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11 Future Features of Public Toilets

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When you gotta go, you gotta go—whether you're on a road trip, or trying to navigate midtown foot traffic during your lunch break. But even if you manage to locate a public toilet (good luck with that!), you'll probably find yourself holding your breath in dreadful anticipation of the grimy, if not downright stinky, atmosphere to come. The good news: These kinds of gross public restroom experiences are quickly falling by the wayside. In the future, expect cleaner, safer, easier-to-maintain W.C.s that feature cutting-edge design—and maybe even some entertainment.

1. PEE- AND GRAFFITI-PROOF WALLS

It's a familiar sight, especially on weekend nights out: drunken dudes who can't be bothered to locate a toilet, and instead use city walls as their own private restrooms. As a solution, the city of San Francisco (taking its cue from Hamburg, Germany) is coating its walls with a liquid-repelling paint that makes urine splash back onto the public urinator. Of course, this could also be applied to public restrooms to encourage men to, ahem, hit their marks and not create an undue mess.

Atlanta's Lindbergh Center Station has also decided to prioritize cleanliness above all else by providing fully-automated restrooms with graffiti-resistant, nonstick walls, a hands-free hand-washing and drying station, and metered dispensers to help control how much toilet paper you use at once.

2. STATE-OF-THE-ART TECHNOLOGY, CONVENIENCE …

There's nothing worse than waiting for a public bathroom stall, only to find that the toilet is clogged. As a remedy to this, some toilets in Beijing boast turbo-strength flush, whose pressure-based power provides almost twice as much flow rate—in less than half the time—as a traditional gravity-fed toilet flush. As if having to empty your bladder wasn't urgent reason enough, you might also find yourself ducking into such a public toilet for its all-in-one ultra-convenient amenities, which include chargers for your cell phone and electric car, recycling bins for paper and plastic, and an A.T.M.

3. … AND ENTERTAINMENT

We're living in such an entertainment-saturated era, it should come as no surprise that bathroom entertainment is the next frontier. The Beijing restrooms mentioned above also feature free Wi-Fi and stalls equipped with personal flat-screen TVs to prevent boredom from setting in after you take a seat. If you're one of those people who prefer a more analog experience, you can still enjoy the soothing cello soundtrack playing in the background.

4. CUTTING-EDGE ARCHITECTURE

Is it too much to expect your toilet to sport a more appealing design than your average store, restaurant, nightclub, or home? We don't think so. Forget those bland concrete boxes that once ruled the public realm. Instead, expect your bathroom-going experience to receive an injection of the fantastical, from Studio Pacific's Kumutoto units in New Zealand—which resemble giant, armored caterpillars—to Miro Rivera's Trail restroom in Austin, Texas, which serves as both loo and landscape sculpture.

5. SELF-CLEANING

Maintaining the cleanliness of a public toilet has always been an unpleasant, labor-intense experience—until now. Boeing is developing a self-cleaning bathroom prototype for its airplanes, featuring touchless fixtures and a sterilizing UV light that kills 99.9 percent of germs. On the ground, there are four such automatic self-cleaning public restrooms already installed in NYC (and, according to a March report, about a dozen more sitting unused in a remote warehouse in Maspeth, Queens). 

6. GENDER-NEUTRAL SIGNAGE

It looks like we're saying goodbye to the old binary bathroom icons. Many universities and private institutions have chosen to swap the man in pants and woman in a dress for more inclusive signs. MyDoorSign has said it will donate signs sporting its all-gender icons to interested college campuses.  

7. RECYCLING AND SUSTAINABILITY

Blue port-a-potties are so passé. Particularly useful at festivals and outdoors sports events, French practice's uritonnoir, slotted into hay bales, is a green innovation that cleverly turns your pee into compost. The combo of the carbon in the straw and the nitrogen in your urine creates human manure that can be used to grow plants and veggies.

8. LIGHT-UP MAPS

There always seems to be a line for the women's restroom. At one metro station in Taipei, Taiwan, women restroom goers can now read a real-time color-coded light-up bathroom map that shows which cubicles are occupied as well which are not available or require assistance. Finally.

9. LUXURY MEMBERSHIP

Ever been afraid of not locating an NYC public toilet in time? Thankfully, there's an app for that. If you're still too terrified to brave a random public toilet in the Big Apple, the start-up POSH City Club allows you to poo in private if you purchase a day pass, which, according to their website, costs the same as a sandwich ("the price it sometimes costs to use a restroom in a pinch"). POSH offers a spa-like restroom experience, located around popular transport hubs and city attractions like Grand Central and Central Park. Manned by full-time attendants to ensure you “safety and privacy”—as well as the guarantee of a sanitized toilet seat—members are also treated to "individual, soundproof rooms with luxury showers" as well as reprogrammable digital lockers where they can store luggage and shopping bags.

