Thursday, November 20, 2008

Meath no more

Of the many amusing things that Douglas Adams gave us, my favourite in terms of sheer laugh-out-loudness was The Meaning of Liff which he co-wrote with John Lloyd. The premise of this book was that there are many phenomena that have no word to describe them while at the same "the world is littered with thousands of spare words which spend their time doing nothing but loafing about on signposts pointing at places." Adam’s and Lloyd’s genius was to use these words to solve the naming gap.

One of my (many) favourites was Meath

"Warm and very slightly clammy. Descriptive of the texture of your hands after the automatic drying machine has turned itself off, just damp enough to make it embarrassing if you have to shake hands with someone immediately afterwards."

This was good because it was bang on. Yes! Hand driers! That funny not-quite-dry-not-quite-wet feeling you get after using them. The automatic ones were worse than the manual ones, switching off at such a point to optimise the feeling of meath. But no more. Ladies and gentlemen: the Dyson Airblade.

James Dyson, inventor of the cyclone vacuum cleaner, an amphibious car with huge balloon wheels and a new type of wheelbarrow (this time with a single balloon wheel) has turned his attention to the tricky task of hand drying (suddenly I recall the chap from The Apprentice -- Syed was it? -- who had an all-over body drier for using after a shower, but I digress...).

Yes the Dyson Airblade is a contraption that you put your hands down into slowly withdrawing them at a constant speed while a powerful jet of warm air blasts your hands dry. It certainly works in the hand-drying department, but I feel there is another explanation for the future success of the Dyson Airblade. You see, James Dyson's greatest achievement with the bagless cyclone vacuum cleaner was not that it worked better than standard vacuum cleaners, but that he got men interested in vacuums. Vacuums were unsexy items that we begrudged spending money on -- I once promised my wife that I would dustpan-and-brush the floor every week, anything but spend my money on a bloody vacuum. But the DC-01 changed this. The same genius lies behind the Airblade. It's not that it gets men's hands dry; this was never a problem, because men didn't wash their hands in the first place. Now they merrily and apprehensively wash away just so they can poke their hands into the contraption, listen to the formula-one style whine as the turbo-fan hits 20,000 rpm and closely follow the instructions specifying that the hands are withdrawn slowly and at a constant velocity. Even the name 'Air Blade' conjures images of manly pursuits. A Samuri Warrior, perhaps, or a Honda Fireblade superbike.

Sadly, however, he has also killed meath.

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