« Gary Flake is Awesome | Main | The WPA Remodel, Week 4 »

June 03, 2007

Attack of the [Beep]ing Technology

Now that our kids are a bit older and tend to sleep late (after 7 am or so) or at least amuse themselves when they wake up, a long weekend can be an opportunity to sleep in a little bit. Sadly, my Memorial Day weekend dreams of snoozing were unceremoniously cut short because every day at precisely 5:40 am I was woken up by an alarm clock going off. Worse, it was an alarm clock that beeped for 20 seconds, then turned itself off.

(OK, time for an aside here...who designs an alarm clock that turns itself off after 20 seconds? I mean, what is the point of that? First of all, some people will sleep through it, or not fully wake up before it turns off. And in this scenario, where it is going off and you don't know where it is, it's terrible. I can imagine someone thinking, "Well, somebody might leave it on by accident, so we should make the alarm short"...but if you follow that scenario one more step, turning off after 20 seconds is a lousy choice. I'm not saying it's bad to have an alarm turn itself off--I think that my beside alarm turns itself off after 10 minutes or an hour or something--but make it at least 5 minutes.)

A couple of times I staggered out of bed to try to find the thing, but I couldn't. And of course once I did that I couldn't get back to sleep. The problem is that each of the kids have alarm clocks next to their beds, plus at one point we bought them all Lego alarm clocks, which were probably buried somewhere in a pile of Lego in the playroom, and have an "alarm on" switch that is very easy to nudge on by accident. So I spent a good part of the weekend tearing the house upside down looking for alarm clocks, then setting them to go off and comparing the sound and duration of the alarm to the foggy memory that haunted my nightmares. I found all four Lego alarms, plus a couple of others, but none of them had been set (in fact the batteries were dead on the ones that weren't in active use).

This is part of a larger problem, which is the number of mysterious beeping pieces of technology we have around us. I suppose when designing a single object it might make some sense to have it beep at certain times (like when the battery is running down). If you have a cell phone in your pocket and it starts to beep, you will look at it and it will have some visual indication of why it is beeping. But if the cell phone is your son's phone and he has left it turned on and then it slid behind some piece of furniture, hearing a short beep every 5 minutes is only going to produce the perfect combination of annoyance and powerlessness to drive you insane. The things we have that beep in our house include all of our cell phones when they run out of power, the alarm system if the power gets disconnected, the microwave if you don't open it after cooking something, the fire alarms if the battery is dying, and possibly the dryer when the cycle ends. We also have a new fridge and who knows if it has a beep buried deep in its circuitry, waiting to spring forth to charm our ears at some unknown future date and time. We have literally spent an hour stalking an unknown beep, trying first to get a handle on its frequency (thankfully, most of these technological inanities at least repeat themselves on a regular pattern), then moving through the house eliminating rooms until we have the thing narrowed down to a space small enough to permit a floor-to-ceiling search for all things silicon.

Luckily I had described my 5:40 am plight to my wife, and on Tuesday morning she jumped up when it went off and discovered that the alarm was actually on my jogging watch, which was in our bathroom. Ahhh, love is indeed a wonderful thing (presumably exhausted from my sleep-deprived weekend, I slept through all of this). The watch is normally in a drawer, but she had pulled it out the previous week to time herself washing our daughter's hair (for reasons I won't get into) and had left it on the counter, so it was then loud enough to wake me up in its brief chirping. My problem was solved and I can now get the sleep I deserve.

The really depressing thing about my jogging watch is that I think it has actually been beeping like that for months, if not years. I have a vague memory, from about a year ago, of concocting a theory that the newspaper delivery guy was tossing the paper against our front door and waking me up, and the time I recall was also 5:40 am. And since it's an LCD watch, the battery lasts forever, more or less. So the cursed thing may have been doing it for years, waking me up whenever the right threshhold of its location and my wakefulness was crossed. It reminds me of one of those awful stories like "The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant, where someone's life is ruined for years by something that didn't have to happen (when I first read that story I spent months wracked with sympathy for its imaginary sufferers). Have I really been losing one or two hours of sleep every night for years because of my jogging watch? Is it possible that the cumulative damage to my health exceeds whatever benefits I've accrued from running for all those years? Well, probably not, but I'd rather not think about it too much.

Posted by AdamBa at June 3, 2007 10:18 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


I can add a little to the collective "where's that *#&!ing beep coming from?" madness:
- our fridge, which beeps when the door has been left open too long (curse of the ADD)
- washing machine, which beeps whenever it's got (a) an unbalanced load, or (b) water that's not the right temperature

Posted by: Mike Smith-Lonergan at June 23, 2007 08:23 AM