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  • Product Design

    June 29, 2007 12:03 AM

    Broken: Chevy Impala A/C control

    Chevy07Doug Schaefer points out:

    This is a photo of the HVAC controls on a 2007 Chevy Impala car I rented.  The position indicator on the 3 control dials is a small blue LED in the chrome trim ring of the dial.

    At night, this is very readable and easy to see.  However, during the day, the blue LED is very hard to find in all the chrome reflections - it takes a concentrated effort to tell where the dial is pointed.

    June 27, 2007 12:03 AM

    Broken: Samsung cell phone message

    SamsungmessageNatasha Lloyd points out:

    I got the message below when I wanted to delete a demo game from my Samsung C417 cell phone:

    "All the JAR files will be deleted. A
    re you sure you wa
    nt to delete?"

    This message is broken for two reasons.

    One, most people probably don't know what JAR files are, so how can they be sure they want to delete them?

    Two, there's really no excuse for not supporting word wrapping nowadays - "A re" and "wa
    nt" break the reading flow, making you read them at least twice to get what they're saying.

    June 18, 2007 12:03 AM

    Broken: Eyemask at Bed Bath & Beyond

    CaffieneI found this at Bed Bath and Beyond: a "Need Caffiene" eyemask.

    First of all, if I'm trying to sleep, why would I want caffeine?

    However, maybe some caffeine (note: e before i) would help the copy editor run a spell check before the product is manufactured!

    May 17, 2007 12:03 AM

    Broken: Toastmaster product notice

    ToastmasterSarah Kline Morgan writes:

    This warning was stuffed into the box of my Toastmaster toaster - model #T2010CTW.
    The warning reads:

    To interrupt toasting,
    turn toast color control
    to off/cancel.
    Do not push the toast
    lever manually.
    Internal mechanism will be
    irreparably damaged.

    What kind of toaster is "irreparably damaged" by using the LEVER to remove the toast?

    May 2, 2007 12:03 AM

    Broken: "Quality" electronic device

    Quality_2Chris Ward writes:

    A few weeks ago, my boss gave these electronic devices out to everyone at work that are supposed to combine a  world clock, a calendar, a calculator and an alarm. This device is supposed to inspire quality in the workplace.

    This is what this "Quality" device looks like after two weeks of sitting on my desk. None of the buttons work and you can't change what's displayed in any way, or turn it off, for that matter - quality indeed!

    April 23, 2007 12:03 AM

    Broken: Walker feet

    WalkerFrom Kazanjy's Flickr photostream:

    A lady in downtown Palo Alto, California let me take a picture of her walker legs.  This picture exemplifies one of the failings of a common user hack to make walkers actually work: tennis balls over the feet.

    The problem is that tennis balls are made of low impact rubber, which doesn't perform well under the duty cycle of scraping along pavement all day.

    Someone should design a walker properly so that the user doesn't need to modify its feet.

    April 11, 2007 12:03 AM

    Broken: Bath temperature selection

    Hpim0054Nicholas Mann writes:

    While helping a friend move, we found this bath temperature selector in the bathroom. Why on earth would a company ever label a temperature selection "scalding?"

    April 3, 2007 12:03 AM

    Broken: Mattress pad washing instructions

    MattresspadSteve Jackson writes in:

    On my new mattress pad there are two tags with washing instructions:

    Machine Wash Warm


    Machine Wash Cold

    Using two tags to explain what can be done on one is just inefficient; providing different directions is just plain broken.

    March 29, 2007 12:03 AM

    Broken: Coupon on box of Kix cereal

    Kenneth Brody writes in:

    Below are three images from a box of Kix cereal on our shelf.

    On the front of the box it says "Save $4.00 on select DVDs - see side panel for details."


    So I check the side of box and find the text - "See back for details."


    I then looked at the back of the box and found the text -  "See side for details."

    So now I know that the front and back both say "see side for details."


    I checked the last side of the box and found the text - "see back for details." 

    Other than "priced $9.99 or higher" on the side, I see no additional "details" to tell me on which "select DVDs" I can use the coupon.

    March 24, 2007 12:03 AM

    Broken: Vector power inverter packaging

    VectorpowerShane Kelly writes:

    These Vector power inverters were on the hanging rack near the checkout at BestBuy.

    You can see that the hanging tabs are on the end of the boxes' lid flap, and that their considerable weight has  pulled them all open.

    Looking carefully I saw that there had been an effort to re-seal some of the boxes with scotch tape, but that too had failed to keep their lids closed.

    Vector should re-design their packages so they stay closed when hanging or they should require that the product be placed on a shelf instead of being hung on a rack.

    March 19, 2007 12:03 AM

    Broken: Obtaining model number from Nokia phone

    NokiamodelnoMathijs Panhuijsen points out:

    I wanted to replace the battery in my clunky old Nokia phone, and I had a lot of trouble with opening the back cover (which is a whole ThisisBroken topic in itself).

    To find out how to open the back cover, I go to the Nokia site to find my phone's user manual. However, I've had this phone for so long that I don't remember the model number (there are about 100 to choose from, mostly identified only by a meaningless alphanumeric string).

    Luckily, there is a handy link: "Find your phone's model number," which pops up, an instruction to open the back cover of your phone and check the model number on the label inside.


    The model number should also be available somewhere on the exterior of the phone or somewhere in the menu.

    March 5, 2007 12:03 AM

    Broken: Monopoly box art

    MonopolyPaul Henkelman points out:

    I recently noticed that on both this image and on most standard Monopoly boxes, the token rests on "Boardwalk" and the dice read "9."

    But this is impossible. In order for a token to move nine spaces and land on Boardwalk, it would have to start from the "Go to Jail" space.

    P.S. On the Spanish version of the game box, the dice read "8."

    March 1, 2007 12:03 AM

    Broken: Saitek keyboard design

    PinkkeyboardA reader writes in:

    I like bright colors, so I bought this Saitek keyboard.

    I've had it a month and it still drives me crazy that the "volume up" button is on the left, the "volume down" button is on the right, and the "mute" button is a full three buttons away!

    February 20, 2007 12:03 AM

    Broken: Panasonic FX07 camera legal notice

    329909047_3affba46b7From Larsz's Flickr photostream:

    The Panasonic FX07 is a nice little camera.

    However, every time you activate the special setting for taking photos on an airplane, this irritating text comes up on the screen:


    February 6, 2007 12:03 AM

    Broken: Santiago metro elevator

    ElevatorcomposedKen Erickson writes:

    This Santiago, Chile elevator contains a button that must be held down in order for the lift to move. Once you take your hand off the button, the lift won't move, and you're trapped in the glass box.

    Local station personnel say they often have to rescue stranded and frightened people from this lift.

    A station attendant said, "The first thing I have to do to get them out is to unlock the door, then climb in and calm them down."

    January 22, 2007 12:03 AM

    Broken: Opel Astra TwinTop convertible top

    Highlights_main_performanceRowan Manahan writes:

    So there I was, ready to buy a spanking new Opel Astra convertible for my wife. She had the Hermès headscarf and the Jackie-O sunglasses all ready for a test drive.

    The Opel salesman couldn’t have been better informed or more courteous. He went outside to demonstrate the roof dropping for us prior to our test drive, wittering on about the unique “folding hardtop” action.

    Now, I live in Ireland, where it rains between 150 and 225 days per year and, sure enough, it had rained the night before. So when the salesman hit the button on the remote to drop the roof, it pitched up and then gracefully folded itself back into the boot/trunk of the car – but not before dumping about 3 pints of water on the front seats … I have never before seen a car salesman with NOTHING to say. Not a syllable. I just can’t wait to hear some marketing person from Opel describe this as a “Feature” …

    January 19, 2007 12:03 AM

    Broken: Scissors packaging at Staples

    Office_scissorsJeremy Esland writes:

    Somehow I lost my office scissors, so the next time I was in Staples, I bought a new pair of scissors made by Tonic Studios.

    Back in the office, I tried to get them out of their display packaging - seems I needed a pair of scissors to free them. Ok, that's no problem - I just bought a pair, right?

    January 13, 2007 12:03 AM

    Broken: PocketPC PIN lock

    Ppcclockscreen_1David Deckert writes:

    This one has bugged me for years but it took me until now to take the picture. The screen lock function of my PocketPC phone has appropriately large buttons so that you can enter the PIN with your thumb on the touchscreen. Unless you mis-key it.

    Then you need to press that tiny little OK button in the upper-right corner. To further add to the torment, there is a dedicated hard button for OK on my phone but it is disabled, wait for it... when the phone is locked!

    January 5, 2007 12:03 AM

    Broken: Reef sandals bottle opener

    Reef_soleBob Sifniades points out:

    These Reef sandals have a bottle opener built into the sole, which is convenient, and a very clever design, but not very sanitary. Who knows what you walked on before you open the bottle with the bottom of your sandal!

    December 21, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: Light dimmer buttons

    LightdimmerNic Price asks:

    Which button do you press to turn the lights out?

    If you guessed the black one, you are correct - however, I still think that the icons should be made more obvious.

    December 13, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: PT Cruiser key

    PtcruiserkeyAnca Mosoiu writes:

    I rented a PT cruiser, and every time I went to open the door, the trunk, or turn on the ignition, I would hit the panic button on the PT Cruiser key.

    I panicked every time I tried to start the car!

    November 29, 2006 05:08 PM

    Broken: Warning on Hasbro pony toy

    Hfr76471It may look innocent enough, but check out the warning on Hasbro's FurReal Friends Butterscotch Pony:

    "Adults take note: Pony comes unassembled in box with head detatched. You may wish to not open the box around your children if they may be frightened by a box with a decapitated horse inside."

    Don't buy them "The Godfather" DVD, either, I guess.

    Thanks, Laurie

    November 28, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: Mackie console packaging

    Gas_maskChris Barr points out:

    I recently purchased a Mackie CFX16-MKII audio mixing console, and upon inspecting the box I noticed the normal warning symbols such as "fragile," "this end up," etc. 

    Then I noticed this one nondescript odd symbol on the far right of the normal icons that looks like an alien wearing a gas mask or something.

    There was no description of the symbol in the box, the manual or the website. There wasn't anything on the console itself that had anything to do with this symbol. I am still baffled as to what the symbol means.

    [Teletubbies meet Cthulhu? -mh]

    November 10, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: Crowne Plaza Sony clock radio instructions

    Sonycplazaclock Chris Keating writes in:

    Here are the instructions to the clock radio that was in my hotel room at a Crowne Plaza hotel:

    1. Press ALARM MODE until the buzzer light is lit.

    2. Press and hold BUZZER for 2-3 seconds. After one beep, "ALARM" and the hour will start to flash in the display window.

    3. Press TUNE/TIME SET (<< = minus, >> = plus) until the desired hour appears.

    4. Press BUZZER. The minute will flash.

    5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 to set the minute. Two short beeps will confirm the setting.

    I've been making trips to this hotel for months, and this instruction card has always bothered me.  First, it's difficult to follow.


    Second, It doesn't give you instructions on how to set the alarm to use a CD or the radio to wake you up.

    Third, the device doesn't give you much indication that the alarm is really set.

    Finally, it's been my experience that the card isn't always in the room. 

    Having complained, I want to point out that this breakage is more Sony's fault than the Crowne Plaza's -- the interface on this thing is abysmal.

    October 18, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: Drink vending machine

    Colawater Michael Flarn Norton submits a picture taken in Niagara Falls, Canada:

    The screen of the vending machine reads "COLA," but the vending machine features water as the only option.

    Also, charging $2.50 is a very unreasonable price for a small bottle of water.

    October 11, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: Furnace switch

    FurnaceswitchDavid Sauder points out:

    It's hard to imagine anything simpler - or more familiar - than an ordinary light switch.  Which makes it a good choice for an emergency application: the user won't have to stop and figure out how the switch
    works because it is something they use every day.   

    For most switches "on" is up and "off" is down.  However, that isn't always the case, so adding on/off labels is a good idea. 

    But in this case, the labels don't clarify matters, they confuse them.   If the switch is pointing to "Off", it's really "On", and vice versa.  Imagine how much clearer this would have been if they had reversed the position of the on/off labels and left the arrows off completely.

    October 6, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: Dryer rack

    AirerJem Stone submits a picture taken in Brighton, UK:

    I spotted this clothes dryer rack at the UK branch of Habitat.

