My family and I are addicted to the gadgets and gizmos advertised on television that promise to improve our quality of life. When you see the logo “As Seen on TV” you know what you’re getting — and what you’re getting is probably a piece of crap. We’re not addicted to these things because they work, we’re addicted to them because we think they’re funny!
If you haven’t seen the commercial or the Waxvac, please, indulge yourself:
Yes, everybody in my family now shouts “OW!” any time a q-tip gets near their ear.
For Christmas, Susan and Mason decided it would be funny to get me a Waxvac. Last night I decided to give it a whirl to see if the thing sucked earwax, or simply sucked. Here’s my experience.
Based on what I saw in the commercial, I was actually a little nervous about sticking the equivalent of a Hoover vacuum cleaner into my ear canal. If you watched the commercial you saw what I saw — the thing sucking up dirt and dust and, of course, earwax.
Step one was installing the two AA batteries. Despite having inserted AA batteries into things my entire life, I could not figure out which way the batteries were supposed to go. Fortunately they can only go four ways: ++. --. +-, and -+. I quickly discovered that the first two didn’t do anything; of the last two, one appeared to power the device but not the light, and the last combination I tried (of course) powered up both the device and the light. That must be right.
The next step was assembling the rubber tip designed to keep your ear safe and the actual device clean. The Waxvac comes with 8 rubber tips in 4 colors, presumably so each member of your family can use a different colored tip. I will just go ahead and tell you that this probably won’t be a problem in most families.
With the batteries and the rubber tip installed, I closed my eyes, held my breath, and stuck the Waxvac deep into my ear canal, leaving it there for over a minute as the instructions suggested. I removed the Waxvac and discovered…
I do not have amazingly clean ears. In fact, every time I cram a q-tip down in there like we all know we’re not supposed to do, it comes out yellow (or worse, brown). And yet, the Waxvac was unable to extract a single molecule of wax.
If you’re thinking by some miracle of nature my head is empty and all the wax from one ear somehow migrated over to the other ear, no such luck. The Waxvac came up empty on the other side as well.
Convinced I was doing something wrong, I resorted to pulling the instructions out of the trash and reading them. In retrospect I realize inserting a battery-operated device into your ear canal before reading the instructions might seem careless, but that’s how I roll. I thought by how poorly the device was functioning, I was doing something wrong.
At that point, I began experimenting. I first removed the rubber tip and the plastic guard designed from keeping the stupid thing from going all the way down in your ear canal. It still got no wax. I then spit in my hand to see if the Waxvac would suck that up. Nope. At this point I was convinced that I had the batteries backwards and that it was blowing air into my ear instead of sucking air out, so I reversed the batteries. No difference.
The front half of the Waxvac pops off to allow for the removal of all the wax this thing (in theory) extracts. With the cone removed I could see the fan inside. I did some experiments. From 1/4″ away, the Waxvac would not pull a napkin from McDonald’s toward it, but if I unfolded the napkin so that it was only one sheet thick, and it would. This confirmed that I had the batteries in the proper direction. But if this thing isn’t strong enough to move a napkin from McDonald’s only a quarter inch away, what are the odds this thing will ever pull earwax out of my ear?
One final complaint about the product: the fan inside the Waxvac is loud enough that for a good five minutes after using it, my ears were ringing and my hearing was worse than when I had started. My hearing eventually returned, but our $10 never will.
(Some of you may have seen bits and pieces of this story or a few of these pictures via Facebook. Here is the complete story.)
One of the new things our extended family tried this year was a name-drawing gift exchange. At Thanksgiving, everyone who wished to participate tossed their name into a hat and pulled out someone else’s. The rules of the gift exchange were that gifts had to cost less than $10 and had to be either used, made, or modified — in other words, no straight off-the-shelf items.
I drew Morgan’s name. A while back Morgan told me she wanted a reading light for the table next to her bed, and at one point in time I think she said she wanted a Barbie one. With that to go on, this is what I came up with.
I started with these three items: a Barbie head ($1.99 from Goodwill) and two project lightbulbs, complete with cords ($2.99/each). With tax, I was still about a buck under the spending limit.
The first step was to drill Barbie’s eyeballs out with a power drill.
This felt as odd as it looks. After drilling out her eye sockets and a hole in the back of her head through which I could run the cords, I proceeded to dremmel out the holes a bit. There was no part of this that felt normal.
