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It's funny.  Laugh.

Toilet Paper Algorithms 206

ziani writes "Computer science professor and ex-Apple technologist Don Norman posits a new "forcing function" in toilet paper use algorithms." Browsing through his website is a good way to kill a couple of hours.
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Toilet Paper Algorithms

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  • These days, I can just use a couple of VA Software stock certificates and get the same effect. Plus, it is cheaper than toilet paper!
  • Heh (Score:1, Redundant)

    by zapfie ( 560589 )
    from the you-know-you're-taking-too-long-in-the-bathroom-wh en department.
  • Snowcrash (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MisterBlister ( 539957 ) on Sunday August 11, 2002 @04:48PM (#4051671) Homepage
    I wonder if he was inspired by Snowcrash, and the long discussion of the issues related to toliet paper in the Fed Building in which yt's mom works? Sounds pretty similar, but less funny.
  • by Subcarrier ( 262294 ) on Sunday August 11, 2002 @04:51PM (#4051684)
    Academics, especially professors, spend a good deal of their time brown-nosing and kissing other people's asses in the hopes of securing yet another research grant. Hence, the seemingly odd fascination for toilet paper, the uses of.
    • Flamebait? Weird. Having spent several years of my life as a researcher, you'd think I'm allowed to make that joke. It's certainly true enough. Maybe the honorable moderators are a little out of touch with reality?

      Of course, the current downturn in economy is enough to make the best of us lose our sense of humour.
    • You're lucky if computer nerds are using kleenex/toilet paper on their NOSE/ass.
    • Academics, especially professors, spend a good deal of their time brown-nosing and kissing other people's asses in the hopes of securing yet another research grant. Hence, the seemingly odd fascination for toilet paper, the uses of.

      Witty, but Norman has very little need to brown-nose and kiss ass. People come to him for attention, not the other way around.

  • Size vs. Use (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I would be interested to see statistics on toilet paper use vs. size of the roll. My bet would be that people will use more paper when the roll is full sized compared to when it is smaller due to the number of rotations and time involved to get the same amount of paper. This may be an argument to have a number of small rolls instead or one big one at commercial facilities where toilet paper use is a noticable cost.
  • Apple only hired guys who knew their crap.
  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Sunday August 11, 2002 @04:55PM (#4051695) Journal
    This topic is full of shit!
  • Hmmm.... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Kirby-meister ( 574952 ) on Sunday August 11, 2002 @04:55PM (#4051696)
    ...I knew that degree in CS would come in handy some day.
  • When you run out.. just used a printed out copy of a Microsoft EULA!
  • Excellent! This will invalidate the first-grader's rant for a paperless crap session!:

    "Be a man, use your hand." :)
  • I used to think that I needed to get a life, but heck, this takes the cake.

    What kind of anal person wastes time on scheduling/queuing algorithms for TP?!?!

    Having said that - I have the chindogu book, and it looks like this guy is _not_ a minority of one. Worrying...

    Havng said that the banner you hang from your forehead in order to cover your yawning maw and smultaniously indicate which stop you'd like to get off at when wanting to sleep on the subway train is darned useful.

    THL.
    • The best part is that he finally reorted to the hotel-style wall holder with the deep hole in it to store a spare roll still in its wrapper... which is some huge improvement over placing a new, unwrapped roll on top of the reserve tank or under the sink... how? I don't know, maybe this guy has a bad case of fecalphelia or something.
    • What kind of anal [retentive] person wastes time on scheduling/queuing algorithms for TP?!?!

      I think this is a self-answering question if you think about it.
    • by jweb ( 520801 ) <jweb68@hotma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Sunday August 11, 2002 @06:19PM (#4051949)
      What kind of anal person wastes time on scheduling/queuing algorithms for TP?!?!

      It may seem stupid at first, but it could make for an easy introduction to algorithms for young students. Just because it's a somewhat inconsequential topic to everyday life doesn't mean it's not something that's useless.

      For example, in my macroeconomics class my freshman year of college, the professor attempted to explain many of the economic concepts in terms of beer and college students. Law of supply and demand: Price of beer goes up, supply of beer goes up, but demand for beer goes down (college students, of course, being limited in budget). Compliments and substitutes: Price of pretzels goes down, demand for beer goes up.

