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    May 16, 2007 08:54 PM

    Broken: Airline passengers stuck on the runway

    From the NYTimes, Stuck on the Runway, Thinking Rebellious Thoughts:

    After about five hours, a flight attendant announced that “an American executive” had ordered pizzas to be delivered from the airport. Five boxes arrived.

    Flight attendants, who, according to one passenger, had been “missing in action most of the time,” cut the slices into tiny pieces — 70 in all. Flight attendants said that only those who “really needed it” should take one, a passenger said.

    January 25, 2007 12:17 PM

    Broken: Diebold voting machines (again)

    Link: Boing Boing: Diebold voting machine key copied from pic on Diebold site.

    Diebold voting machine key copied from pic on Diebold site


    November 7, 2006 12:51 AM

    Broken: Diebold electronic voting machines

    FoxtrotvotingToday is Election Day in the US, and many Americans will cast votes on electronic voting machines.

    Foxtrot, one of my all-time favorite comic strips, gets it exactly right in a recent strip. Electronic voting machines are scary... at best. At worst, their possible effects are unthinkably bad.

    Read the Foxtrot strip. (Thanks, bb)

    From last Sunday's New York Times, this op-ed about electronic voting machines says:

    Vicki Lovegren, a mathematics lecturer at Case Western Reserve University who has become a local advocate for election integrity, said, “If you’re a computer scientist, you’re nervous,” adding: “When you have electronic voting machines, it doesn’t take a conspiracy of many people. One person can affect the outcome without anyone knowing.”

    If you really want to be scared, watch this video showing how easy it is to hack a Diebold voting machine. Or read how Diebold may have knowingly supplied flawed machines for the '04 election.

    Update: BoingBoing writes...

    If you experience any irregularities in voting today, call 1-866-OUR-VOTE, the hotline for the National Campaign for Fair Elections. EFF lawyers and many others are standing by across the country to take legal action to remove malfunctioning voting machines, keep polls open, etc.

    Update: More to watch on the deeply flawed electronic voting system. YouTube - HACKING DEMOCRACY-(HBO) Part 1. And here's Part 2.

    October 16, 2006 09:15 AM

    Broken: Spurious "copyright area" sign

    CopyrightprotectedareaCommenting on a sign declaring a "copyright-protected area", Cory comments on BoingBoing today:

    "One of the side-effects of the entertainment industry's war on copying is that it's created a kind of folk-mythology about copyright being a kind of magic word you can invoke to put a fence around anything that you want to police."


    July 28, 2006 10:58 AM

    Broken: Reuters copyright statement

    Spotted at the bottom of a Reuters story on CNN that I link to over on the Good Experience blog. I guess this is nothing new, but I was surprised at how restrictive the copyright statement is:

    Copyright 2006 Reuters. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

    Don't broadcast it, don't publish it - I guess that gets the website in trouble... why not take the next logical step and tell people not to read it?

    It's like the guitar in Spinal Tap that Marty isn't even allowed to think about. It's copyright nirvana - no one publishing, no one reading, no one thinking, no one getting at the material in any way whatsoever. Ahhhh, that's a tidy little world.

    I'm not opposed in principle to copyright; I just think that copyright statements shouldn't say silly things like that.

    June 14, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: Ford's "anniversary packages"


    The Detroit News asks, "is Ford's parting gift to ex-workers 'cruel joke'?"

    "So it was with some surprise that Stawasz unwrapped a package he received from Ford earlier this month. Inside he found a certificate recognizing his 30 years of service to Ford and a letter from Chairman and CEO Bill Ford Jr."

    Unfortunately, Stawasz had just been fired...

    Read news story

    April 8, 2006 09:01 AM

    Broken: Many infomercials

    Many infomercials are scams. (Shocking, I know.)

    From Words to Live By in Infomercial World: Caveat Emptor - New York Times:

    Somehow the producers of infomercials make it work. Those trying to warn consumers about the possible pitfalls have a much harder time of it. The Federal Trade Commission issues a constant stream of warnings at against belts that twitch your abdominal muscles and no-money-down real estate seminars that promise riches. Of course, hundreds of people have to be duped before a product is cited there.

