Sunday, August 1, 2010

Den Suck

We bought a new bedroom set from IKEA to replace an old multiple-hand-me-down set. This turned out to be a bit of an odyssey.

The assembly of the bed is good in theory: it has a wooden headboard, footboard, and sides that form a box to surround the actual bed, which is supported by some metal infrastructure. There are 2 angle brackets on the length of the side boards and a fairly robust metal beam down the middle that hold the actual weight of the bed.

Unfortunately the angle brackets are each too narrow by probably 5mm, which allows the box spring to drift and basically fall off one side or the other. This drops the box spring and mattress (and occupants, if any) onto some cross members which are designed to keep the box rigid and not to support weight; damage occurs.

The root cause seems to be that this is a European style bed, and Over There they don't use box springs; mattresses sit directly on planks or slats. So they apparently don't quite get box springs, and things like this happen.

Anyway I tried to work around it but ultimately the angle brackets are just too narrow. I didn't feel like going out and buying a bunch of planks to fix IKEA's bad construction, so instead I figured I'd try just taking the basic metal bed frame we used previously. Since it's nothing more than a metal rectangle that the bed sits on and is exactly as wide as the box spring, it should drop right into the new IKEA bed box.

Well, almost. It didn't quite fit, because the mounting brackets for the headboard on the old frame add just a tiny little bit of width, but it's enough to keep it from fitting.

But I pretend to be a Maker, and I smelled a project! So I figured I'd just remove the headboard brackets and then it'd fit. Unfortunately those brackets are riveted to the frame sides.

I tried drilling out the rivets, but my cordless drill didn't have the power and I didn't have a steel-drilling bit anyway. Then I whipped out the Dremel and put on a cutting tool, and cut off the rivet heads on one side, but the rivet material was pretty well alloyed with the frame metal, so I couldn't push the rivets out once I'd cut the head off. I tried just cutting the bracket off, but a Dremel as old as I am vs. steel is slow going, to say the least.

At this point I'd spent probably an hour and a half on all this. It had come down to it. I was sitting on the floor in the middle of the bed box staring at this frame, out of options. I was going to have to admit defeat.

Then I looked at the frame, and suddenly remembered that it was actually in 2 parts. The left and right angle brackets have arms that join together with a simple keyhole-and-pin slide lock. So I just pushed them in slightly to make the frame narrower, dropped it into the bed box, and then dropped in the box spring. This took a grand total of 90 seconds.

So, lesson learned. Again.

Always look for the simple solution before jumping into the hard one.

A Shocking Exposé!

Oh jeez.

Consider this Apple product, selling for $29: http://www.apple.com/battery-charger/

Basically this is a 2x NiMH AA battery charger, with 6 AA batteries included. The batteries by their description sound a lot like (and may well be) rebranded low-self-discharge Sanyo Eneloop batteries. By "a lot like", I mean that the recharge cycle specs is very similar to Eneloop, and while Apple provides no specifics (such as capacity, discharge characteristics, behavior under load), the description sounds a lot like the "pre-charged" marketing message used by Eneloops.

Why, they're practically inviting comparison! Let's investigate.

Sanyo Eneloop 2x charger with 2 Eneloops, $13.18:
http://www.amazon.com/Sanyo-Eneloop-Pre-Charged-Rechargeable-Batteries/dp/B000XVZYXO/ref=sr_1_18?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1280702524&sr=1-18

4x AA Eneloops, $9.15:
http://www.amazon.com/Sanyo-Eneloop-Pre-Charged-Rechargeable-Batteries/dp/B000IV2YLY/ref=sr_1_7?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1280702524&sr=1-7

Total: $22.33.
Apple markup: $6.67, a ~23% premium.

For $6.67, you can upgrade to a 4x charger and still come in under Apple by a couple bucks.

Now, Apple's claiming a low standby load, which at least is a potential difference from the competitor. The problem is, their competitors don't publish standby loads (at least that I can find) for their chargers, and they themselves never define the "average" charger they're comparing themselves to. Did they test a good random sampling of chargers? Or did they test a hand-picked set of dubious chargers they picked up at a market in Taiwan or something?

So in other words, it's cute marketing, but it's a 23% markup for a product which has no actual, verifiable advantage over the competitor.  Although it does look cute I suppose, if you're into the whole Apple wall-wart aesthetic.

When Apple does this kind of thing with a Mac, you can at least point to the user experience and make non-specific non-falsifiable claims of enhanced productivity or lower frustration or better build quality or whatever. And that's fine; I don't have a problem if people find that those things make the difference for them in their daily usage. Human factors are very hard to quantify.

But when they do it with a battery form factor that was defined as a commodity in 1947, has been exhaustively characterized, is utterly well-understood, and can be trivially compared apples-to-apples (pun intended) with competitors, I find it kind of laughable and silly.

And honestly, if they apply the "Apple premium" to something as obnoxiously over the top as this, it makes me question whether there really is an Apple premium on anything they sell, or if Apple is just a giant snow-job.