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Life With and Without Animated Ducks: The Future Is Gender Distributed

You know that wonderfully, wryly apt Gibson line: "The future is here, it's just not evenly distributed"?

I came across this article a few days ago, detailing several self-cleaning fabric technologies, some chemical, some using nanotech. Some safer than others. It is pretty damned awesome. And it made me think of one of the particular vectors of uneven distribution. Bear with me for a minute, this is going to seem like a tangent, but it's not.

In a former life, I lived in Japan for several years, in Yokosuka, which is just south of Yokohama, about two hours by train east of Tokyo. Now, this was in the early naughts, so I'm willing to entertain the notion that it's all completely changed by now and what I'm about to say no longer applies. Nevertheless, moving there was challenging on multiple levels--personally, in terms of severe isolation, professionally, since I started publishing in America while living there and was far too broke to fly back to go to conventions or give readings.

But also, technologically.

Japan in those days, and possibly now, was technologically schizophrenic. On the one hand, no one in the US was texting regularly yet, and our cell phones, both in the way of payment plans and the object themselves, were sad little things compared to what I could get in Japan. My phone would show me a little animated duck every morning, wearing a kimono. The duck would bow and say hello. If it was a holiday, my duck would be tricked out in a fabulous holiday-appropriate outfit and would wiggle its feathered butt, smile, and quack out a little greeting wishing me a Happy Boys' Day or O-Bon. I did not download the duck, it was just part of the phone. The toilets were deservedly notorious. If I went to the mall I could be treated to a heated-seat toiled with more options than my phone, which would sing me a little song when I used it. I had so many gadgets to heat various parts of my body individually, and a vending machine every 100 feet in my neighborhood that would dispense warm cans of coffee or cold ones, whichever the weather required.

Outside my house, the world was full of singing, bowing, wiggling, hot and cold running futuretech.

Inside my house was a different story.

Because I was then the wife of an American naval officer (I told you, a former life), we were given a washer and dryer by the Navy. It was a Japanese model, but it did not sing, it did not have many options at all, and it certainly did not have an animated duck that wished me a Happy Emperor's Birthday in a sudsy kimono. Eventually, as I got to know my neighbors, I realized that duck or not, the mere fact of owning a washing machine was unusual--having a dryer made me unique in the neighborhood. Everyone hung their wash out to dry, and most of the wives, the majority of whom stayed home, washed clothes by hand. Dishwashers were unheard of, there were no garbage disposals (instead you use a fine mesh bag inserted into a small bucket-sieve in the sink), and central heating or air conditioning was simply not done. Where I lived, there was no insulation in the houses. The walls were raw, exposed concrete; any heat or cool air escaped out of the walls the moment you turned the wall-mounted swamp heaters/coolers off. (It does, however, make a horrible kind of sense that so many of the houses in that part of Japan are 60 years old and quickly made of questionable materials, as the US bombed most major cities into rubble, and that goes double for a military town like Yokosuka.)

The electrical systems in our neck of the woods were such that you could only have one wall-mounted heater/cooler on at a time without blowing the breaker. Mildew was a huge problem because of the concrete walls and tatami floors, which look nice in movies but have to be replaced often in the humid climate as they slowly rot. The conventional wisdom on the temperature issue was that it was too expensive to heat a whole house. And yet, I have never spent so much money on heat as the winters I spent in Japan--and I moved during the California energy crisis. I owned gloves that could heat my hands and a table with heaters embedded underneath to heat my legs, heated footpads and kerosene heaters, all of which were considered the efficient way to go, but were vastly expensive items that sucked up electricity like elephants having a water fight. I spent a fortune to huddle in the dark next to a space heater I am still convinced gave off actively carcinogenic. (Even from several feet away, it left a red impression of its netted grate on my legs once I turned it off; if my dog lay near it her whole face swelled up until she couldn't see. Not a good sign.) I could go on. (The toilet in my house, by the way, did not have buttons or lights, however the mall model impressed.)

This may sound like bitching, and of course in some sense it is. But it began to occur to me that the tech I was using was incredibly gendered. In the "male" sphere, of professional operations, offices, corporations, pop culture, businesses, the available technology was extremely high-level, better than anywhere I'd yet lived. In the "female" sphere, the home, domestic duties, daily chores, cleaning, heating, anything inside the walls of a house, it was on a level my grandmother would find familiar.

Given that during the time I was there the Japanese parliament was suggesting removing the social safety net (social security benefits, in American parlance) for women who chose not to have children, and the issue of young men who expected a stay at home wife and young women who wanted to have careers was quite a hot one, I could not then and still do not believe that divide was an accident. The simple fact is that domestic chores take a huge amount of time and energy, and if a woman is occupied doing them, and especially doing them without the machines that speed up the process considerably, means that she rarely has the time to pursue interests and a career. Though for cultural and financial reasons, Japanese houses often house more than one generation, the lack of technology creates so much unnecessary work that most of my neighborhood required both the young mother and grandmother in a household to devote their days to it.

I don't think there's some dastardly man in a high office making Mr. Burns fingers and saying: EXCELLENT. I have oppressed women for another day! Let us celebrate! (Except the PMs who wanted to take away benefits for childless women--but not childless men.) This kind of thing is always more subtle than that. People who have imbibed from their culture that men and business are important and women and the home are slightly distasteful and irrelevant spending their time on inventions applicable to one and not the other. Corporate managers approving projects along the same lines. Everyone performs their upbringing in their work in one way or another. Obviously, I don't consider business a male bailiwick and the home the kingdom of woman, but a whole lot of people do, and a goodly number of them have a massive influence on the allocation of R & D funds and the political narrative than I do. Right this very second, here in the US, we are having an actual, serious, if incredibly stupid, conversation about whether or not women should have easy access to birth control. We are having this conversation because significant humans in our government believe women should not have access to it at all. I'm super excited about that, because it means it's 1965 and we're gonna go to the moon soon.

And Japan is HARDLY alone. C.f. that entire viciously moronic conversation about the care and feeding of my uterus. I merely noticed it for the first time over there. The article I linked to is fascinating because it is a very high tech response to a domestic issue, which is something I don't come across very often. Most of us are cooking in kitchens quite recognizable from 40 years ago. The Roomba in the corner of my living room is about the only chore-class object in my house that that same grandmother would not have used in cleaning up after my parents.

One of the things that has frustrated me about science fiction is that technology pertaining to the smaller aspects of our lives is often neglected in favor of big giant rockets and exotic weaponry. Birth control seems non-existent and childbirth is still rocking the stirrups. And the home is at best not mentioned much. One of the things that "the future," when we use that word as a metonymy for an idealized world in which machines solve all our problems, is supposed to do for us is give us time. Relieve us from work that is repetitive or unpleasant and allow us the sheer, simple hours in the day to do more. And yet, by far the biggest time sink going is the need to clean our habitats, prepare food and clothing, and maintain our environments. For those who have always had the, dare I say, privilege of ignoring that work, you simply cannot imagine how much time it takes to do all that and then turn around and do it again, often multiple times a day if there are offspring at play. Despite the fact that we here in the first world are supposed to have leveled up our gender equality stat, women still perform the majority of this labor, often in addition to a full shift outside the home. Fully automating this activity would free humanity on a scale that even the most awesome BFG can't even begin to contemplate.

And though many enjoy cooking, though food prep has become a source of pride and even a hobby for a lot of people, vanishingly few get excited about what they're going to clean today.

By far the biggest literary offender on this subject, I feel, is steampunk. Because when you're talking about the 19th century, the invention that changes everything is not the difference engine, it's not the airship, it's not clockwork robots. It's the washing machine. 19th century laundry was a brobdingnagian task that took all week, involved caustic chemicals that ruined the body over time, and exhausted both the spirit and the back. Only the ultra-rich could avoid taking part in at least some portion of it. Free women from that and you have a strong feminist movement almost instantly and probably a suffrage movement far earlier, you have a force of political action not broken by lye fumes and the crippling lack of time that hobbles any population attempting to manifest change. And yet we see again and again shiny tech meant to either imitate current "male" sphere toys, military and industrial and computational or to advance that same sphere past 19th c. specs, and very little thought at all spared for the half of humanity that spent that century maintaining households at the expense of most other activity.

Even today, that article on self-cleaning clothes was not greeted with near the excitement of the last miniscule change in the specs of a new Apple product or probably uninhabitable planets around a distant star. Yet it is far more likely to figure in the daily lives of each of us than any of that, and represents the first real change in how we do something as basic as cleaning our clothes in human history--soap, solvents, and water may no longer be necessary in the very near future. Even the Romans had dry cleaning--the Urine-Dervied Ammonia and Magnesium Oxide Clay Bear didn't have the same cache as the Snuggle Bear, but he got the job done.

Yet it seems silly to get excited about that. It might be cool because the word nanotechnology is involved, but it's not like the camera on the iPhone might be a tiny bit better, am I right? Things culturally associated with women pretty regularly get sniffed at as silly or insignificant or stupid or boring--even if men need clean clothes, too, even if some men somewhere surely do laundry. It's the association that kills the cool, and we are so far from not associating women with housework. If you don't think so, consider why you're laughing the next time you upvote a "get in the kitchen and make me a sandwich" "joke" on Reddit. (It's like a subway. If you missed the last one, don't worry, there'll be another along presently.) Laundry is not essentially feminine. But you'd be forgiven for thinking so, given every detergent commercial ever made, every sitcom scene involving a basket of clothes, and the household chores demographics. And it's a vicious circle, a self-feeding engine, that says women must be especially good at housework because they're the only ones I see on TV or hear talking about it and if there's ever a man doing it in the media he's being comically hopeless at it so housework must be a naturally, centrally, and immutably female activity. Feel free to substitute "child-rearing" "caretaking" or "talking about feelings" for "housework."

The future is not evenly distributed. Not along cultural lines, along language lines, along political, economic, class, or generational lines. And most certainly not along gender lines. A significant portion of the digital world proceeds on the quiet, probably subconscious meme that the future belongs to men and women are just along for the ride. Oh, sure, some women can play with the big boys. If they act right. But not the girly ones. They're feminine, therefore: weak and frivolous and shallow and shrill.

They can do the laundry.

409 Comments

1:

I don't have much to say, unfortunately, other than that this was terrific, the opening especially so.

2:

Ever since I read the Vorkosigan series, I have found science fiction rather odd if it posits a far future society with wildly advanced technology, and yet has all the women still giving birth in exactly the same way as they did in the 1950s. (And doubly so if it starts having tank-grown bio-soldiers and what not.) I had not, until now, considered the possibility that it would just be a continuation of cultural sexism, rather than a silly oversight on the author's part.

3:

Yesterday my husband and I decided that going to the laundromat was an unacceptable pain, but he needed his workout clothes cleaned. He cleaned them by hand in the bathtub, and it illustrated for both of us that automated cleaning processes are a huge contribution to society.

Because cleaning sucks, and cleaning by hand sucks worse. I'd much rather support self-cleaning clothes than a self-guided missile.

4:

One of the best lessons my parents ever taught me was showing how household chores can be equally divided, something remarkable given their background -both were born and raised in small villages in the 1940s... in Spain, probably the most backwards country in Europe at the time.

Not long ago I had an interesting discussion with my father about which is the most irreplaceable home appliance. My vote was for the refrigerator, his was for the washing machine. Of course he won, I just had to picture my poor grandma having to go to the riverbank with the laundry basket, sometimes in near-freezing temperatures; that's nothing compared with having less food choice, especially in a society where most products came from the same village.

BTW, almost nobody has a dryer here - there's no stigma attached to using a clothesline, and the sun does a perfect job :)

5:

Yeah, in Spain I can see it. In Japan, where even (especially) in summer the prospect of a typhoon and torrential downpour is not just likely but guaranteed, and the humidity is so high that mold springs up nearly instantly, I did not want to put my laundry out to "dry."

6:

Very true about cleaning technology. My day job is maintaining commercial custodial equipment. Colossal, expensive machines that do the work of a mop or a rag and bucket. The business world is all about substituting efficient mechanisms for expensive labor because a $6000 floor scrubber saves man-hours and can be depreciated. That's why office building lobbies are cleaned by a guy riding on an autoscrubber while the home kitchen floor is mopped. We could have home scrub/vacuum machines but there would be no tax advantage or payroll savings.

7:

Really interesting article points. Certainly once you get away from the technology sector there is plenty of interest in the domestic market, as there's staggering amuounts of money to be had there, but you're right, no-one seems to want to build robots to do the ironing if they can be making quadracoptor manhacks instead.

Hopefully we might start to see things change as part of the trend in more accessible computing. My gran now knows what an iPad is, though it's not quite (physically)straightforward enough for her to use yet. Voice controled home social/web/NSA information gathering, hubs are going to become a thing very soon and they will need apps and features that will attract people like my gran.

Probably the other problem is that human beings are awesome at crushingly repetitive drudgery, and it's only getting cheaper to hire some other human being to do them.

8:

Every man should live in his own flat for at least a year

9:

Most of my life I have lived alone, with no washing machine and no dishwasher. The average time I spend cooking, cleaning and washing clothes is probably around half an hour a day.
It seems to be women who want to have a sparkling clean and neat house, not men. Living like a slob is *immensely* time saving.

10:

A few anecdata points:

  • I don't think I've ever actually encountered a 'Garbage Disposal'. What actually is it?
  • The concept of drying stuff on a washing line has always seemed eminently sensible to me, and it boggles me slightly that anyone is against it, though I can accept it's not sensible everywhere, and will concede that in this house we have only a dryer. (The previous house did have a line.)
  • We do have a Roomba, and not just for the amusement factor when the cats get involved.
  • We don't have a dishwasher in this house - my wife prefers to do it by hand, finding it actively relaxing. However, it is one of the most common kitchen appliances.
  • This is in the UK
  • Oh, and Yokohama in 2007 didn't seem to have changed that much from your description, except that it is now half an hour south of Tokyo, possibly due to seismic activity.

But regarding the whole 'keep the wives fully employed at home' shtick, yes, that I can believe. Not in the 'keep them downtrodden' sense, but in the sense that anyone proposing to reduce the amount of work it takes for a Japanese woman to run a home will be looked at askance. The question is very likely to be one of what is the point, what else could they do. You don't want them taking jobs from those hard-working salarymen.

It might also be a historical consequence. After the war, the priority was to rebuild Japan, and to rebuild it as an economic giant. Those offices, those factories, well those were the places resources were to be invested. Homes? Oh no, those don't provide economic growth, we don't need to invest in those. So perhaps yes, it was gendered because the traditional economy was gendered, and the concept of economic growth by getting women into the workforce wasn't even considered.

(Charlie? The <ul> tag works, but the <ol> doesn't.)

11:

Awesome piece! Never had that perspective on technology and SF before. Thanks a lot :)

12:

You'll note that you live alone. And are probably a reasonably neat person given that 30 minutes.

Most people do not live alone. They live with elderly parents, a partner, children, roommates, siblings, whathaveyou. The work balloons, believe me, and the bigger the space, the more people in it, the more of the day it takes up.

Women do not inherently want cleaner spaces. In my experience, since we're anecdata-ing, most men simply do not want to be the ones doing the cleaning. They still want a clean house, they still want their socks ready to wear when they need them and a nice dinner, they still want their kids raised to be something other than feral wildcats, they just have a hard time getting over the fact that most of them were taught it wasn't their job, and if they leave it long enough or argue hard enough that they can't see it City in the City style, someone else will do it for them.

As in everything else, there is more difference woman to woman and man to man in terms of cleanliness preference than between women and men as groups. It's just that one group was taught they had to know all this, and one was taught they didn't. I was doing my ex-husband's laundry all through college because he didn't know how.

13:

The "Garage Disposal" we had when I lived in the US was a sort of mincer/grinder housed in the outflow of the kitchen sink so you could put lumps of stuff down it. As a young child I found it very frightening.

14:

I recall one study saying that the home labor saving devices invented in the 20th century didn't reduce the time spent cleaning but they raised the standard and reduced the effort. Vacuum cleaners used for an hour a week instead of rugs dragged outdoors and beaten for 4 hours every month. Clothes washed in a machine after being worn once instead of laboriously scrubbed by hand when they became too dirty to wear. Dishwashers are faster than hand-washing so people used more dishes and ended up spending the same time on cleaning them. It's certain that washing machines, dishwashers and vacuum cleaners take less effort than the processes that they replaced, but perhaps the net effect was not more free time.

15:

I mean Garbage, of course. Glad to see I still can't type.

16:

See my note in another comment about the climate of Japan. I've hung clothes out too and I'm aware there is not only a cultural difference in whether or not that's common but a philosophical one, too. However, neither where I currently live nor in Japan did it seem as doable as it was in warm, dry, sunny California where I grew up.

17:

Some of the need for cleanliness is positional. In other words, it's not important to meet some objective standard of cleanliness, but to be cleaner than the neighbors. Better tools may not fix it.

OTOH, as a man I have to say that I really don't understand the female nesting instinct. It's like the young male's fascination with violence; the other sex just doesn't get it. I live alone, and I find that domestic tasks take almost no time. I find my apartment completely livable, but most women of my acquaintance would insist that it be cleaned for four hours before it was fit to burn down.

It probably doesn't help that pretty much all American R&D is sponsored by the military.

18:

Also, the whole point was that the public sector has super high tech in Japan. So garbage disposals and dryers, not actually very high tech, should be common if there's any kind of equality in the distribution in invention or fervency of early adoption.

19:

I think those are some big generalizations, there. And a little proving my point, given that you're shrugging and saying men just don't get cleaning, it's a girl thing.

20:

"I was doing my ex-husband's laundry all through college because he didn't know how."

Correct me if I am wrong, but I read that as: "I was doing my ex-husband's laundry all through college because I was willing to and so he had no incentive to change". I mean, it's not exactly rocket science is it? I too would like to have my cooking and cleaning done in real style and live in a clean tidy house with a non-wild garden. BUT, I don't want that enough to do it for myself.

21:

As an obstetrician myself, I think there is a lack of science fiction in this department. Perhaps this is partly due to an undercurrent of misogyny, or perhaps it's because our visions of birth through mass-media is generally that of a labour lasting all of five minutes with a healthy outcome (thanks, latest Star Trek!). So it's perceived that this will be suitable for all women if you have no experience otherwise.

But, just because vaginal birth is the best current option for a healthy woman, does that mean I would take this option if there was way to have a section that had none of the risks it currently does?

I kept thinking all the way through the Dr Who Amy and Rory's baby story line that if they really just wanted the baby, they could have just sectioned her under general anaesthetic? After all, they had the technology to keep her immobile flat on her back for the previous nine months.

That's not to say it's all bad. The Time Traveller's Wife is a good example of high risk antenatal care, with total science fiction solution to the problem. Yay!

22:

I think men have a higher tolerance for living in complete shit. That's been my experience, although yours may differ.

23:

"As an obstetrician myself, I think there is a lack of science fiction in this department."

There's also quite a lack of detailed descriptions in SF of how you take a shit in zero G. Pissing is a bit easier - for men. In fact, the only SF movie that I can recall that even touched upon that peripherally was 2001.

24:

Yep. And I just didn't have the self-respect to say no, do it yourself. Not saying I was awesome in college, I had been raised a feminist by my mother and to do housework all the time forever by my stepmother. I had a lot of narratives to work out. But this is my point, he got the message that I'd do it for him and I got the message that I should do it for him. And thus the cycle perpetuates and guys in these very comments say cleaning is just something women understand and men don't.

25:

Having a baby is both a bit more complicated, a bit less common, and a bit more important than taking a shit.

26:

I suspect there's also the space issue. Hanging stuff on racks out of a window, or in a shower when that's not in use, takes up less space than a large box which is (most of the time) doing nothing. And I have never stayed in a room as small as the 4 tatami mat one we stayed in in Tokyo.

(For those here who don't know how large that is - it's about 5'2" by 10'4", which is wide enough for the futon, and long enough for the futon and a bit of room at the foot to stand the suitcases.)

(I apologise - the place's website lists the rooms as 4.5 tatami mats.)

27:

I recall one study saying that the home labor saving devices invented in the 20th century didn't reduce the time spent cleaning but they raised the standard and reduced the effort.

I've heard that too, from my British mother. To hear her tell it, as a housewife you basically spent the same time cleaning, you could just clean more so the goal shifted.

Kinda like what's happened with computers in the office. At least where I work we aren't more productive than when I started: now that producing stats is so easy, we are expected to do it more often, so we spend just as much time with overhead as we did before, producing reams of reports that people ignore except the one number we used to report. Before a neatly handwritten memo was acceptable, now it has to be word-processed using the approved font and style.

For what it's worth, Hans Rosling agrees with you about the washing machine;

http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_and_the_magic_washing_machine.html

28:

I want a slave, or several.
It's a common feeling.
If I was rich I would employ people to do it all for me.
[Which is true at least one night a week at the takeaway]

29:

"Having a baby is both a bit more complicated, a bit less common, and a bit more important than taking a shit."

I would say it's way less important, unless you want to die within a couple of weeks.

30:

In a cosmic, holistic, importance of continuing the species and centrality of most people's lives sense, including in "most" those who have them, are related to them, and whose livelihoods depend on more humans being made.

31:

I recall reading about a prosperous middle-class Victorian man who, upon marrying his wife, treated her by having their house vacuum-cleaned. Once. It involved long hoses and a two-man pump on a horse-drawn wagon parked outside the home of the newly-weds.

As for cooking it is possible to eat well, nutritiously and at reasonable cost in this modern world while slaving over a hot microwave oven for as much as thirty minutes a day total. Folks don't want that -- one of the biggest sellers in whatever bookstores are stil left are cookbooks, and not the "feed a family on five dollars a day" titles either but the complex recipe books, French cordon bleu and exotic foreign dishes with a dozen spices, sun-dried tomatoes, organic blueberries, extra-virgin olive oil etc. All these elaborate dishes take time to prepare, lots of it and for those who partake that time is rarely begrudged.

Cat, Bellinghman? Split the difference -- my most recent train trip from central Tokyo to Yokosuka station in June last year took just over an hour. The big mall at the harbour (Daiei Shopper's Plaza) had a store selling second-hand household goods, remnants of assorted US military family homes and there were lots of washer/dryer units for sale as well as other kitchen applicances (not too many dishwashers though). They also featured strongly in places like the top floors of the Yodabashi Camera and Bic Camera stores. One factor that mitigates against full automation of the modern Japanese home is the severe lack of space for such appliances in most apatos. I could tell you tales of my searches for out-of-the-way coin-op laundrettes in my travels around Japan...

32:

True, but in an SF context it would almost certainly be more similar to the way things are done now, assuming no artificial wombs. OTOH, waste disposal and having a shit are immensely important and immediate problems that are equally unpopular when it comes to authors going into the details. Additionally, they must be done in a very different manner. At least on earth as a worst case I can dig a hole in the garden. On a zero G starship it's not a problem that has been solved AFAIK, unless you count plastic bags as "solved".

33:

I have the good fortune to believe that beans on toast is the most delicious food I have *ever* had. Seriously.

34:

Thanks for a great post about under-appreciated technological improvements, past and present.

A wish list
I'd love to see a blossoming of MundaneChoreBots:

A super-Roomba that can distinguish movable and fixed obstacles (move a pair of shoes to clean underneath it, but don't try the same with a book case), handle diverse floor textures, and navigate stairs.

A PetMessBot that can detect kitty vomit and tidy up.

A wet-surfaces-cleaning bot that can handle toilets, sinks, showers, tubs, and bathroom/kitchen floors and counters.

A line drying bot that can place wet laundry on a line and remove it when dry.

A robo-dishwasher that can handle even the heaviest caked-on material, and do so at least as intelligently as a human. Scrape heavy scraps into the composting container, don't just give me a brute-force dishwasher that uses 5x as much energy to exterminate food residue with supersonic steam jets or the like.

A tidy-bot that can put books back on shelves, toys back in toy boxes, empty glasses in the dishwasher, clothes in the hamper, and so forth. Needs an easy way to indicate when an object has been re-homed so that your night time book isn't constantly stolen from the bedside table.

Improving material prosperity with intelligence instead of energy

The mundane chore bots I just listed could free up quite a bit of time currently spent on unrewarding, routine tasks in the home. None of them require significantly more energy to operate than humans doing the same task. They are one imagined rebuttal to the question of "how can life ever be as comfortable again after the cheap energy runs out?" Life can continue to improve in many ways, just not the same ways as if the post-60s miracle had been cheap nuclear fusion instead of cheap microelectronics.

Prosperity invisible to economists

If a person does their own cleaning, it's invisible in econometrics. It's not a market activity any more than scratching your own mosquito bites. If a person stops scrubbing their own floors and toilets and pays someone from a service to do it, hurray -- GDP grows! If Roomba descendants take over the work, boo -- GDP shrinks! The monetary exchange involved in buying and operating an appliance is certainly less than that of hiring labor on a regular basis.

The move from hand-washed laundry to washing machines was no doubt a boon for material standards of living. But was it a boon for GDP? What of the poor laundry service and its employees, downsized by the re-internalization of processes to the household?

I think there is a fair chance of all the following being true:

-Automation makes the median and average human more materially prosperous.

-Automation erodes GDP as it erodes market transactions in general. The cost to DIY doesn't need to beat the commercial manufacturer's cost; it just needs to beat the retail price (including taxes).

-Economic indicators rooted in the price system will give increasingly strange readings on automation and distributed energy generation. It's hard to distinguish a famine economy and a post-scarcity economy if you just look at market activity. Instead you need to look at a larger number of indicators: life expectancy, education, nutrition, leisure time, freedom of movement, mental health, access to information...

35:

I was measuring to Yokohama. I can quite believe Yokosuka is as far again.

And yes, we had great fun finding a launderette in the back streets of Hiroshima.

36:

Yeah, I think it also depends on the time of day and where in both cities you're headed. Most of my Tokyo trips were an hour and a half, counting transfer time, waits, and walking.

Also, in Yokosuka at least, houses were surprisingly affordable...if you were coming from San Diego CA, as I was. We paid the same rent there as in SD. Yokosuka is not Tokyo, there are many options other than a capsule room.

37:

Why would it be similar? Why would it not advance? How we had children in the 50s (twilight state) and now are not the same. C-sections are becoming more common for economic and weird social reasons, not because more women need them than before--and those things are actually really interesting.

And I'm not going to go much further on the "taking a shit is more important than having a baby" line of questioning. Surely, narratively speaking, the reasons for not showing defecation and the reasons for not including any advancements in childbirth, birth control, or domestic tasks are not in any way the same.

38:

Well, create an "advance" in childbirth that is not already being done, other than the SF artificial womb. Make up something as plausible as the latter. I'm interested since its not something I have thought about.

39:

Guess what I had for dinner tonight? Yup, got it in one. Ten minutes max from starting to open the tin to sitting down to eat.

Have you ever looked at the process^Wrecipe for making baked beans? Yeesh. I have an electric can-opener instead.

40:

The only thing I occasionally add to the beans is bacon.

41:

Since I'm struggling to learn the Korean language, all I have to say is that I'm amazed and happy that they even got democracy at all, let alone something resembling equality for women. All because of their language.

Perhaps it's the same in Japan, with Japanese?

The issue for me are those verbs. There are seven politeness levels in Korean, and while one of the seven (for the king) is functionally extinct, and two more are uncommon, that still leaves four politeness levels that make up the suffixes for every verb, along with synonyms for some common words (the equivalent of food and victuals). Back a few hundred years ago, Koreans fell hard for Confucianism, with all that implies about hierarchy and the status of men and women. To me, the Korean language feels very Confucian, especially with the politeness levels.

There are other little oddities. For example, "teacher" (seonsaeng, cognate to the Japanese sensei) is also used like the English "sir" or "mister." Yes, status comes from education (in the language), rather than martial prowess or birth (as with "sir" in English).

Getting back to the topic of gender, in a language that as hierarchical as Korean, how does one talk about democracy and sexual equality? Koreans have been doing so since the 1920s (as radical dissidents under Japanese rule), but it couldn't have been easy, especially at first. They might have disproved the strong Sapir-Whorf hypothesis before it was even formulated, not that anyone noticed. Hopefully, one day I'll be able to read Korean well enough to find out for myself.

I don't know Japanese at all, but I wonder if that language is one reason for what Cat experienced? Is women's work just hard for men to talk about? Or is that cutting them too much slack?

42:

Great post. Thank you.

//JJ

43:

"beans on toast." Then one question is how much you weigh, and what impact that has on your health.

For a long time my wife and I ate out once a week and had take out at least one other night. My wife then went on a "cooking healthy" kick. We each lost about twenty pounds in a few months. Then she developed diverticulitis (not sure if there is a connection here) and was sitting on our bed or on the toilet for about 6 weeks. I did all the shopping, cooking and the cleaning. I've never been so exhausted. (Charlie, that's why she wanted to eat sitting down when I dragged her to meet you in NY.) We've sort of reached a new accommodation on housework since then, although it's easy for me to backslide.
OTOH, she's the business executive in our family.

44:

I also eat a lot of chocolate and cola.
I weigh about 96kg, but intend to drop that to around 85 in the next few months. According to some weight machine I tried, I am below average percentage fat.

45:

Convincing argument.

Putting stuff away is one of the tasks I find most annoying. Pens where the pens go, the half read magazine in the magazine rack, clothes in the dresser. Maybe the answer is again nanobots. An item could have a tag that matches the place it is supposed to go. Drop it on the floor, and little mechanical ants carry to its resting place.

46:

And there I go, one of the class of people not carrying the house work burden, focusing on what annoys ME about the house work. Typical. I apologize.

