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Monster Cables Pushes Around the Wrong Small Company 572

Posted by Zonk
from the keeps-the-electricity-demons-out dept.
Alien54 writes "Audioholics has a fun read regarding a recent legal dustup involving Monster Cables. The well-known (some might say notorious) cabling company sent a cease and desist letter to Blue Jeans Cable over a supposed patent violation. What the Monster folks couldn't have known was that Blue Jeans president Kurt Denke used to be a lawyer. His response is as humorous as it is thorough. ' Let me begin by stating, without equivocation, that I have no interest whatsoever in infringing upon any intellectual property belonging to Monster Cable. Indeed, the less my customers think my products resemble Monster's, in form or in function, the better ... If there is more than one such connector design in actual use by Monster Cable as to which appropriation of trade dress is alleged, of course, I will require this information for each and every such design. On the basis of what I have seen, both in the USPTO documents you have sent and the actual appearance of Monster Cable connectors which I have observed in use in commerce, it does not appear to me that Monster Cable is in a position to advance a nonfrivolous claim for infringement of these marks.'"
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Monster Cables Pushes Around the Wrong Small Company

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @01:36PM (#23079842)
    I read every word of that rather long article, and all I have to say is "OWNED". Wow. Normally I refer from such Internet slang, but I really believe in my heart that it applies here.
  • In my opinion, Monster cable has been taking advantage of the lack of technical knowledge of the general public to convince people to buy EXTREMELY expensive cables, when much cheaper cables would provide equal performance.

    Performance of audio systems is not heavily affected by cables, if only the size of the wires is adequate.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Keith Russell (4440)

      Didn't somebody do a "golden ear" A-B test that determined that Monster speaker cable was no better than an extension cord with the connectors cut off?

    • They might have had some (quickly rebutted) case in the analogue era, but with the digital era they are just outright cheating customers. You can get an HDMI cable for as low as 15 cents [amazon.com], but Monster continues to charge up towards $100 for theirs. Obviously with digital any cable is as good as another, because the system has error correction built into it and is not susceptible to distortion from nearby wiring.

      Still, on Usenet I've seen people who, probably because they already "invested" thousands of dollars in Monster Cables, placed so much trust in the company that they brought out arcane arguments that, yes, Monster digital interconnects are better than anything else on the market. After all, can't you hear how "brighter" and "warmer" the sound is once you've blown money on the interconnects?

      • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @02:14PM (#23080370) Homepage

        Amusingly, for many years Monster stayed away from the types of cables where quality matters, like VGA cables. VGA cables have a high-bandwidth analog signal, and long (10m or so) VGA cables have transmission-line type problems, where mismatches or crosstalk result in ghosting or blur at the monitor. For short tables, it's not a big deal, but as length increases, it matters. There are lots of crap VGA cables out there. Still, above $15 for 10m, you're overpaying.

        HDMI cables have to carry 340MHz, so they're transmission lines. There's a certification process, and if the cable passed it, it should be OK. There are phony HDMI cables out there that don't pass the spec, but all certified cables should work equally well.

        There's something to be said for gold-plated connectors, especially for something that's frequently unplugged, but the cost of the gold is trivial.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by MightyYar (622222)

        an HDMI cable for as low as 15 cents [amazon.com]
        Actually, $5.05 shipped :)

        Most of the other sellers offer it for $2 with $3 shipping, if you prefer...
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Taagehornet (984739)

        Monster continues to charge up towards $100

        Actually they aren't the biggest thieves, how about $5900 for 1m of low-bandwidth data cable [thecableco.com]? It puzzles me somewhat that no one has sued the so called high-end audio cable industry for fraud and false advertising.

      • by QuantumRiff (120817) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @04:13PM (#23081964)
        You obviously don't understand digital. Digital is all ones and zero's. If you have a kink in the cable, because it is made cheaply, then the 0's, being as they are round, can slip around the kink's, but the 1's, having sharp edges, pile up.
    • by peipas (809350) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @01:48PM (#23080050)

      EXTREMELY expensive cables
      That is 100% correct. I bought a spool of 12 gauge speaker wire from Lowes for pennies on the dollar spent on Monster cable.

