Saturday, October 24, 2009

We Have a Winner!

Don't let the soccer ball motif on the medal fool you: you're looking at the winner of the first-ever albertnet Amateur Product Review contest! As you may recall from a blog post from last May, I ran a contest to see who could spot the the fake reviews hidden among actual amateur product reviews. The winner is John Lynch of Chapel Hill, NC, pictured here at his victory party in Berkeley last night. His prize: a First Endurance EFS Liquid Shot. That and untold glory.

When asked to comment on his contest victory, John replied, "I won this contest for a very simple reason: nobody beats me. I always win at everything. Actually, that's not true, but I will often come in within the top three of any contest that involves recognizing the verbal stylings of Dana Albert's writing (assuming there are no more than four -- or fewer! -- people), and I am inordinately proud of this ability."

Contest background and correct answers

To review: after a discussion of the strange phenomenon of the amateur product review (see for details), I provided a list of five products, each with three reviews. In each case two of the reviews were real (however improbable they may have seemed), and the other was a fake one that I wrote. I did my best to stymie everybody, and in fact nobody got a perfect score. Two contestants scored 3 out of 5, and since John was the first, he wins. (The runner up was my brother Bryan, who should have had an unfair advantage.)

Below are the questions again, for your convenience, followed by John's responses and, for those he got wrong, the actual correct answers. If you like, you can pretend you're yelling at the TV during a game show by guessing the right answer before checking the response. (Of course it is far too late for you to enter.)

Review #1: PC printer

a) The thing I didnt know about this printer or I would have not bought it was that it takes special photo paper that has this tear-off tab on it that you have to tear off and it doesnt always evenv work. HP is not the company it used to be, how can they make you do that. Bogus. I had a Canon Bubblejet before and it had no tab and the ink didn’t smear either. I took this one back and its a good thing I had my reciept.

b) I have purchased 3 of these for family members and all 3 came without the usb cable to plug them into the computer. which makes the printer useless. I contacted your company and they sent me another printer,and that one didnt have one either. I had to buy the cables myself. I dont understand how you can sell this printer without the means to use it.

c) Realmente no puedo dar ninguna opinion de sastifaccion por que el producto no llego a su destino. [Babelfish translation: "I really cannot give any opinion of satisfaction so that the product I do not arrive at its destiny."]

John's response: "(a) is the bogus review. "Cannon Bubblejet" gives it away." (Dana's comment: though John got this right, he lucked out. Canon Bubble Jet is a legitimate printer brand.)

Review #2: The Alchemist (a novel)

a) The most mysterious part of this book is its popularity. I understand that it’s a simple fable and I'll even grant the “follow your heart” message may be a virtuous pursuit. But the manner in which this message is delivered is tortuous…. Instead of having to resolve significant conflicts himself, Santiago floats through the story guided by a sequence of serendipitously fortuitous events. Coelho attributes this to the “universe conspiring” to help him attain his Personal Legend. I attribute this to weak writing.

b) This incredibly over-rated book is a mixture of pure fantasy and mushy sentimentalism. It is more suited to children or to an American audience.

c) I read this book alongside What Is the What by Dave Eggers, about the “Lost Boys” in Sudan. The characters in Eggers’ book were realistic, and had real problems, and it was hard, in reading The Alchemist, to get excited about some schmuck searching for buried treasure. The Alchemist is a shallow, contrived, fourth-grade-reading level novel. Its millions of devoted fans should feel embarrassed.

John's response: "This one is hard. All of the reviews have that same sheen of anonymous internet-hatred of an exalted and accepted big-name writer. I'm going to have to go with (a) again -- only because it sorta sounds like something you'd write. But I'm impressed by all of the reviews, and doubly impressed by your ability to fade into the tapestry of vituperation..." (Dana's comment: John got this one wrong. The correct answer is c. Frankly, I wish I'd written (a). Meanwhile, John should get extra credit for "vituperation." I had to look that one up, and now I see how useful a word it is, especially when reviewing a literary travesty like The Alchemist, which isn't fit to line a bird cage, even if its writer is "exalted and accepted.")

