Bits about technology, gadgets, DIY and more!

Ardmore, PA Radio Shack Closed

My local Radio Shack closed on June 27, 2017 after 50 years in operation. This was my go to place for electronic parts and occasional electronics since 1988 and it will be missed. Originally the store was listed as one that would remain open, but it was not to be. In addition to the store's longevity, some of the staff had been there for 15 and 30 years. Even though the inside was relatively modern, you can see from this photo that the building was old and gave off a kind of "general store" vibe you don't find very often in a national chain.

Temporarily Permanent

I remember when this sign was posted in the fall of 1989, visible from the commuter train window whenever I rode by. I was in college then, taking the train from Philadelphia to the suburbs every few months. It seemed strange to me that someone would go through the trouble to print a sign announcing that a gate was going to be locked on a certain date. I was also very dubious of anything described as "permanently."


In this case, "permanently" lasted until sometime in the 1990s when the gate was once again unlocked. I figured the sign would come down soon after, but up it stayed. Every time I took the train, I checked to see if it was there. By 1999, the gate had been unlocked longer than it had been locked and I thought the irony would make a great photo.

Try as I did, it was never convenient to walk to the spot where the sign was and it was impossible to get a decent picture from the train. I pretty much ignored the sign in the 2000s as I lived my life and got married. My interest renewed in 2009 when I realized that the sign had been up for 20 years, or half of my life so far. Finally, in 2017, almost 30 years after the sign went up and over 20 years since the gate was unlocked I got the shot above! 


Getting Started with Wearables... in 1983

It seems like every electronics company from large to small is introducing a wearable device these days. As seen at CES 2015, it is all the rage to connect some kind of bodily sensor to the internet, pair it with an app and strap it to oneself. Most of these are fitness trackers that detect some combination of distance, speed, or heart rate.

I started using wearable technology in 1983. That was the year I bought a Casio TS1000, the world's first LCD digital watch with a built-in thermometer. Unfortunately, in those days such technology was seen as more nerdy than trendy. I recall lots of positive interest in this device from my 9th grade science teacher but not so much from my classmates.

The reason I consider this device a true wearable is because it was actually affected by the wearer's body heat and had a special setting to compensate. So although it could not "take your temperature" it could tell you when you were relatively overheated. However, it was most useful for measuring the ambient temperature.

I was very disappointed when the case broke after a few years of use. By that time, I had moved on to the data bank variety of Casio watches, a distant relative of the modern smart watch. 

Today I use a FitBit Flex and I may upgrade to the FitBit Charge HR later this year. I really like the simplicity of these devices and their companion app. However, neither will tell me the room temperature!

Amazing Finds at the Technology Graveyard

The township where I live hosted its annual electronics recycling drop off so I hauled over a few broken monitors and battery back up units I had laying around. As usual, the turn out was huge, and I saw pretty much what I expected to see: old computers, lots of picture tube televisions and VCRs. What I did not expect at my local neighborhood drop off was a vintage early 1990s SGI IRIS Indigo workstation. This was a workhorse for Hollywood-style movie animation, used in movies such as Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park. The Indigo started at $10,000 (in 1991 dollars!) and went up from there. This distinctively dark blue workstation ran a custom version of UNIX called IRIX. The system's 100 MHz processor and 384 MB of RAM are anemic by today's standards which are an order of magnitude greater.

I also found it interesting how many laser printers were stacked up on the junk heap. Some of them looked pretty new and almost all were in great shape. I'm old enough to remember when a laser printer was a high-end luxury item, only seen in businesses and universities. Years ago I would have tried to save the Indigo and grab a few old laser printers, but I have learned my lesson about acquiring too much junk!