Sunday, June 19, 2005

imagine the world run by stupid people [related post: the broken arrow syndrome]

Welcome back to the apartment complex from hell. Arkham would be a good name for it. Our feature for the day is the laundromat on the grounds. Rewind to about a week ago. The existing system comprised a set of washers and dryers that could be operated using a central console. This console accepted either your credit card or a specially charged card (should you worry too much about the privacy you never had) you could pick up from the leasing office. If you chose to use your credit card (clearly, the most convenient option), you were charged a minimum of $15. The system would then go through the sounds and scenes of issuing you a receipt (of course, for over a year now, we haven't seen a receipt -- they ran out of paper and ink a long time and never bothered to refuel because this wasn't an essential service: perhaps the mindset was "what self-respecting privacy-loving individualistic American resident would want to look cheap by using a community [yuck!] laundromat when he/she could buy his/her own inflatedly-priced (or superficially subsidised) edition with bells and whistles?". Back to the console. A 21 minute wash (don't ask me about the heuristics behind that number) was worth $1 as was a less-than-60-minute drying cycle. Each time you stepped up to console, you slid your card into the reader, the savvy console would present you with your balance and you had to then punch in the number of the machine you wanted to activate. Simple! Of course, the washers and dryers they had were as reliable as paper for a floor. So you could lose a lot of money trying to get things right (after all, it was only after the drying cycle was done that you might find out that the dryer didn't really "dry" your clothes). Leaving notes (as recommended by rules on a plaque affixed to a wall inside) only ensured that you had documented your frustration succinctly. Just like Microsoft's service patches, the fix would roll out at their leisure. Despite all these flaws, this system worked -- for the most part. You got used to it with all its quirks and warts.

Flash forward to the present. Over a fort-week ago you saw a printed notice in the laundromat about their moving to a new laundry system (with all the marketing jargon and exclamation marks to convince you that this was the greatest thing since the flushing crapper). Now you do your laundry every 14 days. 14 days since that notice, you step into the laundromat one fine Sunday morning. Despite summer having set in, it's cooler outside today (although that makes your apartment stuffy as a skunk's rear end). The first thing you see is that there's an slot in the wall where a dryer used to reside ("wow! some resident really had a bad time here", you think). Then you see the spanky new machines. The new console. You enter. With a good background in the best practices of software engineering, you expect the usual from this migration (since there has been no written notification sent to residents): the transition has been smooth; your current account can be used; you will be able to use the newer machines with ease. Guess what? Wrong on all counts. The first blow comes from the console. It's a new company and so you can almost kiss your balance with the last system good bye. You step up the console and try to decipher the procedure to get a new card (all those purple-green graphics and text blocks hurt the eye more than constipation!). Surprise! This damn thing doesn't take a credit card. "Well," you say, "I have some notes [US: bills] I can use". Aha! This thing will accept only a $5 note for the initial deposit. Once you have your card, you are free to charge it with $5, $10 or $15 notes. Excellent. Guess which denomination you lack in your wallet? Bingo! So now you're standing there with your clothes and detergent staring at a set of unoccupied washers, unable to use any of them. Talk about having a great opportunity! You decide to do your groceries first (part of the plan, mind you) and grab some change from the store. Yes, Murphy strikes again. They don't have change. It's early in the day, and it's Sunday. Wonderful! You return to the laundromat eventually, and run into a friend who, coincidentally, was also in the same sinking boat as you were (surprise, shock, and all that), but had chaneg! Another resident shares your dismay and discombobulation. You now have $5. The console warns you that of the initial $5 you deposit, you will only have $3 to use. This means you need to charge more (just in case). Luckily, you have notes of higher denominations for the rest of the process. You now take a deep breath, and get a fat plastic ugly card charged with money. Several minutes later, you are rewarded finally for your patience. Two washers are free. You typically need one. Alas! Gone are the days of space and washes. This new sleek contraption is a poor excuse for a washer. All silent hums and stupid instructions (more on that in a bit) aside, this thing is so small you're going to have to use both washers. How's that for progress? Your single $1-value wash has now become a more expensive proposition (two washers -- each with a $1.20 tag). The UI is appalling, as always. The initial display reads "1.20" and blinks to and from "1.50SuperCycle". The SuperCycle is an enhanced wash cycle (aside from the bells and whistles which don't make sense to you, it's also $.30 more!!). The instructions aren't clear on how to avoid a SuperCycle, but, luckily, you don't end up with a more expensive option. Unless you hold your palm tightly against the front of the washer you have no way of knowing if the damn thing actually works. "But, it's a new system. How can it fail so soon?" is the question you answer by pointing to a washer nearby with a complaint note from two days ago stuffed in the space between the door and the maw. Obviously providing a glass front to let people know that things are working would have made the system too usable.

You're waiting for the longer wash cycle (aah well! take consolation in the belief that the extra $.30 go into the extra minutes that you never asked for) to end so that you can snag two dryers (oh crap! there aren't any available!). You can see yourself sitting here till sundown (after which you still have to iron everything). You are searching online shopping sites for a wreath of thorns soaked in laxatives that you can gift the people responsible for instituting this brand new system. Somewhere, a happy bird craps on a brand new car ... Life goes on.

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