The Atari game collection at 2600Online.com is like stumbling across a treasure trove of dusty Atari 2600 titles in a box at a garage sale. Each of the 54 classics is faithfully emulated in Java, right down to the ghastly flickering ghosts in Pac-Man and the heart-warming minimalist chiptune version of the Moon Patrol theme.
It's almost impossible to believe that crude approximations of arcade hits like Joust, Moon Patrol and Berzerk captivated the attention of a generation and sold for $30 a pop. However, the alternative was a motley assortment of smoke-filled hovels inhabited by an unlikely combination of geeky game addicts, pot-heads and coin-gobbling electronics.
Anyone who's got some musical background probably sees the current music oriented video games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero as having little musical value. I'm crippled in those games by having a smattering of musical know-how, but what bothers me most is that the games are intended more as a stage-antics trainer rather than as a creative tool.
I don't usually look to Microsoft for music software, but their new tool Songsmith makes it easy for anyone to front a band and create original music. It's not a game, in fact it's a lot easier than most games. Songsmith lets you sing into your PC's microphone, and the program immediately produces (sorta cheesy, but impressive) backing instrumentation based on your recorded vocal. You can choose from a number of styles, and it's a great tool for sketching out your own original music, or simply noodling around.
Ah, and what great things come from such noodling... someone out there (I'll call him "the internet") had the idea to isolate the vocals from famous recordings, and then input those into Songsmith. The results are both surprising and hilarious. Why wait for The Eagles to reunite so they can cash in on their new dance mix of "Hotel California"? Finally hear "We Will Rock You" as it was always intended, as a sauntering salsa. C'mon Survivor, what's it going to take to get you to release your new optimistic ballad of "Eye of the Tiger"?
Simply search for "Songsmith" on YouTube to find dozens of these rebooted songs. It's an easy way to waste an entire workday or bring any party to a dead stop. Sure the brooding and spare original version of "Roxanne" by The Police will live on forever, but don't tell me that you don't have room in your heart for this new version that's been Casio-fied with "Latin Beat" set to 10.
This was someone's idea of a good idea. I can't say that I immediately latch onto the science of these inflatey pantaloons, but I guess the idea is that the unpleasant suffocation of your nethers somehow leads to weight loss. Let's ignore the Stockholm Syndrome Smiles of our product models, instead investigating some of the box's claims. How can you "slenderize exactly where you want" when the pants are designed to moosh and bake you primarily in the Bermuda shorts region?
Can we turn to the NHL ripoff logo for any reassurance? It's the logo for the Amateur Athletic Union, a century old organization that determined amateur status for athletes. The presence of the logo sanctions the use of the Sauna Pants by tubby people with an eye on the Olympics. If you are turning to these plastic PJ's to warm up your chances at glory, it might be a little early to go for the gold.
Speaking of gold, there is a great Monty Python sketch featuring golden "Trim Jeans". They sponsored "Trim Jeans Theater Presents" which among other things enabled you "to enjoy the poetry of T. S. Eliot whilst losing unsightly tummy bulge". Imagine a new version of "Treasure Island" where the cast have donned golden sauna pants to lose inches off their hips, thighs, and buttocks. I guess that it's no surprise that even back in the 70's, inflatable sauna pants were just as ridiculous as now.
In the absence of any scientific studies, here are a few ideas of how the sauna pants might actually help you lose weight:
1. Wearing this precludes any sort of public eating. Ever. 2. When fully inflated, you can't fit down the cookie aisle. 3. I'm still fat, but my hemorrhoids feel great! 4. Color blind wolves may think you're wearing a skirt made of giant sausages, and eat you before anyone sees how fat you are.
Losing weight is hard, so please remember that no matter what your slimming regimen, refrain from using your fitness pants as a flotation device.
Sparkfun's new mobile phone will get you noticed. The Blue Rotary ($249.95) includes a Bluetooth module that works with any phone supporting the ubiquitous hands-free protocol (Crackberries, iFones and the like). The functional rotary dial guarantees blisters and repetitive stress injuries while texting and the original ringer will probably scare the bejesus out of anyone born after 1985.
The hefty 6000mAh Lithium-Polymer battery pack provides 30 hours of standby, while the built-in fast charger promises to get you back on the road in under 2 hours. Of course, when the set is charging it's tethered to the wall just like my $2 garage sale Western Electric Model 500. Still, I'd love to take one of these on the train just to see how people react when it rings.
The Goodyear GA-466 Inflatoplane was an improbable rubber aircraft designed for the United States Army as a compact rescue vehicle. The idea of parachuting a rubber airplane kit into hostile territory is ludicrous, especially when you consider that you'd need to be a trained pilot with access to a runway to have any chance of making it home.
Still, I suppose a secret agent being held hostage at an enemy airbase might be able to overpower a half dozen ill-trained guards and force them to assemble her 740 lb getaway vehicle at gunpoint. Of course, she'd also have to borrow a few gallons of avgas and evade enemy jet fighters and helicopter gunships while cruising along at a maximum speed of 70 mph.
A total of 12 Inflatoplanes were built between 1955 and 1962 before the Army concluded there was no viable use for such a quirky craft. One of the originals is on display at the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum, should you have an overwhelming urge to witness such lunacy first hand.
Instructions:Insert paper. Press key with moderate force. Giggle with glee as letter magically appears. Repeat. Try pressing several keys simultaneously. Pry apart jammed type bars while muttering quietly. Repeat ad nauseam.
The biggest challenge, of course, is selecting the perfect typewriter. The Vintage Typewriter Shoppe offers dozens of beautifully restored machines. Prices start at a modest $250, but expect to pay two or three times that for a really nice machine.
