Cuecat attacks the election

Oh my God, we got one of these at my first job, and spent a while trying to engineer it to do something useful. The worst party is that I think I had it in a box I took home when that business went under, but have since thrown out away. Oh well.

Rob @Beschizza of BoingBoing calls it “one of the classic crap gadgets.”

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WTF is a cue cat?



When I was younger, a friend’s fam had a cuecat. Made it sound like some kind of fancy schmancy market research thing with some kind of special benefits if they scanned their groceries? My memory is less than clear. Anyway, it’s just an encrypted barcode scanner that includes a unique id every time it scans something. (an id that they kept on file with your email address along with the stuff you were scanning, at least while the company was still running from 2000 to 2003 or roundabouts)

That said, I find it… interesting that this guy’s recent treasure hunting included looking around Nova Scotia for the arc of the covenant. Not that I expect anything else from the history channel, but wow

edit: huh, apparently cuecats can be messed with to get them to spit out plain digits


I have one kicking around somewhere, never bothered actually using it.

As far as barcode scanners go, it is quite adorable.


It was basically a USB or PS/2 powered bar code scanner that was vaguely shaped like a cat. The company would send you one for free. (In exchange you would need to provide demographics and they would collect usage data.)

Magazines like Wired would have these special bar codes that were like UPCs but with diagonal lines that looked like this:

You would scan these codes and it would take you to a web site with more information about the product. That way you wouldn’t need to worry about URLs…I guess? I mean it’s not like we didn’t have web search or online shopping back then.

I had a CueCat and I basically used it as a cheap barcode reader for conventional bar codes. It then lived in a drawer after the novelty wore off. I don’t know what happened to it after that.

The whole thing was a pretty big failure that was a solution in search of a problem and it never really took off.

Hey, don’t shit on one of my TV guilty pleasures.


after reflection, my wow is more directed at the kind of people they found to help trump. It’s kind of impressive.


I have one of these! I bought it for something like $5 on eBay because I wanted to catalog my games or DVDs or somesuch and needed a barcode scanner - and these cuecats are awesome in that they bascially behave like keyboards - whatever you scan is just typed into wherever your cursor is, no drivers or anything needed.

The actual cuecat itself was an ingenious tool for that very reason. Too bad it was attached to an incredibly dumb business plan. But thanks for the dirt-cheap barcode scanner!


Pretty much all of the IBM Zebra scanners work like keyboards too. But they do cost more than $5 and are quite a bit of overkill for home use.

They’re also practically indestructible for all intents and purposes. I’ve used one to hammer in nails and to tie off a heavy leaning shelf with the cable, and it worked fine for years with that kind of abuse.


IIRC, there was a brief time there where people didn’t really get URLs in marketing, so you would get official printed materials directing you to without any redirect rules (so don’t miss a character, including the www).

Edit: I should have used, that’s literally what it’s for.


IMHO it’s actually worse now because most email marketing URL’s go to a URL-shortener or tally counter first like, and that means you can’t even do some cursory validation before deciding to click in the first place. Ugh.

I wish we could go back to a land of things like magazines with verified barcodes (it’d be QR codes now) you could scan to go to non-scammy URLs!


I have a neutered CueCat in a junk box here somewhere. You could get the USB version at Radio Shack for a couple of bucks. I bought one, knowing I could easily disable the encryption to have an almost free bar code scanner.

It actually worked pretty well, as long as your bar codes were not too small.

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