Things Not To Buy For Christmas

Useless Christmas Gifts
Hi all, Steve here again, after a short absence. I've been busy selling Christmas retail you see and Christmas retail has the affect of destroying your brain. I tried to write a column last week, but all I managed to do was drool on the keyboard, which seemed unsatisfactory subject matter to base a column on. But now I'm done with retail for the time being and I'm back to write a column: About retail!

Bet you didn't see that coming. Or maybe you did. But still, it's a subject worth talking about. Many people are busy these days, running around doing last minute Christmas shopping…but I discovered something during my time in retail: Most of what they sell is garbage. And I'm here to tell you what not to buy for Christmas with: Steve's List Of What Not To Buy For Christmas!

O.k., if you didn't see that one coming, I give up on the lot of you, I swear. These days corporations are turning out enormous numbers of useless products, as well as products that would be useful, except that they don't work, and products that serve no conceivable purpose whatsoever, either actual or potential, real or imagined…except that they are cheap. This is true; I've seen it in action. People will buy almost anything, as long as they can justify the purchase to themselves as a bargain. It's a bargain on something that doesn't work and would be stupid even if it did and most sensible people wouldn't plunk down hard-earned currency on the table for something like that…until you tell them that they can get an extended warranty for a very reasonable price. For something they don’t want. And that doesn't work. And is stupid. This really actually happens, all the time. When the item in question either breaks or refuses to function at all, people will march in, criticize the product, it's designers, the store that sold it to them and your personal genetic heritage. And then demand another one. If you can't deny that you spent hard-earned dollars on something stupid and useless, at least you can console yourself by taking advantage of the reasonably priced extended 3-year warranty plan.

I would like to announce, just by the way, that after working yet another year of Christmas retail, I now no longer feel that the human race has any redeeming qualities at all. Thank you.

Some products start off as useful items, but over time become so ridiculously overbuilt that they become essentially useless. A good example is cell phones. In the beginning, people talked to each other, mostly about nothing. Then came pagers, which let you know that someone wanted to talk to you, mostly about nothing. Then came call phones, which allowed people to talk about nothing anywhere. That's about all the nothing anybody needs. With cell phones, we've really reached the Beam Me Up Scotty stage and we don't need anything else. And the companies know that, so they've started tacking on more stuff, stuff most people don't want and won't use, but all for a very reasonable price. The newest generation of cell phones lets you take pictures, have a video conversation, play MP3s, listen to satellite radio, surf the web, watch Youtube, use instant messengers, check your email and, with an optional telegraph attachment, send Morse code. If you still have any time left, you can talk to people, though anybody who's busy uploading pictures of their friends throwing up in them in a bar to Facebook probably doesn't have time to talk to anybody. What an age we live in.

Still, cell phones can be useful. Some products are just completely hopeless and should be avoided at all costs. So, as a public service, I have compiled a list of products that you should avoid. Some of the following items are real and I compiled them simply by walking around the electronics store where I worked and some are made up: Try to guess which ones are real; I think you'll be pleasantly horrified:

  • Combination nose hair trimmer and MP3 player
  • Vacation property accessible only by attack helicopter
  • Rubik's cube
  • T.V. remote control with optional car charger
  • A DVD series, Bagels Of The World: A Tasty Travel Documentary
  • A light for the brim of your hat
  • Combination pencil sharpener and heart rate monitor
  • A fiber-optic blinking Christmas tree that plugs into your USB port
  • Combination acoustic guitar and GPS
  • A clock that projects the time in a fuzzy blur onto the ceiling

I'll give you a hint: The projection clock is a real item. Now, I'm not saying it's totally worthless, but if I had a choice between the projection clock and a slice of pizza and a kick in the head, well, it's hard to go wrong with pizza.

So I hope that helps with your last-minute Christmas shopping. If, on the off chance you're wondering what any of this has to do with productivity and why I wrote a post about it for this website, let me assure you that this website post comes with a very reasonably priced extended warranty plan.

Until next time, keep your pen on the page and nose hair trimmed.

Steve Sharam

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fiber optic USB tree

What? The fiber optic USB port tree isn't real? I swear I've seen it in the sale papers. For real. I actually wouldn't be surprised to find out that all of them are real products having been Christmas shopping recently and seeing the load of c**p in the stores these days.

Fibre Optic tree

Yup it's real.
and what?? No mention of the Faux Fire 2 DVD ? :)


Yep, it's real.

You're right. It's real! USB Fiber Optic Tree

- Jen

[fixed link on 12/16/07 by innowen]

USB Drink Warmer

AND chiller!

It's at the bottom of the tree page.

I am a notebook junkie.