47:

Sidetracking a bit, in medieval China there was a written language used only by and only taught to women, and kept fairly secret - Nushu - which, like folk songs, preserved some history that had been lost in mainstream literature due to the frequent year zero type behaviour of successive rulers.

re:beans: the scene in the graphic novel Watchmen where Rorschach eats cold beans from a can is supposed to show a negative aspect of his character, but I just thought "sensible man". No washing up, no fuel bill. Also, very economical.

My ex-girlfriend had a C-section against her will as she is an epileptic, and I'm amazaed that anyone would have such a brutal procedure voluntarily. I suppose there's no pretty way to have a baby.

48:

My partner and I live in a two-slob household. I'm a slob, he's a slob, neither of us are going to win prizes for our housekeeping.

But I'm the one who kicks off the cleaning process any time it isn't needed for (for example) a rent inspection or a parental visit. I'm the one who'll notice the floor needs to be swept. I'm the one who points out the bins need to be emptied (when they're starting to overflow). I'm the one who clears out the clutter in the cupboards, writes the shopping list, and sorts the contents of the dirty laundry basket before doing the washing. I'm also the one who remembers to take in the dry clothes from the line before trying to hang the next load out.

I'm also the one who tends to do things like sort dishes before washing, stack the dish drying rack in a more logical sequence to provide more drying space, and hangs out the clothes by moving the pegs to match what I'm hanging rather than matching what I'm hanging to the available pegs (I've never understood that one...). Basically, we both have the same sort of "efficiency saves time and labour" mindset, but I'm the one who applies this mindset to household chores as well as to the workplace.

I refuse to believe this is something which came down to me by virtue of the second X chromosome.

Oh, and our household chore-reduction technology level? One refrigerator, one chest freezer, one washing machine and one vacuum cleaner. No dishwasher, no dryer. For everything else, there's technology my great-grandmothers would have recognised.

49:

Damn, I was beating on posting the Hans Rosling TED talk.

Well, in case it gets lost in the comments here it is again
http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_and_the_magic_washing_machine.html

I had heard that about Japan, though explaining the tech contrast in terms of gender is a new idea.
And we do know the educational system is intentionally crafted to a very specific degree.

Culturally, it does seem Japan values stuff that takes a long time, if the cooking videos I've been watching are any indication, everything is elaborate as hell.

FWIW the neighbour's house in Yotsuba& does seem to come with all mod cons, including air conditioning

50:

Dishes? What are dishes? I eat toast off old newspapers.

51:

Re: fancy cookbooks, I wouldn't read too much into it, at least not in the US. The market for those is massively aspirational, not practical, and resembles the coffeetable book market more than anything else. The "easy meals in 20 minutes" genre is well served by the internet, but those luxe recipes with lavish photography don't translate quite as well online. By the numbers, real-life Americans tend to buy fancy cookbooks, watch absurdly elaborate competitive cooking shows, and eat utter crap. Cooking's gradually becoming entertainment instead of a daily practice.

Americans are weird.

52:

Well, that's embarassing. As a techie textile type I really should have noticed that. In my defence I pay a lot of attention to the horrifically boring issue of water use in the dyeing process. But that's got big machines and cool Shit like liquid co2, so its ok.

53:

Tonight I had half a crispy duck in hoisin sauce. Got it frozen from farm Foods for £2.95 and it's as good as anything I have had from a Chinese restaurant. In fact, I now suspect that is where they get them from.
http://www.hotukdeals.com/deals/boneless-half-crispy-duck-2-95-farmfoods-894236

54:

Hang on, let's examine those assumptions for a moment, shall we?

First, engineers aren't interested in designing labour saving devices for the home. As countless adverts have taught us, engineers are socially undesirable and emotionally incapable of getting a woman. Therefore many of them spend much or all of their lives looking after themselves. Living in a tip only gets you so far, eventually you do have to do some cleaning. And I can attest, the average man hates doing cleaning more than the average woman. Thus they have the incentive and means to invent devices to do it for them.

Second, bosses won't address this market. Excuse me? This is the group that will cheerfully sack 10,000 and move the jobs to the far east to increase profit margins by 10%. This is the group that will export chemical weapons to a dictator to put down an uprising. And you think they wouldn't grasp the profit line of every home having a new labour saving device? There is NOTHING they wouldn't do.

Third, that those big, bad, husbands are actively saying "no" to expenditure on labour saving devices. This is despite the studies that show that major spends (house, car, etc.) are predominately determined by the woman, and that it's much, much easier to find moaning posts on forums that "she won't let me buy that big flat screen TV" than it is "he won't let me buy that dishwasher".

Nope, sorry. It doesn't wash. Not only are there innovative companies focused on just this sphere (hello Dyson), they actually release new devices all the time. So what is the bottleneck?

First, it's hard. It sounds easy to say 'ironing robot', but it's a complete nightmare to achieve. It's much, much, easier to sell the latest over priced, slight improvement, to an apple fanboy; than it is do deal with the complexities of doing buttons and only putting creases where you want them. It's actually much easier to get rid of the need for ironing, but...

Women.

I would guess that your Japanese example was much more driven by the expectations of female peers than it was by anything else. If you aren't hanging out your washing, you aren't doing it right. You are somehow a threat and the social norming says 'outsider'. More than that, the expectation of change is worse. As Charlie's other thread points out, Dyson came out with an improved washing machine - that they no longer sell because demand wasn't great enough. If the market isn't clamouring to buy version 1.0 of a new product idea, there won't be a version 2.0 - and the 'female' marketplace is practically conservative and consensus based. It's also fashion based, which is where clothes that didn't need to be ironed went - "it's not 100% cotton", "it just doesn't look right", "designer X isn't making clothes with it, so it isn't good enough", etc.

Put those two issues together and you get the situation where progress is slow and whole areas of development get closed off before real change is achieved. You did get one bit right though, it IS gender based...

55:

I find the moving bar of cleanliness to be annoying and whenever possible, I ignore it. I vacuum once a month and skimpily when I do; I clean the toilets and mirrors once every couple months; I've never dusted in my life; I hang my clothes back up in the closet if they're still clean-looking.

I have two kids and until a year ago, I had a slobbish spouse who complained frequently about the mess the house was in. I work outside the home. He was lucky enough to be a house husband. The mess was his issue. Once I got rid of him, I went through the house and threw out a great deal of superfluous stuff. The place has been (IMO) neat and tidy since then, even with the kids here most of the time.

I have enormously less domestic effort without my spouse in the picture. When he was here, I had to pick up after him and the kids both. Now the kids pick up after themselves and his mess is absent. The workload did not decrease proportional to the number of people in the house, but at a much greater rate. I've never had so little domestic labor as I do now that I'm a working single mother.

I work with several women who spend hours every week properly cleaning their abode, an effort I find odd because they don't even seem to enjoy it. There is definitely a societal expectation of women to clean. It's a difficult yoke to throw off.

56:

I'm a guy and I just got back to these comments from training six people on how to operate a commercial floor scrubber and a floor wax polisher. They were all female. That's pretty typical in the cleaning business. My boss is also female, which is also typical.
Man, I love a clean, glossy floor! 15 years ago these procedures would have been semiannual because the equipment was expensive, hazardous and difficult to operate. Now it's all automation and push buttons. Scrubbing is several times a day and polishing is several times a week. Everyone grasped it in about 45 minutes and nobody got hurt. One building down, 13 more to go.

57:

Recently, I acquired an updated dishwasher and clothes dryer - this in New Zealand, where dishwashers and clothes dryers are not a standard feature in many homes. For a few days I was laughing about my "new squadron of feminist robots! I love my feminist robots!"

It was funny because it's true.

58:

Yes, steampunk is sorely lacking in terms of steam powered maids and butlers. Even the most sophisticated gaslamp Web comics like Girl Genius (by the Foglios) totally disregard domestic life.

I can think of only one exception, Chester 5000 XYV by Jess Fink. Even then it tends to stress a certain precise aspect of domestic life, to the exclusion of others.

And yes, in traditionel SF the gender issues and domestic questions are swept under the rug or completely diregarded. There are a few rare exceptions here and there though, like Dave Lister getting pregnant in the first season of Red Dwarf.

59:

It's not his best book, but Alastair Reynolds did a nice riff on this in House of Suns. His heroes are awakened from cryo-sleep due to an emergency with the ship...and the ship AI brings them fresh-cooked croissants on fine china. The sheer luxury of having the best food all the time, with no prep needed, really brought home the idea that these people were living in a post-scarcity society.

60:

Ian Smith @55: A few small critiques of your theses for you.

1) Your first paragraph is a morass of gender stereotypes. Could you possibly cite a few studies as proof of your contentions that firstly, engineers are largely male; secondly, most male engineers remain single for the majority of their lifetime; and thirdly that men dislike housework and cleaning chores more than women? I'll be honest - as a woman in Western culture I may have been taught to value cleaning chores and to think positively about them virtually from the moment I was squeezed out of the womb, but that hasn't made me actually like them at all. The best you'll get from me is an acknowledgement they're necessary to do in the interests of hygiene.

2) You put the blame for the lack of decent housework reduction apparatus straight back onto women, basically accusing women universally of being conservative, and uninterested in altering the status quo. I would beg to differ. The point which needs making here is that a lot of the so-called "labour saving" devices which are created don't actually save any labour at all - they just shift it around to a different spot. For example, the food processor apparently saves heaps of time in chopping up food, which I won't argue with. However, the time you've saved in chopping up the food is immediately lost again in the process of disassembling, cleaning and reassembling the food processor (compared with the amount of time it takes to wash a knife and a chopping board). Vacuum cleaners reduce the amount of time required to get dust out of rugs and carpets - which has led to an increase in the use of fitted carpets in even the cheapest accommodation. So the amount of time spent in cleaning floors hasn't actually altered - it's just that instead of being done near-silently with a dustpan and broom, it's being done noisily with a vacuum cleaner (and indeed, the vacuum cleaner can reasonably be said to take up more time than the dustpan and broom, because you have to take it out, plug it in for each room, coil up all the extension cord, and empty the bag).

It's a common theme - the latest and greatest of high-tech labour-saving gadgets tend to be more about labour displacement than actual savings. The items which actually cut the amount of physical work required in order to keep a house hygienic, accessible, and occupiable year-round were the washing machine, the central heating system, the automatic hot water system, and the gas or electric stove. (I checked my Mrs Beeton once - the biggest differences between how I'd ideally keep house now and how a house-parlourmaid did it back in the mid-to-late Victorian era is that I don't have to spend three to four hours a day stoking boilers, riddling hearths, setting, lighting and maintaining fires, and lugging wood or coal for same).

61:

Brilliant. Fantastic.

62:

Thought provoking discussion, Cat.

The lack of domestic technology in fiction is a missed opportunity, though it is perhaps also partly because most exiting action necessarily takes place outside the home. But it can be explored, successfully. I've always enjoyed the domestic inventions in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; though while not usually categorized as such, does have elements of science fantasy and steampunk.

63:

One of the more interesting things I've seen in terms of garments was a pair of boxers sold by Ex Officio that were essentially teflon-based, so you either wear them in the shower or rinse them in the sink, hang them for an hour, and they're ready to wear.

So it'd be possible to reduce your undergarment collection to two pairs - one hanging dry, the other being worn.

64:

My perspective is very anglonesian, I admit, but I've lived in share houses for 20 years and I like to think I've seen a lot, and had the worst of my corners knocked off. One thing I do see is huge cultural gaps - we have a couple of merkin housemates and they've both expressed surprise that me and my partner split the cooking and cleaning, and that the men in the house clean as much as we do. From what I read that is a fair generalisation.

I have seen a noticeable gender difference in expectations, and the part that hasn't really been mentioned is the management part. It's not enough for her to manage and him to help, unless by help we mean "does all the manual labour", because if they split the manual work 50:50 and she does all the management, that sucks. Splitting management is hard, because so much of it is "notice when we need to buy piano key polish" type stuff.

Automating that management is implicitly what the machines are supposed to do. We *have* washing machines, what I want next is machines that operate the washing machines. Forget "can wash clothes if loaded correctly", I want a "find, sort and wash clothes, hang them out, get them in when dry (or it starts raining), fold them and put them away" machine. Also a "clean the house" machine, rather than a "sometimes navigate some of the flat, obstacle-free parts of my house and vacuum up the smaller, more easily moved, items of dirt" machine. Yes, wash the washable floors and walls, wash windows, and ideally clean toilets. I'm happy to vacuum, it's mopping that bugs me.

65:

@61: Your comment about food processors raises the point that some of these technologies only make sense when used in concert with other technologies. For example, you're right that if I had to clean my food processor by hand, it would make no sense...but when I can just take it apart and pop all the pieces in the dishwasher, suddenly the labor savings becomes a lot more significant. For that matter, the dishwasher itself would make no sense if I had to hand-stoke a boiler to provide hot water for it.

66:

I was a stay at home dad for the last several years, and it wasn't something that my wife, ex-wife now, could cope with. Even though it logically made a ton of sense. She made significantly more money in fewer hours in a schedule that couldn't mesh with mine. With twins, it made more sense for me to stay home rather than do the the one step forward, two steps back of daycare and other expenses against my salary.

So I'd say the whole gender roles thing cuts both ways. Many women have expectations of gender roles just as much as men do, for whatever the reason. It's not just men screaming out against birth control and abortion.

As someone who has done a hell of a lot of laundry, I for one welcome our new clothing overlords. That sort of technology applied to diapers would have been a godsend.

Once you get past a certain point, the challenges of cheap reliable domestic technology are fairly steep, and honestly, I don't want a washer that plays me music with an animated duck in the morning. I want something that's relatively inexpensive, reliable, and won't shred my clothes. Which is hard enough to find.

67:

Bujold isn't the only one with uterine replicators, as she calls them, though I think she has the more diverse consequences and societies based on it. Crest of the Stars, by a Japanese male, has gestation devices used by the Abh, and GURPS Transhuman Space, written mostly if not entirely by men, has exowombs, if I recall correctly.

Taking a shit is pretty important, and not irrelevant to the discussion: chamberpots, privies, outhouses, or flush toilets? Or, diapers and bedpans and nursing the infants and sick and elderly. I don't think anyone suggested a "clean my baby" robot...

68:

Meg, I agree that Ian is being-, uh, is making unfounded assertions, but I have a few small remarks about your examples under 2).

First, you're right that diminishing returns have set in with a vengeance. Those first few inventions - the washing machine, the electric or gas stove, and the electric light bulb - were enough to eliminate domestic service as an occupation. One that had employed well in excess of ten percent of the workforce. It has to be all diminishing returns after that. And once the incremental benefit of time saving gets small enough, other considerations come into play.

Trade-offs have been made, to an extent that we really don't appreciate. Food processors do save a lot of time when there is a lot of food to process, but household size has been steadily declining, and few people make their own marmalade or preserve their own fruit these days. So it's now rare that someone would have twenty kilos of food to process in one batch. But when you do ... well, a food processor is very much faster than slicing or chopping by hand.

Because quantities have shrunk, the actual processing of food is now so quick that overhead set-up and take-down costs dominate. (Amdahl's law in action.) Often, a knife or hand masher is quicker. So why use a food processor?

The trade-off is quality. Food processors produce a more consistent product than many people can do by hand, and that is worth something to them. (It's not to me - and I no longer have one, because it was a hassle to clean.)

The trade-off with vacuum cleaners is that people prefer carpeted floors, and vacuum cleaners allow them to have big expanses of carpet. That matters more than the time spent cleaning, which really isn't that great compared to other activities. People have more floor area and are more comfortable, except when having to, you know, actually use the vacuum cleaner.

There is progress, still. My cleaner was rated "excellent" for cleaning performance, quietness, and ease of use when I bought it six years ago. These days its successor, which seems very similar, or slightly better, rates only "good" to "very good". It still takes as long to get out and plug in, and to put away, though. Engineers are working on these things. They must be working hard, to make noticeable impovements after ninety or a hundred years.

Despite many people's protestations, we in the rich world are now at the point where the length of time that each of the main domestic chores takes is only one consideration, and not the most important one - in contrast to the situations of the Victorian domestic servant, Cat's neighbours in Yokosuka, and Hans Rosling's mother.

Now, it's all the rats and mice chores we want to get rid of. We're waiting impatiently for someone to bolt a Kinect to Siri, squirt in a bit of software and a few electric motors, and start selling it as the Micro/pple oPair. (It dusts! It does the dishes! It folds the washing! It cleans the bath! It waters the plants! It walks the dog! It ... no, it doesn't end up in bed with the husband!) Unfortunately, that turns out to be a difficult problem, at least for now.

Meanwhile, as Hans pointed out, five sevenths of the world's women are still dreaming of that first magical appliance, the washing machine. One could get rather radicalised by pondering the power relations expressed here, as Cat has done. I hope more women do.

69:

First, the "superhydrophobic" spray in the video in the linked article? AWESOME. Everybody go watch that video. I suspect I wouldn't want it on my actual clothes, because of feel and sweat and stuff, but on a coat, oh yeah. Also, as somebody who lives in an apartment with cheap lousy low-flow toilets, the "self-keeping-clean plunger" sounds... ahhhhh... quite attractive.

Not bothering to automate "womens' work" because it's less important... yeah, that happens. Men living alone don't see real mess, because most of the real mess in the world comes from kids. Men living with a woman... shove it off on the woman. I'm one of the exceptions, because my wife is totally disabled, and I would kill some days for a dish-washing device that was *actually* faster than filling a sink with water and scrubbing. Something where you shove the plate in a slot and it goes "bing," and the plate is in a cupboard, clean. Oh, wow... could it do pots? Pots with CHEESE glommed on them? oOOOOOOOOooooh. Could it SORT the pots, so I don't have to deal with the kids "putting them away" in the wrong places and making it impossible to open the pan cupboard without getting bombarded with sheet metal?

Okay, maybe I'm getting a little wall-of-texty there. Still... pots. Cheese. Ooooh.

70:

I'd love to see a blossoming of MundaneChoreBots:

A super-Roomba that can distinguish movable and fixed obstacles (move a pair of shoes to clean underneath it, but don't try the same with a book case), handle diverse floor textures, and navigate stairs.

A PetMessBot that can detect kitty vomit and tidy up...

I look forward to the Nicoll stories which would follow the appearance of such robots.

For that matter, it's clear that the super-Roomba would cause problems if it tried to lift up the bookcase to clean underneath. It's sure to be programmed not to try, probably on dimensional limits. It's not so clear that the robot should lift shoes for that purpose but not cats - and great amusement (for humans) will follow the first robots that try.

71:

Like Megpie71 and her partner, my wife and I are able to stand a higher level of mess than most, and this has become more so in the last few years as we've gotten physically less able to do the work (I'm dealing with the aftermath of 3 back surgeries and she's got Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and severe allergies). So we use whatever technology we can find and leave the rest to be dealt with only when absolutely necessary. We have quite a good washer and dryer, because clothes are a big part of the cleaning we have to do. Eva does most of the clothes because it's easier for her to carry the hamper up and down the stairs than it is for me; on the other hand, I do most of the cooking and cleaning up after the dogs because of her allergies and asthmatic reaction to smoke. And when we have sunlight (not often except in the summer and early fall: this is Portland, OR) we hang clothes out to dry on the deck outside our living room. We've been drying our clothes in sunlight when possible for 40 years now because not only does it save electricity (and electrical bills), but also because it leaves the clothes smelling and feeling fresher.

We just had all the carpet in the lower floor of the house ripped out and replaced with polyurethane-coated concrete, because carpet is just so damn much work to keep clean (and you really can't if you've got dogs). Now the only cleaning downstairs is to run a wet mop over the floor if anything gets spilled. We still have some carpet upstairs, but that's going to be replaced just as soon as we can afford it. In the meantime I've just bought a floor cleaner for the carpet and the wood floors upstairs. It's much like a "steam" carpet cleaner that pumps a solution of hot water and cleaner (which it mixes itself) then sucks it of the floor or out of the carpet into a storage tank while scrubbing the floor with a set of rotary brushes. We'll be trying it out in a day or two; I have high hopes for having a tool that will make cleaning the floors easy enough that we can start doing it again regularly. Don't tell me that engineers won't design household cleaning devices, I found some fairly clever engineering in the cleaner when I assembled it.

We invested in another useful labor-saving device when we bought a new stove several years ago. We bought a stove with a sealed top instead of a bunch of holes and extrusions that are very hard to clean. Cleaning the stove is usually my job, and I hated it when I had to take the bloody thing apart and then scrap out the space underneath the burners to get the crud out. Oh, and when you're listing the labor-saving devices, don't forget the self-cleaning oven. That saves me at least a couple of hours a month.

72:

Cat,
I lived in Japan for the entire 1980s and certainly recognized the place you described. (That is not always the case when foreigners describe Japan.)
I had never thought about it so much in gender terms. Thank you for that.
1) Where I think one bottleneck would be for new housekeeping technology would be at the top of corporations. Japanese innovation is very top-down driven. It does not bubble up easily from the bottom. That is why Japan was a leader in new electronics in the 1980s and a follower in everything Internet.
And the top of corporations are very male to this day.
On the other hand, there is certainly much effort in technology to make it easier for older folks to take care of themselves. Since there is no one else Japanese to do it.
But there perhaps there is a Japanese tendency to look for human-replacing technology instead of human-assisting technology. Certainly that was the case with attempts to develop computer JapaneseEnglish translation. Sometimes the Japanese worship of technology can trip over itself.
2) I am not sure how much of this is gender based and how much is production vs. consumption. The lack of central heating affects men as much as women, for example. When I was in Japan in the 1980s, it seemed that everything, and I mean everything, in society was organized to give priority to increasing factory production and construction using cement. That if you thought of things as being adjuncts to industrial production rather than what they seemed to be, then a lot of the little mysteries of life there made sense. I mean education, the police stands on the corner (o-mawari-san), everything.

By the way, even in the 80s, the kind of housing you are talking about would have been considered a bit of a dump, at least in Tokyo.
I am surprised the Navy didn't do better by its officers and their families.

73:

First world problems. I'd love to see some of this thought applied to the other 7/8 of the world.

Once we've solved the food, clean water, fire wood, shelter problems the next one is cleaning. Have you ever watched a collection of Indian women (and men from the clothes-washing caste) cleaning clothes by slamming them against rocks in a river? How about watching somebody kneading chapati/tortilla flour by hand and then making chapatis/tortillas. Every day, for the rest of their lives. Or sweeping the adobe floor with an old school broom.

74:

I'd suggest a test for somebody who takes cooking seriously, rather than as some sort of aspirational art, might be to ask whether they have heard of McGee.

It's a long way from a perfect test.

75:

VERY interesting

My wife, who has a degree from SOAS, says that the Japanese have still not done two important things.
1] Because of Korea they wre never properly "de-nazified" (if you see what I mean).
Their treatment of a visiting English lecturer, about 5 years back, when wrongly arrested for a crime commited by someone else was very revealing.
He was beaten, and fed absolute minimum, and kept in solitary, and everything-but-actually-tortured to "confess". Needless to say the Brit embassy did nothing until he was finally acquitted - he was paid an "undisclosed" sum in compensation, and left, rapidly.
Noteworthy is their 95-98% conviction rate. Um.
2] Status of women in Nippon is STILL low.
They have just ALTERED THEIR CONSTITUTION because the Empress had only daughters, and they could not have that. Akihito, I'm sorry to say finally acquiesed to this outrage (though he is ill, and in pain - cancer).
They make even the Central Kingdom look positively benign in this respect.
So, I'm not suprised by your comments.


re "drying in general - see my comments in Charlie's next post(!)

Cat @ 24
Not if you have fluffy Birmans (mobile fur-factories, they are!) - the fluff gets everywhere, even with combing them ....

BEANS
Oh dear
"Suppe Fagioli" with meaty stock and fresh leek-tops.
The beans being home-grown Borlotti/Painted lady taken out of the freezer
Delicious.
Or yellow pole beans OINK

Phil Knight @ 50
Wrong
You eat your meal off an older, dry crust of bread - called a "Trencher"
A trencherman is so hungry/glutonous he eats the trencher as well.
(Old English usage, there)

Deron Meranda @ 63
Didn't (inevitably) RAH address this problem in: "The Door into Summer" ??

mjfgates @ 70
A lot of cleaning especially of food-related items relates to timing.
Put your cheese-glommed plates in soak overnight, using hot water intially, with a small amount of detergent.
A LOT Easier to clean in the morning!

julian bond @ 74
Spot on.
Specifically, example: 1] small EFFICENT stoves that use much less fuel, for a much greater heat output.
Contribute enormously to reducing deforestation and desertification, for instance.
2] Better shit-disposal, rendering it safe to re-use as fertiliser
3] ?, 4, 5, 6 ... ?

76:

There is a gender based unequality, and we start to see an age effect too. My wife and I both work long hours, so after a messy few months living together we had to sit down and settle on chores depending on less distaste and time spent. That was quite illuminating in terms of education bias, as we used a systematic, time counting approach. So I ended up with cooking and laundry, she with most cleaning and ironing. Each one cleans their own bathroom (best solution for household peace). Our parents just cannot see as normal that I am the one who cooks when they come to visit, and even most people my age see it as weird, though the younger people, in a job situation where both partners have to work to afford a house, see it as normal.

After a few years we decided we could afford to hire a cleaner, and that really was a life improvement.

I am peripherically involved in a research project to design the future washing machine (in the detergent side) and I am afraid the washing machines share some points with cars, in that there are many possible improvements that the industry will not consider, or they will overprice to keep them from becoming commonplace, to keep their business model as it is now. Not as much (from what my blinkered male perspective allows me) from a gender point of view but the usual short term profitability.

I also work (the joys of a chemical company researcher) on nanomaterial projects, and I am afraid any exciting nanomaterial developments will come from Turkey, or Indonesia, or Brazil, as they will be legislated to death (alternately, litigated to death) in the EU or the USA.

77:

I wonder, thinking about energy consumption for heating that sort of home, whether the rebuilding after last year's earthquake and tsunami will try to take advantage of 60+ years of improved engineering on energy consumption. Prefabrication can be done with far better insulation than the post-war pre-fab houses built in the UK (which in some other ways are still ahead of what is being built now.)

But it needs to be done now, because people need homes now.

78:

The first place you would see innovative mobile cleaning systems appear would be hospitals, I think. They have very predictable layouts which don't change much since they're effectively industrial facilities, not homes but they need a lot of cleaning, more than most human-habitable places.

Robotics is hard, harder than most folks realise. If you make the robot big enough to fit into a human space like a home and powerful enough to lift things, move things etc. while at the same time moving its own mass around then what you've got is the sort of mechanism that would be surrounded by keep-out barriers in a factory because it can kill and maim.

I've been hit on the head by a robot -- no Three Laws, no supersophisticated algorithmic "And Seven Times Never Kill Man" protective software, just unthinking metal and electronics and I got in its way. There's a reason the Roomba and similar devices are no more powerful than a child's R/C toy and geared down so they move slowly. It's one of the Ferengi Laws of Acquisition -- "Never kill a customer".

79:

Note to moderators: entry no. 54 (Josh Sharyar) is spam; twitter link.

[[ Moderator: thanks. Now gone ]]

80:

Another fascinating article from Cat, and quite illuminating (if depressing) the number of responses that go down the "women are to blame for their own situation" route -- this strikes me as the first step on the slippery slope to justifying all sorts of mysoginistic assumptions and behaviour.

My personal experience is that having a spouse in full-time employment with a job that requires long and odd-hour shift patterns (nurse) really kicks the equality requirements at home into high gear (throw in a couple of young kids for good measure there). We do both have a high tolerance for un-tidyness, but we both have to be able jump in and out of whatever roles and chores are required of us, depending on our respective availability at a given time -- there's a certain level of domestic work required everyday (especially with the aforementioned children in the house), and some days I'm the one available to do it, and some days it's my wife.

81:

I am surprised the Navy didn't do better by its officers and their families.

I was too. My guess would be that this is stuff run up on the cheap in the late 40s/early 50s, designed by US architects who didn't understand the local conditions, and constructed by local contractors who didn't understand US building methods. Cultural collisions made concrete.

But that's only a guess, and I could be wrong.

Military quarters can be pretty damned uncomfortable. The coldest bed I've ever tried sleeping in was in a British Army Nissen hut out at Thetford: 1940s vintage temporary buildings still going in the 1980s.

83:

I'm still confused about the garbage disposal thing (European here).

I've seen it mentioned once or twice in American TV/movies/books but never actually explained, it just seems to be a normal fact of life ..

So it's some kind of chopping-mechanism that sits in the outflow of your kitchen sink in order to let you .. what? drop organic waste into the kitchen sink? And what then, does the chopped up waste go into the drain? Or where? This is utterly alien and confusing ..

84:

Fascinating, thanks for the article.

Indeed, my mother still today talks about how her mother was delighted how the first batch of modern household machinery arrived in my grandparents home. She says my grandmother used to sing the manufacturer's advertisement jingle each time she did the washing, so happy was she not be doing manual washing anymore.

With regards to the comments about cleaning machines for commercial buildings vs. for private homes, I'd like to point out why a roomba doesn't reduce much of the private housework working time.

The most time-consuming work is tidying up the place so that you actually _can_ clean it. Vacuuming the living room and mopping the kitchen in a private home is just a few minutes of work.

In an office building, you usually don't have that much stuff lying around that needs to be picked up before doing the actual work. Also, a typical office building is made of vast spaces of halls and office rooms. Of course using a machine will help you there, compared the few square meters of floor found in a private home.

