Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Curse Of Smart Appliances

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 20, 2017] ©2017
It’s getting harder and harder to find dumb appliances. You’d think that with tens of millions of us Boomers descending into incipient senility that appliance manufacturers would be falling all over themselves to create the Jitterbug phone version of washers, dryers, stoves, microwaves and remotes. 
We Boomers are definitely not the target audience for all these “smart” appliances. We all have memories of appliances that required no manuals whatsoever to operate.
It is too much to ask (ok, apparently it is) to get a simple but quality appliance? 
For example, for decades I had stoves that had two dials: one for temperature and the other that could be set for Bake, Broil, or Pre-heat.  Now, I did have to actually remember that Pre-heat takes about 15 minutes but I didn’t require that I be able to watch an electric counter on my stove’s touch screen inch up to 350 degrees.  I didn’t even require a buzzer to tell me it was ready but it was a whole new era when one did. I think I could be pretty senile and still make that stove work. 
If the bake igniter went out (pretty much the only thing that could go wrong with stoves in that era), the repair guy had one on his truck. One visit and I was back in business.  Now, of course, one teeny weeny malevolent little microchip flakes out on your electronic control panel and the whole effing thing has to be replaced. Last time it required a month to order and cost $590 (plus $150 labor). 
Come back, two-dial stove. I really miss you. 
Smart appliances obviously do not think highly of the intelligence of users. This is why most new appliances are afflicted with “feature creep” – new and ever-more complicated options guaranteed to make your life miserable and to require expensive repairs. When my appliances think they know best, I’m willing to hang it all up. 
Take, for example, this cautionary tale from an East Coast friend who bought a “smart” washing machine: 
At our house in Connecticut, we have an LG HE top loading machine, recommended for having less vibration than front loaders and no mildew problem. It has a feature called "load sensing" that allows the machine to tell if the load is balanced. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, the machine has a very strict definition of a balanced load that would seem to require that there is an even number of items of a similar weight and bulk in a load and that they are evenly distributed in the drum. If the machine, in its infinite wisdom, decides the load is unbalanced, it will attempt to remedy the situation by refilling with water. It will do this multiple times, resulting in cycle times of up to two hours (not kidding). Keep in mind that this is an "Energy Star" rated machine. Eventually, it will give up. Then we usually unplug it and set it to “spin only” which can work. When it successfully completes a cycle it plays a cheerful little tune which infuriates me every time I hear it.
When I went online to see if others had the same issue with the machine, I found cyberspace to be loaded with dissatisfied customers, one of whom posted the following advice:  "Go to the top floor of your house. Open the largest window. Throw the machine out the window. Problem solved."
A particularly unfortunate result of this issue is that the gentle or "hand wash" cycle is virtually useless because of the unlikelihood of being able to create a "balanced load" of delicates.
I am so excited to be in Martha's Vineyard for the summer where my 20-year-old Maytag stackable completes the wash cycle in 20 minutes and delivers clean clothes. I highly doubt it is less "efficient" than my "smart" machine.
On our dryer, at least,“wrinkle control”( the thing that keeps fluffing up your clothes every 30 seconds so they won’t get wrinkled if you can’t get to them right anyway) is a feature that you must select.  But on some machines, it’s automatic.  Friends went to Europe having put clothes in the dryer before they left. It was still fluffing when they returned.
Maybe it’s my age that I see every appliance feature as “one more thing to break.”  Or maybe it’s my age that I’ve repaired way too many appliances that had features I never wanted in the first place.  So note to appliance manufacturers:  Our neurons aren’t getting any younger.  The first thing I’m going to forget how to use is the complicated touch screen on my stove. Please please make some appliances for the elderly.  You don’t have to call them Dementia Appliances.  In fact, it would be better if you didn’t.  But here’s a hint: if it needs a manual, you’ve failed.