Oh yeah, it's real

Oh yes, several of those items are real, believe it or not, including the USB Christmas tree and the fire DVD. And don't forget the USB singing Santa Clause:)

Steve Sharam

Earlier today I saw the USB

Earlier today I saw the USB humping dog.



Steve Sharam



Sadly, it's out of stock. Well, there's always birthdays...

People Are Gullible

...and probably desperate this time of year. I'm sure we've all done it. Time is ticking away and you haven't gotten so-and-so's gift yet. You walk mindlessly around the store, eyes darting across and up and down the shelves, just waiting for something...anything to jump out at you so you can be on your way. The item you usually wind up with is probably useless, but maybe "cute" or "fun"...yet you settle for it anyway in a moment of desperation.

Not only is everything junk these days, it's typically made in some third work country, made with lead paint, and is priced 1000% more than what it costs to make it. Diamonds marked down from $1,200 - now only $299! And yet they still make money.

I also find so many items that are redesigned and renamed and, even though you may already have something similar, you have to buy this new gadget! I mean, you can't use a normal blender to make Margaritas these days. Instead, you must buy a "Margarator" for $99.99. You can't bake a pizza in your oven anymore, you should use a Presto Pizzazz Pizza Oven for $40. Then there's the "quesadilla maker" for a mere $20. Geez, where does one store all these extra items?!

Anyway...who's all done shopping? :)

- Jen

Proving that I'm a sad puppy...

I've done all my gift shopping. And even more pathetically it's already wrapped. But then I'm so over-organised that I'll buy most of next year's gifts in the Boxing Day (26 Jan) sales.

To be honest, I did buy one small, silly, rubbishy gadget but that was for the office Secret Santa or 'Kris Kringle'. And almost all the gifts in any office Secret Santa are chocolate or silly, trashy gadgets. :D



I have just one more present to buy, and we decided what that would be a week ago.

On Saturday, we had our first "Christmas" with my mother. On Christmas Eve we'll have Christmas #2 with the extended in-laws (AILs, UILs, CILs). On Christmas Day comes Christmas #3 with the MIL and FIL and BILs. On New Years Day comes Christmas #4 with my Dad, and also Kids' Birthday #1. Kids' Birthday #2 may come on the 3rd when a box shows up on the front step, and Birthday #3 will happen on Saturday the 5th. Saturday the 5th will also feature the last of Christmas (#5), where we present to my Mom the presents we forgot to take to her last Saturday (that were already made, just forgotten in the packing rush).

Christmas #1 was a success, we were just able to squeeze everything into the back of the van that had to come home with us. I'm a little worried that Christmas #2 and 3 will require a trailer and a van-top-strap-on-container of some sort to get it all home. We don't have a trailer hitch on the minivan. :/

We live so far from everyone that I have to prepare three separate 'wish lists' to hand out to the various branches of family every year. I have to keep track of which ideas go to whom so there's no chance of duplication and everyone gets a range of prices that suits their various budgets and a range of ideas that suits the number of people in that branch. I have to decide what the 'wishes' are for myself, DH, and two kids and hand them out sufficiently in advance that everyone can find it all on sale.

Then, of course, I have to browbeat every other family member into giving us ideas for what *they* want for Christmas. I have to collect the ideas and keep them correctly identified with the wisher's name so we don't give Mary's dearest wish to Alberta instead. The browbeating begins in September and often continues right up til December 15th or so, when we give up and pick out something we'd want if we were them.

And now, with the kids approaching 3 years old, we have to have craft projects so the kids can create presents and wrap them and give them to all the family members themselves and take pride in the whole business. Two weekends ago we made twelve wood snowflake ornaments that DH primed and the kids 'painted' with glitter glue.

Now there's laundry on the dining table and paper scraps all over the living room, we're running out of crucial groceries and there's 20 more packages to wrap. The kids are using up the to/from stickers with incredible speed--each package gets at least five of them. Half the ornaments have fallen on the floor under the tree and we've still not quite finished 'moving' from September. But there have to be sugar cookies with frosting to decorate and a hot meal every night.

I am grateful we don't have any holiday parties or social events besides the family gatherings. I think that would be a bit too much. :)

With all the list making and managing to be done, I'm about ready to tell the families--save your money, don't buy me anything. I won't buy you anything either, and we can all go shopping for ourselves with the money we would have spent on each other. We'll save a ton of money, get exactly what we wanted for Christmas, and we can trade 'thank you' cards explaining what we would have bought each other had we actually bought anything for anyone else. Am I a grinch?


and people say the extended family is history

Nah, you're not a grinch. But you may be an example of why it isn't just the 'lonely and alone' who commit suicide over the holidays. There is just so much stress and pressure at this time of year.

