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Tactical voting websites and my microwave oven

“Tactical voting sites have spread confusion and animosity. In fact, we don’t need them”, writes Dan Davies in the Guardian. “We” here means Remainers who seek to know whether voting Labour or Liberal Democrat is the best way to stop Boris Johnson’s Conservatives winning the election and enacting Brexit.

But never mind all that. If you want to dally with those old flirts, the opinion polls, I have a post up at the Great Realignment. Back in the world of Things, Mr Davies indirectly described why modern microwave ovens are so much more annoying than the ones from twenty or thirty years ago.

Consider my microwave. It is a Samsung MS28J5215, you will be thrilled to learn.

It has a Healthy Cooking Button (never use), a My Plate Button (not my cup of tea), a Power Defrost Button (like in Power Rangers), a Soften/Melt Button (my feelings towards it haven’t), a Plate Warming Button (I can never find the plastic thingy that you put the plates on), a Deodorisation Button (I do sometimes clean the microwave, actually), a Child Lock Button (useless, the microwave is too small to hold a child), a Turntable On/Off Button (it does? Gosh, I wish I’d known), a Stop/Eco button (I do sometimes stop the machine but I do not Eco it), a Start/+30s button (great, love this button, nukes stuff for 30 seconds) and finally
a Microwave Button. The inclusion of the latter is odd in the same way as the inclusion of Death among the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is odd. As either Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett said somewhere, when you’ve got Death on the roster, the exact career roles of Famine, Pestilence and War are worryingly hard to define.

About a quarter of a century ago we sought to buy a microwave for my father. He was a widower and had lost touch with modern technology. If he was going to use it at all it had to be very, very simple. Stephen Hawking used to say that his publishers warned him that every extra equation he put in A Brief History of Time would halve the sales of the book. It was like that with every extra button or program on a microwave and my dad’s likelihood of ever using the thing. Eventually, the proprietor of a little independent electrical goods store in Swansea found a dusty little box in the back room that, wonder of wonders, contained a microwave he had probably given up on ever selling. It had two dials, How Hot and How Long. It was a good microwave. My father did use it.

As Dan Davies writes,

The underlying problem seems to be that in the online political era, clever and enthusiastic people seem to choose projects based on what might go viral rather than what really needs to be done. Because nobody really needs one of these websites, let alone three or four competing ones. Anyone who can understand the concept of tactical voting and why they might want to do it is equal to the very easy task of doing their own research (the tactical.vote website even tells you how, in 200 words). People who don’t want to vote tactically usually have their own, often strongly felt, reasons for not switching to Labour or the Lib Dems.

The idea that there is someone out there who would vote tactically if they could just get a convenient packaged recommendation is basically a myth; such people are really rare. In online conversations with people who volunteer for these projects, the only case I’ve really heard for them is that they might be helpful if your grandparents ask you how to vote, which is clearly a hopeful daydream.

It’s the dumb thing that smart people always do – assuming that the only reason other people haven’t done what you want is that you haven’t explained it to them yet. Unfortunately, politics doesn’t really work like that.

24 comments to Tactical voting websites and my microwave oven

  • Roué le Jour

    As either Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett said somewhere, when you’ve got Death on the roster, the exact career roles of Famine, Pestilence and War are worryingly hard to define.

    Love Sir Terry to bits, but it isn’t your death, it’s the death of your loved ones, which adds to the torments of war, plague and famine.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Hmph. For Christmas, 1980, my Honey gave me a microwave. Wow! WAY cool! I grabbed him by the neck and we went off to Sears. I chose a Sharp Carousel — the only one on the market with a turntable at that time, and the sucker is BIG — I forget the inner dimensions, but it’s the biggest one I’ve ever seen. It does have several buttons, but they’re easy to figure out, and some I use and some I don’t. Oh, and it has a temperature probe; you can tell it to cook until the internal temp of the food is X˚F. Luvit.

