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Stupid Design: Sensor-Based Paper Towel Dispenser

I’m sure it’s not just me. How many of you have been frustrated by one of these sensor-based paper towel dispensers? Whether you are in between meetings or classes, bathroom is a place you want to get in and out as quickly as you can and here, this stupid machine stands in your way. Why do we have to wave our hands tirelessly to get the paper? Also, some of these machines do not dispense enough in one shot and you have to do this thing all over again.

I think the good old mechanical lever would serve me just right. I can pull the lever without any delay and I can quickly get the right amount of paper towel, wipe my hands, toss, and get out.

If you really want to think about touch-free dispensing mechanism, what about something that automatically and quickly pulls out the paper towel when it gets cut out? So, this would mean that whenever somebody takes the paper towel, the machine will pre-dispense for the next user. The designer has to also consider the performance over time. For some reason, these sensor-based paper towel dispensers get slower over time; the speed at which the paper rolls out degrades over time.

A more annoying use of motion-based sensor is on the toilet seat. Yes – the one that flushes on you three, four times while you are in the middle of it. Wouldn’t it be nice if these devices had a ‘like’, ‘dislike’ mechanisms and the designers of the devices will get flooded by the user feedback? I don’t know where the designers of these things are, but they certainly don’t deserve the salary they received for their work.

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How not to become another Wagner of GM

The recent post on GM’s turnaround puzzled me for a while.

G.M., Days Away From Stock Offering, Posts $2 Billion Profit:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/11/business/11auto.html

A colleague of mine pointed me to this article that exposed me to some other view points:

Steven Rattner and the rescue of General Motors:
http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2010/11/01/101101crbo_books_gladwell

For now, my high-level summary is that GM had a good core at the center of its business which the top management should be acknowledged for. However, the top management didn’t do all it could with regards to financially managing the business. The management should have managed their finance with a sharper focus on removing liabilities and with stronger attention to economy and market, which could have saved the top management team from being in a position to be short on cash and ultimately to be taken over by the government.

I think part of it might also be related to deep organizational structure that could have filtered all the bad news and the top management might have been receiving reports that are more removed from day-to-day operation and market reality.

Numbers can’t lie. Numbers tell a lot of story. Top management should have pushed for breaking down the numbers many, many times till the numbers started to hit the ground level. The level at which it starts to tell the story of customers.

It will be also a good idea to remove yourself from corporate environment and get out there – mingle with people outside of the business and hear what people say about your business.

My homework is not done. I will look into consumer reports of recent GM cars. GM’s story is far from being over. We’ll have to keep an eye on it for the next five years to see if the turnaround was a true turnaround.

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It’s about time: Re-designing Toilet

There are things in life we take for granted and not think about much. Maybe toilet is one of them. Not for me. I am very angry about how terrible the toilets are today. I mean, how old is this design of toilet? Why is it that we have been stuck with such laughable design? Maybe it’s because smart, innovative people don’t consider re-working toilet design as cool or innovative. Maybe the reason is similar to the problem we have with how terrible UPS experience is. (Slow, convoluted, and inefficient operation that goes on in UPS branches.)

Let’s take a step back and try to capture the strengths of the current design of toilets:

* Stays relatively clean
* Durable

What are the weaknesses of current design of toilets?

* Gets dirty easily
* Splashes (I hate that!)
* Serves women well for both occasions, but not so much for men’s more frequent uses
* Clogs (occasionally)

This thought process helps us define the functional requirements for the new design of toilets:

* Stays clean
* Durable
* No splashes
* Serves women and men for both occasions
* Doesn’t clog (or if it does, these’s an easy way to unclog)

Are you happy with toilets of today? Do you have ideas on how to improve it? I think there is a better design. When we see it, we will go, ‘Ha! why didn’t we think about that?’