    The label for this clothes dryer rack reads:

    "Do not put wet clothes on this airer. It is suitable for the airing of dry clothes only- not the drying of wet clothes.

    Some colour may transfer from the wood if wet items are placed on it"

    Who uses an a clothes dryer rack for clothes that aren't damp or wet? Why would you want to air out clothes that are already dry?

    October 4, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: GE remote control packaging

    RemoteDamon Van Vessem writes in:

    This GE universal remote control came in one of those nuclear-blast-proof plastic packages, which are impossible to open without some scissors and cursing.

    The remote's instructions were hidden in the packaging between two layers of cardboard. Even though I tried to cut the packaging as cleanly as possible, when the remote was finally liberated, the instructions came out in pieces!

    There has to be a better way to package the remote so you don't struggle with opening it and end up cutting up the instructions even when you try to open it up as carefully as possible.

    September 27, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: Laptop wedge pillow

    LaptopwedgepillowMichael Dwyer points out:

    Costco sells a Laptop wedge pillow.  I can see all kinds of uses for a wedge pillow, but a laptop stand is not one of them.

    First of all, the ergonimics are totally wrong.  The photos shows a recipe for carpal tunnel syndrome.

    Secondly, no laptop should be operated while sitting on a padded surface.  You will cover the cooling vents and your laptop will overheat and eventually shut down, if not become damaged.

    August 23, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: Desk assembly warning

    Warningsmell_1A reader named Chris points out:

    This warning came with a desk that I got from Target:

    Cautious: Please do not worry if still some smell from this fresh product when open it. As it is non-toxic and no dangerous while using. It will be gone in a few days after exposure in the air.

    Not only was the English poorly translated, the desk smelled.

    August 18, 2006 06:29 PM

    Broken: Hotel air conditioning unit buttons

    AcIan Chard submits a picture taken near Edinburgh, Scotland:

    In our hotel room at Dalhousie Castle Hotel near Edinburgh, it was extremely hot, since there was no ventilation in the room and it was above a heated spa. 

    For our "comfort", the pictured air conditioning unit was supplied. 

    At least I presumed that's what it was. It had no identifying marks, and the control panel in this picture didn't help much.  What do the buttons that read WMW and W.SP do?

    Whatever it was, it just blew warm air around the room.

    August 7, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: Dell Latitude USB ports

    DellIschai Cohen writes in:

    I recently got a new Dell Latitude laptop.

    It has two USB ports on the right side, but you can't put two USB plugs in at the same time because the plastic covering is too thick.

    August 1, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: Computer mouse box

    BoxColin Murtaugh writes in:

    At work the other day we received a computer mouse which came in the box pictured above.

    We'd like to start using the mouse, but we can't break the seal, which reads, "Do not break seal prior to usage"!

    July 26, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: Toyota Yaris trunk lock

    TyarisKuva20xcJanne Raiskila points out:

    When this Toyota Yaris is unlocked, opening the trunk requires pushing directly on the keyhole with considerable force.

    Besides being unergonomic, doing this will stain your fingers with grease from the lock. There is no way to open the trunk from the inside of the car.

    July 19, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: Panasonic microwave

    Microwave_2Yale Kozinski writes in:

    This is the front panel of my Panasonic microwave oven. Can you figure out how to simply heat something for a specified time?

    Didn't think you could. Well, you have to press the "Power Level" button, then turn the dial to the desired cook time. Turning the dial doesn't do anything unless you press "Power Level" first. This has so far confused everyone who tries to use it.

    July 14, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: Cactus pencil

    Pencil_1 Yadav Gowda writes in:

    My friend's mother recently came back from Arizona, and she brought with her a pencil from a gift shop.

    The pencil is shaped like a cactus. The eraser is at the end of the outline of the cactus, making the eraser unusable, unless you were to break off the end of the pencil to use the eraser.

    July 10, 2006 03:55 PM

    Broken: Boing Boing: Poorly thought-out label: Hershey's (non) chocolate milk

    Mark Frauenfelder asks two very good questions. From Boing Boing: Poorly thought-out label: Hershey's (non) chocolate milk:

    Why is Hershey's in the business of selling regular milk? And why would it insist on making the label look chocolately?

    June 7, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: Oven interface and display

    OvenAlan Clarke from London, England writes:

    This oven looks very high tech. Sometimes a high tech interface is one that has the fewest knobs and as many modes as possible. In the picture, you will see that the oven has two identical unmarked knobs and one unmarked button.

    On this oven, everything you do is context-dependent, and the only way to operate the oven is by looking at the display for feedback; which would be fine if the display was actually visible.

    However, since the display and the knobs are all at the very top of the unit, and the kitchen designer has placed it directly below an overhang in the worktop, the only way I can set the oven or check on the progress of something cooking is to get down on my knees.

    May 31, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: Pen ink color

    BicA reader named Matt writes in:

    I came accoss this pen today. One would think that it writes in blue ink. The cap is blue, the plastic by the point is blue, the plug at the end is blue, and even the logo of the business (in this case, a local bank) is also blue.

    However, when I started writing with the pen, the color of the ink came out black. Having a pen with exterior blue indicators should not have black ink inside.

    May 18, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: Laser pointer case

    LsrAlex Pavloff writes in:

    This is a combo laser pointer/powerpoint controller, so you can stand up, do your presentation, go forward and back remotely (via RF), as well as use the laser pointer.

    It was a freebie, and is pretty cheap.

    However, the case is poorly constructed. There is fabric that holds the device in place. When the pointer is placed in the case with the clip up, the fabric fits snugly over the laser button, resulting in the laser staying on until the battery goes dead.

    Good thing I had 2 of these, otherwise, the controller would have been dead by the time I arrived at my next presentation.

    May 4, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: Canon battery charger warning label

    CanonchargerAlex B points out:

    Here's a closeup of the safety warnings on my new camera's battery charger. You would think that the manufacturer would try to use clear and unambigous language here, but I have no idea what an "ITE" is.

    The definition of "ITE" doesn't appear anywhere on the battery itself. I guess I could see if it's in the instruction manual, but that would defeat the purpose of putting the warning on the label!

    April 27, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: Keyboard buttons

    KbuttonsHanan Cohen points out:

    The power, wake and sleep keys are pretty important to access. Couldn't the product designers find a better placement for those keys?

    April 24, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: Envision LCD monitor

    Monitor Paul Schreiber points out:

    This Envision LCD monitor pivots from portrait to landscape. However, it has storage cups on the side so when you pivot it, all your stuff in the cup holders falls out, unless you take the time to remove everything from the cup holders every time you switch the monitor orientation.

    April 20, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: Belkin optical mouse

    Front_1Backmouse Michael Witt points out:

    The box that this Belkin mouse is packaged in has a warning label that says:


    This product contains chemicals, including lead, known to the state of California to cause birth defects and other reproductive harm.

    Wash hands after handling.

    "Wash hands after handling"?? It's a mouse!

    March 24, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: USB storage watch

    Usbwatch Roman Frenkel points out:

    I know there are tons of gadgets out there and the concept of having USB storage on your watch isn't bad.

    But if you have to carry around the wire in the picture with you at all times, (or even a retractable usb cord) to upload or download data - what's the point? - especially considering the current miniscule size of usb drives these days.

    March 13, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: Nature's Answer echinacea packaging


    The image on the left is a brand new echinacea tablet bottle, just opened for the first time.

    The image on the right shows, after removing the cotton, how much space in the bottle was taken up by the capsules. What a waste of packaging!

    March 11, 2006 12:03 PM

    Broken: RFID scanner message

    Broken_rfidStian Grytor sends in a picture from Oslo, Norway:

    This is a shot of one of the new RFID scanners that can be seen these days on all sorts of public transportation throughout Oslo, Norway.

    Deployed, but not yet in use, they are apparently "Out of work."

    [Before they're deployed, they're unemployed? -mh]

    March 4, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: Logitech Bluetooth headphones

    Logitech_headphonesJames Hands writes: "These $120 Logitech Bluetooth headphones broke only after a week of use. The headband cracks at the center, making them uncomfortable and then eventually useless when the unit stops working completely."

    James notes that Logitech support will send replacements, "but the replacement sets have the exact same problem."

    March 1, 2006 08:03 AM

    Broken: DayQuil/NyQuil convenience pack

    Daynyquil3Chris Henry writes in:

    Houseridden by a nasty cold, I bought some DayQuil/NyQuil gel capsules as an alternative to swallowing the foul-tasting syrup. But I had to struggle with the packaging for the capsules. There are no easy-open tabs on the back of the capsule package, and you can't punch the pills out of the backing. You have to tear down the middle and then tear into the cell where the capsules are. Not only that, but you also have to pick at the packaging to finally release the pills.

    I think I'll go back to the syrup.

    February 23, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: Roman numeral on clock

    ClockBob Crump points out:

    I received this clock from my company a year ago before Christmas. It's been on my desk for over a year now and I finally looked at the four.

    Whomever produced the clock seems to have their own version of the Roman numeral character for four!

    February 22, 2006 08:06 PM

    Broken: Roca temperature dial

    From Kanngard: How do I get the room colder?, a poorly designed Roca temperature control in a hotel room.

    February 15, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: Therapy pillow

    PillowReader Timylie writes in:

    This is a pillow i bought at Bed, Bath & Beyond.

    The pillow is supposed to be a "Therapy Pillow." However, the warning label says "WARNING: Do Not Use For Sleeping. For Decorative Purposes Only."

    Sleep is therapeutic, so if I can't sleep on this pillow- it isn't a very useful therapy pillow!

    February 10, 2006 03:59 PM

    Broken: Hard-to-open packaging

    Another good one from David Pogue. Link: Weapons in the Fight Against Hard-to-Open Packaging - New York Times.

    Clamshell packaging annoys me especially because so many electronic products come entombed in them: radios, cameras, walkie-talkies, inkjet cartridges, videotapes, tools, phones, flashlights, accessories and so on... these sharp-edged, steely-hardened acrylic crypts have broken countless scissors, ripped flesh and wasted ridiculous amounts of people's time.

    Broken: Gas pump instructions

    List_pumpJessamyn West writes in:

    Gas pumps are always a horrible hodge podge of instructions, pictures, ads and ad hoc instructions taped over older instructions.

    Recently we've seen pumps that try to ameliorate this by having clear indications of at least where the instructions are. However, having to read a one item list to get pointed to the real instructions which are someplace else is broken.

    February 2, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: Car coffee cup

    Coffeecuplabel Mark Crummett writes in:

    We carry this car cup at our store. It seems to be a hot beverage cup for use in a car, but according to the label, it can't be used for hot beverages! Go figure.

    January 24, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: Resealable sock bag

    P2230302P2230303Bob Sifniades points out:

    Fruit Of The Loom sells socks in a resealable bag. I can't think of a good reason for this. It won't keep water out for long, because the bag intentionally has holes punched in it to let out trapped air.

    Maybe it's to keep the unused socks from falling out, but I think most people would just throw all the socks in a drawer after opening the bag.

    Just for fun, I tried using the resealing bag feature. No matter how or where I pulled, the plastic around the zipper tore, and the zipper never opened.

    January 9, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: NCR card swiper

    NcrcheckoutI notice this NCR card swiper every time I check out at Whole Foods. It asks me "OK?" and I reach for the "Yes" button, but then I notice it also tells me "Press Enter".

    Why ask "OK?" if you're not going to let the customer answer the question?

    January 4, 2006 12:03 AM

    Broken: LG refrigerator doors

    FridgeDaniel Brown writes:

    As part of our kitchen remodel, we purchased an LG refrigerator. The refrigerator is split with two vertical doors, the freezer is a single drawer on the bottom. (Freezer on the bottom should have won an award of some kind for usability.)

    However, this device has one of the worst kinds of usability issues - the kind you don't notice for about a week. The doors, unless forcefully closed, do not close themselves. In fact, they actually hold themselves open about an inch. (This is part of the magnet mechanism that seals the doors to each other as well as to the refrigerator itself.) Hence, unlike nearly every other refrigerator door, these must BE CLOSED rather than relying on gravity to do the job for you.

    To add insult to injury, the unit will beep at you indicating that a door was left open.

