Sharp Blue: Badly designed batteries


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Yesterday, my grandad’s new digital TV box stopped working properly. The box’s seemingly decided that he wanted Sky News no matter what buttons he pressed on the remote control. I’d only installed the box a couple of weeks ago so my first thought was that perhaps the batteries in the remote were dead (I’ve found that batteries suppled with new hi-fi separates don’t often last long). This evening he phoned to say he’d replaced the batteries and it still wasn’t working. After a little puzzlement, I asked him to check he’d put them in the right way round and he said he had. There was no option left but for me to drive over and fix the box myself. After repeating the diagnostic procedures I’d asked him to try himself, I found that despite his repeated checks, he had in fact put one of the batteries in the wrong way round.

This problem took an hour to fix (including driving and phone time), and most of that was because of bad design. There’s no reason at all for the batteries to be designed in such a way that they can be fitted in either orientation. It’s scandalous that they were designed that way when the design offers no benefit and makes it easy to make such elementary but hard to uncover errors. It needn’t be that way; 9V batteries, for example, are designed to be foolproof. If he didn’t have anyone willing to go out of their way to help him, he’d probably have had to call in an engineer. And he can’t have been the first person to make such a mistake. In fact, many people with poor sight probably do the same thing every day. All that frustration, for no reason at all.

It’s also a scandal that we tolerate such lazy designs, not just in batteries but also in almost everything else. If we can’t even get the user interface to the humble battery right, what hope do we have of making complex artifacts like cell phones, digital cameras or personal computers easy to use?

The original statement of Murphy's Law goes something like: "If there are two or more ways to do something, and one of those ways can result in a catastrophe, then someone will do it."

And now we've forgotten what it meant. Murphy's law acting on itself?


*laughs hard* You have to be joking Rich. :-) I mean, yeah, I guess they could be made fail safe, but there are many more things that are poorly designed and DANGEROUS. Check out the door on North America Saturn's- the automatic seat belt sometimes comes undone, leaving a sharp, pokey piece of metal right at eye-height for you to hit when you get out of the car. Then again, there are radios designed to go IN the shower... some poor fool might get the idea that one radio is as good as the next, plug in a sony portable and electrocute himself. Or escalators and lose shoe laces- almost had my foot ripped off. I especially love the overhanging wall on some escalators at the bay. It cuts off sharply without a gradual curve, so if someone is looking out over the side of the escalator and off in la la land they could get decapitated by the escalator simply pulling them upwards- with thier neck over the line. As if somebody already thought of this, some of these guillotine walls are edged with red paint.

I just find it funny that out of all the stupid designs out there you picked up on batteries! Batteries are pretty tame, really. Check out faulty arm guards on meat cutters or some of the piccies on to get an idea of what can happen with really dangerous designs.

Okay, so batteries aren't dangerous if you use them incorrectly, but I'd just spent hours trying to sort out a problem they'd caused. If I'd accidentally cut off all my fingers in a polythene cutting machine (as one of my dad's coworkers once almost did - he lost the tips of several fingers), then I'd probably have written about that instead. Slowly.

My real point is that bad design is everywhere around us, and nobody seems to care very much. I'll have much more to say about this in the future...

People don't car cause in the end everything is pointless and stupid anyway and only death matters. Seriously. Who cares about anything, really... I don't care... getting one's fingers chopped off might be kind of fun, at least in my boring world.

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