Why is it difficult to make a reliable refrigerator?

We had a 7-year-old GE refrigerator that would fail every couple of years, requiring $400-500 in service. We got tired of throwing out spoiled food and living out of coolers for 3-4 days so we invested $2,600 in a KitchenAid (one of the few with the same dimensions as the old GE, which fit into a kitchen recess that an architect thought was a good idea).

The KitchenAid failed after three weeks, unable to keep the refrigerator side cooler than 50 degrees. (It has a separate evaporator on the freezer side, so we can live on microwave pizza.)

Given decades of experience and continuous improvements in electronics, why is it difficult to engineer and build a working refrigerator? A modern Honda or Toyota may run for three years and 36,000 miles without anything failing, despite being exposed to hot and cold temperatures and vibration. The car has myriad systems, each of which could fail independently, and yet generally these all soldier on for 5-7 years before the first failure of any kind.

“Owner Satisfaction” is terrible with all refrigerators, according to Consumer Reports. LG is the only brand that achieves a 5/10. Whirlpool and KitchenAid are down at 3/10. Compare to 9/10 for Bosch or Miele dishwashers or 9/10 for LG washing machines.

What’s the challenge with an apparently simple fridge, sitting in a kitchen that is kept within +/- 5 degrees of 72?

[We discovered during this process why modern McMansions are always built with at least two refrigerators. BestBuy refused to accept a return on the unit, citing that it was purchased more than 15 days previously. Whirlpool/KitchenAid wouldn’t answer the phone on a Sunday, but when I got hold of them on Monday morning they cheerfully described their full warranty. They would be happy to come look at the fridge and begin the process of diagnosing the failure… in October. Was that normal? “Oh yes,” said the agent on September 17, “In a lot of areas I’m scheduling the second or third week of October as the first available visit.”]

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Software updates before a trip now take longer than packing?

I’m heading out on a trip that will involve limited Internet connectivity. My notebook computer hadn’t been turned on for 1.5 weeks. Updating that to the latest version of Windows 10 took four tries and roughly three hours (admittedly this was a bigger update than usual and there was also a Dell BIOS update). I’m taking a Sony a7F II camera and two lenses. Software updates were available for all three of these items. Downloading them required resetting my password on the Sony web site, verifying my Sony account, download three Windows applications, running three separate Windows apps, connecting and disconnecting the camera via USB to the PC, following Sony instructions to remove the battery after each lens update, etc.

Thus, I think it is fair to say that updating devices took longer than packing up for a somewhat remote trip!

What if the Internet of Things became a reality? Given the security issues around completely automatic updates, will humans eventually be reduced to full-time sysadmins just for the stuff in their apartments?

Update: arrived in Copenhagen. Here’s the hotel coffee shop electronic menu screen:

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USB-C more durable than USB-A?

When trying to charge a phone from public charging stations and power outlets on airliners, one thing that I’ve noticed is that the USB-A (traditional rectangular) ports tend to be “loose like wizard sleeve”. Unless one is willing to hold the connector and apply pressure, therefore, they are useless for charging. I’m not sure how they get like this. I can’t remember a USB-A connector failing mechanically on a home computer or charger. Is it just that if 1,000 different cables have been plugged over a one- or two-year period that the socket is stretched out to the size of the largest? Compare to at home where I might use only three or four different cables in any given socket.

What’s the prognosis for USB-C? Are the tolerances more precise such that the public connectors will remain functional?

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Bose Eyeglasses?

“That’s how you show that you’re a douchebag if you can’t afford a Tesla,” said a friend regarding Apple’s AirPods.

At Oshkosh, Bose was demonstrating its old aviation headsets and its new eyeglass frames, which can supposedly play Bluetooth music (or a lecture on tape) for “up to 3.5 hours”. One annoying issue is that they require a custom charging adapter, so it is one more thing to lose when traveling.

Comment from a customer on the Bose site:

Yesterday I was on a long conversation outside of the office tower I work at. I joked with who I was talking to, “I wonder if someone is going to think I’m just talking to myself.”

Well, 45 minutes later a police car pulls up and an officer approaches me. Very nicely he explains that someone called reporting that someone had been pacing around the building talking to themselves for a while. I showed him my glasses and we both got a good laugh. He tried them on and liked them too! He then went on his way.

Do they work for those of us who need prescription lenses? The company says yes and that Costco can put in custom lenses.

Has anyone tried these? We played around with them for a few minutes and were favorably impressed. They seem good for walking the dog while listening to Audible and simultaneously being able to hear important sounds in the ambient environment. Main concern: I hate the idea of being tasked with something additional to charge daily.