      There is one Monster product, however, that was worth the purchase. I sought an FM modulator and while none that I tried had any problems with reception, the several I tried before the Monster unit had awful, flat sound quality. In this case the premium was for a superior product, not just a name.
    • by pthisis (27352) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @01:51PM (#23080076) Homepage Journal

      In my opinion, Monster cable has been taking advantage of the lack of technical knowledge of the general public to convince people to buy EXTREMELY expensive cables, when much cheaper cables would provide equal performance.

      Performance of audio systems is not heavily affected by cables, if only the size of the wires is adequate.
      I agree with your basic point, but I'd add "And the connections are all solid." (including good soldering/other connection from the wire to the plug and good contact plug-to-jack, or good direct wire-to-component connections for plugless cables)

      But yeah, there are standing offers out there from a number of sources for anyone who can consistently double-blind ABX the difference between various "high-end" cables and much cheaper large gauge copper wires.
    • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @02:06PM (#23080272)
      You mean that Monster Cables running to Bose speakers WON'T make me cool?
    • by Sandbags (964742) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @02:10PM (#23080314) Journal
      Equal performance is subject to debate. True, a simple increase in cable guage provides better signal, but filtering of external interference, Monster does that a bit better than their competitors. Is it worth it though? If you install properly sized cables and route them away from sources of interference, it's no big deal.

      Now, that's really for analog signals... As for digital, it's not really a concern. A $15 HDMI or DVI cable is just as good as a $85 HDMI cable, assuming they're both rated for the same frequency response and distance (HDMI has several classifications, and it CAN make a difference).

      As for fiber cables, light is light. A thicker, stronger shell simply helps protect you from over bending the cable and refracting the beam, but it adds no shielding or signal quality improvement of any kind, and in fact, the fiber core itself must be a very specific size in microns. Changing this size like you do in ordinary cables is not optional.

      If you have a high end system, increasing cable thickness, adding better cable contacts, and improving shielding can be important, and can improve audio and video quality. On the other hand, unless you're running cables across power lines, very close to speakers, close to tube TVs, or over long distances, Monster offers no "discernable" differences vs their half priced competitors.

      That said never use the cheap shit cables that actually come in the box. Allways buy quality replacements, and ensure the connectors are made from materials that don't corrode (i.e. not copper, silver, or aluminum) gold contacts are great, platinum is not worth the expense. In most cases you'll need new cables anyway just to make the distance between devices as 3' is almost never enough, but don't buy cheap unshielded cables ever. Allways look for decent stuff.

      When buying a stereo or speakers, look to buy models that support screw on connections or tightening rings for the speaker wire. The cheap little clip style slots, like you typically find on the back of cheaper speakers and all-in-one stereo units do not provide a sufficient contact surface for 100 watt and higher outputs.

      As for filtering, modern home theater equipment is more computer than TV or stereo, and this stuff is VERY sensitive to low quality poewr. A surge protector is WORTHLESS! You need power filtration with real time voltage regulation. Monster does a good job providing very high quality filtering systems for as little as $200-300. If you have high def, a suround sound stereo, a PS3 or xbox360, keep this in mind. 97% of all electronic failure is the result of low or inconsitent power. Surge protectors only stop massive oversurges (typically over 160 volts). Damage to computer electronics cn occur at voltage below 104 or above 116. Do your lights ever flicker in your house? Especially when your AC turns on or when your fridge kicks in? If so, GO BUY A POWER FILTER for every digital device in your house!!!
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by pbhj (607776)

        97% of all electronic failure is the result of low or inconsitent power.
        That's funny that's the same percentage as that of statistics made up in slashdot posts ...

