USB half-golfball with one USB port

There's an unlimited wealth of useless USB gadgetry to be acquired, obviously, but something about the USB half-golfball with one USB port [Amazon] posted to Twitter by @foone (whose epic threads about subjects such as "possibly cursed USB adapters" are easily the best thing on Twitter right now) captures the very essence of the genre. I immediately bought one, as it's the perfect gift for an older boomer-age male relative who has never in their life played golf.

Tell me about your conspicuously pointless, low-effort USB gifts in the comments! No prizes for Cuecats. Read the rest

Samsung says its TV sets should be "regularly checked for viruses"

The easiest way to secure shoddy internet-of-things gadgets like TV sets and cameras? Make it the consumer's problem.

Samsung has advised owners of its latest TVs to run regular virus scans. A how-to video on the Samsung Support USA Twitter account demonstrates the more than a dozen remote-control button presses required to access the sub-menu needed to activate the check. It suggested users should carry out the process "every few weeks" to "prevent malicious software attacks".

Think it's a ridiculous idea that you should have to run antimalware scans on your television? Want to feel the bottom fall out? Sure you do! Get this: the announcement is a covert advertisement for the custom McAfee bloatware antivirus app installed on the sets.

McAfee extended its contract to have McAfee Security for TV technology pre-installed on all Samsung Smart TVs produced in 2019. Along with being the market leader in the Smart TV category worldwide, Samsung is also the first company to pre-install security on these devices, underscoring its commitment to building security in from the start. McAfee Security for TV scans the apps that run on Samsung smart TVs to identify and remove malware.

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You can now buy CueCats on Amazon Prime

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. Read the rest

Inexpensive unicorn-shaped speaker met with middling user reviews

In contrast to other speakers, the Unicorn Speaker's key qualities are 'ABS plastic' and 'imported.' It contains a built-in battery and boasts 4 hours of playback on a charge away from the tether. It is not wireless; there's a 3.5mm jack.

Reviews are mixed. "WORKS GREAT", says one verified customer, though another offers some great accidental Shakespeare in "it works not well." Worse, "the horn doesn't even stay in place once it it attached," warns Froggy.

Unicorn Speaker [Amazon] Read the rest

Liquid glitter-filled iPhone cases recalled because of chemical burns

MixBin Electronics is recalling approximately 275,000 iPhone cases of various styles that all contain glitter suspended in liquid. According to the company, "The cases are being recalled due to the risk of skin irritation, blisters or burns if the liquid contained in the phone case leaks and comes into contact with the skin due to breakage or cracking of the case." From CNN:

The company announced the recall after 24 reports worldwide of skin irritation or chemical burns. Nineteen of the reports came from the United States, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission...

One consumer reported permanent scarring from a chemical burn, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Another consumer reported chemical burns and swelling to her leg, face, neck, chest, upper body and hands, the commission said.

The plastic cases were made in China.

Customers should immediately stop using the recalled cases and contact MixBin for a refund, according to the commission's report.

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Apple: more than 90% of "official" accessories on Amazon are fake (UPDATE: Amazon response)

In a trademark infringement case filed against Mobile Star LLC, which it claims is a prolific counterfeiter, Apple says that more than 90% of the "official" gadgets sold in its name at Amazon are fake. [via]

Moreover, they're mostly garbage, and potentially dangerous.

Consumers, relying on's reputation, have no reason to suspect the power products they purchased from are anything but genuine. This is particularly true where, as here, the products are sold directly "by" as genuine Apple products using Apple's own product marketing images. Consumers are likewise unaware that the counterfeit Apple products that sourced from Mobile Star have not been safety certified or properly constructed, lack adequate insulation and/or have inadequate spacing between low voltage and high voltage circuits, and pose a significant risk of overheating, fire, and electrical shock. Indeed, consumer reviews of counterfeit Apple power adapters purchased from and from the above ASIN report that the counterfeit products overheat, smolder, and in some cases catch fire:

Amazon seems to have gone well shady lately—something's got to give. Lukewarm take: the vast majority of users will think the fakes are genuine even with the media fuss over it, Apple's reputation is what gets quietly burned at the weekend barbecues of America, and Amazon is monolithically indifferent to counterfeiting. Apple might then consider the unquantifiable value of not charging $29 for Lightning cables.

UPDATE: Amazon spokesperson Aaron Toso responds:

“Amazon has zero tolerance for the sale of counterfeits on our site.

