Technology that just doesn’t work

The logical (albeit late) follow-up on the post Technology that “just works” is of course this one. I get so happy when using technology that “just works” because there is so much technology that just doesn’t work.

Nothing sucks like…

These are a few particularly ill conceived devices that give me headache:

  • My vacuum cleaner of a rather well-known Swedish brand that completes the sentence “nothing sucks like E…”. It has a nozzle with a rotating brush that whisks all solid objects like grains of sand far behind the nozzle, past the point of suction. It is impossible to get it to actually suck anything solid of that size. And there’s more: The vacuum cleaner case has a tiny front wheel that won’t negotiate carpet edges. Instead it drags the carpet along as you try to pull the cleaner forward. And as if that wasn’t enough, the nozzle is too high to fit under many of my furniture. I saw an article on the net about NASA being involved in analyzing air flows in vacuum cleaner nozzles. I guess that proves that vacuum cleaners should be designed by rocket scientists. Or at least by somebody who has used a vacuum cleaner at least once in their life.
  • Our new washing machine (I believe it is of the same brand as the vacuum cleaner – we seem to be slow learners) only and barely works with certain brand of expensive detergents. All regular types of detergents form big slimy lumps and get stuck inside the washer so the clothes aren’t properly rinsed. (The vendor’s customer support department later actually told us this was to be expected. The store kept quiet about it.) I guess this is the result of various energy-saving eco-ambitions. Such ambitions are good in principle of course if they don’t render the washer totally useless.
  • The 3G network of my mobile telephone operator. I have had a mobile phone since 1991. At that time it was an analog Motorola phone using the NMT900 network. It was noisy from time to time but calls were seldom interrupted. GSM that came after that worked ok but after the migration to 3G, the plain calling functionality has deteriorated considerably. My calls are now interrupted 2 or 3 times driving the 13 km from the nearby city of Linköping to Vreta kloster where I live. I get a very high data transfer rate with my 3G modem when sitting at my desk but the operator and the network vendor have forgot about the “mobile” part. This is kind of ironic as Linköping is the city where much of the pioneering work with GSM was done once upon a time!

I could continue the list until it would utterly bore you and I’m sure you could add plenty of examples yourself. As an engineer I guess I should be happy in a way that there are so many crappy gadgets out there; most of the work is still undone and I won’t get unemployed any time soon. But where did the pride in good workmanship go? What about “customer obsession”? And what about good old PDCA; things are supposed to get better over time. No smile.

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