Advantages and disadvantages of Windows 3.0

I hear the question from time to time what the advantages and disadvantages of Windows 3.0 were. Windows 3.0, released in May 1990, is generally considered the first usable version of Windows. The oft-repeated advice to always wait for Microsoft’s version 3 is a direct reference to Windows 3.0 that still gets repeated today, frequently.

Although Windows 3.0 is clumsy by today’s standards, in 1990 it had the right combination of everything to take the world by storm.

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Repair a Weller soldering gun

I scored a Weller 8200 soldering gun at an estate sale one street over from me for a few dollars. They didn’t know what they had. I got it home and it didn’t work–it wouldn’t heat up–so maybe they knew exactly what they had. Lucky for me, it’s easy to learn how to repair a Weller soldering gun yourself.

It turns out the most common problem with these guns is very easy to fix and doesn’t cost anything. But if you’re like me and got a gun alone, without the case or instructions or the tool they give you, you’d never know.

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Women in tech: The forgotten story of Vector Graphic

I frequently hear lamentations about the number of women in the technology field–or the lack of them. Although there have been a number of successful women in the field, such as Meg Whitman, CEO of HP and formerly Ebay; Marissa Meyer, CEO of Yahoo; and Carly Fiorina, former CEO of HP, men outnumber women in the field and often by a large margin.

That perhaps makes it even more sad that Vector Graphic is largely forgotten today. Last week Fast Company profiled this pioneering computer company that time forgot.

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Looking for a career change? Consider web app pentesting

IT jobs aren’t as easy to come by as they were 20 years ago, but web app pentesting is one subset of the field that I don’t see slowing down any time soon. Unfortunately it’s a poorly understood one.

But if you spent any significant time in the 1980s or early 1990s abusing commercial software, especially Commodore and Apple and Atari and Radio Shack software, I’m looking at you. Even if you don’t know it, you’re uniquely qualified to be a web app pentester.

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Fare thee well, Radio Shack. Hello, Battery Shack!

The new owners of what’s left of Radio Shack want to specialize in batteries. Although this isn’t a guaranteed survival plan, it makes sense to me.

Last week, I went to one of the few remaining Radio Shack locations to get some overpriced diodes and D-sub connectors for a project. My oldest son tagged along. He asked about the store. I tried to describe it, and finally I said, “It’s kind of like Batteries Plus would be if it sold electronic parts too. And phones.”

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Tinkering isn’t dead, but it is changing

When Radio Shack announced its bankruptcy, I read more fears that the age of tinkering is dead than I read laments for the store.

I follow the logic, because Radio Shack was the only national store chain that ever tried to cater to tinkerers. But I don’t think people abandoning Radio Shack means tinkering is necessarily dead. I have plenty of indications that it’s still very much alive, but it’s also very different from how it used to be.

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R.I.P. Radio Shack. I’ll miss what you once were.

I’ve tried several times to write a eulogy for Radio Shack. It’s not easy. The demise has been a foregone conclusion for a very long time, and it’s clear they could have done any number of things differently and survived in some form.

But they didn’t. Let me tell you about the last time I almost went to Radio Shack. Yes, almost.

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An insider’s account of the fall of Radio Shack

When I heard Radio Shack was going to be open on Thanksgiving day, I wondered why they would bother. The few Radio Shack stores near me are deserted on normal days, so I didn’t know why anyone would take time out of Thanksgiving Day to go to Radio Shack.

Based on this sad account from an employee who spent hard time working at Radio Shack, I was probably even more right than I thought. The first story, from Black Friday 2004, tells the tale of a store that, when all was said and done, probably lost money on Black Friday. And this was in an era when tech blogs would say, “Believe it or not, there are worse places to be at 6am on Black Friday than Radio Shack.”

I’m not sure anybody believes it now. Read more

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 Post-Dispatch may be giving the wrong idea about the dollar value of vintage computers

Articles like Top 10 collectibles for value, from the Post-Dispatch this week, frequently make me nervous, mostly because of statements like this one:

[D]id you know that computer parts can bring home cash, too?

Statements like that tend to get people’s hopes up way too high. I find the timing interesting though, seeing as a TRS-80 Model 1 sold at a St. Louis estate sale this past weekend. The estate seller’s reaction? “Normally you can’t give that stuff away.”

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