      • by Cutie Pi (588366) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @03:26PM (#23081278)
        Care to provide any data to back up those claims? Where are you getting that 97% number from? I have lights flickering all the time in my house and yet not a single electronic device has failed. Some are 5+ years old.
      • by sheldon (2322) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @03:28PM (#23081300)

        As for filtering, modern home theater equipment is more computer than TV or stereo, and this stuff is VERY sensitive to low quality poewr. A surge protector is WORTHLESS! You need power filtration with real time voltage regulation. Monster does a good job providing very high quality filtering systems for as little as $200-300. If you have high def, a suround sound stereo, a PS3 or xbox360, keep this in mind.


        LOL!

        Those are probably one of the biggest scams yet from Monster. ;-)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by harrkev (623093)

      Performance of audio systems is not heavily affected by cables, if only the size of the wires is adequate.

      Mostly true, but quality is worth paying for.

      Gold plating will help resist corrosion. Thicker cables are also more likely to resist breaking. For line-level audio & video stuff, more shielding is better, especially for long runs and near 120V lines. Also the connectors (and the wires where they enter the connectors) is the place most likely to break, so premium connectors with nice strain relief

  • by Iphtashu Fitz (263795) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @01:37PM (#23079854)
    Slashdot reposts a story found on Gizmodo that Gizmodo found on Digg that was first seen on reddit that...
    • Re:Once again... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by iamhigh (1252742) * on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @01:42PM (#23079924)
      Then submit it to /. sooner.

      Plus, since when is slashdot in competition with them? If I want to read stupid stories (surprised all the legal talk didn't scare the farkoids) and even worse comments, I will go to fark/reddit/digg. I come to /. to hear halfway intellectual commentary on current issues.
      • Amen, brother, Amen (Score:5, Interesting)

        by A nonymous Coward (7548) * on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @01:54PM (#23080126)
        When digg first came out, I thought it an incredible improvement on /. as far as getting timely stories, if they would only get nested comments. But then the fanboys hit, duplications made /. look as staid and conservative as the New York Times, and I gave up on digg. Far too much noise for far too little signal.

        And since then, /. has improved immensely. No doubt the competition helped, but I care not where the incentive came from, only that /. gets better and better.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by SQLGuru (980662)
          Pretty much. I read Slashdot for the commentary (filtered - who needs Trolls), not the articles.....even when the posts are offtopic (like this thread), they still can be insightful and interesting. If it's a slow news day or I don't want to do any work, Digg gets a little more action....but that's because they post anything.

          Layne
        • by rk (6314) * on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @03:17PM (#23081134) Journal
          I've said it before, and I'll say it again. /. has more than its fair share of mouthbreathers, but compared to most online forum/blog type things out there, /. reads like de Tocqueville in comparison.
    • by 91degrees (207121) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @01:48PM (#23080046) Journal
      Yes, but Gizmondo has a rubbish comments system, Reddit is all about xkcd and how people are being mean to Barrack Obama (at the moment. A few months ago it was Ron Paul), and Digg is full of Digg users.
  • From TFA (Score:5, Funny)

    by madjalapeno (1052094) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @01:43PM (#23079946) Homepage
    The best line of the reply has to be "Not only am I unintimidated by litigation; I sometimes rather miss it."
    • Re:From TFA (Score:5, Funny)

      by croddy (659025) * on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @01:52PM (#23080086)
      the whole thing is just a litany of pwn. this is the most badass response to legal threats i've seen in a long time; this guy has given even the pirate bay's collapsible baton gag a run for its money.
    • Re:From TFA (Score:5, Interesting)

      by everphilski (877346) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @01:52PM (#23080092) Journal
      I love what he's doing but I said "damn, damn, damn" when he went on and on about about his experiences as a lawyer. Something tells me that might be the difference between Monster pursuing and not pursuing this case. Had he not laid all his cards out on the table, he might have got the fight he was looking for, and showed Monster they can't bully everyone around. Part of me is afraid that won't happen now.