      Yes, they are simplified examples, but I firmly believe the only reason I remembered anything from that class to this day is because of the examples she used.
      • I don't know if it's even that inconsequential. Think about all the times you've had to deal with messed-up toilet paper systems in publicly accessible toilets (restaurants, stadiums, theaters, etc.). What if someone were to spend a few weeks determining all the parameters of various toilet paper setups, and producing some kind of definitive work on the subject?

        Yeah, I read that and it sounds like I'm joking, but I'm not. Surely there can't be more than one or two "optimal" toilet-paper-dispensing solutions, and it seems bizarre that these were not determined years ago. It doesn't seem like the circumstances surrounding the use of toilet paper could have changed all that much in the last fifty years.

        I mean, let's think about it. There's two major categories of toilet paper usage: public (restaurants, stadiums, theaters, amusement parks, businesses, etc.) and private (residences). Obviously, private TPS (Toilet Paper Systems) don't need any of the security features that public systems do.

        Let's look at private TPS first. What are our parameters and needs? Well, in most situations, replacement TP rolls are within reaching distance of someone sitting on the toilet, so that's not a problem -- having two rolls doesn't really help that much, because you're STILL going to have to replace the rolls at some point (probably when one expires is the proper algorithmic way). The biggest problem I've noted with private TPS is that the volume of space allocated to the roll tends to be just small enough that a full roll comes into frictional contact with the supporting wall -- so when a roll is fresh or near-fresh, it can be difficult to draw it properly (you tend to get tearing, due to friction). Two solutions to this: 1) Have the axis of the toilet paper out far enough from the supporting surface so that a standard-sized roll will not touch it. 2) Have a depression carved into the supporting surface (usually in the form of a semicylinder) so that the full roll does not protrude too far out from the supporting surface. Ideally, the depression should be large enough so that a standard-sized roll does not touch any part of the inside of the depression. Also note that any holder or support mechanism should allow for significant expansion in the size of toilet paper rolls, since the "standard size" may change (and if it gets smaller, that's not much of a problem, but it's more likely it'll get bigger, and we don't want to have to retrofit our holders later if we can avoid it).

        Other factors... the spindle itself should be a single unit, usually a pair of size-offset cylinders attached by a spring. The individual cylinders of the spindle should absolutely NOT be able to come apart (except by violent prying). The spindle's exposed area (i.e. where the roll hangs) should be sufficiently long that a standard-size TP roll can spin freely without being crushed between the arms of the holder.

        (Also note that these parameters call for a standard size roll of toilet paper, which would theoretically be specified by shipping dimensions, i.e. diameter and height -- if a company wants to make a single-ply roll and a double-ply roll, the roll should be the same dimensions, meaning that the double-ply roll will have fewer sheets.)

        Should the spindle be able to move freely, and spin in the holder, or should it be more or less locked in place (by a physical obstruction, or by friction?), letting the cardboard TP spindle itself rotate around? As long as the TP roll itself has sufficient space inside the cardboard spindle to rotate freely about the support spindle, then the support spindle doesn't need to be able to rotate...

        See how much thought can go into just a few aspects of a problem like this? We don't think much about how things like this go, but imagine if you went the rest of your life without ever having to deal with poorly-designed toilet paper mechanisms again. It wouldn't necessarily be something you'd notice, but that would be the point -- a single medium-sized application of brainpower, once, could save millions of people from ever having to think about it.
  • From the header, I believed this was a news about Lisp...
  • by Raiford ( 599622 ) on Sunday August 11, 2002 @04:59PM (#4051714) Journal
    Perfect problem for a language that supports multiple threads. Sounds like a nice Java applet.

  • over/under (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    But what about the over/under dichotomy? Most people put the toilet paper in the holder so it unrolls over the top, but a sizable minority (myself included) put it in there so unrolls from the bottom. Each group drives the other nuts.

    This should be taken into account somehow when exploring any toilet paper algorithm.
    • I like the "under dichotomy" myself. It makes it much easier to roll the paper back on the roll when the cat has unrolled half a roll for fun...it's my girlfriends cat - I wanted a dog!
    • Yeah, you're a woman. Nice try, posting AC.
    • > But what about the over/under dichotomy? Most people put the toilet paper in the holder so it unrolls over the top,

      (ahem. the way God intended.)

      > but a sizable minority (myself included) put it in there so unrolls from the bottom. Each group drives the other nuts.

