County Editor Scott Yost is taking a well deserved break from column writing and will return next week. In the meantime, here is a classic Yost Column from 2007. 


The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. When you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters, the very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system, and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand most of these people are not ready to be unplugged, and many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it.         – Morpheus in The Matrix


I was at the pool the other day and I was thinking about what a great invention pools were, and about how the guy who came up with pools had really outdone himself and had made a big contribution to society.

I tried to find out who was responsible so I could give him – OK, or her– credit, but the first pool they can find was about 3,000 years ago, so we don’t know who to thank for it.

Anyway, that got me thinking about other great inventions, and that got me thinking about what were the greatest and worst inventions of all time.

I went back and forth on what was the best invention of all time because there are so many things you can argue for.

But, even though I couldn’t decide on the best invention ever, there was absolutely no question whatsoever as to what was the all-out worst invention of all time.

Now, as far as fantastically wonderful inventions go – ones that their inventors should be proud of because those inventions have dramatically improved everyone’s lives for the better – I could go on and on, because you’ve got things like s’mores, cheerleaders, the DVR including rewinding live TV when you didn’t hear what they said; you’ve also got the Macintosh computer, the iPhone and, come to think of it, anything Apple’s ever come up with except for OS 9.

Then there are things that some other people are always pushing as the best invention ever – things that are fine, but that, if you ask me, are way overrated – like, for instance, sliced bread. I mean, how sliced bread even ended up with a dark horse in that fight you got me.

So, it’s a tough call and there’s a lot of disagreement, but despite the controversy it seems to me that the prize for the absolute best invention comes down to a tie between the remote control and the penguin cam.

Though even I go back and forth on that, and if you caught me at the right time of the day or night respectively, I might say it’s a tie between pools, cheerleaders, remote controls and penguin cams.

Oh, and red wine.

Because those things have all really done their part to make the world a much better place.

Now, as for the worst invention of all time – well, I think that’s crystal clear.

I admit there are a lot of candidates in that category too. You have neckties, for instance. And Chia Pets, car alarms, customer service outsourcing to who knows where; Clippy – the Microsoft Office animated paperclip dude that pops up on your computer screen at the worst times giving you irrelevant advice you didn’t need, want or ask for, and annoying you while you’re trying to write; and, come to think of it, anything Microsoft has ever given us qualifies except for Microsoft Word for the Mac. (Though, on second thought, “invention” entails some sort of originality, so I guess that knocks Microsoft out of the category entirely.)

And then there are some candidates for that title that I think are just crazy. For instance, in a recent BBC poll that asked people the worst invention of all time, the cell phone came in second, just behind weapons. But those things actually serve a purpose: Weapons can protect you and destroy your enemy, and sometimes cell phones mean you can get in touch with a cheerleader when otherwise you couldn’t.

I mean, I admit there’s a case to be made for things like red-light cameras, the DMV, the inside-the-shower towel rack (uh, hello?) – speaking of showers, the single-knob shower valve that’s supposed to handle both high-pressure and low pressure and hot water and cold water, all with one knob. I mean, I’m not a shower maker or anything, but that’s a lot to ask of one knob, don’t you think.

So, there’s a lot to choose from, but I still feel remarkably safe when I say that we can all agree on the absolute worst invention of all time. And, when I say “worst,” I don’t mean stupid or dysfunctional, like, say, pet massages or the solar-powered flashlight.

No, when I say “worst” I mean truly evil inventions – in this case, pure, unadulterated evil.

And what kills me is that the worst, most evil invention in the history of mankind is, if you think about it, nothing but simply the combination of two perfectly good things into one thing. I mean, that’s just crazy if you think about it. The man who came up with the invention said later that the actual construction of the device was easy – the real challenge, he said, was coming up with the idea to combine the two things into one.

Just so you know a little history, the device was invented in 1787 by evil genius Levi Hutchins. Almost two centuries later, in 1956, the device was, remarkably, made even more evil by a team of mad scientists working in the back lab for General Electric.

And, just when you thought it couldn’t get any more evil– because that team of scientists had done a pretty thorough job – well, just two years ago another team of evil scientists in some backroom somewhere said, “Eureka – amazingly, we’ve just come up with a way to make it even more evil.”

But it all goes back to Hutchins. When you think about Hutchins, you just have to wonder what he was thinking. Here’s the crazy thing, the thing I really don’t get: Hutchins never made a dime off of his creation from hell.

To me that makes him all the more despicable. I mean, if I had come up with the idea, and said to myself, “Hey, you know what? I could really make a mint off of this.” Well, I would still follow that with, “Yeah, I could make a mint if I were an evil man who didn’t care about the world – too bad I’m not an evil man.”

But no matter how much money I thought I could make, I still wouldn’t do it because, you know, who wants to go down in the history books as the guy who created the most evil device of all time.

