Products Whose Design Just Missed Rant


Surely at some point in your life you have purchased a new product you were just super excited to try. You were so excited that you rushed home in excitement in order to open the box (that you just paid for) like it was some gift from a far off land (China), even though it wasn’t a gift (you paid for it). Perhaps it was a new phone, or some tool, new blinky shoes, a gadget, or something else.

So you get the product home and rip open the cardboard (perhaps you even show enough patience to read the manual and assemble the darn thing correctly) and start using your new “toy.” And then it hits you…..there is one feature missing. A feature so simple and obvious that you can’t believe they forgot to include it. Sometimes it is even a feature that would NOT add any appreciable cost or complexity (ringer-off switches on phones, for instance). Sometimes it is a feature that is absolutely critical to how a user interacts with the device that you have to hold it funny to use it in your left hand.

This ongoing rant looks at some of my favorite products. These are products I use everyday, all the time or simply rely on to get-r-done. And, of course, I rant about how/where these products fall short. This is not about the super-bad products (the ones that suck and have no hope), but rather about the ones that made it 99% of the way to glory and got hit by a stupid stick, or rushed out the door.


4-23-2005………Portable Hammock Stands….here

First, the praise: Hammocks are nice and comfy. But not everybody has 2 stout redwood trees in a sunny spot in their backyard spaced a perfect 15 feet apart. Portablee hammock stands neatly solve the problem. They are stout steel frames and are easy to assembly and locate anywhere you have a flat open space.

Second, the silliness and The Rant: The one problem with the “Portable” stands is that they are so awkward it takes two able-bodied adults to move them. What’s so portable about something that takes 2 people to move. The device is not so easy to disassemble, either. Furthermore, given the simple construction, dragging it is nearly impossible. This is a classic example of how a product can get 95% of the way and fall short. I want to be able to follow the sun (occasionally repositioning the hammock throughout the day). On hot days, I want to move my hammock into the shade. I want to be able to move my “Portable Hammock Stand” on my own and I simply cannot. Sure, I have a bad back and all, but that’s not even the problem. This blood thing simply needs a cheap set of wheels!! Is it so hard to put wheels on a hammock stand? The thing already costs $80, so what’s an extra $5 for some cheap-ass wheels?

How to work around this shortcoming: Check this photo and this photo. Piece of cake. I had an old scooter sitting around in my backyard, so I removed the plastic wheels off of that. Then, I found a closet rod lying around and figured that it would make a good axle. Sure enough, it fit inside the square steel tube perfectly. Cut that rod to length, put a few fender washers between it and the wheel and then “thread” a bolt in place. That’s it. 30 minutes of scrounging and hacking and I had two wheels on my NOW-portable hammock frame. I totally recommend this hack (don’t have a scooter, use wheels off of an old lawnmower or something). The best part is that it works so well, I can even roll the hammock across the grass with somebody in it! I simply lift up one end (the end without the wheels of course) and push/pull the hammock frame to where I need it.

4-23-2005………Olympia Model Cordless Phone….here

First, the praise: What’s not to like about a cheap cordless phone with blinky LEDs that blink? I was smitten immediately upon seeing this thing at my local Fry’s. I was even excited that it had the ability to turn the ringer off (a feature sadly not found on numerous cordless phones out there!!!).

Second, the silliness: So, I get the thing home, read the instruction manual and go through the motions setting it up. Yes: English Language. Yup: Area code entered. Yup: turn that ringer off. Yup: turn the LEDs off after a little while (so I can sleep). But where was the ability to set the clock? The phone had a message indicator icon on the LCD and a clock….but I couldn’t figure out how to set it.

Finally, the rant: Well, turns out, the nimwits at Olympia put a clock on their phone but gave the user no way to set it! What kind of dipsh!# puts a clock on a product without a way of setting it??? What am I supposed to do, put the batteries in at noon exactly? Seriously…even VCRs have a convoluted way of setting their time, but this phone had NOTHING. I checked and rechecked the manual and found nothing–only instructions on how to set the language and the area code. It took a google search to clear the matter up. Evidently, the dumbasses that designed the phone put in a “feature” to pull the time from the first callerID call that came through. This feature is called “Real Time Clock Set By Caller ID”. Problem: I DO NOT HAVE CALLER ID!! Supposedly, I should not even need CallerID to have the phone set itself. However, I have now had the phone for weeks, received plenty of calls, but the time on the phone is still wrong. To make matters worse, I am one of those people that likes to set clocks ahead by a couple of minutes. I also really like to be able to adjust for daylight savings the day that it happens (not when I next receive a caller ID phone call). Lame lame lame lame lame!!! Take the engineers and marketing blokes from Olympia that decided that lanaguage choice and area code were the ONLY features a user needed to setup…..take those myopic dorks and lock them in a room. Make them wait for a phone call to set the time on their wrist watch. Make them waith in the room with 10 different clocks and no way to set any of them. While your at it, make those clocks tick really loud (like a nightmarish version of the 60 Minutes “theme song”). As for my phone: I gave up and stuck it in the garage….I will never buy another Olympia-type product again (I can hack my own phones to make them blinky).

4-18-2005………The Litter Locker…..herehereand here

First, the praise: I use this product daily and love it. It captures and contains the smell, nastiness, and foulness associated with the poop of litter-using life forms. You can go a good week before having to take the entire device out to the garbage. The refills are available and easy to install and the bag plastic is tough enough to never break or split (unless drastically overfilled). A typical refill cartridge lasts for a good month, too! The wind-up feature on the side gives plenty of leverage. There is even a handy razorblade-thingy inside for cutting the bag (so that you can tie it off and dispose of it). It even comes with a matching colored scooper that lasts fairly well.

Second, the silliness: So, there are two silly features with this product. I can live with them since they are minor design flaws (at least they tried). First, the scoop is wider than the input to the plastic containment chute. If you miss the chute, on the floor goes the poop. The other silly feature is the “scoop holder” on the back side. In all honesty, if you were to use this deep drawn “bucket” it would fill with all sorts of yumminess and need frequent (and difficult) cleaning. Since this bucket is physically inside the envelope of the “locker” they could have perforated the bottom of the bucket and let litter simply fall through and be capture for later disposal.

Finally, The Litter Locker Rant: So where did this beautiful product fall short by 1%?? Put yourself in the user’s shoes. If you are using this, you are lazy (like me) and only willing to take the poop out once a week. You will probably (since it is full of foul smelling fermented feces) want to handle this disposal outdoors so as not to make a mess. In order to handle the disposal, you need to carry the thing outside. The trouble begins, for the Litter Locker “Plus” (no Pro or Extreme version is available yet) has no handle. No only that, if you try to carry by the upper portion, the clam shell hinges open and the bag of FFSFF (see above) falls to the floor. So, you decide to carry it by the two twisting handles on either side…..same problem. So, you resort to holding the locker close to your body like a smelly plastic teddy bear. Blech. Get it right, guys!!!

How to work around this shortcoming: To enable your Litter Locker Plus (and turn it into the Extreme Litter Locker Pro 256 XGL VSLI) you need to do at least one of the following two modifications. Modification #1: Drill holes on the very bottom of the clamshell on both sides (just under each of the blue wheely thingys) and string some twine over the top. The twine needs to be loose enough to allow you to open the clamshell, yet tauught enough that you can balance the unit with your thumb (this does work….it’s what I do). Modification #2: Find a way to make the closing snap/clasp something REAL. Perhaps a brass swing-hook or a sheet metal screw. Even if you do this Mod, you may still need a stable handle of some sort.

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