The strangest tech to come out of Utah: December edition
Happy holidays, y’all. As we zoom (with a small “z”) into 2022, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Covid blur otherwise known as 2020 and 2021 will hopefully fade into our past. And in that vein, everyone’s getting into the party spirit.
Level-up the celebration by telling your loved ones how much you care…via a celebrity. Yup, the possibly cash-poor but definitely attention-loving former Utah congressman Jason Chaffetz will warble happy holidays to your mom and pop for $45 via the Cameo app. Alternatively, you might prefer a video shout-out from Nora the polar bear (OK, growl-out) at Hogle Zoo. The low-budget alternative is Jason Violet, aka “that one guy from The Voice!” according to his bio, for $14.
More jolly holiday fare: three University of Utah scientists received the Ig Nobel prize (awarded for LOL science that makes people think) for proving that beards evolved to protect men from all those casual fists to the face. Yup, that slim layer of fluff can really cushion the blows—their analysis noted that beardies absorb 37 percent more impact than freshly-shaven skin. Sure, they used sheep fleece and epoxy composite to test this, but whatevs. Santa’s sitting pretty, amirite?
We’re wrapping up the year with a touchy-feely edition of Two Truths and a Lie, the Utah Tech Edition because ‘tis the season after all. Out of the following three startups, which one is the fake one?
- A startup selling a huggable speaker so listeners can enjoy sound and vibrations
- A startup selling a vibrating massage ball to knead out tight muscles
- A startup selling pulsing stuffed teddy bears to help children fall asleep
(scroll to the bottom for answers)
Utah County: The (virtual) wedding hotspot
Planning a wedding during Covid sucked. Plans were rescheduled, guest lists were cut, deposits were lost. But as the pandemic dragged on, people adjusted their expectations. Small, outdoor events. Online weddings. VR weddings. Amidst this romance reshuffle, Utah became the surprising one-shop-stop of the online “I do” biz.
Provo’s county clerk offices say they’ve officiated 3,500 online weddings and counting since May 2020. The twist? Most lovebirds were international couples with little to no connection to Utah. Utah’s online portal does not require in-person visits from applicants—a revolutionary approach in early 2020—which made it ideal for the Covid-separated couples unable to return to their loved ones without the necessary wedding visa.
In typical Utah fashion, the reason we were so ahead in the virtual wedding game is due to government ineptitude. For years, the Utah County Clerk’s Office was widely regarded as incompetent and dysfunctional. In 2018, when the new administration took over, updating the tech was a key part of their campaign promises. They rolled out online processing of marriage applications, virtual ceremonies, and in Jan. 2020 introduced a QR program that let officiants sign marriage certificates remotely…which is why they were perfectly primed for the Covid couple business. #loveislove
The problematic PB&J Candwich is back!
In 2010, a canned PB&J product made national news. (ICYMI, that’s a sammy served in a 12 oz. can, containing pre-sliced whole wheat bread, a peanut butter packet, a serving of grape or strawberry jelly, and a wooden spreader.) The reason for the fuss? The Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating Travis Wright—an investor in Mark One, the Utah-based Candwich company. Wright had fraudulently funneled $145 million of investor money into the Candwich biz rather than the real estate projects he’d promoted. Big oops.
Wright’s long gone, but the Candwich lives on thanks to the wholehearted—but possibly misplaced—belief of the Candwich’s inventor, Mark Kirkland. Kirkland’s been trying to make them a thing forever with limited success. In 2012, NPR described the taste as “somewhere on the continuum between Play-Doh and taxicab air freshener,” and in 2016, New Atlas commented, “I had no unusual stomach issues and everything remained quite regular.”
Kirkland shrugged off the feedback, and in 2021 announced that Candwiches are now available à la vending machines across the Salt Lake metropolis. They now have a Covid marketing spin (classy) that extols Candwiches as ideal for those post-Covid excursions, where people “might find themselves hungry and desperate for food that can satisfy their craving.” Hyperbole, much?
Candwiches have a 12-month shelf life due to some fancy oxygenating science-y stuff, and they say the can protects it from smushing. Should you lack access to a vending vehicle, a six-pack is $17.99 online. Food Processing magazine was so impressed with their ingenuity they anointed the Candwich as one of six products of the month (Tyra Banks’ SMiZE ice cream also made their list).
Call of Duty collaborates with TacGas
Ever wondered how Activision’s Call of Duty—officially the best-selling first-person shooter video game franchise, ever—managed to get their firearms and terrain so hyper-realistic?
Perhaps you chalk it up to superior design skills and their on-call Navy SEAL consultants? That played a part, but so did TacGas—a Salt Lake City startup that runs IRL hyper-realistic simulated military scenarios for content creators. Seriously, they have warehouses stacked with Kevlar vests, a camouflage-painted Humvee, and assorted weaponry.
TacGas first teamed up with CoD in 2019, outfitting Lt. Simon “Ghost” Riley with gear and photographing him (and Nikto!) which led to additional character casting events. Selecting models who have military and model experience is key, TacGas says. Not everything is accurate, they acknowledge. Hand grenades would normally be stowed in pouches but they outfit them on belts, as “that ultimately looks much cooler.”
These photoshoots help the game’s developers envisage how their avatars would move and act in 3D, which adds to CoD’s gritty appeal. NDA’s mean TacGas can’t spill the full tea, but they’ve hinted that Wraith, the ex-NATO operative turned Russian agent, was hatched in a TacGas photoshoot. Fans can purchase TacGas bundles inside Modern Warfare’s in-game store (think character skins, black tracer fire, etc.).
CEO Jim Staley, a former military vet, credits Utah’s terrain as integral to his success. “I can be in the West Desert in under an hour to get stuff that looks a lot like places in the Middle East, then head up to the mountains in the winter for Arctic-looking settings.” Who said gaming was a waste of time?