More Failures of Modern Engineering

More Failures of Modern Engineering

Parking Ramp

Automated parking lot payment systems. I’m talking about the kind where you pay before you drive out, or else pay with your credit card as you leave. Clearly the idea is to eliminate the need for human parking attendants, but they always seem to require at least one human parking attendant standing by to help people when they can’t figure it out—and when they break, it takes a whole army of attendants to explain the machines broke, take people’s money, and make sure the gates lift while also trying to fix the machines. Why does anyone ever bother to install these?

Plumbing. I’m referring specifically to the inability of plumbing systems around the world to consistently meet the universal human desire to not be scalded when you happen to be in the shower at the same time that any of the 30 or 40 nearest toilets are flushed. If landlords could promise tenants scalding protection, they could raise the rent $500 a month on every unit…so why hasn’t this problem been solved yet?

Corkscrews. It’s not that corkscrews fail to successfully uncork the wine bottles they’re designed to open, it’s that there are such a bewildering variety of corkscrews. Why? Mice are all smart and different and fast, and yet there are basically only three kinds of mousetrap—while there are five million different kinds of corkscrews to all extract the exact same kind of cork from the exact same kind of bottle.

Wi-fi. This is relatively new, so I’ll cut it some slack—but still. I feel like in 30 years, we’ll all look back on this period of history like people now look back on the time when you had to whack the side of your TV set to get it to work. These are the dark ages of wi-fi, when baristas can’t make coffee because they’re constantly having to fiddle with the fucking wi-fi, when there are vast call centers of people who just spend all day telling callers to power-cycle their modems, and when every time someone visits your house, you have to dig though a drawer full of Post-Its to find your damn password.

Windshield wipers. I swear, no matter how much you spend, you get about three good wipes, and then that’s it—you spend the next two years hunched like a little old lady to peer beneath the streaks whenever it rains.

Package delivery. Yes, you can now track your packages online—but only until they get within 10 miles of your home, which ironically is precisely the point at which it starts to matter where the hell they are. Are they at the downtown station? At the suburban substation? In some bro’s truck? In your entryway? At your work? In your neighbor’s house? Stolen, opened, and pawned? You’d sure like to know, but is all like, hey! We got your shit to Minneapolis! What more do you want from us?

Jay Gabler

Photo by Ryan Fung (Creative Commons)