    After a couple or three years the klystron blew out. I lugged the thing off to Sears’ repair center. Sure, they could put in a new klystron, but it would cost ~ $130, IIRC, and there were now hot newer fancier ones on the market, so rather than waste money to fix this antique, it would be more economical to buy one of the new ones.

    The nearest thing to what I had was the new, sleeker, (smaller),* Sharp Carousel II, at only $179 (I’m pretty sure). Thanks but no thanks. Loved the one I had; BIG, worked like a charm. Why pay an extra $50 for something that won’t meet my specs as well as the one I have?

    People are nuts.

    In due course I brought home my micro, heart transplant completed and patient healed. Has served me well for 35 years or more.

    Worked like a charm and without a hitch until about two or three years ago. I haven’t bought another, though I’d love to get mine fixed. But I have no idea where to go to get a klystron that would work in this wonderful new world of Innovative But Counterproductive Designs.

    Of course, it doesn’t have the Stop/Eco button. I’ve had to make do with a just plain Stop.

    If “politics doesn’t really work like that,” for sure microwaves don’t.

    Now I could talk about computers and OS’s, but I’ll spare us all. Back to my coffee.

    .

    Natalie, I love your posting. Very witty, and I’m always up for a belly-laugh. :>))))!!!!

    *This strange thingie with the parens and comma does not illustrate ignorance of punctualization rules, but rather a deliberate decision to break them on grounds of style. Harrumph.

  • bobby b

    “It’s the dumb thing that smart people always do – assuming that the only reason other people haven’t done what you want is that you haven’t explained it to them yet.”

    Isn’t that called “marketing”?

  • CaptDMO

    So many issues….
    Julie,(et alia) share the model and serial number of your microwave.
    If someone handed you a new “klystron”,(magnatron) THEN what would you do?
    Capacitor? Wave guide tube? (Touch pads(“clock”) are the WORST for planned obsolescence, un-needed “Oh, just replace the whole thing!”)

    Tactical voting sites? New rules? By mail? Machine? ‘Puter screen?
    Paper, pencil, box.
    And when “somebody” finds a missing box of ballots in the trunk of a car, after the ballot counting has begun to show a “trend”? Cricket bat.
    Keep It Simple Stupid!

  • It’s the dumb thing that smart people always do – assuming that the only reason other people haven’t done what you want is that you haven’t explained it to them yet.

    This sentence appeared in the Guardian!!!

    There may be hope for the world yet.

    As the shepherd spent more time finding the one lost sheep than watching the 99 sensible ones, and the father welcomed the prodigal son home so I – will call it the Guardian (in this comment 🙂 ) instead of the Grauniad.

  • Roué le Jour (December 1, 2019 at 1:23 am), I think Death handles ordinary every day “in the midst of life we are in death” kind of death as opposed to massive, disastrous “we all go together when we go” kind of death, which the other three get to do. I see it as having much in common with being an undertaker – you’ll never make a fortune but it’s safe steady work and noone will ever make you redundant. But I can see the other three would demand some trade-union style no-poaching-my-turf rules.

  • djc

    War, Pestilence, Famine: the picadors for the matador.

  • llamas

    JnC – I saw ‘klystron’ and smiled a wan smile. My dear old Dad (MHRIP) worked on the design and development of linear accelerator valves (tubes) when he was fresh out of college. Died of bone marrow cancer at age 60. Not something to mess with.

    The device in your microwave is a cavity magnetron. Not quite so dangerous, but dangerous enough. Make sure the door switches work. Early microwaves suffered greatly from early-life magentron failures because of inadequate insulation – there’s many kV’s romping around in there.

    The good news is that there’s only about 6 or 7 ‘standard’ magnetron packages that are used in the great majority of microwaves. A real ‘fixit’ shop, like the one in Mayberry, may be able to match the dead one in your Sharp. And it may not be a bad magnetron at all. Get it fixed. You should have what you like BAMN.

    A word to the wise – you can easily buy replacement magnetrons on the Interwebtubes. Search for it, you may be surprised. But replacing a magnetron is not an amateur sport. If not treated correctly they pack a wallop that can kill you.