For extended family, and even adult siblings I've just decided to accept the title of grinch and send only cards. Or, if it is a flush year, I'll make a donation to Habitat for Humanity, or Heiffer Project International, or Nothing but Nets in their name and send them the 'in honor of card' those organizations send.

Even the nieces and nephews are getting old enough now that they may get switched over. They get so much 'loot' I think it is good for them to think about those to whom a pair of rabbits is a life changing gift. Good for me to think about it too.

Now, my SO isn't quite of the same mindset. She's only got the one sibling with two little ones, so we still go all out for that branch. The day will come however....

Happy holidays to all, whatever the holiday may be.
May everyone here get what they need, whether it is a cool toy to take mind off of stress, time with family, or just some peace, inside and out.


How to avoid Xmas shopping!

I knit. Well. (I've been at it for 14 years, I ought to know what I'm doing by this point...) So I make everyone's presents. This year I was going to save myself the stress and buy gifts, but I realized I couldn't think of a single thing to purchase for anyone. So knitted gifts it is.

Personally, I'd rather veg out on the couch with my knitting and a DVD than brave the mall. Good yarn isn't cheap, so it's not like I'm saving money, but I get to give the people I love something I enjoyed creating and which is meant just for them. And I get to avoid the stores. I love that part. :)

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I wove

Knitting was giving me wrist pain, so I wove this year. Everyone (over legal age) is getting a dish towel and a bottle of wine I vinted in the basement.

Kids get something knitted.


I like weaving, I just don't have the space or money for a loom. Do you have any pictures online of your work?

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Not yet

But I plan to post a few pictures of the towels on my blog when I finish them. I still have eto cut the second batch off the loom, wash them, and hem all of them. Then the photo shoot.

I found my loom incredibly cheap through the Spinners and Weavers Housecleaning webpage. I'm it's third owner, but only second user. I've spent more on planner stuff this year than I did on that loom! But it does take up space in my living room...

still got a little more shopping to do

My wife and I still have a little more shopping to do. She has a large extended family, over two dozen cousins. We've decided to only buy for immediate family because if we had to buy for one cousin, we'd have to buy for them all and we'd be broke.

We're making gifts for her parents and mine. Her brother always buys us something really nice, so we're thinking of getting him a Best Buy gift card this year. Come to think of it, that's about the only actual shopping we still have left to do.

We've been so focused on getting out of debt by Christmas, neither of us really has anything we want when it comes to the usual gifts. She has asked me to make her a planner (Circa, of course) and has vacation from tomorrow until New Year's and is going to paint the home office for my Christmas present (in other words: the corner of the house where all the computers are).

I'll still end up getting her something besides the planner - there's some things that are always a hit. A favorite movie, something that smells nice from Bath & Body works. Things along those lines.


Two that have to better than the real thing

There are two things on your list that have to be better than their real counterparts, viz

A DVD series, Bagels Of The World: A Tasty Travel Documentary

So much more enjoyable than the "Great Railways Journeys of Switzerland" series of TV that plauged some of the first cable/satellite channels. (If you must have a copy of this incredible travelogue then ebay UK has two still sealed copies for sale.)


Combination acoustic guitar and GPS

has got to be better than the recently launched Gisbon Robot Lazy Paul guitar.

A robot guitar?

Oh, come on people! Have we learned nothing from James Cameron?

Steve Sharam

Gibson clearly not

Have we learned nothing from James Cameron?

Gibson clearly have not. There really is a Gibson Robot guitar.


How's that for lazy?:P

Steve Sharam

Yay! Someone else knows, too!

Unfortunately, being a paramedic, I've come to the same conclusions that you have regarding the Human Race. Usually, though, I get delicious, bite-sized reminders of these conclusions when people get their nifty, useless, mostly expensive gadgets and doodads home and then come up with fun and creative uses for them, almost always requiring a call to local emergency services and demanding my presence so that I can determine why on Earth they thought this was a good idea.

It often goes like this...
Recipient of the pencil sharpener/heart rate monitor: *insert lots of wailing and sobbing*
Me: Sir, did you actually read the directions on this *before* you used it?
Recipient #1: *sobs* No!
Me: Uh-huh. And you have turned you finger to hamburger with the simple touch of a button.
Recipient #1: *sobs* Yes! I wanted it to check my heart rate.
Me: I see. Well, while my partner bandages your hand so that we can prevent you from bleeding all over creation while we take you to the emergency room, and whilst the fire crew tries hard to figure this one out, might I make a suggestion?
Recipient #1: *weeps* Sure.
Me: Put your finger against your neck, just here. Push a little. Feel that? It's your heart rate. If you do this while looking at a clock, you can figure out how many times your heart beats in a minute.
Recipient #1: *weeps* But the thing was on *sale*!!!
Me: No doubt.

