Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Automation in the Men’s Room

In the office building where I work, our men’s rooms (and ladies’ rooms, I assume as well) have been upgraded to include all sorts of labor saving, good-hygiene promoting automations. You can now go into “the facilities” and never touch anything but your Little General (h/t to Jesus’ General). The urinals flush themselves after you step away, leaving you to grapple with that all-important issue of the making sure your fly is zipped. Same for the commodes. Self-flushing when you remove your bum. You then wave your hands under the soap dispenser, get some hand soap squirted in your hand, wave your hands under the faucet and get some water to wash your hands. After you have been properly sanitized and ready to take your place in the company of your fellow co-workers, you then wave your hands underneath the paper towel dispenser to get towels to dry your hands. And you can even hit a button on the wall (presumably with your clothed elbow so you won’t sully your nice clean, germ-free hands) to automatically open the door. All very sanitary and automated. No germs here.

The problem with all this automation is the same as with a lot of automation; it doesn’t really work very well. In fact, it has some very distinct drawbacks. The soap dispenser squirts out a load of soap that looks like something best left unsaid here every time something comes with about two feet of the sensor. All the sinks always have a liberal coating of liquid soap on one side. The temperature of the water that comes from the faucets cannot be adjusted. Sometimes, it is the same temperature as cold tap water. At other times, it is so hot you can scald your hands if you leave them underneath the running water for more than a second. The towel dispensers are apparently programmed with frugality in mind (as opposed to the soap dispensers), as they tend to dispense a total of about three to four inches of paper towel. If you want more, you are usually left feeling vaguely foolish as you wave your hands back and forth underneath the dispenser like some amateur Houdini, invoking the unknown spirits to come forth and present you additional inches of towel. Alas, it usually is not to be. The towel dispenser does not appreciate your offer to reconsider its’ allotment of drying material to you. You are normally fated to leave the men’s room frantically waving your wet hands in the air like some “jazz-hands” refugee from a Bob Fosse musical.

All I can say is, if they change the toilet paper dispensers from the current manual version to an automated version, I’m quitting.

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