TCS Daily


Keep It Quiet

By Glenn Harlan Reynolds - December 6, 2006 12:00 AM

I've used this column in the past as a means of issuing impassioned pleas to product designers. Now it's time for another, at least as heartfelt as the ones in the past: Please, keep things quiet. Or at least give me the option of doing so.

I've noticed that over the past few years, more and more of my appliances want to tell me things, whether I want to hear them or not, something they accomplish via a variety of beeps and buzzes.

My Bosch dishwasher beeps to tell you that the dishes are done. It then tells you, again and again, with five piercing beeps every five minutes, until you open the dishwasher and cycle the "power" button to the off position. Don't want this feature? Tough. There's no way to disable it, short of ripping it open and cutting the wires, something that has crossed my mind more than once. It must be one of those Teutonic discipline things: Ve haff vays of making you unload the dishes.

Likewise, I have most of my more sensitive electronics -- TVs, computers, VCRs, DVD players, stereos, cable boxes, etc. -- all hooked up to uninterruptible power supply devices, so that they'll keep going even if the power fails. (One nice side effect: With my DSL modem and wi-fi router on a 1500VA router, I can continue to have wireless internet access for days without outside power.)

The downside is that every single one of these devices thinks it has to tell me when the power's out by emitting a series of loud beeps. This seems silly: Generally, if I'm awake, I notice when the power goes out (the lights going off are a major indicator), and if I'm asleep I certainly don't need to be awakened with that news. The computers know to shut themselves down if the power's off for too long, and the other stuff doesn't matter. But not one of the UPS devices I've got has a simple switch or button to shut off the beeping. With some of them, it can be shut off via software commands if you've got a computer hooked up and the proprietary software installed, but that's a really poor substitute. The product designers saved fifty cents by not putting in a simple "off" switch for the beeper, but I'm paying the price -- and I'd happily pay ten times that much extra for one that would keep quiet.

Not everybody is bad that way. My Sears washer and dryer are annoyingly informative, but they have front-panel buttons that let you turn off the "end of cycle" signals, "wrinkleguard" notifications, and the like. It's not perfect -- sometimes, probably when the power goes off, they reset to the default noisy mode, but at least the designers gave the subject some thought. Most just don't seem to care.

Overall, it's part of a trend toward bossy gadgets that I've written about elsewhere, and that's a trend that I don't like at all. Virginia Postrel has written eloquently about the importance of esthetics in product design, and I think she's clearly right. But before we even get to look and feel, the maxim should be "don't annoy the customer." So far, I'm not sure that lesson has sunk in.


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21 Comments

engineer hubris class warfare - - -
So true. Designers and engineers are so power mad they make our machines torture us in order to keep us in our place. My computer constantly conspires against me behind my back, with other machines, to provide me the maximum frustration, short of taking a baseball bat to them. Grrrrrrrrrrrr

My new Toyota minivan (which I love) only came with many modern inconveniences, which I didn't want. i.e., It insisted on constantly locking up all the doors whether I wanted them locked or not. I had to take it back to the dealer to have the damn thing fixed. But there were other modern inconveniences, even he, couldn't correct.

All these engineers and designers should be made to put their names on a slip of paper which is put into a hat. Daily, one slip should be drawn out by a blindfolded technophobe, then a public execution held of this evil geek, as a lesson to the rest. I'm undecided between boiling in oil or burning at the stake. Any suggestions?

Ja, Dried!
"Ve haff vays of making you unload the dishes."

I laughed like hell at this. :)

This is what comes of allowing marketroids to control design, rather than professional user-interface designers. Anything to save a penny per unit in production.

Suitable Punishment
That other stuff seems a tad excessive.

A more appropriate response would be to lock the marketroids for a week into a room afflicted by a piercing beep that could only be turned off with a complicated and non-obvious sequence on a tiny control panel, upon which another intensely irritating sound *and* an asynchronous, unsuppressible strobe light would commence without surcease. Managing somehow to disable that would bring about the return of the original piercing beep.

At the end of the week, those marketroids not already irretrievably insane would be released with a warning that the next badly-designed consumer product would result in a month in the room.

