« Shootout! | Main | Ring in the New »

Friday, 30 December 2016


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I feel your pain. Been there, done that. Washing machines and their brethern dryers are currently deisgned to fail, after five years. Ditto cheap automobiles and can think of one of the third of the once big three auto builders that has recently shortened its name to an Italian company name, their products last maybe five years. Yet for some reasons their basic multi-transport older vans go forever it seems.

And the problem is, your income dependeds upon us the lowly reader of your columns.Mind with our dollar dropping in relation to your dollar, money is notgoing to be forth coming from here for a bit. Like you have "house" related expenses. And as it is the fiscal end of my year, shall be ataching my p's and q's as well.

At least you're not yet snowed in to your abode high on the shores of the lake, yet.

You do have a back-up generator for electricity and extra fuel eh?

And you comment about Adobe as an expensive with-drawer of money on a monthly basis is oh so true.

Trying to remove myself from the Apple clod as we speak, those bastards charge me in US funds and then convert the charges to Canadian funds and nick me the exchange rate charges as well...
Maybe soon, maybe soon...

Best for 2017 Mike, maybe we shall meet face to face at some point...

Mike, what great laughs you provided in this year-end column. "Been there, done that" with "warranties" and breakdowns. I did, however, have to replace a Kenmore washer several years ago that I bought in 1975. Its one replacement was the timer for the various functions. But I don't think they make 'em like that anymore.

I don't remember your Great White Squirrel post -- we have an albino squirrel here in Brooklyn, in Prospect Park, which I stumbled across one day. The squirrels here are more used to human company so I was able to get relatively close and got this shot, which Gothamist posted:


Those things are gorgeous!

And interesting and varied post, but personally....I'm still waiting for Part II of Best Cameras.

[The thing is, these days between the holidays are vacation days for many readers and thus slow days here at TOP. Things will get back to normal as the new year gets underway in earnest. --Mike]

"Not fine, but fun: Barnes & Noble's leather-casebound gift edition of Moby-Dick"

A book about animal abuse wrapped in the product of animal abuse.

[I sympathize, but I doubt the B&N gift books are real leather. Neither of the two standout editions I mentioned are leather-bound.

Leather cracks and weakens eventually at what's called the "hinge" of a binding; and real leather-bound books require maintenance to last properly. It was a field of great artistry at its peak, especially in England and France, but that peak is long past. Most books now are not even hardbound, much less leather-bound. I've always been more a fan of cloth binding as it's more utilitarian and requires less care. --Mike

P.S. I put in several calls to B&N to see if I could get to the bottom of this...ended up sending an email to the director of corporate PR for the chain. She probably won't respond immediately because of the holiday but if she does, I'll report back.]

I suspect that you 'inherited' the washing machine with your house, but if you purchased it with a credit card, check to see if the warranty is extended as a result; many credit cards have that provision. If not, consider that aspect for your new purchase.

I recently learned about the motherboard aspect on my 8 year old washing machine when the manufacturer issued a recall alert that the machine could catch fire (thanks for telling me 8 years later). I had to wait 2 weeks for the repair part (to the motherboard), and had to decide if I should use the machine in the meantime despite warnings to wait for the repair. Well, all I can say is time goes by quite slowly when you stand near your machine for a full cycle.

I used to live in upstate NY and would occasionally see white squirrels. There are several websites that track them. Try this one: http://www.untamedscience.com/biodiversity/white-squirrel/

I just bought my son, who is in his thirties, "The Spy Who Came In From The Cold" by John le Carre. It's a classic (although not free yet) - the antidote to Bond, a bleak forerunner of todays government expediency and manipulation. And more. An easy read to finish 2016 (240 pages)

Won't make you feel good about the world though

We have also had a duff year, domestic flood in February, just settling back in just now. We just had our dishwasher replaced with a faulty motherboard, it was at least 15 years old, possibly 20. I expect the German replacement to last as long.