85:

#9 - Similarly, maybe up to 1hr, for values that consider the time I spend actually attending to a process rather than the time my washing spends floating in a sink-load of hot soapy water, the meat for the curry spends marinating, the casserole spends sitting in a hot oven...

Of course, IME a woman would describe soaking the washing, marinating the meat and watching "Saturday Kitchen Live" on Tv as "doing 3 things at once".

Incidentally, if you have a program like SKL where you get top chefs preparing and cooking literally live watch it. Not so much for the recipes as for the techniques. When I first got my own place it took me 5 minutes to rough chop an onion. Now I can do a fairly even fine dice in about 1 minute, so I'm faster than assembling, dissembling and washing the food processor!!

86:

WoW! Great piece.

A garbage disposal (http://www.amazon.com/KitchenAid-KCDB250G-Capacity-Continuous-Disposer/dp/B0013E9OJK) is a motor with grinding teeth that sits under a kitchen sink to dispose of organic waste via the sewage system. You turn on the cold water, turn on the disposal, a big grinding roar ensues and the (soft) organic material disappears into its maw and down the sewer pipes to the local sewage treatment plant. (They're also quite good at finding the errant spoon and producing an impressive cacophony along with dinging the hell out of the spoon.)

87:

The facilities for US servicemen and their families in places like Yokosuka are rented on short-term leases; a deployment might last only a couple of years for a given service family so churn is expected and the quality of fixtures and fittings is what you would expect in such circumstances. There's also Japanese xenophobia -- the gaijin blogs are rife with tales of the extortionate "cleaning fee" costs for outsiders who are giving up their apartments. The landlords explicitly point out that they couldn't rent the place to a Japanese person unless the place is deep-cleaned since it was previously occupied by a foreigner.

Japanese building codes are strict when it comes to earthquake protection but part of that, for homes at least involves lightweight wooden framing that will flex rather than fracturing when the inevitable earthquakes occur. When it comes to apartment blocks they go for concrete and lots of it and insulating that properly is going to cut into the available space inside the building. In some of the salaryman hotels I've stayed in the diagonal bracing frames are part of the room decor.

The lack of heat/aircon is cultural rather than being deliberate. I've heard that most schools built before the 1990s don't have central heating per se, or airconditioning. The kotatsu[1] (a table with electric heater underneath) is a standard item in many older homes with the rest of the rooms left mostly unheated to save on fuel costs. It also (historically) cut down on the number of house fires since there's only one source of fire (charcoal, usually) and people are around it most of the time.

[1] One of my favourite animes, Kamichu! is set in 1980s rural Japan. Hitotsubashi Yurie, the main character remains under the family's kotatsu for one complete episode.

88:

Ah. I was assuming these were facilities on a base, built and owned by the US military, rather than being in the surrounding residential region.

89:

There's probably BOQ (Bachelor's Officers Quarters) and barracks on site but the gates of the US section of the Yokosuka base are surrounded by accomodation offices offering flat and house rentals to US military personnel. I expect the same thing applies in places like Greenham Common and other US bases in the UK.

90:

I owned gloves that could heat my hands and a table with heaters embedded underneath to heat my legs, heated footpads and kerosene heaters

A surprising amount of the damage at Hiroshima, to say nothing of the (more destructive and murderous) Tokyo fire raid, according to the Strategic Bombing Survey, was caused by secondary fires, started by charcoal stoves overturned by the blast in wooden buildings. Fire and substandard housing are terrifying, as are the social arrangements embodied in them, what I think of as design violence.

(A British version of this, from my home town and childhood, was the Bradford City FC fire. Decades of shit, under a timber framed stand, never cleaned up because football fans are troublesome working-class lads who aren't, like, proper people. Cigarette.)

I don't think I've ever actually encountered a 'Garbage Disposal'. What actually is it?

+1. Also, why would you particularly want to do that? Won't the fat clog up the drains? And you could stick it in your municipal composting system...or perhaps they don't have them in the States.

Robotics is hard, harder than most folks realise. If you make the robot big enough to fit into a human space like a home and powerful enough to lift things, move things etc. while at the same time moving its own mass around then what you've got is the sort of mechanism that would be surrounded by keep-out barriers in a factory because it can kill and maim.

Yup. People are big fuck-off monkeys and anything that can interact with them as equals physically is potentially at least as dangerous as, say, an angry chimp or a Millwall supporter.

91:

Fascinating article. Though I completely agree with your reasoning, I have yet another angle. Cleaning technology is *hard*. The same applies to the other tasks that you call "feminine", such as child rearing. They are very hard to automate and not lose something essential.

As an anecdote: we have a Roomba and although it manages to clean most of the floor, it's a pretty dumb, noisy thing overall. Handiwork is still required. Cleaning a house well would require advanced AI to get right, and also advanced manipulators.

Information technology has progressed very fast, and so has industrial technology. Both have the advantage that they exist in a well defined and/or strictly controlled space. Dishwashers and washing machines are similar to industrial machines, they simply run a pre-programmed sequence on what you put in it.

On the other hand, technology in the "real", incomplete-information, unpredictable world has progressed much slower. We still have human-driven cars, for example. This might change in the coming decades, and together with that, we might start seeing usable home automation.

But I'm not holding my breath.

92:

Another thought. I remember dishwashers, but I've not had one since I left home in 1998. What does a political economy that assumes that zero wage growth is a good thing (and debt-relieving price inflation a bad thing) mean, in this sense? It can't be "back to the kitchen", because the women all have jobs and good luck with UK housing costs for a one-income household. (Well, except for the ones who are unemployed, but then how many consumer durables are they buying?)

My provisional answer is "it sucks...occupy".

93:

Just read the post (jet lag and head colds go extra well together).

One thing that's missing: consumer electronic designers who are, not to put too fine a point on it, imbecilically stupid in trying to assess the needs of female consumers.

"Let's make and market smartphones for women!" declares a phone company executive: "they're 52% of the potential market but we're focussing exclusively on the needs of 16 year old Aspergers-spectrum males!" To which the general response is, "that's great! Why don't we make it in pink?"

I wish I was exaggerating, but I've seen this happen over the years: $BIG_CORP decides they're not selling enough products to women, so they take the phone/laptop/whatever, injection mold the casing in pink, and ramp the price 25%. Sometimes, for extra bonus points, they team up with a fashion designer and put some curly signature squiggles on the case.

It doesn't even reek of sexist contempt: what it smells of is a simple refusal to think about what they're doing (which in many cases ends up wasting those corporations many millions of dollars).

On the flip side, some design/engineering houses seem to be serious about housework. Roomba is one option, but Dyson is another. I'd also point at the big German white goods manufacturers: the new dishwasher I bought last month does have the equivalent of the singing animated duck (not to mention being so quiet I can barely hear it running). They're taking the whole domestic appliances thing quite seriously.

But overall? Male marketing and engineering executives really need to spend six months working in the kitchen. Then, and only then, we might begin to see less gender stratification in our appliances.

94:

Indeed so. And when I was a small child in a small Oxfordshire village, our next door neighbours were an American family, the father (and possibly mother too, I don't recall) being USAF personnel working at RAF Croughton. I recall being devastated when young Jimmy and his family were redeployed home to Sparks, Nevada.

Perhaps the fact that my next best friend did live on base set the mental image in my mind. It certainly made me forget that only a handful of years ago I actually collected a certain Squadron Leader on his return from Basra and drove him to his house in a Cambridge backstreet, an address I knew and know well enough to know where the best nearby parking spot is.

95:

As with many other things, it might get a helping hand from the military - who want waterproof clothes that don't make you sweat, and don't need as much cleaning.

Which explains the DSTL programme that resulted in the plasma treatment of fabrics and other materials; I think you can get water-repellent training shoes from Hi-Tec in the UK... Wikipedia has an article on [[http://www.p2i.com/][P2i (website)]], the firm who hold the patent.

Good explanation here;
http://www.plasmatreatment.co.uk/index.php/plasma-technology-overview?start=5

96:

re the "garbage disposal":

OK, it didn't get any less alien due to that description. Why would anyone _want_ that? Why would you _want_ organic waste in your drain pipes? Even if it's minced up really fine, it will clog the pipes, won't it?

Also, at least here in Germany, the sewage plants would be _very_ unhappy with large amounts of additional waste being flushed ..

This stuff usually all goes into the municipal compost plant. Gets collected by a different collection truck. You have a different bin for it (green or brown, usually). Mandatory to have, too, so no one can say "I don't want it, I'll just throw everything into the normal garbage bin". Well at least that's the situation where I live, probably different in different places as waste handling is a municipal issue and quite different from town to town (prices of collection vary by an obscene amount).

97:

It’s a facinating piece of market failure akin to the difficulties with clothes for women which I’m told don’t fit or are expensive in a way that clothes for men aren’t.

I can’t quite get my head round why industries with mass markets aren’t able to get over their own interia. I’d be prepared to accept inherent blindness to the problems of other genders but it seems like an easy thing to over come with a little deliberate thought. I don’t need to have spent 30 years buying skirts that never quite fit right to know that if I ask a couple of thousand women “Is there anything I can do to make the clothes I want to sell you more appealing?” I might find out useful information and then be able to solve whatever problems my survey has thrown up in exchange for money.

Taking the example of kitchen appliances. How expensive is it to have a couple of middle ranking designers and marketers spend six months hanging out in a typical flat doing housework and making a note of everything that kinda sucks? A couple of million quid? Which is not a lot compared to the advertising budget for a new washing machine.

Something is going awry here and I wonder if we’ve found the economists’ fiver.

98:

Yet another thing where Apple beat Nokia around the pub car park like a sack of washing. You never saw Steve Jobs announcing their new line of "ladyphones" did you?

99:

It’s a facinating piece of market failure akin to the difficulties with clothes for women which I’m told don’t fit or are expensive in a way that clothes for men aren’t.

No. Women's clothes are sold in weirdly inconsistent sizes. Men's clothes, usually, just don't fit unless you pay for tailoring.

Hence MySociety's Anna Powell-Smith's side-project.

100:

Yesterday I got home from my second day in a new office-based job to find that my boyfriend, who had a day off, had cleaned the house top to bottom, done all the laundry, and was about to get dinner on.

At that moment, looking around the sparkling living-room, which neither of us had had time to clean for weeks, I understood why my previous (abusive) partner had so strongly discouraged me from getting an office job for the ten years we'd been together. And why the same has been true for so many women for so long.

Because getting home from work to find a clean house smelling of fresh food *is really nice*. It feels amazing. You recuperate quicker, you get a bit of an evening, you get to sit in a chair and read a book instead of scrambling about with a duster.

Nobody (or not many people, anyway) oppress women because they like oppressing women. It's just, being taken care of when you're tired is really lovely, and to think about the cost to the human being who's doing the caring requires quite a lot of empathy.

101:

This I can agree with.

With the side note that what everyone (irrespective of sex) wants in a washing machine is "easy to use". I've seen this done exactly once.

102:

The 'weird' heating things you describe are a hold over from traditional Japanese houses. The design, heavy roofs, thin walls have cultural origins in SW Asia and were never suitable to the more temperate latitudes of the archipelago. In historic times the Japanese heated themselves rather than their houses in winter. Imagine a charcoal brazier under the table instead of an electric element, CO poisoning anyone?

There's lots of capital tied up in the problems Cat describes, both cultural and economic. You have to move on both aspects to get any real change (improvement). Here's and example
On Radio 4 today they have been discussing the 6.5M houses in the Uk with solid walls. ( Seems a low number considering the age of the housing stock perhaps. Cavity walls were built in the 1930?) How do you retro-insulate them to reduce heating costs? How much does it matter if you change the appearance of the building? What are the initial costs and how do they offset over time. Will the government really cough up 10 grand? How do you deal with leaking gutters and rising damp.

I see Greg T beat me to RAH's "door into summer'. Although the handwavium needed to get the 'maid' to work indicates how big the project really is. And it doesn't seem to have changed the society very much by the end of the book. Also where does it live when it's not working, under the stairs?

There's lots of mental, semantic blindness also in relation to the domestic / work environment and a complete mine field to discuss. Most people grow up in a complex domestic arrangement which becomes naturalised, internal until people like Cat come along and talk about it. Working on things and process that relate back to the domestic/ personal gets tangled up with that. The domestic is also linked with the national, for example when china decided to permit the purchase of white goods in the home market, the over night remand for electricity required the building of many new power stations and the infrastructure to distribute it.

On a last note, it takes 40 min between deciding to use hot water and getting it, in the flat i'm in at present. Who ever fitted the immersion heater decided on the cheapest solution, no timer and no tenants have complained enough about it yet. It certainly dictates how and when I use any hot water but I'm single and shower in the evening. The shitty heating provided in the flat as also made me reluctant to use it. Luckily it hasn't been _that_ cold this year in west london. But I grew up in a house with no heating, save the occasional paraffin heater and when I was very little the boiler had to be lit every morning so this is a perfectly acceptable state of affairs. I do resent the hot water a little - makes doing the dishes so tedious.

Thanks for the posts Cat.

@99 – don't get me going on technical mountaineering clothes for 'girls'

103:

Thanks so much for this. I'm always impressed, not just by the insight it takes to write something like this, but by the sheer guts that it takes to publish it online.

It's well assembled, wonderfully readable and makes its point in a really persuasive way; but the kind of trolls and mansplainers you're likely to attract... well, it makes me scared to even read the comments.

104:

"Taking the example of kitchen appliances. How expensive is it to have a couple of middle ranking designers and marketers spend six months hanging out in a typical flat doing housework and making a note of everything that kinda sucks? A couple of million quid?"

I think there is a lot of resistance to hiring people to perform roles that don't feel like "proper work" or involve lots of downtime, or just apparent downtime, even when there is actually a very solid economic argument for doing so.

I'd suspect this might be somewhat justified by the way that some people do end up behaving when they end up in a position like this, and probably issues with finding good people to do it, cause they worry about how it will look on their CV.

A complete aside here - but saw an NYT article that morning that might be of interest to people here - LINK
Suggests Google intends to start selling Augmented Reality glasses by end of year.

105:

The next time you go to Barnes and Noble, take a look at the magazine rack. There are a heck of a lot of magazines devoted to home decorating and design, and they all seem to be pitched at women. The men's magazines, by contrast, are much less focused on the home. I suspect that this reflects actual tendencies in interest, which may be on some level a biologically based gender difference.

For further evidence, see the old TV show "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" (any episode). These guys claimed a special insight into decorating and clothing that allegedly came from *not* being heterosexual men.

106:

The super-Roomba is actually quite a good thing to aim at producing. The thing to remember here is what you are actually asking to be produced: you want a robot which can cope with the complex physical environment that humans inhabit. It has to negotiate a floorspace which is cluttered and has lots of things on it that it can get entangled with. It has to work out the difference between moveable and immoveable objects, and how to move the former. It also has to work out how not to annoy humans.

This feature-set is difficult, but it is definitely worth trying to achieve, simply because the system is going to be so very damn useful for such a lot of other things apart from house-cleaners.

The first and most obvious user of such a system would of course be the military. Most military activity these days is policing and suppression of enemy activity, which more or less equates to tramping about with a gun looking for trouble. In Afganistan, trouble normally comes in the form of an explosive device of some sort buried in a roadway, or in the form of some local youth conscripted into an impromptu militia.

Being able to mass-produce a horde of small robots which spend a significant amount of time roving about sticking their noses into everything, sniffing for explosives (even trying to dig out explosives) whilst gabbling excitedly about such finds on a MESH network is going to save time and lives.

Being able to deploy a horde of robots which scan everyone and everything they see with millimetre-wave and attempt to tase anyone carrying a gun who isn't also carrying a locator beacon is also a game-changer; it limits insurgents to rioting without firearm support.

The whole point here is that once you develop what essentially is a robotic insect that can cope with the physical environment, a whole world of possibilities open up, most of which simply add another layer or facet to the ecosystem in which we live. Litter-picking robots would be one possible civilian example (at which point the old practical joke of gluing a coin to a pathway might get much more popular), as would robotic grasscutters and snowshifters.

107:

Yes, that is exactly what it is - a device that replaces the classic kitchen sink drain with an enlarged hole containing a grinder to reduce kitchen scraps to fine fragments or paste that then goes on down the normal sewer drain. You run them in conjunction with the tap to flush the waste through. They tend to cope with anything up to the level of chicken bones, steak bones tend to be a bit too tough. And too many potato peelings at once can glue em up like you wouldn't believe.
They're pretty common in Australasia as well as North America, as a small child I used to think of it as a monster inside the sink that had an inordinate fondness for trying to eat teaspoons.

108:

Alex @ 90
Care to explain "Millwall supporter" to our USian friends?
ahem.

Charlie @ 93
Yeah
As a supposed engineer, I've seen this.
In things like my US-made vacuum-cleaner which supposedly had a fit-for-purpose BIG capacitor in it across the inputs.
Except rated for US voltages.
Went bang quite spectacularly, one day.
Having taken machine apart, removed Aluminium foil and dielectric from EVERYWHERE, I replaced with a 500V capable one with a factor of 10 greater Farad-age ( £2 from Maplin)
And this keeps on happening with so-called "consumer" goods.

maggie @ 102
Do what we do - leave it on all the time, with a really thick insulation balnket around the hot-water cylinder. Suprisingly cheap in the long run.

"Garbage Disposal"
As opposed to composting/recycling it.
Yeah.
Very clever
aee also @ 96 ...
AND
Kitchen Design
Yeah and kitchen kit
Good stuff, some of it REALLY good stuff does exist, but finding out which is which can be surprisingly difficult.
This goes down to basic levels like simple cooking pots, saucepans etc.
There are one or two items where you go "it costs $$$ HOW_MUCH?" ... but then it never wears out, is amazingly fit-for-purpose, and, well, maybe it is worth it.
But, again, how do you find out, because the "price-only" online guides are useless for this.
And some things suit some people, but not others.
A PhD in there, perhaps?

109:

It's well assembled, wonderfully readable and makes its point in a really persuasive way; but the kind of trolls and mansplainers you're likely to attract... well, it makes me scared to even read the comments.

I have a posse of moderators. They're at Cat's disposal. We know how to deal with trolls hereabouts. Mansplainers ... well, I'll work on that problem when it is drawn to my attention.

110:

Not hiring people to do work that doesn't look like proper work is a different side to the thing I'm puzzled by. I can see that there would be resistance to hiring people to do something weird. I'm surprised that given the potential rewards firms aren't able to get over it.

Either the cultural inertia is much bigger than I think it is or the rewards are much lower.

111:

Large parts of Tokyo city centre were, as now, built of concrete which didn't burn particularly well during the bombings of WWII. That's what 4lb incendiaries were for with the B-29s having their guns and armour stripped out so they could carry more bombload "until the tires squeaked". The outskirts and some older Tokyo neighbourhoods which still had a lot of timber construction did burn prettily though.

The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 was the reason why the centre of Tokyo was mostly concrete; the wonder material of the day, brick didn't perform too well when the ground shocks hit and the result was at least 100,000 dead from collapsed buildings and fires from underground gas mains. That's also why gas pipes in Japanese cities tend to run overground where they run at all.

Hiroshima hadn't been through a big earthquake like the one that hit Tokyo so it still had a lot more wood and brick construction in its city centre in August 1945. The "Three Little Pigs" story explains why there's a lot of concrete in Hiroshima city centre nowadays.

112:

I'm not sure but I think that post may actually be spam too. It has the taint of spoiled pork-like product about it. Anyone dare to follow the name-link?

113:

as @ 102 re the hot water

there's no thermostat switch if you leave it on it boils the water in the cold water tank eventually

114:

AS a single man working at CERN in the 80's, I had similar issues...in small-town France, everything closed at 5 pm, so if you didn't have a stay-at-home wife, you were screwed. Laundromats were unheard of, leading to the awesome experience of driving my dirty laundry into Geneva once a week, where it could be searched by both French and Swiss douaniers. Now I regard having both a dishwasher and home laundry as the height of luxury.

115:

A team at Berkeley has managed to build a robot which can fold towels. This was a multi-PhD project, and it takes the robot half an hour to fold one towel, with the limiting factor being the performance of the GPU-accelerated motion-vector software on the fastest graphics processor available (I think a GeForce 580 at the time - this wasn't long enough ago for the graphics processors to have got much faster)

116:

People who have imbibed from their culture that men and business are important and women and the home are slightly distasteful and irrelevant spending their time on inventions applicable to one and not the other. Corporate managers approving projects along the same lines.

That might be a convincing explanation by itself if all manufacturers were generically trying to produce and sell everything, so that they really had to split their R&D efforts between, say, vacuum cleaners, trucks, and smart phones. But there are, in fact, large corporations which are primarily focussed on the home appliance market (e.g., Whirlpool, Electrolux, and some of the German companies Charlie alluded to, like Miele), so it's a little hard to argue that their engineers and executives are not interested in producing and selling improved domestic appliances.

(It also fails to explain how things like household washing machines, driers, dishwashers, and vacuum cleaners were invented -- and improved -- in the first place, in a past society that was even more male-focussed and female-denigrating than our present society.)


The other issue is that I suspect most home appliances are in a "mature technology" state, where incremental improvements are possible, but not the kind of revolutionary year-by-year improvements we're used to from, say, mobile phones and computers.

For example, the complaints you make about home appliances could also be made about cars and airplanes, things which I think we could agree have much higher "male" and "corporate" appeal. The kind of car you buy today is not, fundamentally, that different from what you could buy in the 1970s: it can't go ten times faster, or fly (or even levitate), or clean itself, or serve you food, or drive itself (though the latter is starting to change a little). There have been many incremental improvements since the 1960s, of course, but nothing like what's happened with computers. Similarly, a modern-day passenger plane isn't radically different from a 1970s passenger plane (heck, some airlines are still buying 737s, a design introduced in the late 1960s). Is this because cars and planes don't appeal to male engineers and corporate executives?

And household appliances aren't exactly a technologically dead field, as some people have pointed out in other comments. Here's someone's blog post complaining about how their new dishwasher doesn't work because its built-in computer wasn't working ("I miss the days when household appliances didn't have their own digital brains").


(Now, given how male-dominated the science fiction field has traditionally been, your explanation for the relative lack of interest in "female-oriented" technology, be it housework or reproductive, in SF seems all too plausible.)

117:

One factor that mitigates against full automation of the modern Japanese home is the severe lack of space for such appliances in most apatos. I could tell you tales of my searches for out-of-the-way coin-op laundrettes in my travels around Japan...

Oh yes.

There is a class of fridge-freezer I saw in various department stores in Japan that I'd kill for on the UK.

Here in post-Thatcherland, we have a standard size footprint for domestic appliances: 20" square (or, more typically, 60cm -- 8mm less than 20 old inches, which makes it easier to get units in and out). Fridges, washing machines, dishwashers -- they are all sized to fit a 60cm by 60cm niche because that's what fitted kitchen builders expect.

Imported US appliances are often larger -- I think the standard footprint is 24" x 24" ? -- but as they tend to smoke if you pump 240 volts through them they're not common over here.

Relatively recently (in the past 20 years) there's been a trend towards larger fridge-freezers, of the American two-door pantry variety (two narrow doors on front, opening out in opposite directions) as opposed to the 60cm wide single-door units common in the UK. Alas, the wide-ass American pantry fridges are w-a-y too large to fit in a kitchen nook: you either have to have a new-build kitchen (very expensive) or lots of floor space (differently expensive).

The Japanese, in the past few years, have had a new trend: the 20" wide (or in a few cases 24" wide) pantry fridge, sort of like a shrunken version of the American designs. Only they use very high efficiency thermal insulation and all sorts of amazing space age design details to cram as much food storage as possible into the minimum floor space.

Alas: Japanese appliances run on 100 volts, so share the smoke problem ... and I haven't seen any Japanese companies trying to crack the UK market yet.

Which may be one possible explanation for why progress in white goods is delayed: big appliances that suck lots of juice require different power supplies and are expensive to ship, so the global market is still somewhat balkanized. Unlike mobile phones, where the cost of a differently-connected wall-wart is probably around 0.5-1% of the cost of the phone.

118:

Have you ever run across Paul Krugman talking about kitchens? (This looks like a good link for his idea, although I first ran across this listening to the interview Krugman & Charlie did at one of the big cons.)

Krugman's house has a 1950s kitchen, which works fine, and he notes that a kitchen from 60 years before that would be completely inoperable for him. His point is that much of our technological progress is having no impact on living standards.

119:

Off topic, but you did mention sailing up during your intro-bio:

Do you know of any place to rent a small (18-25') sailboat near Boothbay? All I've been able to find so far are windjammers and one place that charters larger boats.

Thanks!

Andrew

120:

105
Magazine buying –
"I suspect that this reflects actual tendencies in interest, which may be on some level a biologically based gender difference."

The Magazine thing is reinforced cultural conditioning. If you are taught to care / ignore certain things from early childhood then unless it's pointed out in a none threatening way you're going to take it as the natural order. In the Uk there was a reading scheme where the little girl helped her mother with the housework and the little boy did _shed_ things with his father. Run Spot Run!

I know intellectually that the best _mechanical toy of your choice_ exists out there somewhere, but I don't care so don't bother with all those types of magazines, neither do I care about what latest flat ware is in RSN.

"Straight eye…" is a marketing gimmick. There's enough cultural variation that you could find any one doing anything any way. Being not-straight perhaps permits them to do things that were they merely a 'man' they would find taboo – which says more for their culture than than for them as individuals. Or is it that they would find it more difficult being accepted for who they were if they drove trucks and wrangled machines every day?

121:

The kind of car you buy today is not, fundamentally, that different from what you could buy in the 1970s: it can't go ten times faster

True as far as it goes, but it is twice as heavy and can go about twice as fast on the same average fuel consumption (European cars; US mileage may vary). If you consider the Ke at Vmax, and remember that air resistance consumes power as V^2, that's arguably about the same as going 10 tiems faster.

122:

Is "painting the house interior a 'shed thing'?" My Sis used to do that.

Is cooking the tea "housework? Even when I lived with my parents I did that sometimes.

;-)

123:

120: This is just the old nature/nurture debate. The scientists actually settled it years ago. It's about 50% nature, 10% parental-controlled environment, 40% other environment.

As a breakdown: The commonalities shared by identical twins raised separately are judged to be nature. The commonalities shared by genetically unrelated children raised together are "parental-controlled environment". Remaining variation is "other environment". 50/10/40 is a rough consensus of several multivariate statistical studies.

124:

"Either the cultural inertia is much bigger than I think it is or the rewards are much lower."

Based on my own, very limited, experience, I'd speculate that projects like this tend to inevitably come to the attention of one of those not terribly bright people that are scattered like landmines through any management structure, and that person will see an opportunity for efficency savings.

Or you have all the journalists floating around, looking for easy pickings like "boffins waste twenty million researching something weird" or "council spends 50 mill on new rucksacks for children" or whatever. Who the fuck cares whether if the project was actually justified if the resulting story sells newspapers.

And then you realise that no one is interested in funding things that make savings in other peoples budgets, or that won't pay off before they get promoted, or that they don't think that they'll be able to take the credit for.

And remember that cultural inertia can't be overcome without sticking your head out over the parapet. If you make a big fuss about your engineers in kitchen project, and then it doesn't work, or some idiot "efficency saves" it, or the engineer finds a new job half way in, or even if it just makes a modest return.

At that point, it doesn't matter if the original report had "this might not work, but it's worth the risk" in bold red type every three paragraphs coupled with uninpeachable stats and the enthusiastic support of all your analytic advisor. At that point you have died, and will be reborn as that kitchen guy and, a thousand years from now, tribes of interns will still whisper hushed parables about your misadventures while turning femurs over radioactive campfires.

Or at least, that's what you manager thinks will happen to him :-)

125:

"It's one of the Ferengi Laws of Acquisition -- "Never kill a customer"."

Really? I'd think that you might have dropped the last clause: ", unless it's profitable."

126:

I've checked, and it looks fine to me.

127:

Small nitpick. Here (Spain) the standard appliance footprint is 60x60. 24 inches are 60.96, so 20 inches would be narrow width, possible but usually quite expensive around here. Actual measurements are 595 mm, so you have some space to slide it in.

Checking around the internet, apparently the USians expect a fridge to be 36-38 in, a washing machine 27 in and a dishwasher(European influence?) 24 in.

Culturally significant, if only in how often you go shopping for fresh food and how much laundry you have.

128:

"I'm still confused about the garbage disposal thing (European here)."


"So it's some kind of chopping-mechanism that sits in the outflow of your kitchen sink in order to let you .. what? drop organic waste into the kitchen sink? And what then, does the chopped up waste go into the drain? Or where? This is utterly alien and confusing .."

You've got it right. It's a gadget sitting in the cabinet below the sink, between the drain of the sink and the drainpipe proper. Softer material gets ground (up to chicken bones) - while running the faucet. It then flows down the drain into the sewage disposal system.

It wasn't common in new houses until (I think) the 1990's; it was retrofitted into many older houses. It does require a slightly steeper slope for the drainpipe.

129:

Again we run into the statistical variation among / across populations problem.

My parents ( read mum) expected my brother and I ( by the time we were grown up) to be able to cook and clean, knit and sew, lay bricks and weld, paint a picture and carve, mend a puncture, dig the garden, paint a wall, go to uni. I can't think of how they treated our liberal education differently, except my brother had a international musical career and I didn't.

130:

maggie @ 113
ARRRGGGH!
GET IT CHANGED for one with a thermostat - YESTERDAY
( Or do it yourself - I've changed mine )

131:

Well I couldn't find "Never kill a customer" at http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Rules_of_Acquisition : There is however one that states "When no appropriate rule applies, make one up."

