Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Everyday Things That Suck: Appliances That Glow Blue

Welcome to the first installment in my new blog series: Everyday Things That Suck. Its purpose is to round up various everyday items and gadgets, things that a lot of people think are just fine or even terrific, and explain why those items, in fact, suck. In the grand scheme of things, this post and others like it are a part of my ongoing doomed effort to change the world through judicious mockery, into something more to my liking.

My husband recently built his own desktop computer. To do this, he had to purchase a number of components, the largest of which was the case. It comes with lights, of course, that let you know when it's powered up. Blue lights, as it happens. One of those lights shines through the fan and the front grille, which diffuses it into a large blue glow.

My husband and I have had a number of discussions about that glow, because I hate it. I harbour an intense and irrational hatred for all appliances that glow blue, and while that may sound a tad nuts, and you may be excused in thinking I could use a little professional help, I believe I have come by it honestly.

Years ago, my mother bought combination clock radio and CD player. I think it's a Sony. It must have looked innocent enough in the store. Come nightfall, however, the blue glow it emits, which is barely noticeable during the day, becomes a two-foot halo that renders any bedroom hostile to the act of sleep.

Honestly, Sony. Where you think people put clock radios? They put them in the bedroom—you know, the place where they sleep. That's why clock radios come with alarms. Where else would you put one? The garage? And you choose to make yours do double duty as a light-pollution machine. Oh, hurrah, Sony. Hurrah.

For many years, the Blue Halo From Hell lived in my parents' spare bedroom. When I would come to visit, that was where I would stay, and one of my first acts on entering the room, usually before unpacking the suitcase, was to unplug the demon device. There was no other way I could sleep with that thing in the room.

That little glowing monstrosity primed me to hate glowing appliances. Since then, the number of appliances that glow, usually blue, has increased exponentially. Why blue, by the way? Is it in any way related to the blue liquid that gets poured onto diapers and sanitary pads in TV ads? In the world of consumer products, blue seems to be the traditional default colour. I know that you can also get computer desktop cases that glow red, but maybe that's because building your own computer is seen as a macho activity, typically engaged in by guys who like to play violent games, and red, being the colour of blood, is a good macho colour. Most other appliances glow blue.

There are those new single-serving coffee makers, by Keurig and other companies. There are a lot of good reasons to hate these machines, which are enjoying an unfortunate surge of popularity right now. They encourage profligate waste, and their concept is basically stupid.

Consider the coffee-filled plastic cup or "k-cup" that goes into the machine. Consider what happens to it after your coffee is made. What are you going to do with it? Other plastic containers have a hope of being recycled. Since these containers are full of wet, used coffee, the only place they're going is into a garbage can, along with their biodegradable, compostable contents. And they're going into garbage cans in ever-greater numbers as these machines pop up in coffee shops and convenience stores everywhere. In an increasing number of coffee shops, they're your only option for decaf.

As for the stupidity of the concept, I think the Keurig TV ad speaks for itself.* A couple prepares coffee in their kitchen. It's not a single person in his or her kitchen, of course. That would make more sense, but it might also suggest loneliness. Keurig doesn't want its product associated with loneliness, so it has to have a couple in the kitchen, and guess what? They can't drink their coffee together because they can only make one cup at a time. How idiotic is that? If they had a traditional brewing machine or French press, they could drink their coffee together. But no, better they should each make one coffee at a time and pretend that's convenient so that Keurig can make lots of money and the couple can produce even more garbage than they were before, which was probably plenty. (By the way, Canada produces more garbage per capita than any other country in the world. As Margaret Atwood once said, "At least we're number one in something." Bring on the k-cups!)

And on top of all this, the machines glow blue. Just in case they weren't wasteful enough to begin with.

Smart phones also glow blue, which seems appropriate, given that they too can be linked to loneliness. While staying in Halifax recently, I saw a sad sight in the hotel elevator. A couple got on. The man, oblivious to his surroundings, stared into the blue glow of his smart phone and ran his fingers over the touch screen, again and again. The woman also held a blue-glowing smart phone, but looked less interested in it. Her frequent glances round indicated she might have liked to have a conversation, if she'd had a non-oblivious companion. But she didn't, so she kept unenthusiastically turning back to her little blue screen. Arguably, the more we use machines that are supposed to connect us to other people and help us communicate, the more alone we are. That's certainly what I witnessed on that elevator.

Come to think of it, I guess the couple from the Keurig ad doesn't need to drink coffee together. They're probably both buried in their smart phones anyway.

Then there's a product I saw in a Canadian Tire flyer: the NOMA vertical power bar. According to the copy, it automatically turns outlets on and off "to prevent phantom power consumption." I'm assuming this refers to appliances that draw power all the time, not just when they're in use. TVs do this, so they can be ready to flick on at a moment's notice. It only takes about five seconds for a modern TV set to warm up from a cold state, but apparently that's too much for the modern on-the-go (or on-the-couch) consumer. As well, lots of things with glowing displays, like microwaves, draw power constantly. Therefore, a power bar can help you save electricity.

But there's a catch. The NOMA vertical power bar helpfully emits a blue glow at all times, so that the power you saved by having a power bar can be offset by the power required to make the glow. Thanks NOMA!

Oh, I almost forgot. I recently used an automatic hand dryer in a public washroom, and it beamed a circle of blue light onto my hands. Yeah, that's useful. After all, you never know when some poor soul with numb hands, possibly a diabetic, will use the public washroom, and if they can't feel the warm air, they need some other way to know where to hold their hands for maximum drying efficacy. And maybe it's not enough to simply look at which way the nozzle is pointing, because their eyesight could be going too. Certainly, accessible public washrooms is a laudable goal, and that must be the reason for the blue circle of light, because what other purpose could it possibly serve? Other than wasting power?

Back to our blue-glowing desktop computer. (Great Spoonerism opportunity by the way. I almost typed "glue blowing," which would be a different matter. I'm not sure what kind of matter, but different.) My husband assured me that the extra power usage is minimal because the blue glow comes from LEDs (Light-Emitting Diodes), which use very little power. I don't really care. I find it annoying, period. I don't need the whole friggin' inside of my house to glow like some kind of complementary-colour bordello.

I got vindication for my position when we started using the computer to watch The Daily Show and Colbert Report. We have the computer monitor in the middle of the desk and the desktop off to the right side. I have found that if I sit to the right, I am distracted by the blue glow taking up the right quarter of my visual field. When you're trying to watch a video on the computer, it's pretty annoying. So now my husband always has to sit on the right while I sit on the left, in front of the inoffensive flatbed scanner, which glows quite a lot when it is scanning but never when it isn't, bless it. Perhaps that's because it's an old scanner and dates back to before the Great Blue Glow Age (GBGA, for short).

You see? It's not just a question of aesthetics. Those blue glows lighting up all over the "developed" world can cause genuine problems, from sleep deprivation to distraction. I rest my case. Blue-glowing appliances suck. Thank you.

* If you want to see the Keurig ad, it's available on YouTube. I'm not providing a link because I want to avoid encouraging anybody to buy these machines. Back


Susan Douglas said...

I recently got a cheap android device. I thought I could use it as a clever alarm clock beside my bed.
But, guess what?
Even with the screen off it glows enough to light up the whole room. Apparently it has to glow a bit to keep the touch screen going.
My favorite blue glowing thing is the end of my laptop plug in. (The end that goes into the machine.) It would make sense if it glowed when it wasn't plugged into the computer. Then it would prevent you from stepping on it in the middle of the night. But no! It also glows when it is plugged in -- theoretically safe from nocturnal stomping.

Vivian said...

I guess your laptop can double as a night light. :)

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