Don’t close your 401(K)

So the UK voted to leave the EU, key political figures resigned, North Ireland and Scotland might want to leave the UK, and the stock market went into a free fall. What does it all mean? I don’t know, and nobody does. But don’t panic and close your 401(K) or move all the money into bonds.

I’ve seen this before.

Read more

Pros and cons of RightTrack or SnapShot devices

Insurance companies are starting to offer discounts if you plug one of their devices, often called a RightTrack or SnapShot, into your car’s ODB2 port.

One of my college buddies asked me about them when his insurance company offered his family a 5% discount to plug these into their cars, and then make them eligible for up to another 25%. Those are compelling numbers. So what are the potential drawbacks?

Read more

Gary Kildall’s death investigation

I was selling computers at retail when I heard of Gary Kildall’s death. We had a few copies of Wordstar for Windows and someone asked about it. I said it was easier to remember the keyboard shortcuts in Wordstar than Wordperfect.

“You sound like a CP/M guy,” said someone who overheard me. “Did you hear that Gary Kildall died last month?”

I hadn’t, and he wasn’t surprised. I was curious, so I went to the library and found a whole lot of nothing. A month or two later, I found a mention in a computer magazine column that Kildall had died in a barroom fight but it gave no specifics.

Read more

C64 vs. Apple II

The C64 vs. Apple II was perhaps the most epic battle of the 8-bit era. Both companies sold millions of machines, yet both nearly went out of business in the process.

Comparing the two machines with the largest software libraries of the 8-bit era is a bit difficult, but that’s what makes it fun. The two machines are similar enough that some people ask if the Commodore 64 was an Apple product. The answer is no.

As a weird aside, it was possible, with a Mimic Systems Spartan, to turn a C-64 into an Apple II. Not many did, but the reason why is another story.

Read more

The Aero Monorail Company of St. Louis

The Aero Monorail was a futuristic monorail train first offered in 1932. Manufactured in St. Louis by the eponymously named Aero Monorail Company, it was designed to suspend over Lionel standard gauge track and run  faster than the standard gauge train.

The stands came in two varieties: a pair of free standing towers, and a series of towers that slipped under Standard gauge track and used the same 42-inch diameter. The motor looked like an Erector motor and was intended to run on 6-8 volts, either DC or AC.

Read more

Job hunting on your own vs. using a recruiter

A former coworker contacted me last week. He’d been employed in the same place for the last 16 or 17 years and he couldn’t remember how to look for a job. Who better to ask than a guy who’s changed jobs 9 times in the same timeframe? One obvious question to ask regards job hunting on your own vs. using a recruiter.

In fairness to myself, government contracting causes a lot of job-hopping. And in fairness to him, the game’s changed a lot since the last time he had to play. IT Recruiters existed back then, but back then when you wanted a new job, you found it yourself.

I still use both methods.

Read more

Double-check your security with Qualys Browser Check

In the past, I’ve recommended Secunia PSI as a way to keep your systems up to date. I know from my own experience that it helps, but I also know it doesn’t work 100 percent of the time.

When it comes to security, nothing is more critical than making sure your updates are applying correctly. That’s where my employer comes in, with Qualys Browser Check.

Read more

Repair a Marx 1209 transformer

Want to repair a Marx 1209 transformer? There are two schools of thought. One is that small, sub-75 watt transformers aren’t worth fixing because they are so cheap. The other is that since they are so cheap, you have nothing to lose by trying.

Marx didn’t design its transformers to be fixed, but the design is extremely simple. The hardest part really is getting the case apart and then getting it back together. If Marx had designed them to be serviced, like its competitors did, they would have cost more, so we wouldn’t have as many Marx trains to enjoy today. So it’s easy enough to forgive Marx for this.

Let’s dive in.

Read more

Sakai trains: The “Japanese Marx”

Sakai trains were made in HO and O gauge by a Tokyo-based manufacturer and sold abroad, particularly in the United States and Australia after World War II. Sakai’s O gauge product bore a curious resemblance to Marx. I have read speculation that Marx once used Sakai as a subcontractor, and Sakai used the tooling to make its own trains rather than returning it to Marx, but there are enough differences that I don’t think that’s the case.

What I do know is that Sakai’s O gauge product was a curious blend of cues from Lionel and Marx and the trains worked pretty well. They’re hard to find today, but not especially valuable since few people know what they are. They turn up on Ebay occasionally.

Read more