132:

I see a problem with automating home cleaning through robotics. A robot that can recognize spots on the bathroom mirror, drips under the umbrella stand and tell the difference between a sock on the floor and dog spitup is going to have to be pretty sophisticated. Complex and 'smart' if you will. Once they realize they have all this capacity and ability, and that we've stuck them with the crap work exclusively they're not going to be happy.
I for one do not welcome our new cleanerbot overlords.

133:

I can do all of those except knit and paint pictures. Welding had to wait for college though, due to the lack of welding kit. I could braze at 9 though if that helps.

Also I'm always happy to help a woman who wants to learn how to do car stuff (I'm a good amateur mechanic according to most of the professional mechanics I know, including a Vw Master technician).

134:

The organic waste from the kitchen by the time it passes through the unit is pretty similar in composition to the waste from the bathroom/toilet, so the sewage plants will pick it up and treat it exactly the same. Thats partly the reason for making sure you run the tap while the unit operates. It does require slight changes in drain design as the water flow is generally much lower than in a bathroom.

It's a fairly useful solution to city environments where you can't compost easily - send it down the sewers and have them do it for everyone.

135:

Until a decade ago kitchen sink garbage disposals were banned in NYC. Here's a link that explains the reason and some of the problems with pureed food waste:
http://www.brickunderground.com/blog/2010/05/are_garbage_disposals_illegal_in_new_york

136:

"Which may be one possible explanation for why progress in white goods is delayed: big appliances that suck lots of juice require different power supplies and are expensive to ship, so the global market is still somewhat balkanized. "

The Chinese company Haier built a plant in the USA to manufacture larger appliances, due to shipping costs. They were already sending lots of smaller refrigerators, etc. to the USA, but apparently shipping costs are still a problem for the larger ones.

137:

[modern cars] can go about twice as fast on the same average fuel consumption

Sure. But the point is that this is precisely the kind of incremental, efficiency-related improvement (which, added up over enough years, can be rather impressive) that you can also find in household appliances. This site claims that "new refrigerators consume 75 percent less energy than those produced in the late 1970s"; this study [PDF] notes that washing machines circa 2004 used about 1/4 as much water per kg of clothes, and less than half as much energy, as 1970 machines did.

138:

I was just thinking that it'd be rather non-Ferengi to overlook such a possible source of profit :)

139:

There appears to be progress in home appliances because Marketing Departments sell every minor rejiggering of parameters as a revolutionary breakthrough. Take vacuum cleaners. I repair a lot of them and they're all basically the same. A motor moves air through a filter. Another motor (or the same one) spins a brush to agitate the pile. You can trade off power for weight. Features for size. Cost for durability and so on. Change colors and materials. But they all do basically the same thing they always have, with incremental increases in efficiency.
The only really new thing is the Roomba autonomous unit. But it's so limited in capabilities compared to a human operated sweeper that I would argue it doesn't adequately replace a traditional vacuum.

140:

Fantastic piece! Very insightful.

141:

123
The alleged distribution 50/ 10/ 40 of nature/parents/other environments is interesting, especially the last two.

It contrasts with the Jesuit " give me the boy and I will give you the man" in that it seems to assume that most cultural conditioning happens outside of the immediate family environment. So that's horizontal or diagonal meme flow which suggests an ability for rapid change in a culture as people absorb new knowledge and behaviours from many sources. Is this what we see? Or is it possible that the vertical meme flow between parent and child with its overlapping generations is unconsciously absorbed into a cultures subconscious and therefore isn't counted, but has a huge influence.*

I might add that i;m not interested in Shinny shinny magazines because I have no ability for absorbing facts, and I'm quiet happy with my personal taste and don't have any aspirations towards a gleaming house. I was going to shiny house - which would put it in the same footing as a new stereo or car or something…

p.s I can't get the deeply disturbing 'stepford wives' 1950's ladybird reading scheme out of my head now.

* Another anecdote. Note this all happened in good spirits and jest, but I was surprised it even came up.
A timed party game involved sorting things with chopsticks. A statistically number of party goers were from a variety of Asian backgrounds. They tended to express the opinion that they should be good at this particular game. They were very defensive if they lost this game to anyone who wasn't from an Asian background. I won a few times against them. they seemed to take this as some attack on their identity. I explained I'd been using chop sticks since a small child and it was the only party game that I thought I'd be any good at so I was making an effort. I found it curious that they took the usage of food utensils as part of their public identity so much to heart, when to an outsider in this, there were lots of other aspects to them, that might form the key to how they identify themselves.

142:

And you wonder why I'm moving ( among other things)

143:

Anecdotal, but I got the same story from my mother. Once washing machines appeared, the time needed for cleaning the clothes did not go down. Instead, the standard of cleanliness did increase. And older work-saving measures were abandoned. Before the washing machine, German boys wore leather shorts (not washed at all) and girls wore aprons that protected the dress. Nobody wears those nowadays. So instead of having one washing afternoon each week for nine people, my mother had to handle one machine each day for six. The same goes for hot water and bathing frequencies, or modern stoves and the disappearance of the every-day-but-Sunday hotpot.

144:

On the question, why does speculative technology applied to domestic set ups not appear in much SF I wonder if the answer is partly to do with much SF being Cowboys in SPAACE.

Or more sympathetically, that much SF includes elements of adventure, of a character being taken out of the ordinary course of their life, and therefore domestic lives are squeezed out by the requirement for an adventure narrative.

So, it’s not that speculation is not being applied to the realm of the domestic it’s more that the realm of the domestic isn’t percieved as an interesting plot arena and is ignored entirely.

For reasons which may (or may not) have something to do with the values attached to elements of gender roles.

The short story The Dish Ran Away With the Spoon by Paul di Fillipo is based around the impact of the use of IT in domestic appliances.

145:

"it seems to assume that most cultural conditioning happens outside of the immediate family environment"

Well, that seems logical to me - take an average teenage youth. 8hrs is spent asleep. 6-8hrs is spent at school, in the company of peers and cultural indoctrinators, plus probably another hour or two hanging out with peers. The family probably gets an hour in the morning and an hour or three in the evening before the teenager goes off to do their own thing.

Call the time asleep 'Nature' and theres your split.

146:

I found washing became much easier when I realised that all clothes can be washed together on the same setting, at the same time.
My mum is scandalised, but it's worked for me for about 10 years now.

147:

Something I don't think has been mentioned yet: access to the means to turn an invention into reality.

Look at traditional "women's work" - washing, housecleaning, cooking, tending to babies, etc. - what all those things have in common is that what few tools they require are mostly no good for building other, better, tools.

Look at a lot of traditional "men's work" though, and you'll find workshops stocked with tools, raw materials and people with the expertise to use them. Or a relationship with another guy who does (the local blacksmith/carpenter/whathaveyou). Or, at the very least, a nearby tool chest.

Which is not to say that women (and/or slaves) through the ages haven't made do, often spectacularly. I think there have probably been tens thousands of really ingenious techniques and inventions made within the limits of whatever materials and techniques they had access to. Some of those have probably been both the most important and least remarked upon inventions in history. Think of something even really simple like, say, tying a blanket so you can carry a baby around (and maybe nurse it) without it falling out. But, if it didn't involve tying a blanket (instead, say, building something out of with wood or iron), then for the most part, and throughout most of history (and even today), people doing "women's work" lacked the means to take a moment of insight about a way to do something better, and then actually turn that into reality, let alone a useful, manufacture-able product.

(In fact, you could take this a bit further. Into the office environment, say. It takes a bit of autonomy to be able to turn some insight about a potential improvement in process or technology and turn that into reality. The kind of autonomy a manager or professional staff member might have, but that a secretary or administrative staff member will be too busy answering phones and taking dictation to pursue...)

148:

Take a new red tee-shirt and a white handkerchief or item of underwear. Wash them together at 40C, and report back on the resultant colour of the white item.

149:

The correct answer is "irrelevant"

150:

And yet it's also interesting that many of the early and key inventions driving what we call the "industrial revolution" were in arenas where labor traditionally fell to women (or slaves). Like the sequence of inventions which took textile and piecework production out of the home and into steam powered factories. (Factories operated by poorly paid and treated women and children, but I digress...)

We could also observe that men in workshops throughout much of history, despite having access to the tools, nevertheless seemed somewhat slow to actually bother to make any great strides in productivity or mass manufacturing (preferring, presumably, the prestige and security of remaining "artisans").

So that's interesting too.

151:

What is this 'red' and this 'white' of which you speak?

152:

This paper was pointed out to me during a discussion of new household devices and feminism:

http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~siow/332/liberation.pdf

153:

#149 and #151 - DOes this mean that I'm unusual in choosing to wear colours rather than just grey and brown? ;-)

154:

Well, you've just noticed my ulterior motives for wearing black the whole time. Wearing black means never having to worry about choosing an outfit with matching colours, and everything can go in the wash at the same time (except for delicate fabrics).

It also means you need fewer items in your suitcase when travelling (no need to match items in different colours). Plus: black is slimming, and I need all the help I can get.

Down side is, it'd be really boring if everyone wore nothing but black boiler suits.

155:

And I think it was a discussion of the impact of household mechanization that led me to post Oscar Wilde: Inventor!

http://groups.google.com/group/soc.history.what-if/msg/403f793da049e9af

156:

For those asking about municipal composting systems in America, in the final analysis, there is no such thing. America is a a gigantic, new, non-homogenous, biologically diverse place (and Europeans know this, but some of you don't seem to think about what it means) which probably invented "one size fits all" and in the social sphere (like with clothes) that is not actually true.

Everything gets thrown away in gigantic landfills in America, except things of easy value like scrap metal. Oh, and many places have recycling of paper where newsprint must be separate, no paper containers that once held food, envelopes with plastic windows may or may not be recyclable. Glass is recyclable: please separate by color, or not. Plastics: wild variance from town to town on what might be included. Plastic bags can be recycled at stores but not in the civil system. Or vice versa.

You can mix all of these into one recycling collection bin. No, everything must be separated. Where do you live, again?

Having said that there is no municipal composting, the truth of it is that it exists in a tiny way, in a microscopically small number of places. The most liberal neighborhood in the most liberal city in the one of the most liberal states in America has a pilot program, for example. To participate, one must buy biodegradable collection bags at about 80c each, place the food waste in that, place that in a paper bag (this is required) and place the bag in the city-provided wheely bin, which must never be allowed to have any odors or mess in it. Yard waste may never be included and is collected separately

The program is voluntary and has less than 50% participation. Rolling this out to a less "Green" and affluent community seems fraught with problems and insurmountable expense. Making it mandatory seems impossible.

An even tinier number of people have garden composting, where they are sternly warned away from composting meat scraps or bones.

Since it seems a wide-spread practice in Europe, how is municipal composting done there?

157:

From the abstract:

It is argued here that the consumer goods revolution liberated women from the home. ...[description of model]... Can such a model explain the rise in married female labor-force participation that occurred in the last century? Yes.

There's probably some truth to that, but:

It should be noted that female labor-force participation is not synonymous with "liberating women from the home" - or at least, liberating women from housework.

What housework remains after the machines get done with it (which is still substantial) still tends to preferentially devolve to women - who thus, inclusive of domestic labors, end up working more total hours than their male partners. (All thanks to still pervasive acculturation and social expectations, I would say, not hard-coded preferences. Decorating magazines and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy notwithstanding.)

158:

Thinking about houses and heating, there are a bunch of issues, including:
--earthquakes,
--fire
--summer heat, and
--winter cold.

I don't know which is the most critical in Japan.

Certainly, thick walls are great in the winter. But in Chicago (for example), more people die during summer heat waves than during winter cold snaps, because it's easier to warm a house than to cool it.

Heavy roofs and thin walls can help keep a house cool, but these are dangerous in an earthquake. So which happens more frequently, earthquakes or heatwaves?

Certainly, wooden houses are easier to build. Unfortunately, they've highly flammable. Brick walls are non-flammable, but tend to collapse in earthquakes.

Traditionally built homes are trade-offs against the above constraints, and the question really is, what was critical when the home was built? Keeping warm in the winter, or keeping from overheating in the summer? Making a home fire-resistant or earthquake-resistant? Each of these lead to different designs.

Full disclosure: One thing I detest about modern developments is that they're built for three things: 1. To maximize sales (emphasis on the currently fashionable eye candy), 2. To maximize units per lot (which minimizes passive solar design and makes comfort a matter of pouring energy through the HVAC, aligning the house properly to the sun and local winds), and 3. the minimum code requirements of the municipality (if the home buyer is lucky). Designing for the local environment doesn't get onto the radar, except through minimal adherence to local building codes.

159:

> I remember dishwashers, but I've not
> had one since I left home in 1998.

We don't have one either. And since we both hate doing dishes, we moved to paper. $4 worth of paper plates and bowls at the dollar store lasts a month; get a clean one off the stack, throw it away after use.

I doubt we used $4 worth of hot water and soap to wash the hard dishes, but I sure have better things to do with my life than washing dishes. Or making up beds, for that matter.

160:

Our city (not Detroit) composts yard waste placed out in appropriate cheap paper bags. Every spring we can get free garden compost at the municipal offices.
Extra bonus: Tree limbs left at the curb are neatly chipped and turned into more compost. I use that a service lot.
Garbage disposals are universal so food waste goes away in the sewage. We pay for water and sewer fees in one small semiannual payment.
Recycling is done 'single stream' (mixed materials) at curbside. I have no idea where our collection of cans, bottles and newspapers goes. Possibly in the same colossal pit where the bagged garbage ends up.
But we try.

161:

My fiancee once said that the first time she operated a click-wheel iPod, her immediate reaction was that a woman would not have designed a device controlled by running your finger in a circle around a button.

I had a college professor who commented on gender bias in naming conventions -- completely aside from the fact that the UNIX name is, itself, a ball joke, a woman would likely not have called the force-termination command "kill".

Obviously these are rather more benign symptoms of a male-dominated engineering world. But the "make it pink" cluelessness leads to plenty of less-benign oversights.

162:

Having recently married a Japanese girl and moved here (Switzerland), I cannot express how absolutely and utterly correct you are on every single point.

I've also spent more money on heating there than now. And my current flat is three times as big, and has "inefficient" floor heating. But it's isolated as good as it gets, and the recent three weeks of -10°C to -20°C completely proved that you can't trump a warm and comfy home when shit hits the fan.

We have a dish-washer, and decent laundry gear. But I'd like a Roomba (OhgodSOexpensive?!). Are there other pieces of gear that are actually available that cut down on cleaning time? Most seem brutally overpriced, such as irons: The cheap ones work just as well as the expensive ones, and you have to do it by hand anyway.

163:

>> I don't think I've ever actually encountered a 'Garbage Disposal'.

> +1. Also, why would you particularly want to do that?

+2 here. I'm British, and I don't remember ever using one or seeing one in my life. And our drains get blocked far too often by the crap the people upstairs put into it anyway, without encouraging even more.

I think there are many odd differences between typical housing in different countries that are based on local building traditions rather than any sensible decision to go one way or the other. Plumbing is different, frainage is different, electrical supply is different, kitchen appliances are different. I have come across Americans who had no concept of a domestic kettle! For us that's the *first* thing you buy when you set up home.

As far as I know, based on reading not observation, most newish suburban homes in the US are build on a frame-and-cladding system. Almost all British ones have masonry walls (typically two layes of brick). That has huge implications for heating systems and power supplies and plumbing.

> ...at least as dangerous as, say, an angry chimp or a Millwall supporter.

Thanks for the compliment! No-one likes us. But we don't care.

164:

I think you mean "domestic electric kettle".

The reason Americans don't have them? At 110 volts, you either need to ram 30 amps through the cable (ouch!) or wait forever while it comes to the boil. 220 volts is available, but only to permanently wired-in appliances such as cookers. In the UK, however, our 230 volt mains supply -- while rather more dangerous (but of course we have fused ring mains and individually-fused plugs as standard) -- is capable of driving a fan heater, kettle, or a cooker.

Now Japan ...

Japan runs on 100 volts. And half the country was installed by GE and the other half by Westinghouse in the 1890s, so half runs at 60Hz and the other half at 50Hz. Whackiness ensues!

165:

Oh. Good. God.

Sorry, Susie. I share your frustration. Let me share some reality with you. I have a close relative who works on solid waste issues in Los Angeles County. With 86 separate jurisdictions, and not enough disposal capacity.

They'd *love* total recycling in LA. They'd *love* incineration. They *love* composting. They'd *love* to recycle sewage sludge into fertilizer. Every month they get proposals for doing this, and most are totally unworkable. Here's why.

Trash producers are fucking pigs.

LA, for example, composts and/or mulches a lot of municipal green waste, and gives the compost and mulch away, free. When I used it on a project, the workmen were pulling used diapers and trash out of the compost. We were lucky there were no used syringes. Even on tree-clearing projects, people were tossing their diapers into the bins that the tree-pruners were using. That relative's neighbor throws all her trash into her greenwaste and recycling bins, even though she has an advanced education degree. She's just a pig who doesn't care.

Similarly, it only takes a few car batteries, or a barrel of waste from a metal-plating shop, to turn a huge batch of perfectly compostable human sewage into hazardous waste containing enough lead and cadmium to poison someone. LA sanitation workers have even welded manhole covers shut near certain metalworking shops, to keep them from dumping their toxic waste into the sewer to save a few bucks.

Incineration to generate electricity would be great, except that it's hard to burn trash cleanly. Every different material burns best at a different combination of temperature and oxygen. In the waste stream going into an incinerator, you might be a bunch of kitchen waste (with a few batteries and mercury-containing fluorescent bulbs mixed into the rotting lettuce), then a bunch of construction waste (gypsum drywall painted with lead, boards treated with something toxic to inhibit fungi, a mix of plastic and fiberglass insulation, and random wiring with diverse plastic insulators), and then a bunch hospital waste. Then a mix of all three. Keeping a mess like that burning cleanly is *hard,* and the ash is usually toxic waste that must be disposed of in a special site.

And yes, there's politics. Some of the proposed incinerators come close to looking useful. The problem is that LA has a lot of smog already, so the smoke-stack scrubbers on an incinerator need to be really good, and they need to never fail, just to pass review by the South Coast Air Quality Management District. That's a high hurdle to clear, and no one's managed it yet. People are still trying, fortunately.

The politics also cover some fairly questionable behavior by landfill operators, too, just to make things even more interesting. Part of the problem is that there isn't enough landfill space. Everyone in the industry knows it, even if no one admits it, and that has led to some (ahem) accommodations over the years.

Anyway, you get the point. Every metropolitan area has problems like those of Los Angeles. Fortunately, people are still trying to come up with solutions to the problem. The current solutions that are working well are those that are small and focused, where people have good control over the waste stream coming in and what they do with it. It might be that we need ten thousand small solutions to waste, rather than one magic recycling incinerator.

Fortunately, there are billions of dollars in profits waiting for people who can figure out how to clean up after people, and hopefully that will inspire people to find good solutions to the problem. If I had to replay that "plastics" scene in The Graduate, I'd whisper "garbage" instead.

166:

My parents were both Americans and we had electric kettles on and off. Granted, this was after they moved to Canada but the electric grids of Canada and the US are connected and compatable (when the yanks aren't crashing the system).

In at least one case "off" followed my mother having a braino and popping the electric kettle onto a back burner.

167:

19th century laundry was a brobdingnagian task that took all week, involved caustic chemicals that ruined the body over time, and exhausted both the spirit and the back. Only the ultra-rich could avoid taking part in at least some portion of it.

Only the ultra-rich? Really?
Because having servants was _not_ limited to the ultra-rich in Victorian days, and presumably quite a few of them were doing laundry.
Also, presumably, all those Chinese stereotype laundrymen (and non-Chinese non-stereotype laundrymen) were serving more than just the top 0.1%.

168:

I just checked our 120VAC electric kettle. It's rated at 1,500W. It took 4.5 minutes to bring a liter of water from 60 degrees to boiling.
A bigger issue is high capacity demand electric water heaters, which I've seen more of in the UK than in the US. It's difficult to add one to an American house without running a 240VAC line to it, and if you're going to do that, why not just run a hot water pipe? Here heating water with a central gas water tank is cheap and heating it remotely with electricity is expensive.

169:

>>> I don't think I've ever actually encountered a 'Garbage Disposal'.

>> +1. Also, why would you particularly want to do that?

>+2 here. I'm British (snip)

+3. I'm British, and the thirteen years I spent in a cheap US apartment did not convert me to the garbage disposal. I only used it for getting rid of tiny amounts of sink-gubbins, and when the one that replaced the one that rusted through choked on a plastic clip and died, I never got around to having it fixed. (All this talk of dinged spoons is making me wonder if it was an inferior model anyway.)

(Also, my dishes are much cleaner now that I have to wash them by hand. I'm still not sure whether I prefer having a washing machine in my kitchen -- and no drying facilities but a wire rack -- to having a room full of coin-operated washers and dryers a couple of hundred yards away, but I do miss the fluffiness of tumble-dried towels.)

170:

Since it seems a wide-spread practice in Europe, how is municipal composting done there?

I can't speak for the whole of Europe, but in our district (North Herts for the record), it's as follows.

We have two wheelie bins, which are emptied alternating Mondays (modulo bank holidays). One bin (black) is for general waste, and that's what wrappers and sweepings and suchlike go into.

The other bin is brown, and into that goes anything compostable. We can put cardboard in, and tea bags, and eggshells, and the like. In our kitchen, we keep a small (2 litre?) metal cannister with heavy chromed lid, and into that we dump vegetable peelings, and food waste, and teabags, and coffee grounds. When that's full (which takes a few days) we'll dump that into that outside bin and clean it thoroughly.

Also into that wheelie bin goes grass clippings and small branches and twigs and other garden waste. The composter is (apparently, I've never seen it) a hot composting system which is proof against rats and which can cope with pretty much anything organic that's thrown at it.

Cans, glass, newspaper, cardboard and plastics we clean if appropriate and put into individual bins. We could just put those out for kerbside collection, but we're so close to the nearest collection hoppers that we actually take that stuff over there.

171:

According to Wikipedia, Cavity Walls became widespread in house-building in 1920s Britain. As much for controlling damp-penetration as for insulation.

172:

DIY—Do It Yourself—was big in Britain in the Sixties and Seventies, and that possibly exposed the male population to something about design. But it also seems to have faded. There are still TV programs on that area, usually "makeover" style, with a team of professionals descending on a house and doing an incredibly fast job.

I remember articles in the DIY magazines which covered things like colour schemes, as well as how to do professional-quality painting.

173:

4.5 minutes to boil! HAHAHAHAHA!!!!

Seriously, that's pretty much what I'd expect. Kettles hereabouts are rated around 1.8-3Kw and can boil a litre in around half the time.

Yes, I hear what you're saying about large domestic water heaters. While mine has an immersion heater, I never use it: it runs off a separate circuit from the central heating boiler (the other water circuit is for the radiators). Gas is indeed cheaper than electricity because it avoids the conversion losses.

Note to readers: I have a dishwasher. This is the first apartment I've had one in. I used to have bad eczema on my hands. It went away when we moved here and I started using the (rather crap) dishwasher that came with the flat. Sometimes the new technology saves you more than just time ...

174:

A tidy-bot that can put books back on shelves, toys back in toy boxes, empty glasses in the dishwasher, clothes in the hamper, and so forth. Needs an easy way to indicate when an object has been re-homed so that your night time book isn't constantly stolen from the bedside table.

I think you may get this wish fairly soon, but from somewhat unexpected direction. Designing such robot would be immensely easier if shelves, dishwashers and hampers (I am omitting toy boxes for reason which will be obvious in a few moments) were designed synergistically with the robot, instead of trying to match it to myriad existing devices.

And guess what? Any kitchen shelf designed so that a relatively clumsy robot can place/remove glasses on it without breaking them, will also be easy to operate by a person with arthritic fingers and failing eyesight. And in both US and (especially) Japan this kind of living devices are growing fast.

175:

Here in a moderate suburb of Boston, the town does trash pickup and single-stream recycling: put trash in trash bins, put any allowed recyclables -- most plastics, glass, metal, paper and newspaper and non-corrugated cardboard -- in a marked recycling bin. Weekly pickup at curb-side.

Call for a special pickup of larger items -- microwaves on up through large appliances.

Specific, less-frequent days for yard waste (small brush, leaves, grass clippings).

Two or three times a year, hazardous materials (drop your own) at a central location.

No composting. You can get a garden composting bin for a reduced cost through the town government. If you don't keep a garden, you probably haven't bothered.

A sink disposal is useful for scrapings off of dinner plates; I use it nightly.

176:

"It probably doesn't help that pretty much all American R&D is sponsored by the military."

We have a winner. Cultural chauvinism is economic chauvinism is economic structure, and the military is the only acceptable form of socialism in America --- all the central planning possible (which serious R&D requires) is funneled by the military, a cultural milieu where men are men, women are men, and little fuzzy animals are men.

177:

I have had my laundry stolen off of outdoor lines. I don't care to have my underwear blowing in the breeze for neighbors to see, I don't like crunchy clothing even when liquid fabric softener is used -- and liquid fabric softener breaks down fabric a lot faster, meaning your clothes wear out sooner. My clothes have been irrevocably stained by bird droppings, blown off by an unexpected gust, attacked by squirrels, and become stinky because it wasn't warm enough to dry the clothes before mildew set in. Line drying is not, in my experience, preferable over machine drying except possibly in energy savings.

The point about literary, fictional tech is a good one. I mean, if we have cars that fold up into a man's briefcase, why not self-cleaning clothes?

I'm wryly amused by a lot of the arguments and suggestions about improved household tech in this thread, because there seems to be an income level assumption that I just don't meet. It's not that our household is in poverty, but we're at a low enough income level that if we ever want to actually pay the doctor bills or once every 5 years have a vacation, then there is an economic trade-off. That means we're still using the 1999 vacuum, the 2002 washer-dryer, the 1995 fridge, the 1992 furnace. The new a/c, dishwasher, and hot water heater were the cheapest versions we could find.

Those cheap versions were improvements over the 1990s versions they replaced, so tech is improving. To deal with the fabrics we have now means a lot of human input to determine soap, water temp, sorting by fabric and color, etc. is necessary. Real world tech to help with that (i.e. robots) seems clumsy and not economically feasible for many people. Those nanotech self-cleaning items mentioned in the article would be replacements for current fabrics, which in turn would mean less need for washers/dryers, and those who couldn't afford the new fabrics would be stuck with increasingly outdated washers/dryers or perhaps back to washing their "old" fabrics in sinks and tubs.

Off-topic: The comments about having a partner help around the house are just depressing to me. I'm certain my partner is at least partly sexist, but he's mostly just fuck-off lazy. I've been sick for a month and the house is disgusting. Thank the gods for those stick-on toilet cleaner gels, is basically what I'm saying here.

178:

It probably doesn't help that pretty much all American R&D is sponsored by the military.

Total US military R&D spending for 2008: $75 billion (source).

Total US R&D spending for 2008: $398 billion (source).

So rather than "pretty much all", it's about 19%.

179:

Household chore sexism can also stem from perceived personal expertise ...

Based on North American CPG/household products marketing experience ... The people: Two different senior VP marketing execs (both guys - one single and one married) who honest-to-god still don't know how to operate a stove/oven, a washer/dryer or a dishwasher. Versus younger, less affluent and more junior male and female marketing execs who use these products and do at least some of their household chores. The decisions: The older, senior and chore-ignorant execs made their generally more successful marketing/advertising decisions mostly based on consumer feedback/research. The younger, chore-knowledgeable managers' marketing product decisions were sometimes overturned because of too much reliance on their personal experience/biases. (Notes: There was no gender difference among younger/lower-level marketers in how and what types of marketing decisions were made. 'Success' is defined as sustained increased market share, profitability.)

Same time and company -- I also worked with the R&D dept (mostly guys, white lab coats, plastic pocket protectors, etc.) that knew absolutely everything about these products and used them every working day in the lab because their job included testing each formula under development and in the marketplace in real-world scenarios, i.e., different fibers, stains/dirt, appliances, water conditions, etc. These same guys did more chores at home because, according to them, they did a better job than their spouses because of their better understanding of the chemistry of cleaning.

180:

Charlie mentioned the "wide-ass American pantry fridges are w-a-y too large to fit in a kitchen nook" -- trust me, they're too large in many U.S. kitchens, too. The previous owners of our home replaced the original fridge with one of those wide-ass pantry fridges, and it's so cramped we have to stand sideways and reach in with one arm to get anything out of the freezer. It clearly costs us time and energy and even injury when our hands bang on an unseen shelf hook while blindly reaching in for something in the freezer, but the previous owners wanted trendy rather than practical; this is typical in the US.

Our electric kettle used to take about 2 minutes, but it's down to nearly 5 minutes after significant use over the years. It's handy because it means we don't have to use the stove or the microwave to boil water, though.

181:

I've always been much more excited about self-cleaning clothing and surfaces than any gadget-ey things, and I'm a self-admitted gadget nerd.

Then again, I do all the laundry and a significant fraction of the cleaning in my househould...

The sheer lack of any technological progress with respect to vacuum cleaners has bugged me since I was a kid, too. It would be forgivable if any current vacuum cleaners actually worked, but alas.

182:

So when I said "I mean, if we have cars that fold up into a man's briefcase, why not self-cleaning clothes?" I actually meant it, despite the fact that in retrospect it sounds like sarcasm. Sorry about that. Why the only male-centric SF gadget I could think of was George Jetson's briefcase is beyond me; unofficially, I blame my illness for making me sound like a sarcastic jerk.

