Archive for September, 2013

Washing machines.

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

My washing machine has a light on it with the label “Add a garment” next to it.

This light goes on for a few minutes after I’ve started running a load of laundry. I don’t actually read the instructions that come with appliances like washing machines, because I am a man, and it’s in the man-code that you don’t do that.

But presumably, the idea is that for a few minutes after the washing machine starts doing its thing, you still have the opportunity to add something to the mix and you won’t miss out on any serious or meaningful washing.

So sometimes what happens is that I start a load of laundry and as I’m walking around the house a few minutes later, I see some article of clothing, a garment if you will, lying on the floor where my son deposited it when he took it off in a whim of clotheslessness.

I immediately, like the rush of a typhoon, grab said garment and run it to the washing machine in hopes that the happy little “add a garment” light is still on. Often it is, I push the pause button, open the door, add my garment, close the door, push the start button and voila everything gets washed, including my newly added garment. So now I’m thinking, if my newly added garment is going to get just as much washing as the original contents of the load I put in, what was it doing between when I initially hit start and when I interrupted the machine?

It couldn’t have been all that useful because any newly added garments presumably get just as much good washing action done when added later. Arguably, you could walk up to your washing machine and press start without putting any clothes in, then come back a few minutes later before the ‘add a garment’ light has gone off, and hit pause, add an entire load of laundry and let it continue and have everything get washed.

Is it serious? Can you only add “A” single garment? Will it get mad if you dump an entire load in? What if you add a single garment multiple times, one at a time, instead of adding a bunch all at once. I think you can get around the 1-at-a-time implied restriction this way.

So this brings me back to … what is it actually doing? And does it really need to do it?

Is it just wasting time putzing around for a few minutes with that light on because it knows humans tend to first find dirty clothing after the wash has started? Maybe they should have an option for those of us who don’t have kids and are sure footed to SKIP the warm-up pre-game show and get right down to the serious washing right away. This would save me many minutes of wash time I expect, which would be far more valuable to me than giving me the option to add clothing later.

Which, lets face it, I’m going to do anyway whether that stupid little light is on or not. Fancy options be damned.

I am after all, a card carrying member of the man club.

First world problems, I know.


Investment diversification.

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

I had this novel thought the other day.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard nothing but “diversify, diversify, diversify” from every investment advertising TV commercial and radio ad I’ve ever heard. That seems to be the conventional wisdom, spread your money out wide and thin so if anything bad happens to one or more investments, your personal hit will be small.

And there are many historic examples of bad calls and poorly placed investments where people have suffered miserably, because they didn’t diversify.

Enron comes quickly to mind. Here’s, (or rather, there’s) a company that managed to convince a way too large portion of its employee population to invest their retirement money in the company’s stock.

Breaks the first 3 rules of investing: 1) Diversify, 2) Diversify, and 3) Diversify. (Rule number 4 by the way, applies to all facets of life: if anything weird happens, hit the clutch.)

So when enron quickly tanked, so did the retirements of many of its employees. Somebody at enron should have known better, particularly somebody in HR, but that’s history, and we should learn from it.

Enron makes a particularly interesting example because it highlights a similar non-diversification problem. Pensions. Now if you start working at a job after the 2008-2012 era, you’re likely to not get a pension anyway, so this won’t apply to too many people anymore, but pensions create a significant diversification problem for long term employees.

Imagine you start working at GM in the 60’s. There you are, young and in your 20’s and you start making widgets on the assembly line at GM. You power through your best years making the best damn widgets known to man, slowly accruing equity in a fantastic pension plan.

When you retire, you’re going to be set for the rest of your life.

Then 2008 comes along, near retirement time, and all of a sudden, GM finds itself with lots of really expensive unfunded pension obligations because the children of the greatest generation chose to shove off those problems to the future, and the future has finally arrived.

I’m far from the first to preach this particular song, but what I haven’t heard anybody suggest is that maybe everybody should be diversifying their pensions. I don’t remember the details of what happened to GM, quick reading tells me they’re trying to buy everybody out, but haven’t actually screwed anybody over yet, but if you were that GM employee in the 60’s maybe sometime in the 70’s you should have gone to work for ford.

They’re in the same boat as GM, but you can still diversify and limit your risk.

Then in the 80’s you could have worked for honda. in the 90’s you could have moved to toyota, and in the 2000’s moved to hyundai. I don’t know if any or all of those companies offer pension plans, but the idea is that if you stay at one company forever, and start banking on that one single point of failure for your retirement, you may be waiting decades to find somebody is going to screw you over at the last minute.

It’s an interesting argument for why you shouldn’t stay at one job for a long time. Diversify your investments, including your pension.


Hydraulic Door Closers

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Ahh the innocent, ubiquitous self closing door.
Doors keep out the cold, they provide privacy, they can be a form of art even. But most importantly, they create social angst.
But only among strangers.
If you’re hanging out with a friend or relative and you’re walking towards a door, one of the two of you will grab for the door first and hold it for the other. It is a common courtesy and a reasonable assumption that you want to keep walking with the person.
I seem to recall some cell phone carrier that couldn’t work out how to reliably transfer ongoing calls from one cell tower to the next if you were on the phone in a moving car.
They called that a feature, because having disconnected your call, it gave you the opportunity to not call the person back.
But assuming you both want to walk through the door, you manage it because you’re walking together and in close proximity to each other when you reach the door.

But what if you’re in a public area and you’re walking towards a door by yourself. You open the door, go through it, then notice that there’s somebody behind you. But they’re not right behind you, maybe they’re 20-30 feet behind you.
So you hold the door open for them because it’s rude not to. Letting a door close in somebody’s face is inherently seen as a slight when really it is just a side effect of hydraulic door closer physics.
The hydraulic door closer doesn’t know that, but the person does.
So now the person who’s 20-30 feet behind you sees that you are being considerate to them, and they now feel obligated not to inconvience you any more than need be, so they hurry up and rush towards the door.
It was kind of the person to minimize your wait since you did them a nicety by holding the door for them.

But what do you do if the person is 35 feet away? 40? 50? Where do you draw the line? Do you take into account how fast or slow they’re walking?
Do they look like the kind of people who are likely to speed up to get the door so you don’t have to wait, or are they going to maximize your suffering by making no effort whatsoever to reciprocate your kindness?

Now imagine you’ve got 2 doors in an airlock type fashion. And there’s 3 people. The situation gets very complicated very quickly.
All because of the stupid hydraulic door closer.

Oh but wait, it gets better.
What if you’re walking towards said door, but you’re walking slowly, and there’s a person behind you who is walking quickly and given the distance from the door, and your relative speeds, they will arrive at the door before you do.
Imagine that. Somebody walking behind you (you being the slow one) can see their miserable future, that they’re going to have to wait for you as they hold the door open for you because they got to the door before you and will kindly hold it open for you. And neither of you are even near the door yet.
Being the slow walker you are, they can tell you’re not going to speed up for them.

Oh those hydraulic door closers. How did they invent such social angst.

Maybe everybody should walk in clumps. You gotta get a ticket to go on this ride. That way, the clump all goes through the door in one stream, and like body surfing, everybody holds the door just a bit until the next person gets it.

I think it’s 2013 and it’s high time we invented a door that doesn’t have this problem.
Revolving doors don’t have this problem. And they’ve already been invented. They also solve lots of air conditioning pressure related problems. Why aren’t there more revolving doors?
Of course revolving doors have their own problems, but that’s a story for another day.