Posted by: erichosemann | October 11, 2009

Magical Extraction

Just when you thought my miracle-bar was set as low as it could go, I have another one for you: carpet extractors.

Carpet extractors are miraculous little machines. Are you familiar with them?

They are the plastic droid-shaped machines waiting to be rented near the entrance of your local hardware store or Home Depot. They are sometimes called steam cleaners, though they don’t use steam.

I had to use one this weekend because this guy
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had an accident in the house. We live in a single-story ranch built on a slab with wall-to-wall carpet to keep the cold cement slab from totally freezing feet in winter.

“The accident” occurred in several places and was well trampled into the carpet of most of them by the time my wife got home. So we decided to give the carpets a thorough clean.

The first things you will notice about a rented carpet extractor are that it is small and light. Not as a feather, but light enough and small enough to be easily tucked into the trunk of a sedan by one person. It uses hot tap water and, if you wish it, a concentrated cleaner that comes in a 64-ounce bottle and is mixed with the water at various ratios. The cleaner costs extra, of course.

Now, I’m not going to get into a nuts-and-bolts, detailed review of the machines performance. It was adequate, at least, for the waste water was always a rich, deep, gray-brown every time I emptied the machine. I knew dirt was getting pulled out from somewhere. And I’d prefer not to gush over a particular kind of carpet extractor. They all operate on the same principles: jets spray hot (though not scalding) water into the carpet, a large brush agitates the carpet, and a powerful vacuum sucks the water back out again, dragging dirt with it.

What’s miraculous about these mundane machines is the amount of capital packed into them. A powerful vacuum motor. A powerful, tiny water pump. Accurately machined brass spray nozels. An electric motor to spin the brush. A machined aluminum vacuum nozzle. A plastic chassis with a folding handle. For forty bucks–after deposit refund–and this product of self-interested designers, engineers and sales people is yours for twenty-four hours.

What’s also miraculous is that people have come to think such a powerful collection of technology is mundane.

A forgivable lapse, perhaps. Who wants to rhapsodize carpet extractors? (Me, for one.) But people tend to ignore the technological bounty of their lives and instead focus on the gap between their expectations of what that technology should do and what it actually does for them. They then consider the mere existence of such a gap sufficient grounds for categorical dismissals, or for making statements that begin with “If I designed this thing, I would have…”

Well, none of that’s important, because you didn’t design it, or market it, or test it umpteen-thousand times, did you? Yet you—we—get to use the machine even though we did nothing to imagine, design and produce such a thing. Miraculous.

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