    Anyone who designs touchpad or membrane switches into a consumer product should have his or her engineer badge taken away.

    Capacitors? It is to laugh. The capacitors in one of the most-common home-standby generators are made by – wait for it – Ducati. I must have replaced a hundred of them. It’s amusing to note that the electrics on my Ducati motorcycles – are not made by Ducati 😀 .

    Voting sites? Yeah, right. I don’t believe a ward that anyone says that claims to be doing ‘voter education’, starting with the League of Women Voters on down. They all have an agenda, often obscured.

    llater,

    llamas

  • I’ve been complaining about nukers-with-buttons since I first encountered one at the office many years ago.
    There’s actually a Reason for the buttons: a membrane-switch keypad is ever so much easier to clean properly than a panel with knobs and sliders sticking through it – also, it keeps water out of the interior. Given that, I guess the UI designers are desperately trying to come up with something appealing that meets the “easy to clean” constraint. (Apple-style capacitive pseudo-knobs might be problematic for people with wet hands, as stray water could spoof the sensors.)
    I like the modern inverter-type units, but hate the business of pushing the “POWER” button 5 times or so, then the “QUICK MINUTE” button a few times, then “START”, and not being able to tweak the power while it’s running; I’d really like to have the newfangled inverter innards combined with an old-school slider for power and knob for time.
    Or… maybe the capacitive pseudo-knob tech would be worth a try? Include some redundant sensors and a “CLEAN AND/OR DRY ME” light? Maybe I need to try hacking a new Panasonic; it’s really a question of the interface between the control panel and the power module. Figure that out, and a custom panel should be easy!

  • Addendum: I just spent far too long setting the temperature on the thermal oven, using the fool buttons.
    Thing is: that range has knobs for the burners. It’s just the oven that has the stupid membrane-switch control panel – which is fine if you want to set the oven for 350F or something close, but if you want volcano heat for pizza, or minimal heat for warming a slice of pie without paying close attention to the time, an old-fashioned knob would be ever so much more convenient.

  • Runcie Balspune

    Microwaves, along with phones and other such devices, need what calculator apps have with the “simple/scientific” button, just switch from the easy limited option mode that suits most people, to “advanced” if you really feel the need to cook at 932.8 Watts for 18 minutes and 4 seconds, rotating anti-clockwise at 17 rpm and playing the star spangled banner when complete.

  • Fraser Orr

    @llamas
    Anyone who designs touchpad or membrane switches into a consumer product should have his or her engineer badge taken away.

    Although I agree with your advice on magnetrons — I find microwave ovens a bit scary actually — this statement fired my engineering indignation. One might define engineering as “the process of finding viable alternative designs and evaluating the trade offs between them”

    Touchpad and membrane switches have a lot of downsides — they are a bit difficult to use, they give poor tactile feedback and they are prone to breakage. However, they also have some significant upsides — they are cheap to make, they can be easily be sealed and thus be waterproof, and the can offer a continuous surface that is significantly easier to clean.

    So sometimes membrane switches are a bad choice, sometimes they are a good choice. Those with an engineering badge will balance the trade offs to come up with the best solution.

    (Arbitrary story from my life…. may years ago I wrote software for tracking submarines using sonar towed arrays and sonobuoys for the Royal Navy. Don’t worry though my knowledge in the field is so out of date, I’d have to read wikipedia to catch up.

    In the helicopter systems they had these keyboards that the personnel would use to control the system. BTW, for some reason enlisted personnel operated the sonar equipment and officers the radar — I have no idea why. Anyways, these keyboards were gigantic bulky industrial affairs that must have weight twenty pounds. I believe they cost about $10,000 each and that was a long time ago. I never understood why they didn’t just buy ten off the shelf keyboards, and if they broke toss them out, it would have been lighter and cheaper.
    Anyway this was a no expense spared keyboard and it used membrane switches for precisely the reasons I mentioned above. They were sealed, waterproof, and easier to operated when wearing thick gloves. Not that this story tells you much about your comment, but I was in a raconteur-ish kind of a mood.)

