Feb 162012

This week we had a minor disaster involving a washing machine, several-to-many gallons of water and some extremely soggy carpets. I received a call at work from she who must be obeyed. “I’ve flooded the house!” she cried. I dashed home while imagining burst pipes and scenes from “Das Boot” and “The Poseidon Adventure” to find we had a paddling pool in the utility room along with the adjoining kitchen and bathrooms. Water was flowing at a steady rate from the top of the washing machine, which had decided it didn’t want to pump out anymore.

I turned off the electric and water supplies and set the wife to the task of mopping up… A little while later I returned home with our new mop and bucket. I then resumed my examination of the machine. While it was no longer pouring with water it was still full, REALLY full. Opening the front loading door at this point wasn’t an option and reaching the drain behind was impossible.

I found pulling hard on the bottom of the door just broke the seal allowing the water to drain out slowly. I was able to capture some of the water in a square sided bucket pressed up against the machine, “Keep mopping dear!” This was taking too long and my fingers were starting to ache, so I bit the bullet, positioned the bucket and opened the washer’s door. “All hands to pumps! Prepare to blow main ballast….” Das Boot popped into my head again. “Keep mopping dear!” Eventually the washing was recovered from the machine and mopping up was well underway, so I returned to work with a cheery “Keep mopping dear!”

I was talking to colleagues at work about this and was surprised how many asked, “Is it five years old?” It seems apparent that Washing Machines are built to last nowadays. Built to last five years that is, and no more. The number of people with the same story of a machine breaking down, spectacularly or otherwise, soon after its fifth anniversary was amazing.

I’m sure that the technology is around that can mass produce mid-range washing machines that perform for years and years, however this wouldn’t be good news for manufacturers. Building in obsolescence makes sense if you want to keep on selling washing machines, but the fact that they all seem to go around the same time does hint at some sort of cartel like conspiracy.

I paid around two hundred and fifty pounds for the replacement machine including delivery and installation. Assuming this one lasts another fives years, that’s fifty pounds a year for in-house laundry facilities. If we didn’t have a washing machine I’d happily pay someone fifty quid a year to lug the laundry to and from the launderette several times a week, so I still think it’s reasonable value for money.

If only I could be confident that when it does breakdown, it does so without allowing gallons of water to pour out. If a manufacture was to come clean and state their machine will last five years and then die gracefully without soaking the carpets, I would be first in the queue. Better still, provide us with a warning light that comes on a couple of weeks before it dies so we can replace it before it commits suicide. Now that would be selling point considering the risk of flooding.

Many other items, especially among household goods must be built to a pre-defined lifespan. The manufacturer must have a lifespan in mind when they source their components. Everything is built to a quality standard, be it good, or be it not so good. Expected lifespan of a product is just one element of the quality specification.

Maybe they think telling us when something is likely do break down will put buyers off. If manufactures were more open and honest about the expected lifespan of their products I think they’d find more customers willing to invest in them. I’m not talking about warranty periods; we all expect things to last some time beyond its warranty. However, no one really expects anything to last forever, but knowing how long we can reasonably expect something to last would be a great selling point.

May 062011

We’ll the early summer sunshine finally broke yesterday and we got our first proper rain for several weeks. A huge sigh of relief from everyone as we now have something different to say to our colleagues in the mornings and a ready excuse for being miserable as we arrive for work. When the sun is shining you feel obliged to look cheerful and greet your co-workers with a smile and a “turned out nice again”. No such pressure when it’s raining, you can arrive grumpy and start the day as you mean to continue.

A feeling of doom and gloom turned out to be quite appropriate as I had to attend a Business Continuity Workshop. This is one of those “What if?” disaster type workshops where you discuss the worst thing that could happen and then begin to plan what you would do if it did. To cut a loooooong story short, we finally went for the building blowing up as the worst possible scenario and proceeded to identify what we needed to do to prepare for such an event and create a plan to recover the business as quickly as possible. Although I could think of much worse scenarios, I didn’t speak up as the subsequent planning involved would be too tedious to contemplate.

An asteroid could hit the planet and those who weren’t killed by the blast, earthquake, tsunami, etc would be plunged into a post apocalyptic nightmare as the dust cloud blocks out the sun and everything withers and slowly dies of starvation, until finally, the last remaining cannibalistic remnant of humanity looks up from the barren landscape to see the first chink of sunlight break through the ash cloud for decades and with his final breath and a forced smile he says, “turned out nice again”.