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The Software Ponzi Scheme

If you haven’t heard of the origination +In 1920

I recently upgraded the family Canyonero to a more recent model. The old one was a 2009 model, so I decided I wanted a newer one with better gas mileage, bluetooth audio, Android auto, and other modern features.

This car beeps at every possible thing that can happen during normal operation of a car. Get close to something, cross over a line on the road, etc. I pull up behind a car in a drive-thru line and it starts beeping. If I have it in cruise control with lane following enabled, I have to have my hands on the wheel with just the right amount of lightness (so it can steer), or it beeps that I took my hands off the wheel.

Of course, there are occasions where I want it to let me know if I’m close to something, like when parallel parking in a tight spot. That’s helpful, but I can’t quickly enable this mode when I want it. Furthermore, it will begin beeping frantically immediately when I turn the car back on. It does that even if going the opposite direction (i.e. the close object is in front, and I’m in reverse).

After getting this car and ruminating with a friend about these beeps, I’ve concluded the world is now full of useless beeps and continuing to get worse.

Shatner understands.

Beeps everywhere

We’re surrounded by uncontrollable, unsettable, sometimes legislated beeps.

  • I have a natural gas detector in the furnace room, which malfunctioned once and beeped every few minutes until we finally figured out what it was and where it was coming from.
  • My coffee maker beeps when the coffee is done or it’s turning off automatically.
  • My microwave of course beeps.
  • The washer and dryer beep for every button pushed or when the load is done.
  • The dishwasher beeps – it even gives you a long “you did something wrong, idiot” beep if you turn it on but don’t hit “start”.
  • My computer beeps when I turn it on.
  • The oven beeps when it’s preheated.
  • The cordless phone beeps when it can’t reach the base station (we’ve finally cut the landline cord, and just got rid of this, thank god).
  • My running watch beeps when I plug it in, unplug it, or do anything with it. I’d only like it to beep every mile that I run, but it’s all or nothing when it comes to beeps.
  • Occasionally there is a mystery beep in my garage. I have no idea what is emitting it. It goes off at 5 or 7am for 30 seconds and then doesn’t come back until some random early morning time in the future.
  • One time there was a mysterious beep coming from the bedroom. We were going around trying to figure out what was beeping but, in fact, it was a video auto-playing on my wife’s phone that was some sort of 10 minute smoke alarm beep noise.
  • The fridge fortunately has a variation on a beep–a soothing chime–when the door is left open. I appreciate this.

I am required by law to have 6 or 7 interconnected smoke alarms in my house. I bought Nest Protects for this purpose because they don’t simply beep, they actually make verbal announcements in advance. However, even these expensive smart smoke alarms cannot be silenced in some situations due to some kind of regulation. So when the Nest recently detected “a fire” due to some sort of steam-from-the-shower vs. fresh air collision, I was able to mute it. But that was only by the good graces of not being over an arbitrary threshold where someone has decided that no human should be allowed to determine a false alarm that can be silenced in their own home.

Beep Anxiety

Beeps sound mostly the same and provide no context, therefore demand the same level of mental urgency. A beep goes off, my mind has to go “What’s wrong?” for at least a second, until I realize that “oh, it’s just a delivery truck outside, not an urgent gas alarm that sounds just like that.”

I’m less worried about an actual fire or gas leak than I am about not being able to quickly shut up the damn alarms alerting me to no fire at 3am. If you read smoke detector reviews online, the negative reviews are always are about false positives. Here’s an example:

Replaced them all in December of 2017. Three months later (late February) as we were preparing to leave home for an appointment they all started going off and would not stop. Do you know how difficult it is to find which one is causing the false alarm? After running up and down the steps from the basement to the second floor, unplugging all of them (8 total, we also have two photoelectric sensors) I finally found the one causing the problem. I replaced the battery, only to have them go off again a few short minutes later. Ordered a new one and replaced the defect. Fast forward to July 1st, sleeping nicely at 6 am on a Sunday morning and here we go again, they all start chirping. This time it only lasted for about five minutes, enough time for me to run up and down the stairs looking for smoke or fire and the beeping stops. Of course, this wasn’t enough time for me to find the defect.

It’s completely acceptable to have faulty hardware. It happens, we have to deal with and fix those. It is not acceptable to force people to endure crazed situations with an unnecessary 85dB alarm going off.

Rejecting beeping

Customers have to demand better than this. We need to roll back any regulation that requires beeping. Any smoke alarm that can’t be easily silenced or debugged due to “industry standards”. Why can’t these be muted by a human who has determined they want to mute it? Why does a smoke alarm have to be 75dB when I’m required to have 7 of them in my house? One of them is installed no further than 20 feet from me at any location in the house. If it’s to provide smoke-alarm information to neighbors, they would probably assume it was a false alarm until they saw smoke or fire anyway, since 99% of the time, smoke alarms are going off without a fire.

Or even beeping trucks. Is that a regulation? Because there is no reason to have these beep anymore. Put a camera on the back or something so the driver can see. Make it so that reversing lights work on trailers. There is no reason to create noise for this with modern technology.

We need to reject beeping devices whenever possible and demand better. Cars should have something far better than a beep, and contextual awareness to match. It should realize that I’m in a parking situation and then tell me, verbally, calmly, “1 foot, 6 inches, 3 inches”. Why can’t my coffee maker just say “Coffee’s ready?” Why can’t the dishwasher literally say “Did you mean to start me?” We live in 2020, there is no need for beeping as the only means to communicate these things.

As I conclude this, I hear beeping out my window. It sounds like someone’s smoke alarm is going off in the neighborhood. And no, I didn’t call the fire department, it just stopped after a few minutes.