Recipient of the Rubik's Cube: I ate it.
Me: You what?
Recipient #2: I got frustrated, broke it into bits, and ate it. With cheese dip.
Me: Just get into the ambulance.

Recipient of the nose-hair trimmer/MP3 player: MAKE THE NOISE STOP.
Me: Sir, that thing's probably halfway to your brain now. Let's get you to the hospital so a pro can go fetch the thing.
Recipient #3: IT'S STUCK ON REPEAT.
Me: Anything good?
Recipient #3: BARRY MANILOW!!!
Me: I'll have my partner use the sirens; maybe that'll help.

Recipient of the blinking USB Christmas Tree: ...and to make a long story short...
Me: Too late.
Recipient #4: ...It's stuck.
Me: Ah.
Recipient #4: Should I go to the hospital?
Me: Oh, most definitely. Come along. We'll avoid as many bumps as we can. Pillow?
Recipient #4: *relieved look* Yes, please.

Happy Holidays, and thanks for letting me know that I'm not alone with this information!

Now that's funny:)

They say paramedics, emergency room personnel and proctologists are the best people to get drunk at parties, as all the stories come tumbling out:) I bet if we got together and compared notes we'd find that we see all the same people, I just get them before and you get them after:P Keep fighting the good fight.

Steve Sharam

No doubt. Some of the best

No doubt. Some of the best calls come from shops at holiday-time. Usually for trauma because people actually fight over things. Someone at a local so-upscale-I-can't-even-afford-to-drive-past-the-place shop called us for assistance because three customers got into a fight over the last handbag in a specific style and pattern. One had two black eyes and a missing tooth, one had scratches all over her face, and a chunk of hair missing. The third was unscathed. When we asked how the third managed to make it out alive, she just smiled and said "I pulled a knife."

Thanks. I'll try to hang in there. *grin*


Wow, I guess I got off easy, no ones ever pulled a knife on me at work:P

Steve Sharam

Retail stories

I kid you not, my sister came home from work today with the following:
Shopper, at register: I can't find my car keys.
Sis: Did you set them on the counter?
Shopper: I don't know where I set them. Find them for me.
Sis: Where did you see them last? Was it in this store?
Shopper: I don't know where I saw them last. I've been in lots of stores and I don't remember but I want you to find them.
Sis: Did you check your car?
Shopper: (now screaming) I don't know where my keys are. You have to find them!
Sis: Ma'am, I can't help you when you are screaming at me. Did you check your purse for your keys?
Shopper: I want to speak to a manager. I can't believe you won't find my keys for me.

Yup, seen her

Actually, there's a whole family of key losing losers. They've all been in my store:P

Steve Sharam

the lost keys

It turned out that she had set the keys on the counter and the customer ahead of her picked them up by mistake and took them home. How do you take keys that are not yours? Are you just not looking at all?

I think we've admitted that

I think we've admitted that woman for a psych eval! I used to be surprised at all of the insane demands people will make, and then the lengths that they will go to in assuring the rest of civilization that their weird, totally irrational ideas make perfect sense.

"Find my keys", indeed. I think not.

That's horrible.

I worked retail for two months as a teenager. I hated it. And I didn't have any customers that bad!

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I've seen plenty, thank you

I was a first responder on my college campus for four years. There's very little done by stupid, drunk college students that I haven't seen, fixed, reported, or extinguished.

Yep. You know from whence I

Yep. You know from whence I speak. We've got three college campuses here (four if you count the medical school separately), and the sheer number of stupid things college kids can get up to is enough to boggle the mind.

Last winter one of the med

Last winter one of the med students at my institution decided that he was too broke to use the climbing gym in town and decided to scale the computer science building instead... without ropes.

He fell, of course, and promptly splattered onto a delivery truck.

I really feel bad that he died, so can anyone say "Darwin Awards" for me please?

Sad, but what can one do ?

All you can hope is that folks remember it well enough NOT to copy it.
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

My favorite

is still the art student who wanted to use deer bones in her project and decided the best way to clean and dry them was to put them in a firing kiln - then leave for 8 hours.

I walked into the building for normal rounds and the smoke filled the building so low I had to duck to find the source, and found the student coming in the back door to check on her project. She didn't leave when told to, and opened the smoking kiln before I could get there - making flames 8 feet high from the previously-only-smoldering mess.

I actually took lung damage from that one.