10. OFF-THE-GRID

A potential solution for developing countries lacking sewage infrastructure, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Nano Membrane Toilet is an off-the-grid, no-flush toilet that recycles human waste without connections to water, electricity, or sewers. Separated solid waste is collected weekly and transported to a near-by gasifier, which turns it into fertilizer that can be sold to provide additional income, while the resulting water can be used for cleaning, irrigation, and even human consumption. As of February, the first of the Nano Membranes was being tested in Ghana.

11. UPLIFTING

Considering that the typical elevator ride lasts mere seconds, a Japanese proposal to equip all elevators with plumbing and running water may not seem like a necessity. That is, until you take into account Japan's tendency to pack lots of very tall buildings into populous, earthquake-prone cities. After one 2015 quake near Tokyo, it took rescuers more than an hour to assist the people stuck in 14 elevators across the region. Far from being frivolous, this measure could end up having a big impact on public health and safety.

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Love Gordon Ramsay's Sick Kitchen Burns? Try His Insult-Loving Alexa App
Stephane De Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images
Stephane De Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images

You can now invite Gordan Ramsay into your kitchen to evaluate your cooking. Or his voice, at least. Amazon Alexa’s new Gordon Ramsay skill features audio critiques from the notoriously foul-mouthed celebrity chef.

The interactive app was developed by the audio company Ground Control, which also produces podcasts like the former vice president’s news show, Biden’s Briefing, and various other Amazon Alexa skills.

For better or for worse, the Gordon Ramsay skill’s canned audio doesn’t actually require you to cook anything, as I found out when I decided to try it out on my own device at home. I was too busy (read: lazy) to actually whip up a dish, and decided to fool good ol’ Gordon instead.

“Alexa, ask Gordon Ramsay what he thinks of my lasagna,” I shout from my couch, take-out curry in my hands.

“The stench of your cooking violates the Clean Act,” he tells me. Rude! At one point, he calls me a doughnut. Somehow, this isn't a compliment. “I’ve seen better food in my dog’s food bowl,” he complains.

I try to take a different tack. “Alexa, ask Gordon Ramsay what I should cook for dinner.” Unfortunately, the chef has no suggestions—he only provides insults, not ideas. You have to ask something in the vein of “Critique my beef bourguignon,” or “Are my cookies bad?” (The answer is always yes, and probably will be bleeped.)

The virtual Ramsay will also get impatient if you don’t tell him to stop or ask him to judge another dish. “Wakey wakey,” he chides me when I don’t respond to his last sick burn. "Give me a f***ing question!" he yells at another point. If you want him to go away, you’ll have to speak up. “Stop!” I finally protest. Alexa asks me if I’d like to share my experience with my friends. No thank you!

“Try again tomorrow,” Ramsay signs off. “Hopefully by then, you’ll have learned how to cook.” Somehow, I doubt he'll like my lasagna any more than he does now.

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Ready to Cut the Cord? 12 Cost-Saving Alternatives to Cable
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By now, you’ve likely heard about how much less expensive it is to forgo your cable package and fulfill your television needs with streaming services—heck, your friend/neighbor/cousin/chatty coworker has been droning on about it for months. You’re finally ready to take the plunge; but where do you start?

First, make sure your router is up to the task: Don’t invest time and money in setting up new subscriptions and gadgets only to wind up with buffering video. Look for routers with dual-band connectivity; Netflix recommends a download speed of at least 5 Mbps (Megabits per second) for HD quality video, and over 25 Mpbs for Ultra HD. Then, substitute your cable or satellite provider for one or a combination of these 12 options.

1. THE BIG THREE

Often referred to as “The Big Three,” Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime are considered the cream of the crop in online streaming because they offer outstanding original programming in addition to large catalogs of existing shows and movies. Subscriptions to all three can be fairly reasonable, with Amazon Prime starting at $99 a year or $12.99 per month. Netflix's standard plan goes for $10.99 a month now, while Hulu will set you back $7.99 a month with limited commercials, or an extra $4 per month with no ads.

2. FLAT ANTENNAS

Since 2009, television stations have been required to broadcast exclusively in digital, rendering old-fashioned “rabbit ears” obsolete. Now, you can watch live shows on networks like NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, PBS, The CW, and others by installing a flat antenna in your home. Models by Mohu (starting at $17.99) and Channel Master ($19) are affordable and easy to install.

3. OVER-THE-AIR DVR

The one drawback to relying on a flat antenna is that you must watch your shows in real time, with no fast-forwarding, pausing, or rewinding. Solve this issue with an over-the-air (OTA) DVR. Services like Tablo or Plex DVR allow you to record live TV shows and then store them on an external hard drive for delayed streaming. (The catch is, some of these services require you to purchase a corresponding device—they won’t work with just any antenna.)