      But either way, I'm glad he's sticking up for himself, and not just himself but making it public. Others will catch on, I hope, and be able to use similar arguments and techniques to evaluate settling versus taking a stand.
      • Re:From TFA (Score:4, Insightful)

        by masdog (794316) <<masdog> <at> <gmail.com>> on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @01:56PM (#23080154)
        If you think about it from a business point of view, he's basically saving his company a lot of legal bills and hassle by not dragging it to trial.
      • Re:From TFA (Score:4, Informative)

        by MightyMartian (840721) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @02:19PM (#23080454) Journal
        I don't think he necessarily wants to go to court. The reason he's warning them of both his experience and the near-total lack of any reasonable claim against him is so that they walk away and stop bothering him. I'm fairly certain they will do that. They're not interested in a fight, only in making competitors cower and pay them money. It's rather classic bully behavior, but all bullies, big or small, will tend to stay away from anything that looks even remotely like an even match, or worse, one where they're bound to lose.

        What will piss them off, of course, is that the letter has been made public. But that's his perogative.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by lurker4hire (449306)
        Well I think we haven't heard the last of this, IANAL but I'm pretty sure Monster is obligated to respond to his VERY specific requests. Either by admitting that their initial claim was complete horseshit or coughing up the requested documents and proceeding through with the next steps required to continue the initial threatened lawsuit.

        If Monster doesn't, again IANAL, but doesn't Denke (the CEO of the small company) have a claim against monster for threatening frivolous litigation? Maybe even for anti-comp
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by lurker4hire (449306)
          actually scratch that, this line from the original letter kinda negates that theory:

          "If I do not hear from you within the next fourteen days, or if I do hear from you but do not receive all of the information requested above, I will assume that you have abandoned these claims and closed your file."
  • Summary... (Score:5, Funny)

    by binaryspiral (784263) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @01:43PM (#23079948)
    Dear Monster Lawyers,

    The mention of similarity between my company and yours makes me throwup in my mouth a little. Your threats are empty and vague. You provided no details to your patent hissyfit.

    If you're actually attempting to prove you own a patent on the RCA connector, then fuck you and the horse you rode in on.

    Sincerely,
    Kurt Denke
    • Re:Summary... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Zordak (123132) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @01:52PM (#23080088) Homepage Journal

      If you're actually attempting to prove you own a patent on the RCA connector...
      Actually, they're not. All they asserted were design patents, which are flimsy little patents drawn to the ornamental design of the product. They're actually a sort of bastard child you'd get from a weird threesome between copyright, trademark and patent laws. You infringe a design patent by selling a product that looks like the patented design. It has nothing to do with the technology. The fact that they sent five (essentially saying, "You're too close to all five of these different ornamental designs") is pretty good evidence that this was just anti-competitive grand standing. They were just hoping that Blue Jeans would see the word "patent" and think $4M litigation and roll over and stop competing.
  • A shorter answer (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hognoxious (631665) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @01:43PM (#23079954) Homepage Journal
    I refer my learnèd friend to the case of Arkell v Pressdram [wikipedia.org].
    • by debrain (29228) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @02:10PM (#23080322) Journal
      Great reference. For those not inclined to click the link ...

      [The plaintiff, Arkell, was the subject of an article relating to illicit payments and so sued the defendant magazine Pressdram. The] magazine had ample evidence to back up the article. Arkell's lawyers wrote a letter in which, unusually, they said: "Our client's attitude to damages will depend on the nature of your reply". The response consisted, in part, of the following: "We would be interested to know what your client's attitude to damages would be if the nature of our reply were as follows: Fuck off".
  • by 8127972 (73495) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @01:44PM (#23079972)
    ... As to why patent reform can't come soon enough.
  • by mpapet (761907) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @01:46PM (#23080008) Homepage
    Every small company I've worked for has been shaken down this way.

    Step 1: Giant company sees small company as a real or imagined threat.

    Step 2: Initiate patent or Trademark litigation.

    Step 3: Repeat step 2 until small company is sunk under a mountain of legal bills.

