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The trade off of fidelity and convenience in marketing, and how it doomed my favorite company

I’m reading a book called Trade-Off, by former USA Today technology columnist Kevin Maney. It’s primarily a marketing book.

Maney argues that all products are a balance of fidelity and convenience, and highly favor one or the other. He additionally argues that failed products fail because they attempted to achieve both, or failed to focus on either one.

An example of a convenient product is an economy car. They’re inexpensive to buy and inexpensive to keep fueled up, but don’t have much glitz and you probably won’t fall in love with it. A high-end sports car or luxury car is a lot less practical, but you’re a lot more likely to fall in love with it, and gain prestige by driving around town in it.Read More »The trade off of fidelity and convenience in marketing, and how it doomed my favorite company

Marx Allstate train sets for Sears

In the 1950s and 1960s, it was possible to walk into Sears and see an Allstate electric train on the same shelf as Lionel and American Flyer. These trains are still somewhat common today. That leads to some further questions. For a number of years, Marx made train sets for Sears and put the Allstate brand on them.

Yes, it’s Allstate, as in the insurance company. What did they have to do with electric trains?

Read More »Marx Allstate train sets for Sears

Mimic Systems Spartan: Apple II emulator for the C-64

The Mimic Systems Spartan was an elusive bit of C-64 hardware that made it Apple II+ compatible. It’s one of the more interesting Apple II clones of the 1980s. People thought of it as an Apple II+ emulator for the Commodore 64, though it wasn’t emulation in a modern sense.

Mimic Systems took out full-page ads in all of the Commodore magazines, starting in late 1984, promoting the product heavily.

The problem with it was that you couldn’t buy one, at least not in 1984 or 85. The Spartan finally appeared in 1986, and at that point, not many people wanted one anymore. So Spartans are exceedingly rare today.

But it actually seemed like a decent idea. In 1984, that is.

Read More »Mimic Systems Spartan: Apple II emulator for the C-64

Happy 35th birthday, Atari 2600

The venerable Atari 2600 turned 35 this past weekend. People of a certain age remember it as the device that ushered in home video games. I know I spent a lot of afternoons after school playing blocky, chirpy video games on them in the early 1980s.

The 2600 wasn’t the first cartridge-based console, but it was the first widely successful one. It even spawned clones, the private-label Sears Video Arcade and the Coleco Gemini.

Read More »Happy 35th birthday, Atari 2600

Just say no to black boxes

When the PS3 was released, one of its advertised features was that you could install Linux on it and use it as a Linux computer. I doubt many people did it, but it was a useful feature for those who did.

Sony later took that ability away in a firmware update. You could choose not to install that later firmware, but then you gave up other capabilities.

Now, some enthusiasts have figured out various ways to get that capability back, and Sony is so thrilled about that, they’re suing.

Sony is in the wrong.
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Why is it so hard to give something away?

Twice I’ve tried to give something away on Craigslist. Twice I’ve failed. It’s not for lack of interested parties–it’s for lack of follow-through.

I don’t think I’m going to try again.My most recent effort was an attempt to give away a console TV. It’s old but works fine. For five years it was used only to watch the World Series, and for another couple of years it was used less than that.

I got a flood of requests right away, so I took down the ad quickly. With seven responses in 30 minutes, I didn’t want to have to end up telling 100 people no the next morning. So I started making calls.

The first was two brothers who wanted it for their mother. They said they’d be right over. And they were. The problem was neither of them had ever seen a console TV before. They thought a 26-inch TV would fit great on a table. Not this one. At least they were nice about it.

OK, so I thought I’d contact the next person in line. No response.

Number three? He also wanted it for his mother. But when he called to tell her, she’d already sent her other son to go buy a new TV. So much for that.

After another no-response, I spoke with someone with a heavy accent who wanted it. He asked if it would fit in a Honda Civic. I tried not to laugh. I said no. He said he had a friend with a bigger car. I said he really needed a truck or a van. He insisted it would fit in a car. I had the TV sitting right in front of me, I’ve moved it five different times and it won’t fit in any car I’ve ever owned, but what do I know, right? I e-mailed him dimensions (both in English and Metric) and asked him to verify the TV would fit in the car. I never heard from him again.

I guess that’s just as well. The TV feels like it weighs 100 pounds. I’ve moved it five different times, and each time the guy helping me moved it has said he’ll never move that thing again. So I wasn’t about to try to wrestle it into whatever this "bigger car" was. With my luck it would have been a Toyota Camry.

My wife talked to one of the people. As soon as she explained what a "console TV" is, the interest evaporated.

Someone else was interested and said he’d pick it up right away. I said great. He said to call him, and of course the number was long-distance. I called. The phone rang about 12 times before I got an answering machine. I left a message. And you’re right, he never called back.

I guess people see "FREE" in an ad and go nuts, but then when it comes time to actually come get it and they have to do a little work, they don’t want to do it. It’s disappointing. All I wanted was to give the TV to someone who needed it more than me. It still works and I hate to see it taking up space in a landfill just because it’s out of style (and was out of style the year it was made, but that’s another issue).

Well, that’s five hours of my life that I’ll never get back.

The TV’s sitting in the corner of the living room now. It looks good there. We have another TV in the family room (that’s why we were trying to get rid of this one), but since it was getting to be too much of a chore to get rid of it, we’ll just keep it there for a while. Besides, it picks up channel 30 (the local ABC affiliate) a lot better than the other TV does.

Maybe I’ll hook an Atari 2600 up to it and pretend it’s 1982 again.