When KB Toys closed

When KB Toys closed

When KB Toys closed is a relative question. While KB Toys went out of business in 2009, the store closest to you may have closed earlier than that. It was a sad end for a staple of my childhood, and possibly yours. KB Toys isn’t the only toy store to go out of business of course, but it was one of the more notable ones.

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Creative sourcing for O and S scale train layout figures

Hobby shops frequently carry a decent selection of figures for O and S gauge layouts, but if you look at the magazines long enough, you start to see almost all of them┬áhave the same figures–and they’re probably the same figures the shop near you sells as well.

There are ways to get a better variety of figures so your layout can have something distinctive about it–and the good news is you can save some money doing it as well.

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More thoughts on the $150 Hisense Sero 7 Pro tablet

Steve Aubrey wrote in with a link to a useful site dedicated to the Hisense Sero 7. It collects all the useful information that’s surfaced from xda-developers and other sites, including custom ROMs, rooting instructions, and where to get accessories.

He asked if I recommend rooting. The short answer: Yes, if you know what you’re doing. If you’re willing to read the prompts when an app requests root access and understand what it’s asking for, then sure. If you just blindly click yes to everything, then no, by all means, leave the tablet stock.

But if you know what you’re doing, one nice thing you can do is install a firewall, so a rooted Android tablet can be safer than an unrooted one. Have fun wrapping your head around that slice of counter-intuitiveness.

Let’s talk about my impressions of the tablet itself.

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The low-cost tablet invasion

Over at PCMag, Tim Bajarin took notice of the low-cost tablet invasion.

Don’t get too excited about the $89 tablet he just heard about; it’s a single-core, 1.2 GHz tablet with a 4:3-ratio 800×600 screen. For $89, it’s fine, but I wouldn’t call it unexpected, and certainly not revolutionary. It’s a couple hundred megahertz faster than the $79 tablets at Big Lots, and has 120 more pixels in one direction.
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A cheap Nook Color case from an unexpected place

I take my Nook Color with me enough that I wanted a case for it, but nothing too fancy, seeing as I’d rather spend money on hardware than on accessories.

Most retail stores carry cases for 7-inch tablets and e-readers, but they’re a high-margin item, often selling for $20 and up, which is 25% of what I paid for the device. I looked on Amazon, of course, where I found multiple cases for less than $10, but found conflicting reports as to whether any given case actually fit the Nook Color. Read more

How I turned my Nook Color into a Cyanogenmod 7.2 Android tablet

So, after most of a year, I finally revisited Cyanogenmod 7.2 on my Nook Color. Competent tablets are available for around $100 now, so perhaps this is less interesting now, but I had a Nook Color, and figured I might as well try it out before spending money on something else.

I was never happy running it from an SD card–it was way too laggy and sluggish–but Cyanogenmod 7.2 is competent when installed on its internal memory, at least for the things I most want to use a tablet for–light web browsing, reading e-mail, watching SD video, and reading PDFs–and it leaves the SD card slot open for storing the media I want to consume. Read more

Happy 35th birthday, Atari 2600

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.

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Teleworking on the cheap

As I’ve mentioned recently, my new job allows me to work from home one day per week. They provide me a laptop to take home, but that’s it. If I want other hardware, I have to provide it.

Fortunately for me, I was able to outfit my office on the cheap.

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2011 retail tinplate finds, at Big Lots and Shack

If you’re a tinplate fan like me, it would behoove you to make a trip to Big Lots sometime this week. Big Lots has a selection of building-shaped cookie tins priced at $5 each. The buildings include a town hall, post office, bakery, and general store. Additionally, my old friend Radio Shack is selling a building tin full of AA and AAA batteries for $10 until December 10 (it’ll be $20 after that).
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Time to winterize the house…

We had a day last week where we topped 80 degrees and set a record, so small wonder I never thought winter would actually get here.

But we’ve had our first good freeze and it looks like that’ll be a weekly thing from here on out (assuming we don’t get multiples every week), so it’s time to winterize the house.I learned about plastic film window insulation when I was in college and lived in a drafty old barn–it wasn’t really a barn, but it felt like one–where the inside temperature was rarely higher than 60 during the winter and space heaters were strictly prohibited. It’s best to buy the stuff at the end of the winter and save it for next winter, but if you’re like me, you always underestimate how much you need.

The tape that came with one of my kits seemed strong enough to hold a car together, while the tape that came with another kit isn’t suitable for wrapping a present, let alone holding plastic to cold aluminum window frames. I ended up using packing tape to hold part of the plastic to a window, since I ran out of good tape.

Of course when I was finished with one package, I ended up with three odd-sized pieces, none of which fit any of my windows. So I tried an experiment. Out came the packing tape and the scissors. I taped together the odd-sized sheets to make one suitable for one of the windows, then I put it in the window. It held together just fine when I hit it with the hair dryer to shrink it into place. I don’t think this method will get wife approval, but it works. I guess I can tell her that Red Green would have used duct tape.

I also changed my furnace filter. My size was sold out at all of the usual places I buy them, but I happened to find them at Big Lots for $1.79 each. They’re rated for two months instead of three and they probably don’t catch as much, but they’re definitely better than the clogged filter that was in there. I don’t know when the last time was I changed the filter. Shame on me. For $1.79 I need to be changing it every month because it’ll save me a lot more than that if I don’t do it, at least in the summer and winter months.

I also went looking, without success, for insulation pads for electrical outlets and light switches. I have some double-sized ones and other oddities that I didn’t have a good fit for. When I came home I still didn’t have a good fit. So I ended up removing the plate, taking a styrofoam meat tray, and cutting my own with a hobby knife. It’s not quite the same material commercial insulators are made from, but it has good insulating properties and it’s hard to beat the price.

Of course I’m looking for other ideas, but these three things are a good start. I installed a programmable thermostat about two years ago and it paid for itself in the first month. The basic models cost half as much now.

Addendum: After sealing the sliding glass door and two of the three largest windows in the house, last night after the programmable thermostat kicked down I noticed that the temperature in the house dropped by about a degree an hour. The temperature inside the house started at 70, and the low overnight was around 30. I know under similar conditions earlier in the week, the temperature was dropping at least two or possibly even three degrees an hour.

I think that plastic is going to pay for itself very quickly.

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