The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time — And I especially hated one of them

PCWorld.com – The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time


I was just reading PCWorld’s hugely entertaining list of the 25 worst tech products of all time and found myself in vigorous agreement with most of their choices. As I drew near the end of the the series, I asked myself, “Where’s the CueCat?’

One more page and there it was, the evil Kitty, in 20th place (AOL was number 1, which I wholeheartedly agree with.).

One of the reasons I fled Forbes.com in 2000 was the decision to support this evil device, a bar code reader disguised in a plastic cat-shell. The brain-dead assumption was that the magazine would print bar codes in advertisements and articles and a user — armed with the evil Cat — would scan the code and be taken directly to a special URL on the advertiser’s or Forbes’ website.

I thought it was the dumbest thing I ever heard of. But no one was listening. The fact that the inventor, Jovan Philyaw, [now renamed as J. Hutton Pulitzer] was an infomercial king who made his money on windshield wipers was lost on everybody. This nasty little thing personifies the stupidity of the late 90s for me. I thought if you sanded off the ears, it might make a good vibrator.

 

“20. DigitalConvergence CueCat (2000)Appearing at the tail end of the dot com craze, the CueCat was supposed to make it easier for magazine and newspaper readers to find advertisers’ Web sites (because apparently it was too challenging to type http://www.pepsi.com into your browser).

The company behind the device, DigitalConvergence, mailed hundreds of thousands of these cat-shaped bar-code scanners to subscribers of magazines and newspapers. Readers were supposed to connect the device to a computer, install some software, scan the barcodes inside the ads, and be whiskered away to advertisers’ websites. Another “benefit”: The company used the device to gather personally identifiable information about its users.

The CueCat’s maker was permanently declawed in 2001, but not before it may have accidentally exposed its user database to hackers.

What were people thinking? Forbes wasn’t the only dumb money in the scheme. Wired got in on the fun, as did Belo, the dumbest of the dumb newspaper companies. Mark the passing of the CueCat as the last gasp of print media to get in on that Web thing.

Like a caged beast ….

Working from home this week is proof to George Goldsmith’s (founder of the McKinsey TomorrowLab) adage that the virtual office works … virtually. It’s been so long since I’ve done the bathrobe commute that I’ve forgotten how nutty it can make a person to be separated from the face-to-face action.

I’m missing some big meetings in NYC, but I’ve been calling in and then suffering as some part of my brain refuses to engage when I can’t see the powerpoint or look the presenter in the eyes. If the volume declines — which it always does when one of the speakers is at the periphery of the room — my attention goes right out the window. It is so bad that I just disconnected and reverted to getting some writing done and making the best use of the solitude.

I have found a couple phone tricks over the years. First, standing up while on the phone seems to improve my powers of concentration (being wasted on Dilaudid does not help me focus, instead I feel like I am in a William Burroughs’ novel). Second, and unrelated to conference call etiquette, is how to hang up a call you don’t want to be on. Start talking and in the middle of a sentence, hang up on yourself. If the other party hunts you down, accuse them of hanging up on you as no one ever hangs up on themself.

Between instant messaging and email I’m being productive, but it’s no substitute for being in the thick of things. Not that I miss Raleigh-Durham, it’s just that trying to get stuff done while sitting in the house on a nice day is proving to be more of a challenge than I thought.

(thx to all for best wishes. One more doctor’s appointment on Monday. I’d post a picture, but my face has really gone funky. All the contusions on my scalp have followed gravity south, turning the top half of my face black, yellow and green. I’m trying to stretch the time between pain pills so I don’t get too used to them. Towards the end of each cycle I find myself watching the clock.)

The WSJ on bicycle accidents

Snipped from a recent Journal article on bicycle commuting:

“The biggest downside of cycling is wrecks, particularly with cars. Per kilometer traveled, a cyclist in America is 12 times likelier than a car occupant to be killed, according to a 2003 American Journal of Public Health article.
“Yet the number of cyclists killed in America fell nearly 10% to 724 during the decade that ended in 2004, according to federal statistics. And studies show that as the number of cyclists increase, collisions with automobiles decline because motorists become more alert to bikers’ presence. As cycling in London increased 100% from 2000 to 2005, the accident rate for cyclists fell 40%, according to Transport for London.

“The danger of cycling is far outweighed by the benefits, says Rutgers University’s John Pucher, a professor of urban planning specializing in cycling issues. Cycling builds muscle, deepens lung capacity, lowers heart rate and burns calories. ”

Now to persuade my skeptical wife. Having my friends nickname me “Glance” in the aftermath of Saturday’s bike-car mashup does not help.

Getting back on the horse …

www.cyclingnews.com news and analysis

I have a big case of bike lust (actually the name of a bike cleaning product) now that my LeMond has gone to the peleton in the sky.

This is what I want. A Cervelo Carbon Soloist. In my dreams, and not if my wife has anything to say about it. She’s declared an end to my cycling days and want me back in the rowing scull.

Treo vs. Blackberry — help me decide

I’ve been bitching about the lack of email support on my Treo 650 since arriving at Lenovo in January. I am as much of an email junkie as the next guy, but Lenovo IT doesn’t support Pylon or any of the Lotus Notes conduits on the Treo platform. What do they recommend? The Blackberry — an ugly device I hate as much as luggage with wheels and bluetooth headsets as poseur affectations for proving to the rest of the waiting lounge that one busier, more important, and more connected than the next guy.

So last week I was in Yerp with a useless Treo — a Sprint PCS phone that won’t work in the GSM markets. Faced with a two hour phone call from my London hotel room,  I could either pay the evil bandits at Le Meridien a staggering 83 Pounds per 15-minutes — a potential phone bill of nearly 700 Pounds, or do the right thing and make the call via Skype through my Lenovo X60.

