What are they on about?

22nd June 2001 at 01:00
David Newnham wants his toast and his weather predictions well done

Congratulations to the Brunel University student who designed a weather-forecasting toaster. The announcement of his invention was timed to perfection. With newspapers and their readers tiring of Westminster, a snippet about an appliance that logs on to the internet, then brands a slice of bread with a sun, cloud or rain symbol was manna from heaven.

What the poor chap could not have foreseen, however, was that his invention touched on two hobby-horses of mine. Sure he was just being ironic. But years of frustration with the shortcomings of electric toasters and the inadequacies of the meteorological service have dulled my appreciation of kitsch.

Let's start with toast. No matter how many dials there are offering subtle gradations of brown, all your toaster does is scorch the bread for a certain length of time, then pop it up, ready or not. If the bread is fresh and moist, you can extend the toasting period. If the element is already hot from a previous slice, you can shorten it. But with so many imponderables, it's a hit-and-miss business.

What I eed is a toaster that knows when the job is done. I don't care if it measures surface temperature or simply gauges the colour, so long as it works.

As for the weather forecast - well, what can I say? Thanks to the internet, it's now easy to download several weather maps for your area and compare the forecasts. Not only do they rarely agree (this they have in common with horoscopes), but their predictions change on a daily basis. If they tell you on Monday that the weekend will be mild, there's a good chance that by Friday they'll be forecasting locusts. It's not uncommon for a weather report to be wrong about current conditions - a dry morning? Then I guess it's raining in my head - and I've even read summaries of yesterday's weather that make me suspect my own sanity.

So a toaster that prints the forecast on my bread? Do me a favour, sunshine. In fact, do me two favours. Invent me a toaster that can make toast (as opposed to a device for testing smoke alarms). And stop perpetuating the myth that it's even remotely possible to predict the weather.

Now, anyone for coffee?


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