  • Fraser Orr

    Regarding the OP, I think this is a classic case of busy verses effective. A person who wants to “do something” will “do something” within their range of capabilities. There are are lots of people out there who can make websites like this (it is not at all hard, any competent programmer could do it over a weekend) and it gives them the feeling that they have “done something” which is nourishing to their self esteem. Plus it allows them to participate in a community of other people who want to “do something” and gives them real props that they have produced an artifact that may, in the belief system of their little echo chamber, make an actual difference — even if it won’t. So building such a web site is really quite strongly incentivized even if it is, as the OP suggests, utterly ineffective.

    You see this a lot with busy middle managers who work eleven hour days answering pointless emails and holding efficiency destroying meetings. They are busy so the MUST be effective. It is a real ego boost being SO important they you get SO many email and conduct SO many meetings.

    Busy is not the same as effective. Busy is easy to achieve, effective is much harder to achieve. However, they both give you a bit of a dopamine kick.

  • Paul Marks

    Both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats stand for vastly increased government spending, the crushing of Civil Liberties (such as Freedom of Speech – what is left of it is to be crushed by the “equality and diversity agenda” which has partly crushed Freedom of Speech already) and rule by the European Union. The extinction of the United Kingdom and what it means to be British (especially what it means to be English).

    However, although these Labour and Lib Dem objectives are bad – they are at least clear. Labour and the Lib Dems stand for state control and the crushing of both liberty and what is left of traditional society. Traditional society being, as Edmund Burke and others have pointed out, the essential foundation of liberty – if there are not strong traditional families and both religious and secular local voluntary associations, “the little platoons”, a massive and controlling state is inevitable. But standing for the destruction of liberty and the destruction of (what is left of) traditional society, is still standing for something.

    And the Conservative Party stands for…….

  • Paul Marks

    The Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats would take us to the same place – economic collapse and the destruction of traditional society and liberty (what is left of these things). There is no reason at all why someone should not vote for which ever of these two political parties is most likely to win in a particular seat – if the objective of that person is economic collapse and the destruction of what is left of liberty.

    But the message “we will also take you to a “Woke” Social Justice future – but we will do so more slowly” is not a very inspiring counter message.

    Make no mistake – I have voted Conservative and I urge everyone else to do so. But a positive pro liberty and pro civil society message has to be adopted eventually. “Wokeness” (i.e. totalitarian state control – “Social Justice”, “the equality and diversity agenda”) but “by the instalment plan” will just not do in the long term. It may do for this election – but not in the longer term.

    Even people who only wish to preserve their own personal wealth and do not give a damn about principles should still adopt a pro liberty and pro traditional society agenda. Because dancing to the tune of the left will NOT preserve their personal wealth – not over time. As the Duke of Orleans “Citizen Equality”, the richest man in France, discovered – he funded the French Revolution and voted for the murder of his own cousin (the King), but his “friends” then robbed and murdered him.

    A person can not preach “Social Justice” and the “equality and diversity agenda” and keep their personal wealth – not in the long run. And that is also true of the United States where the millionaires and billionaires who control the Democrats are sowing Dragon’s Teeth – they are nurturing the very forces that will destroy them, and will destroy their families.

    Take MS13 – an armed force of thousands of men active in Central America and now the United States. Its motto is clear – RAPE, KILL, CONTROL. That is the motto of the group….

    RAPE, KILL, CONTROL.

    But when President Trump was rude about MS13 (he called them “savages” and “animals”) the mega corporations who control the media, and the rich “educated” people denounced President Trump (not MS13 – President Trump) in the strongest possible terms.

    You see the Democrats depend on mass immigration (much of it illegal) to outvote Republicans – as the illegal immigrants vote illegally, and their children (who are automatically American citizens) vote legally.

    Such groups as MS13 and the general “Social Justice” agenda of RAPE, KILL, CONTROL?

