September 14, 2000
12:46 PM   Subscribe

I'm not sure whether I'll actually use it, but the :CueCat Reader that Wired Magazine sent me for free is pretty neat. It is essentially a scanner that plugs into my computer and can "read" URLs in special bar-codes on ads or any UPC or ISBN. I scanned my thesaurus and a box of paper clips. Simple things ...
posted by quirked (18 comments total)

 
Joel of Joel on Software has an analysis of the cats ("Wasting money on cats").
posted by tomalak at 12:56 PM on September 14, 2000


I got one of these, too -- they give them out free at Radio Shack with their catalogs.

I learned a lot about how they work. The device sends three pieces of information to the software that controls it. Here's an example of what the computer gets from the reader:

.C3nZC3nZC3nYChn1DxD2CNnY.fHmg.C3rZCxnXDG.

The first thing it sends can't be seen there, but it's the same code that pressing - sends.

Then, going from right to left: The "C3rZ..." part is the barcode. It's encrypted, but with a very simple method - people have already broken it. (This translates to "07020254", a can of A&W root beer.) The next part - fHmg - is the type of barcode. There's different typed for the standard length barcode, and extended version, ISBN codes, etc.

Then there's the "C3nZ..." part. This is an ID code built into the scanner. Everything you scan sends this code with it, and every scanner has a different code.

(If you're wondering how to get a string like that from the reader, by the way, exit the CRQ software, open up Notepad, and scan something.)
posted by CrayDrygu at 1:01 PM on September 14, 2000


This is more convenient than typing in a URL?

I threw mine out.
posted by luke at 1:12 PM on September 14, 2000


Don't these little 'cats' track your moves too? Now wired magazine not only know what article, ad or copy you read, but at exactly what date and time...*scary*

Reminds me of those little cards all my friends have from the grocery stores. Little bar codes on their key chains -- it's all in the name of saving 3 cents on a head of lettuce. My concern is again -- somebody's tracking you and your habits!

I'm thinking of hacking the Kroger database and selling the infos. Just think how valuable this information would be to Hit Men. They could stand in the frozen foods section dust off their prey.

Any body want to partner up?
posted by chiXy at 1:19 PM on September 14, 2000


I looked into this too. I found that essentially you could replicate the devices command sets and functionality with a few steps. I was really surprised at how well this works!

1. Stop reading the magazine, or catalog, you are reading. Novice users, place it near a computer with an internet connection.

2. Open your Internet browser. Novice users, click on the big 'e' on your desktop.

3. Type in the URL found often at the bottom of the ad you were looking at. Novice users, if you can't do this, you may consider having a conversatoin with your cat and water the ferns.

It was really quite simple though it did take a few hours to figure out the arrangement of steps. If you do them out of place, the whole process goes to hell.
posted by Brilliantcrank at 1:21 PM on September 14, 2000


hrm. sneaky advertisers. pfft.
posted by SentientAI at 1:23 PM on September 14, 2000


gsxl, you are brilliant! Those are, indeed, the steps as I recreated them as well, but you left out Step 4., "Call Wired Magazine and inform them of the precise date and time you entered the URL, along with your Wired Magazine customer number for linking to the rest of your demographic information." Other than that, you hit it right on.
posted by m.polo at 1:49 PM on September 14, 2000


Not mac compatible, sigh. Then again, the market for this type of product usually can't handle gsxl's process.

I'm going to canabalize the parts.
posted by DragonBoy at 2:00 PM on September 14, 2000


I'm waiting for someone to collect all these useless cats that are (going to be) tossed into the garbage and turn them into some sort of artistic type thingy.

