog is indeed capable of boosting your morale in the context of dealing with the French administration, this pleases me immensely. Talking of the French administration, I was reassured to receive a letter from the Grenoble préfecture, a few days ago, informing me that my naturalization application is now being handled by the appropriate authorities. Curiously, this letter named a ministry that no longer exists since the election of Sarkozy, but I'm hoping that my application has nevertheless found its way into the hands of a competent fonctionnaire. More funnily still, this letter from the Grenoble préfecture was addressed to me at 38630 Chorange rather than 38680 Choranche. Those are trivial errors, of course, but they make me wonder whether the République is really "with it" at a communications level.