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Galaxy Note 7 now banned from air travel

Withdrawn by Samsung and recalled from store shelves, the explosion-prone Galaxy Note 7 is now forbidden in the skies. The Federal Aviation Administration has officially banned it, via an emergency prohibition order, making it a federal crime to take one on board an airplane.

The order restricts passengers from carrying the phone "on their person, in carry-on baggage, in checked baggage, or as cargo," and says that anyone who inadvertently brings one on a plane must power it down immediately. Carriers are also required to "deny boarding to a passenger in possession" of the phone.

Passengers who bring a Note 7 onto a plane are "subject to civil penalties of up to $179,933 for each violation for each day they are found to be in violation (49 U.S.C. 5123)," and could be prosecuted, which could "result in fines under title 18, imprisonment of up to ten years, or both (49 U.S.C. 5124)."

It is already a cult object, ready to take its place among the more dangerous inhabitants of our descendants' wunderkammers.

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"$4" cellphone "suprisingly decent"

The Ringing Bells Freedom 251 phone "costs" $4. Among its qualities are a 4" IPS display, 1GB of RAM, front and rear cameras, a 1.3GHz quad-core processor, and Android 5.1 Lollipop with no extra bloatware. It's "surprisingly decent," writes Manish Singh. Read the rest

Critter Catcher: grab and evict spiders without killing them or getting close to them

The Critter Catcher is a long rubbery picker-upper gadget, enabling the user to easily pick up and evict spiders without harming them or having to get too close. You can buy one for $17 (a generic clone is $20 on Amazon). I'm buying one to serve hors d'oeuvres at an unpleasant party I intend to host. Read the rest

The worst gadget ever supplies mains power over USB

We've written often about how dreadful and dangerous cheapo third-party power supplies and adapters get, but the Swees QY08-05010 hub takes the cake: it supplies full mains power over USB. Clive Mitchell writes:

"Although I've come across some really dodgy power supplies with poor insulation between the mains and low voltage sides, this is the first one where the USB ports have carried full mains current. (via a rectifier)

It's a Swees QY08-05010 with this model and style carrying various other branding as well. Oddly it does appear to be relatively sensibly designed inside, but this one has a serious manufacturing fault that suggests others from the same run may also pose a risk of serious electric shock."

In the UK, that's what, 240 volts at 900 milliamps, if you fancy yer chances? Come for the horror, stay for Mitchell's wonderful technical review! Sadly, the Amazon product page for the Swees 5-port model has been taken down. If you're feeling lucky, though, you can always see how quickly their portable battery pack charges your fingers. (Update: don't) Read the rest

Amazon cracks down on crappy USB-C cables and adapters

I've been whining for months about the crap sandwich Apple and Google created by adopting USB-C for their new laptops without supporting the ecosystem: a writhing sea of dangerously low-quality third-party cables and adapters. Amazon is taking action, banning low-quality USB-C gadgetry from the store.

The crackdown is almost certainly in response to the glut of cheap USB Type-C cables that have flooded Amazon over the past year—and to at least one example of a dodgy cable frying a Google engineer's Chromebook Pixel. In that case, the third-party seller stated that it was a standards-compliant USB 3.1 Type-C cable with SuperSpeed. As it turned out, the cable was completely missing the extra wires needed for SuperSpeed and two of the other wires had been transposed. The miswired cable killed his laptop instantly.

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Counterfeit laptop chargers are bad for your box

Ken Shirriff embarked upon a teardown of counterfeit Apple laptop chargers. On the outside, they're typo-free and very convincing. Inside, though, they're a dangerous mangle of cheap parts and inexplicably bad decisions.

The most important feature of a charger is the isolation between the potentially-dangerous AC input and the low-voltage output… The counterfeit MagSafe charger has a dangerously small distance between the low voltage side (top) and the high voltage side (bottom). This is why you shouldn't buy counterfeit chargers.

I'm puzzled as to why counterfeit chargers never manage to have sufficient clearance distances. They use simple, low-complexity circuits so the circuit board layout should be straightforward. Except in the smallest cube phone chargers, they aren't fighting for every millimeter of space. It shouldn't take much additional effort to make the boards safer.

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Cheapo LED lightbulbs the "single worst device I've ever bought"

Matthew Garrett "bought some awful light bulbs so you don't have to." And you really, really shouldn't buy the iRainbow light bulb set: the controller box runs all sorts of insecure services, including an open WiFi hotspot that lets anyone into your home network. Read the rest