CueCat, a barcode reader that they hoped we would excitedly use to scan barcodes on ads so we could watch more ads, is one of the classic crap gadgets. When I suggested a book called "Crap Gadgets" to someone in the trade, about the wonderful world of crap gadgets, she said, "It'll have CueCat in it, right?" and I said "Yes, ma'am. Yes it will."
Well, you can not only still buy CueCat, but you can have it overnighted to your fucking door with Amazon Prime! And if you buy it with the following link, I will get a fucking commission (just like a Radioshack salesman in 2000) for getting you to buy it!
CueCat PS/2 Barcode Scanner [Amazon]
CueCat was not merely a terrible product reflecting the greed and cynicism of its creators. It had everything! obnoxious branding (":CueCat", with a colon); the first large-scale attempt at aggregating usage data to build a social graph to sell to advertisers; the first major security vulnerability leading to the exposure of this data (140k users doxxed); and the first front-page use of copyright law to threaten customers who used the gadget for anything but the desired consumer-zombie purposes.
It's been so long that there isn't much point hacking them, beyond the simple pleasure of doing so, but I think everyone should own and customize a CueCat in honor of the vile dystopian nightmare that modern computer and internet use has become. CueCat appears to us as a mirage, a failure, a loser, but unlike all the other crap gadgets, the future it dreamed of came into being. From within that abyss—every sleazily obvious effort to hide consumption in convenience, every privacy failure, every data breach, and every DMCA takedown—CueCat is smirking back at us.
I wonder if there's a stick computer small enough to fit inside one.