    Step 4: Profit!
  • by masdog (794316) <<masdog> <at> <gmail.com>> on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @01:48PM (#23080048)
    I think this deserves an "OH SNAP!"
  • This sounds familiar (Score:5, Interesting)

    by arotenbe (1203922) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @01:53PM (#23080106) Journal

    I am evaluating your claim that the connectors on certain Tartan brand products infringe Monster's design patents and trademarks. However, the information supplied with your letter is plainly inadequate to support a claim of infringement and so I am writing to you to ask for further information and clarification regarding your claims.

    I will begin by addressing your trademark/trade dress claim. You have referred to two trademark registrations, and have attached some printouts from the USPTO system but the depiction of the marks on the drawings provided is small and indistinct, making it difficult to determine exactly what the alleged resemblance is, and I need further information from you.
    This made me laugh. Monster Cable wants to initiate a trademark suit and can't send a legible image of the trademark? Sounds like something SCO would do...
  • by TheHappyMailAdmin (913609) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @01:53PM (#23080114) Journal

    And we need them in a serious way. People who know their stuff, know what the legal system is supposed to be used for, and stand up for themselves in a positive way.

    I hope we see more small companies and individuals do this in the future.

  • by iamhigh (1252742) * on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @01:54PM (#23080122)
    I like this one...

    Further, if any of these patents or trademarks has been licensed to any entity, please provide me with copies of the licensing agreements. I assume that Monster Cable International, Ltd., in Bermuda, listed on these patents, is an IP holding company and that Monster Cable's principal US entity pays licensing fees to the Bermuda corporation in order to shift income out of the United States and thereby avoid paying United States federal income tax on those portions of its income; my request for these licensing agreements is specifically intended to include any licensing agreements, including those with closely related or sham entities, within or without the Monster Cable "family," and without regard to whether those licensing agreements are sham transactions for tax shelter purposes only or whether they are bona fide arm's-length transactions.
  • by Thelasko (1196535) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @01:55PM (#23080132) Journal
    I purchased some Monster Cables for my home theater. Now the damn connectors are coming off my speaker wires. I took them apart to find out that connectors are held on by a shoddy crimp job. For what they cost they could at least solder them. The rubber shielding is even starting to deteriorate. Not worth the money. [gizmodo.com]
  • by mlwmohawk (801821) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @01:58PM (#23080180)
    I have not enjoyed a letter like that in a long while.

    I think I have a new rule, right after "never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!" "Never challenge a former litigator who misses his old job."
  • This is poetry (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ashitaka (27544) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @02:04PM (#23080242) Homepage
    Not only does he completely and thoroughly tear Monster's case apart, he also points out that Monster uses a Bermuda-based company for IP holding to shift income offshore and avoid paying US taxes. Not illegal per se, but also not something Monster would want broadcast.

    Although it may have taken some time to write this he absolutely ensures that Monster will never mess with him again and decreases the chances of Monster going after anyone in a similar fashion. He has done in probably less than a couple of hours what would normally take months of messy litigation.

    This guy is a hero.
  • Uhm.... (Score:4, Funny)

    by mark-t (151149) <markt@@@lynx...bc...ca> on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @02:08PM (#23080302) Journal
    Wouldn't the RCA connector patented by.... oh, I don't know.... RCA?
  • Porcupine (Score:5, Funny)

    by Bananatree3 (872975) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @02:28PM (#23080546)
    It looks like a porcupine, and boy does it growl like a porcupine. Monster Cable Products Inc, would you like to try a bite and see if it tastes like a porcupine?
  • Calling the bluff (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rumblin'rabbit (711865) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @02:29PM (#23080558) Journal
    My company has received warnings letters about possible patent infringements on our part. As manager of R&D, I've helped respond to them.

    The main thing to keep in mind is that such patent infringement claims are mostly bluff. Sending a letter to a company claiming patent infringement is a relatively cheap thing to do, and might result in a competitor discontinuing a product or paying a license fee. But responding to such a letter in a coherent, technically competent, and determined manner is often enough for the patent holder to back off. They don't want a legal battle any more than you do.

