Posts Tagged ‘electronics’

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.


We are ‘GO’ for the Tulsa Mini Maker Faire!

August 16, 2013


(Update: This Saturday, 28 September is the big day. I’ve been nervously watching the weather forecasts and trying to optimize my load-out for the possibility of clouds and/or rain. Since my original plans were for solar, electrical and chemical manipulations of matter, rain is decidedly counter to my plans, so I’m hoping it won’t be happening.  If it’s overcast, maybe I won’t be able to cook hot dogs with the Fresnel spiral solar concentrator, but the electro-etching and stove-top brass making demo can still happen. A full downpour will put a damper on pretty much everything. Keep your fingers crossed!)  

My theme is “Make It: Cheap and Dirty” – or – How to do stuff you shouldn’t be able to do… for next to nothing!”  I’m placing a heavy emphasis on re-use, re-purposing and the “it isn’t junk unless you don’t use it” principle.

I’m going with more an “open play” format than a fixed spiel. Sure, I’ll have some handouts of the how-tos that ran in Steampunk Magazine, some basic “Ohm’s Law” level electronics theory, some link-lists of fun/educational stuff and I’ll have some of my cheap/dirty projects on hand to show how little refinement is required to get usable results. Mostly I’ll be demonstrating simple methods of making-tweaking-hacking things and generally trying to get people used to the idea that tinkering is rewarding! 

My updated agenda:

  • Fire up the ‘Eurosealer’ and clothes iron to illustrate plastic fusing techniques to improvise a rain-shelter from plastic grocery bags and drop-cloths (and possibly floatation devices, as required)
  • Turn dull, everyday bronze pennies into golden BRASS pennies for the kids (and others), just to break the ice
  • Talk about the cheap tools I just can’t live without, the beauty of pawn shops, garage sales and why “cheap” can be “best”
  • Give a quick rundown of some of my favorite household chemicals and the amazing things you can do with them (with demos), applied dumpster-diving, constructive cannibalism, why you should never throw away a “wall-wart”, general Q&A and other cheap-simple-dirty topics, tips and tricks
  • Etch some printed circuit boards with cheap, simple and surprisingly “green” chemicals, demonstrate electro-cleaning and galvanic etching
  • Provide a hands-on soldering tutorial and demo ‘surface mount’ soldering without special tools (you got a hot air gun, toaster oven or electric skillet?)
  • Share a couple of really cheap/simple solar concentrator designs (Update: no sun, no point- information only)
  • Assure you that you can take on that ‘Wild Blue Project’ you’ve been putting off, extoll on the value of creative failure and the benefits of a ‘Stop Planning and Just Do It, Already!‘ attitude

More than this I cannot say at this time.  If you’ve got any ‘idears’ to add (I’ve got eight hours, 8!) let me know early so I can be prepared!

I’m certain that this will be a whole lot of fun and I hope you’ll all come by to say howdy, and be sure to visit Dana Swift@Swift Science (he explained digital electronics to me the only time it ever stuck, back when I still fit my Star Trek uniform), the Tulsa Garden Railroad Club (my very oldest friends!) and all the other fine presenters at this, the very first Tulsa Mini Maker Faire!

Slow Light, Fast Evolution and the FBWOD

July 25, 2013

Hey, this looks better than “Captain Planet”! Burka Avenger, airing on Geo TV starting in August, centers on a mild-mannered Pakistani teacher with secret martial arts skills who uses a flowing black burka to hide her identity as she fights local thugs seeking to shut down the girls’ school where she works.

Ever wonder why Tamiflu, introduced in 1999 and once the world’s best treatment for the flu, had inexplicably lost its punch by 2009?

Fluorescent Blue Wave of Death (FBWOD) caught on camera for the first time.

Here’s a nice bit on making your own SMT paste stencils… from soda cans.

Light brought to a halt for a record-breaking minute, thanks to lasers and magnets and crystals (oh my). Is the “slow glass” half full or half empty?

Neuroscientists plant false memories in (mouse) brains, wholesale. The MIT study also pinpoints where the brain stores memory traces, both false and authentic.

Why do they call them “guns”, anyway? Steve Weintz’s short history of city-smashing cannons and atomic artillery.

Hey, where’d all our satellites go? Guess we’ll have to coordinate our response over the Joint Aerial Layer Network, instead. But there’s still no good fix for the Kessler Syndrome!

The US Air Force has embarked upon a new Long Range Strike family of systems–one component of which is the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B). Could this be what a Northrop Grumman LRS-B might look like?

How how the U.S. press handle a real news story!

The more things change, the more people don’t. Wired Love: a novel from 1880 that could have been written last week… except for the telegraphs.

Art mocking life: street artist puts up image of the “graffiti removal man”… removing the street artist’s work.

