Archive for the 'Industrial Design' Category

Miele Incognito Dishwasher; Just A Bit of Design Stupidity (In An Otherwise Awesome Product)

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

We have had a Miele Incognito dishwasher for quite a few years. Mostly, it is a wonderful machine; does a great job of cleaning the dishes and does so extremely quietly.

It does, however, have a couple of design flaws that I wanted to record here for other Miele owners to potentially stumble across when googling their frustrations.

Recently, or dishwasher would intermittently stop mid-cycle and flash the “Intake/Drain” light, indicating that the dishwasher either had no supply or the drain had failed. When this first happened, cleaning the filter basket was enough to let it complete the cycle (even when the filter basket didn’t have anything in it). Lately, the dishwasher wouldn’t even complete the initial drain cycle (the dishwasher always fires up the pump when first turned on to clear any sitting water).

Apparently, this is not an uncommon problem.

Once the filter basket is removed, there is a bit of wire that holds down the drain pipe on top of the pump impeller. For most with this problem, taking off the drain pipe reveals that the impeller is jammed by a bit of glass, a pit, hair, or other debris.

Not in my case. The drain pipe is actually not just a pipe, but a gravity/pressure activated ball valve. It exists to prevent backwash from the disposer or sink from entering the washer. That ball valve was entirely clogged with debris.

In particular, there was an olive pit wedge behind the ball valve such that the ball valve was barely opening. This led to bits of food being wedged between ball and pipe, quite effectively clogging the drain pipe. Once fully cleaned, the dishwasher works just fine again.

The real problem is that once there is any kind of problem in the dishwasher that prevents drainage, removing the filter basket causes whatever food bits that haven’t settled into the filter basket to end up falling into the pump intake area.

To avoid this, use a shop vacuum out any standing water (and food) in the bottom of the dishwasher before removing the filter basket.

On the inexcusably stupid front, the dishwasher — like most dishwashers — has a filter basket at the bottom of the dishwasher that is designed to catch bits of food and stuff before it hits the pump. The sump filter basket has a hinged bottom so you can open it up and clean it out periodically.

Unfortunately, the hinge isn’t actually a hinge. Miele’s designers cut a corner and the “hinge” is really just a thin spot connecting the door to the filter basket. Obviously, it is cheaper to make a single injection modeled piece than to actually have a mechanical hinged connection.

Expect the hinge to fail every 3 to 5 years. Replacement cost? $135 as of the spring of 2010.

Kegerator Upgrade: Keg Cap Tap Handles

Monday, April 5th, 2010
Keg Cap Taps

This is the reason why I write this weblog. After writing up the entry on the Kegerator project and tweeting it, I received a “nice job!” from the creator of a product called the KegCapTap.

Pretty much every commercial keg of beer ships with a round plastic snap-on protector over the very much standard sized keg coupler/connector. Of course, that snap-on protector is a marketing opportunity and, thus, every keg comes with a nice logo’d cap identifying the brand, if not the specific beer!

Enter the Keg Cap Tap.

The Keg Cap Tap is a tap handle that’ll fit just about any tap valve (the company also sells adaptors). The round end just so happens to be the exact same size as the top of a keg and, thus, quite nicely holds the branded keg protector.

As a result, whatever random commercial brews I have in my kegerator will now be identified quite clearly on the tap.

For my own beers, the Keg Cap Taps came with blank plastic snap-on protectors. For now, I’ll just slap an Avery label on the blank and write in the type of beer. Someday, I’ll have to actually print up little logos and such!

Geotagging Photos With Aperture & QStarz BT-1300S

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

With the release of Aperture 3, geotagging photos is now an integral part of the application’s workflow. Aperture grew the Faces & Places features like iPhotos!

In particular, the Places feature allows you to import GPS data from iPhone photos or from GPS data captured by pretty much any device that can spew a standard GPX format data file.


Tagging from the iPhone is straightforward. With the iPhone connected to your computer, go to Places in Aperture and then select Import from iPhone Photos…. Aperture will then display all the photos on your iPhone that have GPS metadata and you can pick the photos from which the GPS data is to be imported. Once picked, Aperture will apply the GPS data to photos taken near the same time as the imported data.

However, one issue with the iPhone is that it really isn’t a terribly good GPS logging device. Using it as one eats the battery and the data generated often has holes. And, because the iPhone uses A-GPS (GPS assisted by cellular signal), it doesn’t work at all when hiking in areas without cell signal. Apparently, I’m mistaken about A-GPS — it should fall back to regular GPS behavior. My experience, though, is that the iPhone just isn’t a terribly good GPS device when it doesn’t have a cell signal and has often been off by miles when in the hinterlands. It works great when on the road or near cities, though.

