Phil Gyford


Monday 30 June 2003

PreviousIndexNext Domestic geeks

One of the great things about geeks is the way they (or, I admit, “we”) submit apparently mundane events and actions to exhaustive levels of analysis. There seems to be a mini-tradition of trying to make domestic tasks as regular and efficient as possible:

  • In 1998, Danny O’Brien wrote How to Wash Dishes, a pseudo-code-esque set of instructions.

    The Current Item and the Queued Item are both washed. This involves completing a series of acts. The item has not been cleaned unless all of these acts have been completed. Some acts may be performed on a Queued Item, some acts may be performed on the Current Item, some may be performed on both. Acts vary according to the item. Acts should follow the order in which they are listed.

  • A couple of years ago Matt Webb came up with A Roast Dinner HOWTO, instructions for a traditional English (British?) Sunday lunch mimicking the form of technical instructions, or HOWTOs (although its language is friendly and non-technical).
  • And now Erik Benson has turned his attention to how to measure the “optimal interval of time to vacuum” a house.

    Each time you vacuum, you are bringing the state of the house to the same level of cleanliness, so regardless of whether or not you vacuum every hour or every month, after any particular vacuuming session your house is equally clean. It then becomes a matter of determining the threshold of dirtiness that triggers a vacuuming.

There must be more examples of this kind of thing…?


We may think we do common domestic things the same way but the differences can be amazing. Great cross cultural illumination would be brought to bear if you had an American, an Englishman, a Frenchman, an Egyptian and an Indian writing detailed descriptions of how we do the same things. All of these countries have their fair share of geeks so why not? Three domestic activities which might bring out key differences are 1) All the things people do between closing the toilet door and opening it again. 2) Washing up dishes 3) Disposing of rubbish/garbage.

If the up side of all this pseudo code is providing road maps for others to follow, recipes to help others do or make things, robotic computer programs, illumination of cultural differences then great, long may such help and diversity continue. The down side you could link to 'efficiency', which tends to drag with it the idea of 'one best way' and on to 'standardisation'. There is always a down side.

On a cheerful note the next time you meet a Dutch person ask them to write down the noise a cock/rooster makes when it crows in the morning. We British people know the answer to that, it goes "cock a doodle doo". The Dutch they have a different idea.

Posted by Richard Hyett on 30 June 2003, 9:43 pm | Link

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