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Dear Matthew Alice:

Why do restrooms in public buildings have those special screws that can't be removed? All the stalls seem to be put together with them, and I can't figure out what they are protecting against. Do people steal restroom stalls if they are held together with regular hardware? What do they do with them? Is there a black market for used restroom stalls?

--Bruce Binder, Pacific Beach

Hey Matt:

Can you tell me who's bright idea it was to come up with motion-sensor toilets? There is nothing more annoying than putting the seat protector down and then turning to sit, only to have the toilet flush because you moved, thus sucking the seat protector down the hole causing you to have to start all over again. And to top it off, when you are done and want the toilet to flush, it doesn't. I think this whole idea needs to be re-examined.

--Valerie in the land of who was the nimrod that came up with this?

We can't name names, Val, but if we could, they would probably be Japanese. Blending the mundane with weird technology is virtually a national sport: consider the fiber-optic wedding dress, the electronic pillow, the voice-activated shrine (in Buddhist and Shinto models). The best of their high-tech toilets have remote-controlled adjustable butt-shower wands, seat raisers, seat warmers, hot-air bum dryers, and blood pressure checkers in the arm rests. Even as we speak, a company is working on one that will capture your personal toilet deposits, run chemical analyses of them, then automatically send the results to your doctor. But don't worry, Valerie. We'll never have to face that prospect here in the U. S. because after nearly ten years, it's clear that we can't even master the auto-flush feature. In the interest of public safety, I don't think we should be allowed to fool around with more advanced toilet technology.

After he stopped giggling at your bathroom routine, an engineer at Sloan, the largest maker of auto-flush valves, offers these tips for more efficient bathroom breaks. When you enter the stall and come within about 42 inches of the flush mechanism, a infrared beam senses your presence. Once you break the beam for a continuous ten seconds, the system will be locked and loaded, waiting for you to move away from the beam, it's signal to flush. While you fiddle with that (useless, by the way) seat cover, maintain your position in the beam at all times and you'll be okay. Now get out there and practice, practice, practice.

As for disappearing stall doors, Bruce, I'm amazed that you're amazed that people would take them. Vandalism is as American as apple pie in the face. Doors are removed simply for sport. For the challenge of it. Just because they're there. We dialed up Knickerbocker Partitions, which makes the partitions and hardware and one-way bolts, and got an earful. The most vandalism? Women's bathrooms, especially in schools. Go figure. Only the stalls and hardware destined for prisons must be more vandal-resistant.

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