      Unrolling from the top makes sense - it's the middle of the night, you take a dump (or leak, if female), and you just wanna paw at the roll (why turn the light on?), and wow, there's a sheet or two or three in your hand.

      Or "huh, wheredafuxdapapuh? fuggin underrollin' roommate", and you have to shove the roll away from you until the pieces of TP finally emerge from behind the roll in the wall.

      OK, heretic. What's your excuse?

      (Actually, the excuse of the other guy who said "under is best because it's easier to re-roll if the cat unrolls it" made sense. But as long as I'm in the company of an under-roller, what if there's no cat in the house? Seriously, what's the rationale for under-rolling?)

  • Nice idea, but... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Heraklit ( 29346 )
    Has anyone researched yet when a common-sense idea beomes an algorithm that computer scientist discuss?

    I mean, ok, nice idea, but do we really need computer scientist for this (except for using buzzwords)?
  • by Space Coyote ( 413320 ) on Sunday August 11, 2002 @05:08PM (#4051736) Homepage
    I mean really, discovering the perfect toilet paper algorithm seems all well and good, but I fear the consequence will be that people start to disregard the 'you empty it, you replace it' rule. Good usability does not require that the user be shielded from the process. Rather, the user should be well aware that, once a role is emptied, it needs to be replaced. If the issue is that guests mess up the system, I suggest hanging out with a smarter group of friends.

    Disclaimer: This post was written deliberately in the long-practiced computer science tradition of over-analyzing simple problems.

    • If people start to disregard the "you empty it, you replace it" rule, who knows how destabilized society as a whole may become! Is it really worth the risk to analyze toilet paper replacement? We must not allow technology to become a threat!
    • I fear that this algorithm well use up valuble CPU time that could be used to find the cure for cancer, or read the CIA's email.
    • You have obviously never lived in a house with children. They will immediately get around the rule you empty it, you replace by simply leaving a miniscule amount of whatever the rule applies to, thereby leaving the next person in the original predicament, since in most cases and this one in particular, to little is definately not enough!
  • by strredwolf ( 532 ) on Sunday August 11, 2002 @05:18PM (#4051767) Homepage Journal
    The Japaneze have built several toilets which, when you're done answering nature's call, you reach on one side of the bowl where controls are. There you can clean your butt by having warm watter sprayed around the exit area, maybe some soap, rinse, and then blow dry.

    Don't forget to flush! :D
  • I thought they always told you not to force it.
  • He has some interesting common sense solutions to today's problems I wish companies thought like he did
  • by mbourgon ( 186257 ) on Sunday August 11, 2002 @05:40PM (#4051828) Homepage
    Decided to take a look, see what kind of dual-roll dispensers are available, and voila... a sale!

    Don't know if it was deliberate or not, but what a great way to utilitze the Slashdot Effect...
  • No benefit (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    By using a smallest algorithm you get no benefit over random or largest, except for the option of negating the purpose of dual rolls. With smallest you can refill either after one roll is out or after both rolls are out. If you do it after one roll is done, you've lost all benefit of a dual roll setup: you still have to refill after each single roll and because there is no discernable difference between two fully (or nearly) stocked rolls the one you start using will be the one you keep using. The second roll doesn't even get a chance.

    If you choose to refill after two rolls you end up with no gain over random or largest since you have to refill two at a time no matter what.

    Conclusion: there is no best way to deal with a two roll setup. The advantage conferred is just that you don't have to refill for twice as long if you choose. If you want to refill at the same interval as a single, stick with a single.
    • The benefit is that you don't have to refill it at a, shall we say, inconvenient time. If there is always one usable roll, the second can be refilled without having to hunt for a roll in a cabinet during said inconvenient time.
  • by SiliconEntity ( 448450 ) on Sunday August 11, 2002 @05:43PM (#4051840)
    The article does a good job of analyzing which roll to choose, but neglects the most important question of installing toilet paper rolls.

    Should the paper come over the top of the roll, or out from under the bottom?

    Clearly, over the top is better, because no matter how long or short the loose end is, it is always on the front so you can find it. With the under the bottom system, the loose end can be hanging behind the roll and you have to roll it until you can grab it.
    • I have to disagree with you...

      I always install the roll so that the paper comes out from under the roll. My reasoning for doing this is so that if I pull too much out then all I have to do is push the outside down and the roll rolls the paper back to the proper level.