    December 24, 2005 12:03 AM

    Broken: HP Printer box

    Hewlett_packardAlan Selk writes in:

    Printers do not ordinarily include paper or a connecting cable in the box, but this "Don't forget" notice on the box had me worried that my wife had bought a printer with no ink cartridges.  Thankfully they were included, but there should a be a list of what items are included in the box with the printer.
    Also broken:  Even though the picture on the HP Printer box shows an odd-looking cable with a wide plug on one end, I was relieved to find that the printer requires a standard USB cable. They also need to update the picture of the USB cable to the current one.

    [P.S. Merry Christmas from This Is Broken! Happy unwrapping tomorrow... may all your instructions be clear :) -mh]

    December 20, 2005 12:03 AM

    Broken: Monkey-picked tea

    MonkeypickedThis tea boasts that it's "monkey-picked." Am I missing something here? (All I can think of monkeys picking is lice...)

    December 19, 2005 12:03 AM

    Broken: Timex 'Easy Set' alarm clock

    Timex_1Pete Bender points out:

    There are a number of things broken with the Timex 'Easy Set' Alarm clock manual:

    1. The 'Bottom of cabinet' text is placed between a drawing of the top and the front, nowhere near the bottom.

    2. The buttons for the easy-set feature are physically marked 1 (alarm set), two buttons labeled 2 (<< & >>), and 3 (enter).  However, in the diagram and in the directions, they are referred to as 11, 3, 9, and 10, respectively.

    Perhaps the best part of the whole thing is the fact that the clock itself was not functioning!  It's been returned, and the hunt for a well-designed alarm clock continues.

    December 12, 2005 12:03 AM

    Broken: Chicago Cutlery scissors

    ScissorsIan Shook writes:

    I recently picked up a pair of "Chicago Cutlery" brand scissors. I don't know if it was an intended feature to make the blades separate for easy cleaning, but they tend to separate while in use.

    When opened up close to all the way, the lock keeping the blades together disengages. I've cut myself twice. Fortunately, I was wearing shoes the third time they fell apart.

    December 9, 2005 12:03 AM

    Broken: Human body toy packaging

    Frog_human_boSam G writes in:

    I was at the Dollar Tree store and saw this educational children's toy labeled, "Human Body."

    Obviously, the toy was actually a frog. Perhaps they are encouraging the theory of evolution.

    November 28, 2005 12:03 AM

    Broken: Nexxtech travel mug with thermal control

    Nexxtech_mugStacy Ashton writes:

    The concept behind the thermal control is excellent - who likes cold coffee?

    The main problem, though, is the design of the sipping hole. It's set further back from the lip of the mug than in regular coffee travel mugs, which is particularly problematic when the liquid is kept hot. Instead of just being able to pour the coffee in your mouth, the coffee, BY DESIGN, burns your top lip. Every time.

    This makes it pretty much unusable.

    November 25, 2005 12:03 AM

    Broken: Old Navy sandal sticker

    Oldnavy_label Richie points out:

    This is part of a small sticker that came on a pair of Old Navy flip-flop style sandals:


    Apparently Old Navy doesn't want us knowing what materials they use in their sandals, or maybe they don't even know themselves. I don't know what the 'lining and sock' part refers to since these sandals are pretty basic - a strap and the sole.

    Obviously Old Navy has some work to do on their sticker design.

    November 15, 2005 12:03 AM

    Broken: Nokia charger


    Alison Y. points out:

    This is a Nokia charger with non-rigid prongs. This is fine in a regular wall socket, but on a horizontal power strip, the charger falls out and needs to be artificially propped up by a phone book or another item. This is broken!

    I also love the warranty sticker, which voids itself if the sticker is removed.

    November 14, 2005 07:51 PM

    Broken: Hotel room control panel

    HotelcontrolpanelAndreas Constantinou points out:

    This control panel in Chengde, China is a typical case of an over-engineered user experience that is really broken. It's a central control panel for a hotel room typical of high-end hotels in China, probably considered a must-have luxury.

    There are several reasons why this is broken:

    - If you try to turn on the TV using the remote control it doesn't work. My first thought is that the TV is broken. After careful inspection, you have to turn on the TV through this control panel, then zap through then channels.

    - All the buttons are the same color, have a similar shape and are organised in a flat hierarchy. There is no sense of a contextual grouping. Are the channel/volume buttons for the TV, the music, or the world time?

    November 4, 2005 12:03 AM

    Broken: Washingto Nationals beanie bear

    Beanie_bear_1Nathaniel Kennedy writes:

    The new baseball team in Washington DC is called the Nationals... So check out this bear toy in their gift shop.

    Where is the "n" in Washington?

    This is broken!

    October 31, 2005 10:17 AM

    Broken: Faucet design

    Bad faucet design - Signal vs. Noise (by 37signals).

    Broken: Auto/Air adapter box

    Airplane_adapter Joe Wright points out:

    I saw this box containing an "Auto/Air adapter."

    By the looks of it, it is trying to tell me to park my car or airplane next to the giant "Auto/Air adapter."

    October 29, 2005 12:03 AM

    Broken: Amex Blue customer service

    Steve Manning writes:

    I lost my Amex Blue card at JFK airport a few months ago, and when I called to report it I was told a replacement would be issued in "about 20 days". The following conversation ensued:

    Me: 20 days? My other Amex cards arrive in 24 hours when replaced. (The American Express tag line is "the only card you'll ever need".)

    Amex: The Blue card has a special chip inside that takes longer to produce.

    Me: What purpose does the chip serve?

    Amex: It provides you with greater security for online transactions, sir.

    Me: But when I order online, I type my credit card number into a form, so how does a chip, which the computer never comes in contact with..

    Amex: It's for online security. Is there anything else I can help you with today, sir?

    Me: Yes. You can help me understand how a chip embedded in a credit card, a card that is not inserted into anything, makes any difference?

    Amex: Sir, I've already explained that the chip is for enhanced security purposes when making purchases online. Is there anything else I can assist you with today?

    Me: Is there any way to get a replacement card sooner?

    Amex: We can send you a temporary card tomorrow morning.

    Me: What is temporary about it?

    Amex: It doesn't have the chip.

    Me: Can I use it to make purchases on the Internet?

    Amex: That's up to you sir.

    Intrigued, I called the application line for Amex Blue. The very nice woman asked me if i had any questions about the card before applying..

    Me: What's the chip for?

    Amex: It's for enhanced security online.

    Me: How so?

    Amex: (giggling) They don't tell us that.

    October 22, 2005 12:03 AM

    Broken: Belkin iPod battery

    Belkin_ipod_broken Kyle Graves writes:

    This is the product description page for the Belkin External iPod Battery. Check out the "Advantages." ("Not compatible with iPod Mini.")

    Since when is not being compatible with something an advantage?

    October 11, 2005 12:03 AM

    Broken: Herbal Essences "new" promise

    Img_2315Daphne Lee (hi to Howard Lin) writes:

    When I saw the shampoo bottle for the first time, I had to stand in the shower and wonder if it's new... or the same? It actually had me confused for a minute or two before I decided it was plain confusing wording.

    October 10, 2005 12:03 AM

    Broken: Amana oven

    nootropic points us to the badly designed Amana oven.

    September 29, 2005 12:04 AM

    Broken: Cylinda stove

    CylindastovePedro Adler writes:

    Countless times I wanted to turn on the top right plate but instead, because of the bad design, I turned on the middle (lower) plate. Also, the icons above the buttons are misleading - look at the rightmost icon!

    September 27, 2005 12:03 AM

    Broken: Apple sauce label

    Broken_apple_sauceJonathan Langer writes:

    I cut this off of a label of seperately wrapped apple sauce cups. Apparently the product is 'unsweetened', yet it is 'sweetened' with Splenda, an artificial sweetener.

    September 12, 2005 12:04 AM

    Broken: Digital thermometer shape

    DigitalthermometerAnthony Argyriou writes:

    This digital thermometer has an interesting defect: it's too smooth. Why is this a problem? Because when I stick it in my mouth, under my tongue, and bite down to hold it in place, it slips out. The pressure from my teeth isn't enough to get a grip on the very smooth, tapered shaft of this instrument; instead, my teeth slowly close down on each other as the thermometer slides out of my mouth.

    September 8, 2005 12:03 AM

    Broken: frozen Thai seafood curry

    Image003Craig Fisher writes:

    We bought this Grace frozen "Thai Seafood Curry" recently. Notice that little lump on top? That was the one and only bit of seafood (I think it was part of a scallop) in the whole meal.

    Now let's look at the picture of this meal on their web site: I'm sure you agree that the two bear no resemblance. "Oily bean curry" would be a better description of their meal.

    - - -

    Update Sept 8: Christina from Grace's Kitchen writes back in the comments section that she personally addressed this awhile back...

    I work at Grace's Kitchen and received Craig's email 4 months ago, and handled his problem to his apparent satisfaction, or so I thought...

    - - -

    From: Christina
    Sent: Thursday, May 12, 2005 6:36 PM
    To: Craig Fisher
    Subject: RE: Product feedback


    Thank you for taking the time to write us. I am terribly sorry for your first experiences with our meals. Based on that photo & your description, I wouldn't call the curry meal anything else, and I can't imagine you are remotely impressed by our concept.

    Our food company, in it's first year of business, has run into its fair share of mishaps. This is no exception. I have personally handled each complaint, comment, and suggestion, and I can tell you, we are eager to learn and make changes based on our customer feedback. We also pride ourselves on being a hand-made, hand-packed product, only there are downsides to this, as you know... ie. making such mistakes as measuring poorly and missing items in the meal. Let me assure you, we will discuss the packing of our meals this week - emphasizing consistency, quality control, and the expectations for each and every serving.

    If you are willing, I would be very happy to send you free-meal coupons in effort to try and make this right. I can mail them as soon as you send me a mailing address. It is the least that we can do.

    Thank you again for letting us know your experience. We rely on feedback to learn and to grow our business.


    September 7, 2005 10:48 AM

    Broken: Same alarm used in two conditions

    A sad review of the Cypriot plane crash a few weeks back:

    At 10,000 feet, an alarm went off to warn the crew that the plane would not pressurize. Crew members mistakenly thought that the alarm horn was a warning to tell them that their controls were not set properly for takeoff, the officials said.

    The same horn is used for both conditions, although it will sound for takeoff configuration only while the plane is still on the ground.

    Maybe there's a good reason for this, but I can't think of one... why would the same alarm be used for two very different conditions?

    Link: Cockpit Confusion Found in Crash of Cypriot Plane - New York Times.

    August 30, 2005 12:03 AM

    Broken: Timex alarm clock

    TimexEchoing our recent post on hotel room alarm clocks, Alex B. sends in this gem. He writes:

    The buttons needed to change the time are nowhere near the actual 'clock' part of this device - instead they are up near the CD-related controls.

    August 29, 2005 12:04 AM

    Broken: Duct tape on shuttle heater

    NasaducttapeAdam Gostenik asks, "Is it just me, or does something seem wrong with this photo? I didn't realize that NASA used duct tape to fix stuff."

    The MSNBC photo (photo 15 here) has the caption:

    Workers take a look at the newly installed liquid hydrogen bellows heater on Discovery's external tank.

    August 26, 2005 12:03 AM

    Broken: Prius nav system

    PriusnavKenton Varda writes:

    While not nearly as broken as the Hummer nav system discussed previously, the navigation system on my brand-new Toyota Prius is not without its quirks. Here we see a picture of the destination selection page.

    If the car is moving, all buttons except "emergency" are disabled, preventing you from entering a destination. Presumably this is to deter stupid drivers from trying to type while driving. However, more often it simply prevents an otherwise unoccupied passenger from working the nav system.

    The car computer is perfectly capable of detecting the presence of a passenger, as demonstrated by the passenger-side seat belt light. Why can't it leave the controls enabled if someone is sitting there?

    August 23, 2005 12:03 AM

    Broken: Krylon lid design

    NewkrylonliddesignBrian Weaver writes:

    I have used Krylon products for years, especially their fixative products and more recently their spray paints. The product while excellent has a major package design flaw.

    The new lid design is supposed to make opening the spray can easy, however the positioning of the indentations creates a pinch effect on the lid making a firm grip almost impossible, and as you pinch and pull according to the instructions your fingers of course slip off, sometimes painfully.

