06 Sept. 2006
SETI League
PriUPS Project


There is no doubt in my alleged mind that most valuable advances in the history of humankind are the result of laziness.  Pick any implement, machine, activity, and you will find it has been improved immeasurably by people who are too lazy to do things the old way.  Think how much easier it was to invent the harness and get animals to pull plows rather than to convince one's spouse to do it, day after day after day.  What was alchemy but a long and ultimately futile attempt to avoid the backbreaking labor of digging for gold, for which someone eventually invented machines?  And television!  Can you imagine if every picture that wanted to fly through the air needed to buy a ticket?

One of the quintessential "lazy" inventions is the microwave oven.  First we had fires started by lightning, then we learned to make fire ourselves.  That wasn't good enough, so we invented the stove, pots and pans, and the toque.  But cooking required time and effort, and ingenious manufacturers came up with frozen "TV" dinners, Pepperidge Farm Cherry Turnovers, warmable handmeals, and other "convenience foods" that one could put in the microwave oven and retrieve some seconds or minutes later, ready for consumption.

The microwave oven is a marvelous invention, no doubt!  I have yet to decide if it reduces obesity in an USDUC fashion by allowing people the flexibility of lefts-over, or increases it by rendering food items edible at whim.  Either way, it certainly gives one leave to be otiose in the kitchen.  (This is being written by a prime example of such a one.)  And yet, as wonderful as the microwave oven is, I have invented an improvement.  Yes, Mr. "I Just Learned to Make Tea" has an idea that will save easily 30 seconds per year per person.  Spread over the billion-plus users in the developed world, this amounts to many lifetimes!* 

What Did They Forget?

The UI (there's that term again) of the microwave oven is designed in giant, anonymous factories by trolls.  They normally don't allow photographers in the UI design area, so I can't conclusively demonstrate this, but anyone who has used a microwave oven can't possibly doubt me.  In addition to the beepage algorithm that never does a proper job of alerting one to the completion of his cooking program, they seem to have deliberately missed the opportunity to regulate the mode-stirrer.  That is the technical function of the rotating platter on which one's food is placed.  Because microwaves tend to heat unevenly, the platter rotates to make the heating more distributed.  So what's the problem?

Let's say the platter rotates at a rate of three rpm, i.e., once every twenty seconds.  You put your food item in the oven, press the "cook for one minute" button, come back in a minute, wait for the stupid beeping to finish, and remove the food.  So far so good.  But let's say you instead decide it needs another thirty seconds of energy absorption.  After that period, you come back and can't find your food.  Why?  It's in the back of the oven!  The troll who designed the mode stirrer forgot to program the oven's computer (of course it has a computer) to adjust the speed of the rotating platter to compensate for the cooking time.

Do I have to think of everything?  Apparently so.

Dear Mr. (or Ms. sometimes it's hard to tell) Troll:

If we weren't lazy, we wouldn't need microwave ovens, and you'd be back under your cold bridge.  So PAY ATTENTION!  When the food is finished cooking, put it in the front of the oven!  I'm not asking for the oven to hand it to me - that would require more parts.  Just make sure that for every cooking cycle the platter rotates an integral number of times.  Or, if that would make it rotate too fast and you don't want to put a compact gravitational mass in the center to compensate, don't have it rotate at all for very short cooking times.  This will cost you almost nothingI'm thinking a nickel per oven for me as a royalty.  

One final thought:  This improvement is easy to program at the factory, and is vital for operator safety.  Do you know how many back injuries occur every year just from people bending over because they can't reach food that has migrated to the rear of the oven?  Of course you don't.  But the class-action lawyers surely do, and they're scouring the hospitals for candidate plaintiffs right now.  Better get that money-bin filled up quickly with my nickels!

Don't believe me?  A 70-year microwave-using lifetime is about 2.2 billion seconds. For every two seconds per year per person, one life is saved by my improvement.  That's 15 lives per year!  If only I could raffle them off.

Richard Factor