Your washer's calling and the dryer's on IM

Next week will find an armada of modern technology being marshaled in behalf of three Atlanta families and their desire to devote less time to a household chore that dates to the dawn of mankind - at least the dawn of clothed mankind.

That seems like an armada more than is needed to do the laundry, if you ask me, and no one's even offering to help sort, fold or put away clothes.

Laundry Time, an eight-week pilot program from the Internet Home Alliance, will eventually include nine families and feature the technology and services of Microsoft, HP, Panasonic, Proctor & Gamble and Whirlpool. The idea is to allow family members to receive alerts and control certain laundry functions from their PCs, cell phones and television sets, thus freeing up more time to spend with their PCs, cell phones and television sets. (They actually sell the idea better than I do, of course.)

Microsoft is kicking in proprietary Laundry Time software and its Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005; HP is providing Digital Entertainment Centers; Panasonic is bringing transceivers and TV technology; while Proctor & Gamble applies its consumer know-how. Oh, and Whirlpool has the Laundry Time-enabled washers and dryers, although I couldn't find out whether the families get to keep them or not.

Whether this ever catches on with consumers - and whether anyone will pay money for such conveniences - will all come out in the wash, of course, but label me unenthused. And before anyone asks, the answer is, yes, I do plenty of laundry in my five-person household, perhaps more than my wife would like given our long-running disagreements over best practices.

You be the judge on Laundry Time, though.

According to the press release, here are three examples - and remember that they're supposed to be the best examples - of how a networked laundry operation will improve the quality of your life. I've taken the liberty of providing an alternative to each Laundry Time scenario:

Laundry Time's high-tech vision: "You decide to do your laundry while the family is watching TV. After you start the washer (the system will allow you to implement the process remotely), you relax in front of the TV. Thirty minutes later, an alert pops up on your TV screen saying, "Wash Complete," so you put the load in the dryer and put another load in the washer. You get a similar alert on your TV when the dryer is done, so you never forget about your laundry and can fold your clothes before they get wrinkled."

BuzzBlog's low-tech alternative: Toss in a load of laundry. Thirty minutes later the washing machine's standard-issue alarm will shatter your concentration on an episode of "Law & Order: Special Victim's Unit" that you have seen four times already. Utter an obscenity. Tell your spouse as sweetly as possible that she's been right all along and the only way she can be sure that the dryer will be running at the proper temperature setting for her unmentionables is if she sets the bloody thing herself. Smile. Return attention to Detective Benson.

Laundry Time's high-tech vision: "You settle down to do some Web surfing after a busy day. When you start up your browser, you get an Instant Message alert telling you that the dryer did not start its cycle. You realize that you forgot to press the start button. Laundry Time asks you in the IM whether you would like to start the cycle. With your mouse, you select "yes," which starts the dryer, and you continue Web surfing without interruption."

BuzzBlog's low-tech alternative: Remember to press the damn dryer button before firing up your browser. If you forget, attempt to press it again once your memory reboots. If you still fail to initiate the drying process via manual manipulation, go to the nearest telephone and dial 911, as you may be suffering a stroke.

Laundry Time's high-tech vision: "While running errands, you get an alert on your cell phone that the dryer is done. You don't want your clothes to sit in the dryer and wrinkle so you use a key on your cell phone to tell the dryer to 'fluff' the load for an additional 15 minutes, the time it will take you to finish your errands and return home."

BuzzBlog's low-tech alternative: Wrinkles-schminkles. If you're taking phone calls from your laundry appliances while operating an automobile let's just say that a messy crease in the khakis is the least of your concerns.

Of course, these Laundry Time partners are serious companies not in the habit of flushing R&D dollars down the drain. While confident that they've hit on the right formula for success, Tim Woods, vice president of the Internet Home Alliance, tells me that the pilot-test data may lead the project's brain trust to conclude that "now is not the right time" for networked laundry appliances.

Call me old-fashioned - I'm old enough to remember clotheslines and clothespins - but I'm not sure there will be a right time.

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