Archive for the ‘inventing’ Category

As Radio Shack Lays Dying — A Love Letter

March 5, 2014

Once the go-to shop for American geekdom, Radio Shack is closing another 1000 retail outlets. Some blame Amazon, the internet, a dumbed-down consumer even, but Radio Shack really has no-one to blame but themselves.

Radio Shack, we were once friends, lovers even, so take this as friendly advice: abandon your current, worthless PR efforts (after the firing squads are done, anyway) and re-engage with your core market. Or… just die. Preferably quickly.

That sounds harsh, but that’s how things are now.

Regarding your PR: does Toys’R’Us buy ad-space in the ‘Journal of Injection Moulded Plastics’? Of course not.
So why does
 Radio Shack buy ads in magazines catering to electrical engineers? A smiting is warranted by this abject idiocy.

Also, is this lame ‘Do It Together’ campaign the best you can do, a shitty logo with nothing to back it up? How does this engage anyone that doesn’t already shop at Radio Shack? ‘We’re Doing Ourselves’ would have been a more appropriate slogan. Those behind this wasted effort should be fired, and I’m not just talking about the ad agency. All it takes is one glance to see that somebody at Radio Shack didn’t have their thinking cap on… or just quit trying. 

Your core market:  the DIY folks — the enthusiasts, tinkerers and crackpot inventors. You know, like those ne’er-do-wells named Wozniak and Jobs? The polite term is ‘Maker’ now and if you can bring yourself to become a useful resource to them, the Makers can save your feckless corporate ass. 

Drop the appliances and cellphones and all that other crap that every other retailer kicks your butt at and focus on the Makers that nobody else is serving. This market is yours to lose.

Cast your minds back to the Tandy Leather stores, the sister shops to the old Radio Shack. The joke used to be that fetishists were keeping them in business. But if you drop over to their website, take a look at their in-store class schedules.  Hmmm, that’s a tool of engagement that Radio Shack never offered. Interesting. And predictive. 

I know you’ve tried carrying a few fun products like Arduinos and Basic Stamps (hidden between the mountains of bullshit, toys and iPhone cases), but there is a big difference between putting a product on your shelf and actually engaging potential customers for that product. You already know this, right? Well, do something about it!

Everything wrong at Radio Shack can be fixed. If you need some ideas (and you really-really do, old chum!), here’s a few freebies:

  • Sponsor local school Chess Clubs and Science Fairs. This is where Makers and geeks come from!
  • Hold some kind of in-store intro classes. If they don’t know how to use it, they won’t buy it! Of course, you’ll need someone with a clue to teach these classes, so…
  • Get to know your local Makers, maybe even hire a few of them: think ‘seed crystals’! These folks network and scheme and organize. Use them!
  • Make ‘The Shack’ a meeting place for those techie losers… just like in the old days. Knowledgeable staff and espresso would help.
  • Sponsor your local hackerspace(s)! A few resistors and some soldering irons would make a big splash for little cash!
  • Quit doing everything you are doing now that doesn’t work and THINK for a change!

Regarding your stupid Super Bowl ad: Makers don’t give a fuck about your shitty store fixtures… but I’d bet they would compete to design and fabricate some very sweet custom fixtures for their local ‘Rat Shat’. Just sayin’.

Amazon and other online sellers are slaughtering small retailers. They used to say the same thing about big box stores. But guess what? You can’t stream a hands-on experience. I had a coffee seller tell me that they didn’t bother with an on-line presence because that’s not what sells coffee. Same thing with Makers and their tactile, muscle-memory, wiggle-that-wire meatspace. You cannot put that experience or that face-to-face learning down a wire, not even a coaxial one. That’s what Radio Shack has to stick to if it wants to survive.

Do you get it, old friend?
We don’t like watching you die from self-inflicted wounds.
You can fix this… and your shareholders and the Makers would be thankful if you did.


Dead Parrots and Mind-Controlled Flamethrowers

September 25, 2013

I recently had the pleasure of watching “A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman“. It is certainly an interesting and entertaining film.

Remember that time back in the 1990s when Walt Disney was awakened from his cryogenic sleep, started building artificial islands off the coast of Massachusetts, and then privatized the U.S. military to protect his new capitalist paradise from an evil, one-world government?

Why do people want to eat babies? Admit it: When presented with a baby, you’ve experienced a fleeting desire to eat it. Now science has an explanation.

Evaluation of transformative hermeneutic heuristics for processing random data” has been published in the magazine Metalurgia International. It cites ground-breaking research by Ron Jeremy, Michael Jackson and the noted Kazakh polymath B. Sagdiyev (AKA Borat).