Monday, September 11, 2017

In Pursuit Of Creativity

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 13, 2017] ©2017
Everyone has a creative strategy, a time when you can really let your mind go wherever it wants in pursuit of problem solving or the unleashing of artistic energies.  Olof’s is mulling. Mine is wombing. 
Olof’s prime mulling time is in bed at night before he goes to sleep. Now that he’s retired and can work on programming problems to his engineer-heart’s content, he will position himself on his back and just stare off into space.  For an hour. Sometimes two hours.  Occasionally until two in the morning.  When he’s found the solution he was looking for, a satisfied smile creases his face and he flips off the light.
Years ago, before we were married, Olof offered to replace a section of six-foot fence on my property that had fallen down.  I immediately suggested  hiring him an assistant.  But no, he said, there were some difficult engineering  issues to solve and an assistant would interfere with mulling.  And indeed, he would just stand out there, leaning on his post hole digger seemingly in a trance. But a few minutes later (sometimes a lot of minutes), he’d nod his head and proceed.
I know to never, ever interfere with mulling. The house would have to be on fire first.
Meanwhile, I have always done my best thinking by going back to the womb. You make the bathroom as dark as possible then curl up on the floor of the shower like a pretzel letting the nice warm water cascade over you. Close your eyes. Let your mind go. Regress. Remember the good old days.
It used to be that the only limit on the length of time you could spend in the womb was the size of your hot water heater. But that was before the drought. It became politically and environmentally (and especially financially) incorrect to waste that much water even in the cause of creative pursuit.
So I had to find a wombing substitute. Fortunately walking works pretty well too, especially if it is on the beach.  Even more fortunately,  I live near a beach as this would have been a less successful strategy in Omaha.
I’m hardly the first to appreciate the creative powers of walking.  There is a wonderful Latin expression, Solvitur ambulando, meaning “it is solved by walking.”  
Let me take a short detour here to mention that in high school I studied Latin for four years and still have a huge fondness for the language. Well, the first two years of Latin anyway.  Third year Latin – Julius Caesar’s description of the Gallic wars – was that a total snorer. But then I’ve never been into war stories anyway. Sadly for my high school sensibilities, chick lit was in its infancy in Caesar’s era.
Fourth year was Vergil’s epic poem, the Aeneid. More war stuff but at least it had a big fake horse and a hot babe (Helen). Sadly, 54 years later, I can quote all of the first three words: Arma virumque cano ..., "I sing of arms and of a man”. But that does kind of sum it up (lots of arms, and a man (Aeneas)). 
Already weary of the Aeneid’s ponderous dactylic hexameter a month into the school year, I was delighted to discover that Vergil was a fall birthday - October 15, 70 BCE, to be exact.  Keenly aware even at this young age that chocolate is an antidote to pretty much anything, I got permission from our Latin teacher to throw Vergil a 2,034th birthday party during class time.  I figured everyone deserves a party even if they’ve been dead 2,000 years.  Yup, that’s the photographic evidence right there:  Inga stuffing chocolate in her face at Vergil’s bash.
The phrase Solvitur ambulando is said to have originated from the Greek philosopher Diogenes in 4th century BC, and the concept of walking as a freer of the mind has been espoused by many notables including Thomas Jefferson, Nietzsche, Ernest Hemingway, and Thoreau, among others.  It allegedly helps combat the effects of aging although I’m afraid in my case that ship has sailed.
Still, my best writing is done in my head as I saunter slowly down the beach with the waves as white noise in the background. A paragraph that I was stuck on slowly resolves. Great lines that the La Jolla Light will never print ricochet around my brain like ping pong balls in a lottery cage. The resolution of decisions that had been plaguing me seem to suddenly become clear.
While the drought put a damper on wombing, now that it is officially over, can I start wombing again?  Yeah, probably, but one thing that ISN’T over is astronomical water bills. So I can womb to my heart’s content if I’m willing to pay Tier 4 water rates and turn over my Social Security check to the water folks.
 I think I’ll just keep walking.
Inga scarfing chocolate cake at Vergil’s 2,034th birthday bash
October 15, 1964