Bee-beep, Bee-beep, Bee-beep

Working in a rental unit’s kitchen (hard to claim “cooking”), my irritation with a different microwave’s timer beeps causes me to consider my own skills as a supervisor.



I look around as the timer sounds off. What was that for? Oh yes, the tea. Why would I remember that? After all, I set it all of three minutes ago. I reach for the spoon to retrieve the tea bags.


I look up, startled. Why is it still going?


Yikes. I put down the spoon and reach over to hit the stop button.


Curses. I think for a fraction of a second — just shy of the interval between the bee-beeps, thank goodness — and hit the timer button.  Blessed silence ensues.

As I return to fishing out tea bags, I make a mental note. I will have to get used to a new style of interaction with this microwave timer.

My microwave at home is the epitome of dignified restraint. To mark the end of the allotted time, it bings once, quietly. It exudes complete confidence in my hearing, my attention span, and my ability to take a single hint. Of course, it could be that its failure to demand an acknowledgement that it has been attended to or even heard means that it just doesn’t give a damn. Tea too strong? Deal with it. Salmon overcooked? Pay more attention next time, kiddo. What, am I my owner’s keeper?

The microwave in this Phoenix rental, by contrast, is of the ‘Are we there yet? Are we? Huh? Huh? Are we? Huh?’ school of interaction. Each dual-toned alarm is, I expect, designed to grate all on its own, and it just keeps bee-beeping away until someone hits the right button to stop it. It’s not clear whether it’s trying to help me or to supervise me. Psst! Isabel! Don’t forget! You have to do something! Right now!  Isabel!!!

My two microwaves remind me of supervisors I’ve had over the years. Worse, they remind me of supervisors I’ve been, oscillating between insufficient and excessive follow-up. Finding that sweet spot, where reminders are just right, is complicated by the inescapable variety in the task, the people, and their personal situations.

Some tasks can afford to be messed up in a moment of inattention; others are time- or mission-critical and must be done right the first time.

Some people take repeated direction and checking-up well, or at least impassively; others pretty clearly resent the hell out of even an oblique enquiry.

Some personal situations are what marketing writers like to call ‘robust’ — not prone to error — and others are accidents waiting to happen, distraction piled on distraction.

All these factors collude to make it unlikely that any given supervisor will do the optimal thing, every time, for every supervisee — as nice as that would be — but my hopes are more modest: I just want a programmable microwave. Why can’t I adjust the timer noise to suit my auditory preference? Or its frequency to adjust for my alertness as it varies with my biorhythm? Or the requirement for an acknowledgement to reflect the importance of the task to me? Or the simplicity of the acknowledgement to allow for the number of tasks I’m keeping track of at this moment?

I expect all of these are possible; indeed, some designer likely meant to work on them and has just forgotten. I wonder which reminder is more in order here: agitated bee-beeps until I get an answer, or a single, dignified bing?

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16 Responses to Bee-beep, Bee-beep, Bee-beep

  1. Ralph says:

    Daily email, perhaps…..

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Ralph – Yes! Announced with a little ‘Ta da!’ sound or other suitable fanfare to indicate a valued customer communication . . .

  2. Jim Taylor says:

    Isabel, I guess that in a year or two, Dragon Naturally Speaking will have been sufficiently adapted that you’ll just talk to your appliances. When the bee-beeps sound, you’ll be able to tell it to shut up. Instead of pushing buttons, you’ll tell it “Defrost” or “Reheat”. Of course, that raises the possibility that instead of going bee-beep, your microwave, or washing machine, or whatever, will talk to you: “Hey, dummy, I’m sitting here with a full load of wet towels!”

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – Yes, being able to talk to the machines sounds good, but I may not appreciate them talking back, especially if they’re licensed to be rude. This should all be customizable at my end. Maybe I could even practice my Spanish, such as it is. After all, in our nation’s capital, all the elevators are French/English bilingual, albeit with a limited repertoire.

  3. Dorothy Warren says:

    The timers on the appliances in my husband’s lake house are the next generation. They still are of the “are we there yet” ilk, but each has its own little melody. So I stand in the kitchen wondering if that “deedle dee” is the microwave, or perhaps the dryer, ah yes it is the oven. They actually make me smile, somewhat I guess like the positive reaction to a supervisor who has hit the right combination of oversight and neglect. I can’t say the same of the fridge which beeps (no song here) if the door has been left open too long. It makes me think back to Mom’s comments – ” close the fridge door, you are letting the cold out!” I always enjoy your blog Isabel. Thank so much.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Dorothy – When we moved into our new house five years ago, we had all new appliances and had to learn their various calls. Rather like learning the birds in a new area, I guess. It’s the coffee maker I find the hardest to get onto. I never make coffee, and it’s a ‘softly, softly’ single chime, rather like the sounds the audiologist uses to test the outer limits of my hearing range.

  4. My relatively new clothes washer and dryer sing songs of triumph when their work is done. My sister is certain one of the tunes is from Schubert’s Trout Quintet. As these repetitive tunes could drive some owners to distraction, one has the option of programming them off rather than tuning them out. I, however, regard them as appropriate responses from cheerful, clever, and obedient slaves and embrace them, composing various lyrics according to my gratefulness as I unload the quickly, normally, or unusually sanitized clean and/or dry clothing, bedding, towels, delicates, woolens. Oh, Freude!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – I’ve never tried singing along with the appliances. There are limits to what I can expect of the Big Guy, and me singing without the excuse of grandchildren probably exceeds those limits. No, it definitely exceeds those limits. But I’m glad there are opportunities for those who can make good use of them.

  5. Jeez. Talk about a First World problem…!

  6. Mary Gibson says:

    Very good. But in the ‘internet of things’ the machines will likely by-pass us completely and talk ABOUT us!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Mary – Ack! Maybe they’re already talking through coded beeps and bings. Not that I want to give any encouragement to my inner paranoiac.

  7. Barry says:

    This seemed appropriate for me:
    If you need a laugh today, this should take care of it and if it doesn’t, nothing will….

  8. Alison says:

    Ok – I browsed back to read the comments, as I always enjoy them, and found the video. Made me chuckle! I sent it on to a friend who I know will enjoy it. We’ve been in our new house for three years, and I still don’t appreciate the way my stove “beeps” at me – it beeps as it warms the oven, it beeps when it arrives at the temperature, and it beeps when the timer ends, and then periodically after if you don’t turn it off – but seriously, they all sound the same! this does NOT make me respond at the right time – especially when making cookies – thank goodness I like them rather burnt!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Alison – Yes, programmable is definitely the way to go. That way, we could omit the ones we don’t care about (I mean, I can see the temperature it’s at) and get little affirmations while attending to the ones we do care about. Hey, Beautiful – your cookies will be burned in just 1 more minute.

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