A little knowledge can sometimes pick up a bargain. When I realised I needed a new battery for my old Pentax K20D, (first sold 2008) I wondered if the same battery was used in anything else. It was, in the Minolta K7D (2005)

2005 being aeons ago in digital camera time, the shop had just one left in stock, marked down to a fiver plus P&P. It works fine.

I know I didn't save much, but I apply this principle to lots of things.

Mike, this planned obsolescence has been creeping in since about 1970. It seems to be getting more difficult to get round now, though.

As former President Bill Clinton often said, "I feel your pain". After two solid days of holiday cooking, my wife and I loaded up our trusty 18 year old dishwasher on Christmas day only to discover the pump had failed. So we washed about three loads by hand that evening. Now for the task of selecting a new dishwasher. Arrghh.

If Butters intent was to "comment" on the rug, you now have a real problem.

I finished reading Moby-Dick in the wee hours after the election. I could not sleep so I finished the last 1/4 of the book.

I bought my copy at Costco where it was in a blue faux leather cover. It is interesting to reflect that there is really not much of a real story line but a lot on the history, anatomy of whales, details of the ship and details of the various characters.

After "having" to read the book in high school and getting the "Classic Comic Book" version long ago, I thought a re-read would do me good. Then there is the quote in the Star Trek movie "Fist Contact". The female character states that she never read the book after Picard says:

"He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it.”

The best line in the movie and the book.

You don't keep up with entropy you know, you just shovel it somewhere else, and in the process it gets bigger and bigger. A basic principle that finds lost of verifications in my house.

I'm betting you'll enjoy Ishmael a lot more via audio. I had the same problem with Moby-Dick until I got it as an audiobook that I could listen to while commuting. Ditto Ulysses and a few other works. With Ulysses in particular, the "music" of the language, spoken by a very capable professional reader, conveyed a lot more than the written word,

It's ridiculous that a washing machine has a mother board, but no doubt there's more margin in a mother board equipped machine than in the older electro-mechanical style. Along with your mother board, though, you also get Tin Whiskers. Tin Whiskers are, basically, metal extrusions that grow spontaneously inside electronic components, rendering said components inoperable. They typically start their growth within two to five years of manufacture, and they can't be prevented using current technology. This phenomenon came about as the result of the legally mandated removal of lead in solder, in Europe and North America, circa 2006. (Lead suppresses the growth of Tin Whiskers.)

Heart of Darkness is a great recommendation, and the perfect choice for last minute novel-catching-up. And certainly you can't go wrong with Moby-Dick for next year.

I've tried the business of listening to an audiobook as I read, but almost no voice actor reads aloud with the acuity and nuance I have reading silently - so it's almost always an exercise in disappointment. If I could get my books read to me by Marlon Brando, Anthony Hopkins, or Meryl Streep, it might be different.

I'll also second the suggestion someone made for Philip K Dick. The more dystopian the world gets, the better this recommendation becomes. I have a feeling it's about to become golden in a big hurry.

I still think, though, that you'd enjoy, and maybe benefit by, the trio of Heinlein books I mentioned in my earlier comment.

Best of the new year to you, Mike! - and to all my fellow readers of you.

That reminds me of what a contractor advised me, a specialist on weatherizing homes. When I asked him if I should upgrade my 90's era gas furnace to a more modern, efficient one he said not unless I like replacing motherboards. He was sticking with one just like mine.

I believe that Philbrick book isn't actually new, Mike. I recall reading it a few years ago, and by the way, it's worth it. In it you will discover that much of Moby-Dick is comedy--a real knee-slapper for the 19th-century reader familiar with the whaling culture of the time. Also, you are wise to employ audio. Like Shakespeare, M-D is best if spoken aloud.

Those motherboards for washing machines: It could be a capacitor which has just gone bad that you should try and replace first. It will cost you a couple of dollars. You can google YouTube for these repair videos...


"A pox on planned obsolescence."

Just a note for you. Planned obsolescence doesn't really exist. Companies don't design things to break after a certain time period.