183:
"I mean, if we have cars that fold up into a man's briefcase, why not self-cleaning clothes?"

Seems like a perfectly reasonable question to me (and I took it that way in the original post, too, so don't worry too much about how it sounded).

I can actually think of one story with self-cleaning clothes - the classic Ealing Comedy "The Man in the White Suit". There's also self-fitting clothing in the second "Back to the Future" film; I don't remember whether that had any other futuristic properties or not.

And several authors - including Charlie - have written stories where clothing can simply be manufactured to spec and recycled into raw ingredients after wearing, which could be argued to fit something of the same requirements (in that you always have something clean to wear). Certainly the cornucopia device (and equivalents) are nowhere near current technical possibilities, but the same can be said for the folding car.

184:

The sheer lack of any technological progress with respect to vacuum cleaners has bugged me since I was a kid, too. It would be forgivable if any current vacuum cleaners actually worked, but alas.

I have one of these, and I love it:

http://rainbowsystem.com/

No bag, it uses a water trap instead. You fill the basin with water before using the vacuum, and dump what amounts to mud (or just dirty water, depending on how much dirt you vacuumed) afterward. And it comes with 20 year guarantee.

But it is bloody expensive.

185:

Interestingly enough, the show Cowboy Bebop had a few world-building scenes based around laundry. There's a memorable future-shock scene where a "CRT television" is revealed to be a complete washer/dryer unit. One scene in another episode has a main character anxiously waiting around in his boxers for a (presumably-similar) unit to finish cleaning his suit.

186:

I enjoyed your blog post. It is always hard to tie down why picking up technological innovation (or just simple capital improvements, like using some kind of insulation) occurs in an uneven course as the many replies to your post suggest. The debate about how much work women do in the home, the moving standards and so on reminded me of a history of domestic work called More Work for Mother.

I had a brief trip to Japan and I too felt there was a discontinuity in the adoption of technology. However, I noticed it in different places. I remember walking into the JP Rail office at the Airport and feeling odd until I realized that except for a new printer or computer, the entire office looked in decor and set-up like an 80s business office (or what little I remember of them). Similarly staying in various hotels, the radios were often built into push button wall panels, and the design (and sun bleaching) suggested the 80s. This contrasted with lots of fancy technology in other venues. I put it down to the lack of economic growth in the last 20 years leading to stagnation and a lack of investment. Even if my guess was right, where the new stuff does go, shows the priorities of the society...

187:

> I had a college professor who
> commented on gender bias in naming
> conventions -- completely aside from
> the fact that the UNIX name is,
> itself, a ball joke,

"Unix" was a joke on "MULTICS", the projects that Unix's developers had already worked on. Therefore, they would have all known that one of the main loops in the MULTICS kernel was MOTHERFORKER, and many of the rest of the names reflected the kind of thing that happens when you have programmers documenting APIs before their compiler is actually delivered...

188:

Japan runs on 100 volts. And half the country was installed by GE and the other half by Westinghouse in the 1890s...

Small nitpick: I think it was AEG (German company) that set up the 50 Hz system in eastern Japan.

189:

That piecework taken out of the homes reduced costs for the industrialist, while displacing entire groups of people income-wise, and a lot of those were women, whose work in these area, done in the home, deprived them of their personal income.

Entire labor histories have been written around the downside, literally, of this -- along with the enclosure of commons.

Industrialization meant more and more the privatization of what once was communal resources, leaving fewer recourses for creating income.

I grew up on a farm and I recall the sneering way the agricultural textbooks we'd be give in F-H and so on (why, yes, which I didn't have the education to understand at the time, subsidized by Carghill etc.) referred to agriculture that included everything from animals to hay, to grains and cereals, and gardens as 'subsistence farming,' and how inferior, unsophisticated, third world that was.

Love, C.

190:

It could also be argued that the reason their has been no substantial technological development has been because men have been the vast majority of inventors. If women are still notoriously prevalent in the domestic arts, and just as notoriously not steered toward math and science, it would follow that the men doing the inventing do not have domestic chores at the top of their lists of problems-to-solve. Invention is, at its core, a result of solving a problem. But of course, the concept that women are not traditionally steered toward math and science goes full circle to your original argument.

191:

My father lived in Occupied Japan for a year in the mid 1950s. He would be amazed at all the improvements. They had toilets on the army base, but in the off-base housing, the honey-wagon came around once a week. The waste was used as fertilizer and the Americans were told not to buy local food that grew underground.

I agree that the basic household tech hasn't changed much since the 1970s. The Microwave is the only thing I have that my grandmother didn't. My garbage disposal and dishwasher are both inoperable, and those were around, but for city folks anyway, who didn't have chickens and grandkids.

I'm not sure much upgrade is possible. Domestic robots sound like a good idea, but we're not there yet. I love the idea of self-cleaning clothing! Self-repairing would be nice too, esp. for those of us in manual jobs or with children.

Thank you for reminding me that I need more domestic world-stuff in my cyberpunk.

192:

In the RN we still have shoreside accommodation which is of a class unfit to house a prisoner in (actual fact). It's all getting upgraded at the moment, but there is still a lot of the old stuff around (condemned, full of asbestos, etc) which you can still be assigned (but no longer pay for, due to it being sub-standard). Also, through basic we had to handwash our rig, and had no dryers, just an airing room, and we managed to keep our kit at military standard, without a great deal of effort. Soap flakes, and elbow grease, are not that difficult, just drudgerous and rubbish...

193:

Maggie, I've been around some of the work MacPac and Fairydown (NZ) have done on stuff for women, so I wonder if you just haven't seen it? But since I'm not sure exactly what you're after, it's hard to tell.

There was much amused discussion about 20 years ago when a group I was in was testing the new "warm sports bras" including a niche market "breast feeding warm sports bra", because of course if you're taking your 6 month old for a gentle stroll up a mountain you'll want one of those...

194:

Right, the industrialization and exploitation was clearly not driven by heartfelt concern about relieving women of onerous housework.

At the same time, it does indicate that the industrialists and inventors involved were not completely ignorant of "women's work", at least while there were lucrative industrial opportunities to be mined there.

The same goes for the period where electrification enabled whole new categories of "labor saving" household appliances. Especially when there were lots of new relatively low hanging fruit in the invention department, and an easily understandable, ripe market for the new appliances, (male) industrialists and inventors were more than happy to jump in. It was even a "sexy" pursuit to a degree - think of all those "house of the future" exhibits from the 50s or 60s, promising a future where the "housewife of tomorrow" would just have to push a button to serve dinner or steam clean the living room or whatever.

Of course the self cleaning house sort of stalled out, I think probably because a lot of the details of that kind of comprehensive solution ended up being unworkable. Truly useful house cleaning robots and autochefs appear to be on hold waiting for AI tech to be up to the job. But I think there's at least a recognition in the relevant industries that these would still be, in principle, useful, highly marketable inventions.

Which is also not to say that development might not go a lot faster if we expended a bit more brainpower working on smart vacuums than smart bombs...

It's just a very multifaceted issue. I mean, I think what Cat was talking about with her experience in Japan was not exactly a lack of technology -- clearly things like washing machines and efficient home insulation existed, and were probably even relatively affordable -- it was more about the decisions at the household level, and what sort of problems were deemed worth spending the household's money on (and perhaps who was doing the deeming).

Similarly, where I am in the US, while cleaning robots would be terrific, it's not really the case that a typical multi-adult household is drowning in housework either. The biggest problem is simply that there's still a lot of acculturation at work that serves to distribute that housework rather inequitably.

195:

What is this 'grey' and what is this 'brown' of which you speak?

Black. Black polos, black chinos, black shoes. If it's not black, I don't tend to buy it.

196:

"grey" is pastel black. "Brown" is an off-black colour.

197:

Also, from a science fiction standpoint, I think the point of exploring these sort of inventions would not be the nitty gritty details of the inventions (e.g., rambling on about how people clean their bathrooms in the 22nd century), so much as the social transformations they'd enable.

In the mid '60s, for example, the idea of a fully robotic household should have triggered speculation about what the labor force that had previously been engaged in those tasks could now be free to get up to. Yet, for some reason (/sarcasm), Jane Jetson is apparently unemployed and stays at home. (Picking on the Jetsons is a little unfair, but even so, AFAIR none of the harder fiction I've read from the era really explores this either.)

And an artificial womb of some kind would be revolutionary in any age. Women who don't have to choose between continuing on a given career trajectory or having a family? Bosses who will no longer be tempted to (explicitly or not) discriminate against women who they believe might go out on maternity and leave them in a lurch? Bring it on.

(Incidentally, all of this is why space toilets are not very interesting. Yes, absolutely, people have to poop. Therefore, if people are living in space, there's some reasonably practical way to poop there. People poop today. People will poop in the future. There's really no change, except in the details. And going into all the icky mechanical details is not typically going to be very useful to the narrative. Freeing half the population from having to worry about carrying a baby in your abdomen for nine months and recover afterwards, though? That's a major social revolution.)

198:

Frankly, I consider the iPod turning wheel thing one of the most hideous bits of UI I've ever encountered, and wonder how on earth Apple persuaded people it was a good idea. I can only assume that people liked it because it was different, and different has to be good.

(But then, I also like a full keyboard.)

199:

"It probably doesn't help that pretty much all American R&D is sponsored by the military."

Total US military R&D spending for 2008: $75 billion (source).

Total US R&D spending for 2008: $398 billion (source).

So rather than "pretty much all", it's about 19%.

I'm talking about physical sciences R&D, which is the field I've been in for the last ten years. Business does a lot of "R&D", but most of that is trivial innovation (another flavor of Doritos, a new website, accelerated lifetime testing for some widget). There are still a few corporate R&D operations worth speaking of (GE Global Research comes to mind), but most have seen better days. Pharma still does (some) serious research Stateside. Other than that, corporate research is mostly in China (which doesn't mean that it isn't reported as an expense by American companies).

200:

"I mean, if we have cars that fold up into a man's briefcase, why not self-cleaning clothes?"

I was going to let it go, but it got repeated, so... The folding car was a sight gag of no importance to the story. But it was actually a plot point in one episode that George Jetson's McGuffin super-suit was dry-clean only.

I have no excuse for remembering this; clearly I wasted my childhood.

201:

to maggie @ 141: This seems like a good place to mention the well-documented tendency of second-generation immigrants to speak their adopted country's language without an accent, though their parents usually speak a heavily accented version of the language. It's one bit of evidence that kids learn more readily from each other than from their parents.

202:

"I'm only wearing black until something darker comes along."

Where's my fugilin?

203:

"Yes, absolutely, people have to poop. Therefore, if people are living in space, there's some reasonably practical way to poop there."

I always assumed the lack of toilets on the Enterprise was due to an innovative use of transporter tech.

204:

yes.

Dry clean only clothes. Can they please stop existing? : D

Also, Roombas don't clean a floor to my standards, are grossly expensive, and bark up the furniture and woodwork (and we have neurotic landlords), so I don't consider them much of an advance.

205:

People poop today. People will poop in the future. There's really no change, except in the details.

Although if you go far enough back into the past, the details do start to matter, because they affect how easily diseases can spread. This is probably one of those cases where (most of) the human race has already passed through the technologically mediated transformation, in contrast to the case with e.g. pregnancy.

206:

The thing about labor saving devices how does one not reach the point described in Saturn's Children when forward motion becomes backward motion, metaphorically speaking. Also, AI is diffcult.

As I think you said in the post I think this is a social problem that needs a social solution, not a technological one.

Solutions I see are communal living with just chore rotas and greater use of automated machines as one might find in an industrial setting nowadays (as iirc one may find in some socialist sf) and deconstruction of the division of labor along lines of privilege.

207:

Although if you go far enough back into the past, the details do start to matter, because they affect how easily diseases can spread.

Yeah. Or if you go to (or come from) a place right now that's too poor/poorly governed to have good water and sewage infrastructure. Good point.

And I think writing about the social transformations of new inventions that could solve the less developed world's problems in that area might even be interesting.

As would, potentially, discussing some of the implications of space plumbing. Like, it's my understanding that, awkward as they are for everyone, current technologies are especially uncomfortable and inconvenient for women astronauts. So there's some interesting issues there, maybe different risks of infection, or how it might affect the gender ratio on early missions to Mars, etc.

In general though, space toilets are, at most, maybe an interesting place to hide the McGuffin.

208:

"Incineration to generate electricity would be great, except that it's hard to burn trash cleanly."

We've got some waste-burning power stations in Britain. One of them is very near where I live - "South East London Combined Heat and Power". Deals with waste from 3 London Boroughs. Supposedly generates 35MW, so its not hugely significant from the power point of view. It's right next to the aforementioned Millwall ground - one of the starker bits of post-industrial desolation in inner London.

209:

I'm talking about physical sciences R&D, which is the field I've been in for the last ten years

Actually, what you said was "pretty much all American R&D". (And I'm not sure how relevant "physical sciences R&D" is for producing better household appliances.)

Pharma still does (some) serious research Stateside. Other than that, corporate research is mostly in China

I really don't think that's true for US corporate research.

From this 2012 NSF report:

"The majority of R&D by U.S. multinational companies (MNCs) continues to be performed in the United States. Outside the United States, R&D by U.S.-owned foreign affiliates is performed mostly in Western Europe, Canada, and Japan..."

"In 2008, U.S. MNC parent companies and their majority-owned foreign affiliates performed $236.1 billion in R&D worldwide, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. This included $199.1 billion performed by the parent companies in the United States and $37.0 billion by their majority-owned foreign affiliates."

"... the share of U.S.-owned affiliates R&D performed in China, South Korea, Singapore, and India rose from a half percentage point or less in 1997 to 4% for China, just under 3% for South Korea, and just under 2% each for Singapore and India in 2008."

Note that the 4% figure for China is 4% of the foreign R&D spending of US MNCs, which works out to be less than 1% of total US corporate R&D spending.

210:

I wash all my laundry (unsorted) in cold water, and dry it at a low temperature. It looks clean (I don't know if the colors would be brighter if I used hot water), and doesn't wear out quickly.

That fantasy of making a couple of middle ranking designers and marketers spend six months hanging out in a typical flat doing housework and making a note of everything that kinda sucks? There seems to be an assumption that none of the existing designers and marketers are already doing housework, which doesn't strike me as likely to be true.

Paying employees in general to take notes on technical annoyances from housework could be a very good idea for such a company. Fortunately, no one is asking me to design the details of the incentive plan.

It's possible that inspiration is needed for some improvements. Permanent press clothing eliminated a lot of ironing without changing irons.

Any clever improvement in housework is fodder for sf-- there's frequently room for a cool background detail.

I've heard a theory that a big thing which enabled women to work outside the home was antibiotics-- they vastly reduced the amount of home nursing needed.

211:

This is a very good topic.
I recall an HG wells story in which the houses of the future have sealed and curved wall-floor joints so the rooms can be automatically washed in some way.

In my perhaps limited experience, looking after clothes is easy. Put in washing machine, set to program, hang up to dry afterwards.
Cleaning surfaces is dirty, wipe with damp cloth and a cleaning spray.
And so on. Meanwhile, companies spend time and money trying to make you believe that their cleaning spray is better than anyone elses, or add more, pointless, functions to their washing machine when I've only ever used 2 such functions before.
And woollens get hand washed.

Of course I don't iron much.

Meanwhile, my dads fiance, being well brainwashed as a child and perhaps with a tendency to a bit of OCD anyway, will iron everything, wash throws which have been used for only a couple of days of dog sitting on them, and obsessively put away in the dishwash your empty water glass just before you pick it back up to refill it. Thus if I am not careful I end up using 3 different tumblers every time I visit. There isn't enough time or energy to dust, but basically the house is treated as though dirt and a bit of mess is unbearable and dangerous.

I am but a man, but it seems clear to me that what enables more women to work outside the home is all the devices like hoovers, gas and electric stoves, washing machines and childcare of some form or another. Not having to weave the family clothing helped as well...

212:

I'm not sure in this thread what to respond to.
There certainly have been changes in the developed world re furnaces/stoves. Don't know if anybody remembers seeing this http://www.pbs.org/wnet/1900house/
Everything was always dirty because of coal soot (unhealthy too - soot in your lungs is a killer)
As shown servants were also hired by the emerging middle class.

My wife ran programs to take care of homeless kids in Latin America. The people there would be happy to get up to the 1900 house level. And re: returning to "primitive"post-scarcity, housework is the least of the problems - survival is. Even among my wife's workers who were relatively well off, there were constant deaths of relatives from bugs that were easily taken care of by better water, sanitation and antibiotics. Re gender disparity though, the development community not involved in building dams pretty much put their money on educating women. I worked for a children's rights group - the key to keeping kids alive was to keep their mothers alive through pre/post natal care.

Back to modern times and the division of labor, when Dirk was talking about cleaning, I was trying to point to food preparation as a bigger difference. (I'm ignoring raising kids, because ours are grown, pretty much) After my wife got sick, I discovered that meals took about 12-15 hours a week - menu planning, shopping,
prep, cooking, cleanup. My wife (and I) grew up in families that grew much of their food. In the middle of Brooklyn NY she has returned to using fresh vegetables. That is quite expensive (good thing she's a high-powered executive) and increases the prep time a lot. In the US, if you want cheap and quick, you get processed, high fat, salt, sugar, artificial preservative food. Sorry Dirk, I wasn't trying to insult you.
Got to go, I need to help my wife with supper or it's take out pizza

213:

There's a legend that the invention of framework knitting was driven by the fact the inventor's intended was too busy knitting to receive him whenever he called. What this says about privelige and the automation of "women's work" I leave as an exercise for the reader.

214:

Best replacement for portable vacuum cleaners I've come across was in Australia - where a large townhouse we were staying in was equipped with "Central Air". The vacuum cleaner was downstairs
in the garage/utility area and vacuum pipes ran to every floor where the user simply attached a hose / brush attachment. This was far easier to manipulate than the normal hose plus machine plus power cable.

-- Andrew

215:

@145
the jesuit quote i used suggests that I was talking about preschoolers and the like rather than teenagers. It's during that time you learn about appropriate personal appearance and interpersonal behaviour from a small group of people. After that date your reacting against that knowledge. This cohort of people is largely hidden from the world at large I suspect, unless you have small children yourself.

@ 158
if traditional japanese houses are designed for anything, save looking like they should, its summer heat. They are rather top heavy for earthquake proofing with minimal lateral stability.

@ 193
Moz, I haven't worked in an outdoor shop for a while so may be it's got better. But so often the women's clothing would be pretty rather than practical - who want's a jumper that stops at the waist, women have kidneys too. And I'm not a size 12, but i'd be happy to pay for kit that fitted so I could schelp up hills until i was. many of the consultants for the brands seem to be stick thin athletic types.
i am a sucker for ice breaker tops though :)

@ 197
artifical wombs… and of course babies emerge fully formed like venus from the forehead of whatsit, and don't need people taking notice and interest in them see rely to @ 145 so who gets to have a career as baby cotcher?

@ 201
second generations and speaking language of adopted country… Isn't that a function of the age at which you learn a language, education level etc. Do they speak their parents language with the accent of the 'new' country' or not? how much of accent 'loss' is reaction to stigma? Do they ever speak the 'new' language with language patterns from the previous language?

216:

Peter @209: You may be right, from some point of view. I'll say that in some fields of R&D, including mine, most of the big labs are in China, most of the papers come from China, and most of the vendors are in China. Also, I think a lot of the R&D expenditures you mention are more "new flavor of Coke" than "new device" in terms of impact. You may be right, but I've packed up too many American research labs for the liquidators to be reassured.

217:

Ahh, building designs. Maggie knows about that sort of thing. I have an interest myself.
Re. air conditioning, it reminds me of a story an american (CA) friend told me, of a house their brother had seen built in Mexico a decade or two ago. It was made of glass...

You can imagine how hard it was to keep it liveable. Hmm, must ask if they remember any details.

218:

"Everything was always dirty because of coal soot"

I grew up in a house with no heating except fireplaces burning coal. No dirt, no soot and no problems except when cleaning the chimney.

219:

FWIW I seem to recall the arrangement in the traditional Japanese household is for the man to hand over the paycheck and get an allowance, so if the woman isn't buying the household appliances the pressure must be societal rather than hubby's.

220:

artifical wombs… and of course babies emerge fully formed like venus from the forehead of whatsit, and don't need people taking notice and interest in them see rely to @ 145 so who gets to have a career as baby cotcher?

Well, I might be missing something, but I think the point is not that all child care can be mechanized. But post birth, it's at least something every adult in the family can do (in principle), give one another breaks when they need them, etc. The 9 months before that, not so much.

Also, like a lot of other things, I think it's not just about the technology itself (which many people might not even choose to use), but the shock to attitudes and the social status quo which the very existence of the technology generates and the changes (hopefully for the better, on balance) which ensue.

221:

Regarding the effect of birth control, mentioned way up at the beginning: once upon a time I came across various SF matriarchal-dystopian novels from the early 1970s. A couple of them depended on the premise that widespread access to safe and effective birth control would mean not just The End Of Civilization As We Know it, but, through some sort of Lamarkian process, the gradual extermination of men in general. (Because once we guys aren't needed to keep our hands on the lever of human fertility, we aren't needed at all. Or something like that.)

222:

I keep thinking about a book I read about 20 years ago, written by a woman who had defected from the Soviet Union while on station in Washington D.C. with her husband.

She complained that Soviet men were like babies, because they went straight into mariage and into being taken care of by their wives, from living with their parents (being taken care of by their mothers) all through the years they spent at a local university.

In contrast she found US men incredibly independent, able at all things, because (she noted) they left home early to go study in another city, where they learned to look after themselves.

Also, she gave birth in a US hospital before defecting. She had an epidural there. There were no epidurals in the USSR at that time. That was an incredible revelation for her. She had given birth to her first child a few years earlier in the USSR, without an epidural.

223:

Re: #141 chopsticks:

At my uni, some years back, some Chinese Chinese students (not Canadian-born) put on a celebration. There was a game that involved chopstick use. They were amazed that I could use chopsticks so well. I was amazed at their fuss. You see...

I live in British Columbia, Canada. We have a lot of Chinese here. Many came over in the 19th Century to work on the railways or mine for gold. Many stayed. Chinese restaurants are not uncommon. I grew up eating fairly regularly at one. I am quite handy with chopsticks.

On wooden buildings burning:

I was into model railroading at one point. I read some history about various short-lived or boom communities, many now ghost towns or gone. There were many interesting details about these places, but one detail that really struck me was how often they burnt down. A number of them burnt down twice. ISTR one that only died after the third fire and that because of economic factors.

Sincerely,

Gene Wirchenko

224:

I have lived all over the U.S., so when I say I have never even heard of mandatory communal compost here, I think that explains a lot.

This means your options are: put organic waste in the regular trash, construct and maintain your own compost bin (if you have the land space and the time and knowledge base, and some way to use the eventual product), or grind it up and send it down the drain.

The way I see it, at least some sewage plants do "compost"/process the waste they receive, so it's not needlessly filling up a landfill if I put it in the disposer. (I do not have the ability to compost it out in the backyard, and I haven't yet convinced the household to purchase one of those handy self-contained bins that supposedly does it with little odor.)

Obviously, greasy things that would cause blockage are not supposed to be put in the garbage disposal; butter-based sauces, meat drippings, etc. must go in the regular trash.

225:

You never had greenwaste bins? They've been around in southern California for over 20 years. That stuff is supposed to be composted, although with all the trash that gets mixed in, the final product has fairly low quality.

See the comment at #165 above for the problems with sewage. Unless the sewage plant can guarantee that the sludge is toxin free (good luck!), it often gets landfilled rather than being put on soil somewhere.

226:

Actually, the extra organic waste isn't that much of an additional load on the sewage system. Just think of all the OTHER organic waste you're flushing. The particles are usually just as small.

Here in the States, a growing number of municipalities are starting composting programs, but budgeting for a third curbside pick up route (in addition to solid waste and recycling) is tough, that's another set of trucks, plus fuel for the thousands of miles they'd drive each week.
In my hometown here in Texas, the city is encouraging homeowners and apartment dwellers to compost on their own through rebates on compact compost bins. I compost and don't even have to put meat in the disposal or trash as the neighborhood possums are happy to eat up our leftovers.

227:
tidy-bot ... Designing such robot would be immensely easier if shelves ... were designed synergistically with the robot, instead of trying to match it to myriad existing devices.

Of course, if we have a tidy-bot, we may not even have shelves as we know them at all, except for decoration. The robot takes stuff away into some robot-friendly storage cupboard that humans only access for repairs. When you want something, the robot brings it to you, or leaves it out for you. When you finish your night-time book, you let the robot know it's finished (perhaps by leaving the bookmark out) and the robot will make sure you have the next title in the queue ready on your bedside table tomorrow.

One interesting question would be to what extent this could or should have an external interface — whether it's borrowing a hammer from the neighbour, a book from the library, accepting (or dispatching) a mail-order delivery or shuffling things off to storage. We could call it The Internet of Things.

228:

I wrote this and it got a bit long. I threw everything in, including the kitchen sink, so TL;DR if you like, but at least read the Shaw story if nothing else, it captures everything discussed in the thread. HA!

Back to Methuselah
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Back_to_Methuselah

Back to Methuselah by Bernard Shaw
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/13084

The reason any advanced, space faring, people still have birth like the 1950's, and everything else mentioned in the thread, is because there will _always_ be a point where the population crashes from something as simple as a Carrington Event which wipes out 90% of the population, along with most of the books and movies as was discussed in another thread, and makes it very clear that modern medicine, science & technology, creates population bubbles by encouraging fragile populations.

- Most kids died before the age of five because of water and food born diseases, made worse by malnutrition causing weak immune systems. The development of safe water and sewer systems, refrigerated foods, etc..., made it possible for people with weak immune systems to survive and breed.

- The development of Progesterone made it possible for women to get pregnant and carry the baby safely to term, causing more people to be born that cannot have kids naturally.

- The development of antibiotics, and sanitary delivery practices, kept women alive after giving birth, again causing more people to be born that cannot have kids naturally.

- The development of ways to handle premature births, safely, effectively, again causing more people to be born that cannot have kids that survive naturally.

On a personal note, a friend of mine purposely went out in the country, and had a midwife delivery rather than hospital birth, specifically to avoid having to care for a child that was not born healthy. i.e., she was ready for the child to die if it was not fit to live.

- People with chronic illnesses that are functional only because of medicine, heart disease, diabetes, etc..., are able to live and breed.

- Decades before their was effective treatment for allergies/asthma, doctors had people move to the Southwest. As a result, you have a larger than average population of asthmatic/allergic people living in the same area, marrying and having asthmatic/allergic kids that require medicine to stay functional, thus exploding the problem.

- Artificial wombs would be used only in limited situations, or when the outcome did not make the system more fragile. Any society that depended on artificial wombs for all births, no matter how fragile the result, would quickly breed a population that would be wiped out by the first glitch in the system.

In _Dune_ the Axlotl tanks are not machines, they are female torsos in a support system . The first mention of that was in _Hellstrom's Hive_ where they grew female torsos used for external wombs for the hive.

- One stable form already mentioned is the development of artificial insemination, so that men can be eliminated from society, and only brought back when needed. You would have parthenogenesis for regular use, with breeders and drones, all female. They would have engineered packages, all ready to implant in the breeders, thus controlling the genetics.

BTW, in Charlie's _Missile Gap_ the alien insect disguised as humans would actually be female underneath their human-male disguise, since males are only created for breeding.

- Look at Edgar Rice Burroughs' _Barsoom_, that is a post singularity Mars, where the Gods of Mars developed the various Martian races for war-games. They tweaked the form so that they laid eggs instead of giving live birth. That was an easy way for the Gods to set up population controls, with the ability to store eggs long term, or destroy excess eggs without harming the near immortal Martians. The Green Martians would bury their eggs, and only collect those that hatched at the same time, thus practicing their own eugenics.

- Look at the Vulcans as another example. They are the result of eugenics that almost destroyed them until Surak found the way to balance the mental and emotional sides. As they grow up, they are not only trained in the mind, and controlling their emotions, but they are required to go through a survival test. If they survive, both mental and physical tests, the Vulcans are made stronger. That brings us back to the Shaw play. Read it, and you will see what Roddenberry was basing all of his stories on. Shaw is a "must read" for anyone writing future SF.

With modern technology, the population grows fragile, filled with people that can only survive with high technology, then crashes when that technology fails. Any future society would fix the problems they can, but also require a premium on women who can get pregnant easily, carry the child to term, have it pop out with ease, and have that child live to be able to breed.

The same fragile system would develop if high tech household appliances were developed and relied on to the exclusion of practical hand systems. Any advanced society would require camping skills, living off the land, etc... They would be able to go into a jungle and build everything with the items at hand like the New Guinean natives that Jared Diamond mentioned in his show/book, _Guns, Germs and Steel_. That book is the best example of what any advanced civilization would use as their basis for long term survival; another "must read" for anyone writing future SF.

BTW, If you have a robot that can cook and clean as well as a human, then the Singularity is near.

For those who read this far:

Mammals Made By Viruses
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/loom/2012/02/14/mammals-made-by-viruses/

If you look at this article, you can see that clearly we were Uplifted, with a built in kill switch. When our Alien Overlords are through with us, they simply have to disable the virus, and our species dies. HA!

229:

I agree about the lack of primitive survival skills in most humans. In fairness, someone raised in the PNG forest (or in the deep Amazon) has a horrible time in a modern city. Things like lights and traffic are utterly foreign to them, and without the ability to read (or use the web), or use money, they're largely incapable of feeding or housing themselves.