      I do believe, however, that proper "ettiquite" would dictate that the paper should come from the top of the roll rather than the bottom of the roll. At least when I checked several of my friends' bathrooms it was usually like that.

    • As always, The Simpsons has all the answers. To be extra dorky, I looked up the episode on snpp.com [snpp.com] to confirm:

      [Episode 3F01] Home Sweet Home- Diddily- Dum- Doodily
      The child welfare people that come to take the Simpsons children away lists one of the offenses against Homer and Marge as 'toilet paper hung in improper overhand fashion.'

      Hey, if it's enough to get your children taken away, that's good enough for me.
    • This was all decided on Usenet in the mid-80s, back when Usenet was a real community.

      And yes, over the top is the right answer, unless you are a cat owner.
    • by Grond ( 15515 ) on Sunday August 11, 2002 @06:41PM (#4052006) Homepage
      Should the paper come over the top of the roll, or out from under the bottom?


      There was a slashdot poll about this a long, long time ago (about the time I started reading slashdot, in fact...heh, even then there were people whining about how "slashdot had changed" and "we never have cool polls anymore...like that one about the toilet paper").

      Ahh, here it is [slashdot.org]. The winner with 60% of 13401 votes is "Over". Under got 12%, 18% didn't care, and 8% answered "Huh?" I guess the "Huh?" group lives/lived in societies that don't use toilet paper (either because they use bidets or just go without...)
    • by Crag ( 18776 ) on Sunday August 11, 2002 @06:51PM (#4052026)
      One can catch the paper against the roller holder and get more friction making tearing easier when the roll is installed "backwords". If you try to do this with a forwards roll you'll have to loop what you've got up and around, which tends to get complicated when one is focussed on the latest issue of Popular Mechanics... or whatever else one might read on the toilet... one-handed.
    • Only to add confusion to this issue, I would like to add that no matter how you put the toilet paper on the dispenser, the toilet paper is always over the top.

      It's just a question of whether it's over the top loose end toward you or over the top loose end away from you.

      Perspective.

      And I believe over the top loose end toward is correct.

      ::Colz Grigor

    • by 3ryon ( 415000 ) on Sunday August 11, 2002 @07:57PM (#4052189)
      Clearly, over the top is better, because no matter how long or short the loose end is, it is always on the front so you can find it. With the under the bottom system, the loose end can be hanging behind the roll and you have to roll it until you can grab it.

      I think a lot of people feel this way...until they have cats.
    • by rgmoore ( 133276 ) <glandauer@charter.net> on Sunday August 11, 2002 @11:13PM (#4052710) Homepage
      Should the paper come over the top of the roll, or out from under the bottom?

      Clearly, over the top is better, because no matter how long or short the loose end is, it is always on the front so you can find it. With the under the bottom system, the loose end can be hanging behind the roll and you have to roll it until you can grab it.

      That depends on the number of small children and pets in the household. If you make the free end of the toilet paper too easy to grab, then the simple minded and easily amused (I guess that might include some adults too) will sit there and unroll the whole roll just for the fun of it. It's like many things involving children and pets: making things too convenient can wind up causing problems when those who shouldn't be messing with things have access.

  • "Get your hands out of that cereal box! How many times have I told you never to open a new box until you've finished the last box?"
  • Members of the world. Fear no longer. The toilet paper issue is solved, once and for all. No nitwick professor can now waste you're hard earned tax money on this essentially small problem. I am glad it was solved by man-in-the-street.
  • Believe it or not, Donald Knuth has a paper "The Toilet Paper Problem" in his book Selected Papers on Analysis of Algorithms (ISBN 1575862123).
  • "Hi, my name is Don, and I have too much free time on my hands."
  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Sunday August 11, 2002 @06:04PM (#4051906) Journal
    If you want to make a fast buck, go the the hardware store, buy a bunch of sand-paper, and resell it at a Trekkie convention as Official Klingon Toilet Paper. (You might need to print up some fancy-looking packaging.)

    Sells like hot cakes.

    I just don't like to be around when they test it on a dare.
  • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Sunday August 11, 2002 @06:25PM (#4051962)
    The author discussed, in true binary fashion, "available" vs. "unavailable" for a second roll.

    People have also discussed "over the top vs. under the bottom".

