Dirty Laundry

Posted By on March 21, 2008

“Always Check The Clink”

.: Two days ago, when loading my dirty laundry into my washing machine, I heard a clink. It was the short, definite sound of something hard hitting metal. A coin? Perhaps. A pen cap? It’s possible. Something valuable that would be ruined by water? Unlikely, but worth inspecting.

.: I reached in and pulled out a pair of swim trunks. The leg openings were adjustable, and each hem had elastic bands with a plastic slip lock on the exposed portions. The plastic was certainly hard enough to generate the sound, but reasoning alone wasn’t going to convince me that it was the source. I had to test my hypothesis. I dropped the trunks back into metal basket and heard the familiar clink again. Satisfied, I finished placing the rest of the load in the washer, turned it on, and left.

.: I returned an hour later, unloaded the soaked clothes, and noticed my freshly washed iPod shuffle stuffed snugly inside my blue pirate boxers. The shuffle looked remarkably unscathed considering the trauma it had endured.

.: I plugged my headphones into the jack after convincing myself that Apple engineers surely knew how to design a wash-proof product. I slid the power button to the on position, but the power light gave no indication it knew I had done so. Not a problem, I further convinced myself, the Apple engineers simply didn’t know how to create a water-proof power light. The rest would be fine. I pushed the oversized play button, but nothing played. (Here I must fault the Apple engineers: even before the unscheduled wash, I had to press the play button multiple times before it would do so.) Untroubled still, I pressed it again. Nothing. The Apple engineers had failed me. I was out $80, and worse yet I had nothing to make exercising less boring.

.: I walked up the stairs, glumping with every step and wondering what I could do with my 0.55 ounce paperweight. I spotted the USB dock half-buried under various papers and banana peels on my desk and asked myself, “What harm could come from using it one last time?” Several speculations followed. The connection could, like removing a comatose patient from life-support, shock the system and bring it back to life. Or there could still be water inside, and the connection could literally shock the system, destroying both my shuffle and my laptop. Anything is possible when you don’t know how things work.

.: I rested the shuffle onto its dock and waited. Maybe the battery was dead? If that were the case, all the computer needed to do was recharge it. But the light still refused to blink. No reassuring messages appeared on my computer screen. My days of running to the Bloodhound Gang, Röyksopp, and Gorgio Moroder were over. Even worse, the gym I go to plays its own music — music other people like. Looking back, it’s amazing I managed to fall asleep with all these troubling thoughts overtaking my mind.

.: But I did, and when I woke up I noticed a miracle: the green light on my shuffle was flashing. “I’m alive!” it said, “I’m alive! I’m alive!” I played a song through iTunes just to be sure. It worked. Every song was still there. Those Apple engineers came through!

.: However, before I could sit down at my letter-writing desk and compose a congratulatory missive to Steve Jobs, doubts emerged. So far I had only tested the shuffle while it was connected to my computer; further testing was required. I unhooked the shuffle from the dock, plugged my headphones in, and pressed play.

.: Mr. Jobs’s congratulatory missive will have to come from somebody else.

.: So what lessons can be drawn from this experience? “Don’t wash electronics” seems sensible enough. So does “engineers won’t necessarily account for your stupidity.” However, both of these lessons reflect badly on me. Instead, I want to offer something more general and applicable: don’t discount alternative hypotheses too quickly. If you hear something out of the ordinary or witness some uncertainty that has the potential to end in ruin, think it through carefully.

.: An ounce of prevention is worth eighty fucking dollars.

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