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16 August 2008
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New Toys, New Conspiracy

A Shocking Admission

Despite my rants about Apple and the bizarre obsession of Steve Jobs with thin, I just "purchased" an iPod.  I got tired of not being able to listen to any item in my (so far) 105GB of music.  And I got a bargain.*

Let me 'splain... 

It's not as if I'm the paragon of web design.  Others, if not I, have long been embarrassed by my simple approach to doing web sites.  But I rarely get complaints about "usability" and "speed of loading."  That's because I have no problem just writing words and posting pages of text.  I don't need things moving around or bizarre flashing and moving backgrounds.  Others seem to. 

One web site that I particularly despise is that of American Express.  I have accumulated what they call "reward points."  (Which points AmEx uses as a particularly rapacious form of arbitrage, but never mind.)  These reward points can be exchanged for "merchandise."  It's sort of like "shopping" with "money," except your money is worthless anywhere but on their web site or with the evil airline scum, and you can only buy a very limited subset of stuff, from AmEx, at "prices" they make up.  This "shopping" may not sound particularly attractive, but at least it is a big nuisance due to their appalling web site.

I was thinking that I might be in the market for a camcorder.  I had reward points.  I went to the AmEx web site to see what I might be able to get.  Here's an excerpt of what I found:

A small section of the AmEx camcorder offerings.  What's wrong with this picture?  Almost no specifications, and no model numbers to help you find them!  Hardly an inspiration to "spend" hundreds of dollars.

I got so frustrated trying to pick one out that I actually called American Express (on the telephone!) to complain and to get the model numbers.  Apparently their customer service people, all of whom were both helpful and understandable, had some resource unavailable on the web site.  They were able to give me the model numbers and off I went.  More on the results of my search after this.

This, being, you may recall, the fact that I bought an iPod.  After my frustration with the camcorders, I took a break from looking up all the specifications on the web, and looked at some of the other offerings on the Rewards web site.  They had a fine selection of Apple products, which normally don't tempt me.  But as I persisted through the multiple pages of offering, I noticed an anomaly:  The iPod "Classic" 160GB model, the only one large enough for my music collection, was offered twice.  The first offering, for the "normal" "price" in "points,"** was succeeded by a second offer, with a 20% "point" discount.  In other words, the iPod was "on sale" for about 20% off.  Casting aside my serious criticism of the iPodprimarily the non-exchangeable batteryand, as I have since found out, the impossibility of syncing to multiple computers, I bought it.  This not being a RIKLReviewTM, just let me say that the user interface is lauded for good reason, and the 160GB hard drive had room for all my MP3s.  More later, perhaps.  And perhaps not, since the iPod is iConic, who doesn't already know everything?

The HDMI Conspiracy

I have a saying.  Please don't accuse me of lese majesty, but it goes basically like this:  When discussing the price of some consumer electronics equipment, I remark "It's free."  How else does one account for being able to purchase a high-quality, upconverting HD DVD player, for $40.  Clearly, it costs more than that just to get it from China into the store, and then to check it out at the register.  Somebody is taking a big loss, and I've finally figured out who it is.  The "loser" is the company that manufactures the cables that connect these things to your teevee set. 

An upconverting HD DVD player, which runs on real electricity, and has a power supply, components, motors, instructions, a plastic case, and "intellectual property," is $40.  It is subsidized by the makers of HDMI cables.  The DVD player didn't come with one, and it had to be purchased.  An HDMI cable is made of two cheap connectors and a little cable.  Price $40.  Nobody would need them if they didn't get their DVD players for free!  So the cable manufacturers subsidize the players to get people to buy their outrageously priced cables.

So What About the Camcorder?

I was able to give up on American Express with the following inspiration:  I asked our marketing department if we had a camcorder.  The answer was "We're about to get one." 

Q:  "May I borrow it if and when I need it?"
A:  "Sure."

See how easy it is to save reward points and not have to deal with a stupid web site?

And guess what!  The camcorder we got had a mini-HDMI connector.  Did it come with an HDMI cable?  Of course not.  It comes with other cables, but HDMI is optional. 

Q: How much does the cable cost?
A: $40

A Helpful Privacy Suggestion From the Camcorder Manual

"...It is recommended that you destroy the actual body of the camcorder."

A lesson for Detroit.


*  That would have been a zeugma if it were all in one sentence.  This has not been a zeugma alert.
**  Could I be trying to win the Olympic Gold Asterisk***?
*** (Which doesn't, so far as I know, exist.)


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Thank you.


NP:  "The Candlestick Maker Suite" - Ron Elliott

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