Mehcanized for your protection

The invaluable Nancy Friedman treats us to an explanation of the handy Japanese term “fukubukuro,” which turns out to be basically a Woot Bag O’ Crap that lacks actual crappiness.

Speaking of Woot, if you’ve been thinking that it’s been a lot less fun, or at least a lot more complicated, since Amazon bought them out, you’re not the only one who thinks so:

How come every time something simple gets popular, people want to make it more complicated? And less fun? And then eventually less popular? Like how raw, energetic rock ‘n’ roll turned into pompous, sluggish stadium rock. Or how superhero comics mutated into a baffling mess of retcons and reboots. Or how daily deals turned into … well, whatever the hell you call it when an online store has too much selection to be easy to use, but too little to find what you want.

That’s why the guys who invented the daily-deal thing are embarking on a grand experiment to bring it back. Back to its simple roots. Back to when one deal every day meant one deal, not a compacted mass of overstock matter plugging up the Internet like that stuff they found inside Elvis. Back to when a trained chicken could literally have done your shopping for you.

So saith Matt Rutledge, head honcho of Meh, which drew 147 percent of its Kickstarter goal in a mere four days. Mr Rutledge is also known for creating, um, Woot. And somewhere in the Mehzzanine, I sort of hope there’s a fukubukuro with a silly name.

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Nobody can hear you screen

I bought a fairly indifferent monitor about four years ago; it has worked, generally, but it’s had three stuck pixels since Unboxing Day, and of late it takes about nine minutes and several dozen button-pushes to warm up. Weirdly, we have several of this model, similar vintage, at work, and they work just fine. On t’other hand, after hearing me rave about the Toshiba laptop I bought on eBay, they bought several of them for the shop, and each and every one of them died within a year; mine continues to run, and it will be a teenager next summer.

Soyo, the distributor of this screen, has long since packed its bags and fled, so it’s pointless to ask them for help. (I couldn’t get parts from them when they were still in business.) So I have turned to these guys, and it turns out they have some sort of history: they’re a direct descendant of Admiral, which made TVs and appliances back in the day when TVs and appliances were a big deal. “AOC,” it seems, stands for Admiral Overseas Corporation, set up in Taiwan by the American company in the Sixties; when the mothership went down with the rest of the American TV industry, AOC kept going, but didn’t attempt to sell anything Stateside for twenty years.

Woot had a pair of AOC refurbs for the past couple of weeks: a 23-incher for $100, and a 22-incher for $90. (Yes, children, an extra inch is worth an extra ten bucks.) I ordered the smaller, mostly because the larger one was already out of stock.

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Hardware bleg

In the summer of ’11, I reported the death at age four of my old MP3 player, a 4 GB Sony that vaguely resembled a cuttlefish. I have not gotten around to finding a proper replacement; I did toss fifteen bucks on a below-Chinese-quality boxlet sold by Woot, which does in fact work, but its controls are utterly inscrutable, despite an uncharacteristically readable manual, and I suspect its internal battery to have been supplied by Mayfly Industries.

Desiderata for proper replacement:

  1. At least 8 GB, expandable via SD or microSD;
  2. A shuffle routine that will indiscriminately mingle files in base memory and files on the expansion card;
  3. A proper drag-and-drop loading system, which eliminates any iGadgets right off the bat.

Nice to have but not mandatory: a plethora of equalization curves; the ability to play un-DRMed AAC files (as vended by Apple); all that Bluetooth stuff. (My car, at its advanced age, is immune to the latter.)

Last one I looked at was this Creative ZEN, which meets 1 and 3 handily, though I’m not sure about 2. (I downloaded the manual, which suggests the shuffle is broad enough, but doesn’t make clear whether it includes all files on the player.)

Your suggestions are welcomed.

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Déjà views

Begging for Web traffic is one thing. This, however, is something else:

Yahoo! Answers screen shot: How do I view a webpage repeatedly but make it so the website thinks its my first time?

I wonder if this is one of those guys who F5s himself into apoplexy trying to snag a Woot Bag O’ Crap.

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Seasons change

Lynn feels that her birth month is getting the shaft from publishers of calendars:

I’m usually disappointed with the May calendar picture. My birthday is in May and that makes me feel that the May picture should be the best on the whole calendar but it’s usually not and, most notably, it is almost always less pretty than April. Take this calendar for example. April’s picture is of a lake and lovely multi-colored hills. May’s picture is of a woman hanging laundry. Come on! That’s not fair!

My archives suggest a solution:

[I]n 2007, Woot sold a vast number of “Crappy Calendars” — that’s how they were billed — and during the following year issued Replacement Art which you could print out and then paste over the “pretty but very boring” picture in the original product.

With that in mind, here’s a possibly-less-boring picture of a woman hanging laundry, an 1887 painting by Camille Pissaro (1830-1903), which she may want to paste over the original.

Woman Hanging Laundry by Camille Pissaro

Feel free to click to embiggen.