    August 9, 2005 12:03 AM

    Broken: Boley board game

    BoleygamelgSeth Nelson points out a new Boley toy with an ill-advised board design.


    August 8, 2005 12:03 AM

    Broken: Pedometer manual

    Cimg0379Alex Blanck writes:

    My sister recently got this pedometer that comes with a 10,000 step guide to walking. I understand the meaning, but on first glance this could look a little overwhelming.

    August 4, 2005 12:05 AM

    Broken: Shower head label

    ShowerheadBob Sifniades writes:

    I bought this no-name showerhead from Home Depot. It says "Brand New" on the front. I figured maybe it was printed with water-soluble ink that would disappear during the first shower. But several showers later, and it shows no sign of going away. As far as I can tell, it's printed with the same permanent ink as the 3 pictographs, and will be falsely proclaiming its new-ness for a long time.

    August 2, 2005 12:02 AM

    Broken: GoldStar microwave button

    PreshMichael McKinley writes:

    This was on a GoldStar microwave at a Holiday Inn I was staying at.

    August 1, 2005 12:03 AM

    Broken: Salmon packaging

    SalmonAaron Feaver writes:

    I'm attaching a photo of a package of salmon I found at Trader Joe's in Portland, Oregon. With all the fuss about farm-raised Atlantic salmon vs. wild Pacific salmon, it's funny to see how far companies will go to confuse people. The package reads: Pacific Supreme Smoked Atlantic Salmon.

    July 27, 2005 07:43 PM

    Broken: Shaving cream label

    This shaving gel isn't what it appears to be.

    That's the "before" shot. Click the "next" link to see the "after".

    Update Aug 3: Here is the response from Gillette.

    July 15, 2005 12:02 AM

    Broken: Water dispenser buttons

    BothredbuttonsPeter Conrad writes:

    Here's the water dispenser at work. To get hot water, you have to push "both red buttons." But there are three! It turns out that you have to push both of the LARGER red buttons to get hot water. The smaller one is supposed to give you extra hot water, but there's no indication of whether you push and release it before pressing both larger red buttons, or push all three, or what. Pushing the small red button turns on the red light, but sometimes the red light is just on anyway. And the water doesn't stop flowing for about three seconds after you release the buttons (red-red or blue) so you always end up with a full spill compartment.

    [P.S. Peter Conrad draws cartoons at Good shtuff. -mh]

    July 14, 2005 08:09 AM

    Broken: Glass patio tables (potentially)

    If your patio furniture includes a glass table, beware: CBC Newfoundland and Labrador - More worry about exploding glass tables.

    July 13, 2005 09:59 AM

    Broken: Hummer navigational system

    Kari White writes:

    The GM navigational system is broken. I purchased a Hummer and since I frequently get lost, I wanted the latest navigation system.

    I can figure out most any electronic device, but I met my match with Nat, the navigation system. Nat and I started off badly when I realized that she required a DVD to be inserted into my CD drive. I paid $3000 not to use my CD player?

    The user manual was virtually no help at all. The buttons are labeled poorly, with strange icons supposedly representing "menu" and "back", although why they couldn't just be labeled as such I will never know. The joystick was a nightmare. Once, Nat got stuck directing me to my house and I had to eject the DVD just to get her to stop.

    For a system that was supposed to make life easier, it ended up being a big headache. After a year of owning my Hummer, I still rely on common street maps to find my way around.

    July 12, 2005 12:02 AM

    Broken: Toaster oven

    BadtoasterPeter Conrad writes:

    Here's the toaster at work. It has three knobs that all look alike. The bottom one controls the function (toast, bake, etc.); the middle one controls the time in minutes; the top one controls the temperature.

    In order to actually turn on the heating element, you must select both a temperature and a function. That's problem number one. You can't just turn the function knob to "toast" and get your bread toasted, even if you also select a time on the timer. Nothing will happen. So, many times I've listened for the timer and then discovered that my bread was still cold from the fridge. The temperature is usually turned all the way down by people when they turn it off, because it's not obvious which knob to turn to make it stop.

    The timer does not shut it off automatically. Or at least it doesn't turn off the red light. I don't remember whether the heating element cools down when the timer goes off. It bothers me that I don't remember. But I don't think it's my fault.

    The functions are listed in light gray, and OFF is down, even though zero on the timer is to the left. By the way, the temperature knob is marked as far down as 150, but turns past 150 to some unknown temperature that is kind of diagonally down and to the left.

    July 11, 2005 12:03 AM

    Broken: Coffee labels

    CurtisI encountered these coffee urns a few days ago. Look closely at the labels. Decaff (misspelled) is on the left... and "Curtis" is on the right. Mmm, appetizing! "What would you like with your breakfast, sir? Decaff or Curtis?"

    July 8, 2005 12:10 AM

    Broken: Jacket pockets

    InsidepocketNopocketPeter Conrad writes:

    Here's a picture of the inside pocket of a jacket I bought. Or is it? Actually, it's the outside pocket. There is no inside pocket. But the way the outside pocket is constructed looks and feels just like an inside pocket.

    I keep forgetting and putting things in there from the inside. What kinds of things do I put in an inside pocket? Things that I want to keep safe, things that are fragile, things that suffer when they then fall right through onto the cold, hard ground.

    July 1, 2005 12:04 AM

    Broken: KidzMouse box copy

    Tn_dsc00491Ronnie Paskin writes,

    I just bought this mouse for my daughter.

    The box says: "Squeeze my head anywhere and I will click!", and that it's easier for young children, etc.

    Well, I was testing it and trying to squeeze Elmo's head, but no click. I spent several minutes on their site, downloaded the driver, etc, then finally realized that you do have to use the buttons, Elmo's head [printed on the body of the mouse] is there just for decoration.

    What happens apparently is most of their mice are shaped like bugs, and the head *is* the buttons; they have a driver that will turn both buttons into the same left click action (making it a one button mouse so it's easier for the kids).

    I'd say the box designers had no idea how the mouse worked... or they had bad specs (e.g. "we always say 'squeeze my head anywhere and I will click' on the boxes").

    In any case, I'd say the box design is broken.

    June 29, 2005 12:03 AM

    Broken: Printer paper warning

    Paperlow3Matthew Wagner writes:

    There's a little deli on campus here at Bentley, and it's usually pretty crowded. You place your order on a touchscreen station, which prints you a receipt, which you then take to claim your food and pay.

    What's broken here is that the receipt printer will detect when it's running low on paper. After every receipt it prints, it prints out another receipt, stating that the "Local printer paper is getting low!" Once it's low on paper, it begins doing this after every receipt, thus ensuring it runs out of paper twice as quickly.

    June 28, 2005 09:00 AM

    Broken: Stove interface

    Saltation points us to the BBC story Deafblind slate 'senseless' tech. Excerpt:

    A man who had just bought a new cooker was unaware that the knobs for the two back rings turned clockwise to increase the heat, while the two front rings operated in the reverse direction.

    He put some oil in a frying pan on what he thought was a low setting and, while chopping an onion, the pan caught fire because he had in fact turned up the ring to the highest setting.

    A bad stove interface like that can cause problems even for people who can see and hear.

    June 27, 2005 07:36 PM

    Broken: Single-serving food packages

    FisherpretzelsminisIris Bell points us to this Washington Post article: But the Dang Thing Won't Open. Excerpt:

    I spent 10 minutes in a school cafeteria prying 13 foil lids off single-serving containers of chocolate pudding because, even when kindergartners dropped them on the floor, they wouldn't open. They frustrated fifth-graders, too. The lids were not only tight under assault from my fingernails, they burped pudding onto my shirt as I finally broke each seal.

    June 23, 2005 12:05 AM

    Broken: DC adapters, jumper cables

    Dsc00744Seth Godin writes:

    I studied engineering in college. I didn't, however, take Electrical Engineering. If I had, perhaps I would understand the following: Why do DC adapters cover more than one hole in a power strip? Worse, why are there so many different types--if I lose an adapter, I can't just replace it with another one from some device I've no longer got. I understand that engineers like the flexibility of using 6 volts or nine or even twelve when they prefer, but that's still only three types. Surely we don't need hundreds of shapes, sizes and jacks? It would actually cost LESS for every DC device to use the same transformer, with a small switch to set the appropriate voltage.

    And while I'm on this rant, what's the deal with jumper cables? Jumper cables are medieval. For $30,000, why don't cars include an outlet you can hook a standard extension cord into? And an inverter that allows you to tap AC power if you need to plug something in--like your neighbor's dead battery?

    Both cases of broken systems that persist because a plethora of suppliers refuse to momentarily inconvenience themselves while they standardize on a better solution.

    June 21, 2005 12:03 AM

    Broken: Amazon box label

    Dsc00655Still celebrating our two-year anniversary, here's another post from Seth Godin. He writes: "This is the box that Amazon ships the ipod mini in. What am I supposed to do now?"

    June 20, 2005 12:03 AM

    Broken: iPod serial number

    Today is the two-year birthday of This Is Broken!

    To celebrate our birthday, I'm running some posts this week from author and speaker Seth Godin, who originated the idea for This Is Broken. Thanks again, Seth!

    Dsc00657Seth writes:

    The serial number on the ipod is so small that it cannot be read without a magnifying glass. In addition, it has many more digits than necessary to be unique... apparently, Apple is encoding information in the serial number. This would be simpler if they used, say, a computer database to look up the info based on a simple 6 digit 2 letter code.

    June 17, 2005 01:33 PM

    Broken: Broken: Wine Master

    nootropic doesn't like his Wine Master device.

    June 15, 2005 02:19 PM

    Broken: Box of "Trout" apples

    Neale McDavitt doesn't like his box of apples.

    Broken: Gym weights

    WeightsChris Clark writes:

    The machines at my gym come from several different manufacturers, each of whom mark the weight differently: some just numbering the plates, some labeled in kilograms, some in pounds -- though there's no way to tell which is which. The two machines pictured are identical except for the weights and are right next to each other in the same gym, but there's no way to translate between them. It's guesswork, and for anyone trying to keep track of their progress it's a nightmare. A bad user experience all round.

    For what it's worth, my guess is that the machine on the left uses plates that are ten kilograms each, and the machine on the right measures in pounds... meaning these two machines are set at roughly the same weight right now.

    June 14, 2005 12:14 AM

    Broken: Audiovox receiver

    Lexussirius2_1Joshua Wood writes:

    I have an Audiovox brand Sirius receiver. This receiver features 10 preset buttons with 3 separate storage areas for a total of 30 preset stations. What's broken is the layout of the remote.  The 0 button is no where near the 9 button - it's actually at the top center.  What ends up happening is I begin flipping channels running through 1, 2 etc, and wind up at 9 then I need to move my hand up and try and find the 0  button.

    What normally happens is that I either mute the radio or turn it off, since all of this flipping is happening at 70MPH.

    And say you hear an ad for channel 160...  to type in 160, you first need to hit the blue button then 160 then the blue button again.  I would prefer for the remote to always function like a standard TV remote.

    June 13, 2005 12:09 PM

    Broken: Broken: coffee machine

    Neale McDavitt doesn't like his coffee machine.

    May 23, 2005 12:03 AM

    Broken: Yoplait yogurt container

    YoplaityogurtLaura Decker writes:

    There are two things wrong with the Yoplait yogurt container.

    Problem 1: the seal.

    To open this  container, you have to pull off a metallic seal.  These metallic seals used  to have tabs on them so that the seal could be easily pulled off.  But, for  some reason, the company stopped making the seals with tabs!  So, instead of merely just pulling a tab,  you must now either dig under the seal with your fingernails or your spoon,  which is more difficult and time-consuming.

    Problem 2: the shape of the container.

    Notice that this container is tapered at the top.  The yogurt  containers of other companies are tapered at the bottom, which makes perfect  sense.  With this container, it's hard to get a spoonful of yogurt from the container to your mouth without  some of the spoonful being caught by the edge of the container.   Ugh!

    It's not necessarily "broken," but poor product design nonetheless.

    May 13, 2005 12:01 AM

    Broken: Prius check engine light

    Paul Schreiber has a problem with his Toyota Prius:

    according to the dealer, i have to drive the car for at least 20 minutes 2-4 times for the car to believe the gas cap really is fixed.

    stupid computer!

    Read Paul's full entry.

    Yes, he's already read the previous TIB post on the Honda CRV.