Everything is designed to a set cost. LED bulbs are an example of this. They can be made to last for 20 years, but this costs more than most people are willing to pay. So the company that makes them decides on a lower cost model. The engineers source parts that cost less. Those parts have lower tolerances and they fail at rates commensurate with their cost. So now LED bulbs only last a few years, but they cost less to buy.

Things in the past weren't necessarily built better, or lasted longer on average. We only see the the examples that have lasted longer than the designers expected. All the other copies with faults or failed parts have been discarded and replaced. If things from the past were all built better, we'd all still be using our grandparents appliances.

I just finished Swann's Way on dailylit.com. They send you a page of your chosen book each day and although it can take a long time to finish a book, I find it helps me get through difficult works. You can always get the next page immediately if you want it. I read Moby Dick the same way, and my advice is to skip the pseudo-science whale stuff. It's not essential to the story.

Our 2007 clothes dryer died a couple of months ago. It took a few days to get an independent repairman in. He made a repair that seemed to fix it, then went on vacation after warning us he wasn't certain it was truly fixed. Sure enough, it failed again. Several days later, the repairman decided it was time to try replacing the control board. He wasn't certain the problem was with the control board, but he grumbled there was no way to tell without swapping it out. It took over two weeks to get the new board, and it didn't fix the problem. At this the repairman gave up and recommended buying a new dryer. Because it was a special order, he charged us for the control board, but because he failed to fix the problem, he refused to charge us for labor. (We would use him again.)

So we drove over to our favorite appliance store and ordered a new dryer, but they were out of stock on the matching base. By the time it arrived and the new dryer was installed, we had been nine weeks without a dryer.

I have the old control board sitting next to me. It is potted in about a sixteenth of an inch of a transparent rubbery substance, which I think would make it difficult to replace a capacitor or other component, assuming you knew which one to replace. It looks like good protection against vibration, however.

As a coincidence when I read peoples book suggestion for the “Heart of Darkness” I remembered that I have a copy lying around that I started late one night when I woke up and could not go back to sleep. I was about half way in when I got pulled away by another book and then another and then forgot about it. I am now determined to finish it, probably not before the New Year but soon afterwards. Is this an affliction of older people (me in my mid 60’s) to forget about a book they are reading? I never used to do this. I will stop reading a book if I am not interested in it but that is a conscious decision.

I also agree with you on some business whose business plan is to nickel and dime us to hit their profit goals. I keep getting emails to sign up for a service plan for our new washer machine. I should never have given Sears my email address.

Keep up the faith Mike and I hope you have a much better new year.

Did you look on gutenberg.org for the book? I haven't seen any of the abridged nonsense there, but then it may be achore to get it on your reader.

My favorite line in M-D is the last one (not necessarily because the epic is over), and I forgive H.M. for the low estimate at the end.

"Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago."

Geoff knows, but maybe some others do not, that Nicholas Basbanes' great classic about book collecting is called A Gentle Madness. ..

What term would be apposite for those of us who collect lenses... ?

[Smart? Discerning? Tasteful? A connoisseur, a cognoscente? --Mike]

I have actually had a decent year, so earlier this morning when I read this, I was simply going to write a comment concerning Kindle books and also idiotic digital household appliances gone insane. Living in a Japanese apartment, I am an expert on the latter.

But then I went out with my new old Fujifilm X-E1 so that I could then play around looking for creative painterly effects from its wonderful xtrans sensor. After a few hours, I tried to change from my old Oly Zuiko 28mm to one of the quality-built, second-to-none Fuji 35mm f2 lenses.

The Fujichron fell apart in my hands when I tried removing the body cap.

Now it had always been a bit stubborn to remove---thought it was the waterproofing ring on the lens---but this time the lens came apart. In over 35 years of photography, I must admit I have never had a lens of any price or quality fall apart in my hands. Or fall apart at all. Some may think I have a bad copy, but mine is an original, not a copy.

