As an engineer I have a fairly sanguine attitude toward technology. All I ask is that it affords me some advantage in a straightforward and easy manner. But every now and again I run into a device and/or an interface that baffles and bemuses me, and yes, I have to shout for help.
'So what's new?' I hear you say. Well, I never expected to get my comeuppance at the dictate of a toaster. Worse still, two different toasters!
During my summer vacation I ran into the toasters from hell. The first had six controls and an alpha-numeric display. 'Hmm, this should be easy,' I thought. Wrong! Insert bread, press down lever, click, select level of browning - but now what? How about randomly pressing all the buttons? Ten minutes later my bread was still white and I transferred to the oven grill in disgust.
Whilst the grill was doing its job, I searched for the toaster handbook but no joy. Then it struck me, how about rebooting? Unplug, replug, insert bread, press down lever, click and - voila - hot toast.
A couple of days later a new destination saw a toaster with just one control - browning. That was it - no lever to click down. Hmm, this looked like a challenge! Out with the bread, insert into the slot - and nothing. Try two slices - and still nothing. Search for handbook, shout for help - still nothing.
Hey, I'm an engineer, I can almost walk on water. I'm not going to be beaten by a toaster!
About 15 minutes of experimentation later, I had mastered the toaster. Drop bread into the slot from precisely the right height, and it gently sinks to the bottom. Then without an audible click, on comes the power and - voila - toast is browned within minutes.
Now for some coffee! I don't believe it - a programmable coffee pot that looks as though it might be capable of cooking a chicken. After another random button-pressing episode, I resorted to rebooting. Unplug, replug and - voila - coffee is on the way. What next I wonder, the programmable tea cup?
Somewhere on this planet there is the devil's own design department, especially set up for and staffed by people whose sole purpose is to stop the rest of us getting hot toast! Unless, god forbid, we have GUI designers moving into the appliance market.
Whatever happened to the KIS (Keep It Simple) principle? Or is it just me that is losing it?
Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.