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

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