    May 6, 2005 11:05 PM

    Broken: Blue notepads

    BluemessagepadBill Fridl writes:

    Am I the only one who thinks blue telephone message pads don't make sense?

    Two of the four available colors--red and blue--are almost too dark to write on!  (Black ink shows better than blue, and whiteout sort of has a chance...)

    March 31, 2005 08:35 AM

    Broken: Flammable barbeque

    Dscn5229Colin Henein writes: "Manufacturers of the Keanall Portable Charcoal Grill Model KD300, why do you paint your barbeque with FLAMMABLE PAINT?!!?"


    - - - - - - - - - -

    Gelads In other news: today, Thursday March 31, is the last day for regular price tickets to Mark Hurst's Gel conference.

    If you like reading This Is Broken, you deserve to see the good experiences that are being created in technology, business, science, and art.

    Take a look at the speaker list. And sign up today for the last chance at regular-priced tickets.

    - - - - - - - - - -

    Broken: Ya tops

    Cimg0002Cimg0003Felix Salmon writes:

    Many girls' tops come with little straps which allow you to hang them up without getting them all bent out of shape. This one by Ya, however, has the straps sewn in pointing upwards, instead of downwards, which means that there's no way of putting on the top without the straps peeking out. Broken!

    March 22, 2005 12:09 AM

    Broken: ESA battery charger

    EsachargerRobert Steflik writes:

    I have included a scan of the instructions for my new ESA battery charger. I think the logic behind the operation is definitely flawed. As shown in the graphic, here's what the instructions say:

    "A red light on the LED display will automatically come on, indicating that the batteries are charging. After 14-16 hours when charging is complete, the light on the LED display will remain red."

    Well, that's exactly how it works... you plug it in and the light stays red ALWAYS. There is no way you can tell when your batteries are charged without setting a timer. If you read item #4 it warns you that the batteries should not be plugged in more than 24 hours. So, whenever I plug this thing in I have to make a mental note of what time it is so I know when to unplug it. What a PAIN. My other charger at work has a light that goes OUT when the batteries are charged.

    March 21, 2005 12:01 AM

    Broken: Nong Shim soup instructions

    NongOwen Minns writes:

    These instructions for a packaged soup mix made me shake my head for a minute before I readied my lunch: should I use 3 cups of water or 550 mL? Looks like it depends upon which language I read, or perhaps upon the measurement system implemented in my kitchen implements!

    For the benefit of the SI metric system-impaired, I appended the actual conversion rate (thank you Google converter) to the bottom of my photograph.

    P.S. I boiled about 700 mL of water, and the soup was pretty good.

    March 15, 2005 12:01 AM

    Broken: Credit card readers

    Seth Godin writes in this post:

    I bought gas for my car today and put the credit card in upside down. Took a few minutes in the snow to figure out what was going on.

    But wait. Computers are close to free. Why should it be my job to put the card in right side up? Why can't the machine read the card in every direction?

    March 14, 2005 12:16 AM

    Broken: Pliers package

    Figure1Jonathan Johnson points us to this description of a broken pliers-package design: you need pliers to open the package, to get to the pliers!

    March 11, 2005 12:14 AM

    Broken: Philips mobile phone

    Wonderphone_2Justin Wood writes:

    So, my Dad always had trouble with his phone, he kept hitting the wrong button, cutting me off, just generally having issues with it - and I always mocked him for it.

    So I went home for christmas, and checked out this phone - thinking: "This is easy, I'll program it for him!"

    Was I ever wrong.

    Maybe it's just me, but what does the smiling sun do? Or the C with two arrows? Or the ramp? Or the Manuscript? Heck.. What does anything do?!

    March 10, 2005 12:05 AM

    Broken: Fish-nuggets packaging

    Dip20sea20doozJake Watrous writes:

    I find it a bit un-Disneyish and disturbing to see a box of fish nuggets decorated with Ariel: the Little Mermaid and her fish friends. The only worse idea would be a clownfish-decorated box of Nemo Nuggets!

    [Not only that - but what's "dooz"? Is that like "fish dooz"? -mh]

    March 3, 2005 12:01 AM

    Broken: Water filter warning label

    P2050273P2050274Bob Sifniades writes:

    I had this OmniFilter U25 whole-house water filter installed recently. Today, I noticed it has a label. The label is black on clear plastic, and is affixed to a clear plastic canister. The filter inside the canister is black. The result is an unreadable black on black.

    The camera flash brings out the lettering somewhat, but in normal room light, it's invisible. I can just make out the words Caution, Important Notice, and Warning, and that's about it.

    When I remove the filter in a few months to change it, I'll be able to read the whole thing. But it came pre-assembled as you see it, so the installer probably didn't even know there was a label.

    March 1, 2005 12:05 AM

    Broken: Prius shifter

    Photo_4huphtur writes:

    I recently purchased a 2005 Toyota Prius. The car features "By-Wire" Technology, which is an electronic shifter for Reverse, Neutral and Drive. The technology itself works perfect, except the user experience is broken.

    When the lever is pushed up/forward, the car goes in Reverse and when pushed down/backward, the car goes in Drive. It would have been more intuitive to have up/forward for Drive and down/backward for Reverse. Just like a car with manual transmission, to get the car moving, you push up/forward for 1st gear.

    I talked to a few other Prius owners and they have experienced the same annoyance with this, but said it takes getting used to after a while.

    February 25, 2005 12:01 AM

    Broken: Francis X10 switches

    Francisx10Daniel Brown writes:

    The Francis Francis X10 I purchased for my wife a year ago has been a pretty decent espresso machine... with one major flaw.

    Every control switch on the front (one for power, one for the pump, and one to create steam for frothing) all share one flaw. Their default position is UP.

    You'll notice in this photo that the switch on the far left is on in the down position. It took me 6 months to get accustomed to this convention.

    February 23, 2005 12:01 AM

    Broken: Included batteries

    S3600003S3600005Robert Lee writes:

    I am in Iraq, and my mom recently purchased a set of binoculars with a built in digital camera. "Pretty kewl," I thot; however, Hammacher Schlemmer have a neat little marketing tool, they send you batteries with your purchase along with a little feel good message about their company.

    As you can see in the picture with the batteries (and the marketing script) they are AA. But the camera requires AAA. This is broken. Next time forget the feel good stuff and just send the right batteries! Now I've wasted time reading the marketing stuff AND I STILL NEED GO TO THE PX!

    February 20, 2005 10:36 AM

    Broken: User interfaces in new cars

    In Dumbing Down Over-Engineered Cars (reg. required), the New York Times reports:

    With even economy cars now loaded with features that beep or blink at their owners, many drivers have reason for frustration. Most car owners are not even aware that the remote doesn't have to make a loud noise every time it arms the alarm, that the automatic seat and mirror adjustments can be turned off or that it is possible to disable the irritating feature that automatically locks all the doors. In theory, these "conveniences" can all be adjusted or canceled... the process is rarely intuitive.

    February 15, 2005 12:02 AM

    Broken: Bright Starts packaging

    BrightstartsBright2Nate Addink writes:

    The attached pictures show the back of the packaging for a vibrating teething ring (made by Kids II Inc.) I bought for my daughter.  Apparently even when you only have 1 battery in a device, it is still possible to mix old and new batteries, or alkaline and rechargeables.

    February 11, 2005 12:42 AM

    Broken: Wrist brace tag

    Laundry_tagWrist_braceAnders Gjersoe writes from Norway:

    This is my wrist brace, that I bought for use in sports when my hand and wrist need some support... playing basketball etc. It works well; however, the laundry tag clearly states that it should not be washed in water warmer than 95 degrees. Now, my perspiration would be exceeding that temperature when wearing this item. Clearly, it is not meant to be used by any person that is not hypothermic!

    February 10, 2005 12:39 AM

    Broken: Keyboard design

    Broken1aVictor Zeiser writes:

    I wonder who came up with this amazing design, putting the power button right next to the enter key. How many times have I shut my computer off by mistake with only the slip of a finger?

    February 8, 2005 12:33 AM

    Broken: CD player buttons

    Cdplayer1Cdplayer2George Lane writes:

    My Audiophase CD player (model CD156) has a squarish "play" button and a pointed "stop" button.  This appears to have been done for asthetic reasons, but I can't count the number of times I've pressed "stop" thinking it was "play," because on tape players and other media playing devices I associate the ">" shape with going rather than with stopping.

    February 3, 2005 11:14 AM

    Broken: Honda CRV warning light

    Beth M. writes:

    At the end of last week my 'check engine' light came on in my Honda CRV. I've had two friends who drove a few miles with this light on and burned up their engines. So I called my dealer on my cell phone to ask what I should do, and ask if it was safe to finish my trip to daycare and home. He told me it was probably safe to drive, but I finished my trip and didn't drive the car again until I could get it to the dealer for diagnosing.

    Lo and behold, the problem was that I hadn't tightened down my gas cap after I got gas.

    So my proposal to Honda is this - have a 'check engine' light for catastrophic things, and a 'you have a small problem' light for those non-critical warnings. Jeesh!

    February 2, 2005 12:15 AM

    Broken: (For fun) Halsteel nail warning

    NailwarningPeter Provost writes, "This photo is from the back of a box of Halsteel nails."

    [Hint: Read the Supplemental Warning, which begins, "Do not shoot nails through any part of your body."]

    February 1, 2005 12:11 AM

    Broken: Cereal package labeling

    LifecerealMatt Haughey writes:

    I learned this morning that cereal packages sometimes don't have the name of the cereal on the side, so if that side is facing out, it's hard to find your food in the morning. Where is Life cereal in this photo?

    I posted a blog entry about it.

    January 31, 2005 09:46 AM

    Broken: Canadian sports helmet

    Check out the warning label on this "helmet of certain death".

    Thanks to Xeni.

    January 6, 2005 12:01 AM

    Broken: CERN laundry

    CernwasherinstsJeremy Paul Birnholtz writes:

    Check out the extremely broken system for doing laundry in the hostels at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Geneva, the world's frontier particle physics research facility and birthplace of the HTTP protocol: read about it here, all the way down to the "intuitive dryer controls."

    December 23, 2004 12:01 AM

    Broken: Fig Newtons label

    Fig_newton2Jeremy Knizley points out the problem on a box of Fig Newtons.

    (See "before" and "after" shots in the picture at left.) It's impossible to tell that you are opening the wrong end until after it's too late.

    December 13, 2004 09:48 AM

    Broken: LiveStrong bracelets in hospitals

    David Owen points us to a San Francisco Chronicle article about those ubiquitous yellow bracelets:

    "A hospital chain is taping over patients' LiveStrong wristbands because they are yellow -- the same color as the 'do not resuscitate' bands it puts on patients who do not want to be saved if their heart stops."

    December 9, 2004 12:01 AM

    Broken: Stereo hookups (FIX included)

    Dave Collins writes:

    Whenever I hooked up speakers on my old stereo, I faced a dilemma in hooking up the Left and Right speaker wires:

    L   R

    Hm. Do they mean 'Left/Right' from where I'm hooking it up, so the left speaker is on my left, or do they mean 'Left/Right' while facing the stereo when in use, so the left speaker is currently on my right?

    But my new Panasonic stereo receiver is not broken - how refreshing. It's actually cleverly designed.

    They've set it up like this:

    R   L

    Ah! They have rendered the ambiguity moot. The only way the hookup makes any sense now is for each speaker to connect its closest corresponding terminal. Thus the speaker on my left will hook up to the terminal on the left, (which is labelled R, which indicates they mean: 'Right side from the POV of the front of the stereo').

    How usable.

    December 8, 2004 10:06 AM

    Broken: Microwave pizza boxes

    Matthew Baldwin tells why microwave pizza boxes are broken.

    December 6, 2004 12:10 AM

    Broken: Travel game package

    Game_frontMegan writes:

    Attached is a picture of a "Pocket Travel Game" my fiancé and I found in an Osco one day while shopping. We stopped to look at this because we didn't know what the game was, then found that the manufacturers apparently don't, either.

    Nowhere on the box--front or back--does it specify any name of the game, even odder when you take into consideration that the other games in this series are immediately identifiable (although also not labeled)--chess, for example, was right behind this strange game.