In a desperate attempt to step firmly into the 21st century, Bohus and I have embraced Twitter in all its ADHD infused glory. You can follow the day-to-day adventures of Bohus @bolexian and James @retrothing.
Damn. That was more than 140 characters, wasn't it?
OK, time to come clean. There's nothing old about a Ridley Motorbike except the styling. These brand new designs feature modern aluminum frames and 48cc to 70cc motors to propel you in style. Take care not to spook passing horses or lose control on slick cobblestone roadways while dashing around town at speeds approaching a breathtaking 33 mph. It's almost enough to make you believe these fanciful self-propelled contraptions will one day supplant the horse and buggy.
Ridley bikes are shipped as kits requiring separate motor installation (presumably for liability reasons). Each of the company's five distinctive designs includes a Cruiselite aluminum monocoque frame with integrated fuel tank, Quick Brick whitewall tires, single speed Shimano coaster brake hub, wiring and rubber engine mount. The frame alone costs a steep $1940, plus an additional $559 for a 48cc 2-stroke engine.
The first airplane to fly in Canada - the Silver Dart - took off from Baddeck Bay in Nova Scotia on February 23, 1909. Of course, the picturesque Cape Breton village is well known as the home of Beinn Bhreagh, Alexander Graham Bell's historic estate. And it should come as no surprise that Bell had a hand in the project.
In the mid 70's, pretty much every boy that I knew had the Six Million Dollar Man action figure (I just got mine two weeks ago from the thrift!). Steve Austin's TV adventures were crucial viewing for more than just kids, among viewers were toy executives hungry for the next success in the world of media tie-in toys. Today the massive marketing madness starts six months before a movie hits theaters, but back then a large toy line based on a TV of film was a new idea. The 12" GI Joe toy line was a legendary toy industry success that Kenner was anxious to duplicate with their own extensive Steve Austin collection.
For years the toy industry wanted to duplicate the success of the Barbie Doll, but in a boy's toy line. GI Joe taught the industry that relabeling the doll an "action figure" and providing a steady stream of realistic accessories yielded stratospheric sales. Sales didn't end with a single action figure. The toy gained value as the boy's collection grew, and in this case the TV series provided plenty of fodder for play. Sixxy's TV adventures had action, science fiction, even sasquatch! All of these inspired many toys.
The Six Million Dollar Man (that's about 29.5 million today) figure was the hit toy of 1975, and it's easy to see why since the basic figure is so feature packed. Peering through the back of Austin's head lets you see out a small fisheye lens in his eye socket (explaining the somewhat eerie visage in Steve's otherwise good looks). Turning his head right and pumping a switch on his back would elevate his right "bionic" arm (to pick up small plastic engine blocks and girders). There were even accessory arms with built in flashlights and "bionic grip".
The bionic arm was originally covered in a flesh-colored rubber skin that you could roll back to reveal cool-looking removable circuit blocks. Over the years, the rubber skin on most figures has deteriorated to a hard residue. Fortunately the collector community has come up with a solution. I found a seller on Ebay offering replacement arm sleeves in bionic-friendly nylon. The sleeve closely matches the figure's skin color, and is a good value at $8.50 shipped, especially considering how difficult these must be to make in small quantities.
The action figures themselves are a rather plentiful and affordable collectible on Ebay these days too. So for well under six million in U.S. tax payer dollars, you can have a working bionic Steve Austin. You can re-build him. You have the technology... and about twenty bucks you can spare, right?
Check out a few of my favorite portable televisions. Full size CRT TVs are enjoying prolonged life thanks to inexpensive DTV tuners, but sadly these cool portables have a more immediate date with destiny. As always, let us know what you think in the comments section. Thanks for watching!
This incredible Hewlett-Packard HP-01 LED calculator watch was just relisted on eBay after the previous $1500 high bid didn't meet reserve. Be warned it has "moderate signs of wear on face and bracelet. Has some scratches on red time screen and also has one damaged corner at red crystal."
On the upside, it includes the original manual, pen stylus (how else would you punch those tiny buttons?) and new batteries. I think I'll stick with my $25 Casio.
I've held back from writing about the Video Toaster, an astonishing bit of video tech from the early 90's. It was a $5000 card that snapped into an Amiga computer, suddenly transforming the machine into a video studio powerhouse replacing tens of thousands of dollars worth of specialized gear. The Toaster turned the world on its ear, and not just because of its oddball name. We'll talk about that another time - right now I want to talk about a real video toaster... one that makes potentially yummy toast.
Remember how upset you got when your kid jammed his PBJ into your VCR? No more! Faced with a nation full of junked VCR's in the shadow of the DTV transition, it's only natural to seek out new uses for the hulking carcasses of video recorders. A crafter named Lemonie has posted a set of directions on the Instructables site for those of you who may also want to create a video toaster of your own. The fact that it sears "VHS" into the toast is just perfect. Now if only the program timer could make sure that you have toast ready in time to catch the classic Trek episode "Bread and Circuses".
Kraftwerk co-founder Florian Schneider has left the seminal electronic band. The split happened in November of '08 (the official press release is dated January '09), after playing none of the concerts in their 2008 tour. It's typical of the band's mysterious and low-key ways that the news is so slow getting around. I guess that sometimes it just takes 40 years to decide you have artistic differences with the rest of your groundbreaking, genre defining band.
On tour, the 61 year old Schneider's role on stage has been taken by 30-something Stefan Pfaffe, one of the band's video technicians. I suppose that's a statement to how automated the band's music is, which was always one of their goals. Though it seems odd that they wouldn't just plug in Florian's robot instead - unless he took it with him when he cleaned out his desk.
Here, then, is a video tribute to the band done entirely with sausages. It's called Kraftwurst, of course.