With the holes widened, all that was left was sliding the sockets in through the rear of Barbie’s head, using the included clips to fasten them in place, and screw in the bulbs.
The sight of Barbie “staring” at me as best she could with no eyeballs was unnerving at best, so I took a black Sharpie and marked out one of her teeth to lighten the mood.
With the lights in place the only thing left to do was to try it out. Since the cords were already pre-wired there was little that could go wrong, and sure enough the lights lit right up. What little girl wouldn’t want this on her nightstand next to her bed?
The light was placed in a sack and set aside until it was time to exchange gifts. Shortly before I handed her the sack I explained to Morgan what a gag gift was, and told her that the day after Christmas I would take her to the store to buy a real version of the gift.
Anyway, enough of the padding — here’s Morgan opening the gift.
She really wasn’t upset by the gift; if anything, she was embarrassed by the attention (which is funny, because she’s a ham).
People are always talking about the real meaning of Christmas. I’m here to tell you, if drilling the eyeballs out of a Barbie doll and installing custom lighting into her face in the name of making a little girl (and a room full of people) laugh isn’t it… okay well maybe that isn’t it, but we had a good time anyway.
The dash of my WRX has a small cubbyhole that at first glance looks like a place where you might temporarily stow things, things like your cell phone or your wallet. Unfortunately the cubbyhole is sloped the wrong direction, so it acts more like a ramp than a safe place to put anything. The slightest bit of acceleration sends whatever is stored in the cubbyhole into your lap (or face, depending on the amount of acceleration).
For my birthday, my mom got me this. It’s a sticky pad (thus the name, “Sticky Pad”) designed to hold things in place on your dash. All I had to use the pad was to open the package and get the pad out to the car. It would have taken me 10 seconds to install. Here’s how that went:
- For a month, the Sticky Pad sat in my living room. Every time I went out to the car I thought, “Ah, I should have brought that Sticky Pad!” Distance from the car: approximately 50 feet.
- While cleaning the garage last month, I picked up the Sticky Pad and took it with me. It made it to the garage, but not the car. Distance from the car: approximately 15 feet.
- That same weekend, I assembled the Podcart. For some unknown reason, I put the Sticky Pad on the Podcart before dragging it back upstairs. Distance from the car: approximately 75 feet.
- Then I went to Denver. Before heading out, I tossed the Sticky Pad in my backpack so that, when I got downstairs to the car, I could toss it inside. Instead I forgot and brought the Sticky Pad with me (in Susan’s car) to Denver. Distance from the car: approximately 640 miles, and now in the wrong car.
- Upon returning home I exited the car and, before coming inside, removed the Sticky Pad from my backpack and placed it in the proper car. Success!
The Sticky Pad is now sitting in the cubbyhole in my WRX. I use it daily to keep my cell phone from flying off the dash and it works very well. Hooray!
Mason has returned for a second season of basketball at the YMCA and somehow convinced Morgan to enroll as well. I think Mason wants to be like the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Morgan wants to be like Mason. Each team had two practices before their first game, which was last Saturday. Morgan’s game was at 1pm at the Y off of Northwest Expressway and Mason’s was at 1:45 at the Y in Bethany, which meant Susan and I (and our parents) had to run from one game to the other to be able to catch both games.
Yes, Morgan picked that outfit out. Morgan is in the league for 8-10 year old girls. Morgan turned 8 in June so she is one of the youngest girls on the team, but she’s also close to being one of the tallest.
Morgan’s coach told her to stand “down low” and keep her arms in the air, and if nothing else she did that throughout the game. She only took one shot and missed it, but at this level she is working on the fundamentals like dribbling and walking at the same time. We’re working with her on some basic skills (like “not crying so much”), but if she’s anything like her brother, she’ll be out in the driveway practicing until she gets it right. The girls lost their first game but I am sure that will inspire them to practice even harder.
Mason’s team on the other hand came out blazing. That’s Mason, jumping off the line and heading toward the basket to grab a rebound. Mason’s team creamed the competition, staying 20 points ahead the entire game.
All the kids on Mason’s team have grown a bit since last year, but Mason was still about to out rebound most of them.
I like the kids playing basketball. I like the exercise they get and the teamwork skills they’re learning, and I like going to the games. Here’s to a fun season for both of them!