    That is fine as “if we make friends with them, they will not hurt us and take our wealth”.

    Many rich people feel and act the same way in Britain – forbidding the criticism of violent groups and violent belief systems (and punishing anyone who speaks against these violent groups and violent belief systems) because “if we make friends with them, they will not hurt us and take our wealth”.

    Let us see how that turns out – in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

  • Y. Knott

    “… a Child Lock Button (useless, the microwave is too small to hold a child)” – did you try mincing them more finely? – W.C. Fields would approve 😉

    “But I have no idea where to go to get a klystron that would work in this wonderful new world of Innovative But Counterproductive Designs.” – a sad microwave memory surfaces. Our first microwave was a monstrous Panasonic microwave/convection oven, we paid a fortune for it. We were living in a place where the local grocer sold “pizza” – six bucks and ‘what-do-you-want-on-it?’ – it’s where I came-by my love of hot capicolli, which nobody on this coast has ever heard of. And since they were bake-at-home, sales tax didn’t apply. These things just didn’t work to cook in a microwave, but micro-convection turned them into something I’ve dreamed about ever since.

    Fast forward ten years, the microwave quit working; a crummy little thermistor that measured heat from the coil bid us adieu. The repair guy told us it was a $15 part – but was no longer available, anywhere, including on teh interwebz; I looked. Without the requisite signal from it, the box simply would not turn on; not even the microwave side, so in effect it was scrap.

    *sigh*

  • Rob

    Because nobody really needs one of these websites

    Nobody needs the Guardian, and definitely not Dan Davies’ opinion articles. So why did he write it?

  • CaptDMO

    How sad.
    I have no doubts that a (eg)$15 Panasonic thermistor, Panasonic repair manual part # xxxx-xx-x was indeed “unavailable”.
    I’m fairly confident that the thermistor, universal part # yy-xxxx-yy, of exactly the same spec, same mounting configuration,….quite possibly from the same factory and production line, is STILL available for $3.
    Um, no, it will NOT have the name Panasonic stamped on it in ink.

    IN FAIRNESS: The concept here, as well as other “systems”, falls unfairly under “It’s EASY when you know HOW!”.
    Recognizing , and circumventing- “credentialed” experts, middlemen, gate keepers, rent seekers, and other “crabs-in-the-bucket”, is ESSENTIAL in law, “medicine”, PoliSci, economics, and appliance maintenance.
    Having the (metaphor alert)”special” tools to remove the “special” screws hidden under the “No user serviceable parts inside!” sticker is handy, and time saving, but not essential.

  • Regarding the OP, I think this is a classic case of busy verses effective. A person who wants to “do something” will “do something” within their range of capabilities. There are are lots of people out there who can make websites like this (it is not at all hard, any competent programmer could do it over a weekend) (Fraser Orr, December 1, 2019 at 6:01 pm)

    To be fair (and assuming that they spent a bit more than a weekend testing their site on all platforms and etc.), just how many of us in August, say, would have put our hand up and sworn there would be no need in the upcoming (which we hoped would be soon) election for some stats re whether voting Brexit or voting Tory was the popular choice / had a prayer in some seat?

    In Scotland, the question “who’s the not-the-nat candidate in this seat?” was asked in several places in 2015, and again in 2017 and is being asked today. To local-living voters, there should be a better means to answer that than a website – maybe talk to your neighbours and friends – but it’s not a silly question even if its circularity makes the answer either easy or impossible.

    Plus it allows them to participate in a community of other people who want to “do something” and gives them real props that they have produced an artefact that may, in the belief system of their little echo chamber, make an actual difference.

    I’m not sure we samizdata comment writers would be wise to make that exact phrasing a subject of mockery. 🙂 I suppose I could defend myself by saying my belief system is giving me grave doubts that this particular comment will affect the election much. 🙂

  • Fraser Orr

    Niall Kilmartin
    I’m not sure we samizdata comment writers would be wise to make that exact phrasing a subject of mockery. 🙂 I suppose I could defend myself by saying my belief system is giving me grave doubts that this particular comment will affect the election much. 🙂

    Yes, the irony of this statement escaped me. 😉 Hoist, I think, on my own petard.