    There is a middle ground: two rollers, one "over the top" and the other "under the bottom". This would also self-regulate the usage of the rolls, ensuring one ran out before the other.

    Which one runs out first depends on the physical characteristics of the holder.

    For a fixed holder, the answer is probably "over the top".

    But for a hanging holder, where the weight of the paper itself levers the paper into the wall, increasing the overall friction, "under the bottom" allows you to mitigate friction effects, while "over the top" increases them.

    Since a fixed holder results in the choice being user preference, that doesn't solve anything; clearly, the fix is in two parts: (1) use hanging holders, and (2) make the primary roll "under the bottom" and the secondary roll "over the top".

    Another solution (which is only statistical) is to locate rolls on either side of the toilet. Left handed people are outnumbered by right handed people 20 to 1, on average. But this fix only works "on average", as a result.

    All in all, a "P-P complete" problem.

    -- Terry
  • by jc42 ( 318812 ) on Sunday August 11, 2002 @06:27PM (#4051974) Homepage Journal
    This is one of the textbook examples of what people in several fields (such as economics evolutionary biology) have for some time referred to as "super-rational" behavior.

    Th conventional definition of "super-rational" is taking into account the consequences of everyone (or at least the majority) following the strategy. It doesn't actually imply that the actors are rational (or even thinking). One of the topics where it has been used is the biological question of how altruism evolves. The best explanation so far is that a population that behaves altruistically among themselves has a survival advantage over purely individualistic populations.

    The double toilet paper example is used as a clear way of illustrating this concept, in a way that doesn't impinge on people's social or religious ideologies. Very few people have any strong feelings about which roll you should use, so they are able to follow the argument without their beliefs causing distraction. And it's clear that a population could behave in a super-rational fashion in this case without being consciously aware that they were doing so. An irrational preference for the inner part of the roll would suffice.

    If you ask google about "super-rational", you'll find a number of links to this concept buried among the silly and/or pretentious sites.

  • It occurs to me that there *is* a paredo optimal solution.

    There has to be.

    The problem is "P-P complete".

    -- Terry
  • Why don't you just have a little LED on top of the two rolls that points to which roll you *should* use. When the TP on one roll goes low, you switch it to the other side.

    Oh, I'm sorry, that's for EE majors, not CS people.

  • It has been addressed as humor in response to this essay, however I think it an interesting point...

    Perhaps the answer has something to do with whether the paper is dispensed over the top toward the front or over the top toward the back.

    This puts in question the author's premise in the first place. He states there are three possible functions for the use of toilet paper.
    Algorithm large
    Algorithm small
    Algorithm random

    Perhaps, even before these algorithms are addressed, the directionality of the toilet paper is of ultimate concern.

    This is to say that the author's algorithms might be correct if both rolls of toilet paper are equal, but the purpose of the forcing function is to make the rolls of toilet paper unequal.

    So I ask: what would happen if, on a dual roll of toilet paper, the closer roll was over the top toward the user and the further roll was over the top and away. This would make the first roll more accessable and therefore might possibly resolve the whole issue.

    And I'm not even a computer scientist!

    ::Colz Grigor

    • Sent a similar message to the author, Don Norman. Received this reply:

      Thanks for writing.

      My house is tainted by the essay and the discussions we have had.

      So I'll let you do the experiment.

      Good luck.

      Thanks for writing

      Okay, fine.

      I went to work today, where we have dual side-by-side dispensers. I noticed that in one of the stalls, the paper was precisely as I suggested it should be for this experiment but reversed: the closer roll was over to the back while the further roll was over to the front.

      Interestingly enough, the further roll was nearly empty and the closer roll was nearly full.

      So there's data point #1, confirming my theory. Can anyone else add data points?

      ::Colz Grigor

  • by limekiller4 ( 451497 ) on Sunday August 11, 2002 @07:47PM (#4052160) Homepage
    Oh, man. When I read "forcing function," I was going to suggest more fiber, but this is a bit different...
  • by teetam ( 584150 ) on Sunday August 11, 2002 @08:01PM (#4052200) Homepage
    Don Norman is an excellent computer scientist who concentrates on the usability aspect of software which many ignore. His book - "Design of Everyday Things" is a very interesting book and a must read for all techies.

    There is more to computer science than mastering the latest buzz words.

