Last month I was at my friend’s place in France, doing some laundry. Her washing machine lit up like a cheap stereo, which struck me as awesomely French.
There was a dial on her washing machine with big numbers like 3000, 6000 and 1200. I believe these were measures of ‘tr/min’ (as per this photo of a washing machine brand called ‘Malice’). Is that ‘tour’, the French word for ‘turn’? It doesn’t really matter–I assumed it referred to revolutions per minute.
I was baffled as to what to set the machine for, and craved some less specific settings like “linen”, “wool” or “super-wash”. I’ve been doing laundry for over 20 years, and have no idea what speed the average washer barrel revolves at.
Is Five Right for Chicken?
Fast-forward to our villa here in Gozo. We’ve got a great gas range. Here are the controls for the oven:
That’s a timer on the left, and the temperature setting on the right. As you can see, you set the oven to a temperature between 1 and 8.
Here I have the reverse problem. I want less abstraction–I just want to set the damn thing to 375° to bake some chicken.
Set It to Totally Awesome, Please
The lesson is that my (and possible other’s) preferences change from device to device. I want more abstraction in my washing machine than my stove.
This is also true of software. iTunes has this hilarious setting called ‘Sound Enhancer’. It’s on a slider, and the online help says I can use this setting to “add depth and enliven the quality of your music”.
Why would anybody set this to ‘Low’? Why even bother with something called a ‘sound enhancer’? Why not just set it to ‘Totally Awesome’ under the hood and get rid of the user setting altogether?
On the other hand, I want really granular control when converting WAV to MP3–probably more control than iTunes offers out of the box.
The right approach, I think, is to organize the settings in noob-journeyman-expert groups, enabling users to remove layers of abstraction if they want. That’s easy enough in software, but far trickier in the kitchen and laundry room.