Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Design flaws, part 2

(Part 1 here. For now.)

I think the bin in the kitchen knows my name.

We've been in this brand-new, purpose-built office eight months now. Although I hesitate to use the word "purgatorial", it doesn't feel like a place where sane people would come by choice. Maybe "prison" would be a fair comparison.

What bothers me is that this isn't so because it's cheap. (It is cheap, but it could be both much nicer and much cheaper.) Someone actually went out of their way and spent good money to furnish this crap. And nothing sums the issue up better than the aforementioned kitchen bin.

See, where any sane person, outfitting an office for up to 20 people, would have bought a decent-sized pedal bin... John, my boss, is a gadget freak. "There is no household object so humble", he firmly believes, "that it cannot be improved by adding batteries."

I wonder if he's got one of those electric sofas that gradually creeps across the floor of his living room. I feel sure that every light, blind and curtain in his house can be controlled while sitting on said sofa. He'd consider it a personal failing if he had to stand up and go outside to batten down his house against a hypothetical hurricane.

So what we have, in the office, is an electronic bin.

When you wave your hand over it, it flips open with an electric whir. About three seconds later, whether your hand is still above it or not, it snaps shut. It's a bit like a robotic version of a baby crocodile.

For the first few weeks, it was a top talking point in the office. We'd grumble at how awkward it was to put anything more complicated than a fruit peel in it -- the lid would snap shut while you were still brushing stuff off your plate. We'd complain at how it popped open at inopportune times whenever someone stood too close to it (which you had to do to get at the sink). We'd discuss, in smugly ironic tones, the day when -- as countless movies have taught us is inevitable -- it would rise up to throw off the shackles of scullery servitude and make a bid for freedom. Probably, I thought, John would try to enlist it as a new programmer.

But now the smugness has faded. Now, we discuss the bin with -- not fear, exactly, certainly not respect -- let's say circumspection.

At first, we thought it was just malfunctioning. It would sometimes fail to open, or having opened, refuse to shut. Not a major problem -- there are buttons you can press to override the automatic function, make it open or close. Of course that rather nullifies the advantage of not having to touch the bin with one's hands, but still it's a solution of sorts.

A couple of weeks ago there was an unmissable aroma of over-kept kitchen waste in the office. Of course it's summer now, stuff starts to go off quite quickly in our balmy climate, but even in the worst case the bin is supposed to contain such odours until it's emptied. But, we discovered, the bin's lid was open.

And it wanted to stay open. No matter how many times it was closed, whenever we went back to it, it had opened again.

Last week, sitting at my desk, I became aware of a monotonous banging noise from the kitchen, like an impatient three-year-old demanding supper. Nobody was in there; no prizes for guessing what was causing it. The only solution seemed to be to switch the bin off entirely, which I did, although that leaves no way of opening the lid.

Now, I swear, it remembers me.

It's taken to opening for some people and not for others. It will open to accept an eggshell, but not a banana peel. It will snap at my elbow while I'm washing up.

The day I look down and see it's turned to face me, I'm out of here.


Anonymous said...

You know that awful expression "laugh-out-loud funny" that they put on the back covers of books and normally makes one squirm and put the book back? Well that actually applied here - pity I was trying to eat a cheesecake at the same time!

vet said...

Multi-tasking has always been dangerous. I'm always glad to know I've made someone squirm.

Eric Lester said...

Uh oh.

If it asks for some blood, I advise immolation. If it speaks at all, for that matter.

Deadlyjelly said...

Evident, I will have to go back over your archives - this post is toooo funny :-D