Many of these survivors have horrible rates of diabetes too, if they eat our diet, just as we suffer if forced onto their diets.

The real point is that it takes a long time to teach and condition a human to be a competent member of any society. Radically switching societies isn't easy, either way.

230:

The book "23 things they don't tell you about capitalism" has a chapter entitled "the washing machine changed the world more than the internet." It covers about the same material in the chapter, albeit from an economist's perspective.

It also has a bunch of other really interesting insights.

231:

The reason Americans don't have them? At 110 volts, you either need to ram 30 amps through the cable (ouch!) or wait forever while it comes to the boil.

I think you are wrong. Americans don't have kettles, electric or otherwise, so it isn't about power supply. The kettle is ideal for making tea, a drink that Americans take iced, not hot. Coffee is now made in some form of coffee maker. If you want hot water, a microwave is usually used - and that is very fast.

When I first arrived in the US, I had to buy my first electric "jug kettle" in Canada and import it during a business trip. Today they can be bought in department stores (more easily Amazon), but they tend to be somewhat limited in variety than in Britain.

Personally I don't notice the longer time to boil a cup of water, but perhaps after 20+ years, I have become used to waiting a while longer for my cuppa.

232:

Yes, you're right. It has absolutely nothing to do with the voltage in the US.

Here in Canada (all over Canada, including that odd warm place, lower B.C.) we have the exact same voltage with the exact same cycles as in the US, yet we have electric kettles all over the place, in all styles, in addition to the specialized coffee machines that the US prefers.

233:

To those who complained about in-sink garbage disposals, perhaps they're bad, but even regular cooking oil and grease disposed of down drains (not to mention that which is present in human waste) can be problematic. Behold: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/07/photogalleries/100720-london-sewer-fat-clog-flushers-weird-news-pictures/

@164

Well Charlie, I think that the other reason that home electric kettles aren't that common in the US is that coffee is by far more popular in the hot drink niche than hot tea. (And kettle heating speed isn't so important if you're making iced tea) Home coffee makers are fairly popular here though.

Oh, and this discussion about home appliances reminds me -- did the continuity error in Rule 34 involving roombas ever get resolved? (See pages 217 and 228 in the US edition)

@183

The self-fitting clothing in Back to the Future II could also dry itself (and the wearer) if it got wet.


@214

Yes, my parents have a central vacuum in their house (although it was originally put there by the previous owners). It was okay, but the general difficulty with getting at pipes and whatnot inside walls meant that once it broke sufficiently (plugging a hose into the port closed a circuit that turned on the vacuum, and removing the hose broke the circuit and turned it off -- the wires in the wall broke somewhere) it was never fixed. They've been using a convention vacuum for many years now.

So while it's a neat enough idea, perhaps it should be combined with an improvement to walls that let them be opened up easily, yet look attractive when sealed tight. You'd probably want to use something like the Invis contactless magnetic screwdriver to keep the bolts hidden. Perhaps if wood paneling came back into fashion....

234:

It's technically and legally possible to have 240V cord connected devices in 120 volt land. The relevant standards organization has defined plug and socket connection interfaces for up to 60 amps at 240V. Indeed, it's normal for ranges to be cord connected through a 240V-50A plug.

The only reason we don't have 240V receptacles in kitchens and 240V small kitchen appliances is market inertia. Nobody will make a kettle or toaster oven designed for a 240V-15A circuit because nobody has 240V-15A receptacles in their kitchens. Nobody has 240V-15A receptacles in their kitchens because nobody makes appliances to use them. Repeat.

235:

So did I. And then we switched to electric heating for most of the house (1970s design storage radiator: try putting one of those in the back of a Minivan) and the difference was quite apparent.

Coal-fired domestic heating has some higher-tech solutions now, but it ain't clean.

236:

God these are awfully speculative points, starting with the assumption that living past or dying before adolescence forms some kind of fitness dichotomy: allynh, most of your heart diseases kill people long after they've experienced their years of virility, and although type-one diabetes is inheritable the disease managed to propagate before we had any ability to keep people alive with insulin shots. Similarly, if we could breed-out women who don't make their endometrium appropriately sticky, why weren't they bred-out already? We're not introducing weakness into the human population through medicine, because these 'weaknesses' have managed to propagate since well before the existence of the medical-industrial complex.

I mean, you're talking human biology but you're citing early twentieth-century eugenics to make your points. The hell?

237:

That all adds up to something rather provocative.

But things such as better hygiene aren't high-tech. Unless the knowledge is totally lost in the crash there are things which we don't have to re-invent.

Also, I doubt that all the health issues you refer to are genetic in origin. And, if there is a genetic link, what else does that gene do? If its effects are so dreadful, why has it survived all the millenia of low-tech medicine which preceded the modern age?

Sorry, but you're sounding uncomfortably infrapontal to me. And it's not that you're raising spurious issues: it's the cumulative effect.

238:

An interesting sidelight is the history of Electricity in Britain, and the emergence of the National Grid. There was certainly electrical power in the UK before The Great War, my grandfather was installing electric motors in woollen mills, one big three-phase motor replacing the steam engine with shafts and belts to the machines. But power generation was not standardised, and different local systems had different voltages. It made things such as light-bulbs more expensive, and generally impeded the development of domestic electrical appliances.

France and Germany had more unified systems, and in the 1920s the British Government decided that something had to be done. A national standard had to be set, and the economic advantages of a National Grid were obvious. The Legislation was passed in 1926, and a system emerged of regional grids, with interconnects, vaguely like the current US systems. In 1938-39 this changed to a true national grid.

The building of the grid infrastructure ran through the great depression, and the benefits for industry during ww2 are obvious. You couldn't shut down factories in, for instance, Newcastle, by bombing the local power station.

There's something wrong with a political and economic philosophy which doesn't pay attention to infrastructure.

239:
On a personal note, a friend of mine purposely went out in the country, and had a midwife delivery rather than hospital birth, specifically to avoid having to care for a child that was not born healthy. i.e., she was ready for the child to die if it was not fit to live.

I'm sorry, but that is the most idiotic thing I've read all year.

240:

Ok, cleanup by points raised:-

Domestic waste. Where I live in Scotland we have central collection points for glass, and bins for (plastic bottles and food trays, and metal cans), "organics" (which includes paper, bone and egg shells, plus garden and food waste, but NOT plastics!!) and "residuals" (anything not already mentioned). My Mum has central glass and bins for garden waste, (plastics, paper and card, metal cans) and "residuals" (as above).
Anyone who has a garden and wants one may also have a personal composter or compost heap.

Clothing colours - I forgot this was an SF blog and lots of people would dress in black or possibly RLM Schwartzviolett!

241:

Not only is it idiotic, but it sounds like something from "Mall Ninja" territory.

242:

I've seen a garbage disposal unit once in the UK. This was in a fairly new flat, in an afluent area of Bristol. (I was just visitting but got to use it a couple of times. Felt very wrong somehow but also I sorta want one.)

As for domestic drudge. As a single bloke in mid 30's, who went to university. You learn quickly, to cook and clean. Or descend into a state of thilfy skint, corpulant / skinny, malnutricion. (Admittidly some peple might be fine living like that for a while.)

If gender roles beloved of 70's sitcoms are referred to it's with teadious knowing irony. When my XGF lived with me, I did most of the cooking. Cleaning, roughly even split if I recall.

Not that the other observations aren't valid, I recognise them. Just not amongst my peers. I'm surprised if I meet anyone my age or younger entrenched in gender roles far as domestic tasks go. And I generally think them a bit of a bumpkin.

243:

domestic waste pickup (in my part of Germany):

There are two mandatory bins you have to have (and have to pay for), one is "the rest" (i.e. evertything that doesn't go anywhere else), the other one is for "bio-waste" as they call it, which here includes meat (that is different from town to town, afaik, and depends on the compost system used).

The incentive is on having as little "the rest" waste as possible, as that bin is only collected if the lid is firmly closed and the contents not compressed, and getting a bigger bin costs more money on the annual fee. The fees in our town are rather high because the city, a while ago, decided to build itself a spiffy incinerator (for district heating), but that was AFTER the whole recycling craze and now they have problems filling the incinerator to capacity. So in order not to go into the red numbers, they raise the fees for waste disposal. Which makes people sort their waste even more thoroughly and leads to even less fodder for the incinerator and ad nauseam. Textbook case.

All plastic and metal wrappings that were used as packing for a commercial product go into a yellow bag that gets picked up for free (because the fee was already payed for by the company that sold you the thing that was wrapped in the wrapping .. i.e. you payed it along with the price). This leads to some confusion because what can and can not go into this yellow bag is NOT depended on the substance it is made of but rather in which context you got it.

Note (re the above incinerator) that these yellow bags are picked up by another company who then owns whatever is in the bags and the city doesn't have access to it and therefore can't just put it into the incinerator .. they'd have to buy the stuff from that company.

Glass (color-sorted) goes into containers that are distributed throughout the city.

Paper and cardboard either goes into containers at the same points or you can (if you have the space for it) get another (free) bin for the paper.

Everything else (large stuff, problematic waste and so forth) you are expected to deliver to certain "waste-collection" places in and around the town (which have opening hours that are ridiculous to anyone who works for a living).

A note regarding incinerators and the control of burning temperature and so forth: from what I know that is mostly regulated by adding containers full of waste that has been separated to be purely one substance. I.e. temperature too low, throw in a ton of poly-ethylene based plastics and so forth. At least that's what I was told ..

244:

I don't know if Wells put it in a short story as well, but he did mention curves between wall and floor for easier cleaning in his 1902 non-fiction work Anticipations (ANTICIPATIONS OF THE REACTION OF MECHANICAL AND SCIENTIFIC PROGRESS UPON HUMAN LIFE AND THOUGHT, to give its full title); scroll down to [p 107], where he also complains about carrying coal round the house making for a great deal of unnecessary dirt distribution.

He also makes wild predictions: in the future, people will have "bath-dressing rooms" alongside their bedrooms, with water piped upstairs instead of having to carry it; shoes will no longer have to be blacked, but will be wiped clean in a minute; heating and cleaning will be done through tubes in the walls; and the House of the Future will not need chimneys.

And cooking: "To-day cooking, with its incidentals, is a very serious business; the coaling, the ashes, the horrible moments of heat, the hot black things to handle, the silly vague recipes, the want of neat apparatus, and the want of intelligence to demand or use neat apparatus. One always imagines a cook working with a crimsoned face and bare blackened arms. But with a neat little range, heated by electricity and provided with thermometers, with absolutely controllable temperatures and proper heat screens, cooking might very easily be made a pleasant amusement for intelligent invalid ladies."

Wells may have had a particular interest in all this because his mother, for a while, was in domestic service, "downstairs" at Uppark.

Earlier on in Anticipations (Ch 3 footnote 26 [p 102]) he complains at length about current building practices and hopes for better :"The erection of a house-wall, come to think of it, is an astonishingly tedious and complex business".

245:

I concur.

I suspect that this tale has been embroidered somewhat in the transmission.

246:

Ref #240 and #243 - Since Michael mentions meat and I didn't explicitly, my scheme includes meat in "organics" and my Mum's puts it "residuals" (aka "the rest").

Also on #243 para'last, yes you can control temperature in incinerators by changing the mix of stuff in.

247:

So advanced is Falkirk council that my recycling options are:
Blue bin - paper, cardboard, packaging, catalogues, metal cans, plastic of pretty much every kind.
Black box - glass, batteries, clothes. Mine got nicked when I was away and I just dumpt the glass and batteries into centralised collection points.
Green bin - for landfill - food waste, stuff contaminated with food and cleaning stuff etc.
Brown bin - for garden waste.

The recycling stuff has apparently improved a great deal so they can sort out multiple waste streams at once.

On the topic of washing clothes again, I do it at 40C, and havn't seen any colours bleed since I was a child 20 years ago. Do you really have to wash your normal clothes at any higher temperatures?

248:

To hopefully draw a line under comparitive recycling, it's a mess anywhere we've got a sample point in Europe or the USA so far; only the exact nature of the mess varies. All agreed?

And on washing clothes, I do it at $hand_hot. I find that black cotton bleeds a bit on the first couple of washes, red cotton might bleed a little or a lot, and might or might not keep bleeding after the first few washes, and poly-cotton blends don't really bleed.
I don't wear blue denim so can't comment, and don't wear much that's anything except cotton or poly-cotton.

249:

Oops, sorry about the close tag fail above.

We've got a garbage disposal thingy in the kitchen sink in the UK, though it is only used in practice for dealing with the odd bits of washing up crud, we don't deliberately put extensive amounts through it.

As for waste, in my part of Somerset we have two kinds of free-at-point-of-use pickups:

Weekly:
Brown closable container for food waste, if it isn't compostable (chicken bones, etc) or you have no garden
Black box for cardboard, recyclable plastics & cans
Green box for newspapers, glass bottles & tinfoil.

You can also leave out clothing, shoes and one car battery a week.

Fortnightly:
Black wheelie bin for all other rubbish, cat litter, vacuum-cleaner dirt etc.

If you want, you can also have a green wheelie bin for fortightly garden rubbish, but that costs extra.

250:

London Borough of Islington: Big green box for co-mingled recycling (basically anything dry). Lockable brown box for food waste. Dustbin for "other". Small brown caddy in the kitchen.

LB Haringey: Bit more backward. Wheelybin plus small green box for co-mingled recycling, no food waste provision. But they've just written to say it's coming.

251:

There are glasses which provide heat in winter and cool in summer (in northern europe). It is used in domestic houses, but currently very expensive.

252:

The downside is, you have to keep the place closed year-round, which is not nice if you like fresh air . . .

253:

"On a personal note, a friend of mine purposely went out in the country, and had a midwife delivery rather than hospital birth, specifically to avoid having to care for a child that was not born healthy. i.e., she was ready for the child to die if it was not fit to live."

I'd call this a little more than idiotic. Personlly, I'm not anti abortion. But if taken at face value, leaving one's ill or struggling born baby to die in adherence to some notion of fitness... Utterly barbaric.

254:

Well, provided you have to keep windows closed all the time for six months straight anyway, you just have to build in a way which guarantees fresh(ish) air despite no open windows.

I grant that there was a time in 70s to 80s when a lot of houses with really bad air quality (and moisture and mildew problems) were built at least here in Finland. That is widely held to be the low point in Finnish construction business for other reasons as well.

The fact that it's always been cold enough in the winter here that if your heating doesn't work properly you'll just die outright has led to two important differences to the construction industry in the more southernly countries I've lived in (meaning the UK): 1) Heating _and insulation_ were figured out in the stone age. No, really, the stone age. 2) There is a cultural expectation of a certain level of housing tech just working, that if you will be out of business of construction in an eyeblink if your stuff does not work.

(Our construction industry is riddled with corruption, cartels and other sorts of criminal enterprise, though.)

255:

Re Alex @ 250 - also bag/s for garden waste in Islington. NB all this is collected on a weekly basis

I'd also point out that certainly in central London, just about every supermarket and electrical retail shop will collect spent batteries and there are various (supposedly) paper-only recycling bins as well as rubbish bins on the street but I'm not sure whether these really work

256:

I mean, you're talking human biology but you're citing early twentieth-century eugenics to make your points. The hell?

Allynh is citing "Back to Methuselah". Written by George Bernard Shaw, who swallowed the whole eugenics thing hook, line, and sinker.

Basically, it's pretty much 100% discredited. Humans breed back towards the norm; the vast majority of non-viable mutations never make it past the first trimester of pregnancy.

Finally, using "Dune" to make a point about anything in the real world probably warrants public mockery.

257:

People have a hard time finding electric kettles in the US? That's weird because we've got 'em in our grocery stores here. Sure, coffee's more popular than tea, but there's iced tea, French press coffee drinkers and, of course, ramen noodles.

258:

Even in the UK, there are different levels depending on whether you're in Scotland or in England. The Scottish build regs are, for some reason and I can't think why, somewhat more attentive to that matter of building insulation.

Having been north of Finland a few weeks ago, I can attest to the value of having well heated and well insulated interiors in winter. It's a lot nicer wandering out the windy sea cliffs at the North Cape if you can then go back indoors to somewhere it's cosy.

259:

It's called a heat exchanger. Warm dirty air and cold clean air exchange energy and so you get refreshed air at the right temperature for minimal energy costs.

As far as I'm concerned, it should be illegal to build a new house after, say 2014 or 2015 that isn't up to or near the standards of a passivhaus. It is entirely possible, and adds only a little more onto the initial cost of the house which is then recouped by the hundreds of pounds a year heating savings. But the government won't act because it is in the pockets of whoever has the bigger chequebook (hint - it isn't the greens) and the house building firms don't like change because that is expensive and they have to get new house designs recertified or something. Much cheaper to build the same old way for as long as possible.

260:

well, the whole Passivhaus thing at least is something that Germany and Austria seem to be getting right. Fascinating stuff that goes into that, most of all with the central air with heat exchanger and so forth.

so far, not really represented on the other side of the pond, from what one hears.

261:

I think you are wrong. Americans don't have kettles, electric or otherwise, so it isn't about power supply. The kettle is ideal for making tea, a drink that Americans take iced, not hot. Coffee is now made in some form of coffee maker. If you want hot water, a microwave is usually used - and that is very fast.

I did a test a while ago. I put the same amount of water in each of an electric kettle, a pan on the gas hob, and a plastic jug in the microwave, and turned them all on together.

Kettle was fastest, easily. Saucepan a little slower. Microwave slowest of the lot - about twice the time. I'm sticking with my kettle!

262:

Yes, utterly idiotic. Apart from anything else, all sorts of things can go wrong for the mother during childbirth - in 2008, it was more dangerous to give birth in the US than to spend a month as a serving Coalition soldier in Iraq.

263:

The problem isn't newbuild, it's the vast inventory of Victorian buildings with vicious landlords cooing "preciousss" over them.

Last winter, I couldn't get the temperature in my front room over 13 degrees on occasion and an old flying jacket of mine went mouldy in the hall. Strangely enough, since I moved, I've stopped getting the hacking, greenish colds.

264:

Oh agreed - when I was looking for a new flat in London, I found a very nice place with a roof terrace that under closer inspection had numerous severely rotten window frames.

The landlord refused to fix them on the grounds that the area was classed as a "heritage area" so the replacements had to come from a very limited range of extremely expensive modern units to "match the feel of the area".

On the other hand if he waited till they finally collapsed, he would be able to strip out and rebuild with far fewer restrictions as the insurance people would be in charge and they could get stuff done under a different set of rules or something.

Funnily enough I preferred to find somewhere less likely to leak hot air like a sieve all winter.

265:

Oh yes, the older housing stock is also a problem, as are greedy bastard landlords. Longer term readers of this blog will recall the issue of what to do with older housing stock has been discussed several times already, usually with a comment from Charlie about his 19th century mansion* with stone walls, original floors and a circular room.

So there's some domestic conflict for someones next future story - clashes about retrofitting modern technology of heating and cleanliness into old houses.

*Not really, its a flat of some sort.

266:

On a personal note, a friend of mine purposely went out in the country, and had a midwife delivery rather than hospital birth, specifically to avoid having to care for a child that was not born healthy. i.e., she was ready for the child to die if it was not fit to live

My first impression was "actually, understandable". I had that impression because I know parents whose lifes have been utterly destroyed by completely non-fuctional children. If you know a 15-year old who is in wheelchair, not toilet trained, and cannot speak, and his mother spends her entire life carting him around (I do know someone like that)... yeah, the idea begins to make sense.

Except it does not. Mental retardation like that is not life-threatening at birth, and does not particularly correlate with anything life-threatening at birth. Giving birth in Mexico with a midwife would NOT prevent the above situation.

So yes, it is stupid.

267:

"You never had greenwaste bins? They've been around in southern California for over 20 years."

Environmentalism in the US varies enormously by state. I lived in Idaho for a couple of years, where the general feeling was that they had far too much environment. They didn't even recycle aluminum cans. The coasts have much higher population densities, so more environmental regulation is needed.

268:

A couple of things:

Laundry time and work. If someone can manage to make even a large amount of laundry take up their whole afternoon, they're being... "creative" about their time management.

I just put a load of clothes in the washer, and from the time I stood up from the keyboard to the time I sat down after starting the machine was three minutes flat.

We're talking about less than ten minutes for a full load of clothes, from dirty to clean and stored. With larger amounts, you get assembly line advantages - staggered loads, et cetera.

With large families, you have a lot more, and more messes (kids) - but even with that, if someone is spending more than a total of two or three hours a week "doing laundry," they're probably including the time they sit around doing something else while the machines do all of the work.

I do it all on cold cycle, by the way - saves energy, and with current detergent "tech," they get just as clean. The dryer is "smart" enough to sense when the clothes are dry, so I can leave it on a cooler cycle and just check back in 40 minutes or so.

On the "engineers design things for women by painting them pink" meme: it's not really true. Engineers don't get input into the color and marketing phase. The people who DO decide to make things pink are the (predominantly female) marketing staff - who pick colors like that because (surprise!) people BUY them.

Yeah, you'll see pink gadgets sitting on the sale shelves because they didn't sell - because it's the WRONG color pink for this year, or they made a few too many, or because the product is tied to a celebrity who fell out of favor. Likewise "men's design" gadgets that have the wrong amount of chrome, or shiny surfaces when the current trend is for matte, or had a sports team logo for a team that crashed and burned halfway through the season.

I work with a lot of big businesses, including some that make things like refrigerators and kitchen appliances. They spend a massive amount of money trying to figure out what people want - most of them gave up on "tell the customers what they need" about 40 years ago. Any time you see what you think is a stupid feature, there's a few dozen people who spent a few months finding out that a significant number of consumers WANTED that feature - and that the rest of the population could either live with it or would learn to like it.

269:

A note on cleaning efficiency. Commercial spaces are cleaned very cheaply and efficiently compared to homes, which are labor intensive. For instance a restroom in an airport would be cleaned by wheeling in a big machine once a day, power-spraying the whole place with water and disinfectants and wet-vaccing the floor dry. Maybe the mirrors would be squeegeed off. That's it. If you think about the bathroom in your home you can see why this wouldn't work there. We like fabrics and floor coverings. Furniture and pictures.
Many of the same issues apply in kitchens, where commercial ones are configured for effective sanitation and domestic ones are cozy.
Domestic cleaning could be more efficient but that would require compromises of comfort that most of us are not willing to make.

270:

One of the problems we've got in the UK is simply land scarcity. To some extent it's artificial -- green belt laws prevent ad hoc urban sprawl, and thus keep urban cores alive and compact, but drive up the price of habitable land. Consequently, the typical new-build UK dwelling is about a third the size of an equivalent US or AUS dwelling. Developers would much rather build three tiny apartments than one big one, given the price of land.

This in turn accounts for the popularity of older homes. The older dwellings that survived (i.e. the ones that weren't condemned as slums and demolished fifty years ago) tend to be relatively spacious and pleasant, with high ceilings (especially if they predate electricity -- they needed head space in order to accommodate the tall windows required for daylight lighting). Retrofitting them with central heating and insulation and double glazing is not cheap, but it's probably cheaper than replacing them with a new-build property with equivalent floor space.

271:

Any time you see what you think is a stupid feature, there's a few dozen people who spent a few months finding out that a significant number of consumers WANTED that feature

All I can think about right now is that episode of the Simpson's where Homer's long-lost brother ends up going bankrupt after getting his brother's input on the design of the "Homer-mobile".

Except, in real life, I guess it probably would have been a runaway success. Or at least a niche one.

272:

Any time you see what you think is a stupid feature, there's a few dozen people who spent a few months finding out that a significant number of consumers WANTED that feature

Or, more likely, that a few "focus groups" (who tend to tend to the average of what they know) wanted that feature.

273:

I'm super excited about that, because it means it's 1965 and we're gonna go to the moon soon.

And that was my laugh out loud moment for the day, thanks!

274:

Sorry, but the "Homer-mobile" is what happens when an engineer listens to ONE person.

It's hard, nowadays, to find a large set of "bad features" on one mass-market product from a major company.

Sure, there are some with design compromises, some with bad engineering choices, and quite a few with a bit of both - but in truth, there really isn't a high percentage of really bad products.

People, in general, are a good reference to find out what people actually want and need. Surprise!

No, most people aren't "dumb" about consumer choices on things like washers and dryers - they want things they can use easily, that fit in their living spaces, that don't cost too much, and that get the clothes clean and dry. There's only so much you can do with current tech - and yes, the appliance folks would LOVE to be able to sell you a new cleaning machine that would take your shirt, wash it, dry it, and fold it for you automatically, all in under a minute. If they could make it cheap enough to sell.

By the time we get to the point where that sort of thing is cost-effective, we'll probably have personal manufacturing closets that make new clothing every day from the leftovers you toss in the bin each night.

275:

One of the problems we've got in the UK is simply land scarcity.

I don't know that I'd really count that as a problem, or at least not to the extent that it is a deliberate policy choice - "artificial".

Some of us in the US are rather dismayed at the devastation that several decades of suburb/sprawl oriented public policy have wrought on the landscapes and urban fabric. Not to mention the inefficiencies (environmental, social, economic) of the sprawl.

There's a relatively recent movement to turn that around, but a bit of envy at the relatively greater degree to which nice walkable towns and cities have been preserved across the pond.

Also, an interesting thing about living space is that most people tend to radically overestimate how much happier a bigger house/apartment will actually make them, or how useful it will be. It's one of those little "grass-is-greener" irrationalities we have. Ignoring that, and the positional game, 500 sq feet can be almost as good as 10,000 in terms of real utility and happiness.

(Though I totally agree about the pleasant effect of the high ceilings in older buildings. The extra light and sense of space is really nice, even in relatively small rooms area-wise. I find it a little sad that new buildings - even many quite high-end ones - don't have taller ceilings.)

277:

although the "older buildings have higher ceilings" falls flat somewhere in the past, of course.

I've made the observation that, in Europe, the center of a big city will, by its architecture, tell you when the last period was when that town was really rich. So, in Austria, where I grew up, places like Vienna or e.g. Innsbruck (where I grew up), the core is made up of these big 4-storie houses from around 1900. These have appartments that are around the 120 sqm-mark and have ceilings that are 3.5 meters or higher. _very_ nice and _very_ expensive to rent, unless your family has rented them since the house was built (as is e.g. the case for my parents).

Now I live in Ulm (south-western Germany, Swabia), where the core of the city is made up of houses built around 1800 or earlier in .. uh .. what do you call Fachwerk in english? Where you have wooden beams visible? ah well, google image search for "Fachwerkhaus" gives enough examples. Anyway, now I live in an appartment that also has around 140 sqm, but a) it's on 3 levels and b) the ceilings are .. well let's just say that when I walk into my bathroom, I have to take care not to hit my _chin_ on the door-frame. Also nothing is level. I _love_ it!

(also, it's been retrofitted with lots of insulation by the owner, so not so bad. Not a passivhaus by any stretch, but quite comfortable)

278:

> There's something wrong with a
> political and economic philosophy
> which doesn't pay attention to
> infrastructure.

That's because once people start talking "philosphy", they're usually quite distant from the greasy gubbins that form the infrastructure.

That's how you get, say, a state government that tried to mandate the sale of electric cars during a time when their power grid was implementing rolling brownouts, and no more plants were scheduled to come online in the reasonably near future. (that is, the People's Democratic Republic of California)

279:

Sure, there are some with design compromises, some with bad engineering choices, and quite a few with a bit of both - but in truth, there really isn't a high percentage of really bad products.

Well, mostly teasing about the Homermobile. But even so, if the focus groups were to average out to wanting massive tail fins, a fur covered steering wheel and a truck horn, who's to tell them they're wrong?

I'd agree there isn't necessarily a high percentage of outright bad products out there, but a high percentage of "not bad" products is not at all the same thing as a high percentage of good or great products. I think really great stuff is probably distinguished by featuring design and vision as first order concerns, not product feature surveys.

I'd also be a bit worried about the unregulated feedback loop you get if you really do just take naive consumer opinions, however widespread, and turn it into products. People typically don't actually know what the heck they really want, never mind what's good for them.

Which concerns are perhaps all already well-accounted for in the actual, no doubt complicated, art and science of consumer testing. Perhaps.

(It's sort of a pet example, and maybe real user experience surveys wouldn't actually back me up, but I always think of 'eraser nub' style pointing devices on laptops vs. the now ubiquitous touch pad. The latter is certainly superficially easier to pick up on first use. Very user-testing/focus group friendly. OTOH, while the former takes a little time to get used to, it is afterwards, IMO, a vastly superior pointing device in nearly every other way. I can't help but wonder if the dominance of the touchpad isn't just a path dependent outcome ultimately founded on some pretty superficial testing.)

280:

All these complaints about products not designed by women / for women / with women in mind, make me wonder -- as a woman, [i]what exactly do you want[/i] from your home appliances that you are not getting now? The only specific complaints I readd so far were about poor insulation in Japan (Cat's OP), and about cabinets being at wrong height for short women. Both are architectural issues rather than appliance issues. Aside from that, what WOULD you have different about your vacuum, fridge, washer and dryer?

281:

I hate touchpads. I do not find them "easy to use" at all -- on the first try, or ever. When I use a laptop, I always plug in a mouse and ignore the touchpad.

282:

From your description, we'd probably refer to Fachwerk as Tudor or mock Tudor (later building, but done to look like it was built in that period) and most likely paint it white, with black beams, a tiled roof and window panes about 6" (150mm) square..

283:

Ah, yes, the Edsel.

The very best example of what happens when a bunch of engineers DON'T pay attention to what people want.