    March 21, 2006 10:36 AM

    Broken: Patents on facts

    Michael Crichton on how even thinking a certain fact can, by law, be an infringement of a patent. This is so, so broken.

    From This Essay Breaks the Law - New York Times:

    Any doctor who reads a patient's test results and even thinks of vitamin deficiency infringes the patent. A federal circuit court held that mere thinking violates the patent. All this may sound absurd, but it is the heart of a case that will be argued before the Supreme Court on Tuesday. In 1986 researchers filed a patent application for a method of testing the levels of homocysteine, an amino acid, in the blood. They went one step further and asked for a patent on the basic biological relationship between homocysteine and vitamin deficiency.

    March 7, 2006 12:50 PM

    Broken: Misleading political telemarketers

    I got this voice mail today from a telemarketer who says that a congressman wants to "recognize you with a national leadership award," and would I contact his call cent-- uhh, his office, to get the details.

    If by "national leadership award" you mean "invoice for a large political donation," wow! I really don't feel honored! In fact you wasted my time with a misleading spam message!

    I try to steer away from politics on this site, so I'll give the caveat that, to me, this has nothing to do with his party; rather, it's this duplicitous style of fundraising - whatever party uses it - that is broken.

    Download audio file (Quicktime .mov, 150kb)

    October 13, 2005 09:03 AM

    Broken: US health care bureaucracy

    Link: Treated for Illness, Then Lost in Labyrinth of Bills - New York Times.

    August 17, 2005 12:03 AM

    Broken: Non-question in DC Bar app

    Dc_barJeremy Arling writes:

    This is a page for the online application to the DC Bar. I find it ironic, given that it is the ethics section of the form.

    August 16, 2005 05:15 PM

    Broken: Patient experience in many hospitals

    From the NYT today: In the Hospital, a Degrading Shift From Person to Patient.

    (Thanks, Laura)

    August 3, 2005 11:06 AM

    Broken: Bottled water economics

    Provocative article on the economics of bottled water. I'm not claiming the high ground, since I buy bottled water a lot for the convenience. But here are the facts:

    "Ounce for ounce, it costs more than gasoline, even at today's high gasoline prices; depending on the brand, it costs 250 to 10,000 times more than tap water. Globally, bottled water is now a $46 billion industry."

    "Clean water could be provided to everyone on earth for an [extra] outlay of $1.7 billion a year... this is less than a quarter of global annual spending on bottled water."

    June 12, 2005 12:01 AM

    Broken: Anti-photo policies

    Anti-photo policies in public areas really annoy me. (The recent policy on the NYC subway comes to mind..) The only people it affects are law-abiding citizens who wouldn't do anything wrong with the photos; given how small cameras are now, the Bad Guys are still free to take as many pictures as they like.

    Boing Boing links to this heartening story: Photographer grills security guard about dumb policy.

    April 20, 2005 09:22 AM

    Broken: New "MyPyramid"

    FoodpyramidA New York Times story today reports on the new and improved (well, it's definitely new) food pyramid. At left find the new and old pyramids. Which is clearer? Forget the food-industry lobbying that manipulated the recommendations (or lack thereof) - just look at the information design of these two graphics. Which is clearer to read?

    Find more on the new pyramid, at left, at I have to admit, hooking the whole thing on an interactive online "wizard" to guide you through recommendations seems a bit much.

    Update May 9, 2005: Also see Slate's article featuring redesigns of the pyramid.

    April 15, 2005 12:21 AM

    Broken: TaxCut claim

    Taxcut1Nate Morrison writes:

    TaxCut is particularly buggy this year and they make some rather incredible claims.  For example, this screen shot (I removed the financial data).  TaxCut is claiming that it saved me money on taxes this year because I used a pretax retirement account.  Note that this claim is tenuous at best as I, not TaxCut, planned it this way.  TaxCut didn't _do_ anything!  :-)

    Broken: Tax form instruction

    Image001David Childers says, "This makes it kind of difficult to figure my tax."