    I'd say this is broken.  :)

    December 2, 2004 12:03 AM

    Broken: Sugar/sweetener packets

    Sweet_frontMichael Dwyer writes:

    I have a problem telling apart new designer sugar/sweetener packets:

    Most of the time, sugar bowls contain three different packets. A vaguely 'EQUAL'-looking blue packet, a vaguely 'SWEET-N-LOW'-looking pink packet, and your generic white sugar packet. So I was quite confused when I found a bunch of packets that seemed to differ ONLY by the tiny colored marks on the ends.

    You tell me -- with just a glance -- which one is a Sweet-N-Low and which is sugar?

    I'm somewhat color-blind, so maybe I'm broken -- but I still find it difficult to tell the pink ones from the white ones in low light.

    [P.S. Read this similar post from July.  -mh]

    November 12, 2004 12:01 AM

    Broken: Perrier "Sodium Free" label

    Borken_perrier_bottle_1Peter J. Farrell writes:

    Take a closer look at the Sodium content (2.3 mg/200 ml) on this Perrier label, and the notice of it being "Sodium Free". Since when in something "Sodium Free" and still contain sodium? I scanned this into my computer after soaking the label off the glass bottle.

    November 11, 2004 12:01 AM

    Broken: Scramble pads

    ScrambleScott Packard writes:

    Our company used these things for the last few years I worked there. By swiping your card near them, they randomize the digits on the keypad. This means you can't remember a nifty "memory shortcut" for your 5-digit entry code. You must look at the numbers every time.

    They also collect grit from fingers, so everybody gets the same cold that is going around, guaranteed!

    And the design of the pads didn't account for the fact that the company would mount them low on the wall for wheelchair access... preventing you from reading it unless you bend over. The ever-graceful "butt protuding into the hallway while you're bent over" position says "kick me, boys!"

    October 14, 2004 12:36 AM

    Broken: London bus ticket kiosk

    LondonbusticketmachineNancy Perlman writes:

    In central London, you must have a ticket before you board the bus. The driver can not officially sell you a ticket. The goal: speed things up on the buses without conductors (most, these
    days). So... ticket machines are installed at every bus stop, and they do not provide change.

    The machine's instructions read, "select ticket first" and show an arrow pointing down. But
    observation demonstrates that many people try to put a coin in the slot first.
    Coin is spit out.
    Person tries again.
    Same experience.
    Person misses bus or sympathetic driver accepts cash. Person may also lose coin and jam machine.

    Why? People see the slot and reach for it - they don't read the instructions. It appears to be
    the instinctual reaction to put in the coin, then select the ticket..

    P.S. - this picture was taken with a not 100% usable Siemens S55 phone. Sticker with pig is not a feature of the ticket machine.

    October 8, 2004 12:33 AM

    Broken: Apple iPod remote

    Ipodremote_1Daniel M. writes:

    Normally Apple is associated with great design, and putting lots of thought into usability. But they definitely dropped the ball on this one. The iPod remote is shaped in such a way that makes the top virtually indistinguishable from the bottom. When you have it in your pocket or out of sight, and you want to change the volume, skip or pause a song, you actually have to look at the remote to see which direction it is facing, or run the risk of hitting the wrong button.

    This could easily have been solved by using a technique such as the one that has been present on telephones for the longest time - a raised dot over the #5 key, designed to aid visually impaired users. I find it extremely easy to dial my cell phone without looking at it due to this. Why Apple didn't consider this in their remote design is beyond me.

    October 7, 2004 12:13 AM

    Broken: Plastic dart board

    P1010012Sajjad Woodward writes:

    This thing is quite frustrating. The darts do go in... occasionally. The design needs some work, I think.

    OK, I can put it in the recycling bag now.

    September 27, 2004 12:08 AM

    Broken: Soda machine design

    FizzAlertSodaMachineDick Miller writes:

    The distributor of one of the beverage vending machines at my work location has acknowledged its broken status by conspicuously posting a red warning sign. Dispensing a beverage causes it to fall from its display location to an access port at the bottom of the machine, a drop of as much as five feet. The warning reads:

    FIZZ ALERT!! You should wait 30 seconds (20 if you have fast lips!) before you open any carbonated beverages purchased from this machine. The fall causes the potential for an eruption if you don't wait the recommended 30 seconds. Thank you.

    At least their sense of humor takes the edge off the negative experience.

    September 23, 2004 12:52 AM

    Broken: Tussin cough syrup container

    tussinEllen Johnson writes from Buffalo, NY:

    About a month ago I had this awful cough. I went to my local drug store to buy some expectorant. I came home and took what I thought to be a normal dose, by filling the whole cap.

    On further inspection, however, I found that the units on the cap (tablespoons) were different from the units on the label (teaspoons). Thankfully there was no particularly dangerous ingredients, since I took nearly a double dose.

    September 15, 2004 01:13 AM

    Broken: Isadora scarf

    isadoraBrian Kelly writes:

    From the catalog of women's clothier J.Jill: The Isadora scarf. Don't these people know what happened to Isadora Duncan? See this for the details, if necessary.

    September 14, 2004 03:40 PM

    Broken: Verizon's support of v710 phone

    V710_1Ilya Goldin and Paul Schreiber point out the brokenness of Verizon's new phone, the Motorola v710: Seems that the v710 had a great feature list - Bluetooth, IM, and others - but then Verizon disabled several of the key features. Ilya writes:

    What's going on here? This new phone supports free, built-in features that allows customers to send pictures and music to their computers and to friends' phones, to sync up phone and addressbook information, to use the phone as a modem, etc. These features bypass the Verizon network and consequently "deprive" Verizon of revenue, so Verizon locked their own customers out of the free features. This thinking is known as preferring a network-centric model over a client-centric model.

    Why is this broken? Because instead of building brand loyalty by offering cool, new, inexpensive services via these new phones, Verizon is alienating their customers. Mainstream media is catching on, too... and there are now two hacker reward programs: if you figure out how to enable the missing technology, you get some cash. See

    September 13, 2004 12:21 AM

    Broken: Misspelled flying hog

    DSC01114Here's a misused apostrophe that I saw in an airport gift shop awhile back:

        This Porker Really Fly's

    Can't they get a proofreader before getting the toy packaging officially printed?!

    And is "Harry" in quotes because his real name is Harold?

    September 2, 2004 12:01 AM

    Broken: Timex Nature Sounds alarm clock

    B00005ML6Z.01.LZZZZZZZJeremy Frank writes:

    This problem doesn't effect me, as I am a morning person, but my alarm clock is really broken. I have a Timex Nature Sounds alarm clock. Note that on the right is a large silver snooze button. On the left, however, is an almost equally large, same colored ALARM RESET button. If your alarm goes off at 7 am, and you hit it, you don't get another 5 minutes, you get 24 hours.

    August 24, 2004 12:07 AM

    Broken: Milkbones package

    half_openJohn Moorman, Jr. writes:

    This box of Milkbones is clearly marked "Easy Open Tear Stip!" However, when one tears it open, the panels underneath the flap are completly glued shut, thereby negating any claim of its being easy to open. As far as I can tell, this isn't a defect of just one box - it has happened ever since they switched to the new kind of Milkbones box. (Also, I have noticed much the same problem on boxes of oatmeal cream pies - they also flap open to another layer of box.)

    August 23, 2004 12:04 AM

    Broken: Matchbox label

    3-OopsMatthew writes:

    This box of matches, like most, has the same design printed on top as on the bottom. The only way to find out which way it up is to open it slowly and hope matches don't go everywhere.

    Some boxes of matches have a special flap that mostly prevent the matches from falling out, but still no way of identifying which way is up. This obvious problem is easily alleviated by drawing an arrow on the side of the box.

    August 10, 2004 12:01 AM

    Broken: Gardena watering timer

    watertimerDave Collins writes:

    This is a watering timer. You plug your garden hose into it and it will turn on and off at regular intervals, watering your lawn. Ah, but *what* intervals?

    This timer has 14 settings that combine both interval and duration. There is no correlation whatsoever between the 14 settings and the interval/duration of the waterings (the first 3 might be 5 minute waterings with 3 different intervals, the next 4 might be 10 minute waterings at 4 different intervals, etc.).

    How do you set them? Check the manual.

    You cannot operate this device without the manual in-hand. I have lost the manual. There is no way for me to set the timer to the setting I want. There is also no way to even know - once I've picked a setting - what it is doing (I could spend ten minutes watching it go on then off, so I'd know the duration, but I would have to wait as much as 8 hours to know the interval.)

    This is mindboggingly stupid. Plus, I've seen a brilliant solution - one dial for frequency, one dial for duration. No manual, no guessing - and an additional bonus: no fixed settings, so I get to pick interval *independent* of duration.

    July 16, 2004 12:02 AM

    Broken: Coffee or sugar packet

    coffee-or-sugarIs it just me, or shouldn't a sugar packet actually mention sugar somewhere? This packet only said "New England Coffee." I understand that the sugar is intended for coffee, but it's still not coffee.

    After all, you don't see ketchup packaged as "Heinz Hamburger", or mayonnaise packaged as "Hellman's Tuna Fish Salad."

    There's a long tradition of products being labeled what they are, not what they're used for. Why stop now?

    July 13, 2004 12:01 AM

    Broken: Garage door warning label

    gd_door1gd_door2Ebtinger writes:

    This garage door manufactured by "Overhead door Indiana" is lifted by two springs that pull on a cable. The cable is attached to the lower wheel. Unscrewing this wheel will release the calbe like a whip, and bring you to the ER to get stitches, as I just experienced the hard way, because the warning label that tells you where the cable is attached is hidden BEHIND the wheel attachment! Of course, between the time you undo the srew and the time the cable is released, you have about 0.3 milliseconds to read the label....

    July 12, 2004 12:31 AM

    Broken: Theater popcorn warning

    picture_048Erik and Amy Kenerup write:

    This warning sign is on a food warmer at Loews Cineplex in Cleveland:

        Intended for use with non-potentially hazardous foods only.

    Wouldn't a "potentially hazardous" quality prevent something from being food? For example - nacho chips and bleach; glass-shard-coated popcorn; pretzel bites and cyanide.

    July 8, 2004 12:29 AM

    Broken: Balance ball

    balanceballMatthew Baldwin bought a large "balance ball" for sitting calmly with his new baby. Unfortunately, while they sat on the ball, it exploded and flung both of them several feet away. Instead of buying this balance ball, read this amusing post.

    -Mark Hurst

    P.S. It's unfortunate that Matthew blames Taiwan, which makes zillions of high-quality products (I think most PC brands, including Apple, outsource their manufacturing there). Otherwise, a good post.

    July 7, 2004 12:03 AM

    Broken: Dell laptop plug

    dell5150_powerplugdell5150_powerplug_2Eric Tiggeler writes from Amsterdam:

    Now and then I like to plug my Dell 5150 laptop into mains power. The power socket is, ofcourse, at the back of the computer. Bending over the laptop, the user has to decide where to plug in the power chord. There are two options: a square hole on the right side, and a round one on the left side. The power supply plug is a round one, so the obvious choice is... the wrong choice. Do not attempt to fit the round plug into the round hole: it turns out to be the TV adapter socket. The (round) power socket is, strangely enough, hidden in a square moulding in the laptop case. Every time I plug in my laptop, I find myself trying to plug a round peg in a square hole.

    Easy as Dell? Not really ...

    July 2, 2004 12:01 AM

    Broken: PC CD trays

    Dominique Huet writes that CD drives are now standard on every PC, and they all have the same broken feature: the open/close button is below the tray. So when the tray is open, you have to reach under the tray to close it. This would only make sense if most people sat below their computers. Why not just put the button above the tray? On my Macintosh, the open/close button is on the keyboard...

    June 24, 2004 12:01 AM

    Broken: Airport chair

    Seth Godin writes:

    Here’s the chair you must sit on. It doesn’t move. Time to pain: 8 minutes.

    June 23, 2004 12:01 AM

    Broken: Airport monitor

    Seth Godin writes more about the airport computer from yesterday's post:

    Here’s the screen. It’s about 10 inches from top to bottom. The top 30% is used for... nothing. A useless border and giant buttons. This means you spend less time online.

    June 22, 2004 12:01 PM

    Broken: Airport keyboard

    Seth Godin writes:

    Here’s the keyboard from the standalone machine the airport uses to provide internet access. You pay by the minute. Yet the keyboard is awkward, sticky and overbuilt, as if it were going to be located in a prison or something. So you type as little as possible, reducing their revenue. If they used, say, a $29 useful keyboard, they might have to replace it once a month. Time to payback? One day.