It had a whole raft of features (many of which are pretty much standard in modern cars, others of which were useless or clumsy) - and one of the worst aesthetic designs in automotive history.

Ford compounded this with a terrible marketing plan, and a bad pricing structure (more expensive than the normal Ford models, not as nicely fitted out and made as the Mercury models that were the "top" line at the time).

When you make a product that isn't any better than the competition's best, and then make it ugly, it's not going to sell...

284:

Yeah, I see that a lot with people who have touchpad equipped laptops. They plug in a mouse whenever they can, because touchpads are awkward and clumsy.

Something I'm never even the least bit tempted to do with a pointing stick equipped one. (I'd even sort of like to get my hands on one of those pointing stick keyboards for use with my desktop at work.)

285:

> A note regarding incinerators and the
> control of burning temperature and so
> forth:

Correct. Almost anything will burn, particularly at the temperatures incinerators run at. You balance your input stream to keep temperatures close to optimum, and we used natural gas or wood chips to make up the difference when needed.

I worked on control software for an incinerator plant about 20 years ago. Then, and I assume now, the problem was identifying the input stream. Getting rid of paper or hospital waste was no problem, but a mystery barrel could be anything, and without dumping and inspecting it, you had to slide them in with a known stream when the hardware could correct if it was at the extreme end of the calorie range.

Our problems were aggravated by the particulate and smoke restrictions imposed by the EPA. Most of the inspection and control issues would have been much simplified if we could have built a BIG incinerator and run it full bore; all the big variations would have become smaller ones.

286:

"Aside from that, what WOULD you have different about your vacuum, fridge, washer and dryer?"

Someone else to use them for me

287:

> ... in Europe, the center of a big city will, by its architecture,
> tell you when the last period was when that town was really rich.

Judging by that London was last rich, well, now. The last 15 or 20 years, anyway. And perhaps the Edwardian period before that. Not so much decent architecture in central London from 1914-1964, and another smaller gap from mid 70s to early 90s.

And Edinburgh would have been at its richest in the late 18th and early 19th century. (Though lots of the 19th-century Old Town looks older because of the particular local form the Gothic Revival took in Scotland)

> what do you call Fachwerk in english?

"half-timbering"

Or, when being disparaging, "mock-Tudor"

288:

But even so, if the focus groups were to average out to wanting massive tail fins, a fur covered steering wheel and a truck horn, who's to tell them they're wrong?

That's the thing, though - what you just described is the designer's dark fantasy about the unwashed masses. People really aren't like that, on average. They choose fairly mainstream design (because that's what they're used to), and prefer things they can use on a daily basis without someone making fun of them.

Yeah, you can find people who like kludgy and/or ugly stuff (often "smart" and "tasteful" people who are trying to be ironic)- but the mainstream manufacturers don't really use them as design bellwethers.

Even the things that some people hold up as examples of "the tasteless average" are the things that the "perceptive" folks were selling as cutting edge a generation or two ago - and they were right, usually.

Look at minivans and SUVs, for example. Years ago, people had cars, but needed to carry more stuff (the family plus some groceries). So the car makers made station wagons (estate wagons for those of you on the other side of the pond). They worked, got the same gas mileage as normal cars, et cetera. Then the "smart" people rebelled against what their parents were driving, and started buying minivans and SUVs. Which grew, over the years, to big vans and SUVs.

Now, the "edgy" and "smart" folks are buying... station wagons.

Note than none of the vehicles I mentioned were actually "bad" as a group. Yeah, you can whine about how they're big, or use more fuel, but they filled the niche that the customers wanted - and even a big modern SUV gets about the same gas mileage as a 1970s VW bus, with practically nonexistent emissions in comparison, and insanely better quality and safety (along with air conditioning).

289:

Yeah, I see that a lot with people who have touchpad equipped laptops. They plug in a mouse whenever they can, because touchpads are awkward and clumsy.

...in comparison to a mouse.

In fast usability in cramped or limited spaces? They're fine. Much better and more accurate than the eraser-style pointers for almost everyone. Current-model touchpads also have multitouch and other nice features.

Touchpads are, like everything else on a laptop, a compromise. Yeah, they're nowhere near as useful as a mouse or trackball, but you don't need an extra square foot of space to use them.

I'm just thinking back to the 1980s, when all of my "smart" computer programmer friends were telling me that GUIs were stupid, and that they could do literally everything faster on a command line. Sure, they could do some things slightly faster, like "delete all files in this directory," but I would always destroy them in "real" tasks like "open three randomly-named documents in that directory, then save them to three different places on three different drives."

Compare "a mouse is better overall" with " I can pull out a laptop and work fine while on an airplane or sitting on a box in a hotel ballroom."

Compromises happen - the trick is to find the ones actual people can live with.

290:

And late 19th century. In fact as far as I am aware (not having made a great study of it) Edinburgh was fairly well off for the entire century. It wasn't subjected to quite the same volatility as Glasgow which depended more upon manufacturing and suffered in the depressions of the century.
So if you look closely at the Royal Mile for instance, you'll find a huge amount of Victorian buildings, and further out of the new town there are all sorts of later additions.

The really obvious places to see this sort of thing are County towns in England and Scotland. (leaving aside the medieval ones) Often the core is 17/18th century because that is when they were rich enough to rebuild everything in stone and brick, then depending on location there's a period of new building in the time corn prices were high or they got the new canal or railway and then not a lot from the 20th century at all because the old buildings worked well enough so they added them round the periphery. Although there are also famous cases of land clearance, Coventry being the most infamous, where entire streets of medieval houses were demolished in the 60's to make way for concrete madness.

291:

> Some of us in the US are rather
> dismayed at the devastation that
> several decades of suburb/sprawl
> oriented public policy have wrought
> on the landscapes and urban fabric.

We don't like your cities. We don't want to live in your cities. That's why we left. And we paid a pretty penny to do so. And we're not coming back.

Considering the political and social demographic differences, I'd think most urban governments should be very glad of that.

292:

Really? I've used a touchpad for so long that a mouse feels big and clumsy to me. It's the difference between drawing with a finger with a thumb on a button, and using your whole arm to make the same motion. Mice have to be cleaned more often, too.

293:

And Edinburgh would have been at its richest in the late 18th and early 19th century. (Though lots of the 19th-century Old Town looks older because of the particular local form the Gothic Revival took in Scotland)

Eh?

The Old Town dates from the late mediaeval period -- 1500s through 1700 -- and the New Town was gridded out in the 1750s!

But Edinburgh's a very bad example: since 1970 it's been preserved in aspic (UN World Heritage Site status) and even before that there were anomalies that made it hard to build "modern" carbuncles in the middle of town.

294:

We have all but stopped using our garbage disposal unit since it blocked the waste pipe and caused the washing machine to flood the kitchen. As we live in an Edinburgh tenement (and not on the ground floor), we really didn't want to risk this happening again. As it was, we were lucky because our (human) cleaner happened to be in that day, spotted the problem and got someone in to fix it.

Looking at the SF angle, if you could provide a robot cleaner which could handle an unexpected situation like that, I'd be interested.

295:

They choose fairly mainstream design (because that's what they're used to), and prefer things they can use on a daily basis without someone making fun of them.

Well, I don't know about designers, but the above is my dark fantasy.

My point is exactly what you're saying: that "preferences" as such largely don't exist, at least not to the degree we sometimes pretend they do. It's all just an amalgation of reactions to what other people seem to be doing, or conveniently "preferring" whatever happens to be offered on the market so you're used to it. When you leave too much stuff to this averaged out amalgamation of "what's the other guy wearing/what pointing device do ALL laptops come with/etc." you're opening yourself up to more sub-optimal, path dependent outcomes than are strictly necessary.

296:

The Old Town is, of course, Old - but lots of the individual buildings in it were rebuilt or entirely replaced in the late 18th/early 19th century, or even since, similar dates to the New Town. Yes, there is a lot of real Old there. But not as much as it looks at first (how many seven to eleven story tenement buildings were put up before the industrial revolution?)

297:

Except the comparison wasn't with a mouse, it was with a touchpoint, which is even more compact, doesn't give spurious mouse movements caused by wrist positioning, and is generally great. ",)

298:

...in comparison to a mouse.

No, in a three-way comparison with both pointing sticks and mice.

At least IMO, pointing sticks and mice are on the same level. In fact, as I said, there are plenty of situations where I'd prefer a pointing stick to a mouse. They're not really a compromise at all. I think pointing sticks are overall much faster for quick clicking around, as well as when you're frequently going back and forth to the keyboard. I'd mostly only prefer a mouse for things like graphic design layout or drafting, where it's a little more comfortable or precise, I think. (But even then, the pointing stick usually works fine.)

OTOH, as you observe, touchpads certainly are a compromise. Even with some of the new multitouch gestures, they don't ever really seem to be anyone's preferred interface. Just a make-do when you don't have room or time to break out the, always superior, mouse. (At least when you don't have, or don't know how to use, a pointing stick.)

299:

While I'm not completely happy with the way my city recently implemented the municipal composting pickup, we do have a relatively sane recycling/trash/compost system for a US city.

Each residential pickup has 2 wheelie bins, one for all recyclables (plastic, paper, metal, etc.) plus a small plastic bin for glass recycling, and one for compostables (all food scraps, paper with food waste on it, yard debris, etc.), and one 33 gal. waste can for everything else. When the compost scheme was set up last year we were given a small plastic container (5 or 6 liters at a guess) to collect the scraps in the kitchen.

Where the system needs some improvement is in the pickup schedule and the kitchen container. The container doesn't seal well, so after a day or so it starts to smell. I've solved that by putting a plastic bag inside to hold the scraps, and another over the top to keep in the smell and then after the pickup I toss the inside bag and rotate the outside bag to the inside. But that uses up a plastic bag every week, which isn't optimal. I'd use a paper bag, but they get wet and leak.

The problem with the schedule is that the municipal agency that manages waste wanted to keep the cost of pickup constant, to make the changes more acceptable to citizens, so they scheduled compost pickup every week, and regular waste pickup on alternate weeks, on the theory that taking out compostables cuts the waste in half. The problem is that while it may do that on average (though I'm dubious), there are often times where the trash mounts up to more than a can's worth in 2 weeks. This is especially odorous for us as much of that waste is dog shit (it's amazing how much poop a couple of small dogs can create).

300:

It's the difference between drawing with a finger with a thumb on a button, and using your whole arm to make the same motion.

If you're literally talking about drawing, than yeah, that's probably the one area a touchpad - at least a nice large, precise one - can best a mouse (or a pointing stick).

(And of course all of the above opinionating is just that - you might have good reason to prefer a touchpad. But me, I just think of all the times I watch people swiping their fingers across those pads three or four times just to move the cursor from one side of the screen to the other, vs. how effortless it is to precisely glide around the screen with a pointing stick, and I shudder.)

301:

Regarding washing machines. It seems to me that they have improved immensely over the last couple of decades. There was a phase where they became complicated (too many choices to make - like MS Windows), but now they pretty much wash clothes well by themselves. Obviously designed by men for single men to wash their clothes :;

Dishwashers. Couldn't imagine going back to hand washing in the sink. Again, substantially improved over the last couple of decades. (No prewashing, no soap spots, remove even fried food).

Cooking. Yes, ovens and ranges are still the same as they were 20 years ago, just shinier. But what could make them simpler to use? I find most of the time and effort goes into food preparation - and we have an almost Victorian array of instruments and appliances to help with that, at the cost of more things to clean afterwards. This is such an obvious "there must be huge improvements to make" that the non-appearance of such improved appliances over 30 years makes me suspicious that this is true. Even the most avant garde chefs have only managed to invent a few new approaches - like using liquid nitrogen.

Apart from high end toilets, have the Japanese got anything that makes home living easier/better than anywhere else?

While SF may have missed small stuff, I would suggest that all literature has managed to miss describing even contemporary items too. One might expect movies to cover the bases better, but no. Domestic scenes show very little how a kitchen or bathroom works. It can be interesting when they do, just to see how far (or not) we have come.

Looking back over 50 years, very few things have made a big difference to me in the home.

1. Multiple blade wet razors.
2. Microwave ovens.
3. Supermarkets/grocery stores with much larger variety of fresh foods.
4. Dishwasher - appliance, not wife or mother ;)

I am still waiting for the robot/appliance than could iron shirts. In practice I just rarely wear shirts that need ironing, so ironing has become a very rare activity.


302:

Yes, the touchpad is a reasonable answer when there's no room to deploy a mouse or even a trackball. But why are we stuck with touchpads rather than the little pointing stick nubs? I can only conjecture that touchpads must be cheaper to make.

Me, I touch-type. So my little netbook gets the touchpad turned off (every time I boot it up, thank you) and a USB mouse plugged in. Otherwise the cursor will wander at odd times while I'm typing.

For that matter, I'm reasonably happy with my home machine's trackball but wouldn't mind a keyboard with a pointing stick and mouse buttons; like all of us, I spend too much time reaching away from the keyboard when I need to point at things. This three handed ergonomic scheme could use improvement.

303:

One thing to remember is that Coventry, and other British cities, experienced significant amounts of unorganised slum clearance some 70 years ago.

Likewise in Germany and the then Soviet Union.

There is a lot of 1950s architecture in Europe because of those issues.

I mentioned the post-war pre-fab housing in Britain. There were other building methods devised after the war, and still being used in new buildings, twenty year later, which were fatally flawed or misapplied. But a quarter of the housing in the UK had been lost in the war.

Some of the 1950s architecture has been replaced. While surviving architecture from the 20s and 30s has gained a certain favour. See a list of Art Deco buildings around London. I reckon it knocs some of the later stuff hollow.

304:

Ohh, I wish edinburgh had been preserved in aspic since 1970, then we wouldn't have a whole load of dull modern buildings. Instead, they've build whatever they can wherever they can, the 'Caltongate' nonsense being the last, biggest huzzah before it all came tumbling down with the recession.

305:

We don't like your cities. We don't want to live in your cities. That's why we left. And we paid a pretty penny to do so. And we're not coming back.

Well, without knowing exactly who I'm talking to, I can't promise to get the generations right, but:

While you might not be coming back, it's increasingly looking like your children would rather like to.

Sprawl-style development patterns -- which were never that handsome to begin with -- are not aging gracefully. And it seems that a lot of people, especially those who grew up in the suburbs, are catching on to the fact that crowded freeways, drive-thrus and big box stores are not only not the only way to live, they're not a particularly pleasant, attractive, or even convenient one either. So there really is a resurgence of interest in more walkable, attractive, sociable places.

(I'd also note that, as much as you think you paid, a lot of other taxpayers also paid to subsidize the suburban lifestyle. Sprawled out infrastructure is expensive, not to mention the other externalities, like pollution and congestion, involved.)

306:

We don't like your cities. We don't want to live in your cities. That's why we left. And we paid a pretty penny to do so. And we're not coming back.

I don't know why "you" left or who "we" are but regarding vast sprawl vs dense urbanisation. The former is far more expensive to maintain than the latter, not just in terms of cash but also ecological footprint, sustainability etc.

Cities work well because they massively benefit from economics of scale. Public transport can more people around in a faster and more energy efficient way, goods and services don't have to travel far and labour is highly concentrated. Personally the idea of living out in the middle of nowhere sounds like hell. Not having hundreds of diverse and dense places to visit within a few square miles (which are easy to travel to via underground train/bus) is very boring to me.

307:

"Dave Bell replied to this comment from allynh | February 23, 2012 08:04 | @237: And it's not that you're raising spurious issues: it's the cumulative effect."

Well said. HA!

308:

IMO the big draws to living out in the middle of nowhere are

1) No noise.
2) Fewer conflicts with inconsiderate neighbors.
3) Nature and cleaner air, if you're into that.
4) Being able to see the stars at night.

It is kind of annoying that I have few choices in restaurants, entertainment &c, though.

309:
Considering the political and social demographic differences, I'd think most urban governments should be very glad of that.

That statement is eyebrow raising to anyone familiar enough with the politics of the American right wing to recognize their dog whistles.

I wouldn't care to stuff words in the poster's mouth, but if someone like Santorum said something of that sort it would be quite rightly interpreted as racist.

310:

IMO the big draws to living out in the middle of nowhere are

I definitely appreciate that there are attractions, it's just that cities are far more efficient for a society.

1) No noise.

This really depends. Last year I lived in London and pretty near to a very busy road. I heard nothing from my place. Literally nothing but the occasional birdsong in the morning. Conversely a friend a couple of weeks down had constant noise. The areas really weren't that different, it was just the luck of where the windows faced and the position of the surrounding buildings.

2) Fewer conflicts with inconsiderate neighbors.

I'd argue that this was not the case and was actually worse out in the sticks if only because in a city there is little neighbourhood community whereas in a village in the countryside everyone knows everyone. This is a generalisation of course but I'd be willing to bet that people in the suburbs know far more of their neighbours than those in cities.

3) Nature and cleaner air, if you're into that.

Can't argue with that.

4) Being able to see the stars at night.

Nor that.

Overall though I'd much rather live in a big, dense city and visit the countryside than the reverse. The majority of of my time isn't concerned with appreciating the scenery but doing work and utilising a range of services/entertainment.

311:

In addition to endorsing what Ryan said, I'd add that we have to be careful what we're talking about here. The choices are not "The middle of nowhere" vs. the middle of the city. There's a third choice, the 'burbs, which might be well characterized as having the disadvantages of both.

So genuine isolation in the countryside or the forest certainly has its charms. Solitude, quiet, fresh air, nature.

And life in the city has a lot to recommend it. You can just walk or take transit to get to things and visit people. You're probably close to work, culture, and lots of potential friends.

But the 'burbs? At least the sprawly, ranch houses, strip malls, freeways, parking lots and big box stores kind? You've got the expanses of pavement, traffic, noise, pollution, and you probably still can't see the stars. So all the downsides of the city, really, except the architecture is orders of magnitude uglier, and you don't get any of the upsides. You have to drive to get anywhere (maybe all the way to either the city or the country to get anywhere really worth visiting). You might get a front lawn, I guess, which some people seem to put a lot of stock in.

312:

ilya @ 184heteromeles @ 165
ARRRGH!
REALLY that bad.
Two possible solutions to the problem
1] long, slow, worthwhile ...education
2] quick'dirty - sterilization...

We HAVE a rainbow!
It was the one that spectacularly blew its capacitor - and I had to dismantle and retro-fit
But they really do clean - that water-bath system is effective....

bellinghman
and others
@ 170 et seq
LBWF - London
Two bins - grey for non-recyclable, green for recyclable
optional brown for compostable - we don't have the latter, because we compost our own!
Results from "browm" bins are wonderful balck fertiliser - which our allotments and othe growers get
Does make the plants grow, too!
Council will do up to 3 special collections per year, plus 3 "dumps" where locals can bring stuff in for recycling.

SEF @ 196
Technically "brown" is a less-intense YELLOW
ahem

Dirk @ 218
"Coal soot" - erm how many hoses around?
I remember the last of the London Smogs ...
planty of burnt and partially burnt hydrocarbons and particulates around in the air
visibilty

"passivhaus"
-generally
Currently ILLEGAL in UK
Why?
Because they re-use OLD TYRES in the wall-fill, and by a (recent) law these MUST NOT be re-used, but sent to central collection points.
I don't doubt the will be a work-around soon, but in the meantime ....

ajay @ 262
ANd STILL people are aginst even Obamacre, never mind a proper state-funded Health system?
When US childbirth is THAT dangerous?

@ 263-5
They're lying
You can get proper wooden windows & frames, but CLAIMING it'll cost too much is a handy get-out.

@ 274
NO
the iPAD - like I said - used one for the first & I hope last, time last week
EUUUUGHHH!

Dave Bell @ 303
"Art DEco
Please dont!
There was this wonderful deco PUB (The PAviour's Arms in Westminster inside q '30s block, and they demolished the whole block, incuding the pub .... aaaaaarrrrGHHHHH!
( GOOD Fuller + Thai food, in case you ask)

313:

dog whistles

Yeah. Definitely.

("Flight flight" anyone? It's difficult to pin down empirically, but it's hard to see how that wasn't at least one of the drivers behind suburbanization/sprawl in America in the first place. In addition to the promise of huge empty front lawns and the freedom of the open road, the 'burbs offered the reassuring prospect of neighbors with a skin tone not too much darker than one's own. It's "better for the children", you see...)

314:

("White flight", rather. Erk.)

315:

"coal soot"
I may be mis-remembering about the 1900 house show.
They complained about being dirty. but the problem may have been poor soap. The house was a recreation and if the flue worked properly it should have taken the combustion products out of the house. Though as Greg points out several million coal fires discharging into the air might cause a bit of smog.

Now that you mention it, what I remember from my childhood is living in a 3 flat that had coal-fired hot air heat. We had constant soot under the registers, on the window sills, and had to paint the whole apartment at least once a year.

316:

Maggie, the gear I'm used to seeing is on female mountaineers and they don't really do muffin tops or pink :) Down here we get 9 or 10 sizes of women's polypro because they do both height and width variations, but if you're both tall and well-endowed you're going to struggle because you don't exist. Oddly you will be able to buy raincoats and polarfleece tops, as well as a range of bras. Just not actual polypro (no, I don't know anyone who is bitter about this, why do you ask?).

It's actually easier to get harnesses for girly-shaped bits than for adult-shaped midgets thanks to the popularity of sport climbing (and if you're a womanly midget you are right out of luck). Other technical gear seems pretty unisex (judging by the enthusiasm with which it gets borrowed).

The take-home for me is that it's possible to solve the gender variation problems if the will exists, and if there's a big enough market that can be found. The internet helps a lot with the latter, you can relatively easily find the 200 "female mountaineers under 1.5m tall" and sell them your GirlyWidget2000. The problem is that selling 100 of them may not be enough to make you a profit.

On the other topic, the thing that excites me about vacuum cleaners is the improvement in filtration. We have a cheap HEPA filter job that clogs up pretty fast but if you're nice to it cleans very well and doesn't just shift the dust into the air. That is a huge benefit for me and means I'm much more willing to use it. And only $300! My workshop vacuum was more like $2000 new (I got it second hand) and has a combo coarse particle (sawdust) filter and bubble tray (fine dust) plus airbag that works amazingly well. But at 50kg and the size of a 44 gallon drum I am not using it around the house.

317:

I grew up with a Dispos-Al (tm), being taught to use cold water to keep the motor from overheating. Two weeks ago my current disposal unit clogged: too much fat in the turkey I was sending down. Moral: Use HOT water only, not cold, and the motor will tolerate it after all.

318:

it should be illegal to build a new house after, say 2014 or 2015 that isn't up to or near the standards of a passivhaus.

We are fighting for this in Oz at the moment. Unfortunately too much of the building regulation is done by bodies captured by the building industry. They don't like mandatory extras, or anything that might make it harder to rate houses purely by floor area. Unfortunately niceties like insulation and rainwater tanks have to take a bit of a back seat to things like building insurance and house warranties (both are covered almost entirely by the phrase "caveat emptor"). We have mandatory building insurance for new home building in Victoria that takes in well over $100M/year and pays out less than $10M.... it works as well for buyers as you would expect from those numbers.

One thing to consider is that architecture has become a female-dominated course of study, and that will inevitably feed into building design. Unfortunately at the moment the main effect seems to be an increased focus on making things that look pretty, rather than working well for the inhabitants. But architecture has always been that way. I'm more hopeful about female engineers, not least in construction and management. They're more often the ones doing the detailed work that contributes to livability. Like floor coverings that curve up at the walls, instead of having sharp corners with gaps.

I have lived in houses with vinyl floor coverings that curved up to ~8cm off the floor. They work very well. Unfortunately the fashion these days is more for tiles or floorboards, and curving those up is tricky. Thanks for reminding me of that.

319:
Business does a lot of "R&D", but most of that is trivial innovation

I'd like to agree with this just from my own irritation at having the corporate research lab I worked in shut down in 1992, but while it is true that there's a lot less non-military corporate R&D in the US than there was a generation ago, there is still quite a bit left, and much of it is basic to modern industry.

Case in point: Intel Corp., which is, and has been for a long time, the world leader in the development of integrated circuit design and manufacturing techniques. Their global R&D center is about 15 miles from here, in Hillsboro, OR, USA. This includes not only the semiconductor fab R&D and pilot plants but also a large part of their system and circuit design R&D. In 2011 Intel spent roughly USD 3.4 billion on R&D, 8% of their total revenue.

320:

Here's an appliance improvement I'd like. I'm a short woman with a top-loading washing machine. It would be delightful to have a floor in the washing compartment that would lift when I pressed a button.

Garbage pickup in South Philadelphia: once a week, recyclables in plastic bin or transparent plastic bag-- the bin doesn't have to be official. Recyclables include corrugated cardboard, metal, paper, and plastic. It's recently been expanded to include all plastics. Other trash and garbage goes in opaque plastic bags. There are some size/weight limits, but nothing that affects routine getting rid of stuff. It's ok to leave out small pieces of furniture.

Does anyone live in a place where getting rid of old electronics according to the rules isn't a noticeable pain in the ass?

I've been known to store food garbage which would start smelling bad at room temperature in the refrigerator till trash day.

I'd never heard of municipal compost till this thread. The nearest thing was the zoo giving away compost made from elephant dung at a dump which isn't too far from the zoo.

Garbage disposal: I grew up with them, but don't have one now. I think the noise from a garbage disposal is loud enough to be annoying. Occasionally, I'll cut up gristle or something to get it safely down the drain.

As far as I know, American sprawl is as much a creature of regulation as are the extreme limits on European urban expansion. In the US, there are rules about minimum lot size and such.

One more reason for living in the suburbs rather than the city-- enough room for moderately serious gardening while still being within commuting distance of a city.

Giving birth in the boonies so that the midwife can kill a conspicuously unhealthy newborn. Isn't this right out of Time Enough for Love?

321:

I just think of all the times I watch people swiping their fingers across those pads three or four times just to move the cursor from one side of the screen to the other, vs. how effortless it is to precisely glide around the screen with a pointing stick, and I shudder.

Then you're using cheaply and poorly made trackpads. The Apple ones are made of glass; very low friction and excellent sensitivity, combined with good drop-off (so hovering fingers over the macbook trackpad doesn't make the cursor jump around -- it only moves when you touch the glass).

322:

Design studies of better living have, in fact, been done. Well, for cooking, at least - Back in the 1960s, the swedes put a bunch of eggheads into chairs in the corner of the kitchens of matrons that had been ordered to pretend they didnt exist, so that they could do the whole "time and motion" study thing on cooking. This was then used to design a better kitchen. - It wasnt an accident that Sweden got sky-high female labor participation, and the wealth that creates before anyone else, it was deliberate industrial policy, including "increase productivity at home". This was also the subject of a fairly recent comedy.
More generally, the increase in home productivity from electrical appliances + contraceptives that work are basically feminism, because without those, working and maintaining a household at the same time just isnt possible.
.. Hmm.. you know what, I think steampunking this concept would be hilarious. without electricity, the only way to do it is communal facilities, but that fits the whole aestetic of steampunk very, very well. Radical socialist syndicalists bringing the laundrymat to the working neighbourhoods of 1872, complete with the monstrous steam powered "Washing engine" and the belt drive powering the gleaming steel and sharp edges of the industrial scale kitchen appliances at the neighbouring communal kitchen/resturant that serves affordable hot meals, as long as you dont mind said meal coming off a menu of "This is what we serve today, guv!".

323:

Apart from high end toilets, have the Japanese got anything that makes home living easier/better than anywhere else?

Insulated electric water dispensers.

Because Japanese domestic appliances run on 100 volts and relatively low current, a kettle would take a long time to boil. So instead of the UK-style electric jug kettle with charger base (which in turn is w-a-y better than the typical primitive electric kettle found in the US) the Japanese use heavily insulated pots with a pump-action dispenser nozzle. You fill it up, it takes 15 minutes to come to the boil, then it stays hot indefinitely with relatively little energy input.

324:

Here's an appliance improvement I'd like. I'm a short woman with a top-loading washing machine. It would be delightful to have a floor in the washing compartment that would lift when I pressed a button.

Sounds complicated and likely to break. Wouldn't a front-loading washing machine work for you? (We've only had those for around fifty years ...)

325:

Cat, another interesting thread, thanks.

Way back at the start of the comments someone mentioned the Vorkosigan series, which I happen to be re-reading at the moment. At first glance standard military SF, with very well written characters. But look a little deeper and it becomes clear LMB does an excellent job of covering the issues you bring up. The whole backdrop is comparison between feudal/male dominated Barrayar (recently returned from galactic isolation) and the 'modern' society of which 'Beta Colony' is the exemplar. I'll admit it's somewhat light on advanced labor saving devices, but as noted in the original article these are not inherently gender specific (and i do think they pop up occasionally). Technology that is gender specific is front and center in the plot of the first book (in the advanced society - artificial wombs that making carrying a baby to term and birth optional, universal access to perfect contraception).

So, good job Lois McMasters-Bujold, taking the most 'male' of SF sub-types and giving is a good workout - I guess that's part of the reason she won so many awards - although definitely not the only reason, take this whole subtext out and you still have really good books.

G.

326:

It's unlikely that the washing machine will be replaced before it breaks, but you may well be right about front loaders.

I don't see that a lifting floor in a washing compartment is more complicated or likely to break than a lot of other devices, but maybe I'm missing something. The only problem I can see is that the compartment also needs to be able to rotate.

As for controlling cursors, I'm a trackball loyalist. I can tolerate touchpads.