Speaking of scholarly research, the folks at Pornhub have mapped the the most common porn search terms (and site visit duration statistics) for the lower 48 states.

In a new Playboy interview, actor Samuel L. Jackson, who has made an art of the f-bomb, says Barack Obama should “be fucking presidential,” and, on GOP obstruction, “there was a time we would be in the streets about this shit.”

Top Nevada GOPer Brags 2014 Will Be ‘A Great Year For Republicans’ Because Minorities Won’t Vote.

i3 Detroit, a collaborative workspace just north of the city, brings people together to build cool things… like mind-controlled flamethrowers.

A first: Stanford engineers build computer using carbon nanotube technology.

A scanning electron microscopy image of a section of the first ever carbon nanotube computer. Credit: Butch Colyear

Ups and Downs

September 26, 2012

I like browsing the US Patent Office, but don’t bother with their stupid patent viewer! Just do your search, grab the patent number of interest and feed it into Patent2Pdf instead, it’s much cleaner that way.

Every so often I like to take a dip in Technovelgy, inventions that originated in science fiction (Heinlein laid claim to the water bed). Halfbakery is another fun site, the sort of place you post your crazy ideas or just play piñata with other peoples’ brainstorms. HumansInvent is a nice showcase of creative problem solving and other neat stuff.

Tesla Motors has announced it will install a string of “supercharger” stations, some solar powered, throughout California, allowing Model S owners to charge-up for free in only 30-45 minutes. That “free” would be a powerful incentive for budget-minded types… like those of us that could never afford a Tesla in the first place. Still, it’s a neat idea and might do something to take some of the sting out of the big remaining downside to electrics: long recharge times.

Geeks of the world, unite! $1.32 million raised so far for the Tesla Museum land purchase. Who knew that Oatmeal could ever be so darned good?

Plagued by boundless optimism? There’s a cure for that now! It’s the perfect gift for the project manager in your life!

Felix Baumgartner prepares to take a dive from 23 miles up in early October. Talk about optimism!

How’s the weather up there, Curiosity? That daily 10% change in barometric pressure would sure make your ears pop on Earth.

For those upper-class twits sans wits:  an airline pilot makes the whole airplane window thing clear. EBM reminds us that the only aircraft in passenger service that had openable windows for passengers were airships.

You knew I had to do it: Auric Mittfinger opens the window for some fresh air at 28,000 feet.

Free or Cheap EDA Tools

September 17, 2011

Since I got so many interesting responses to the “Why does Mentor Graphics SUCK so Very, Very Much?” post, I wanted to explore some of the low-cost alternatives to “big CAD”.
Not everyone starts learning this stuff in college or on the job. Lots of people (like myself) started out as hobbyists, and how many amateurs can open a vein and produce the  kilobucks for Big Name EDA packages (like “maxiPADS” or whatever), with their a la carte features and rapacious licensing that cost the price of a good used car to use for a year?

So let’s talk about no-to-low cost alternatives.  The list got started in the comments of the “Mentor Graphics SUCK” post, but I’ll restart the discussion with a few of my faves:

  • EAGLE by CADSoft is a reliable option. I did my first FCC approved design using it, so I can say it works well .  The free lite version lets you do small boards with a limited pin-count. It has a short learning curve, many user contributed parts libraries can be downloaded, and it’s parts creation scheme isn’t too onerous once you get used to it.  The layout portion isn’t bad at all, either (I had this kidney-shaped key-fob transmitter to lay out, but once I imported a  .dxf of the outline it went very smoothly).  I used the free version for a long time, then bought the pro version and was never sorry about it.
  • I did a few small projects using an online layout and PCB fabrication service called Pad2Pad. It’s for laying out straightforward PCBs and getting an instant quote. No schematic capture, though. Still, the pricing wasn’t at all bad for my micro IR proximity detector and your can play with delivery times to slew the cost per board. Good for short prototype runs or one-offs (if you don’t want to smell up the kitchen doing your own etch).
    They have a sister site called, which lets you design simple mechanicals in a variety of materials and processes and get instant quotes.  I thought they were both very nifty ideas for the home inventor types out there.
  • Just today I  read about Upverter, a new “cloud” toolset for schematic creation.  I don’t see any layout options there yet, but it’s just in beta now. It’s worth a look.
    This crew is feeling our pain from the sound of their “Our Story” tab:  “They experienced just how terrible electronic design was and swore to just forget about hardware and spend the rest of their lives writing software”.  Preaching to the choir, gang, and well worth a link from me!

So what nifty-keen software tools or services have caught your eye?
Share your secret finds!