Uncanny Valley

We’ve had a rash of appliance failures around here. First, the handle broke off of our front-loading washing machine. It’s the second time this has happened, so we know from experience that a) the handle is STUPIDLY expensive, b) we have to drive across to the absolutely farthest other side of the city to get one, and c) it’s only likely to last for a year or two, anyway. So for now I am living with prying it open with my fingernails/a screwdriver/handy nearby shoes as required. It’s not exactly Caroline Ingalls, but I like to think I’m roughing it.

Meanwhile, our microwave has been acting creepy. It’s an over-the-stove microwave/hood fan and it’s only two years old, so we’re all bitter. Our old microwave had quit and we were desperate for a new one, so I went to the appliance store and bought the first thing I saw without any research or checking, and thus, paying the price now (PIECE OF CRAP SAMSUNG).

It’s kind of a funny story, actually – it first started acting up last fall when it was just over a year old – we got an “SE” error on the keypad, which means sensor error. So I did a ton of research and found out that a) this Samsung model is a PIECE OF CRAP, b) repairing it was going to mean a $200 part, and us having to take the thing off the wall to replace it ourselves, or c) repairing it was going to cost many more hundreds of dollars to have someone come by and fix it for us.

Then, on some far away message board I found a post by a guy who had fixed it with a hair dryer, so we tried his method, which included throwing the breaker, heating up the control pad with the hair dryer until it was burning hot to the touch, letting it cool, throwing the breaker again. And OH MY GOD, that actually worked, which is a) awesome, but b) totally alarming that modern complex appliances can be repaired with either a $200 part or a HAIR DRYER, your choice.

So the microwave was fine for a while, and then a few weeks ago, “SE” again. This time, we didn’t want to rush out to get a new one because it is a HUGE HUGE HUGE HUGE pain to get that thing off the wall – last time we replaced it I literally stood supporting a 100 pound microwave on my shoulders for hours while Sir Monkeypants attempted to anchor it to the wall, not to mention we had to take down some cabinets and re-install them, and replace ducting, and UGH NIGHTMARE. So instead, I bought a cheapy countertop $70 model and we were using it happily for three weeks when one day, the over-the-stove microwave suddenly beeped, and “SE” disappeared, and it prompted us to enter the time, all like, “What? Everyone needs a vacay sometimes, am I right?”

And since then, it’s working. GAH.

Man, I cannot believe I just wrote 500 words on the topic of my crappy microwave, and haven’t even yet reached the point of this post, which is to talk about our new TV. Hi, Mom, only person still reading!

So, the TV! A month ago we noticed that when it faded to black before a commercial, it was not so much black as black-with-a-big-blue-firework in the middle. And this firework slowly got brighter and brighter, and bigger and bigger, until watching TV was becoming very odd and science-fictiony all the time as people wandered in and out of the blue-skin-zone. Online research revealed it was irreparable so we started looking around for a new one. On the weekend we scored a major deal on an LG model that had way more features than we would have otherwise looked for – it’s an LED model, smart TV with 3D mode.

Then we got it home and WHOA…weird. It’s just SO sharp, it is freaking us out. Our old TV, according to FameThrowa and Mr. Chatty who were with us, was never a very good one, and for years had been dull and dim and blurry. This new one is…freaky. The people are just SO real, it is like they are in our living room – more like watching live theatre than television. And that seems like it would be a good thing, but it’s actually distracting – like, I am so bothered by the idea that Loki actually IS standing in my living room that I can’t sit back and enjoy The Avengers.

Every detail on the screen is so sharp that you can also see every little set and costume detail. Some things like, say, Thor’s hammer, that would otherwise seem cool, suddenly look like a WalMart toy, because I can almost see the brushstrokes where they painted it. Even with the 3D effects turned off, people seem to float in front of obviously-fake backgrounds and my brain cannot process it. Sir Monkeypants compared it to soap-opera style filming, and I think FameThrowa absolutely hit the nail on the head when she said it looks like 80s era Doctor Who programs. Sort of hyper-real and super bright and obviously fake at the same time. We have messed with the settings, reducing the contrast and brightness and it has helped, but there are still odd moments where you realize, uncomfortably, that you are watching fakeness and it takes you right out of the program.

Is this something we are going to get used to? Have we come to the uncanny valley, and is it time to embrace it? Will my brain ever catch up?

Or is it some weirdness with this model or style of TV? We are wondering. At the very least, I can say that Dance Show has never looked so good – I checked out some older episodes that had been too dark for me to see much detail, and now, while still dim, they are crystal clear and I can see it all. So we’re keeping the TV, I think, for now, and hoping our eyes can learn to adapt.

In the meantime – that’s three appliances on the fritz, so I’d say that’s it for this summer. Right?

6 thoughts on “Uncanny Valley

  1. Chantal

    Our dishwasher had been acting up for over a year. It would stop working, or work badly and we would stop using it for a while and then all of a sudden it worked again. We had a repair man say it might have been steam in the control panel and that once it had time to dry completely it would work fine. After a while I lost it. Not knowing when it would or wouldn’t work. So a few weeks ago we saw an awesome deal and got one. I am so happy. Love it (I hope it keeps working well for a long time). Now if I could arrange for the refrigerator to go on the fritz when we have a bit of spending money saved up that would be great (of course that never happens).

  2. CapnPlanet

    We found the super-sharp picture on our new LED TV a little weird at first when we got it a few years ago, but we don’t notice it now. It’s a bit like the difference between video (e.g. soap operas, some sitcoms) and film (crime dramas, other sitcoms), but I really think it’s an improvement.

  3. haha! The same thing happened to us when we finally got a new TV. We’d been using a big ol’ box thing from the 70s. When we upgraded, everything looked so fake and cheesey!! It was sooo bizarre!! Hubby had bought Star Wars DVD to watch on it, all excited for how great it would be, and ended up taking it back it was just so odd. All this to say … somehow I don’t even notice it anymore. Which, when you think about it, is kind of weird too.

  4. I think it’s pretty common to have issues with microwave hood combinations. I hear/read a lot of people complaining about them. But maybe that’s because the majority LOVE theirs and never complain and I only know about the small fraction who are have bad juju when it comes to microwave oven hoods.

    Watching an LED tv is a strange thing. I like your family’s characterizations. It’s as if everything in the foreground is SUPER vivid and pops, while the background (while still sharp and bright) is flattened. It takes a while to train your brain. Or at least it did in our case.

    We’re doing okay with appliances except for the portable dehumidifier which died in late July. A bit of online research showed that it’s a universally scorned model that (in addition to being stupidly expensive) frequently dies after a year. So I guess we were lucky that it lasted 2 years longer. Which is small comfort considering our basement is soupy. I guess I’ll have to bite the bullet and buy a replacement.

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