Review #3: Anna Karenina (a novel)

a) The book is a great book even though it has fallen apart piece by piece during my read.

b) I can’t see how a book that was made into such a tight, well-paced movie that only lastedless than two hours. I thought I’d never get through it and was so boring, get to the point already.

c) Nabokov, you are a jerk

John's response: "Clearly, you wrote review (c). (a) is poetic and cute. (b) is so horribly written, even you couldn't emulate that level of punctuational ignorance. And I know you are a Nabokov expert, hence your insinuating it into this review. But the review (c) is brilliant in its brevity." (Dana's comment: his confidence notwithstanding, John got this one wrong too. Though I'm not clever enough to have written (a), which is my favorite, I am quite capable of emulating punctuational ignorance. What was trickier was creating a believable sentence that didn't track right--that, in fact, went right off the rails. It appears I was successful, because not a single contestant got this one right!)

Review #4: Food Processor

a) OK, I really like this little mini-prep processor at the very beginning. The motor is strong, very easy to clean. However, this little guy only last for 10 time of use within 5 months. I handwash the bowl and found out there were cracks between the blade and the joint plastic. I emailed their customer service thru their website. It's been 10 days, no one even reply with a sorry!

b) I have had this thing for eight months and I never use it. I don’t see much use except greating cheese and then it’s a hassle to clean anyway. But the thing I can’t get is it was supposed to come with an instructive video and it but it’s VHS! Wake up people it’s 2009. I don’t even have a VHS anymore.

c) great chopper until you try to clean it. to screw the blade on tight, you are safe, to take the blade out of it's compartment to clean it, you must twist in the same direction as the sharp blades. this is the reason i am typing with one hand without the time to use caps b/c i am bleeding!

John's response: "These are the best reviews. Are any of them actually real? Awesome. I so badly want (c) to be a real review. This leaves (a) and (b). I'm going with (b). The inclusion of "greating" is a nice touch." (Dana's comment: dang it, I should have predicted that with "greating" I would be going just a bit too far. Incidentally, though this is a bogus review, it's mostly true though. We did get an instructional video with our food processor, though nine years on we still haven't gotten around to watching it. For that matter, we haven't gotten around to reading this (much older) cookbook either:

Review #5: Men’s Jacket

a) Shabby packing, was delivered rolled as a ball! The quality is poor, almost light as a fleece, and is a dirt magnet. I ordered thinking this brand is typically good, but not in this case.

b) Won't buy again! The lining got mold all over, the buttons were together, very hard to get apart and when I pulled them, the lining almost came off and so did the rusty buttons, is made in china that's why, if I knew it was made there will never buy it.

c) Loved the jacket at first, has that "lived-in" look I wanted, which my old jacket had but I think it was broken in by a real person wearing it around, it smelled like boiled cabbage and I couldn’t get rid of the smell. So this jacket I’m like "yes, it’s all worn in and doesn’t stink!" But then I read this little disclaimer tag that comes with and here’s what it says, I’m not making this up: "THIS GARMENT IS PREWASHED. We've put this J. Crew product through a washing process to create a softer, "lived-in" feel and look. This prewashing replicates natural aging without repeated wearings and washings. So this garment is a bit faded, a bit shrunk, and its seams are looser and less uniform (as shrinking is never completely even in all dimensions). There will also be some variations of shading and texture. In fact, some garments will have large bleached patches. Invariably, one sleeve will be longer than the other, and the collar may choke you, or else gape wide open and let cold air in. You may find that there are more buttonholes than buttons, and that the fabric may have large runs or tears in it. Some garments will give you years of service, but you shouldn't be surprised if your garment completely falls apart after just a few short weeks. These factors combine to give this garment its individual look and comfort. Please keep this in mind as you examine your new J. Crew garment: because we don't want to hear any complaints. Such variations are assets that contribute to the uniqueness and personality of all our prewashed apparel." I was like, WHOAH! So I’ll probably return it, my god, but right now I’m actually enjoying it.

John's response: "(a) is dull and hating -- typical internet tripe. (b) is written by someone who speaks english as a second language and is also dull and hating. (c) is not very well disguised Dana Albert. 'Invariably, one sleeve will be longer than the other, and the collar my choke you...' Yes, this is Dana Albert. Also, you spelled 'WHOAH' in a way that no one on the internet ever would (they would 'invariably' go with 'wo' or 'woaw'). (Dana's comment: this was the "gimme" of the batch, though it did fool one contestant.)

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