    FWIW, I long ago gave up on thinking that I could make much different in politics, I look as it more of a recreational sport. Something that I think is quite appropriate for Libertarians, who, by their very nature, don’t look to government for solutions.

  • llamas

    @Fraser Orr – Oh, I’m quite prepared to agree that there are suitable locations for membrane-type switches. It’s just that direct consumer-facing applications are not one of them.

    We’ve all seen countless membrane keypads where the outer layer has been punctured or damaged by regular use. A large cohort of female persons, for example, use implements to operate keypads, for manicurial reasons, and many people use an implement instead of their fingers for reasons of hygiene. The outer flexible layer is easily cut or punctured, at which point, all of those benefits you mention – are destroyed.

    Cheap? It is to laugh. Membrane keypads themselves are cheap enough, but they are invariably built into a custom assembly with graphics, mountings and suchlike that make them one-of-a-kind – with a price to match. If they were packaged as you suggest, as ‘off the shelf keyboards, and if they broke toss them out,” it would make sense, but the very cheapness and low tooling cost of the construction makes everybody design their own unique version, which paradoxically makes a very cheap technology turn into a very expensive part.

    The best implementation is a membrane keyboard with a suitable set of interposers, which control force application and limit stroke, and which can be adapted to add tactile response. Many TV remotes are built this way, for example. The switch technology itself is fine, it just shouldn’t be exposed to the consumer environment unprotected.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Julie near Chicago

    llamas,

    You’ve engaged my funnybone. I want to say something snarky (but not seriously meant) about how our machinery (of all types & sizes, both mechanical and, contra the “mechanical” label, electronic)

    “just shouldn’t be exposed to the human environment unprotected.”

    LOL

  • Fraser Orr

    @llamas
    We’ve all seen countless membrane keypads where the outer layer has been punctured or damaged by regular use.

    Sure, but have you also seen consumer electronics damaged because the user cleaned them with a chlorine bleach and the water and cleaner got in behind the keys and damaged the underlying electronics? Again that is about trade offs.

    Cheap? It is to laugh. Membrane keypads themselves are cheap enough, but they are invariably built into a custom assembly with graphics

    But isn’t that the whole point I am making? Membrane keyboards let you do all that relatively inexpensively and with the other benefits. Something that is much harder (or expensive) to do with non membrane switches. Which is to say you have to trade off the pros and cons. It has been a decade since I did consumer product design, but my memory is that there are companies out there that will turn that stuff around extremely easily and quickly, and if you manufacture in China adding a bit of printed plastic with bubbles to your bom hardly changes the bottom line at all. They crank that stuff out easily. Soldering on a bunch of discrete switches and making a case that wraps around them and seals them properly is much harder.

    Perhaps I am being defensive since I have made consumer electronics with membrane switches, but my memory is that we rarely had failures, and the other parts (for example, computer boards) failed far more frequently. In particular, some of the stuff we made was exposed to the outside environment and I think membrane switches or those little rubber forms are usually the way to go there (never mind even more extreme environments like marine.) Some of it also had to comply to various ISO standards that I don’t remember the names of, that required them to operate successfully in a shower of water. That is tough to do without sealed units. (And yeah, these are consumer — they fitted on the outside of people’s houses.)

    Of course these mechanical devices that work with deformation of the material are going to have a higher MTBF that a metal on metal switch, but sometimes MTBF isn’t all that important. I press the keys on my computer keyboard maybe ten thousand times a day, but I press the keys on my microwave a half dozen times a day. The engineering needs of these two types of switch are really quite different.

    I might say YMMV, but of course YMMV is exactly my point. It is about trade offs.

  • Fraser Orr

    BTW, I of course meant that deformation type switches have a lower MTBF, much as my brain, as I get older, also has a lower MTBF.

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