″We doan’ need no steenkin’ REALITY!″  The right-wingnuts friggin’ hate Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), deputy majority whip, for continuing to be one of the least crazy in the House’o’Reps!

Church of England declares war on usurious payday loans by promoting not-for-profit credit unions.

Federal prosecutors charge SAC Capital hedge fund with criminal fraud. Hmmm, must have ripped off someone with money, I guess.

The Air Force announced Wednesday they had selected former Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner as the top civilian at the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) office.

Is that Bigfoot I smell, or just Wisconsin?

June 11, 2013

Let’s give Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker a big hand… upside his head! Since he took office, his state has fallen from 11th to 44th in job creation and the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia has ranked the Badger State 49th in its 50-state Leading Index report for April (Wisconsin was one of only five states to show contraction). Since he pushed through a “Right to Work for Less” law  Wisconsin’s wages are falling at twice the national level.  Walker is also rejecting Medicaid expansion and is using the Affordable Care Act exchanges to kick 87,000 Wisconsinites off his state’s Badgercare program. Walker in 2016, y’all!!!

And last week in the Wisconsin legislature, the GOP members of the GOP controlled legislative joint finance committee inserted a motion into the proposed budget that would ban any University of Wisconsin-Madison employee from working with a small non-profit, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. So why the vindictive attack on a journalistic organization based on ideological grounds? What part of ‘GOP’ don’t you understand?

Boston civil rights lawyer Harvey Silverglate says that everyone in the US commits three felonies everyday and if the government takes a dislike to you for any reason, they’ll dig in and find a felony you’re guilty of.

China has launched its Shenzhou-10 manned space mission. Three astronauts blasted away from the Jiuquan base in Inner Mongolia on a Long March 2F rocket at 17:38 Beijing time (09:38 GMT). Happy landings!

It took eight years after artist Jim Sanborn unveiled his cryptographic sculpture at the CIA’s headquarters for someone to succeed at cracking Kryptos’s enigmatic messages. This week, the National Security Archive published the now-unclassified story of how CIA analyst David Stein cracked three of the sculpture’s four coded messages (spoiler alert: mad skills with paper and pencil).

How To Steal Cars — A Practical Attack on KeeLoq” may yield some clues on the RKE exploit which allows a thief to circumvent most automotive keyless entry systems. Jalopnik’s “Watch Hackers Steal A BMW In Three Minutes” is sort of related, but in the BMW case thieves seem to be reading the key-fob code via the OBD diagnostic port after breaking a window.

New, absolutely accurate research confirms that overprecision – excessive confidence in the accuracy of our beliefs – is a common and robust form of overconfidence driven, at least in part, by excessive certainty in the accuracy of our judgments. This is beyond dispute!

Here’s a how-to on making sushewoks! You’ll just bite their little heads off!

An unfortunate series of events: woman humped to death by her pet camel.

The fruitcake says: “OH NOES! Duh gubbamint is going to grab our guns for the UN!! Fur reelz this time!!!!“. Is there no end to the cynical panic-mongering by the National Murderers’ Association… or is the Prozac famine to blame for all this? You can read the myths and facts about the treaty here, and don’t forget to laugh and point at the freaktastic comments.

Anyone out there live in a haunted house? It might seem like a silly question but as home sales pick up you should know there are laws against selling a house without full disclosure.

Bobcat Goldthwait focused his creative attention on Bigfoot for his latest film, “Willow Creek,” currently being shown at film festivals across the United States. I just can’t wait to see it!

Happy long weekend everyone, and remember those vets!

May 25, 2013

Say hello to JC Penny’s Hitler kettle. It’s a miracle!
(Thanks, TylerD!)

Thousands of cave paintings recently discovered in north-eastern Mexico suggest that at least three groups of hunter-gatherers dwelled in the San Carlos mountain range.

A Sacramento man has been arrested for calling 911 more than 100 times in the last month because he believes his body is controlled by satellites.

‘Universal’ flu vaccine effective in animals. Self-assembling nanoparticles could make updating seasonal vaccines easier.

The Lessons of Operation Swill: Six Ways to Tell Your Bar Is Passing Off Cheap Liquor as the Good Stuff.

Kansas lawmaker opposes ‘encouraging the behavior of purchasing food’ with lower food taxes. Maybe we should tax being an asshole?

Mutant roaches are evolving to avoid sticky traps. They still work on Kansas lawmakers, though!

How Voltaire made a fortune gaming the French lottery. The way he did it, it wasn’t gambling.

Conspiracy theories as a mythologization of capitalism.

Mataerial 3D printer builds gravity-defying structures directly onto walls.

Solar Kettle boils water using the Sun’s rays. Yeah, you do want to boil that water.

OX: the flat-pack truck designed for developing nations. Damn, he’s developed my Kar/Truk idears!

Flat spray-on optical lens created.