The Bedford Level Experiment, a band describing themselves as performing “indie geek folk-rock songs about sci-fi and the soul, Commodore 64 and the mind, and flat earth” on their Facebook Page, has released a new song about the Commodore 64.
The song, “History (Commodore 64),” is an autobiographical song written by Robin Harbron. If that name rings a bell it’s because Robin worked on the Commodore 64 30-in-1 plug and play joystick, and his company p1xl games has released several “retro-style” games for iOS including RPG Quest: Minimae, PiXl Party, and 4NR.
“History (Commodore 64)” features Robin on guitars/bass/vocals with his daughter Rianna on drums and the Commodore 64 itself, adding some sweet SID sounds to the mix. The video for the song was recently shown at World of Commodore 2013. Even if you don’t care for this style of music, retrocomputing fans will dig the video which contains lots of retro hardware. See if you can spot it all!
Whenever I describe things around my house as being “in orbit,” what I’m referring to are things that go together, but for some reason never seem to find one another. They just kind of circle one another around my house for varying periods of time.
Take, for example, my Atari 2600. At last count I had four or five Atari 2600 systems stored away in tubs out in the garage, but no power supplies for them. Recently while digging through a box of cables and odds-and-ends in the closet, I found an Atari 2600 power supply. Score! To hook an Atari 2600 up to a modern television you need a small RCA-to-Coax adapter. I have a couple of those, but they’re upstairs stowed away in a drawer. Another drawer in the same room holds my joysticks, while the games for the system are on a shelf in another room.
For some reason none of these parts ever seem to end up in the same place at the same time. Sometimes I’ll pick one of the parts up and move it to another room, and occasionally some of the parts will even end up in the same room together — drawn together, by gravity. In my mind all of these little bits and parts are always circling around the main item that needs them. That’s why I refer to them as being in orbit. I used to call this phenomenon “circling the drain,” but stopped as that implies they are about to be trashed. So, “in orbit” it is.
We own two or maybe three pairs of hand-held two-way radios. Two of the three sets are rechargeable and consist of two radios, one base, and one power adapter (each). The third set uses AA batteries; we bought them when we couldn’t find all the parts for either of the other two sets. For some reason, these radios, charging bases and power supplies have been orbiting one another for years. I don’t think a complete set has ended up in the same room since we’ve lived in this house (two years now). Every time I see one of the radios or chargers I pick them up and move them to where I think the other parts are, but by the time I get them there the other parts have moved as well. It’s maddening. I have gone as far as to designate a single spot in the garage where I am trying to collect all the radios, chargers, and power supplies. So far, it hasn’t worked. I’ve considered throwing every one of them away and buying a new set, but I know they would eventually end up in orbit as well. I really don’t know how this happens.
The obvious solution is to simply “put things where they go,” although many of these things don’t have a designed place until they come together. Until then I suppose I’ll just sit back and enjoy the show.
The line between collecting and hoarding is a thin one, one I’ve straddled for many years. Although hoarding is tough to define in a single sentence, I personally think of it as acquiring things I’ll never “do” anything with. And I’m pretty liberal when it comes to “doing” something with a thing — even displaying things counts as doing something with them to me. It’s those items I buy that come home and sit out in the garage for years that worry me. To me, hoarding is when I’ve acquired so many things that the stress of owning those things is greater than the enjoyment I get from owning them.
For several years I bought every old joystick, video game console, game cartridge, and old computer I ran cross “in the wild” — garage sales, antique malls, and thrift stores, for the most part. For some reason I felt like I was rescuing these things and giving them a home, although being packed away in dark boxes or sitting out in my garage gathering dust isn’t much of a home. In the mid-1990s there was no market tp speak of for 10-20 year old game consoles and computers. I ran across those things being sold for a few bucks every time I left the house and as a result I stocked up on them. I ended up with dozens of “spare” gaming consoles and retro computers. Some I used, some I sold, some I gave away, some I trashed, and some I stowed away for “doing something” with “someday.” This weekend was one of those somedays.
Throughout the 90s I purchased five Apple IIe computers at various thrift stores — four regular ones and one black Bell and Howell model. One or maybe two of them were purchased before I moved to Spokane, which means at a minimum they’ve been stored at my house in El Reno, my apartment in Spokane, and the three houses I”ve lived in since I moved back to Yukon from Washington state. Of the five machines, one works great, one sort of works, two produce video garbage when connected to a monitor and powered up, and one (the Bell and Howell) is completely dead. The one that fully works has been up in my computer room for a while now — it’s the one I installed the CFFA3000 in. The other four have been sitting out in garage, waiting.
