2019-01-09 / Opinions & Letters

Man vs. machine

Midwest Memo
by Alan Shultz

I got the oil changed in my Buick a couple weeks back. I made an early morning appointment at the dealership so I could get in and out quickly. That plan evaporated somewhere in the “initial here” phase of the paperwork. That’s when my service consultant said it was time to realign the front end.

Three hours later I was back on the road again.

And since that moment, the car has been reminding me constantly when I’m due back.

“Can’t you change that screen?” my wife asked the other day, as she studied the picture of the oil can flashing on our dash and saying “97 percent oil capacity.”

Two years after purchasing the car, I have yet to find the AM band on the car radio or how to use the navigation system or how to start the car remotely with my Apple I-phone.

I’m guilty as charged in that I have not given the owner’s manual a good study. I’m staying on a need to know basis of the car’s workings.

But the secret to turning on the car remotely, and warming up those cold leather seats, is hidden somewhere in my Iphone and not in the owner’s manual. My I-phone is 4 generations behind the current one on market, so there’s nothing cutting edge about the communication, or lack of same, between the car and the phone. The reason the phone refuses to turn on the car is that my inner I-phone password (the one that Apple can’t reset) is known to no person - including yours truly. The phone will take that little secret with it when it finishes its service. The phone and the car remain in somewhat of a silent feud.

Complex machines are taking over, or at least they have the upper hand.

We got a new washer and dryer the other day… reluctantly.

It was necessary. The old washer had a broken center fin on the agitator. Somehow that translated to the washer tying most of the clothes into tight knots. That eccentricity added an entire additional cycle to the wash routine. There was washing and drying, for sure, but then there was also “knot undoing” in between.

The new washer does not even have an agitator. How it exactly gets the clothes clean, I don’t know. I’ve tried to peek inside while it’s working. The moment I touch it the washer goes into a lock down mode where the lid locks, a string of blinking lights engage on the control panel and who knows what is next. There are more laundry settings on the thing than we have clothes. Virtually all settings include a second “do over” cycle and the on/off button is either concealed or does not exist.

The machine and I eye each other suspiciously for the time being.

The new dryer seems much simpler than the washer but it has a reminder buzz that will wake the dead. I think that horrible noise has something to do with why the washer acts so skittish.

I think there might be a market for real simple appliances to compete with all the high tech stuff. Simple things that just turn on and do the assigned function - like make coffee or toast bread - no ups, no extras - just one and done. In my book, the ultimate retro appliance comes with no instructions whatsoever.

Maybe I’m a little late to the marketplace with this idea.

Recently I went on eBay in search of a vintage radio alarm clock. I wound up with a General Electric plastic one from the 1960s. It arrived in its original box wrapped in its original plastic. The clock lived up to its advertised hype - “received as a gift and never used.”

The most exciting thing about the clock was I plugged it in, set the time with the round knob in the back, flipped on the radio - and it was off and running. And although there were instructions – I left them unread. The only reason I would have to check those instructions would be if somehow this blast from the past can do more than it appears able to do.

I certainly don’t need or expect it to actually turn on the Buick like the phone is supposed to do. But boy if it could somehow warm those seats - well wouldn’t that be swell!

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