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Swingline Red Stapler Busted.

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

My red stapler — like the one pictured at left — has broken due to the classic industrial design mistake of using a plastic part as the connector between two mechanical parts in a leverage or geared based mechanical system.

Swingline has a customer feedback form and, thus, I sent the below feedback. We shall see if anything comes of it.


I could make a classic Office Space style joke about my Red Stapler and Burning Down the building, but I won’t. I’m sure you’ve heard ’em all before.

I have a classic red Swingline stapler. It is a work of art.

Unfortunately, it suffers from a classic industrial design mistake. The red metal halves are held together by a plastic clip. Said plastic clip broke and what should be a single mechanical unit is now two dysfunctional, yet attractive, pieces of red metal.

As much as I would like a replacement part (it is the u-shaped bit that holds the stapler halves together), I’m far more interested in seeing Swingline fix the faulty design.

Thank you,

Review: Breville Toaster Oven (of awesomeness)

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

I have long wanted a really good toaster oven. One that had decent capacity, was versatile, and insulated such that it doesn’t lose a ton of heat when sticking food into it. As well, I can’t deal with poorly designed products and will often choose dead simple over a full featured item simply because simple is harder to screw up.

After 8 months of research and comparisons, I finally settled on the Breville BOV800XL Smart Oven. It isn’t simple and it certainly isn’t cheap, but the Breville is really quite an excellent piece of technology.

The Breville’s controls are straightforward. You select the mode first, then there are two additional dials that configure, effectively, temperature and time. For toasting, the two additional buttons select slices and darkness; seemingly silly, but it actually works quite well!

As well, the toaster oven has a convection setting and a “frozen” setting that automatically adjusts the cooking times to account for cooking frozen foods. The “frozen” button is the one feature that borders on frivolous gadgetry. Then again, cooking random frozen foods really isn’t a part of our diet. If it was, the adjustment it makes actually does make sense.

The interior capacity is large enough to bake a 13″ pizza or roast a whole chicken (though you might have to cut it into two halves). Combining decent insulation with high wattage, the Breville both heats relatively quickly, holds heat well, and the outside does get warm, but not terribly hot.

When the internal rack is in toasting position, opening the door magnetically slides the rack out a few inches. Very convenient.

All in all, the Breville is a well engineered kitchen tool. It can easily replace your toaster and can often fill in for your full sized oven while both pre-heating more quickly and using less electricity overall. And, of course, the Breville can act as a secondary oven for those times when you need two ovens.

Since the addition of the Breville to our cooking toolset, it sees daily use.

Read the rest of this entry »


Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Ow ow ow ow.

Do not buy this fan.

It can shock you.

Specifically, the metal toggle switch’s handle is spring loaded such that if you push on it like a push button, it will short out internally. Not only does it send a pretty spray of sparks out of the switch, it will also shock the crap out of you.

As suggested, I have reported the fan to the Consumer Product Safety Comission and will write-up whatever the followup experience may be.

Sony Hates Users; PS3’s “Restore Default Settings” Eats Your Data

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

I’m the first to embrace that much of this was written in anger and, though I might now word it differently, I’m not going to because it captures the depth of frustration and crappy experience I endured (a first world problem, assuredly).

But, hey, let’s make the vitriol useful– if there were a means that I could report bugs, I would. If there were a way to capture the state of my machine for validation, I’d do it. If there is some way that my crap user experience could be used to prevent future user abuse, that’d be awesome.

To be completely blunt: The team responsible for the PS3 non-gaming user experience — the menus, data management, user interface, and everything else that doesn’t happen in game — are either incompetent buffoons or have a management chain and/or product marketing/design/definition demands that are ridiculous, stupid, and an insult to the customer. (Personally, I’m betting it is the latter — the PS3 is an impressive piece of engineering, both software and hardware).

It is unfortunate that the PS3 is the only vehicle via which one can enjoy such great titles as Ratchet&Clank, WipeOut HD/Fury, and Uncharted. It is insult to their greatness to require the user to have to experience but a moment of the steaming pile of crap that is the Playstation 3 user experience.

I did something incredibly stupid this evening.

I assumed that Sony remotely cares about user experience, that Sony understands that their users care about saved game data, and that Sony — after more than a decade in the game console business — might have a clue about how to implement a system.

Boy, that was a stupid assumption.

I wanted to move the PS3 from TV A to TV B. No video; TV B doesn’t do 1080p. No problem; a google search or two later reveals that holding down the power button will reset the video and give you a menu where you can reset the video.

