Friday, December 31, 2010

Man over Machine


The first thing to get straight is that the term "man" above implicitly also includes the prefixes "hu" and "wo"

Now that that's out of the way, I have always been fascinated by how, when faced with mechanical or even electronic problems, the human can come up with innovative solutions.

The most obvious one is rebooting the computer when it gets awkward. But there are more nuanced situations.

The picture above is the toilet in Pearse railway station in the heart of Dublin. They had a problem with druggies in the toilet so they installed ultra violet lighting. This has the effect of masking the veins so you can't see where to stick the needle. It is, apparently, a standard solution to this problem. I've tried it and it works - masks the veins that is. I made great play of this on my website a good while ago. Well I was in there yesterday and the lighting has reverted to normal. Curious, I asked why. "Well, it didn't work" I was told. "The druggies simply traced the vein with a pen before going into the toilet and bingo". You have to admire that solution for its simplicity.

Then there was the tabletop projector at a lecture in my local library which insisted on projecting an upsidedown image on the screen. No amount of electronic fiddling would fix it. Until, that is, an enterprising member of the audience volunteered to hold the projector in his lap for the duration of the lecture, upsidedown. Bingo.

Then we had the reluctant cash register which refused to sell items that were clearly on the shelf. The register had no record of the items and refused to process them. That is, until the wicked supervisor took out her magic key and over-rode the register.

And then there were the French. They are always lurking around the corner trying to stuff their bloody language down your throat, so to speak. Well, I claim credit for this one myself. Voice recognition systems are neutral as between languages. So this little French machination was quickly put in its place.


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