Inteliscope turns your iPhone into a tactical gun sight, and a new “self-aiming” rifle can help even a novice hit the target at long range on the first go.

Archaeologists working in Europe and the Middle East have recently unearthed evidence of a mysterious Stone Age “skull-smashing” culture. The 10,000-year-old skulls appear to have been separated from their spines long after their bodies had already begun to decompose. Did they only pose a threat to the living long after their original burial and death?

Being Christopher Robin was Hell

“Tinkercad has found a new home at Autodesk”

May 18, 2013

The centralization of EDA tools continues. I got this email just moments ago:

Tinkercad has found a new home at Autodesk

I am happy to announce that we have just signed a deal where Autodesk will purchase the Tinkercad site and core technologies. This is a great day for all Tinkercad users, Autodesk is a very enthusiastic and capable steward. There are two main impacts of this deal: the site is fully operational and Autodesk has some very exciting plans for Tinkercad.

The shutdown plan has been rolled back and effective immediately new users are again able to sign up for the site. Even better, at the request of Autodesk, we have supercharged the free plan. You can now create unlimited designs, all import and export functionality is enabled and ShapeScripts are turned on for free accounts. We have automatically upgraded all existing free accounts to this new powerful plan. This account will be offered for a limited time only so make sure you sign up as soon as possible.

Before signing the deal the we spent a lot of time talking to Autodesk engineers and product people about their vision for Tinkercad. We were impressed by the deep insight the Autodesk team had into the Tinkercad interface and the underlying technology. There is also a strong alignment on topics like furthering education and the vision of making design more accessible. But most of all we are very excited about the roadmap Autodesk has drafted for Tinkercad.

As our team continues working on Airstone I’m pleased to see Tinkercad find a safe and welcoming home. I can speak for everyone when I say that we are looking forward to using Tinkercad for a long time to come.

Yours sincerely,

Kai Backman
Founder & CEO

Oh joy! One less bell to answer! One fewer corporation willing to innovate rather than buy out the competitors. Sometimes the way corporate America acts makes me want to puke.

What do you expect of an alien, immortal, anaerobic life-form that lives on money? Cripes!

Make room on Olympus

May 8, 2013

Much joy in Cleveland (and elsewhere) today, fairy-tale ending courtesy of Mr. Charles Ramsey. Show him some love, everyone!

A 1965 British MOD file yields an classic “flying triangle” sighting (complete with MIB trimmings), considerably predating any B-2 bomber testing (the usual misidentification suspect). Aye, quare goings-on over the moors!

Over the past 5 decades more than fifty dogs have jumped to their deaths from Overtoun Bridge, near Dumbarton, in Scotland. Why?

Here’s a funky project: an audio-analyzing, Raspberry Pi-based drone detector that can wirelessly  SMS or email you a drone “air raid” alert.

An awesome robotic duo (crawling and flying) discovers hundreds of golden orbs of unknown purpose under Teotihuaca. What’s odd about golden orbs under a temple to the sun-god?

Google Street View snapped a rare photo of Eric the Half-a-Cat (Felis Bipedalis)!

Disappointed with CGI and want to make a point about actually making something real? Get acquainted with The Nautilus Project: recreating the Disney Nautilus as a surface craft, just to show what one person with hand tools can do… if they try hard enough!

RIP: Ray Harryhausen

The Harryhausen family has regretfully announced the death of visual effects pioneer and stop-motion model animator par excellence, Ray Harryhausen.

Mere words fail me. I got to meet Ray, however briefly, at a convention in the ’70s and he was just one hell of a nice guy. He always tried to inspire and encourage the next generation of artists, remaining a fan at heart despite reaching the pinnacle of field he loved.

I encourage everyone to visit (and support) the The Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation.

Thanks and goodbye, Ray: only you could have released the Kraken on all of us… and we thank you for that!


December 3, 2012

Cats, don’t trust them—

Nobody trusts the Assad regime when it says it would never think of using chemical weapons on it’s own citizens. A lot of people are worried abut heightened activities around Syrian chemical weapons sites. Cornered rat much?

Britain and France have both summoned Israeli ambassadors in protest at Israel’s decision to approve the construction of 3,000 new homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. What? Me 1967 borders?

Will wonders never cease? Oklahoma GOP Representative Tom Cole says investigate the Iraq WMD claims before attacking Susan Rice on Benghazi.

ZOMG!!! I’ll never say LOL again!!! Those sneaky satanic bounders! Lucifer Our Lord!  Worship the Fallen!

Another zombie attack, this time in Ontario, Canada.

Well, that’s something you don’t see every day: a public health warning about a vampire on the loose in a Serbian village.

“Your call is very important to us…”: Catholic Church sets up a exorcist hot-line.  Have your credit card ready.

The Daily Fail is late reporting on the Counter-Electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP), a drone-based HERF weapon system for dudding electronics. It’s an awesome development described in an infantile way by Britain’s #1 choice for fish-wrapping. Green tentacles for the lolz!

