The Forbin Project in Practice: One Household Appliance at a Time

Although it's not Dr. Forbin's Colossus (one of the first AI systems to attempt to destroy the world on film --note the "on film" please), it is quite irritating, and the result might eventually be the same: We recently replaced our oven - why? the computer went out on it. We recently replaced our washer -- it was quite difficult to find a new washer without a computer in it, a computer that would be exposed to warm, wet vibrational conditions every day. We just disconnected the waterbath from our microcalorimeter - why? the on-board computer that controls the $ 3K water bath went out and kept shutting the whole $ 90K system down (what? a computer in a warm, wet environment? why would it have a problem?). It would have been nicer to be doing calorimetric experiments rather than troubleshooting this un-needed on-board computer problem for the past couple of days.

When I replaced my car, why did I get rid of the old one? the computer went out in it. When we performed microgravity experiments on NASA's Vomit Comet with over $200,000 of equipment in the most equipment harsh environment I personally have yet worked, what was the only piece of equipment that had a problem? I wonder, could it be: the computer? It actually fried itself and blew a circuit breaker on the plane, in flight - thankfully they isolate the equipment power from the plane's power.

We are creating tons of cast off home and lab appliances that are in perfectly good working order, except for the fact that the computer went out on them, and virtually no company on Earth makes replacement on-board computers for their appliances for more than a few years before they move on to their next model, and the next computer controlled appliance: Toaster? Blender? Why does my refrigerator have to have a computer in it? Obviously so that I'll have to replace it in 2-3 years instead of 10. Some things need computer control, some things really just don't. Destroying the world, one washing machine at a time.

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In autos consider that the computer has replaced the carb. Carb icing has gone away with the fuel injection that the computer required. Also anti lock brakes make the car safer. On washers you just have to move to a cheaper model to delete the computer, unless you mean the replacement of a mechanical timer with an electronic one.

This is one of the reasons I use cameras that are 30+ years old--they still work fine after 30+ years. I've got a chrome Sunbeam waffle iron from 1955 that still makes great waffles. And a 1950s Mixmaster. My oven is a mid-90s vintage Wolf with no electronic anything--plan to keep that going as long as possible. Now that I think about it, a lot of my kitchen stuff is 15 or more years old, made when these things were made in American factories with a little quality control. I think the new dishwasher has electronics, but I'm not sure--we haven't used it yet. I suppose we will someday. That reminds me, I need to order a new chain for my bicycle.

On the other hand, I have a mechanical washing machine that's in good condition, except that the broken gear-switch that controls it is made out of tin -- tin for crying out loud! -- and I can't use it. Replacing the stupid f*cking tin switchplate is price-comparable to replacing the digital unit in your high-falutin' digital washing machine. So what do you recommend I buy? Another mechanical system with a tin gear-switch, or an electronic unit that runs in a moist, high-vibration environment?

The issue isn't technology; the issue is planned obsolescence.

Products are designed to fail. Welcome to the First World.

Friends just got a new crockpot. Problem is it's controlled by a computer. Knowing what heat does to electronics I can see the misery coming for them.

And the computer, why the hell can't it do multi-level settings, E.g. 2 hours on high, then 4 hours on low. Instead you have to stick around for it. It sucks.

"Replacing the stupid f*cking tin switchplate is price-comparable to replacing the digital unit in your high-falutin' digital washing machine. So what do you recommend I buy?"

I'd think the answer lies in which one is going to last longer. How old is the unit with the tin plate? More than five years, or less? If the answer is more than five, I'd say get a new tin plate.

That reminds me of the kerfluffle a few years back when Kitchenaid started making mixers with plastic gears. KA mixers used to have a reputation as being made to last decades--practically heirlooms (mine is about 20 years). Now they don't. (KA claims to have fixed this issue, though.) So, indeed, there are many ways to cheapify your product before turning it into consumer electronics.

The only reason I've given any thought to replacing my fridge or washing machine is that newer ones are more resource efficient, at least with water and electricity. But if they have to be replaced or repaired more frequently, then that is a waste of material resources. So I'm figuring at this point to keep the current machines until they actually die.

HP - gear switch made out of tin? I could cast a new one in my garden. What sort of size and complexity is it?

the automatic led night light should have lived longer than me, but the light sensor circuit board failed after six months... now it's just one more piece of stuff from China that I (and my kid) can live without.

That "broken gear-switch" sounds like it might be the
master switch, as I think it is called. It is eminently
replaceable, and you probably have a brick-and-mortar place
in town where you could slap it on the counter, and without
a word being exchanged, be given a replacement part.

If you don't have one of those, then find an appliance parts
place online, and search by manufacturer and model number.

What I am saying is that you can fix it yourself for about
75 bucks, if your diagnosis is accurate, and your skills
are adequate.

And to be pedantic, nothing is made out of tin. It might be
a zinc based casting, or it might be galvanized or thin steel,
but it is not tin, unless you are talking about an organ pipe
or an old wine capsule for the cork. Tin foil is long, long

Dinosaur Electronics makes modern electronic boards for old
RV appliances, some of which actually enhance the
functionality of these old furnaces and refrigerators over
their original electromechanical and simple electronic controllers.

There is a law of nature that the more a gadget can do, the less user friendly it is. For years, I had an old Maytag washer and drier which had very simple controls, and I could run them. In 2000, I moved and went to get new washer and drier. I told the Maytag man what I was used to the that I wanted the same thing. He said Maytag understood. He sold me basically the same washer and drier with maybe one more option. I can run them fine.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 01 Feb 2010 #permalink

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