  • Direction (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mike3k ( 574665 )
    If you have a cat, the roll needs to face towards the wall, or you'll find it unrolled and most of your home TPd. On the other hand, my can is now able to unroll it in either direction.
  • by g4dget ( 579145 ) on Monday August 12, 2002 @02:16AM (#4053053)
    It should be pretty obvious to any halfway intelligent person how to use a dual-roll toilet holder. It does not require a computer scientist, a rocket scientist, or any other kind of scientist.

    Furthermore, most homes have something nice and pretty called a "under-sink cabinet" in the bathroom, which is where you keep the extra toilet rolls when you have a one-roll holder. It solves the problem of which roll to take paper from (the one in the holder, not the one out of sight in the cabinet, in case you are part of the few percent of the population that doesn't get this). And that is why most homes don't bother with ugly, bulky, industrial-looking dual-roll toilet holders. People who have a separate room for their toilet and no under-sink cabinets usually install a little cabinet in that room, useful not only for holding toilet paper but also cleaning supplies.

    Most normal people understand this. Most normal people know to look in the cabinet when they run out of toilet paper. (Most normal people also know not to keep any incriminating or unusual personal items there because they understand that other people will be looking there.)

    I think the fact that one of the foremost HCI experts in the countries thinks it worthwhile to share his profound insights on this matter tells you a lot more about the state of HCI research than anything about toilet paper. Apparently, HCI researchers think that the rest of the country consists of idiots who don't even know what to do in the bathroom. In different words, I think a lot of HCI research is roughly at the same level of worrying about installing dual-roll toilet paper holders in the home.

    • I disagree. The cabinet under the sink can be difficult to get to if you're already sitting on the pot and don't care to get up. Further, the availability of backup rolls is not readily visible, and may go undiscovered 'till it's too late.

      Hence, I'd argue that the article is both relevant and useful, as are dual toilet paper holders.
      • The cabinet under the sink can be difficult to get to if you're already sitting on the pot and don't care to get up.

        That's why you look before you sit down, another one of those simple lessons of life most people learn in kindergarden. If you haven't figured out to look first, dual rolls won't help you either.

        Further, the availability of backup rolls is not readily visible, and may go undiscovered 'till it's too late.

        Again, look first if necessary. If you forgot to look and there is nothing there (two failures), it is embarrassing enough for everybody involved not to repeat the mistake, and harmless enough not to lose sleep over.

        • You honestly go through that step every time? Jeesh.

          One of the points of good HCI design is to eliminate unnecessary work on the part of the user, and maximize tolerance for user-error. A good dual-roll system (which, among other things, makes its status clearly visible and allows plenty of time for replacement while only one roll is empty) makes it harder for the user to Do The Wrong Thing and makes proper usage more convenient (by extending the refilling window). As such, a good dual-roll design is truly an improvement over the more traditional system you argue in favor of.
          • You honestly go through that step every time? Jeesh.

            You mean, look at the roll holder before I sit down? Of course. Doing so is simple self-preservation in the real world.

            As such, a good dual-roll design is truly an improvement over the more traditional system you argue in favor of.

            I don't argue in favor or against it, I'm merely pointing out that for normal people, this is not a real problem. The fact that HCI researchers think it is a problem tells you a lot about HCI researchers.

            (Even if it were a real problem, the dual-roll design doesn't really fix things. If you don't look at it fairly regularly, you will still find yourself with your pants down and no paper. If you wanted to "protect" people from that situation, you'd have to lock the bowl itself when there is no paper, to force people to refill before they are caught with their pants down. This has obvious disadvantages in practice, but it is roughly the equivalent of what many modal dialog boxes do in real-world software.)

            • (Even if it were a real problem, the dual-roll design doesn't really fix things. If you don't look at it fairly regularly, you will still find yourself with your pants down and no paper.

              ...for a much, much looser definition of "fairly regularly" than is necessary with the traditional design. Anyhow, having the spare roll directly next to the current one makes it much more likely to be noticed when there's no ready spare than when the "spare" is sitting inside a closed cabinet drawer. It's not a sure thing, granted, but the result is to rather dramatically reduce instances of embarassment for even more absent-minded folks (like myself). That is to say: You may have substantially more presence of mind than many others, but that's not to say that a system that's usable for you is ideal for everyone. Changing an interface to increase usability by even a subset of the population is entirely reasonable so long as it doesn't substantially impact usability by the populace as a whole.