An American company called Microzap presents a microwave treatment for bread that keeps it mold-free for 60 days. Does it work on vampires or zombies?

We’ll be getting a NASA update on the Curiosity rover later today, so the guessing game can end.

Nepalese bio-gas initiative is helping restore their once faltering forests.

Evicting a kung-fu expert involves certain risks if he doesn’t want to leave. Mob of 50 Chinese thugs bested by father and son.

Heavily armed Karl Rove spotted at top of Electoral College clock tower. Take cover!!!!

It’s Almost Good For You

November 20, 2012

In a somewhat paradoxical finding, being intoxicated on alcohol could help you survive a traumatic injury, according to a study to be published in the December issue of the journal Alcohol. “At the higher levels of blood alcohol concentration, there was a reduction of almost 50 percent in hospital mortality rates,” explained Lee Friedman, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “This protective benefit persists even after taking into account injury severity and other factors known to be strongly associated with mortality following an injury.”

Laurax: it’s like white noise for your nose.

I’ve spent time this week debugging some MOSFET-based motor drive apparatus. I was reading that the FET part of MOSFET stands for “Flame Emitting Transistor”. I haven’t seen any flames yet, but enough smoke to wonder if I’ll ever get the eau de MOSFET out of here.

Reality has finally seeped into the Allen West campaign bunker. After a partial re-count of ballots in St. Lucie County cost him even more votes, West reluctantly conceded the election to Democrat Patrick Murphy this morning.

Bergmann’s Rule proclaimed that cold-climate animals tend to be larger and stouter than animals living in hot or dry climates. Well, new research makes it clear that insects don’t care much for what Bergmann thinks.

The Desertec project has lost the support of Bosch and Siemens, but the promise of using solar collectors in the equatorial deserts to power Europe lives on. China has shown interest in investing, if only to gain access to cutting edge power transmission technology.

A BBC video clip on replicating physicist Sir John Herschel’s experimental determination of the energy content in sunlight.

There’s word on the street (via Reuters) that an Egyptian-brokered truce has been agreed in the West Bank-Israel conflict, and will go into effect sometime today. Global Security has informative overviews on both  the types of rockets used by Hamas (including the Iranian Fadjr-5) and the Israeli “Iron Dome” anti-missile system. Iron Dome has what appears to be a 90% rate of success.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague has announced that the UK officially recognizes the National Coalition of the Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (AKA the Syrian rebels). Maybe NCSRO works for them, but they would have stronger branding with a name like “Revolutionary Ecumenical Brotherhood for Effecting the Liberation of Syria”, or REBELS for short.

No Country for Old Tea-Birchers

November 14, 2012

Maybe it’s the small font size?

50 years ago, GE physicist Nick Holonyak invented the world’s first LED. “When I went in, I didn’t realize all that we were going to do,” says Holonyak, now 83 years old but still teaching engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Here’s an interview with the man that changed lighting in a fundamental way.

The International Energy Agency says the US will become a net exporter of petroleum by 2030 and self-sufficient by 2035. The agency also predicts the US will overtake Saudi Arabia in the mid-2020s as the world’s largest oil producer.

Footloose and fancy free or just forever alone? Object CFBDSIR J214947.2-040308.9 is a free-floating planetary sized body with no star to call its own.

Even Slate seems to blame the black guy with the headline “Obamacare Tax Hikes Literally Killing Small Business Owners“. Yeah, a tax on refined sugar would make more sense than a tanning tax, but just try getting that enacted! But that Florida tanning salon owner ODed on Xanax and Seroquel, drugs to treat anxiety and symptoms of schizophrenia. Maybe a better headline would have been “Talk Radio and Right-Wing Media are Scaring the Mentally Ill to Death”?

“It would have worked if it hadn’t been for that darned meddling CIA!”. There was a brief shining moment in the 70s when Chile almost became the most computer integrated economy in the world

There is nothing like reading a scathing restaurant review, especially if the owner of the restaurant is one of the most annoying celebrity chefs in the world.

ZOMG ALERT!!! Right-wingnuts declare the election was STOLEN!!! My heart goes out to them: election integrity is the underpinning of our republic, yet after the 2000 election being decided by a 5-4 Supreme Court vote, after Ken “Asshole of the Gods” Blackwell’s Ohio machinations and the recurring Florida Fiasco (which happens every election), the rightwingers are shocked, SHOCKED to find election irregularities?

Major corporate moochers are behind a campaign to put in a territorial tax system that actually rewards businesses that offshore jobs and investments. Why would anyone want to incentivize that sort of behavior (unless you just hated America)? Corporate tax rates are already at a 40-year low of just 12.1 percent. Revenue from corporate taxes has plunged, despite a 60-year high in corporate profits.