I decided this weekend to see if I could get the three semi-working Apple IIe machines combined into a single working one. Each of them has their own problems so I decided to go with the cosmetically best looking case. The irony in that is that the machine has a couple of prices written on the top in grease pencil. The first is $3.98; that’s been crossed out and $1.98 has been written beneath that. I bought it on a 50% off day, so I paid 99 cents for it.
Spread across the three machines were a total of three cards: two 80 column/memory expansion cards and one floppy drive controller. I was also able to borrow enough keys from the other two machines to make one complete keyboard. The keyboard is a bit wonky at times — lots of repeating characters and some keys have to be pressed much harder than others — but I’m hoping a good cleaning later this week will remedy that. I have a couple of spare floppy drives in a box (somewhere) that I’ll also try hooking up later in the week.
This blog post doesn’t have a great ending because this story is not over yet. Over the next few weeks I’ll keep messing around with the machine until I get it fully functional. After that I’m not sure what I’ll do with it (I already have a working Apple IIe up in my computer room, remember). I guess I’ll figure that out when I get to it. For the time being, I’ll just enjoy cleaning the dust off of this one and getting it back into working order.
My friend Sean and I were recently talking about how Thanksgiving can be almost like two separate holidays for kids and adults. While the adults enjoy talking and eating and watching football, the kids are often left to entertain themselves. I decided to do something fun for the kids this year and drag one of my few remaining arcade cabinets in from the garage and set it up in the back dining room.
This machine began life as a Williams cabinet — either Defender or Joust, I think. Someone converted it to a Buster Bros. machine many years ago, and I bought it at an auction for $50 in non-working condition. The problem turned out to be a faulty power cord, which was definitely the easiest arcade repair I ever successfully performed. The game worked for a couple of years and then the board inside died, so I replaced it with a “48-in-1″ multigame PCB. (“48-in-1″ means that the board has 48 different classic games included on 1 single board.) Then the monitor died and I replaced it with a computer monitor. Since the 48-in-1 is a vertical PCB, I mounted the monitor on its side.
The game was a success, I think. My kids broke the machine in for me before anyone arrived. Morgan’s favorite game is Centipede. Even though the 48-in-1 does not support a trackball she still loves playing it, blissfully unaware at how difficult and unnatural it is to play using a joystick. Mason on the other hand likes to go through all the games and try them all. I’ve caught him playing Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Zaxxon, and Galaga, to name a few. In the picture above, my nephew Griffin is playing Burgertime while my other nephew Phoenix climbs onto a stool for a closer look with Mason watching on from behind.
This morning on “Black Friday,” Mason was the first one to fire up the machine. I posted a fairly weak Donkey Kong high score yesterday of 39,300, but Mason watched how I did it and has been trying to beat that score off and on ever since. I’m sure he’ll do it eventually. Later, mommy got in on the action as well. Susan’s score was 400 and her question before they started was “Am I Mario or the Donkey?” which is funny because there’s no donkey in Donkey Kong.
This particular cabinet is too rough to keep inside the house for long. The coin door is rusted, the sides of the cabinet are gouged, and the control panel is all scratched up. And while the 48-in-1 board offers a decent selection of games, I’m already starting to get requests. (“Does it play Tetris?” “No.” “Does it play Dr. Mario?” “No.” “Does it play Gauntlet?” “No.”) This may be the nudge I need to finally put together a proper MAME cabinet, one that looks nice enough to stay inside the house permanently.
Until then though… back to that Donkey Kong score.
I’m usually pretty good at eyeballing and copying things. I can typically study something crafty or artistic and make a passable copy of it. One year I even made a Thanksgiving Turkey out of a cantaloupe based on a tiny picture I found on the internet. This skill apparently does not extend to Thanksgiving cookies.
Earlier today while searching online for Thanksgiving desserts I found this picture:
The instructions said, more or less, “make cookies, add Reese’s Pieces, wrap in a green Fruit Roll-Up.” I can do this!
