Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Adventures in Consumerism

For sometime now, stretching nearly to forever, I have been annoyed by the teeming horde of remotes required to do anything with the entertainment infrastructure. Clearly, I need a universal remote.

This, by the way, stands as a good example of a self-licking ice cream cone: consumption requiring even more consumption to service the original consumption.

Hellish, I know.

Anyway, I pooled all I know of universal remotes. Which amounts to [crickets].

Then headed off to Best Buy on account of, well, branding seductive despite its garish obviousness.

Based upon my aforementioned vast store of universal remotes, I looked for something that would remotely do everything, and cost around $50. My first contact with reality was not promising. The cheapest example of technological ecumenism at a distance went for $140. But, what the heck. It is a Mother's Day present that was going to be the best sort of surprise — something my wife had no idea she wanted.

So, having taken all of 30 seconds surveying the option$, I walked off with a Logitech Harmony 880 (sic).

The second head-on contact with reality was at the checkout counter, where the $140 remote rang up as $390.

My look, equally comprised of horror and incomprehension, was so graphic it — and just possibly the echoing thud of my jaw hitting the floor — immediately grabbed the checkout person's attention. After hearing my assertion that the thing was racked under a placard saying $137, he told me to stop by Customer Service. They would probably want to confirm my story, but if it checked out, they would refund $250 to me. On the way to Customer Service, I went back to the universal remote display and confirmed there was a whole bunch of what I was holding — which was, coming to think about it, suspiciously heavy for $137. There is no way one gets two pounds of high-tech for anything less than, well, $390.

Oh well. Off to Customer Service. On the way, I gave the package a closer look. The top flap, from which the WMD proof blister package hung, was folded over in such a way that the model number's second and third digits, written on a descending line, were partially obscured, making the difference between 880, under which price tag it hung, and 890, which was what I was holding, far from intuitively obvious.

Arriving at Customer Service, I diagnosed their problem for them, and presumed I would just return it, since there was no way they were going to give me a $250 price break for a racking error.

They insisted. In fact, they let me keep the original purchase receipt after refunding the $250. Which means, I suppose, I could have come back a few days later to return it for the original price. Hard to explain that one to the kids, though ...

Anyway, what I got was a bit of cosmocity that, through a USB cable melding the silicon minds of the remote, my laptop and the Internet, teaches the remote the language of virtually every remotely controllable device on the planet. That doesn't make it quite so smart as to be able to control the dog, but still. On top of that, it also has an RF receiver which will drive IR repeaters which, when stuck the respective device's front panel in front of the IR sensor, will allow control from anywhere in the house, as well as the ability to leave the stereometer cabinet closed all the time. I felt a certain amount of gratification here, as I was finally holding something I — along with just about everyone else with even a barely intuitive grasp on the glaringly apparent — had mentally invented at least twenty years ago. Most entertainment equipment of any stripe looks as if it was smacked hard and often with an ugly stick; I relished finally being able to slam the cabinet doors on those visual crimes.

My gratification was further spiced with relief, for the receiver's "remote" should have been termed a "proximate", as I had to get them so close together in order to obtain any results that I often pondered whether, in the interest of avoiding blowing any lurking aneurysms, I should use the receiver to smash the proximate, or the other way around.

The highlights of universal remote consumerism utopia so far: one button push to get the system jump whichever hoops you desire; e.g., the Digital Music button turns the receiver and dock on, while turning everything else off, and sets the receiver input to the dock. Very cool.

Also very cool was tossing all the other remotes into a gunny sack and dragging them out to the garage, where they will burden an out of the way shelf until forever.

Not so highlights. Telling the thing to tell the system I want to listen to, say, the cable's Adult Alternative channel works fine. Receiver and cable box on, everything else off, and receiver to cable mode. But there is no way, so far as I was able to determine during my short -- and sleep deprived -- stay at home, to program any macros into it*. In addition to that other stuff, I want the thing to automatically transmit channel 814 to the cable box. Heaven forfend I should actually have to push those buttons myself.

Also, the universal remote may have overhyped itself. At first blush, its control over the DVD player is less than complete. When trying to do something truly valuable with my time — watching season 2 of The Simpsons — it won't allow changing menu options. The only game in town is to select whatever option the DVD opens on, which in this case happens to be Play All Episodes. No big deal, unless I can't watch them all in one sitting. Otherwise, I have go resurrect a remote, thereby unlicking the self-licking ice cream cone.

This is probably a hint to upgrade my DVD/VCR player from cheap & old to expensive & new. And, no doubt, real shiny so as to highlight its hideosity.

See Consumerism, Self Licking Ice Cream Cone, Example of.

Of course, when I do, I will no doubt shop Best Buy. Customer Service really has embedded itself in most businesses. And, perhaps, is helping to reinforce civility in the broader culture.

Most importantly, though, my wife has finally come to understand how much she wanted a universal remote for Mothers' Day.

I think.

*According to the linked review, macros are there for the taking. Having done the initial setup after getting home via a redeye, I plead exhaustion. Stupidity, though, is still an option.


Blogger David said...

I'm now on my second Harmony remote and soon I'll probably be on my third (although not as hotsy totsy as yours). I think that they're great. One thing: if you hit the "Devices" button (as opposed to "Activities") you can usually access all of the other non-default functions of your equipment, although the labeling is not always intuitive.

May 21, 2008 6:26 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

Sounds like you need the Megatron...

May 22, 2008 1:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From the link:

While it isn't perfect, the Logitech Harmony 890 should be near the top of your list if you're in the market for a sub-$400 RF remote that can operate equipment that's hidden behind cabinets or closet doors.

Like what, the anti-burglar death ray no home should be without? The closet door opener? At what point does all this convert from grown men harmlessly enjoying their toys to a psychological disorder officially recognized by the APA?

I grow old, I grow old...

May 22, 2008 7:56 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

At what point does all this convert from grown men harmlessly enjoying their toys to a psychological disorder officially recognized by the APA?

If you saw my garage, perhaps you might change your incipient disorder diagnosis.

At least my keepers tell me it is incipient.

May 22, 2008 11:53 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Mr. Burnet;

Things with knobs, buttons, and holes with which you don't want a four year old experimenting, especially not with bananas, yogurt, or muffins?


We're on our second Harmony (both Christmas presents for SWIPIAW, as I don't watch TV anymore). The dog ate the first one and the second no longer connects to the USB because of some child sabotage (knocked the connector back in to the housing in a non-retrievable way).

May 22, 2008 1:45 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Yeah, but does it have a deal where when it's misplaced, you can ring your doorbell and the missing remote flashes red lights and cries piteously for attention?

May 23, 2008 5:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Things with knobs, buttons, and holes...

Oh, right. You know, I'm not sure you are quite ready for a career change to advertising.


Yes, Harry, it does have such a deal, but it only comes with the $450.00 extended warranty and maintenance plan.

May 23, 2008 5:47 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


Sounds like you need the Megatron...

I know you meant that in the kindest possible way, but ...



Not only is capitalism the perfect solvent, but it also makes civility commonplace.

Really, under what other system will people give you money, apologize profusely for doing so, in places that are endlessly polite?

No matter who you are.

May 23, 2008 9:50 AM  

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