4. TV STREAMING SERVICES

Want more TV channels than are available through your antenna? For $20 a month, you can subscribe to Sling TV to get 28 live-streaming cable channels, such as AMC, CNN, TNT, Comedy Central, and the History Channel. A $40 monthly subscription will give you access to over 40 channels, including ESPN. There are other emerging services that might work for you, too.

PlayStation Vue has multiple plans depending on your interests, and you don't even need a PlayStation 4 console to use it. YouTube TV has fewer channels and plans than the Vue, but at $35 a month, it has a solid selection of high-profile networks, including ESPN and FX. Hulu has also entered the game with a live TV service, touting 50+ channels at $39.99 a month (which also includes the limited commercials Hulu streaming subscription). DirectTV Now has a package that starts off at more than 60 channels for $35, and it tops off at $70 for 120-plus channels.

You'll have to browse through each individual service to find out which one is compatible with the devices you own and if these plans are more cost-effective than your current cable package. But with no equipment costs or long-term contracts, these services are worth considering if you're ditching cable.

5. SPECIALIZED SUBSCRIPTIONS

If you have more unique tastes than even Netflix can account for, chances are there is a specialized streaming service that can give you what you want. Fans of British television should check out Acorn TV, which allows you to watch episodes of Jeeves and Wooster and the original Prime Suspect on your smart TV or mobile device for only $5 a month. If anime is your thing, Crunchyroll professes to be “one of the few legal, official anime and drama streaming sites out there," with premium subscriptions starting at $7 a month. Cinephiles have a few choices for popular art house and indie movies: Check out Mubi, Fandor, and FilmStruck, which is a streaming service collaboration from Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection.

6. CHROMECAST

Google's Chromecast ($35) quickly turns any HD TV into a smart TV. Just plug the Chromecast dongle into your TV’s HDMI port and connect it to your home Wi-Fi network. Now you can stream various apps (including Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Now, YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, and more) onto the TV in your living room, while using your Android or iOS device as a remote control.

7. ROKU

Roku is a little black set-top box that connects your TV to the internet via Wi-Fi or Ethernet. It comes with a simple remote control and features more video streaming content than any other device or media streamer. You can even plug in a USB drive to play your own video and music files on your TV. Available in a number of models, including a USB stick version (starting at $49.95), many experts consider it the best and most reliable streaming device on the market today.

8. APPLE TV

If you’re an iTunes user who owns an iOS device and a MacBook, then Apple TV might be the best choice for you. Like Chromecast and Roku, Apple TV gives you easy access to the Big Three as well as HBO and Showtime; what sets it apart for Apple users is its seamless integration of iTunes and other Apple apps. It also comes with a nifty touch-surface remote that lets you swipe or use Siri to surf channels. With prices starting at $149, it’s the most expensive set top-streaming box for cord cutters, but it will be well worth the cost if you already live in the Apple ecosystem.

9. PLEX

If you already have a large digital movie, music, and TV library, you can use Plex to easily watch your media files from your computer or television. Sign up for and install the Plex Media Server (it’s free!) on your computer and it will catalog, organize, and label your files into a user-friendly interface that’s watchable on Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, Android and iOS devices, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

10. STANDALONE PREMIUM NETWORK SUBSCRIPTIONS

In the past, if you wanted premium cable networks like HBO and Showtime, you’d have to include it to your cable subscription package at an additional cost. But the networks have gotten hip to the cord-cutting trend and now offer standalone subscriptions. HBO offers HBO Now for $14.99 a month, while Starz has a streaming service for $8.99 a month that is compatible with Apple TV, Android, Roku, Chromecast, and Amazon Prime. Showtime offers streaming for $10.99 a month, or you can add Showtime to your Hulu Plus or Amazon Prime accounts for an extra $8.99.

11. DIGITAL NEWS OUTLETS

There are also great streaming options for news junkies. While CNN and MSNBC don’t have standalone streaming services, the cable news networks are available on Sling TV. News outlets like CBS News, Sky News, ABC News, Bloomberg TV, Fusion, and Newsy, meanwhile, all offer free live streaming services for Roku and Apple TV.

12. SPORTS PASSES

For some people, watching live sporting events has been one of the biggest barriers to completely canceling their cable subscriptions. But over the years, major sports leagues and entertainment venues have started to cater to the demands of cord-cutters. Now you can watch live, out-of-market Major League Baseball games on MLB.tv, hockey with the NHL GameCenter Live, and basketball with NBA League Pass. The NFL and DirecTV are now offering NFL Sunday Ticket to non-DirecTV customers, so more people can watch live, out-of-market NFL games every Sunday. You can even subscribe to the WWE Network for $10 a month for access to an extensive back catalog library and every new pay-per-view event.

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