review of automatic light switches in public restrooms

May 20, 2007

Once upon a time, Elden and I worked for Fawcette Technical Publications (FTP), a small technical magazine publishing company based in Palo Alto, CA. Neither of us wanted to move to Palo Alto, although, to be fair, Palo Alto is a fabulous little town, and our monthly trips there invariably involved excellent food and obscure movies.

Anyway. Elden and I worked for FTP from Provo, UT, and we each had an office we leased in an office park in the Riverwoods area. The office had a common bathroom out in the entry area—the usual, sink, urinal, and a couple of sit down stalls. Oh, and the light was one of those automatic lights, where it comes on when it detects motion, and automatically shuts off after a pre-determined period of, well, NOT detecting motion.

No big deal, unless you like to read the paper while you sit in the bathroom stall. I don’t think I’m alone in liking to do this, am I? I mean it’s not like I’m in there with my Blackberry, sending emails or texting you while I sit there. As far as you know. I’m just reading the paper.

Anyway, one particular time I became pretty engrossed in whatever article I was reading and lost track of time. The automatic light switch, alas, did NOT lose track of time. When the pre-determined period (and who determines this? Is there a product manager somewhere who does research on this, and writes it into his PRD, and browbeats the development team into abiding by his research? Where does this pre-determined time come from?), apparently, elapsed. Lights out.

The building we occupied was sparsely, um, occupied, so traffic in the bathroom could be pretty infrequent. And I wasn’t done with my other bathroom business. I mean, I had completed the obvious part, was taking a break reading the paper, but hadn’t completed the, er, the cleanup part. And let me tell you, that’s not something that can be done blind, in the dark. You gotta have evidence. Or, more specifically, a LACK of evidence. Right? Can we all agree on this? Let’s just move on.

I’m engrossed in some scintillating article when the auto timer/motion detector thingamabob detects that nothing is moving in the bathroom, and promptly, and suddenly (no subtle dimming, no klaxon sounding) shuts off the light.

This presents a dilemma. To stand up and exit the stall to create detectable motion risks contamination of areas that should not come in contact with debris. If you follow. Don’t wanna go there.

So I crumple a section of the newspaper, and throw it over the wall of the stall. I admit, in the darkness, this takes a couple of attempts. First attempt bounces back off the stall wall, second attempt hits the ceiling and comes back down inside the stall. Still dark.

I grab a spare roll of toilet paper, still wrapped up in its crinkly wrapper, and chuck it over the stall wall. No dice.

My only recourse seems to be to stand and exit the stall to get some, any motion detected. But I want to stand in such a way that minimizes the risk of debris contamination. So I keep the pants around the ankles, and sort of crouch/shuffle to the stall door, feeling for the handle. I open the door and wave my arms. Nothing. I shuffle a little further out into the absolutely dark bathroom (no windows, of course) and wave my arms. Nothing. One last shuffle, and at last the light flashes on. Success!

Unfortunately, not because I had created detectable motion. The door opens, and there stands a complete stranger, hand on the handle, mouth terribly agape, eyes as wide as the great outdoors.

I smile weakly, wave nonchalantly, and shuffle back into my stall to finish my business. Outside, the door closes, the stranger clearly wanting no part in whatever disgusting ritual is going on inside the bathroom.

Rating for Automatic Light Switches in Public Bathrooms—They suck. 1 out of 10 stars.

3 Responses to “review of automatic light switches in public restrooms”

  1. mark Says:

    This happens to me monthly. Well the light going off part, not the wandering around the bathroom part. I think automatic light switches in public bathrooms should also be equipped with a clapper. There. I claimed the idea first. Now I need a patent attorney.

  2. Jenn Says:

    I woke up in a foul mood this morning, but this? How can I not laugh out loud? Thanks.

  3. fwcpc Says:

    You remain seated and reading without completing your business? ewww…

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