Error in TCS Daily Post
The phrase "1500VA router" probably should be "1500VA UPS".

Please delete this reply when the error is corrected, if ever.

Yes, I HATE that
I refuse to buy anything that beeps - answering machines, washer/dryer, its horrible when they do that. You don't answer the phone because you don't want to be bothered, not because you need a beeping reminder. Washer/dryers are lovely to fall asleep to - so don't add an alarm clock at the end!

Thank goodness the market can respond to preferences. Just don't buy beeping things.

UPS *should* beep!
Sorry, I have to disagree on the alarms on uninterruptible power supply (UPS) devices: More than once I've seen the cap (power plug) knocked out of the receptacle (socket); and if it wasn't for the beep, the connected devices would have crashed. Also, I've seen it happen where an overloaded branch circuit will trip offline, WITHOUT it being apparent in the home or office.

Because we do not use twist-lock caps and receptacles (plugs and sockets); and because very few homes & small offices have "home automation" to alert to branch circuit failures, UPS manufacturers such as Tripp-Lite and APC (all but) have to "idiot-proof" their products, in order to enable "plug and play" use.

Dan Schwartz

PS: I'm an electrical engineer with two decades of experience

Fortunately, there is a button to shut off . . .
... Instapundit.

Some are useful, many are not
This is one of those useful beeps. I too have had this situation, and with more than UPS units. Damn annoying when you don't find out until the unit is dead.

But, on most units used in the home, this does not apply and the buzzes, beeps and warnings could be done away with; particularily the one like my microwave has that keeps beeping every few seconds when the unit is done cooking. One quick beep to say the food is done or needs to be checked would do just fine.

Watch what you admit to! Some here may blame you for this mess, and many seem angry enough to really get after you!

Off Switch?
So what's wrong with the ability to turn the beep on or off? Just because YOU like it does not mean that everybody else does. The author just wants a way to turn the darned beeps OFF!

-Bob

Noise Pollution...
In general, there is far too much noise around us. From cell phones set to maximum (and people yelling into them indiscriminately), trucks beeping when they back up, rescue vehicles with 140dB horns blasting, busses with squeeky breaks, and crosswalks telling us when we can cross and when we cannot, it is pretty tough to focus on anything in the city. It's time we put the brakes on all this noise!

-Bob

Ford Truck
I wear my seatbelts religiously and have since I was 16 many years ago. This stupid truck beeps 10 times every minute or two to remind me to put them on when I am parked with the engine running. It drives me insane. The manual has a method to disable it but alas, it seems not to work and requires inserting the seatbelt 9 times after the light goes out after one minute. What ever happened to a simple switch? Oh, well, I am one of those that shall cut the wires on the seat switch and ties them permanently together so it leaves me alone. After all, since I wear them 100% of the time why do I need a nagging reminder? If it were my dishwasher I would do the same.

seatbelts
If you listen to the noise, it's usually easy to locate the buzzer. Sometimes buzzers are plugged into female connectors and easy to remove. If the buzzer is removed, everything else should work alright. I don't know for sure because I've never worked on a recent model Ford truck.

fight back - - - -
Give big brother the business and fasten the offending belt, permanently, behind the seat. Then vote against the "Safety *****" at every opportunity, we all know who they are.

BTW, I do hope Dan Schwartz is not the heartless fiend-geek who makes us click on the 'start' button in order to turn their infernal machines 'off', or else - - - - -

more automated aggravation - - -
(The machine censored word that sounds like horrid term "Natsis".)

barking up the wrong tree
It's not the design engineer's fault. Do you really think any engineer on the planet is so stupid as to make your car horn beep just to tell you that your car is locked? Of course not, he'd have put in a more sensible signalling device. Some other genius later points out that there's already a signalling device, the horn. So out goes the sensible one, and the thing gets wired to the horn, and your car wakes up the neighbors whenever it feels like talking to you.

