Bad Inventions


I am bored with politics, refuse to pay attention to the news and am watching only True Crime TV shows and Turner Classic Movies these days. With the Democrats controlling the Senate and presidency, nothing good can possibly come out of Washington for at least another two years. So I thought I’d start the new year with something useful, like a short list of bad inventions.

(1) SILENT DISHWASHERS

Are people installing dishwashers next to their beds? I’ve checked my “Top 500 Daily Irritations” list and dishwasher noise is not on it.

What possible benefit derives from having a dishwasher that makes absolutely no noise? Was that gentle whooshing sound driving some homeowners bonkers? Is this a product designed by the same people who gave us the electric car, a vehicle so silent that the first sign of its approach is the sound of your pelvis breaking as the car hits you?

Not only are the virtues of a silent dishwasher elusive, but there’s one big disadvantage: You can’t tell if it’s running. A dishwasher doesn’t have to sound like the Concorde blasting off to provide some indication that the thing is working.

Now, in addition to the usual steps of washing dishes — loading the dishwasher, inserting the cleaning agent and turning on the machine — the fancy new quiet dishwashers demand yet another step of the homeowner: You have to hang around and keep putting your ear against the door hoping to hear activity. If you forget to perform this bonus time-waster, every once in a while you’ll start unloading dishes the next morning and notice that they’re still dirty.

The whole point of having a dishwasher is to minimize the work involved to get clean dishes. The dishwasher is a product that’s devolving.

(2) TELEPHONES WITH NO “OFF” BUTTON

There are only two crucial functions of a telephone: enabling you to talk to someone who is not in the same room, and to ring or — this is important — NOT ring. Without those, you have nothing.

For people with home offices, babies, small apartments or unusual hours, it’s the “not ring” feature that is the telephone’s most critical function. A phone with no ringer-off button is like a front door without a lock.

But over the past few years, cordless phone manufacturers have decided you should never be able to turn the ringer off. Like liberals, they think, “I don’t need an ‘off’ button, so I don’t know why anyone else should, either.”

On nearly any modern landline phone, the only way to turn off the ringer is to read the manual. So now, something that used to be accomplished with the flick of a button reading “High-Low-Off” — a process so simple you could do it on a phone you had never laid eyes on before, in the dark, on a hotel phone, while sleepwalking — requires flipping through pages and pages of helpful tips from the manufacturer, such as “Do not submerge phone in bathtub” in order to find the seven counterintuitive steps required to turn your ringer off.

(Ironically, when I’m staying in a hotel and there’s no “ringer off” button on the telephone, I usually end up submerging the entire unit in the bathtub.)

Modern phones have loads of buttons to do things like change the ringer sound to chirping birds or Beethoven’s Fifth, or to emit beeps in case you’ve left it under a couch cushion. Those aren’t among the vital functions of a telephone. Turning off the ringer is.

That’s why people are abandoning their landlines for cellphones. True, home phones don’t work in cars or out on the street. But I think the main appeal of cellphones is that they have “off” buttons.

(3) AUTOMATIC FAUCETS, PAPER TOWEL DISPENSERS AND HAND DRYERS

Sensor-activated bathroom accoutrements are mostly found in airports. Airports are natural monopolies, meaning consumer satisfaction is not a factor. If you live in St. Louis, you can’t say, “I hate Lambert-St. Louis International Airport — let’s fly out of the San Francisco airport instead.”

Consequently, airports always have the most up-to-date technology for annoying the customer.

Were travelers tiring themselves out with the strenuous, back-breaking work of turning a faucet 15 degrees clockwise? Half the time, the sensors are broken, anyway. Free tip: James Bond technology isn’t all that “James Bond” if it doesn’t work.

If engineers can design a paper towel dispenser that saves consumers the exhausting motion of gently pulling down — instead, forcing them to wildly wave their hands in front of a non-working sensor like signers for the deaf at a Louis Farrakhan speech — can’t these same design mavens figure out how much paper a normal person needs to dry his hands? Does no one notice that people are always walking out of airport bathrooms picking toilet paper off their hands?

The blowing hand dryers often turn on and make that reassuring whooshing noise we miss on our dishwashers. The one thing they have absolutely no capacity to do is dry hands. I gather the idea is that if you stand there long enough your hands will eventually drip dry, long after your flight has pushed back from the gate. (At least no one in an airport has to be anywhere important.)

Some newer hand dryers on the market actually do dry hands in about 10 seconds. You see these hand dryers in restaurants and other commercial establishments that cater to customers. You will never see one in an airport. (What are travelers going to do? Fly out of a different airport?) I suppose we should be happy that instead of a row of toilet stalls, airport restrooms don’t just give us a long, floor-level trench.

Only liberals believe all novelty is progress. Monopolies such as airports give them free reign to impose their pointless, irritating devices on the rest of us. And the biggest monopoly of all is government. If you think airport hand dryers blow, wait until you read the fine print on the fiscal cliff deal. Which I won’t. I’ll be busy watching “Forensic Files.”

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