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Still a jump ahead

In the spring, I told you about Michelin’s Smart Jumper Cables, which incorporate a sensor to see which clamp is where and adjust the polarity accordingly, thereby making it impossible for you to hose up your electrical system by hooking them up backwards.

If you saw and thought “I want,” now you can get. Amazon carries them at around $27, which is a third off the $40 list, but just for today, they’re on Woot for $12.99 plus the usual $5 shipping.

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Next: Bag O’Crap Prime

Woot CEO Matt Rutledge, on being acquired by Amazon:

[W]e plan to continue to run Woot the way we have always run Woot — with a wall of ideas and a dartboard. From a practical point of view, it will be as if we are simply adding one person to the organizational hierarchy, except that one person will just happen to be a billion-dollar company that could buy and sell each and every one of you like you were office furniture. Nevertheless, don’t worry that our culture will suddenly take a leap forward and become cutting-edge. We’re still going to be the same old bottom-feeders our customers and readers have come to know and love, and each and every one of their pre-written insult macros will still be just as valid in a week, two weeks, or even next year. For Woot, our vision remains the same: somehow earning a living on snarky commentary and junk.

And in case you didn’t get it the first time:

Woot and all our various sites will continue to be an independently operated company full of horrible, useless products and an untalented jerkface writing staff, same as it ever was.

Inasmuch as Amazon has thus far failed to ruin Zappos.com, I suspect we don’t have a lot to worry about, Woot-wise.

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A series of tubes

Dallas-based retailer Woot.com is not, as a general rule, your most reliable source for sharp social commentary, but once in a while something comes up in a product pitch that’s worth mentioning.

For instance, this:

Television takes a lot of grief, have you noticed? “Television is poisoning politics!” “Television is coarsening the culture!” “Television is making our children stupid!” (The next time you hear someone say that last one, take a good look at her and evaluate whether her kids’ stupidity might not have a genetic component.)

And then there are those people who are always telling you they don’t have one. “Oh, I don’t watch television,” they say, as if they’re living some monastic life of the mind, and spend their free time sitting quietly, reading Herodotus in the original Greek, or listening to the birds and learning their songs, when really they just mean they watch all the same crap as you, but on Hulu.

Let’s put the brakes on this disdain train and remember some of the wonderful things television has given us: The ability to watch events unfold live all over the world. A forum for nationwide debate and exchange of ideas. Pamela Anderson in a swimsuit, running in slow motion.

Incidentally, the product being pitched was a small (22-inch) Vizio LCD HDTV. I own a similar set in a slightly smaller size — for which I paid $80 more, now that I think about it — and it’s been a gem.

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Let there be crap (4)

From Santa’s Sack O’ Crap, 25 December:

2 Sanford PhD mechanical pencils [$17.58]
1 LG Bluetooth Stereo Headset HBS-250 [$117.99]
1 Belkin Zipper Case for XM Xpress [$19.99]
1 GFM Digital Camera and Camcorder [$179.99]
1 Décor Digital Picture Frame [$69.99]

Total crap: $405.54

Total price: $3 (plus $5 shipping)

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Not quite the usual Bag O’ Crap

This is Ché Guevara’s granddaughter Lydia, with a literal Bandolier of Carrots, which she did not get from Woot.

Bandolier of Carrots

This image of Lydia Guevara, twenty-four, will be appearing in a PETA campaign in South America.

(Found at Armed and Dangerous, where Eric S. Raymond has some highly-appropriate commentary on the subject.)

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Finally, some free-market medicine

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O wicked Woot!

Their fifth-anniversary promotion is even more devious than usual.

Today’s item is a real-life replica of the infamous Woot-Off Lights that appear on the screen during the infamous Woot-Off. (It runs on a couple of LED bulbs and plugs into any convenient, or inconvenient, USB port.) The price is $3 (plus $5 shipping), about what you’d spend for a Bag O’Crap, were they being offered.

But here’s the twist: one out of every ten buyers of the lights will be sent an actual Browsing of Castoffs. And the selection is randomized as follows: if the last digit of your order number matches the last digit before the decimal point of the Dow Jones Industrial Average at closing Monday, in addition to the crappy lights, you get crap.

Historically, a 10-percent chance is better than I’ve been getting when vying for a Battery of Clamshells. The trick, though, is actually to get the lights in the first place: it took about twenty minutes to get the order through, albeit without the usual system glitches.

(Disclosure: I already have a set of these damn lights.)

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Well, that’s a first

I got through a Woot-Off without actually buying anything. (Okay, I came close once.)

Didn’t even try for the Barrage of Criticism.

