Over the Hill Gang

Posted inID Mag

The annual consumer electronics show in Las Vegas always happens to fall right before my birthday. This year, it was to be my 43rd, which is approximately six months past the extended bonus deadline for breaking down and admitting one has entered middle age. In my desperation to scrape off the first bitter frost of mortality, I walked the chaotic halls of the convention center looking, for the first time, for technological salvation: products to help me and my over-the-hill brethren persevere, whether through denial or damage control.

Solutions for Corporeal Decay

As I’ve aged my feet have gotten flatter, making long-distance treks feel like fire walks (and I’m no Tony Robbins). So before CES, whose bounty of riches spans the length of eight football fields, I visited an orthopedist for custom orthotic inserts. The fiberglass, leather-topped wonders arrived just in time to save me from certain death, or at least total arch collapse.

Though I haven’t graduated to Coke-bottle glasses yet, thank God, I am beginning to have trouble reading prix fixe menus in dark supper clubs and cast bios in Playbill, with their nano-sized typefaces. To my rescue is the new iBeam McK watch, an accessory that would make Q proud. Push one button and a 2x magnifying lens springs open perpendicular to the face; push a second button to trigger a bright white LED flashlight. Without taking iBeam off my wrist, I can now find out how many Law & Order episodes helped my favorite stage actor pay the bills between gigs (ibeamtime.com; $395). But using the watch to operate my Treo smart phone—with its 43 diminutive buttons—would be overkill, so I’m looking into Samsung’s Jitterbug phone, the simplest, cleanest-looking clamshell I’ve seen. The keys are large, rounded, and backlit; the numbers on the screen are extra large for my presbyopic eyes; and the extra-loud speaker is hearing aid compatible. The only trick, given that the phone is named after a dance that was obsolete by the time I was born, is coming to terms with the fact that I’d be using a gadget suitable for those who can still remember the steps (myjitterbug.com; $149).

When I was a child, my vision of middle age involved a business suit, a briefcase, possibly a pipe; adjusted for 35 years of progress, the pipe might be replaced with some kind of vaguely obnoxious Bluetooth headset. Having recently been diagnosed with mild hearing loss, making it hard for me to distinguish voices and sounds from background noise, I decided it was time to give in to the cliché. For trade shows, restaurants, and airports, I would seek out a headset to improve cell phone audibility without making me look like your average suit, or like any more of a dork than I already am. The lightweight Aliph Jawbone noise-canceling headset designed by Yves Béhar (jawbone.com; $119) floats on your ear with its operating buttons hidden under a gorgeous perforated metal grille. It filters out background sound while clarifying voice frequencies and charges with a USB cable. The look recalls John Barry’s production design for The Empire Strikes Back; wearing one makes you feel less like a Wall Streeter than like Lando Calrissian’s Lobot.

People complain that my snoring, like that of generations of Riellys before me, could wake the dead. I recently went for a polysomnogram, a $1,200 test covered by most insurance policies. A sleep specialist measures heart rate, breathing, and oxygen saturation over one full night’s sleep; mine was filled with 337 apneas, when my breathing totally stopped due to my airway collapsing. Untreated, sleep apnea can cause early death, but divorce is a likelier side effect. The solution: a GoodKnight 420s CPAP machine from Puritan-Bennett (puritanbennett.com; by prescription), where CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. A motor continuously pumps heated, humidified air down your throat so it can’t close, much as running water keeps a flat hose from collapsing. I call it my Darth Vader mask. Charming.

Fighting Back and Taking Care

I don’t mean to blow all this out of proportion. Forty-three is, after all, still quite young, and entropy is not inevitable. Proper diet and exercise can knock years off your “biological age,” a theoretical number you can determine by taking the RealAge test (realage.com; free). Just try not to lie about all the cigarettes you’ve been sneaking in the basement while the kids are at school.