    February 16, 2005 12:01 AM

    Broken: Obfuscatory language

    The Golden Bull awards are given "for the year's worst examples of gobbledygook."


    February 7, 2005 09:47 AM

    Broken: Photo ban on public sculpture

    This article reports that, in Chicago's new Millennium Park, it's illegal to take pictures of "The Bean" sculpture... because it's copyrighted. In a public park, built with taxpayer money. Huh?

    (Thanks to Cory for the pointer.)

    February 2, 2005 12:51 PM

    Broken: Connecticut emergency broadcast test

    Contrary to the scrolling banner on Connecticut TV screens, there was no need to evacuate the entire state.

    January 31, 2005 12:06 AM

    Broken: Diversity logo

    WalktalkReader M. sends in this gem:

    The attached logo and slogan represent my employer's diversity initiatives (equal employment opportunities, etc).  Ironically they have chosen to place the (awfully clichéd) slogan "Walk the Talk" right above an icon of a wheelchair-bound person.  Very clever.

    Names have been smudged to protect the guilty. :-)

    January 28, 2005 09:46 AM

    Broken: Denigrating advertising

    In today's New York Times: Men Are Becoming the Ad Target of the Gender Sneer. Said one Richard Smaglick, "We're trying to wake up the industry to get business leaders to recognize that this isn't the way to build relationships with their customers."

    My two reactions:

    1. This is definitely broken. Though granted, this is just the latest stereotype to be hammered on in advertising... there have been many over the years.

    2. Who's watching commercials, anyway? TiVo is so much better (and not broken at all)!

    January 27, 2005 04:51 PM

    Broken: Arrest for using lynx Web browser

    In this Boing Boing post today, Cory Doctorow writes:

    A Londonder made a tsnuami-relief donation using lynx -- a text-based browser used by the blind, Unix-users and others -- on Sun's Solaris operating system. The site-operator decided that this "unusual" event in the system log indicated a hack-attempt, and the police broke down the donor's door and arrested him.

    January 19, 2005 12:40 AM

    Broken: (Just a comment...) National Theater booking

    NftChris Worth writes:

    For an arts organisation funded by Tony Blair's egalitarian government, the honorifics pulldown for Britain's National Theatre bookings site displays a remarkable tendency towards the upper classes. (The attached GIF is edited only to show the full menu.)

    I think the third one from the top describes me best.

    [Not necessarily broken, but worth a "hmmmmmm"...   -mh]

    January 6, 2005 08:39 AM

    Broken: Paying traffic tickets in Los Angeles

    Mark Frauenfelder writes this story about his wife's difficulties in paying a simple traffic ticket in Los Angeles.

    December 29, 2004 03:13 PM

    Broken: Tsunami-ravaged areas

    PhuketwmvI've made a donation to Oxfam America's Asian Earthquake and Tsunami Fund, to help get some food and supplies to the victims of the recent disaster there.

    Other resources: Apple's home page, ratings of charities you can give to, and videos taken of the tsunami as it struck. The picture at left is taken from the first video in that list, from Phuket.

    If you make a donation, please post in the comments section here, to inspire other TIB readers to help, too!

    December 28, 2004 12:29 AM

    Broken: Airline travel

    The New York Times reports that Triple Woes Hold Up Holiday Air Travelers.

    Yesterday, the travel plans of 30,000 passengers in 119 cities were disrupted when Comair, a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines, canceled all of its 1,100 flights after its computer system crashed. ... [US Airways] canceled 65 flights on Thursday, 176 on Friday and 143 yesterday.

    And my own experience with AirTran: a four-hour delay on Dec. 23, and a six-hour delay on Dec. 26. Most other airlines were running on time both days, or with delays of an hour or at most two hours. AirTran never took responsibility for its gross delays, and what's worse, announced the delays bit by bit, so that we were guaranteed to be stuck at the airport, instead of waiting out the delay at home.