And she had the nerve the next day, coming into the office to get let in to clean up the mess, to tell me that I should have let it burn down, then she wouldn't have had to clean it up!

That is downright criminal

Did she ever "get a clue" about the level of stupidity she demonstrated ?
I hope it took her a long time to clean it up.
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)


no more than the student who threw a cigarette butt into the paper recycle bin in the commons.

that one destroyed part of a dormitory.

in the middle of the night, no less.

no c**p for Christmas

We are doing a non-clutter trying to go greener Christmas. Only things that will be used regularly or are consumable (food, supplies of various sorts, gift cards to restaurants, etc.) or are replacing things that broke (like the microwave last week) can be given. Of course, I only have one sister and one daughter 14 who get gifts. I have a couple of volunteers and co-workers who will get a gift card to a local coffee bar so it's pretty easy for me to avoid cluttery c**p. I don't send cards either - they take money, energy, and resources to buy/make and mail just to get tossed and take up space in some landfill leaching chemical inks and dyes when they're really just another way to keep score (nah, nah, I sent my cards earlier than you did). That sounds grinchy but I get tired of spending money on something that goes into the trash. Mass mailing cards rather than sending a few personal ones is just a ploy by the card-making companies to get us to spend more money anyway.

Projection Clock

I want to step out on a limb and defend the projection clock. I got an atomic alarm clock that projects onto my bedroom ceiling for Christmas a few years ago and I absolutely love it! Being that its atomic, I never have to set it and it is always right. The projection is clear, it gets bigger and bigger depending on how far you project it (I have a huge bedroom), and I can always read it unless there is too much light coming through the blinds, in which case I know I slept too long. Nerdy, maybe, but I wouldn't say its crap. IMHO, I would say it was money well spent.

It's not just in retail, there are stupid people everywhere

Caller: I need to speak to the archaeologist.
Me: I'm the archaeologist.
Caller: What kind of Christmas traditions did Indians celebrate?
Me: Well, after Europeans came to North America they probably adopted whatever traditions they observed and gave them their own twist.
Caller: No, I mean before Jamestown and the English came.
Me: Well, the Indians weren't Christian so they would not have had any Christmas traditions.
Caller: They must have had Christmas traditions, everybody had them.
Me: No, only Christians had Christmas traditions and the Indians here in Virginia weren't Christians.
Caller: Were other Indians Christian?
Me: No. Not before Europeans came and introduced Christianity.
Caller: I want that in writing, I want to see it in a book.
Me: Well, I don't think you'll find a book that says "Indians didn't celebrate Christmas before they learned about Christianity."
Caller: Well if it's not in a book then maybe you're wrong.
Me (thinking brilliantly how I can pass on this caller): Why don't you call one of the local tribes and ask them directly, here are some phone numbers.

even in college

I worked at the library during college. Another student was very frustrated that I wouldn't go get a certain book for him. When he couldn't find it, I made sure it wasn't checked out (pre-computer catalog days)and checked the to-be-shelved area, and where it should have been. Turns out he didn't want it to read or study, he needed it for a treasure hunt. When I said I was sorry it must be mis-shelved, with great anger he asked me 'well, where is it if it is mis-shelved?'

I just walked off after that. I'm sure that wasn't the best in library service, but it was sure better than what I wanted to do!


My girlfriend

works at a huge bookstore and someone recently asked her, after holding onto her for 20 min., when the store was overwhelmed because of a celebrity book signing, to move all the books on all the shelves in the whole store so that she could see them better.

She just walked away too:)

Steve Sharam

Oh, *that* will go over well...

I want to be a fly on the wall for that phone call. Being from Virginia and listening to all the brou-ha-ha about the 400th Anniversary was amusement enough, but listening to people get their facts wrong about it is even better. Thankfully, we have helpful and good archaeologists who *do* have the correct information. *laughs*

You just have to wonder sometimes...

I'd love that nice straight key!

As a licensed Amateur Radio operator we use morse code all the time, when everything else fails and conditions are at their worst, CW (carrier wave) which is what Morse code uses, is about the ONLY thing that can facilitate long distance communications.

Give me a car battery, my transceiver, 100ft of wire and I can communicate pretty much to anyone in the world. During most natural disasters It's ham's who the word out first.....thats why we're treated as a public service and allocated so much RF spectrum.

Fair enough

Hey, it worked when the aliens invaded in Independance Day:P

I read somewhere a while back that they had a contest between a WWII morse code operator and a 13 year old girl on a cell phone, to see who could send a message faster. Morse code guy one, but it was sort of pointless because he had to make the recipient pinky swear not to tell anybody:P

Steve Sharam