What’s an Allstate electric train?

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.

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

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

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.

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If you need a deal on a Nook Simple Touch, they’re on sale

Sears has the Nook Simple Touch on sale for $70. That’s about a 30% discount. (Thanks Dealnews!)

I guess I’ve had mine for about six weeks, and I like it. It’s the #2 e-reader, and I’ve run into problems in the past buying the #2 just on the basis of technical superiority (Amiga, anyone?), but if being able to load books on an SD card and the availability of free public domain e-books isn’t enough, you can root the device, load the Kindle Android app, and turn it into a Kindle.

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Nobody respects craftsmanship anymore

The New York Times laments the decline of craftsmanship and its side effects in the United States.

A generation ago, it wasn’t terribly uncommon for men to make their own kitchen cabinets. And those cabinets, if built correctly, would last several lifetimes. The cabinets my great-great grandfather built before the turn of the previous century survived just fine into my lifetime. A year ago, a prospective tenant took me to task for having such handbuilt cabinets in a rental house, and pointed to a couple of other rental houses–with particle-board Home Depot junk in them–as having “better updates.”

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Farewell, Crestwood Plaza

Farewell, Crestwood Plaza

The Sears anchor store at Crestwood Plaza near St. Louis closed in May 2012. It was a long, slow decline, and nobody knew what was next. More than five years later, there’s still nobody who knows what’s next.

I went there a couple of weeks before it closed, and I bought a multimeter at a heavy discount, but most of the kinds of things I would have been interested in buying were long gone. The rest of the old mall was mostly empty. The last of the smaller tenants left in 2013. Read more

Umm, no, that’s not Commodore, and that’s not an Amiga

Some stories floating around are suggesting that Commodore is still around, and they just released a new, overpriced Amiga.

Well, there’s a company slapping “Commodore” and “Amiga” labels on PC cases that look kind of like Apple Mac Mini cases and stuffing off-the-shelf components in them, but they’re Commodore Amigas in name only. Read more

Best Buy has one foot in the grave?

In a highly publicized article, Forbes argues that Best Buy is not long for this world.

I can’t disagree with any individual point in the article. Some of the problems Larry Downes identifies existed when I worked there in the early 1990s–I’d spare you the joke about being young, naive, and needing the money, but it’s too late now–but in the 1990s they could get away with that, sort of, because there were competitors who tried to get away with worse.

Sears/Kmart is a favorite whipping boy, but they have one very big thing up on the land of the blue shirts. I can make a five-minute trip to Sears or Kmart–particularly Sears Hardware–to pick up a couple of things, and I do so fairly frequently. I tried a couple of weeks ago to do that at Best Buy, and, like the author said, calling it a miserable experience is putting it mildly. Read more

Synthetic oil + Marvel Mystery Oil = happy lawn mower

Synthetic oil + Marvel Mystery Oil = happy lawn mower

I’ve always hated my lawn mower. But once I started using Marvel Mystery Oil in a lawn mower, and putting synthetic 10w-30 oil in the crankcase, I’ve been much happier. It makes me feel like I discovered one of the secrets of the universe.

While you’re at it, check the air filter. You’re supposed to change that every year, at least. The combination of a fresh air filter, Marvel Mystery Oil, and synthetic oil gives me easier starts and smoother running.

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