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Retro Tech Tuesday: Avis Satellite Guidance

Sure today your phone can more than likely give you GPS-based driving directions. But back in 1994, that was definitely not the case. Unless you had the money to spend thousands on one of the early GPS units, chances were you had to stick to maps like everyone else. That is unless you rented a car from Avis. As you'll see in the commercial below, thanks to the wonder of the Avis Satellite Guidance, even 17 years ago you could get a taste of the future. (As annoying as the kids in the video are, I think the mother may have had plans to leave them somewhere where they couldn't be found again.)


Book Review: Super Mario

I'm bidding on a GameBoy on eBay right now, and it's all Jeff Ryan's fault. Jeff is the author of Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America a fresh, fast look at the introduction of Nintendo from scrappy upstart (in the U.S., at least) to video game powerhouse thanks to everyone's favorite plumber, Mario.

The book is a hoot to read not only for Ryan's clever wordsmithery, but also for the sheer nostalgia that will come flooding back, just at the mention of the good old Mario/Sonic feud, as well as plenty of behind-the-scenes drama: including the story of how Mario's debut arcade game, Donkey Kong, was a quick re-theming of what had been planned as a Popeye game. Makes a lot of sense once you make the connection. While it can be a little confusing to keep track of the corporate drama at Nintendo and Nintendo of America in the early days, (an organizational chart would've been helpful) it hardly matters.

You know how the story ends, and it is more about discovering those little-known stories along the way, along with re-visiting your own youth, and the influence of Mario on gaming to this day. Ever wonder how on earth the Virtual Boy ever got produced? It'll make perfect sense once you read this book, as well as the secret philosophy- focus on games and be the device people use to play games, rather than a device that does everything- that led to great success with original GameBoy and the DS, but has led the company to serious threats today from the likes of Microsoft and Apple.

I know one stereotype of gamers is that they don't sit around and read books. This one is worth a gamer's time. Now that you're all reading, I have an auction to win.



TDL Visits Maker Faire

This past weekend, we headed to Flushing Meadows / Corona Park NY, for the second annual Maker Faire. For the uninitiated, the event brings together "makers" from, well, all over the world. A maker is essentially anyone tinkering with existing items to make something uniquely their own. While most makers focus heavily on technology and electronics, there are plenty of makers from the worlds of crafts, art, music, and even performance.

This was our first trip to Maker Faire (which is the creation of Make magazine) and so I wanted to bring you a first-timer's view of the event.

 1. Everybody loves a robot. Robots, mostly of the tiny variety were on full display. Larger bots, included MAYA, the telepresence robot created by 14 year-old Ben Hylak. When you see dozens of people with slightly different bot configurations, it feels like we're getting really close to some sort of bot breakthrough. If all the powers of the make community united they could make one mighty impressive robot.

2. This isn't your father's Microsoft. If I had told you five, heck even two years ago that Microsoft would be the darling of a hardware hacking community it would've seen absurd. Whether by design, or sheer luck (I'm going with the latter) today Microsoft finds themselves with the platform of choice for makers. Windows? Well, while Windows is used a lot, I'm referring to the Kinect. Microsoft's motion sensing/mapping/detecting accessory for the xBox 360 is now at the heart of many maker projects. Initially Microsoft scorned those who hacked their hardware. Not so now. Microsoft was even on hand to demo their Robotics Developer Studio.

3. 3D Printers Everywhere. Now what? Before Maker Faire, I think I had seen one 3D printer in person. Now I've probably seen a hundred. I find the concept of 3D printing fascintating, and it seems quite promising: Need a replacement part for something? Well, if it can be made from plastic, then you can make it with a 3D printer. Still for all the promise, and for all the spools of brightly colored plastic feeding those printers, it seemed like most uses at this stage are still novelty items. Don't get me wrong, it's a powerful tool, and a cheap way to prototype or model ideas, but I feel like there's something more, and maybe something more mainstream that will be the breakthrough use for what is still a fancy toy for many.

4. Classes/presentations are really popular. The layout of the faire consisted primarily of large tents where presentations and classes were held. I don't know if it was out of concern for inclement weather, or just a layout decision, but the result was that people were really crammed into small areas to try to hear/see presentations. Although it might not be totally in keeping with the maker philosophy, perhaps more of a theater setting with plenty of seats on a grade would make for a more comfortable experience.

5. It's great for kids, but they'll need lots of patience. We were at the faire on Saturday afternoon. At that time, there were still lines for areas like the "Learn to solder for a dollar" tent, and the free make-your-own kit presentation. As much as I loved electronics as a kid, even my patience would've been tested. And with a nearly $30 admission, parents may feel gouged if they (or their kids) don't get a chance to do the free activities. 

6. DIY is alive and well. It seems like technology companies, especially our friends at Apple, are set on making the things you buy more and more difficult to take apart. Locked down hardware and software looks like it is here to stay. But both the ingenuity of the makers and the 180 degree turn from Microsoft show that tinkerers and corporate monoliths can find a happy middle ground. If attending Maker Faire helps keep devices open for homegrown innovation, then it is well worth it.



Retro Tech Tuesday: The House of Next Tuesday

It turns out we weren't the first to make the connection between retro tech and a certain day of the week. No,  we were beat to it by a few friends back in the 90's. I speak of course, of Ren & Stimpy. In this clip a retro salesman is trying to convince R & S to buy "the house of next Tuesday": A house with all the modern trappings as envisioned by the Jetsons.

Yeah, it's a stretch, but how often do we get to have a Ren & Stimpy clip on this page!?


Thoughts on the Netflix offshoot- Qwikster!?

The news, delivered overnight from Netflix HQ, seems to be foreboding of bigger changes to come.  Most customers had just adjusted (begrudingly) to the new payment structure, and this split of services may make more than a few people simply give up and walk away.

Netflix claims spinning off the DVD rental portion of the company will make the entire company "leaner" and save money and resources.  It will be interesting to see how many people leave, how many join both services, and how many make the full switch to streaming-only (the point of the entire exercise, perhaps?)

Will the changes affect you?