I haven’t had any luck pairing my bluetooth headset with the laptop (call me a hypocrite, but there are laws that require me to drive hands free in some states) so I had to use my noise-cancelling headphones and the X60’s built in microphone to participate. The result was not only astonishingly cheap, it was effective and no one bitched about the line quality whenever I spoke through the Meetingplace bridge.

I’d use Skype all the time except the EVDO modem on the X60 also doesn’t work in Yerp (see my earlier post about electrical plug standards and incompatibilities) and I can’t reasonably leave my laptop running all the time as a cellphone alternative.

So, two things are challenging me.

1. I need a GSM phone but I have less than a year into my two-year Sprint PCS contract on the Treo and I have the entire family on the same plan. I switch to a GSM carrier like Cingular, then I will need to leave the family behind on the Sprint plan …. or, get a GSM Blackberry and only use the phone when out of country, which then leads to two mobile numbers.

2. Email. I need mobile email. The Treo is okay with my churbuck.com POP3 email but will not grab Lenovo  Notes mail. I need Notes mail at this point more than I need churbuck.com mail.

Grrr. I like the Treo. I think it is a fine little device. I don’t use it for much more than voice, a little email, and a little browsing, but the form factor is familiar and I am a cheapskate who doesn’t want to get boned by Sprint for dropping their service a year early.

To map the decision tree:

A. I need GSM. My options are:

1. Get a GSM phone from Cingular for overseas use

2. Keep the Treo for domestic use.

3. Give the Treo to my wife (who doesn’t like it) and leave her and the family on Sprint while I go to Cingular.

B. I need Lotus Notes on the go and overseas

1. That means I need a Cingular Blackberry (unless anyone can advise me as to whether or not Blackberry is CDMA/GSM agnostic).

2. Adding a Sprint Blackberry to my plan will get me email, but only in the U.S.

Help.

My favorite things: Lamy Swift

This is a Lamy Swift — the pen I’ve used since 1995 when I walked into a stationer’s on East 12th St. in NYC looking for a fine roller-ball. The clerk showed me a few pens, but the Swift was the winner, hands down.

I’m on my fourth pen today. The first two were pinched from my desk, the third got confiscated at airport security by an over zealous TSA security goon in the weeks following 9/11.

It’s heavy, it’s thick (which is good for fat hands), and it has a wickedly sharp point. The clip retracts flush with the barrel when it is in writing mode, and pops open when the point is retracted. It writes like a surgical instrument. Because my penmanship is befitting a victim of a head trauma, I print, in small precise letters, and this pen is great for detailed writing.

I’m turning into a Klingon



Klingon
Originally uploaded by dchurbuck.

Two days, post-crash, and I woke up to two black eyes and a swollen nose. Painkillers, muscle relaxants, and taking it easy will get me on the mend. Had to cancel this week’s trip to NYC so I could see more doctors here on the Cape.

I miss cycling in such beautiful weather. This is the best time of year on the Cape.

Tour de Dave

I took down the bike crash post because the pictures weren’t doing it for me and I didn’t want to wait for them move slowly down the page until they disappeared into the archives in a couple weeks.  Thanks to all who called and mailed. I appreciate it.

Chunnelling

On the Chunnel train from Paris’ Gare du Nord to London’s Waterloo, hoping to blog on the train because some well-meaning, but misinformed colleague told me that there was internet service on the train, I am frustrated and pecking away off-line, while playing with the Blue ThinkVantage button on my Lenovo X60s and letting the Wireless finder search for a live connection.

On the outskirts of Paris, in the ‘burbs, where the rioting went down last year, my antenna picked up a ton of wireless signals, most evidently emitted by residential hubs in the banks of apartment buildings that are connected to the French Wanadoo portal. In the countryside, when the train started booking along at a nice clip, still more wireless signals were detected – some doubtlessly other laptops in the same car as my machine — but some definitely public signals that I couldn’t detect and connect to in time.

It would have been fun to bum out the three other people crammed face-to-face with me in the little booth in the so-called business class car by gabbing with someone back in North Carolina on Skype. Europeans are awfully fond of their “handys” and either yak away on them about their lunch experience, or squint and thumb type on them the rest of the time. To Skype away while blogging and chunnelling would have been too geeky for words.

Paris was a fast 36 hours of narcolepsy, conference rooms, and Powerpoints that induced the aforementioned narcolepsy. I decided to walk from the last meeting to the Gare du Nord, Googling a map of Paris to get my bearings before setting off down the Champs d’Elysses, with a side stop to buy my wife an anniversary present at one of her favorite shops.

I swung into the Tuilleries Gardens, sat on a bench overlooking the Place de la Concorde, snapped a couple pix under a rain-threatening sky the color of a bruised sweatshirt, then double shoulder-strapped my knapsack and forged through the tourists past the Opera to Avenue LaFayette for the long march up to the train station. I arrived, 30 minutes later, soaked in sweat, found the Eurotrain ticket desk, and was informed that my train departed at 7:16 am, not p.m, and I was out of luck. I cursed my assistant, pulled out the Amex, and bought another ticket, was told to hustle to make the 5:10, and then cleared French customs, and stood, for five minutes, in an interesting purgatory between the French passport control and Great Britain’s. Was I technically in that brief 100 foot gap, subject to French laws? I was on French soil, but I had just left the domain of the French and had yet to enter the domain of the English. Could I commit a heinous crime and be beyond the law?

Now in London, shaking myself awake before a day of meetings. One more night here, then back to the Cape of Cod for a long weekend of watching crew races, stalking the not-so-wily bluefish, and planting flowers.