Consumer Report: Notes from the Evil Consumer Electronics Convention (ECEC)
Consumer: Franklin Reginald
I was out in LA last week at the big Evil Consumer Electronics Convention (ECEC, pronounced "eck-eck," which said three times fast sounds like a sinister Popeye laugh). The attendees are the folks that design products that outlive their warrantees by mere days. A lot of people believe that it's mere coincidence that their appliances and gadgets all behave inappropriately or refuse to turn on at all when their number is allegedly up, but it's actually all by design.
A product introduced at the first ECEC in the early nineties is what's responsible for making these "chance events" occur. Invented by Jerome Lemelson of key VCR part and philanthropy fame, the Potato Chip (no joke!) is an electronic explosive attached to the most crucial and expensive internal component of any given device. It is called the Potato Chip because once it's triggered, it will turn the device into a vegetable, or something as technologically useful as a couch. Plus, with a name like that, it's easy to have people in the know discretely refer to it amongst their peers. You've probably unknowingly owned several of these items, and have paid good money to have them repaired or replaced.
This is how it works: Imagine a cuckoo clock with a little man in lederhosen ringing a bell with a mallet. Now imagine that the mallet is a sledgehammer, and the little man, instead of counting each passing hour, counts down to a pre-programmed number of years or months when instructed to do so by an infrared checkout laser. Unlike the clock, it waits in silence, preparing to strike once and strike hard. (I'm sorry, that's about as technical as I get.)
Sure, you can buy the extended warrantee, but that info is sent through the checkout laser, too. That's why they ask first. If you don't renew it--tick-tock...tick-tock.
The refrigerator industry is the only one that doesn't take part in this practice. They're even working on technology to defeat it. While there are the twin mythologies of "The Little Man in the Fridge," and "The Penguin in the Freezer," who are both the keepers of the light in their respective domains, they represent actual physical things.
These are two defensive chips called Nanook and Granny, which are placed at the two "poles" of the fridge and send out impulses to (*sigh*) search every nook and cranny for a Potato Chip that might have been shipped in an internal component to the manufacturer. Then they club it like a baby seal.
The only way around this whole mess is to buy "hot" new items from fences. These have never had their Potato Chips activated. Unfortunately, most stolen electronics are pilfered from the end customer, post-scan, and not from the retailer.
So I was at this convention trying to dig up some dirt on a television personality based out in LA named Franklin Reginald. He's in the pocket of the people who regularly contribute new products to ECEC, and has been bought more times than I'd like to think he thinks he's worth. We call him "Anti-Rooney" because of quotes from television reports like this one:
"Everyone in America should own an electronic postage machine, Suck it up people...we're in the 21st frickin' century here! Do you like waiting in long lines at the post office? I sure don't. And what about when all of your old stamps need a little one-cent chaser after a price hike? Not necessary with the electronic postage machine! My contemporaries often criticize this usual annual move from the US Postal Service, but I say if you can't afford to pay an extra cent to mail a letter, you're probably too poor to have ever learned to read or write in the first place! And did you know that over half of a roll of stamps is packed with air?"
The Young Republican Times refers to Reginald as "a curmudgeon so hip, he had to have it replaced." You get the picture. Totally sickening.
I've always been interested in finding out if he's actually a consumer of these questionable things that he pushes on the American public. If he were to be exposed as a shill, his popularity would crumble, and a more righteous heir to the consumer journalism throne would set things straight.
Reginald's last tirade was on XM Satellite Radio, and it concluded with this:
"I don't know about you people, but the hundreds of hours of music on my mp3 player got old real fast...I need the random variety that only 150+ radio stations can provide. Sure, I can't point to the radio and conjure up any given song I'd like to hear at that moment, but even XM Radio stations have request lines. It's an excellent filtering process that determines your level of musical savvy based on whether or not a trained professional believes that your taste in music is worth sharing! And with over 20 channels of news...I can listen to only the human-interest stories that I want to hear! If you don't have XM Radio, you might as well not have all the digital cable tiers out there! And did you know that two stations that look identical can have different volumes?"
Surely a man who generates this sort of glowing endorsement will have and use this system, right? I waited in my rental car outside the broadcast house where Reginald tapes his TV show. He got into a huge SUV and drove off. I tailed him.
Driving a car while using binoculars and taking pictures through a zoom lens is no easy feat. You've got to remember that there are one, or possibly two traffic lights between your car and what you're actually seeing. Plus, objects in the side mirrors are way closer than they appear. Nevertheless, this might have been my only opportunity to investigate Reginald's car to see if the XM Radio device was installed, and furthermore, to see if he uses it.
Much to my chagrin, the XM Radio receiver was, in fact, installed in the car. But the good news was that he was making no effort to use it. Reginald turned down the next block into a very seedy neighborhood, even by LA standards. He stopped at a corner to talk to a woman he evidently knew. He gave her a lift and lent her some cash.
They drove to a secluded area, parked the car, and moved into the back seat. They undressed and then, not to get into any lurid details, she braced herself for a rear-impact collision on all fours.
Surely they he had thought about turning the radio on for this sort of liaison--perhaps one of the adult contemporary channels, but the radio stayed off. Where's your 150 stations now, Reginald? Not wowing her with your little device there, are you, little man?
Unfortunately, I couldn't get a clear picture of the car stereo components because they were obscured by the woman's pendulous breasts, which were swaying to the rhythm of a more analog tune.
I gave the photos to several media outlets, thinking they would use their techno-voodoo to focus on the status of the radio, in order to bring this travesty to light, but they were too lazy. The photos made the papers, but the scandal they were used to expose was sexual in nature.
Reginald apologized to the devoted wife he hurt, and he promised to reform, but until now, the real scandal lay under wraps. His show is still on the air and millions of people are buying expensive, defective electronics. All the while, he gets a cut of the profits. I ask you: Who is more the fool? The fool or the fool who follows him?
March 5, 2002