    October 25, 2004 07:55 PM

    Broken: Ohio ballot design

    OhiobutterflyMonica Fry writes from Cuyahoga County in the swing state of Ohio:

    Here is a version of our voting ballot that is quite confusing. Candidates that are supposed to be mapped to boxes #12 and #14 have labels and arrows that read #2 and #4. If an individual wants to vote for Bush/Cheney do they mark #4 or #14? Moreover, the non-linear progression of numbers is annoying (6, 10, 2, 4). Hopefully this will be fixed before we Ohio-ans go the polls in a week.

    Update 10/26/04: Monica writes in again: "Since I sent it to you, I've learned that this situation is limited to the absentee ballots only."

    It's unclear if that's the current version of the ballot, or if it was one of many; if the "2" and "4" are intended that way, or if they were typos and should have been "12" and "14". Regardless - scary.

    October 13, 2004 12:58 AM

    Broken: Making software global

    Brian Johnson points us to this recent CNET article, which talks about several Microsoft products that were recalled, or otherwise caused problems, because they were not properly changed for users outside America:

    [C]hanting of the Koran [was] used as a soundtrack for a computer game and led to great offence to the Saudi Arabia government. The company later issued a new version of the game without the chanting, while keeping the previous editions in circulation because U.S. staff thought the slip wouldn't be spotted, but the Saudi government banned the game and demanded an apology.
    To Microsoft's credit, it was a Microsoft executive who listed these errors during a speech to the International Geographical Union congress in Glasgow. And they're making an effort to improve.

    October 7, 2004 12:25 PM

    Broken: Michigan absentee ballot

    MiballotNeale McDavitt-Van Fleet points us to this brewing election problem in Michigan... on the absentee ballot, the arrows are mis-aligned with the presidential candidate names. The closest arrow to both Bush and Kerry is the one that registers a vote for Bush.

    See the full scan here. (Scroll down to the presidential names.)

    Broken: Misspelled Livermore library mural

    EisteinCodeman38 points us to this breaking story from Livermore, California: the city's new library unveiled a new mural, created by Miami artist Maria Alquilar. Only one problem:

    "[The] $40,000 ceramic mural was unveiled outside the city's new library and everyone could see the misspelled names of Einstein, Shakespeare, Vincent Van Gogh, Michelangelo and seven other historical figures."
    The picture shows "Eistein." No word on how Shakespeare (Sheikspeer?) and the others were spelled.

    Ms. Alquilar, for her part, agreed to fix the changes but didn't apologize, complaining that "they are denigrating my work and the purpose of this work."

    September 28, 2004 09:45 AM

    Broken: Air traffic control run by Windows

    From Boing Boing today:

    Southern California air-traffic systems were migrated from stable, Unix-based systems to Microsoft Windows-based PCs in the past three years. These systems required regular reboots - and when a tech failed to perform the reboot correctly, the systems died and wouldn't come back up, stranding 800 planes in the skies over Lalaland.
    A TechWorld article has the full story.

    September 13, 2004 05:31 PM

    Broken: Book on tech blunders

    Paul Schreiber points us to a recent Wired News article about a new book containing over 100 tech blunders:

    Take, for instance, the case of the Ukrainian businessman who put 50 new pagers -- a gift for his employees -- in the back seat of his car and then promptly crashed into a lamppost when they all began beeping at the same time. The culprit? A welcome message sent by the pager company to each of the pagers.

    July 27, 2004 12:01 AM

    Broken: Unnecessary lawsuit over glass door

    Speaking of "transparent glass" being too transparent (see our June 29 post), a reader pointed us to this post on

    The Colorado Civil Justice League, in its May 21 newsletter, reports: "The Loveland Reporter-Herald reports that a Broomfield family has sued a motel for keeping a sliding glass door too clean. The family is suing the owners of the Hobby Horse Motor Lodge after their then-8-year-old son ran through a sliding glass door at the motel because 'the glass was so transparent and clean that (he) erroneously, but understandably, assumed that the door had remained open,' according to the lawsuit."