327:

I'll praise Finland again: provided you are willing to wait, and live in a big city, eventually the problematic garbage rota will wind up within walking distance of you, and you can just carry your electronics, broken mercury thermometers and dead car batteries to a bunch of trucks, where nice men in coveralls will tell you were to put each thing. If you just missed it, you'll wait a year, though. Doesn't cost anything, but there is some sort of upper limit to discourage commercial operators dumping their stuff without paying.

If you don't want to do intermediate storage, or live in the sticks, you can take your stuff to the county dump yourself. There's a container for each category, and it's still free.

We would up with this not paying anything strategy because in the bad old days people dumped their environmental poisons in ditches in the countryside. That was... bad.

328:

Since it seemed like a bunch of people were confused by garbage disposals, I thought I'd give explaining them a go.

The garbage disposal is meant to make cleaning the sink easier after rinsing dishes or cooking. It's not (usually) for disposing of bulk items.

Basically, the idea is that with a basic sink, you typically rinse any food scraps / coffee grounds / etc. off of plates etc. and into the drain strainer. Then you have to dump it out into your compost bin or trash, often a few times.

With a garbage disposal, you do the same thing, except there's no strainer so it goes straight into the disposal. Then you pulse it for a 2-3 seconds with the water going and you're done. No need to get your hands wet.

They're pretty cheap compared to other appliances, and are only really meant for that sort of incidental use. Sometimes you might put something down there which would be especially bad smelling in the trash/compost, but that can backfire and lead to an especially bad smelling sink.

Note that these are generally powerful enough to destroy tougher items like a whole carrot or whatnot, but they're not really doing anything useful if used that way.

329:

Selected comments on the comments:

Are engineers predominantly Male? - Yes (in 'Western' societies). Why? Exactly the same reason why the majority of washing is done by women - no good reason at all and NOTHING to do with ability. I've heard anecdotal evidence that in China this is not the case, with the ratio being much more even. China kicks our Ass in manufacturing by using close to slave labor, they'll kick our Ass in engineering by not dumping close to half their natural talented individuals into work they are less suited to.

Are engineers predominantly single? - No, a look around the office and quick metal calculation has the vast majority of the group happily in long term relationships, with close to 100% of those over 30 being in that class.

Is it Women's fault/Men's fault that our society is so sexist? It BOTH. We constantly crush down our girls into the stereotypes, it's insidious and everywhere. I recently signed up to go into my son's primary school to do a talk about my job (engineer). The comment from my son's teacher to my partner - 'Oh the boys will like that'. Why? Why are you not teaching the Girls to like that as well?

Engineering industry dominated by phones and shiny toys? Not over here. Dyson is our media poster child although this might not be the case if the greater world understood ARM.

What's the easiest way to get a man who can cook/clean/wash/etc? You bring up a boy in a house where a man does cooking/cleaning/washing. It worked on me. Hopefully it will work on my kids too.

Both my kids are boys, i'm really relieved by this because if they were girls I'd probably have to fight large of our society for the next 15-20 years to allow them the space to find out what comes naturally to them. And it would be a fight, talk to my friend who has only daughters, and his sad and failing fight to avoid Disney. We ban sex, violence and drugs from kids TV, when are we going to ban Princesses?

G.

330:

"passivhaus"
-generally
Currently ILLEGAL in UK
Why?
Because they re-use OLD TYRES in the wall-fill, and by a (recent) law these MUST NOT be re-used, but sent to central collection points.
I don't doubt the will be a work-around soon, but in the meantime ....

wait .. what? where did you get the impression that a Passivhaus usese old tyres as insulation? I've seen the use of old tyres in pictures of these so called "earth ship" ultra-sustainable houses that look like mounds and are made of recycled material, but that's NOT what a Passivhaus is.

Passivhaus just means "needs lower than X amount of energy input per squaremeter for heating/cooling on average over the whole year", where X works out to something like "only needs actual heating during the coldest week".

This is done by
* having thick insulation
* windows don't open
* central air ventilation system where the inflowing air is heated by a heat-exchanger powered from the outflowing air

and that's mostly it.

331:

"Ohh, I wish edinburgh had been preserved in aspic since 1970, then we wouldn't have a whole load of dull modern buildings."

Most of the real horrors in Embra are pre-1970, I think. The St James Centre, New St Andrews House and the King James Hotel, to pick three of the worst, are all 1960s. The infamous Inner Ring Road - "let's push a giant elevated motorway through the middle of a bunch of Georgian terraces" - was of roughly the same era (fortunately blocked).

Charlie's wrong, incidentally, about "since 1970 it's been preserved in aspic (UN World Heritage Site status)" - it's only been a world heritage site since 1995.

332:

Yes, the St James Centre and others are pre-1970. Just like the demolition of Scottish tower houses, the worst depredations were in the 60's, before people noticed what was going on.
I was thinking more of the large dull hotel in the grassmarket, the stuff done to Princes street, the old town etc.

Greg #312 - completely fucking wrong about passivhaus' in UK. They use any sort of insulation, old car tyres don't come into it. An episode of Grand Designs showed a place being tested to be rated an official passivhaus, about 3 or 4 years ago. It had no old tyres whatsoever in it. There is loads of info on passivhaus's on the internet in English for you to educate yourself.

333:

Two quick comments.

I believe most trackpad haters have not really used a trackpad for long. Since 1995 I have only owned laptops (5 of them, all still in working condition, discounting batteries). The current trackpads are nice, and besides normal use that includes hundreds of hours gaming (fell back into Borderlands to break the Skyrim addiction). I hate stickpoints, and having an external mouse is so against the spirit of a laptop.

Our city is currently (was, as that has stopped with the economy) installing pneumatic waste collection points, with the aim to have always one within 100 meters. I have to make do with a 20 meter walk to containers (yellow, plastics/metal/tetrapak, green, glass, and blue, paper/cardboard). Six days a week we get a general waste collection by our door that will be landfilled (and that means the door of my appartment, as the condo cleaning contract includes taking the garbage containers out and picking the garbage from the door). Twice a week a "weird waste" collection truck parks by a couple of hours, so you can unload electronics, batteries, cooking oil, clothes, wood, and all those things that are not landfillable/easily recycled.

It all depends on the citizens goodwill, as you can just put everything in the landfill bags.

Apparently most of the yellow container stuff gets incinerated instead of recycled.

334:

"Are engineers predominantly Male? - Yes (in 'Western' societies)"

You mean that female engineers outnumber male engineers in... where? Africa, India, China, Japan, S America, Antarctica? Where exactly?

335:

"They're lying
You can get proper wooden windows & frames, but CLAIMING it'll cost too much is a handy get-out."

Actually after talking to more than a dozen different agents in the course of looking for our flat, it turns out to be a relatively common problem in west london.
Yes, you can get proper double-glazed heritage style wooden windows and frames, but they are overpriced for what they are, because it is a small market with generally wealthy patrons, so they can charge what the market will bear. Cheaper (and frequently better) metal framed windows are restricted by local body regulations.

It seems mad to me that the modern tight sealing european multi-hinged windows aren't more common in the UK - turn the handle one way and they open normally. Turn it the other, and they pivot out vertically a short distance for ventilation.

336:

As i said later on, i've heard anecdotally that in china male/female ratios on engineering courses are roughly even. This gels with personal experience of engineering workplaces with alot of Chinese employees (mostly in silicon valley where you find a collection of engineers from all over the world) , the male to female ratio of said group is much closer to 1:1 than amongst the US or UK engineers.

That said a couple of company searches for random chinese surnames don't come back 50-50, but it's alot closer than the 110-6 from my university course.

This articale was linked off slashdot: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/blogs/the-human-condition/2009/06/01/sharon-begley-the-math-gender-gap-explained.html
Somewhat relevant, but not to my 'western' assertion.
Of course, maths is not engineering and engineering is not maths...

337:

One thing to consider is that architecture has become a female-dominated course of study

Linky? Mind you, not so long ago I had the opportunity to visit the London Met architecture school's graduate show. It was full of impressively tall and handsome models, and some of the projects weren't bad either.

338:

Maths course at my university were far closer to 50:50 than science or engineering

339:

The reason I picked up on the "Western" thing is because something I occasionally see in left wing forums or articles that really annoys me. That is, reference to how badly women fare in our "Western patriarchal society" as if the rest of the world treat women far better than our brutal misogynist society. The fact is, women fare better in the modern West than anywhere else at any point in history.

340:

Mine too.

And Physics was alot closer as well.

341:

I should add that this was 40 years ago - maybe things have gone backwards since then in maths?

342:

But entertainment is divided by gender boundaries (which are culturally defined by the sexes). The sci-fi with all the "toys for boys" in, has them specifically because the "boys" are the target demographic. They're also throw-away novels that don't aim to explore the human condition, but merely exist as a form of escapism. They're rooted in present-day practices because they're simple fantasies. There is no nefarious, misogynist agenda at work. It's the simple fact of something written by a male author, for a male audience having a male focus.

And considering that one of the oldest and most enduring icons of science fiction is the personal robot assistent that does all the housework, I consider this entire article to be based on a strawman argument.

343:

Fair enough to pull it up on those grounds, I specifically dropped it in because of reading about the chinese thing and because of my experience in the workplace suggests that It might not be as bad elsewhere.

I'm also thinking that i'm specifically talking about electronic engineering. Introduce all of the various engineering disciplines to a generally sexist society lacking a specific set of biases (look at films, you'll find alot more genius female mechanics than genius female electronic engineers, usually the daughters of sonless fathers). I'd bet you'd get more females in electronics and software than mechanics just because it's clean and non-physical work. That doesn't mean if you look at a particular discipline that said society is 'better' for women.

The whole subject depresses me to be honest. I did electronics as a standalone subject from 14 onwards and watched as even the best girls dropped out as we got older, often taking subjects (or later jobs) they were less good at and ended up doing poorly in. Such a waste.

344:

"The fact is, women fare better in the modern West than anywhere else at any point in history."

Largely thanks to the work of those feminists who protested against the patriarchal misogyny which dominated western societies to well within living memory, and which has not entirely disappeared today.

345:

There is a high-tech device known as "footstool"...

346:

Sorry, I meant "stepstool"

347:

I am sure that other societies besides "The West" have had protesting feminists - what happened to them? And I don't mean right now, *following* the Western example.

348:


"what happened to them?"

Have you heard of a thing called "google", old man? Its this marvellous "search engine" thingy the young people are keen on. Anyway, typing "nonwestern feminists" into google, a few clicks will bring you to the case of (for example) the Iranian poetess, whom I'd never previously heard of, but who was the first "martyr of womens suffrage".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%C3%A1hirih

"One of her most notable quotes is her final utterance, "You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women."

349:

You illustrate my point well - only the West was fertile ground for such ideas.

350:

On the contrary, the case of Tahirih indicates that even in the most apparently inhospitable conditions the idea cannot be stopped.

As for the west being "fertile" ground for such ideas, that might have been surprising news to the Suffragette hunger strikers subjected to forced feeding in prison.

351:

Well, I guess the women of Iran are now having a good time, since their emancipation started earlier eh?

352:

And on a general note, overall, contemporary Western secular liberal democracy is superior to any other major culture past or present.

353:

Superior, yes, unless you count all the colonial genocides (10 million dead in Congo, for example).

354:

"... I think steampunking this concept would be hilarious. without electricity, the only way to do it is communal facilities, but that fits the whole aestetic of steampunk very, very well. Radical socialist syndicalists bringing the laundrymat to the working neighbourhoods of 1872, complete with the monstrous steam powered "Washing engine"..."

History beat you to it! Wash-houses like that really existed from the 1840s to the 1950s in Britain, and I suspect in most other industrialised countries. Often in the same location as public baths - which have been converted into swimming pools in my lifetime, but were once important for those with no hot water at home. Or no home. (So where do the homeless wash now?)

Look at this account of the Public Wash-house, King Street in Exeter:

...all the way round there were wooden cubicles where the women did their washing. In each there were three containers; one had warm water for washing; one on the left hand side had boiling water heated by a steam valve operated by a little wheel (and if the women opened it too quickly they stood a chance of getting a blast of steam over them); on the other side was a clear tub for rinsing the washing. In the centre of the wash house were two wringers, each bigger than an easy chair. The women put all their washing in as tightly as they could and put something heavy like a blanket on the top. then they would give a wave to the stoker, Mr. Bowden, and he would pull his levers and work his little bits of machinery and off would go the wringers, spin drying. This was worked by steam and the water would rush out of a vent in the bottom. If a woman had not packed her washing tightly enough or put the blanket on top in time, the washing would fly out all over the wash house and she would have to do it all again.

355:

Idea for SF story.

The future has arrived. Technology liberated women from this boring and tedious housework.

Now it's all done by robots.

Female robots...

356:

I don't think I've even seen a toploader or twin-tub machine in over twenty years. Maybe more like forty. I remember we had some at the college I was at in the late 1970s. I can't think of any since. Why do Americans still use them?

I know all top-loaders are not twin-tubs, but over here they went out together in the 1970s, both being replaced by the more-or-less ubiquitous frontloader with a mechanical timer - I just did a reality check on that by looking at some advertising websites trying to sell washing machines - of the first 70-odd pictures I saw advertised only one was a toploader, and its blurb talked about "bringing back the top-loader" and claimed that it was different from "conventional front-loaders".

357:

Compared with Norway, no. Compared with Saudi Arabia or other such women-hating states, yes, by a long way. Would the conditions women live under in Iran be better than they are now if there were no Iranian feminists? I doubt it.

358:

"Superior, yes, unless you count all the colonial genocides (10 million dead in Congo, for example)."

Oh dear - modern Western secular liberal democracy is as shit as everyone else's culture, from Pol Pot to Sharia Islam. I have truly seen the error of my elitist colonial oppressive misogynist thinking...

359:

Toploaders are very common in Australasia, its probably based on the fact they have the space for them, same as North America. I had never even concieved of putting a washing machine in a kitchen until I came to London - thats what the garage or laundry was for!

They also have the great benefit that it is trivial to add extra clothes in after you start the wash, like that odd sock you dropped in the hall.

360:

And, sorry for the multiple posts, but why the disparagement of midwives? I know the original post looks like a bit of grumpy but no-one seems to have picked up on this notion that midwives kill children. Says who?

It sounds like another bit of old-style women-hating to me. Mostly-male doctors are to be trusted to manage birth, mostly-female midwives are to be treated as murderers at worst, incompetent at best. Haven't we got over that old lie by now?

(And its also pretty insulting to the 20,000 or so professional midwives in the UK, and I don't know how many in other parts of the world.)

361:

Well, I did think about commenting early on that the trend in childbirth seems to be moving away from hitech. However, I may be wrong and it might merely be an impression gained from reading the Guardian.

362:

Funny you should mention Pol Pot. Not only could he and his little friends not have come to power without the Pentagons terror bombing of Cambodia, but he and his cohorts were allowed to carry on occupying the Cambodian UN seat all through the 1980s, at Washingtons behest.

Then theres Mrs. T, and her deployment of SAS trainers to assist the KR in the 1980s (I am not making this up - officially they were training a group allied to the KR, but no one believes that there werent plenty of KR cadres in those ranks), and who said "there are reasonable members of the Khmer Rouge with whom we can do business" (Im not making this up either. Also, please forgive the absence of apostrophes, Im having keyboard trouble).

363:

...cheaply and poorly made trackpads.

Yes, trackpads have improved over the years, and the latest Apple ones might be very nice indeed (FWIW, I haven't had much occasion to use Apple's recent super-sized multitouch ones).

But, trackpads were certainly not anywhere near that nice 15 years ago or so, when most of the industry nevertheless picked that tech over pointing sticks (which haven't changed much). Even today, the vast majority of the trackpads actually deployed out there probably fall under the "cheaply and poorly made" label. Even if some of the latest top of the line trackpads are now superior to trackpoints, it's a fairly recent development, and does very little to explain either the ubiquity of inferior trackpads, or nominal consumer preferences for them.

(And I remain unconvinced that even the best trackpads really are better. Some thorough user studies might convince me, but it seems like there's just an inherent compromise involved in handling wide and fine motions on the same small pad. Better acceleration algorithms -- and even larger pads -- can only do so much. Trackpoints on the other hand- except for some occasional finger cramping, they're practically a mind-reading interface.)

364:

Nice to know it wasn't Pol Pot who slaughtered millions, but us and the Americans. I vote we introduce Sharia Law now!

365:

I keep a trackball in my laptop bag. It's vastly superior to the pad and almost as good as a mouse. I don't understand why they are not built into laptops

366:

"Mummy, mummy, look - that man is made of straw".

"I know darling, just ignore him."

367:

So I take it that your position is that Western secular liberal democracy is *not* superior to all other major cultures? Or alternatively, they are all the same.

So, what exactly is your position?

368:

My position is that human cultures are not monolithically uniform, that they are often bitterly divided internally, and that therefore no human culture can be confidently assigned to this or that level in a hierarchy of value.

During the North American French-Indian wars of the 18th century, the French took up the Indian practice of collecting enemy scalps. The Indians, however, did not adopt the French practice (widespread among European armies of the time) of raping women captured from the enemy

Who is the superior culture in that scenario?

369:

So you're another cultural relativist.
In which case the only objective measure of the superiority of a culture is whether it wins against the alternatives on offer. So, to answer your question - the French culture is superior because the natives lost.

However, as to your assertion about rape and Native Americans I assume you got it from here:
http://www.historiann.com/2008/04/07/rape-still-a-powerful-weapon-of-war/

In which case you missed this quote:
"... scholars have noted the use of rape as tool of war by other Native Americans." Like you said, not black and white.

Anyway, we are talking about *now*, not what our ancestors did even a century back. At least you're not bring up the Crusades to aid you argument.

370:

One other minor point.
The during the period of the North American French-Indian wars, France was anything but a secular liberal democracy. Admittedly, it was still Western, but you don't get a 25% discount for that bit.

371:

Well spotted! I am indeed a cultural relativist. I'm not a moral relativist, though, nor am I the sort of nihilist who believes, as you do, that might is right ("The French culture is superior because the natives lost" - you silly, silly man).

Let's discuss something more recent shall we?

"As you are probably aware, Britain has previously flirted with Highly Coercive Interrogation (HCI) in the context of counterterrorism operations in Northern Ireland, although in this instance the British euphemism of choice was "interrogation in depth." In 1971, HCI was introduced by security forces in the Province [of Northern Ireland] in tandem with internment [non-judicial detention]. RUC [Royal Ulster Constabulary] interrogators working "under the supervision" of the British Army applied five well-established techniques which had previously been practiced in the course of colonial emergencies: (1) hooding, (2) wall-standing, (3) subjection to noise, (4) relative deprivation of food and water and (5) sleep deprivation.

The terms used are fairly self-explanatory. Hooding meant that a prisoner's head was covered with an "opaque cloth bag with no ventilation" (Amnesty International) except during interrogation or when in isolation. The prisoner would often also be stripped naked to enhance his feeling of vulnerability. Wall-standing consisted of forcing prisoners to stand balanced against a cell wall in the "search position" for hours at a time inducing painful muscle cramps. One prisoner was forced to remain in this position for 43.5 hours and there were at least six other recorded instances of prisoners being kept like this for more than 20 hours. Subjection to noise meant placing the prisoner in close proximity to the monotonous whine of machinery, such as a generator or compressor, for as long as six or seven days. At least one prisoner subjected to this treatment told Amnesty International that having been driven to the brink of insanity by the noise, he had tried to commit suicide by banging his head against metal piping in his cell. Food and water deprivation meant a strict regimen of bread and water. Sleep deprivation was practiced prior to interrogation and often in tandem with wall-standing. Detainees were usually subjected to this conditioning over the course of about a week."

Not something from Iran, or Syria, but from a secular (for all serious purposes secular, even if the head of state is head of the state church) liberal Western Europe democracy.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/torture/justify/3.html

372:

Actually, we called it "tactical questioning".
Anyway, why do you suppose we did that rather than get out the pliers and blowtorches like other "equal" cultures?

Anyway, my belief is that indulging in cultural relativism undermines secular liberal democracy and paves the way for its replacement. As far as I can see, there are no better replacements standing in line eg Sharia Islam, Confucian Chinese fascism etc

373:

Because you saved the blowtorches and pliers for the more far-flung corners of the empire - Kenya for example.

Sit down man, you're a bloody tragedy.

374:

You, OTOH, are paving the road to hell with your good intentions.

376:

Sad, but true.
And somebody has to do it...

377:

The future has arrived. Technology liberated women from this boring and tedious housework. Now it's all done by robots. Female robots...

"The Jetsons" beat you to it

378:

And furthermore -

http://i.my.afterdawn.com//standard/16598.jpg

This is central to my point.

379:

Yes, I know how you feel - I'm a Guardian reader

380:

They lured you in with those Charlie Brooker columns, right?

381:

"They lured you in with those Charlie Brooker columns, right?"

See for yourself
http://www.guardian.co.uk/discussion/user/dirkbruere

382:

Funny, I'm a Grauniad man myself (though these days I prefer the FT for actual news), but I could never get interested in the whole CiF phenomenon.

383:

It's the way editors discover what people care about. It can also open doors if you post under your real name.

384:

I think my mother's current twin-tub (the third in forty-odd years) only dates back to the 1990s. It has a "by appointment to HM the Queen Mother" label, but that probably relates to the brand in general rather than that specific model. Unfortunately the spinning part stopped working some years back and she hasn't been able to find a replacement, so she's been using a stand-alone spin-dryer in tandem with the still-functional washing side.

385:

If we're busy figuring out who to blame for Pol Pot, please remember that Marx is a dead white male.

As for torture, _Torture and Democracy_ is a history of "no marks" torture, and claims that it's generally the result of the sort of surveillance of government which happens in relatively democratic societies.

Note-- I've only read about half the book. I got bogged down in the section about the invention and spread of torture with electricity. People with a more geeky temperament might find that interesting though.

One of the other points of the book is that there's no such thing as formal expertise in torture. Instead, it's a craft apprenticeship system which starts with the people in charge saying "get answers, and I don't care how you do it".

386:

"One of the other points of the book is that there's no such thing as formal expertise in torture."

Not true.
http://mediafilter.org/guest/Pages/September.21.1996.23.26.32

There are (or were) British army manuals on "tactical questioning" and the use of sensory deprivation, intimidation and beatings.

387:

Just on the Graun site trying to show Naomi Wolf that nuclear power is safer than coal. I'm not going to win, and am rather appalled she can't understand even the basics of the scientific arguments or statistics.

388:

> ...the hardware could correct if it was at the extreme end of the calorie range.

I'm just a Linux wrangler with a BSEE, but I go to Industrial Automation Society meetings for the war stories.

A local (NW USA) lumber company used to operate a waste-to-watts plant in an area mill town. They burned a mix of logging/sawmill wood waste, and municipal waste. That is, until a box of old dynamite wound up in the municipal waste stream.

Now they just burn wood waste.

389:

Just entered a comment that I expect to be struck from the record, so for posterity...

"Having Naomi Wolf run a Q&A session on nuclear power is like me running a Q&A session on feminism because I have a girlfriend."

390:
Design studies of better living have, in fact, been done. Well, for cooking, at least - Back in the 1960s, the swedes put a bunch of eggheads into chairs in the corner of the kitchens of matrons that had been ordered to pretend they didnt exist, so that they could do the whole "time and motion" study thing on cooking. This was then used to design a better kitchen.
There's a pretty good wikipedia article on the subject of how a Svenskt standardkök came to be, for all Charlie's readers who have a working knowledge of Swedish. There's also an (a bit shorter) German version about the Schwedenküche. (For the rest of you, there are at least some pictures.)

So nothing in English, but to summarize: The first time and motion studies were done in the late 1940s, this lead to a national standard in 1950, governing on one hand relatively obvious things like the measurements of fridges, sinks, and cupboards; but on the other hand also and also their placement relative to each other, and the general layout of a kitchen.

In 1962 the standard was revised and simplified, and in 1965 the standards were adopted for the Million Programme, which gave us a million kitchens built to those standards. (And later a huge, standardized market for IKEA.)

An interesting detail is that the measurements were all intended for optimal ergonomics – but for a housewife in the 1950s – so it's not surprising that "everything is too low" for a guy in the 2010s.

391:

"There's no point debating anything online. You might as well hurl shoes in the air to knock clouds from the sky." - Charlie Brooker

I've had similar run-ins with Mark Steel fans in one thread (who believe Iran can't enrich to 20% despite the president posing in front of a lump of the stuff), and people who hate Peter Doherty (despite having never heard a song) in another, on the Independant website.

It's not totally pointless just as long as the minority you're in is greater than one. I spent five years debating with a chap who started as a party-line Bush Jnr fan, and who gradually conceded points until the CP would have kicked him out for being too left-wing.

392:

Except that if nanotech becomes available, it's quite likely that we'll be looking at some junior version of your a-gates and thus plenty people will have gender changes once in a while. Those males who become females will likely not want to do demeaning chores if they previously didn't have to and thus there will be pressure to optimize the chores.

393:

Given that you're whining about strawman arguments below the entry I'm replying to, I can't help but point out that Belgian Congo was the sole possession of King Leopold, and thus hardly a good example of colonialism.

Though, in my experience, those who wish to extol on the Evils of colonialism tend to be very select with their data...

394:

And hence was neither secular nor liberal

395:

What does a no true scotsman wear under his kilt?

396:

Do they have robotic feminism?

397:

micheal @ 330 & guthrie @ 332
My bad - you are correct
I'd got "Passivhaus" mixed up with "Earthship" - oops.

mayhem @ 335
If you want DOUBLE glazed wooden windows - yes hideously expensive.
SIngle-galzed are cheap though.
Fit thick curtains!

dirk @ 347
Hirsaan Ali?
Woman in Bangla Desh who's had to flee?
Women in Persia?
NOT good ...

DJPoK @ 350
Which was much protested, including by many men at the time.
The authorities over-reaction screwd them (again)

Ken Brown @ 356
We have a twin-tub
Difficult to get
Advantage - more contollable.

Dik & DJPoK
Erm anyone want to mantion Genghis Khan and raise you?
Or Timur the Lame?
or Mao / Pol Pot?

AND
CiF
I WAS BANNED from CiF for "racism" - I was rude about islam, calling it cruel and misogynistic and medieval ...
(OK I should have said "Dark Ages")
THAT is the level of discussion there.
Facts are supposed to be sacred.
They don't even want to see facts, prejudices are much better!
( I may be allowed back in now, but I'm not sure I want to go )
- yeah, dirk @ 389
THAT is about the infantile level they operate at.

CDW @ 393
Yes
Like the Brits only invaded upper Gold Coast when the local Asante king started bathing in hs victims' blood, and thousands of refyugees arrived.
Ditto Upper Burma, after local king deliberately stampeded an elephant herd over a lot of people (including relatives) he didn't like ....

398:

Debating online is done for many reasons.
However, debating in the forums of major newspapers is somewhat different because an entirely different class of people read it. OTOH, it's pointless unless done under one's own name.

399:

Remember, my claim was about "Western secular liberal democracy", not 1 out of 4

400:

Y-fronts or boxers. In the good old days your shirt came down close to your knees so even braes weren't entirely necessary, although I suspect they would have worn them. More original and authentic wool is itchier than modern kilt wool.

401:

Re Rosling:
Thank You! I was going to post that, and am glad to see
you've already done so.

402:

As a single male living with my mother because of economic blah-blah nobody-cares, I do my own damn laundry. I even occasionally do my mom's.

However, this is good food for thought, as I have ambitions to become a published science fiction author. I can think off the top of my head of only a few instances in science fiction where such domestic considerations are indeed taken into account in the zip-a-dee-doo-dah shiny jetpack future, and usually it's because a robot just does the work for you. Since most of my own sci-fi would take place centuries in the future, contrivances that allow people, male and female and other, plenty of free time would definitely be things I should consider. Even if they only occur in the background--historical and modern fiction rarely takes the time to detail the cleaning-up, so neither would most speculative fiction of the future.

403:

terrific article, Cat. Absolutely spot on. We showed our kids FRONTIER HOUSE and 1890s HOUSE and such to demonstrate how much damned time it all took. The gender-uneven distribution of technology is a brilliantly exposed topic. Thanks.

david brin

404:

This is brilliant! Thank you for writing the article.

405:

One of the reasons I have always loved Marge Piercy's fiction ("Woman on the Edge of Time", "He, She and It", etc.) is that she writes extensively on improved home technology and the social effects thereof.

406:

I thought it especially interesting that there is an advertisement in the article about how nanoparticles can give you brain and kidney damage, working at cross-purposes with the article. WTF?

407:

To be fair, while there isn't much in scifi about laundry or cleaning house, there also isn't much about home repair or yardwork.

Batteries not included had robots that did building repair, but they cooked too.

408:

I was a SAHM for a good part of my daughter's childhood. I did it so she could be successful in school and not end up a loser. The result? She has ZERO respect for women who do what I did. I can just imagine the shitstorm I'd get if I were to spend on cleaning gadgets what we, as a household, spend on Apple products alone. We did spend almost $1,700 on an awesome shiny blue washer/dryer combo, however.

Now that she's in college, I have a home-based business that consumes the vast majority of my day. I cook and clean when and if I have time. My husband, who works outside the home, does the majority of the laundry, and at least half of the other household chores. With mirroring like this, I have no clue why she gives SAHMs no respect. All I know is, if I hear the phrase 'soccer mom' one more time, somebody is going to get punched in the mouth.

That no love from technology thing? Welcome to my world.

409:

Following your thesis, perhaps this is the reason that SF has so often demonized robots as murderous would-be overlords, rather than embracing them as Jetson-style chorebots.

Specials

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