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Cold crucible

The blessed fog of forgetfulness has settled over most of the therapy sessions I had in the late 1980s, though I haven’t yet cleared out all the memories about that one afternoon with the Holtzman inkblots, ostensibly an improvement over the workaday Rorschachs. Think “frustration coming to a sudden boil” — and a story very much like the story of this T-shirt design at Woot:

The Snowflakes Are Whiter on the Other Side

The irony could’ve killed him, if the boredom didn’t get him first. Here he was, a “snowman” in a “snow globe” full of “snow”, and he’d never touched real snow in his life. He’d never know how it feels on his plastic skin. He’d never construct a stalwart snow fort, or whiz a lethal snowball through the air, or catch the lacy flakes on his tongue. All he could do was watch it fall. And wonder. And wish someone would come by and shake his globe, just so he could pretend for a moment that a blizzard raged around him as powerful as the one inside him.

The mere fact that I could see something like that in an amorphous blob of whatever suggested, to me and maybe to the therapist, that I was seriously screwed.

This does not mean, incidentally, that I am today frivolously screwed.

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Not what they mean by cheap dates

Lynn figures that free calendars are pretty much worth the price:

I don’t expect free calendars to be especially attractive. My dentist always gives out free calendars that have photos of perfectly manicured formal gardens. Pretty but very boring. All the pictures look the same. I’ve never taken one. Some people say, “Why would you pay for a calendar when you can get them for free?” I say, why settle for free calendars when, for around 10 to 15 dollars you can have art on your wall all year?

Like, maybe, Art Frahm.

I’ve seen this issue addressed only once: in 2007, Woot sold a vast number of “Crappy Calendars” — that’s how they were billed — and during the following year issued Replacement Art which you could print out and then paste over the “pretty but very boring” picture in the original product.

Me, I’m waiting for my insurance man to cough up the usual Photos of Classic Cars calendar, as he has the past three years — or, lacking that, I’ll dig through the archives for a 1981 calendar. Calendar buffs will note that 2009 follows the same pattern as 1981, except that REO Speedwagon isn’t on the radio every 45 minutes.

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Nor does it rattle

My gaming credentials are nil, but one day I picked up a fairly-spendy Razer Copperhead mouse, which is now the official pointing device of my work box. (One advantage of being in IT: we get to customize our machines in any way that doesn’t actually impair production.) It was a delight, its price notwithstanding, and I decided that next time I caught one on Woot, I would buy another.

Well, I didn’t catch a Copperhead, but I did snag a Diamondback 3G, which apparently is the next model down, and it’s been pressed into service on my desktop at home. These are fabulous meece, and I am not about to mention that Trini has been telling me so for more than a year now.

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Let there be crap (3)

For my third Woot Bag O’Crap, this is the take (prices where not known set to arbitrary $5):

1 Lowepro Ridge 10 Digital Camera Bag [$10.00]
4 iGo Universal Auto Power Adapter (not including tips) [$119.96]
1 Wristlinx X33X1F 2-Way Radio Wrist Watch (set of two) [$44.95]
1 Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum Porcelain Hinged Box [$9.99]
1 OEM Dell (by ATI) TV PCI card with DVI and S-Video Output (used, does not include VGA) [$5.00]
1 Mystery auto power cord with 5-female connector [$5.00]
1 Kodak Rechargeable Digital Camera Battery KLIC-7003 [$29.95]

Total $224.85

(Previous crap here and here. More crap revelations at BagsOfCrap.com.)

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Cheez en bouteille

Recent Woot contest:

Show us a label for a wine marketed by another tech or web company.

I’m not quite sure this met the strictest standards for entry, but it was my favorite:

Lolcat wine labels

Although you really should see the whole thing in its full glory.

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A tankless job

One item I would never have expected in a Woot-Off is a water heater, fercryingoutloud, but there it was, a little twenty-pound box that hangs on the wall and promises to keep you warm in the shower.

I wasn’t in the market — I’d replaced the water heater here last year — but I did pay attention to this little blurb in larger-than-fine print:

Not recommended in climates where average ground water temperature is less than 60°F. This unit draws 80 amps, please check your service panel for compatibility.

My gas water tank, of course, draws no amps. I concluded that this thing could melt down my 100-amp wiring in no time if I persist in such antisocial activities as turning on the lights. And what about that ground-water temperature? This document [link goes to PDF file] from the Office of Scientific & Technical Information had a tidy little map of such things, used for heat-pump analysis, and it appears the southern half of Oklahoma has a ground-water temperature averaging 62°F; the 57°F line more or less bisects Kansas. Florida and south Texas get into the 70s, while much of the Rust Belt is in the upper 40s and low 50s. Obviously this gizmo isn’t for everyone, though they did sell fifty of them in about twelve minutes. Inexplicably, there were buyers in Nebraska and South Dakota, way out of the 60-degree range; perhaps they’re buying them as backup systems.

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How sweet the sound

Received in the ol’ inbox:

Thank you for your purchase.

Your order number [redacted] for 3 Random Crap has been received by Woot on 11/20/2008 and your credit card has been charged $8.00.

Which, for the uninitiated, is $1 per Crap plus $5 shipping.

(Previously-received crap here and here. Explanation of What It All Means here.)

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