Nope — the closest is restore default settings. An internet search indicated this was the right thing to do. Wrong. The internet was wrong. Very very wrong. Don’t do that. Don’t ever do that. If you want to switch the resolution of a PS3 without losing data, do so on a TV that works with the PS3 in the current display mode first. If you don’t have one, you are screwed. Sony? Why do you hate your users?

In fact, what it does is worse than restoring the system to factory default. The first sign of trouble is when the PS3 says something like “Hey, I discovered there was user data I didn’t know about, I restored it”.

It lies.

It actually creates disconnected, unsigned, unblessed, shell accounts that have your data in an unusable form. They will have an asterisk in front; bbum became *bbum.

Uh oh.

Upon logging into the faux-*bbum account, many things are now broken. The worst — the single biggest insult — is that the original save game data is still there, but many games can’t use it.

Assasin Creeds II? Apparently, that saved game data will still work. Peggle? Nope, not so much. Oooh.. joy… looks like all data related to games purchased from the playstation network is trashed. WipeOut HD? Won’t even launch — key file missing, redownload dumbass user! But, Sony, All I wanted to do was make it work again? Why are you throwing rocks at me?

Better yet! When you redownload, the PS3 downloads all the bytes and then says “Hey, man, you already got the same crap installed. Do you really want to install it again?” The stupid. It burns!

Now, logging back into the Playstation Network let me sync my trophies. But there was also some warning that said that I might not be able to earn any more trophies, implying that online play was broken in some fashion. Of course, there isn’t anything that I can find to verify current status.

Wait. I played Peggle once and the challenge modes were locked. Now they aren’t. Huh… what? It appears that I didn’t lose Peggle data, but that something magically triggered the reconnection of the data. I’ll have to assume that it was the WipeOut HD “key” download as that seems to be the only “user authing data event” to have happened.

At this point, I renamed the account and have restored Playstation Network connectivity. I may or may not have a mostly working account. I have lost data — all Peggle data gone and deities knows what else. Even getting back to this point was a bunch of effort that I wouldn’t wish upon a non-admin user any day.

Of course, that I failed to maintain a backup was definitely a fault of mine. Then again, I didn’t actually lose any data, Sony just went to great lengths to make my data unusable without actually modifying it.

Or not. It might be that my data is now fully restored and usable. Or it might not be. There is no way to tell. Who knows? I might decide to fire up Uncharted One later this year only to discover that I can’t load the game save and have to start over.

Sadly, this abusive user experience is not unique to the PS3. I had a similar experience with the Wii, though — to be fair — Nintendo has apparently addressed that exact issue in the interim couple of years.

Wii Shutting Off After a Few Minutes? Check the Fan.

Monday, December 21st, 2009

Two years after the last time our Wii showed signs of death by thermal failure, the repaired Wii is once again succumbing from heat death.

Now, the Wii will play fine for about 5 to 10 minutes and then just turn off entirely — no lights, nothing.

Before trying to fix it myself, I checked Nintendo’s customer support sight. Gone is any sense of personal account and, instead, I was told that’d cost $75 + s/h + tax to repair the now-out-of-warranty Wii; about $95 or, in other words, just about 1/2 the cost of a new Wii.

To be absolutely fair, Nintendo’s customer service has been absolutely top notch. $75 (+shipping & taxes for CA residents — $95) for a fix-any-problem service with a solid turnaround time of about 10 days (though it generally takes less) is actually very good.

A replacement optical drive — another component that oft goes flaky due to dust, dirt, or abuse — cost about $50 to $60 and are quite time consuming to replace. Thus, for some fixes, $75 is beyond fair.

Of course, there is no [non-hacky] way of moving all data and purchased content from an “old” Wii to a “new” Wii, thus replacing the unit with a new — hopefully better built — Wii isn’t viable. Not that letting Nintendo fix a Wii is that much better; they have a tendency to screw up your data in the process.

Fine. $95 and no options. Let me do some basic triage…

As it turns out, the Wii’s fan was jammed. Probably with pet hair or, hell, with one of my über-long bits of hair from my long haired days. And it was dusty, too. That could certainly be a problem!

After the fix described below was applied, the unit played quite stably for more than an hour, something that was impossible before.

So, if you are suffering from the same symptoms — spontaneous power down during play — you might want to give this a try before paying the vigNintendo to fix what is, otherwise, about $1.50 in parts (assuming they don’t do the same as below!).

