Monday, December 29, 2014

Slight Flaws

I recently bought a timer so that when I do laundry in my apartment building I can know when the time comes to take clothes from the washer and put them into the drier, then when to go take them out of the drier. I chose a streamlined, small, simple-looking, and inexpensive device from my local Walgreens. Three elementary buttons: hour, minute, and Start/Stop, with a small display window for the digital numbers. The simple manual (were it not simple, I wouldn’t have bothered to read it knowing I wouldn’t understand a word) told me it would beep 10 minutes and five minutes before the timer reached 00:00.

On it’s first two uses, I realized the “beep” was so soft that unless I was really paying attention or had the timer up to my ear I couldn’t hear it. I do not consider walking around with a timer to my ear to be an ideal situation. But by concentrating very, very hard, and being sure the timer was no further than a foot away, I managed, provided there were no overriding exterior sound distractions, like my cat breathing.

So we reached a sort of accommodation, the timer and I. Until yesterday when the sound of the beeping either stopped completely or dropped below the range audible to humans. So unless I sit there and stare at it, waiting for it to reach 00:00, I have no idea when the time has run out. But the little digital numbers do an admirable job of counting down the seconds…unless I have forgotten to watch very carefully when I hit “START.” If I don’t watch for it to start, it doesn’t. So not only do I know when the time has run out, I have no idea of how long it has been since I hit “START.”

My personal grand prize for slight flaws built into modern machines goes without question to a sleek, ultra-modern, efficient-looking streamlined, gleaming-aluminum ice cream bar dispenser I came across at a shopping mall. The attractiveness of the machine was enhanced by eye-grabbing design elements hinting of the delectable pleasures that awaited within. There were a set of sleek-looking buttons from which you made your selection, above which was a slot for inserting your money. All in all, a beautiful piece of modern technology. The only flaw I was able to determine was that the designers had apparently neglected to put in any way for you to get the ice cream out of the machine once you’d paid for it. The front, sides, and I assume the back, which was flush against the wall, was seamlessly smooth, with absolutely no doors or openings of any kind. After several minutes of searching, I gave up and walked away, wondering rather cynically if there really was any ice cream—or anything else—inside.

I can’t help but see malicious deliberation in a great many flaws, and I consider them specifically designed with me in mind. To me, all instruction manuals are deliberately flawed in that I have yet to get more than two paragraphs into one without being utterly confused. “Some Assembly Required” manuals and kits are classics of insidious flaws: not only are the directions impossible to follow, but I am convinced the manufacturers deliberately either leave one piece out, or add one simply for the perverse glee it brings them.

Some “flaws” are both subtle and truly brilliant: take the bottle of cough medicine on which the label says: “If unsatisfied with this product for any reason, simply return the unopened bottle for a full refund.” Excuse me?

A currently running commercial for something called “Zarelto” states, “Do not take if you are allergic to Zarelto.” Really? And the teeny-tiny print accompanying a product guaranteed to cure toenail fungus says, “Apply to affected area for 48 weeks.” 48 weeks?

Ah, well, nothing is perfect.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (

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