Monday, September 22, 2014

When We Need New Software

For nearly the last year, I've suffered through owning what had been, without question, the worst appliance I'd ever encountered.

It was a clotheswasher, what should be the simplest of things.  Put dirty clothes in.  It chugs away.  Take clean clothes out.  Nice and easy.

But the washer I bought on the recommendation of my research and the blessing of Consumer Reports couldn't quite manage it.  It's not that it was poorly built, or that there was something wrong with the basic design.  It was just so complicated--designed to be hyper-efficient, water-saving, and high-tech--that it couldn't quite bring itself to work.

Oh, on perfectly optimal loads, it was fine.  If you filled it with a load of carefully selected, identical fabrics, it'd wash 'em up right good.  It was fine, for instance, at washing "man-style," meaning you just dump all your stuff in and let 'er rip.  But anything chaotic messed with it.  Anything complex confused it.

Loads that mixed in towels with regular stuff?  When it locked into its super-high-speed spin cycle, it'd get unbalanced, and the wash cycle would fail.  Small loads, like, say a week's worth of my wife's delicates?  It'd get confused, and the cycle would fail.

You'd come back an hour later, after running errands, and it'd be sitting there with an error code and a load of sopping wet, half-washed clothes.  I read the manual, and--well--there was the rub.  It was meant to do that.  I adapted, modifying my loads, changing the way I washed clothes.  It helped a little.    I adapted again, learning how to manipulate the spin cycle.  Now only every third wash would fail.  Doing the laundry became a task that took all day, and took attention.

I finally called for support, and this being the 21st century, they ran a systems diagnostic.  I held a phone up to the washer, and it uttered a stream of sound to a computer on the far end.  Result: The unit was operating as designed.  There was nothing wrong with it mechanically.

Only it didn't work.

And so a tech showed up, a couple of days later, to fix my washer.  The "fix" involved opening it up, plugging in a drive, and downloading new software.  It was, he confided in me, the fourth software update since the washer had been released.

I rolled my eyes, and after he'd left, started in on what I was sure was going to be a failed attempt at laundry.

It wasn't.  The repair worked.  The machine thrummed along through one load, then another, then another.  No errors.  No problems.

It was back in business, working exactly the way it should have worked in the first place.

And it struck me, as it often does, how much easier life would be if we worked that way.  How many human beings really and truly don't have anything wrong with them, nothing at all, that a reboot and a software upgrade wouldn't clear right up?

A pity our wetware is so fiddly.