    May 28, 2004 12:01 AM

    Broken: ATM's changing buttons

     Adrian Howard writes:

    The Yes/No buttons on my local ATM (Barclays Bank in the UK) switch positions depending on the operation. I'm always pressing the button that two screens ago was "Yes," and now, for no obvious reason, is "No".

    May 26, 2004 12:01 AM

    Broken: Cell phone designs

    Adam Berson writes:

    The display on my Verizon Audiovox-CDM8600 cell phone alternates between "Verizon Wireless" and the current time every 4 seconds; sometimes forcing me to wait 4 seconds just to know what time it is.

    When the phone is charging, the display alternates between "Charging..." and "Verizon Wireless." I have to open the phone and look at the internal LCD to see the time.

    When the phone is "searching for service...," the time is not displayed on the external nor the internal LCD. But the phone knows what time it is, because when you set an alarm, the default alarm time is the current time. So, when the phone is "searching for service...," I need to set an alarm to find out what time it is.

    Also see, The truth about all of those fancy, feature-packed cell phones, by Scott Kirsner.

    May 19, 2004 12:01 AM

    Broken: ShopRite rubbing alcohol

    Bob Sifniades writes:

    I have twice now unscrewed the cap, on this bottle of ShopRite rubbing alcohol, and re-capped it without breaking the safety seal. Aren't these things supposed to be tamper-evident? The only sign of tampering is that some of the product is now missing from the bottle.

    May 14, 2004 12:01 AM

    Broken: Elevator directional signal

    Ben Grill writes:

    The up and down lights above the elevators in my building aren't very user-friendly. There's no barrier or distance between the green "up" arrow and the red "down" arrow. So when an elevator arrives, it lights up, but you can't tell if it's lighting the down or up arrow. Hence, I spend a small portion of each workday asking people "Is this going up or down?" Take a look at the photo - do you think it's going up... or down?

    May 5, 2004 12:01 AM

    Broken: Elevator button labels

    Terry Jones writes:

    The elevator doors at the Delta terminal at La Guardia opened but the woman in the elevator didn't get off. As I entered, she was speaking on the intercom to the security department trying to figure out which button to push to go down.

    As we were on the second floor and wanting to go down I just pushed the lower one and off we went.

    Then I looked for the source of her confusion. The buttons were labeled. DP (the top button) and AR (the bottom button). Checking my usability decoder ring I translated them to "Departures" and 'Arrivals'. I suppose they could have even been more bizarre and used TK (ticketing) and BG..( baggage.).

    What ever happened to 1 and 2?

    April 26, 2004 12:01 AM

    Broken: Smores maker

    Julie Ricketts writes:

    My children bought one of the ever-popular Smores makers for me for Christmas. Enclosed in the package was the attached slip. It reads,

    "To enhance the campfire experience, the grill will develop a warm glow during use and the surface will change to an antiquated, burnised finished. A slight curvature of the grilling surface may also occur. These transformations are intended to enrich the appearance of the S'mores Maker and in no way affect its performance."

    This is a very clever way to compensate for design flaws... simply leave a note for your consumer!

    April 22, 2004 12:01 AM

    Broken: Calvin Klein t-shirt label

    Tolik writes:

    You can imagine how eager I was to put on my new Calvin Klein t-shirt after reading this tag. It reads, "Keep away from fire." Is my new t-shirt more likely to catch on fire than other t-shirts? If so, I would like to know why. Though, I think I'll keep myself away from fire either way.

    April 15, 2004 12:01 AM

    Broken: Square Toilet

    Marc Rettig writes:

    Here is a picture of the toilet in my London hotel. The toilet is square. My butt, like most, is round. In the presence of so many alternative designs that provide a better experience, this is a backwards innovation into brokeness.

    April 14, 2004 12:01 AM

    Broken: Chevron gasoline pump

    Steve Wilhelm writes:

    This is a picture of a gasoline pump at the Chevron station on Main Street, Los Altos. The buttons on the pump are almost the same color as the pump itself. Because they were so hard to see, the bottom two buttons were colored in by the gas station attendants.

    Also, the original buttons don't have labels because their function changes based on what the screen is asking -- because of this, the gas station attendants had to label the buttons "Yes" and "No."

    April 6, 2004 12:01 AM

    Broken: New Uno card design

    Dave Jung writes:

    We recently replaced our 15+ year old Uno deck with a new one. The old deck had the number six underlined to help distinguish it from the number nine. If it had a line on it, the card was a six-- quick and easy.

    The new cards have been redesigned. The number nine card now has its own line under it! Since you are playing in a circle, you have to be able to read the card upside down and sideways. The picture shows both a six and a nine card. Quickly, which is which? I find it extremely difficult to tell, especially if the cards are side-by-side.

    March 29, 2004 12:12 AM

    Broken: Detroit airport keycard instructions

    Ryan writes:

    I took this photo at Detroit Metro Airport. Odds are pretty good that a non-English speaking person or two are going to be in direct contact with this usability disaster.
    [Even this native English speaker has trouble understanding it. -mh]

    March 22, 2004 12:12 PM

    Broken: Microwave start-stop button

    Jerry Morrison writes:

    How long can it take to figure out yet another microwave oven? I tried this one for a while and had to go get help. It turns out that only a little area around the "/" is actually touch-sensitive. "Start" and "Stop" are not really buttons, though they feel the same as "/."

    The design is so bad that people at work incorrectly concluded that the unit was broken, and it was replaced with the exact same model!

    P.S. Does anyone know who makes this microwave? A truly horrible design.

    Update March 24: Jerry Morrison writes:

    I checked out the oven's back panel today: "HEC Model MWG1001TW, Haier America Trading, Made in China."

    Googling for "HEC microwave" found:

    March 10, 2004 12:30 AM

    Broken: Compaq laptop power plug

    Michael Boyink writes:

    This is my new Compaq Presario 2100 laptop. They equipped the AC power supply with a right-angle plug at the laptop end. The plug extends past the body of the computer, which puts the computer at risk when setting it down. A simple straight plug would have sufficed and probably cost a penny or two less.

    March 3, 2004 12:30 AM

    Broken: Consumer technology

    This article talks about the increasing complexity of digital devices: cameras, DVD players, televisions.

    When will consumer technology manufacturers learn: consumers aren't served well by a ton of features?

    And when will consumers learn: more features doesn't make a product better?

    (They should read Uncle Mark 2004 to get smarter.)

    February 27, 2004 12:59 AM

    Broken: Office toilets

     Brad M. writes:

    We moved into a brand new building, with brand new toilets, about a year ago. Since we've arrived here, the toilets have never worked well--note the plunger conveniently located to the left of the toilet (broken 1x).

    There have been plumbers here on many occasions, but they have failed to rectify the problem (broken 2x). The symptom is that when there is a certain degree of, uh, solid material shall we say, things don't go down well.

    If you look at the sign above the toilet, it ironically identifies that we must flush twice, as this is a new 'low water type toilette (sic)', thereby defeating the low water goal (broken 3x).

    To make this seem like something truly out of Fawlty Towers, however, the recommended fix (flush twice), doesn't work either (broken 4x). To make it work, you need to hold the flusher down so that more water than designed flows. Even this doesn't always work. So, the problem seems to lie in the original engineering of the toilet itself.

    In a final twist of madness, the public toilets available a floor below us are now locked, so even our emergency outlet is blocked.

    p.s., Kris Arnold sends this link to the New York Times article, For Exercise in New York Futility, Push Button. Apparently, most of the pedestrian cross-walk buttons in NYC have been deactivated, but not removed.

    February 12, 2004 01:05 AM

    Broken: Shower squeegee

    Doug Anderson writes:

    In an effort to reduce humidity and the unicellular organisms that thrive with it, I decided to buy a squeegee with which to remove the water from my bathroom shower enclosure. Clean lines, smooth stainless steel for durability and low maintenance, nice heft in the hand, soft blade that glides across grout lines without chatter, seemed perfect.

    After several months of satisfied use, a design flaw appeared - suddenly. Standing in the shower, bare feet softened by warm water, wet hands grasping smooth & hefty stainless steel. Only problem: the stainless steel wrapped around the blade extends about 3/16" (about 0.5 cm) past the end of the blade.

    When dropped just right (or just wrong), the u-shaped end of the stainless steel readily penetrates the water-softened skin of the toe, leaving parallel lacerations.

    [I didn't include the picture he sent of said lacerated toe.. -mh]

    February 11, 2004 12:58 AM

    Broken: Caps Lock

    Jan Jursa writes from Germany:

    After years of suffering, trouble and pain I finally fixed my keyboard. I will never ever again touch the Caps Lock accidentally. The harassment's over.

    Isn't the Caps Lock key one of the most annoying things on every keyboard? I think I can honestly say I have NEVER used this key purposely in the past 15 or 20 years.

    [Not only that, but on Windows PC's the all-important CTRL key is in the least accessible position: lower-left. Why not switch the positions of CTRL and Caps Lock? -mh]

    February 4, 2004 03:20 AM

    Broken: CD-R label

    Scott Palmer writes:

    I took the enclosed picture of a new spindle of blank CD-R discs. The label says, "Data CD-R for Computer Burning". I don't want to burn my computer, I just want to use the CD's. :-)

    January 30, 2004 12:08 AM

    Broken: Car's mileage display

    Here's a picture I took of a rental car a few months ago. Why is it that many new cars have a mileage display without tenths of a mile? There's no way to track your progress when the directions say "go half a mile and turn left."

    I can't imagine any reason why auto makers would remove a useful feature like that. It doesn't save them money; there's no tradeoff where drivers are actually helped by the removal of tenths. Seems like an obvious step backwards in the user experience of the car.

    (I also don't understand why a digital display is better than analog - you used to be able to see the numbers turning over, giving a very accurate sense of the mileage. But even a digital display would be OK, if it would show the tenths of a mile.)

    January 27, 2004 03:01 AM

    Broken: Amp switch

    Tom Smith writes:

    The switch for this guitar amplifier is round the back. Seconds went by as I tried again and again to turn it off, and the little red light kept coming on again...

    January 14, 2004 03:00 AM

    Broken: New Nokia phones

    Brian Snyder writes:

    I'm amazed at Nokia's latest trend towards unconventional keypads on their phones. Both this new 7600 and their 3650 models throw away the ubiquitous keypad standard, forcing users to completely re-learn the most basic activity: dialing the phone.

    Being a person who remembers numbers partially by key pattern, I can tell you from the pictures alone that I would never buy one, regardless of its technical prowess.

    Plus, wouldn't you feel stupid holding one of these things up to your head?

    January 12, 2004 02:38 AM

    Broken: Clothes iron

     Daniel Brown writes:

    This was an iron in my hotel room in Paris. I have seen it elsewhere since but learned a valuable lesson from this first encounter with it.

    It wasn't until I was actually USING the iron, having settled on a modest heat setting, that I realized where the heat-to-material chart was... on the BOTTOM of the iron! Hence, you wouldn't be likely to find the information you needed to use the iron until you were actually using it.

    An even stranger side note... If one were to turn the iron over to more clearly read what the chart contains, the water that was now heated in the iron would drain out the top and onto your feet.

    January 9, 2004 03:18 AM

    Broken: Milk jug

     Bob Sifniades writes:

    This Wawa half-gallon (1.89 liter) milk container has instructions to "grasp here," but it's practically impossible. The idea is to grasp by pressing your thumb on the ridges on one side, with your fingers on the matching ridges on the opposite side. But the ridges are too small and smooth, the plastic is too slippery, the container is too heavy, and it curves inwards, so your fingers slip, and the container never leaves the table. I suppose it would work if you wore non-slip gloves, or the container were mostly empty. Instead, I picked it up by grabbing it around the neck, under the bulging section.

    January 8, 2004 03:00 AM

    Broken: Tire gloss packaging

    Dean Hart writes:

    The attached is a great, long lasting liquid tire shine product. But geez, it comes in a clear plastic bottle, is purple in color, and smells incredibly like grape soda! Keep it away from the children!

    January 7, 2004 03:00 AM

    Broken: Gas pump

    Grant Skousen points us to this gas pump in rural Utah.