Reviewers on Amazon are lukewarm (4 stars). Here’s a cruel, but presumably honest, one:

it looks like no effort was put into making them capable as a pair of sunglasses – the glare reflected on the inside makes them almost unusable. I’ve had $20 walmart fishing sunglasses outperform these.
But seriously, if you’re buying Bose sunglasses, you don’t care about the sunglasses part right? The styling alone is enough to drive away anyone who actually wants them as sunglasses. You want overpriced audio products that have poor bass, overdriven mids, and a logo that you can point out to all the lesser beings you meet. And these deliver on almost every one of those points.

But maybe still good enough for spoken word content from Audible? It seems that they’re not loud enough to be used in loud environments (like the coding pens of Silicon Valley?). And they’re not very high quality, but what would we expect for $200?

I love the idea of enhancing something that many of us are already required to wear, rather than adding more clutter to put on when leaving the house. I wonder if this is yet another example of something that would be awesome if battery technology were 10X better. Imagine if the entire frame were a 98 percent efficient solar cell charging a battery with gasoline-like power density.

Related:

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Schick razor blades: too sharp?

Happy Father’s Day!

This seems like a good time to wrap up the razor blade test inspired by Gillette’s Toxic Masculinity ad.

Side-by-side testing with multiple subjects and some female perspectives revealed that the Dorco Pace 7 is superior to Gillette’s latest and greatest 5-blade cartridges.

What about Schick? The present company is the result of a merger with Wilkinson Sword, the inventors of the modern razor blade. So they should know more about making blades per se than anyone else.

After testing the Schick cartridges that are compatible with Gillette handles and the Schick Xtreme 5 Pivot Ball system, my conclusion is that Dorco Pace 7 remains superior. The Schick blades may actually be sharper and possibly therefore better for certain skin types. At first it seems that the razor isn’t working because, unlike with Dorco and Gillette, there is no feeling of tugging. However, stubble is removed from one’s face so plainly the blades are working. I ended up preferring the Dorco and finding it easier to control.

Related:

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Why is the Bluetooth broadcast mode such a rare beast?

We manage a Pilatus PC-12 airplane in which the manufacturer certified a Sony car stereo as cabin entertainment. Totally state of the art… for 1995.

The speaker output of the car stereo is used to drive airliner-style six headphone outlets in the passenger cabin. They are all hooked up in parallel across the speaker outputs (100X the power required to drive modern noise-canceling headphones?).

Instead of trying to modernize this system, it would make sense to buy a stack of Monoprice Bluetooth noise-canceling over-the-ear headphones ($70 each) and drive them all from one smartphone. Except that the typical smartphone can drive only one Bluetooth audio device at a time.

How could the designers of this standard not have foreseen that people would want a broadcast mode?

This year-old Qualcomm web page says that the hardware for a lot of phones is now capable of broadcast audio via Bluetooth. The company publishes a page showing 7 headphones connected to one phone. Yet as far as I can tell, nobody is implementing this from software. Samsung offers “dual audio” on the S9 and S10 (two headphones). Apple offers nothing.

How did we get to the point that the latest and great technology makes it tougher to share music than it was with the original Sony Walkman (1979)?

[One idea for the airplane is to try to drive all six headphone jacks in parallel from an MP3 player or a Bluetooth headphone amp. The latest noise-canceling wired headphones have high impedance and sensitivity and therefore even six in parallel would be an easy load to drive. Or we could do nothing and wait for an Android implementation that actually enables the Qualcomm hardware capability?]

Entrepreneurs: A lot of aircraft now have USB power outlets. Owners would be happy to pay $1,000 or more for a little box that drives the Qualcomm hardware as intended. FAA certification shouldn’t be required since the device wouldn’t be permanently installed in the aircraft (no different than a passenger bringing a smartphone or tablet on board).

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Who will be the Marie Kondo for gun enthusiasts?

“ATF seizes more than 1,000 firearms at Los Angeles mansion” (The Hill):

Girard Damien Saenz, 56, was arrested and is expected to be charged with possessing, selling and manufacturing assault weapons, according to the LAPD.

Helicopter footage showed agents organizing the cache of more than 1,000 firearms removed from the home, laid out along the driveway.

Officials told ABC 7 out of Los Angeles that the weapons were found cluttered all around the home.

(emphasis added)

For those who love guns, perhaps there could be a Kondo-style business in which each of the 1,000 guns is handled and the owner asks “Does this semi-automatic rifle spark joy?”

Related:

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Friends weigh in on Dorco versus Gillette

An MD neighbor had the temerity to put a Trump sign on his lawn back 2016 (error swiftly corrected by righteous neighbors) so I thought it was safe to bring him a Dorco Pace 7 as a gift to free him from supporting Gillette’s campaign for gender justice. Recent text message, appended to a geriatric tennis invitation:

By the way, I like the Dorko [sic] razor very much. It gives a much closer shave than my Gillette. Thank you for introducing it to me.