    June 7, 2004 12:01 AM

    Broken: Drug bottles

    Kevin Speicher sends an article from CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), Drug error kills 2 Alberta hospital patients. Excerpt:

    Health officials in Calgary issued an emotional public apology Thursday to the relatives of two patients who died after receiving the wrong drugs during dialysis...Both compounds were purchased from the same company and had identically shaped bottles and similar packaging. ...The health region said it's taken steps to prevent a similar tragedy, such as marking potassium chloride with bright green labels and storing it in secure areas.

    April 12, 2004 12:01 AM

    Broken: Wacky warning labels

    The winners of the Seventh Annual Wacky Warning Label Contest were announced recently. The fishing lure shown in the image took fourth place this year with the warning label: "Harmful if swallowed."

    January 21, 2004 02:59 AM

    Broken: CNN news alert

    Portia Scott writes:

    Read the update - will it be dropped, or elevated? Just poor writing...

    -----Original Message-----
    From: CNN Breaking News [mailto:BreakingNews@MAIL.CNN.COM]
    Sent: Friday, January 09, 2004 9:36 AM
    Subject: CNN Breaking News

    -- U.S. terror alert to be dropped to yellow, or elevated, today,
    sources tell CNN. Watch CNN or log on to (AOL Keyword:
    CNN) for the latest news.

    January 16, 2004 03:12 AM

    Broken: Cliches in writing

    The newly released 2004 List of Banished Words lists the most overused cliches of the last year.

    I take exception to the crack about "in harm's way," a historic phrase dating back over 200 years from the U.S. Navy; otherwise, it's a good list of things that are "broken" verbally in news stories and common usage today.

    January 6, 2004 03:38 AM

    Broken: (List of consumer complaints)

    Alex Bergmann points us to a article listing the top 10 consumer complaints last year. After things like auto sales, credit, and telemarketers, come these two additions familiar to This Is Broken readers:

    No. 7 offender (tied) : Household goods... consumers were irked by defective goods, deceptive advertising, and failure to honor warranties or give refunds...

    No. 8 offender (tied): Internet/e-commerce. increase in complaints about several issues, including trouble with merchandise ordered online (such as misrepresentation and failure to deliver), failure to receive goods bought in online auctions, and questionable billing practices...

    November 19, 2003 01:18 AM

    Broken: HMO customer service

    David Pogue, in a recent New York Times e-mail column, talked about a broken process that I've long suspected: HMOs deliberately slowing down paperwork to encourage people not to pursue getting their reimbursements:

    ...she would submit the proper forms for payment to the H.M.O. After a couple of months, she'd get back -- nothing. As we learned later, H.M.O.'s have figured out that a certain percentage of doctors never follow up; for the H.M.O., that's pure profit.
    Then, on November 6, David Pogue published some reader mail - several readers sent horror stories of their own.

    P.S. For international readers, HMO stands for "health maintenance organization," a company that manages healthcare, and costs, for customers. In the U.S. they have a reputation for caring more about cutting costs, and making a profit, than the health of their customers.

    August 27, 2003 06:00 AM

    Broken: NASA's culture

    Phil Terry writes:

    The 13-member board set up to investigate the shuttle disaster issued its report yesterday, which pointed to NASA's broken culture as a primary cause.

    As a customer experience consultant, I often see that the reason for a broken product or service is the organizational culture and politics of the business producing it. Internal politics, insulated cultures, and siloed organizations all prevent the business from seeing the customer's perspective.

    The shuttle tragedy is a sad reminder that we often need to focus on and fix the culture behind the broken product, service or experience.

    In addition to the New York Times story that ran the picture above, a Washington Post article had this to say:
    "NASA's organizational culture had as much to do with this accident as foam did," the 13-member board said of the Feb. 1 disaster.

    August 18, 2003 06:00 AM

    Broken: Eastern U.S. power grid

    This is what it looked like in my apartment building as I trudged up the stairs on Friday afternoon. Note to self: improve my emergency preparedness (carry a flashlight at all times) for the next time something this big is broken.

    (P.S. From what I saw, the emergency response from New York police, firefighters, power company, and citizens was exemplary. Not broken.)

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