Here’s what I started with. Note that no store in a 50 mile radius of me carries green Fruit Roll-Ups. We found two alternatives. One was “wacky fruit stripes” that had red, green, yellow, and orange stripes. Susan thought we could just cut the green and yellow sections out and use them. A second stop revealed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Fruit Roll-Ups — and they were green! Surely one of these would work!
First, I would need the cookies.
As you can see, I’ve never made cookies before. These look terrible. They don’t look like corn cobs at all. They look like piles of raw McFlesh or something. Had I studied the source picture more closely I would have realized that those cookies were much, much smaller. Oh well, I was sure these would work. I handed the tray to Susan and said “make these into cookies!” and she did by placing in the oven and later removing them.
Susan’s suggestion was to make one prototype and then do the rest assembly line style. That sounded like a plan and so I took one of the cookies, covered it in icing (white icing from a can with a few drops of yellow food coloring added), added the Reese’s Pieces and the green Fruit Roll-Up and… oh my.
There are so many things wrong with this dessert that I’m not even sure where to begin. For starters, it looks like an alien fish caught in a lettuce wrap. I didn’t overlap the candy like they did on the original, which makes the candy look more like buttons than corn. Oh, and this was actually the smallest cookie in the batch, as most of them were made to the “corn you get at the fair” scale. I also realized after making one that I did not have enough green Fruit Roll-Ups to make a dozen cookies, so I broke into the TMNT Roll-Ups…
…which are covered in Turtle Tattoos. Are you kidding me? Susan found that if you soaked them in water for a minute you could somewhat squeegee the words off by running them between your fingers (or at least smear them to the point of illegibility).
This is me, soaking strips of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Tattoo-covered Fruit Roll-Ups in a bowl of water attempting attempt to remove the writing and make them look more like corn husks. The camera built into the iPhone is pretty amazing but I’m not sure it truly conveys how disgusted I was with the whole project at this point. Maybe it does.
This shot shows that the table looked like at this point. I really wanted to capture how much effort went into making the dumbest Thanksgiving cookies ever. This was taken probably two hours into the project.
At least the final product would look like oh dear God what are those?
Great Jehoshaphat they look like candy remote controls served as week-old sushi. This is not what I had in mind. Again, the source photo:
Mason said it best when he came downstairs, took one look at the tray of cookies, and said to me, “They look great, Dad. What are they supposed to be?”
Technically this post should be called “why I wear shorts year round,” but it’s snowing right now so now’s when I get the most questions about it.
When I was a kid, I hated wearing shorts because I thought I had stupid looking kneecaps. In retrospect I think most kids have stupid looking kneecaps. I didn’t really start wearing shorts frequently until jams came out. If you’re too young to remember, jams were surfer shorts. They were invented in the 1960s and were brought back into style in the 1980s by surfers and skateboarders. Around the time I graduated high school I discovered cargo shorts, and by the time I went to college I was pretty much wearing cargo shorts all the time and have been wearing them ever since. (Not the same pair, of course.)
(Me, front left, wearing shorts. Redlands Newspaper Staff Photo, 1991.)
In the early 90s when I worked at Pizza Hut, employees could wear black shorts to work but managers could not. I started as a delivery driver who moonlighted as a shift supervisor, so I wore shorts on the nights I delivered pizza and black jeans on the nights I didn’t. One time I got my schedule mixed up and accidentally wore shorts on a day when I was supposed to be the night closing manager. My manager sent me home to change. I considered not coming back at all that night, but after cooling down a bit, I did. I had plenty of time to cool down because it was a 10 minute drive each way, plus my pants were dirty so I had to wash and dry them before I could return to work.
A few years later when I began working for the government at the age of 21, I was told that Fridays were “casual day.” Great! The next Friday, I showed up to work wearing a polo and a pair of shorts. A big-wig manager spotted me and my shorts in the hallway and followed me back to where I worked, where he told my supervisor that shorts were not acceptable on casual Friday. I’m sure everybody but me already knew that “work casual” was different from “casual casual.”
I guess those two incidents combined with the fact that I simply enjoy wearing them turned me into a “shorts guy.” More than that, wearing shorts to me represents freedom. Not freedom like “America,” but freedom as in, “nobody is making me not wear shorts right now.” I wear pants to work because I have to and I wear pants at family gatherings or when going out to dinner because I want to look nice. But if I have nothing to do and nobody to impress, you’ll find me wearing shorts.