Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Old habits die hard

It's raining. Nothing new. For the second time today, I saw a German guy standing under a covered streetcar stop holding an umbrella just as he would under the rain. There was plenty of room to set it down, and free benches. The effectiveness of the plastic rain shield was continually verified by the dry ground below us (not just his umbrella). There were only a few inches between the top of his umbrella and the rain shield. Had he been guarding against a sudden blast of wind, it would have been strong enough to demolish his umbrella and probably kill us both.

'Dude, what the fuck is wrong with German people?'
-- Stan Marsh, South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut

So exhausts a quote that could probably be used many times. And mea culpa. At least he was warm, whereas I was sitting on a cold metal bench wearing a short sleeved shirt. I earned considerable mockery for this today, and it's hard to think of a snappy comeback while shivering. However, at all times since arriving here, I have had my sunglasses handy. If the sun sneaks out, I'll be ready, whereas Bremeners who didn't heed the Beatles will flee. I do normally have the sense to bring a coat if the weather looks foreboding. Colorado gets quite cold in the winter. Yet there the weather is predictable. Weather.com, morning cloud cover, even the leaf curvature on my little basil plants each morning provide no useful forecast. But the plants smell nice, and taste good. I predict maultaschen tomorrow.

I also unlock my office door in typical American fashion and then assume it is unlocked. This is a habit I have mostly unleared. Yet I remain convinced that the German double-locking system is quite stupid. German doors allow you to rotate the key a second time, thus driving the deadbolt further into the slot and double locking it. My officemate and friend Bernhard, despite his engineering PhD and repeated amusement at my error, is unable to explain any meaningful functional distinction between single and double locking. I'll throw the gauntlet further: I defy anyone to identify one situation when someone would want their door locked, but not maximally locked. Either you want people to be able to open the door, or you don't. I hope one of my fellow cog sci fans will provide me the correct quote below, but paraphrasing Don Norman from 'The Design of Everyday Things:'

I have trouble opening doors. Doors, I hear the reader ask? You have trouble opening doors. Yes. I do. I have a PhD in engineering from MIT, and I push doors that are meant to be pulled, and pull doors that are meant to be pushed.

I have a PhD in UCSD Cognitive Science, a department founded by Donald Norman. I thus declare all double-locked doors to be Norman Doors. Just as you shouldn't put a handle on a door meant to be pushed, don't allow double locking when door accessibility should be binary.

Now would be a fitting time to mock the washing machine in my apartment, which shares a design quirk with Chris Lohr's old machine in Paris. Its dial allows you to specify the wash temperature within a fraction of a degree. Again, why offer unnecessary functionality? Are the frogs that discerning? Am I exhibiting the same American barbarism that leaves us impervious to a .2 degree fluctuation in wine or cheese temperature? Anyone care to bet money (not francs) on whether they could consistently identify which pile of clothes was washed in 22.4 vs 22.6 degree water? Go ahead and use Celsius.

1 comment:

David Leland said...

Actually, our lab at the La Jolla Village Professional Center has a double-locking mechanism, although our internal doors may not lock at all (can't recall). Maybe when you double lock you can't even use the handle to open the door from the inside? Not sure because who would bother, since you can of course unlock the lock from the inside. So, I'm with you on the stupidity of the thing but it certainly isn't just a German oddity; we've got it back here right across the street from UCSD.