    Indeed, if you can make a case for prior art then the patent holders will really want to avoid a fight, for such a battle might invalidate their patent.
  • by sherpajohn (113531) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @02:41PM (#23080668) Homepage
    Monster is hiring a paralegal - bet you would be kept busy! https://jobs-monstercable.icims.com/monstercable_jobs/jobs/candidate/job.jsp?jobid=1503&mode=view [icims.com]
  • Good cheap cables... (Score:5, Informative)

    by xTK-421x (531992) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @02:45PM (#23080708) Homepage
    Just in case anyone doesn't know of them, Monoprice [monoprice.com] has been my cabling place for years. Good prices, reasonable shipping.
  • by UttBuggly (871776) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @03:11PM (#23081036)
    I loved every word Mr. Denke wrote...freakin' brilliant. Kudos to him for fighting back.

    Two things. I've had some high-powered lawyers across the table from me on 3 occasions and so far, I'm 3-0. There IS an assumption these big firms make along the lines of threaten and terrify people until they give it up. Sadly, that works pretty well...until someone like Mr. Denke comes along and says "wait just a damn minute!"

    In my most "fun" case, I leased a new Jeep Cherokee for business use in 1984. I had it for exactly 35 days, several of which the Jeep spent in the dealer's service department. The thing was a TOTAL lemon. The first time I tapped the horn, the entire button, retaining ring, and spring flew off. The first cassette I popped into the "premium" audio system was eaten so badly the unit broke. Rear window defroster...no electrical connection. And so on. On day 35, I picked the Jeep for the 4th or 5th time...in a month...and discovered they hadn't fixed the latest problem, just ordered parts, and I was to "call every few days to see if the parts have arrived". I walked into the Leasing Manager's office, handed him the keys, notified him I was surrendering the vehicle under the terms and conditions of the lease in the Section for Early Lease Termination. I agreed to pay $900 to get out of the lease as the agreement stated a 6% charge on a 1st year termination. OK, $15,000 Jeep....that's $900. I walked out, got a cab, and bought a Nissan truck the next day.

    A few weeks later, I get served. The leasing company WHOLESALED a new Jeep that had 400 miles of driving on it for $9500 and presented me with the difference...about $6000. And placed an entry with the credit bureaus that I had "defaulted" on a loan. I countersued the dealership, their employee, and the leasing company. We went to deposition...myself and my small-town lawyer...and sat down with about 15 people from the other side. Other than myself and the lady typing, it was all lawyers. The lead guy, "Rudy", did everything but punch me. I smiled, we presented our evidence, and left. In the hall, the dealership lawyers offered to pay the leasing company themselves if I would drop the countersuit against them. In the end, I paid them nothing. They even paid MY attorney. I still smile every day or so about that one.

    2nd thing: Monster cables are NOT very good. I have an extensive background in electronics and have made thousands of cables of every description. I also play bass in a working band and run 3 basses during a big show. I tried a Monster Instrument Cable...at a premium price...and found it to be trash. A handmade "Radio Shack" special worked as well. I now use Planet Waves cutout cables and have never had a problem. In the studio, I'm going straight to the board and listening to the mix with Sennheiser phones and the PW cables sound as good as anything I've made or used. And before the "audiophiles" jump in with the "warm" and "bright" crap, MY former life was as an engineer for a major A/V firm that does work from coast-to-coast. Wire is wire. 12 gauge copper wire in bulk from the hardware store is just as good as the horrendously more expensive Monster Cable stuff. I only use the PW cables for my basses because of the cutout switch makes instrument changes on stage a QUIET snap and I'm too lazy to build my own....yet.

  • RTFA (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Thaelon (250687) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @03:39PM (#23081500)
    I actually RTFA, and I must say without reservation that it is completely and totally worth reading the entire thing.
  • Perfect! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by chrispycreeme (550607) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @03:38AM (#23087080)
    I just found my new favorite cable company! You can't buy advertising like this, Blue Jeans Cable must be thrilled.

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