Back in the old days, the phrase 'an intelligent home' referred to the fact that the garden faced south and at least one inhabitant had gone to university. These days, the concept has been redefined to include a mish-mash of technological wizardry available at the flick of a switch. Residents of Observatory Tower in central Sydney press a single button on their return home and any one of nearly 50 programs isactivated. The area around the front door will light up, the electric blinds will open or shut, the air-conditioning will pop on, or, for the particularly discerning, the heated towel rail will be activated. Hong Kong residents will scoff, and point out to smug Sydneyites that they have employed intelligent home technology for years to take care of these mundane household tasks. This technology goes under many names such as Baby, Imelda and Leah, costs a smidgen less than $4,000 a month to run and takes just one day off a week. There again, as those sage observers of the modern age, Wallace and Gromit, noted in their seminal work, The Wrong Trousers, intelligent-home technology can go pear-shaped at the most inconvenient times. George Best, the football legend, decided at the height of his fame in the late 1960s, to build a modernistic house in Cheshire, near to his club, Manchester United. Everything was push-button, and it included a TV set that disappeared into the chimney. Mr Best had to dismantle the whole thing after discovering that it short-circuited every time an aircraft flew overhead - causing the front and garage doors and the curtains to open and close frantically as the TV bobbed in and out of the chimney. Scientists will doubtless insist that technology is only as competent as the half-witted humanoids who attempt to operate it. This theory was tested in London recently when British Telecom, known by its initials as BT, discovered it had problems with its Callminder computerised answering service. In certain parts of west London, Callminder misinterpreted the word 'Yah' as 'No' - thereby wiping the entire message system. As anyone who has ever heard an upper-middle-class Briton answer in the affirmative will know, this could be a major problem - 'Oh - drinkies at Arabella's after Guy's finished his rugger? Sooper! Of course we'll come! Just give me the address - yah? Hello?! Hello?! . . . There again, what do scientists know about the needs of real people? Esquire magazine has a feature this month about how modern cars are so well-equipped that the manufacturers are desperately trying to gain a competitive edge by introducing loads of gadgets that turn out to be practically useless. Foremost among the ridiculous gadgets are Saab's ventilated seats. The cooling affect is provided by deafening fans, and the chill winds around the nether regions are not so much a comfort as just plain unsettling. Also listed is Peugeot's rain sensor, which detects water on the windscreen and sets off the wipers automatically. The point is that most people, at least those with sufficient powers of observation to be allowed to drive, can detect if there is water on their windscreen, and anyway, you need to press a switch to turn the device on in the first place. The Mitsubishi inclinometer also comes under critical scrutiny. If a driver has misjudged a corner and ends up in a ditch with blood rushing to his head, he does not need to look at the inclinometer to know he has turned his 4 x 4 over. The gadget that should be a big hit in Hong Kong comes with S-Class Mercedes - a self-closing door for those so self-important or idle to believe that such a mundane task is beneath them. Under the headline 'Golfonomics' the current issue of the Economist mischievously suggests the obsession with the game has helped to turn Asian Tiger economies into flabby tabby cat ones. It offers compelling evidence for the article's thesis, including a quote from former Thai prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh about the joys of playing golf in his country. 'Where else on earth can you get three caddies when you are golfing - one to hold an umbrella for you, one to carry your bag and another to massage your back?'