A twenty foot high leaning tower of stupid ideas perhaps?
posted by dizzycow at 2:05 PM on September 14, 2000


My cat - or :Cat or whatever we're supposed to call it - just came today. And it's about to go into the garbage since their 100+ employees are currently incapable of giving Mac owners anything other than the usual patronizing "Mac version coming soon!" BS on their website. Well, on second thought, I'll probably shove it in a closet somewhere; in 20 years it'll be an amusing artifact of the Dark Ages of e-commerce. In any case, it's useless to me now, and I don't expect the company to survive long enough for them to actually get around to porting the software.

Looking at it, it reminds me of nothing so much as an unconscious albino ferret. I am reminded, however, of the Cauzin Strip Reader, an Apple ][ peripheral.
posted by aaron at 2:21 PM on September 14, 2000



A few posts above this one, chiXy mentions grocery cards and
how they let one save "3 cents on a head of lettuce." Most savings are like typical store coupons, 25 or 50 or 100 cents here and there. Not just a measly 3 cents.

You can put in false info when creating a card and switch cards with friends from time to time to confuse the information gatherers.

nocards.com gives a bunch of info on the resistance to grocery cards.
posted by gluechunk at 2:23 PM on September 14, 2000


The nice part is the way that Linuxy types have reverse-engineered the protocol in order to do fun things with the CueCat (book cataloguing for the anally retentive, anyone) and had a cease-and-desist slapped down on them. Cheers.
posted by holgate at 2:27 PM on September 14, 2000


Yikes! A lot of hostility for a goofy little piece of technology.
posted by quirked at 2:47 PM on September 14, 2000


You know a GNU:Cat would be really neat, you could make HTML catalogues of anything you want like say your CD collection, sort of like the way Winamp let's you make a HTML playlist.
posted by riffola at 2:57 PM on September 14, 2000


y'all missin the point. the :screw:you:cat is a 'track and report to the mamaship' device. its software sends all the crap you scan directly to the Digital Convergence servers. The whole point of the device is to amass yet another immense database of consumer prefs to be used in targeted marketing. And Digital Convergence just happen not to be very pleasant people. Read this, and this, and this. Intellectual property? Base 64 and XOR? The frightening thing is you give a typical American net user a cat-shaped chunk of plastic with a red window on the end and they go all gaga and can't wait to hook it up to thier box! Hey, its FREE!!!
posted by quonsar at 4:16 PM on September 14, 2000


Meant to mention this in my last post...

1) Unload CRQ's software.
2) Go here
3) Scan something

That little script will translate the ColonCat's output into a real barcode. Then:

4) Copy and paste the code into debarcode.com

A lot more work than using the CRQ software, but much better than the paranoid people. And I can assure you that all the script does is translate the code. I didn't write it, but I looked it over before I put it on my server.

Warning, though: It's buggy. It'll provide a link for UPA codes to debarcode.com. UPE codes, it won't, because for some reason the check digit doesn't show up. And any other types (like ISBN)...you're on your own for those, too. Sorry. (I don't have the mad Perl skillz to fix all that myself.)
posted by CrayDrygu at 6:11 PM on September 14, 2000


Re: tracking. The point here is that the device does absolutely nothing fancy whatsoever; it types a bunch of characters. It's the software CueCat wants you to install that would do that sort of thing, accessing DC's barcode-to-URL lookup database.

So all you need is different software, and that's easy to find/write because their "encryption" is very transparent. DC will have you believe using/writing your own software for it violates the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, but to mention that would inspire within me a violent rant, which I've already done on my own blog, so I'll just shut up for now.

The devices are generally useless, the business model sucks and will quickly die. But they're great geek fun. Consumers have never had the power to easily and cheaply scan barcodes. We don't need to, sure, but it's the principle of the thing. ;)
posted by dan_of_brainlog at 10:46 PM on September 14, 2000


Aaron: if it makes you happier, the Cauzin Strip reader had a Mac driver for a couple years.

My wife has an albino ferret... you're right, this thing does bear an odd resemblance. It's missing the red eyes, though. Maybe a pair of strategically placed LEDs would do the trick?

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:37 PM on September 15, 2000


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