I had purchased four Pace 7s to give away. From another recipient:

Dorco gives best shave I’ve ever had.

Whether spelled “Dorco” or “Dorko”, I hope that we can all agree this company has suffered in the marketplace due to its name!

Related:

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What’s a good online backup service? (Crashplan can do only 10 GB per day)

I used to back up my computer with Crashplan, but the service failed after I parked some big videos from our MIT Ground School class on a secondary drive. I was able to get it started again by beefing up its RAM allocation to 8 GB (it seems to use 3-5 GB; this is why I want every computer to have 64 GB of RAM minimum!) and cutting the backup interval to once/day (attempt to prevent a new backup starting from causing an in-progress upload to file).

The backup is unbelievably slow. Windows says Crashplan uses 0.1 Mbps most of the time, i.e., about 1/10,000th of the provisioned Verizon FiOS 1 Gbps symmetric link. My information will be at risk of drive failure for the next 83 days (about 830 GB of stuff that Crashplan missed during its failed period).

I pinged the Crashplan folks for support. It turns out that their goal is 10 GB per day:

Looking at your recent history, I’m seeing that you’re getting above-average upload speeds to us. CrashPlan users can expect to back up about 10 GB of information per day on average if their computer is powered on and not in standby mode.

In other words, the consumer who buys a $360 laptop at Amazon with a 1 TB hard drive, fills it up with family photos and videos, and then subscribes to the service will not have a complete backup until 3.5 months of being continuously connected (maybe not for a year if the laptop is turned on only when in use). The consumer who captures or modifies 1 hour of video every day will never get a complete backup, I don’t think.

[Update 5/6: Since the bandwidth used, according to Windows, is the same 24/7, I’m 99 percent sure that Crashplan is throttling to 100 kbps. The customer support emails use some careful language: “We do not apply throttling based on the size of your backup. We also do not limit upload speed based [on?] file sizes or types.”]

I started with Crashplan in 2012, according to this post on the topic:

[Update 11/15/2012: Based on the comments below, I installed CrashPlan. It is uploading 2.2 Mbps currently, maxing out the admittedly feeble Comcast cable modem upload capacity. So this makes it 22 times faster than Carbonite, throttled to 100 kbps.]

Given that it is only 1/20th of its former speed, I wonder if Crashplan has now discovered the miracle of throttling while charging customers for “unlimited” service.

“Why I Switched to Backblaze from CrashPlan” (February 2017):

I failed to get CrashPlan to complete a single successful backup on my new machine for a full month. … After I cranked up Backblaze to the fastest possible, I was shown a transfer speed of 208.14Mbps. Remember CrashPlan? That was at 2.4mbps. So 100x the speed. But could Backblaze really do this in an actual upload? … .it only took Backblaze 18 hours to upload 641GB of data. 735 thousand files. … I’m switching over to Backblaze because of the nice interface, and because of the speed, and well, mostly because they actually can back up my computer.

How about following this guy with a switch to Backblaze? It is $60/year., half the price of Crashplan at $120/year for a single computer, but I think Backblaze adds fees for persistent storage of older versions (6 cents per GB per year, so a 6 TB hard drive could run up a $360/year bill?). This memory usage comparison showed that Backblaze required only 1/25th as much RAM as Crashplan.

Or maybe it makes sense to subscribe to both? Use Backblaze to make sure that you actually can restore your computer if it fails within one of the multi-month windows in which Crashplan is hundreds of GB behind. Use Crashplan to restore an ancient version of a file.

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Cremo versus Edge shaving creme

During the Gillette versus Dorco razor tests (Dorco Pace 7 came out ahead), a reader suggested trying Cremo shave cream.

Result: Chemical engineers today are not smarter than chemical engineers of the 1970s. Conventional Edge gel, essentially unchanged since its 1970 introduction (patented by S.C. Johnson), seems to work better. With Cremo, using both Dorco and Schick blades (the latest test; I think Schick may actually be sharper, but Dorco works better because it is easier to feel the blades working), it became necessary to re-shave various spots. With Edge, if the gel/foam has been wiped away with the razor then the stubble is gone as well.

Some of this might be user error in applying more Cremo than necessary.

Related:

  • New Yorker article with some shaving history: “Ever since the Wilkinson Sword company started mass-producing stainless-steel blades, in 1961, every man with whiskers to cut has had no trouble cutting off his whiskers without cutting himself.” (i.e., the last significant innovations in shaving were accomplished nearly 60 years by engineers in England and 50 years ago in the U.S. by S.C. Johnson)
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