A more palpable test of relative health—and my CES favorite—was the Accufat subcutaneous fat analyzer from Korean CES debutante Planet 82 (planet82.com; price TBA). It uses near-infrared technology to measure your body fat percentage, a statistic that many gay men post in their personal ads on Jockbod.com (“6.2% here, don’t date anyone over 11%”) but that any middle-aged couch potato could use to shock himself out of complacency. In my case, that’s meant more walking and bicycling, a task made much easier with the release of the pocket-sized Mio DigiWalkerT H610 (miogps.com; $499). At under 4 ounces and smaller than 2.5×3.5″, this is one of the best options in the new category of tiny personal GPS devices. Along with the usual music and media capabilities, clocks, and currency converters, you’ll find maps and turn-by-turn directions in 16 languages to help you navigate that rough suburban terrain. The only thing it won’t tell you is the weather—leave that to the Ambient Devices Forecasting Umbrella, whose handle tunes in to Accuweather in your area and starts blinking blue when precipitation is on the way and you should maybe stay home and watch football instead (ambientdevices.com; $125, available this summer).

Mental age is an altogether more difficult beast. Though some would argue that the male brain never progresses past the level of a 15-year-old, both sexes can benefit from Brain Fitness, an online mental calisthenics program from POSIT Science (positscience.com; $395). It’s meant to improve cognitive function in folks in their sixties, but younger boomers can keep gray matter at the top of its game by practicing Brain Fitness exercises with somewhat juvenile names like “Match It!” or “Listen and Do.” The full program consists of 40 one-hour sessions on the computer over eight weeks. Decidedly less harrowing than Alex’s aversion therapy in A Clockwork Orange, Posit Science claims Brain Fitness can improve memory and processing speed by up to 10 years.

Retail Therapy for Midlife Crises

Whether or not I’m right in assuming that today’s midlife crisis is less an existential crossroads than an excuse to spend money on ourselves without feeling guilty, at least we can all agree on one thing: Porsches are so last century. If and when I get the urge, I plan to spring for something less overtly pathetic. CES offered guys like me a bounty of options.

Need the perfect passive-aggressive way to declare your independence at home? Buy the voice-activated ROBO chair from Family Inada (inada-chair.com; $5,000 – $7,500), a hulking black aesthetic nightmare of a shiatsu massager that’s sure to put a strain on your interior decorator’s vision and your wife’s patience. Just tell it what you want and it works miracles on your back, neck, arms, and legs like a tireless masseuse.

The sinuous Tesla Roadster zero-emissions electric sports car (teslamotors.com; $100,000) can do zero to 60 in about 4 seconds and drive up to 250 miles on a single charge. If you want one, though, you’ll have to get in line behind most of Hollywood and the Silicon Valley: Thanks to An Inconvenient Truth, the it-car for sensitive types—or insensitive types masquerading as such to score chicks—has a yearlong waiting list.

CES has pretty much become a yearly pissing contest among television companies fighting for flat-screen supremacy. This year’s nearly 8-foot-tall Sharp Aquos 108″ LCD television (sharpusa.com; price TBA) trumped last year’s champion, the Panasonic 103″ plasma, which billionaire Mark Cuban pu
rchased for $70,000. The only problem with the fabulous 1920×1080 120 MHz smooth-scanning, full-HD wonder is that you may have to saw open a wall to get it in your house. Yes, I am an HDTV size queen.

With all these indulgences at my fingertips, it’s easy to forget that the universe doesn’t revolve around me. So maybe the wisest splurge would be a telescope mounted on Software Bisque’s Paramount ME robotic telescope platform (bisque.com; $12,000 including software, or with a luxury scope, up to $25,000), a 68-pound robot that moves with insane precision to help me gaze out into the cosmos and contemplate my small part in it. What’s truly amazing is that telescopes mounted on Paramount platforms become internet controllable and viewable, so when you’re done pondering the meaning of life (and how much shorter it’s getting every time you hit another birthday), you can indulge in the ultimate mogul social networking: “Do you mind if I pop onto the scope at your vacation house in Hawaii? You’re welcome to use mine in Papua New Guinea.”

Tom Rielly is a humorist and partnership director at TED Conferences (ted.com). Reach him at tom@ted.com.

Photo: Mark Weiss