Stories from a life in progress.


On Saturday I finally had time to try an experiment.  I've been planning to compare laundry times using wool dryer balls and not using them -- running two equally-sized loads of laundry through the dryer, one with a set of dryer balls and one without, and timing both to find the difference.  I have anecdotal data from people who use them that the balls do make a difference, but I've found a lot of people have never heard of them at all.  Which means, to make them an appealing sale, I have to make it clear what the benefits are.  So, time to invite a bit of science to the party and find out.

It was almost silly, the degree to which I was looking forward to doing laundry on Saturday.  I dumped my big pile of dirty stuff in the washer and set about gathering what I needed for a photo shoot, wanting to make a simple photo-story out of it.  I fetched my batteries and a clock, brought an extra lamp in for better lighting, cleaned the dust off my dryer (lint gets everywhere!), staged some shots with wool balls and laundry baskets and the dryer itself.  Silly or not, the creative parts were fun.  I enjoyed them all the more because I was looking forward to a good result.  I could make my photo-story, post it online, and Zing! reveal the dramatic, sales-inspiring ending.

I was scrupulous about dividing up my laundry into two loads, making everything as equal as possible.  Same number of t-shirts on either side, same number of flannel shirts, same number of jeans and other pants, same number of underthings -- I even divided each pair of socks, putting one in either pile.  This is science, people!  Everything needs to be as even as possible at the start!

The first load went in with no dryer balls, and I took photos of the clock when I pushed the button to start the dryer and when it buzzed to announce the cycle was done.  The second load went in, wool balls neatly placed on top (and anything potentially embarrassing tucked underneath and out of sight) for another photo.  This was it: the payoff was coming.  The data I wanted was within reach.  Another hour or so and I'd have an answer.

I went off to play with yarn, not paying much attention for a while -- nothing to do but let the machine work.  I glanced at the clock every now and then, and then some more, starting to wonder.  Seemed like it was taking the dryer a long time.  Surely it must be almost finished?  The dial said not quite.

I got my camera ready and waited for the end.  When the dryer finally buzzed I shot the clock, and then looked up the first photo to compare the times.  I did the necessary bit of figuring and got my result.

Four minutes.

There was only four minutes' difference between the two loads.  I got a 5% reduction in time, and that's all.  I was surprised and disappointed.  Is that it?  Are these just gimmicky little stupid things and I'm wasting my time making them?  Even worse, have I been lying to people and selling them something that is worthless?

There was one final unaccounted-for variable in my experiment, though.  I realized while pulling the last clothes out of the dryer that I had cleaned the lint screen scrupulously before the first load (it needed a good hard cleaning anyway), but I had totally forgotten to clean it before the second.  It never crossed my mind.  So the two loads didn't run on even terms.  Did a partly-covered lint screen cancel out the good done by the wool balls?  Or did it just not matter much either way?

I didn't get the result I wanted from my test, but I got a serious lesson from observing my reactions to it.  I'm so quick to believe that my uncertainty is correct, and I'm far too inclined to just give up and walk away when something doesn't go well.  I listen to the internal voice that ties my competence and self-worth directly to my success at what I do, and when I don't do something well, I get really discouraged and just stop.  There's a simple next step here -- run the experiment again and make sure to clean the lint screen both times.  That's not complicated.  But I'm a lot less enthused to do it now.  I'm not quite admitting to myself that I'm scared I'll get a bad result again, and have to give up after all.  A lack of immediate success must mean failure is ensured.

This is a long-standing pattern, frankly, and I'm tired of it.  I've never gotten anything good from it, and this is an opportunity to look it in the eye and stand up to it.  With beautiful, serendipitous timing, a really good friend just published a smart piece about the need to keep working when the payoffs are delayed, if we believe in what we're doing.  Uncertainty about the final result is not a good excuse to give up.  Unexpected timing is not a good reason to walk away.

I've got one unexpected result, and one clear next step.  This story simply isn't finished yet