So, to do it for no profit?

If it were me and I had started working on the idea, well, when I came to my senses, I would have destroyed any prototypes, burned my notes and never mentioned word one about it to anyone else ever again as long as I lived.

I mean, just think about how much better the world would be if, 220 years ago, Hutchins, a clockmaker in Concord, New Hampshire, had never said to himself, hey, you know what – what if you combined a clock with an alarm that makes a really loud and repetitive noise.

You know how they say that if an alien came down and didn’t know any better it would think that we work for the dogs and not the other way around because we serve them food and then follow around behind them picking up their feces – well, if an alien came down and didn’t know anything about the alarm clock, then I guarantee you the alien would think it was a torture device – which, by the way, is exactly how I categorize it.

In 1956, scientists at GE came up with the “snooze” button and GE somehow managed to market that as an “improvement.” The worlds first snooze button kept the alarm at bay for nine minutes.

Why nine minutes? Well, GE’s official explanation has to do with marketing the device to the pubic and considerations about electronic circuitry at the time – and if you believe their explanation then I want to see if you’ll sell me the Brooklyn Bridge.

The real reason behind nine minutes for a snooze button is this: because the snooze button is the perfection of the torture device. You’re sleeping soundly, nice and warm tucked away in your bed, and then suddenly, out of nowhere – WEN! WEN! WEN! WEN! – and you jump up all panicked and disoriented and you’re like “What the …?” and then you hit the button that makes it stop and you settle back down into a nice, peaceful, tranquil state; you curl back up in your warm bed and go, now that’s more like it; that’s when I’m talking – WEN! WEN! WEN! WEN!

GE’s not fooling anybody. It’s nine minutes because that’s just long enough for you to fall back into a state of harmony and just short enough to jolt you out of it before you get any real rest or satisfaction.

Really, think how much better life would be if Hutchins had never come up with the idea for his torture device. How great would the world be if the evil genius had never brought his spawn of hell into the world.

Think about it. If he had never invented the alarm clock, and you showed up late for work one day – well, so what?

You could walk in to the office at noon like you were an editor or something, and your boss might say, all PO’d, “Johnson, the workday starts at 8:30 last time I checked!”

And you could go, nonchalantly: “Oh yeah, I know. I overslept.”

Then your boss might say, “You overslept? Till noon?”

And you could just look at them and go, “Yeah, can you believe that? It’s just crazy, huh?”

So what’s he going to say because, you know, you overslept. I mean, what are you going to do about it – invent some sort of crazy, evil device that makes a loud, blaring noise in the morning?

For a minute, let go of all your preconceptions and of all the things that the man wants yo to accept, and instead try to think objectively for a minute and realize what the alarm clock really is. When all that’s stripped away, here’s what you’re left with: The alarm clock is a machine that makes a loud, incessant, irritating noise in the morning while you’re trying to sleep.

That says it all. I’m sorry – that’s just evil no matter what kind of spin they try to put on it.

So I don’t use one and I encourage you to get rid of yours.

Everyone has some homework for this week: You need to take the Yost Bedroom Torture Device Removal Challenge. It’s simple and I promise you’ll be glad you did.

Here is it: Get rid of your alarm clock for a week, wake up when you want, and see if, at the end of the week, you don’t feel better, more rested, more relaxed, and just, well … a lot cheerier.

Trust me, the alarm clock is pure insanity; it’s one of those Matrix things that, if everyone weren’t so used to, and accepting of them, everyone would just wake up and see them for what they are – though wake up is probably not a good analogy to use right there.

Keep in mind that it’s only over the last 50 years that these devices spread like the plague. For all the centuries and centuries before that, the world got along quite swimmingly without alarm clocks thank you very much.

So here’s my “crazy,” “far out,” “radical” theory: When you’ve had enough rest, your body will wake up on its own. It’s not rocket science. Your body needs rest and, when it is fully rested, then it’s time to get up.

And I think that if people just got up when they woke up naturally the whole world would be a lot better off. I live by that rule, and I think that’s probably one key factor why I’m usually in a good mood and everyone else seems so irritable all the time.

If you still don’t believe it’s an insane device, just look at the latest “improvement” that the evil scientists made two years ago: They came up with “Clocky” – a durable alarm clock on wheels that, as soon as it starts blaring, rolls off your night stand and onto the floor, where it speeds around the room – WEN! WEN! WEN! WEN! – so that not only do you have to get out of bed to stop it, you have to chase it too.

Anyone can see that’s not right.

And, recently, I read about a new flying alarm clock that looks something like a kid’s remote control helicopter. The alarm goes off and then, blaring loudly, the closk is airborne, so good luck with that.

I rest my case. It’s all madness – madness I tell you.