I'm a machine design engineer myself. So, not surprisingly, gadgetry doesn't impress me. I never use any of that crap. I have a microwave oven with a mechanical power dial. That's it. One dial - mechanical - each on the washer, dryer, air conditioner. I have a car which doesn't even have any door locks, remote or otherwise. Never causes me any problem. I finally got a pushbutton 'phone because there are too many things the rotaries don't do. But I always look for products with the fewest convenience features. Those are usually the cheapest ones, too. Really, air conditioners with remotes? Who thought of that one? Some marketing jerk. Doesn't mean I have to buy one.

DVD and digital TV remotes are genuinely impossible, though. I haven't figured out a way to get around those. So are modern digital watches. Just to change to daylight savings time I have to push one button three times, then cycle another button all the way through the 24 hour time system to get back to the 12 hour time system I want, then push a third button to tell it that I'm done, and hope I haven't accidently turned on either the alarm or the hourly chime without noticing. And since I only do this twice a year I'll never memorize it, so I have to figure out where I put the damn instructions six months previously. On the other hand the watches are so cheap I can throw 'em out and get another one with the right time on it. Digital cameras really suck too, but you won't see anything about that stuff in those "camera roundups" - lens distortion is horrific, batteries last a few minutes, and the menus are impossible to navigate if you have fingers thicker than knitting needles. I'm not throwing out my old mechanical cameras any time soon.

But don't blame the engineers. They're too sensible to inflict that stuff on anybody. Tell the peasants to get their burning torches and go after the marketing guys - and the customers who keep buying this stuff.

finally, some sanity - - -
Tom, thanks for your efforts in the cause. I'd forgotten to mention those !#%*!! automatic lock horn beeps that make my blood pressure spike and unbidden profanity pass my lips. This is sheer rudeness, unforgiveable.

On the watch situation tho, even I finally found an electronic convenience than is actually convenient (somebody slipped up somewhere). It's my Casio wave-ceptor ("atomic") watch, at ~$80, it automatically sets itself to a micro second, even changes itrself for daylight savings time, via radio transmitter in Ft. Collins, CO. Not only that, but it provides its own power by ordinary exposure to light. So, no batteries to change, either. It's the perfect lazy man's no-maintenance watch. Being a perfectly lazy, not to say absent-minded, man, I love it.

The wonderful watch
But, does this watch automatically adjust the time as a man travels from one time zone to another ??

My thoughts on product design :

The design engineer must build/assemble his idea; he must service and repair it; he must sell it to the general public; he must use it to the fullest; and he must even sleep with it...
If he cannot do all these things, then the idea must be improved or scrapped...

I fully agree with those who complain about the un-necessary and excessive noise , and I am hard of hearing !
Back in '68, Volkswagen and others installed a buzzer in their cars to remind people that the key was in the ignition - it was very loud and annoying, not almost pleasant as are the chimes of today....
Designers and the big corporations must learn to respect others - its as simple as that..

Noise, and more noise
I fully agree with HobNobBob. I have complained - its almost impossible to complain to those either with power, or those who care...
They make their alarms loud and piercing enough for a totally deaf man to hear !

As I say - its a matter of respect..

Too many men live in fear.... of litigation... of a scratch... of criticism.. .. of anything new.....

Read the manual
We have a Bosch dishwasher (SHV46C). I'm in complete agreement and sympathy with both your analysis and irritation.

After more than a year, that irritation reached such a level that it moved me to do the unthinkable. I opened the manual. The "Cycle Completion Signal" section (page 38) describes how to turn it off.

Original design
Of course, the engineers are helpless since all those products are not designed by the companies that sell them; they are produced on license from the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, makers of fine equipment that does things no sane person would want done in the first place, then goes *beep* to let you know it's done it.

Turning off the Cycle Completion Signal means buying yet another UPS, so that the thing won't reset to default settings the first time the power glitches.

This sort of thing goes in cycles. Throughout the Eighties cars began making more and more beeps and buzzes, finally culminating in the synthetic voices. I have somehow misplaced a letter I used to treasure, received in the mid-Eighties. I was traveling a lot, toolkit in hand, and the first thing I'd do with a new rent-a-car was dive under the dash with a pair of side-cutters and perform a beeperectomy. The rent-a-car company notified me that they would do without my business if I didn't quit doing that to their vehicles.

Regards,
Ric

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