Cash-based solutions

When I ditched Windows XP in favor of 7, I ran into a couple of software issues, and the solutions turned out to be essentially identical: present plastic. Herewith, the original problems, and how they were subsequently solved.

Problem: Adobe Photoshop Essentials, though this is my fault: I can’t find the original installation DVD.

Solution: I eventually found the install disk, but it would not, you know, install. By 2014, Adobe apparently reasoned, I should be using a version newer than version 4. A reader offered me a legit copy of a newer edition, which was greatly appreciated; however, the ultimate solution came from Woot, which yesterday was offering the Photoshop/Premiere Elements bundle, version 13, for $49.99 (plus the de rigueur $5 shipping charge). This is slightly less than half what I paid for version 4 at CompUSA back in the Pleistocene era. Clearly I haven’t installed this yet, but I have no reason to think it won’t work.

Problem: Nero Burning ROM, which flatly refused my reinstall: “This serial number has expired.” This was a version-7 install; they’re up to something like 12 now. And I never could deal with the increasing bloat.

Solution: Apparently the Germans never throw away an email address. With Nero 17 on the way, they sent me a note to the effect that they were willing to cut a deal for a downloadable version of version 16, for $29.95. (Full package price is, and always has been, around $75.) The interface is much simplified, for which I am grateful.

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This is not a Bag O’ Crap

I actually saw this on Woot yesterday:

Chanel Boy Quilted Flap Bag

I am not making this up:

Exuding sophistication and elegance, this size new medium Chanel Boy Flap Bag is masterfully constructed in Italy from durable black textured caviar calfskin leather, showcasing the iconic flap design with its sublime signature stitching/quilting pattern. The Pushlock Boy Lock is distinguished by the two interlocking C’s in rustic silver, which is identical in color to the bag’s other hardware. This bag can be worn on the shoulder, hand held or cross body, making it irresistibly versatile. The oversized adjustable chain is smartly paired with a leather strap and can be worn with either the single or double chain option. The brownish red fabric lined interior compartment features one pouch and one zip-closure pocket to help properly organize belongings. This bag measures 11in (28cm) length by 7in (18cm) height by 3.5in (9cm) depth and comes with original Chanel authenticity hologram card and black dustbag.

List price is given as $5200; Woot will let you have one — but no more than three — for $4779.99 each. (Plus, um, $5 shipping.)

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Only so much variation

Jason Toon’s sales pitches for are even snarkier than the ones he used to write for Woot, but they disappear after the product goes off sale at midnight Eastern. This is the last half of the piece he wrote for the Tuesday deal, two pairs of Boom Swap headphones:

[T]he Boom Swap headphones offer you a reasonable variety of customization options, so you can’t do any real damage. On-ear or over-ear cups. Alternate headband pads and ear caps, in a limited palette of mostly sympathetic shades: black/blue, white/black/green, and for the truly outré, mint/orange/black.

Even if you mix and match the parts from multiple pairs in different colors, your customized look will stay well within the bounds of societal consensus as to what headphones should be.

A narrow, tightly controlled range of choices that prevent changes of any real consequence: if it’s good enough for our political system, it’s good enough for our headphones.

Ow. That’s gonna leave multi-colored marks.

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The siblings of Big Brother

Woot yesterday was selling a home security system, festooned with no fewer than four video cameras, and this was their pitch:

Big Brother is absolutely watching. You might as well stop fighting it and just watch him right back.

Look, that Orwellian nightmare has come and gone. We’re in a place Georgie-boy never even DREAMED about. Privacy is gone, and we gave it up willingly for likes and stars and upvotes. So why fight it? This is the world we want! Get some cameras and join in!

With a security system, you’ll be able to see the world around you. Your friends, when they’re line-of-sight. Your family, when they wander around the yard. Total strangers, when they walk within range. It’s the very same power every government has, only on a smaller scale. Why, with a little practice, maybe you can even zoom in and read the paper over your spouses’ shoulder!

Don’t be afraid of Big Brother. Be his ally! Lament the privacy that’s now long gone by treating yourself to a nice security system and become part of the system. It’s not so bad, as long as you stay out of Room 101.

This is of course snark, as Woot cranks out for every product it sells, but that one line in the second paragraph is just a hair chilling: “Privacy is gone, and we gave it up willingly for likes and stars and upvotes.” Now you know what we truly value.

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Even crap costs more

Found in the Meh forum:

In a shocking turn of events, the quintessential Woot thing where you get three craps and a bag for a dollar per crap (plus five dollars shipping) has changed once again. Now, instead of paying $3 (plus five dollars shipping plus tax in most states), you will be paying $5 (plus five dollars shipping plus even more tax in most states).

Then again, it’s not like anyone was ever ordering one or two craps at $1 apiece, and Woot used to inveigh against that nonexistent practice before defaulting everyone to three craps for $3 (plus five dollars shipping).

Says the forum correspondent:

The salient bit for me is: “Which is all highfalutin preamble to saying that we’re raising the price of the Bag Of Crap by $2 and not improving the quality whatsoever.

This is the official Woot announcement.

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You’ll buy it anyway, suckers

When Matt Rutledge founded Woot back in the early 21st century, he chose to refrain from the usual fawning product descriptions: often, in fact, the merchandise was described with references to small flaws or implications of unsuitability for the intended purpose.

But Bags O’ Crap aside, I don’t remember anything as ferocious as this paragraph at Rutledge’s today:

The only headphones in the world where you can drop the price by $60-$80 and they’re still overpriced. Unlike most Beats deals on Black Friday, these are the current model, the Solo2, not the old Solo or Solo HD models. We’re told they get the bass balance better than the notoriously bottom-heavy original Beats headphones. But you can get better headphones for the same price or less. We still wouldn’t pay this much for Beats even if Dre himself threw in a quarter of chronic from his personal stash. Let some other chump pay for those relentless Beats ad campaigns. They’re just headphones. Not good enough? We’d say we hate to disappoint you on such a special day … but the truth is we actually sort of enjoy it.

For the record, they were selling these nominally $200 headsets for $120, and as of this writing, had moved 572 of them, meaning there were about 50,000 site visitors who weren’t interested.

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They said “meh”

In June of 2010, Amazon moved one step closer to Total World Domination by buying Woot from founder Matt Rutledge for somewhere in the low nine figures. Rutledge eventually wearied of being a cog in the Bezos machine, and decamped in 2012 to found Mediocre Laboratories, floating several ideas, one of which was code-named “Pavlov”: “The simple fun of a single daily event store went downhill with the added clutter of selection — is a rebirth possible?”

It is. Rutledge shelled out moderately big bucks for meh.comwe said “meh” — and resumed doing what he presumably loved best. If anything, it’s even more barebones than the original Woot. From the FAQ:

Q: Ok, got it, simplicity and focus, one thing for sale each day, no hype, a community. So where do I follow you, like you and sign up for daily emails?

A: You don’t. If you want to find out what’s for sale, come to the site. Shit, is a 3-character domain, just type it in already.

Shipping remains $5, but new products now come on at midnight Eastern time instead of Central. And Mediocre is “concocting other experiments to rid you of excess cash,” perhaps as elegant as Rutledge’s Kickstarter for the site, which raised $14,000 in four days.

What you want to know, though, is this: Do they still have the infamous, um, Bags? Yes, they do.

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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, I suspect we don’t have a lot to worry about, Woot-wise.

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A series of tubes

Dallas-based retailer 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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