  • Disconnect everything from the Wii and take it to a decent bright light (a flashlight will do).
  • Take a micro-screwdriver, toothpick, or something similar and very gently try and move the fan blades visible inside the vent on the rear of the unit. If there is any resistance, you have a stuck fan!
  • Spin the blade a few times with your poky-stick thing. If you can’t, you have an über-stuck fan and your choices are to replace it yourself or pay Nintendo ~$90 to do it for you.
  • Grab a vacuum cleaner that has a hose attachment.
  • Turn on the vacuum and place the end of the hose over the vent for a few seconds. You’ll likely hear that spinny-whistly-noise of a fan spinning up in a fast rush of air. Hopefully.
  • Put the Wii back and reconnect everything.
  • Fire up a game, turn down the audio volume, and listen for the whir of the Wii’s fan. Or have a look.

The end result might be a working Wii. If not, nothing lost as none of this procedure leaves any kind of a mark (if done right — you go sticking a metal bar into the fan and breaking off a blade is your own damned fault).

Looking more closely at the Wii, it appears that there are one of numerous design flaws in play here.

First, given the number of thermal problems reported by various folk, it is quite clear that Nintendo shoved too much crap into too small of a box without properly accounting for the thermal envelope required.

Secondly, the old-school GameCube memory card slots create quite a vent that leads directly to the fan below and behind the slots. Feeling the airflow when applying The Suck, it feels like those slots will quite happily draw anything in and dump it right on the fan! It makes me wonder if there is a correlation between fan breakage and folks that enjoy GameCube games and, more pertinently GameCube saves on GameCube memory cards?

In any case, our Wii is working again. Even if it is only makes it through the next week or so, it is going to make Christmas morning considerably happier (as it would suck to be all like “Here, son, awesome new game… you can only play it for ten minutes at a time and you’ll lose your saves. Have fun!”.

DE Razor Review: Astra Superior Platinum

Monday, November 30th, 2009
Astra Scaled.jpg

As much as I would love to stick with the Derby’s, I shall persevere in my quest for the perfect blade.

This weeks blade is the Astra Superior Platinum.

In terms of shaving quality, the blade does OK. The result is a good clean shave without a lot of drama.

The blade does, however, pull a bit more than either the Derby or the Feather. It doesn’t necessarily feel that dull, it just pulls a bit and leaves the skin of my face ever so slightly irked at the whole experience.

Disturbingly, the blade is pulling significantly more after an only a few days of shaving than I would expect. At this point, the longevity of the Astra looks pretty short.

Even if the blade provided an excellent quality shave, I would still be looking for a different blade with as good or better results.


Because the Astra’s packaging just flat out sucks.

The blades come in 5 packs tucked away in little boxes. Not that big of a deal, but not nearly as convenient as the plastic boxes that typically have a used blade slot on the backside.

The real failure of the packaging is in how the blades are wrapped. DE razor blades are typically (always?) wrapped in wax paper or some other water resistant substance to prevent corrosion of the blade.

The Astras are wrapped in not one, but two, layers of waxy paper. Wasteful and annoying. Worse still, the inner wrapper is actually glued to the damned blade!

If you look closely at the scan of the blade to the left, you can see the four glue splotches on the blade (and that was after I had actually scraped the glue off a little bit)!

The glue is a sort of rubber cement — feels kinda like the glue on post-it notes — and, yes, it does collect gunk while shaving.

By the end of the week, the shave from this blade was nothing short of unpleasant. I had flipped the blade to glue side down to get a fresh edge that the quality of the shave was even worse than the other side. Looking at the image, the glue splotches are actually covering parts of the sharp edge and I have to wonder if that degrades the shave significantly.

In any case, this blade was better than the Personna, but that isn’t saying much.

Bike Brake

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

I rode my recumbent bike over to REI to pick up a new pannier. Because the geometry is a bit different, I wheeled the bike into the store so I could effectively “try on” a number of panniers to find the best fit.

While there, I ran into a nice gentleman who asked about the bike and saw me do the typical balance dance trying to lean my bike up against something. You know the one; lean it up… looks stable… starts rolling… handlebars turn… *catch*… repeat.

He mentioned that he had invented a solution. Specifically, he created the Bike Brake. He offered to send me one for free and I received it yesterday.

Brilliant invention. Dead simple, but just works.

It is effectively a rubber band with a couple of tabs to make it easier to grab. While you could use a regular rubber band, it wouldn’t work nearly as well.

Notably, the Bike Brake is stretchy enough to sit tightly on your handle when not in use, but is still able to easily stretch around the brake handle. The tabs make it very easy to use and it is wide enough to provide the strength necessary to keep the front wheel (the problem wheel) locked.

At $2.99 + free shipping, it is cheap and there are a bunch of colors. I’m going to order some more for the other bikes in our house.

It has completely eliminated “the bike parking dance”.