Tech

Why have redundant systems become redundant?

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Something is out of place; it does not quite fit. I reach down and give it a gentle tug. Ah, that’s better.

If you are expecting a harmless reveal of a desperately contrived euphemism, as per usual, you are going to be disappointed. This time I really am talking about my underwear. I am experiencing a clothing comfort conflict below the waist. To misparaphrase an ailing Oscar Wilde, either these new chuddies or my nuts will have to go.

It is my fault, of course, for having purchased the wrong size or whatever. Am I wearing them back to front? It’s a bit difficult to tell as I removed the labels. When I say “labels”, I am referring to the three-dozen nylon razor blades that were sewn into the hem, each adorned with iconographic instructions helpfully reminding you not to clean the item with a circular saw, industrial sander or quarry explosives.

I use safety tongs to retrieve the labels from the “Caution! Sharp Items!” recycling bin to investigate. Ah, here we go. It seems I’d chosen the correct size and style but failed to notice that I’d accidentally picked them from the Medical Freak range.

Argh, just one small error and the whole process of underwearing is ruined.

There was a motorbiker in my university student days who we used to call Skidz. He appreciated and encouraged the application of this moniker, believing it was a celebration of his tyre-mark doughnut skills regularly performed in the student union car park. In fact, the nickname came about because we’d seen his woefully underwashed Y-fronts one time down at the laundrette. Those of us in the know never used that particular tumble dryer ever again.

Today, myself struggling to walk without clenching, I have sympathy for poor old Skidz. Like me, there was probably an all-out war going on below his studded biker belt. He too must have been experiencing a daily battle to, er… let’s say “fend off the cotton army from marauding too deep into the valley”.

Such memories came back to me as a result of spending a lot of time these recent weeks carting my own boxers to and from the local laundrette. The weird washing machine that we inherited with the house a couple of years ago finally broke down irreparably. Buy a new one, you say? Well, it turns out the previous owner who commissioned the fitted kitchen – I’m guessing it was a man who had never actually used a kitchen in his life except to munch a nectarine while leaning over a sink – allocated a precise width uniquely intended for this specific model of washing machine.

Of course, it turns out to be a non-standard width. It is five millimetres too narrow for any other washing machine manufactured in the modern era since the dawn of the industrial revolution.

Height, depth, access to pipes – all these are fine. But the unique width meant either dismantling and rebuilding the whole fitted kitchen or ordering an identical model of washing machine from Germany.

Argh, just one small error and the whole process of convenient chuddiecleansing is ruined.

It’s like when I go to my local library, sorry, “mediateque” (it’s got some DVDs), there is always one item that interferes with the self-checkout. Just the one, the rest are fine. Pass your books and other items over this pad, it tells me. Bleep, bleep, bleep… blurrt! Bastard thing, it’s always the last one. I try again. Blurrt! And again. Blurrt! Blurrt!

As usual, I trot over to a desk and ask a bored librarian, sorry, mediatechnician, for help. As usual, they take the item and pass it back and forth inside a magic box (What’s inside? Pain?) before handing it back and saying they have done it for me. As usual I ask what the problem was. As usual, they tell me, “Oh, it just didn’t work” – which, also as usual, makes me feel good about my own powers of deduction because that’s exactly what I thought the problem was too.

Why is it always the last item I scan? More to the point, how does it know it’s the last item? Argh, just one small error and whole process of civic mediaborrowing is ruined.

Back home, I open my letter box to find a B4 envelope of documents inviting me to the annual meeting of the residents’ management company. All of this is accessible in my personal resident’s account on their website, I grumble privately, so why have they posted it to me? Such a waste. They could have just emailed me a notification to say the docs were ready to consult online.

In fact, one of the A4 sheets in the pack apologises that sending the printed documents to me costs €6. It goes on to say I can reduce this to an implausible €3 by opting for an email notification instead. Oh good, they’re not completely dim, then. So I log in and hunt for whatever subscription form or email notification option I need to complete.

There isn’t one.

Consulting the printed pack again, I discover another printed A4 sheet that is the email notification subscription form. The only way to opt in for email notifications from your existing online account is to grab a pen, fill out the paper form with all your details, put it in an envelope, send it back by conventional post and hope for the best.

Argh, just one small glitch and the whole process of slick notificationalisation is ruined.

Things are looking up, though, as our new washing machine has just been delivered. A couple of burly guys cart away the now-evil-smelling old one, rig up the pipes, slot its replacement exactly into its millimetre-precise gap with the aid of some WD-40, and press the “On” button to test it.

Nothing happens.

They slip the unit back out of the kitchen units and have a look behind. “Oh, we forgot to plug it in.” With it duly connected to the mains, we now have a working washing machine and my weekly laundrette yomps are a thing of the past. Hooray.

Hang on, I’m starting to see a pattern here. Almost everything is in its place but it’s always the one little detail, the one erroneous link, the one surplus slash, the one semicolon missing from the end of a line, that cocks up the entire process.

Whatever happened to redundant systems? One of the things I like about Google Search is that you can type in any old crap into the search field and it usually works out what you really meant. If it can take the trouble to correct my mistakes, why can’t simple automated processes correct their own, like my washing machine installers just did?

I console myself by putting on an improbably hot wash in the vague hope that my new underwear will deform into a shape that approximates to human physique. As I gaze absent-mindedly at the suds sloshing back and forth, a similarly distracted desk jockey at the residents’ management company is copying the written details from my email notification application form into their automated mailing list.

This time next year, a Mr Dobbs somewhere in the world will open his email inbox and wonder why he have been invited to a residents’ meeting in the south of France.

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Alistair Dabbs

Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. Talking of badly spelt names, one of the prospective far-right presidential candidates in France has been complaining that parents are not giving their children decent French forenames any more. This satirical website duly appeared (as they do) where you can look up your own forename and have it Frenchified. Give it a try. More at Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.




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