I look at the bright side though, for although I was a slow learner after my X100 experience with stuck aperture blades) and then its screw on 50mm teleconverter with its near uncorrectable distortion, this time I finally got the message about Fuji. The Fujis I have owned and used have not been those unbelievably amazing devices of wonder and perfection of Internet fame. A poor man’s Leica? That idea would justifiably anger both poor men and Leica owners.

The bright side is that 2017 will be better in at least one small way for me. because with global warming hell is unlikely to ever get cold enough for me to purchase another Fujifilm product.

End of New Years Eve rant. Time to go to the kitchen and turn on the hot water for a nice warm bath. I must turn it on from the kitchen because I can't from the bathroom...oh, the idiotic digital appliance story will have to wait until next year.

[I'm pretty sure a Fuji lens falling apart in your hands is not something Fuji would consider normal. You have a reasonable cause for complaint and a warranty replacement or repair would be in order. --Mike]

Planned Obsolence
I seem to recall Ralph Nader in "Unsafe at Any Speed" saying that General Motors calculated that the average mileage of their new cars before replacement was in the region of 30,000 miles. Not giving a fig about the second hand buyer they downgraded certain parts that were lasting way beyond 30,000 miles to save money.
Moby Dick
The film was made in County Kerry and my wife's grandmother, who used to holiday there, was regularly regaled by Gregory Peck in a local bar. " A charming boy" she called him. By all accounts he was a pleasant fellow.

Unintended consequences: a few years after Jaguar was taken over by Ford (c.1990), their dealers were reporting reduced profits despite increased sales. Why? The more reliable newer cars spent less time in the (previously) very profitable service department.
Good luck with the novels, Mike; for 2017 I will recommend anything by Alan Furst; 'The Polish Officer' is perhaps my favorite of his that I've read.

Loved today's blog, Mike-- good stuff. And while Rockwell Kent's masterpiece is surely his illustrated Moby Dick, I would argue that Moser's masterpiece is actually his Pennyroyal Caxton Bible.

Since nobody else has named the economic phenomenon, here is its actual title: rent-seeking. The definition--

Rent-seeking is the use of the resources of a company, an organization or an individual to obtain economic gain from others without reciprocating any benefits to society through wealth creation. An example of rent-seeking is when a company lobbies the government for loan subsidies, grants or tariff protection.

It's generally considered to be a bad thing.

I'm a bit croggled at the $588/year appliance service contract, though I can understand the impulse behind it. Last week I saw a Samsung fridge with a $3600 price tag, which is more than I spent on my fridge, range, washer, dryer, dishwasher, hood, and chest freezer combined.

[It's just another example of the process that's been underway for several decades--in America since Reagan was elected in 1980--of the bifurcation of Western societies into two separate economies. There is way too much capital "sloshing around the world" in Niall Ferguson's phrase, and it is concentrated in far too few hands. We in the West are becoming two-tier societies, with approximately 10% of the population controlling most of the wealth and another 20% sympathizing with them, either partaking partially in the greedfest or aspiring to, and the lower 50-70% living to increasing degrees in partial to extreme economic deprivation. Egypt is an extreme example of this kind of have/have-not economy (and why any modern democracy would want to emulate Egypt in this regard is beyond mysterious). Things like million-dollar automobiles and $47,300 kitchen stoves (really, Google "La Cornue Grand Palais") are simply a natural market response to the situation--made for, and marketed to, the entitled 10% who are simply not price-sensitive to such paltry amounts.

Expect this trend to continue. There's nothing that can be done. --Mike]

It's a Moby-Dick day. Ta-Nehisi Coates was ruminating, yet again, on it today as well: https://twitter.com/tanehisicoates/status/815069069347094528

Re: "Heart of Darkness." William Faulkner may not have have written sentences as long but Ralph Waldo Emerson probably did.

Happy New Year to you, Mike, and to all who frequent this site!