    December 19, 2003 03:40 AM

    Broken: Cellphone shutting-down beep

    Hanan Cohen writes:

    Everytime I give a lecture I ask the attendees to turn off their cellphones ("Is there a heart surgeon among us? All the rest, please shut down your cellphones.") Then begins an orchestra of beeps, of cellphones shutting down!

    Why do cellphone makers think that shutting down is the right time to sound a beep or a tune? Can't they think of the possibility that the shutting down of a cellphone takes place in time when beeping or chiming is not desirable, like in a concert or a class?

    November 10, 2003 12:03 AM

    Broken: Bose radio buttons

    Beth Hondl writes:

    This is a little thing, but it could cost me my job. I have one of those much-advertised Bose clock radios that I use to wake up in the morning. The sound is great, and it's generally easy to use.

    However, as shown in the picture, directly above the large snooze button there are three smaller buttons, two of which (the ones marked "On/Off" and "Aux") actually turn off the alarm altogether! As far as I can tell, the "Aux" button is meant to redirect the sound to a secondary set of speakers. Since I don't have a second set, the result is silence.

    Now, as someone who regularly relies on the snooze button to ease my way into wakefulness, the proximity of these buttons has caused some problems. On more than one occasion, when I've hit what I think is the "snooze" button, I've been a few millimeters off and accidentally turned off the alarm. Of course, I immediately fall back to sleep, then awake to a panic when I see what time it's gotten to be. My boss is starting to think it's not so funny anymore.

    Seems like it would be easy to enough to move these two buttons further from the snooze button. If I was hitting the volume button, the presets, or even the AM/FM switch, I would still at least be hearing something to wake me up.

    P.S. This is the 100th post on This Is Broken. Thanks to everyone who has sent in additions to the site... please keep sending them!
    -Mark Hurst (mark at goodexperience dot com)

    November 5, 2003 03:01 AM

    Broken: Techno-toaster

    Laurie Gray writes:

    On a recent business trip, I wanted toast for breakfast. I had no trouble putting the toast INTO the toaster; however, I thought it was running long and attempted to get the toast OUT of the toaster. Finally, after 5 tries, I managed to get it out, thanks to the help of a tiny little button on the front of the toaster called "cancel".

    I am not sure that I want a toaster that is so technologically advanced that it needs a "cancel" button!

    October 29, 2003 06:45 AM

    Broken: Tube color

    Jim Duppenthaler writes:

    The Loctite Company makes a range of products called 'threadlockers', a liquid applied to threads to keep nuts, bolts, screws, etc. firmly in place. Every mechanic has a bottle or tube of blue (medium strength) and red (high strength) Loctite in his or her tool chest.

    The problem: Loctite Red comes in a blue tube, and Loctite Blue comes in a red tube. This makes you think very carefully before grabbing a tube, as using the wrong one can have serious consequences. Here's what they look like, including a couple drops of the contents of each tube.

    Correction - Nov 17, 2003: A representative from the Loctite corporation just wrote in to correct the misunderstanding....

    In regards to the problem posed above, please examine the picture Mr. Duppenthaler provided more carefully. When viewed larger you will notice the two tubes are from two different manufactures. The red tube is in fact a Loctite® threadlocker however the blue tube is not a Loctite product but a Permatex® product.

    All of the Loctite® Threadlocker products are in red bottles or tubes and have been for 50 years. Since Loctite offers many strengths and grades which are differentiated by colors such as red, blue, green and purple, most packages except for the very small tube pictured do have a color coded strip across them in addition to the written description such as "Medium Strength".

    The Permatex® Company introduced their blue bottles several years ago. There is obviously some confusion in the marketplace and Loctite welcomes anyone to visit for any further information about Loctite® products.

    Thank You,
    Karen V.
    Henkel Loctite Corporation

    October 28, 2003 08:26 AM

    Broken: Citrus juicer

     Amy Laskin writes:

    This juicer has a simple design: press and turn the half-lemon against
    the ribbed dome and the tray catches the juice. The fence of teeth will
    catch the accumulated seeds when you pour the juice out of the spout.
    Voila! Seedless juice.

    The broken part? The sharp, pointed teeth are located precisely where
    the first knuckle and cuticle of your fingers will land if you press
    and turn a lemon! In other words, as you juice, you firmly scrape your
    knuckles against the sharp pointy teeth. Bonus for the lemon juice that
    then gets into the fresh wound. Ouch!

    October 8, 2003 10:30 AM

    Broken: Match heads

    Manuel Razzari writes from Argentina:

    These matches' heads are black - the same color a match becomes after you burn it.

    As many people place used matches back into the box, it gets harder and harder to pick a new one, as the new ones look like the used ones.

    Kind of the same issue with links and visited links, which webmasters often color the same for aesthetics, but then you can't tell where you've been.

    October 7, 2003 10:31 AM

    Broken: Pen design

    Katherine Lumb writes:

    The Sharpie Twin Tip pen is badly designed. Great idea: a permanent marker with a broad tip on one end and a fine tip on the other. I was impressed by the pen's versatility, and picked up a few on a recent trip to an art supply store. The first time I used the pen, I took the cap off the broad tip and, like virtually every pen-user I know, slipped it on the other end. When I tried to put the cap back on, it didn't fit. Then I noticed that the cap on the fine tip was missing. I realized that the cap on the fine tip, which was significantly smaller than the cap on the broad tip, had been completely swallowed by and become stuck inside the other cap. I hadn't pushed down especially hard when I stuck it on the other end of the pen, but it was really jammed in there tight. It took 15 minutes of banging, prying and swearing to get the smaller cap out.

    Was any product testing done before this pen went to market? You'd only have to put this pen through the paces of normal use to discover this fatal flaw. I can only imagine that thousands of other Sharpie loyalists are as frustrated as I am by this botched effort.

    October 3, 2003 10:38 AM

    Broken: Keyring alarm

    Carl Myhill writes from the UK:

    Here is the keyring that came with my motorcycle alarm. I really liked the warning saying, "If kept with ignition keys, damage may occur". Hmm, then why make it a keyring?!

    October 2, 2003 10:40 AM

    Broken: Blackberry Phone/PDA

    Julie Stanford writes:

    I recently had the misfortune to try out a RIM Blackberry 6210 Phone/PDA
    for a week. The button to end a call is located in the EXACT location where your right thumb sits on the Blackberry during a call. On numerous occasions, I accidently hung up on people while I was holding the phone.

    Another broken feature appears when another call comes in. The call-waiting options encourages you to hang up on people: The first and default option is "answer new call and hang up on current call." Second is "answer new call and hold current call," and third is "don't answer." I can't believe that the default is to hang up on the current person -- an option that I chose on two occasions when I accidently clicked the thumb roller when attempting to navigate to option 2.

    This device is very broken.

    September 11, 2003 11:29 PM

    Broken: PSI markings on tires

     Kevin Shira writes:

    Tire manufacturers delight in obscuring the PSI (Pounds per Square Inch)
    information with tiny fonts in the same color as the tires themselves. (See the first photo [above], taken under perfect lighting conditions.)

    Imagine: it's late afternoon, the light is fading, and you need to inflate your tires. But what's the correct PSI? 32 pounds? 36? 44? With many tires, you won't be able to tell.

    For most of us, finding the correct inflation level is impossible without a flashlight and magnifying glass. The easy solution? Make the PSI information twice as big. (See the the second image [above], which I edited.) Better yet, make the information bigger AND set it off in a white font.

    Update Sept 30: Several This Is Broken readers have written in to reply to this post. Here's one from a reader who wants to remain anonymous:
    The PSI on tires is the maximum inflation. The PSI you should use is always posted on a placard on the door jamb of your car. Car manufacturers "tune" their cars' suspensions to the tires and rarely use the maximum pressure. I work for a major tire manufacturer, by the way.

    September 2, 2003 11:39 PM

    Broken: Office phone

    Look closely at this office phone and you'll notice something missing: the Redial button! I count 46 buttons on this phone, including mysteries like "Inspct," "HFAI," and "Feature." But Redial - possibly the most important button after the digits and Mute - didn't make the cut. Needless to say, I haven't figured out speed dialing, either.

    And don't get me started on the voice mail system that came with this phone. (To delete, press "2-2-2". To save, press "Star 1". To remove the design flaws, throw the phone out the window.)

    August 26, 2003 06:00 AM

    Broken: Tablet packaging

    Erik Saastad writes from Oslo, Norway:

    In Norway we have flouride tablets for kids. They come in two flavours: banana and peppermint. You'd expect banana-flavoured tablets to be yellow. And peppermint-flavoured gum is often blue or white.

    The manufacturer, however, mixes them up... by design! Blue has banana taste, and yellow has peppermint taste.

    I asked the manufacturer why, and they said that the strength decides the colour. 0.25 is blue, and 0.50 is yellow.

    If the kids are to get these themselves, and cannot read - do you think they would choose the right one?

    August 25, 2003 06:00 AM

    Broken: Toaster oven

    Jeff Garbers writes:

    We purchased a Toastmaster TTOB4RL toaster oven a few weeks ago. Aside from the fact that it doesn't toast consistently, and that there are several reports on Amazon of this particular device exploding and blowing broken glass across the room, it has a pretty blatant design failure as well: it doesn't make any noise when the toast is done.

    According to the instructions:

    "NOTE: Watch toast until desired color is achieved and shut off unit manually by opening the oven door. This will shut the unit off without damaging the oven."

    So while we're preparing breakfast for a spouse and three preschoolers, we're supposed to stand in front of this device (right in the blast path, if the Amazon reviews are to be believed) and MONITOR it?

    This note also carries an implied warning that there is some way to shut the unit off that WILL damage the oven... wonder what it is?

    August 14, 2003 06:00 AM

    Broken: Mineral water label

    Connie Cheng writes in:

    This is the bottle of Perrier I was drinking when reading It is an oxymoron - "low mineral content" mineral water? I better get what I paid for!

    August 13, 2003 06:00 AM

    Broken: Beeping microwave

    Laurie Kalmanson writes that her new microwave oven has "affirmation needs":

    The machine wants to communicate with me. When it finishes heating something up, it beeps... continually... until someone makes it stop.

    This is an anoyance. This is a machine that is seeking affirmation for, what, doing a good job? My old microwave politely beeped once when it finished, and then left me the heck alone, so I could decide if I wanted my tea hot, cold or not at all, depending on my other needs, and/or the baby, the phone, the two dogs, and, oh yes, my significant other. The last thing I need is a machine that wants to interact with me.

    I happen to have the same microwave - the GE Spacemaker - and I can attest to how annoying this "feature" is. When the microwave finishes, it beeps once a minute, forever, until you open the door. Totally broken.
    Update 8/14/03: Will Welch writes in to say:
    As a counter to that annoying beep, the GE Spacemaker has a truly amazing feature. Like many devices in my home, the Spacemaker thinks it needs to know what time it is, and blinks madly after a power outage to get its clock reset. *However*, if you just ignore it for awhile, it will decide you don't really care that your microwave doesn't know what time it is, and the display will go black. I love that. Truly, not broken.

    August 6, 2003 06:00 AM

    Broken: Toaster design

    Tom Smith writes from London:

    This is my mum's toaster. The black plastic handle on the left is to put the bread down. The other handle is fixed in place and is, er, to make it symmetrical and piss off every right-hander who uses it.

    June 30, 2003 06:00 AM

    Broken: Coffee maker

     Mike Boyink writes:

    Attached are two pictures of my coffee maker. The designers choose the wrong color LEDs to indicate state.

    We're conditioned by traffic lights to associate green with "go", and red with "stop", but if I want the coffee maker to "go" (make coffee now) I have to make sure the red light is lit.

    The coffee maker has three states:
    -Not brewing (off)
    -Brewing now (on)
    -Set to brew when the timer goes off (Auto Start)

    (Click the image to zoom in.)

    June 25, 2003 06:00 AM

    Broken: Bathing suit shopping

    Ned Batchelder's wife writes about the difficulties of buying a decent bathing suit. A perfect text entry for - I found it on Ned's site. (Read full column here.)

    This is about designers who cannot measure, who don't understand the first thing about the female form and can't be creative if their lives depended on it. I am making a list to "out" the worst features and see if they can do better from now on. First of all, the Miraclesuit: it isn't...

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