              • Changing an interface to increase usability by even a subset of the population is entirely reasonable so long as it doesn't substantially impact usability by the populace as a whole.

                I disagree. Cumulatively, accomodating all the possible excentricities and quirks of everybody results in overwhelming waste, costs, and functional limitations. And that is just what we see in user interfaces designed by HCI experts: bloated, annoying programs with very limited functionality.

                Furthermore, those accomodations don't help, they make things worse. If you don't learn to check for paper at home, you likely will forget when you travel as well, and then you are in real trouble. And if you come to rely on all those gadgets and gimmicks in one house, you'll have to buy them all again when you move.

                If you are disabled, by all means, go ahead and accomodate. But for laziness or stupidity, there is a very simple answer: you have one of the most powerful brains in the animal kingdom--use it.

                • If you are disabled, by all means, go ahead and accomodate. But for laziness or stupidity, there is a very simple answer: you have one of the most powerful brains in the animal kingdom--use it.

                  You presume that the natural order of things is to have the exact same technology that we have presently -- that any changes or improvements to increase usability are "accomodations" incurring extra expense and difficulty. That's not necessarily the case -- if one is building a bathroom ground-up, the marginal expense in a proper dual-roll configuration is minimal -- and in any event, the primary thing keeping the older technology as standard (such that using anything better is an "accomodation") is the attitudes of people such as yourself. (Are modern bathrooms "accomodations" for people who don't like outhouses?)

                  Would you have folks using only vi on their home machines, because there's no guarantee that vim or emacs will be available when they work on other hosts (and expecting the features of the latter editors will hamstring them when traveling)? Would you expect people to buy only vehicles with manual transmissions, because doing otherwise will hamstring them should they need to drive a stick?

                  Finally, let me mention that while the cumulative effect of accomodating all possible ecentricities and quirks is indeed enormous, I don't argue in favor of doing so. Rather, when building or remodeling a home, I can choose to accomodate those eccentricities and quirks for which the benefit (either to myself or to my likely guests, or the home's future purchasers) outweighs the cost. If all decisions regarding such accomodations were made similarly, however large the costs involved might be, the cumulative benefits would be similarly great. A skilled HCI expert will be able to take this tradeoff into account, and develop interfaces that provide the most benefit to the most users with the least costs. Now, you (and I) are presumably not "most users", and may find the constraints applied to be unreasonable -- but for the average users, a good interface by a skilled HCI expert will result in a more immediately usable program with fewer "gotchas" resulting in user error. Granted, these users may still have the brains to (with substantial work and effort) learn to use a more arcane UI -- but why make them learn to use their computer with time they could be spending going about their work?
    • most homes have something nice and pretty called a "under-sink cabinet" in the bathroom

      I live in Germany. We don't have cabinets. We have cute stuffed bunnies that look like toys but are really rolls of toilet paper dressed up as dolls. When you run out you reach up and rip the bunny's clothes off and tada! Toilet paper!

      BTW: We also don't have those tank thingies behind the toilet either... just giant ceramic buttons embedded in the wall.

      Oh yeah, and you flip the light switch up to turn off the light and down to turn on the light. Weird huh?
  • One neglected aspect of this whole discussion is the all important physical placement of the roll holder.

    One some toilets I've visited the arrangement fails to acknowledge that the distance to and / or placement of the roll holder relative to the actual toilet seat is an important design parameter.

    On some of these poorly designed arrangements the roll is placed almost, but not entirely out of reach forcing one to leave the seat which we all know feels somewhat ackward. Others place the roll holder closely besides or even behind the actual toilet in such a way that you initially panic in search of it and - after discovering it - physically stress your body trying to find a way to get to the roll.

    I think there's enough material in these observations for at least another paper on the subject.
  • from News of the Weird [newsoftheweird.com] circa 1998 or so:

    In April, Sir Roger Penrose, a British math professor who has worked with Stephen Hawking on such topics as relativity, black holes, and whether time has a beginning, filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the Kimberly-Clark Corporation, which Penrose said copied a pattern he created (a pattern demonstrating that "a nonrepeating pattern could exist in nature") for its Kleenex quilted toilet paper. Penrose said he doesn't like litigation but, "When it comes to the population of Great Britain being invited by a multinational to wipe their bottoms on what appears to be the work of a Knight of the Realm, then a last stand must be taken".

Multics is security spelled sideways.

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