What an ironic coincidence that I read about your appliance troubles right as T.O.P. returned from the grave – it was very 404 this morning as I opened it, just like everyday, as first order of business.

Thanks for another year of TOP, and wishing that 2017 will be a wonderful year for you (and everyone else)

Just a thought re Appliances:
If 'water' related appliances are failing could it be hard water ?
If it is the electronics that are failing could power surges be to blame?
We had that problem at our vacation home. A whole house surge protector solved it in that case.

Happy New Year

I certainly don't want to defend the maker of Mike's washer. Certainly, it is a durable good and expected life should be 10-15+ years under typical use. I doubt very much the manufacturer is designing it to fail right after warranty expiration.

Since I work specifically on quality projects for a (non-consumer) manufacturing company, here are some different thoughts.

As many of you bemoan the "good old days" of manufacturing, keep in mind your sample sizes are anecdotal - the fact that two 1970s Maytags mentioned in this thread are still running says *nothing* about 1970s Maytags in general vs modern appliances. (Though in their day, the statistical evidence is pretty solid that Maytags were better than their peers - not true at all today, btw).

Also, consider the design constraints - a modern appliance must (often, by law sometimes, other times to match competitive forces) use much less energy and water than its predecessor of 20 years ago and meet new safety standards . It usually must also meet ever changing ROHS standards (Reduction of Hazardous Substances). Lead solder is awesome at holding parts in place for a lifetime - but not so awesome when it is time to dispose of the product ...

All of these forces are in motion along with enormous corporate cost-cutting - because customers messages about sticker price and shareholders messages about share price are heard much more clearly than customers complaints about quality. So companies often listen to the wrong voices, until it kills them (see Studebaker, many others since).

Extended warranties are almost always a terrible product to buy. Self insure all these things (cars, appliances, cameras, etc) by setting some money aside in a pooled savings each time you buy a new item. Over a 50+ year consuming lifetime, you'll save a lot. Use the excess to buy more cameras and lenses. :-)

Unless you *know* your use is well outside typical norms (i.e., you've got a family of 8 using that washer, or it is used for towels at a dog grooming facility) you are getting ripped off with the extended warranty because in addition to the high margin on that item, *you* are subsidizing the dog groomer and the family of 8.

Consumer Reports has enormous statistical reliability data (with a self-reporting bias, but still) about a lot of these items. There are substantial differences among brands, you can stack the deck a little in your favor.

Even so, variance is a powerful force and it reserves the right to move against you at any time, for any reason.

Wishing you all tens of millions of hours of MTBF (mean time between failure) for all of your products in the new year.

The most entertaining, laugh-out-loud, and educational post ever on TOP. Thanks for taking the time to write.

Mike - Your comment...

"It's almost as if business in general is morphing quietly into an art of gentle, legal extortion. I almost hesitate to mention this, for fear of creating a jinx, but I really hope camera manufacturers aren't sitting around large tables this very minute plotting ways to extract more cash from us with manipulative schemes involving planned obsolescence, extended warranties, service plans, and monthly service fees."

...has really hit home, and it even relates to photography, because there IS plotting going on, and it's happening "right here in River City."

I am referring to Adobe's recent adoption of their rental scheme with Photoshop. I am still using PS6, the last version one could buy outright, but with my next camera, PS6 will no longer be able to process its RAW files, and I'll be forced to either become in thrall to Adobe' rental scheme, or abandon Photoshop.

The latter is just what I've decided to do; I've bought a copy of the new Affinity Photo, which is as full featured as PS, but is ONLY available to buy (for $50, or less if it's currently on sale). It's definitely NOT available by subscription.

This seems to me a perfect example of a scheme of planned obsolescence by Adobe "to extract more cash from us," and I refuse to knuckle under and become an indentured servant of this company.

Re: planned obsolescence.

This is where capitalism fails because it is not transparent. Short term thinking putting profit above all else is enabled because the costs are shifted to the planet and future generations - wasteful use of resources, pollution, etc. All the while the powerful lobbies buy politicians to keep it going.

