Sep 282007

You might recall the recent controversy surrounding Best Buy: It seems that the company had a secret intranet designed to look exactly like the main Web site… so that in-store computers and kiosks would display higher prices than what you saw at home. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal was not amused, saying as he prepared his lawsuit:

“Best Buy gave consumers the worst deal – a bait-and-switch-plus scheme luring consumers into stores with promised online discounts, only to charge higher in-store prices,” Blumenthal said. 

“The company commonly kept two sets of prices – one on its Internet site and an often higher set on its in-store, look-alike, available on kiosks. The in-store site was an Internet look-alike, commonly with higher prices, which were charged to consumers. Best Buy broke its promise to give the best price – an Internet version of bait-and-switch – a technological bait-and-switch-plus.

“Best Buy used in-store kiosks to conceal lower online prices and renege on its price match guarantee. Consumers seeking bargains were led to believe that lower online prices had expired or never existed. Best Buy treated its customers like suckers, not patrons to be prized.”

So now Best Buy has changed its ways, and has eliminated the secret in-store Web site and is displaying the same prices everywhere, whether you look them up at home or in the store.

Ha! Don’t be silly. Best Buy instead came up with a more unique solution: Adding a disclaimer to the in-store kiosks, saying the prices listed there may not be — what’s the word I’m looking for here — accurate.

Engadget’s take is a good one: “It’s still unclear why the company won’t just do the right thing and match its own listed prices, but we’re willing to bet the suits are patting themselves on the back for their innovative, out-of-the-box solution.”

Yeah, good for them. Meanwhile, I’ll be shopping somewhere else.

Sep 272007

Steve Breen writes in the December issue…

The titular 12-year-old (no relation to this reviewer) didn’t realize the ornate wooden box he gave his younger sister for her birthday had a puzzle concealed in its secret compartment, or that he’d have to join with a variety of sometimes threatening grown-ups to figure out its meaning. The gradually revealed central problem and several unrelated puzzles scattered through the book are well calibrated for readers eight and up. This well-written, well-plotted, and well-peopled adventure, including a suspenseful action climax, should appeal to a wide audience of young readers, though they may grow up to prefer Ellery Queen and the Golden Age classicists to most of the current adult crop.

(Three stars out of five)

Sep 252007

You know what I hate most about Ahmadinejad? His name. At least when Qaddafi was the world’s main madman, you could spell his name any old way, and no one could say you were wrong. Ahmadinejad you have to keep looking up. My blogging time is precious. I don’t want to have to waste any of it researching facts.

So anyway, Ahmad spoke at Columbia, and said a few things. Do I think he should have been allowed to speak? Not really. I believe in free speech, but that doesn’t mean you can deliver your oration from my front lawn. (If you volunteer to mow it first, then… we’ll talk.)

A while back, some organization or another was placing ads in college newspapers, claiming that the Holocaust didn’t happen. Every paper’s editorial staff was thrown into a handwringing tizzy — should we allow the ad? Should we not allow the ad? I never understood what the problem was. It’s your paper. You don’t like the ad, don’t run it. But wouldn’t that make us, like, censors? We’d be no better than The Man! Do you run every letter to the editor? Do you think you’re “censoring” the ones that don’t make it? That author can print ‘em up on a photocopying machine and hand them out on the quad.

If you don’t like the anti-Semitic ad, wad it up and throw it in the trash. End of story. And if you don’t like the anti-Semitic Iranian leader, same deal. Just because he wants to speak somewhere doesn’t mean you have to give him a platform.

Now, if Columbia’s mission statement included the presentation of diverse and controversial views, then I could see Ahmad fitting into the lineup. But Columbia, and many other schools, have a difficult time with opinions to the right of Noam Chomsky. The ROTC is currently banned from the Columbia campus, for instance, and when the anti-immigrant Minutemen gave a speech, they were shouted down by violent protestors. Yet this Holocaust-denying, homosexual-murdering, repressive tyrant is embraced and given thoughtful consideration? Well, that’s your perogative, Columbia. But: Ew.

That said, if you’re going to invite such a character to your campus, try to show a little class. I disagree with the president of Columbia, Lee Bollinger, using his introduction time to attack Ahmadinejad. If he indeed felt that Ahmad is “a petty and cruel dictator,” “brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated,” and “lacking in intellectual courage,” then why give him this forum in the first place? Since you did, suck it up and introduce the guy right. You can attack him afterwards.

Thankfully, Ahmad didn’t use his time in the spotlight particularly well. The major points we’ll take away from Ahmad’s speech are 1) The reiteration that the Holocaust might have happened, but maybe didn’t, we’ll never really know, it’s all a big confusing mystery, and 2) There are no homosexuals in Iran. In other words, he largely came across as a nutjob.

Final point: I think Ahmad should have been allowed to visit Ground Zero, and lay a wreath there. The only thing is, right before he got there, he would have had to answer this simple question: “Who committed the 9/11 attacks?” If he equivocated, or spread the blame to the United States, or said anything other than some variant of “nineteen religion-crazed Islamic fundamentalists,” the NYPD would then kick his ass the heck out of there. I’d buy tickets to that.

Sep 222007

My event at Books & Books in Miami is now officially listed on their Web site:

Winston Breen finds puzzles everywhere, even on pizzas, and solving them is what he does best. But when his sister uncovers mysterious wooden strips with words and letters that even Winston can’t figure out, the entire family is obsessed. It turns out the strips are part of a scavenger hunt that a town patriarch set up for his children. If all four sets are put together, they will lead to a ring worth thousands of dollars. Chock full of puzzles to solve, The Puzzling World of Winston Breen (Putnam, $16.99, 9-12 years) by puzzling master Eric Berlin will keep readers challenged right to the end.

This morning, Eric, who creates puzzles for all ages, from kids (Nickelodeon’s Fun Puzzles and Games) to adults (his crosswords appear often in the New York Times) will be creating the puzzling event of the century in honor of Books & Books 25th anniversary. Join us a test your puzzling skills.

I guess I have some work to do.