You'd think 2016 would be the year people finally woke up to this, but whether through a sense of being powerless, or more likely stupidity, 2016 is going to be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Discussions of "planned obsolescence" and so forth always remind me of Oliver Wendell Holmes' The One Horse Shay.

Have you heard of the wonderful one-hoss-shay,
That was built in such a logical way
It ran a hundred years to a day,


We have a history of building things that last forever. My grandmother's Maytag washer out-lived her. This was the washer that you filled twice per load with a hose, once to wash and again to rinse before running the clothes through the wringer that sometimes caught the unwary operator's fingers. It was replaced by a less robust but labor saving and safer Maytag.

Happy New Year, Mike!

I thought the name was familiar: Anthony Heald had a key role in the movie Silence of the Lambs (as Hannibal Lecter's smug jailor) and a regular role on the TV series "Boston Public", among many, many other media and theater roles. You're in good hands.

I envy anyone reading Moby-Dick for the first time. It's a tremendous, grand experiment and magnificent achievement. If you ever find that its copious energies aren't propelling you onward, check out E.M. Forester' brief appreciation in his Aspects of the Novel (his pithy primer on the novel, it's various shapes and how to approach them). D.H. Lawrence gave his own homage in his Studies in Classic American Literature (though it's possible that he never read the ending). Just two of many great writers who were gobsmacked by that great book.

Bon voyage, and Happy New Year!

(That "Big Read" sounds great, Jarle! And not at all corny considering how the book is written.)

In the decade to come, one of the great changes for automobile enthusiasts will be the much reduced life of used cars built after about 2005 or so. This is because of the huge increase in the use of electronics in vital functioning parts of the car, and the fact that most electronics are neither stocked nor replaceable after 5-10 years. This will be especially noticeable to people who wish to replace their LCD displays in cars after 10 years, about the maximum life of an LCD display.

Our current crop of cars will never make it to vintage status, unlike that Rolls Royce that Mike mentions.

I've long listened to audio books and when you get a great reader, as you usually do, it can be wonderful. (Sir) Tony Robinson, Stephen Fry, etc. I once tried looking for free-to-download audio books and found a source from which I tried Jules Verne's 20,000 leagues under the sea. Turned out to be read by amateurs, with a different reader for each chapter. I've now gratefully returned to paying for my audio books and being thankful for the quality I pay for.

My washing machine turns twenty one this year. Never had a problem using it for a busy family. I dread the moment when we have to replace it with a new one with a 'motherboard'

Mike, I have only used tap-termperature water for the past 10 years or so for my clothes. Modern detergents are designed for that, and it's better for your clothes.

A quick comment about Moby Dick. There is a version illustrated by Mark Summers, the illustrator that did all the illustrations of authors in Barnes & Nobles. Not as good as Kent but also not as expensive and it is a beautiful book. http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/stevereads/2010/09/eight-great-dicks/

In regards to washer machines, the new ones with all the fancy controls and motherboards still do not clean as well as the old Maytag washers.

Speaking of obsolescence (planned or simply due to lack of proper design, testing and manufacturing,) that is one reason I will never, unless absolutely forced, do away with manual, mechanical cameras. I'm even using light meters even less in an attempt to be less dependent.

But I don't think camera manufacturers will be sloppy about longevity. The difference is that the major producers sell to professionals who absolutely depend on the reliability of their gear. And yes, they can often write off the expense of new gear if something fails prematurely, but often don't want to for various reasons. And those situations leave a bad taste in a the mouth of a professional - word gets around pretty fast and the amateurs and "prosumers" pay a lot of attention to that.

Very few people depend on a washing machine for their livelihood, and those who do are either laundromats who buy a different line of machines through a different channel, or are the repairmen and retailers who actually benefit from unreliability.

The bottom line may be to buy an old wringer washer, have it brought up to snuff by a local, highly skilled repairman, and just deal with the vagaries of driers.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007