DevTerm is so completely in my wheelhouse — and yet so completely NOT something I actually NEED. I mean, holy shit that thing is cute as hell.
This is a double throwback, since I’ve apparently had this tab open for over a year, but feast your eyes on this sales training video for Radio Shack’s TRS-80 Model 100, a sort of proto-laptop introduced in the early 1980s.
My pal Rob actually had one of these in high school, which was astounding (later, Rob had the first Mac I ever saw, purchased the summer before he left for Rice). For the era, it was really amazingly capable — and as such, found a quick market with anyone who needed to write on the go, such as journalists. Remember, at the time, the alternative was to phone in copy.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Chet, where can I find a high quality, relatively short video on heavy trucks intended for sub-zero use?”
Well, good news! I’ve got JUST THE THING!
This short documentary — just 36 minutes — is FASCINATING. It’s about the development of the Soviet Union’s Antarctic overland snow tractor in the 1950s. The design ended up having some drawbacks, but the three examples they made saw daily use down there for FIFTY YEARS, and the gen-2 version may still be in use.
It’s great stuff. Make time!
In 2007, after a well-timed robbery, I bought an Olympus OM-D E-M1 mirrorless (m4/3) camera to replace an aging (and now gone) Canon Rebel. It was pretty great!
Then, late last summer, I upgraded again: this time, I jumped ship to Sony’s full-frame mirrorless line with an A7ii, which of course required all new glass, but I’m a man of simple tastes so the whole thing was still not crazy expensive. And I’m OVER THE MOON about this camera; seriously, it’s amazing.
And, even at the time, I honestly never really considered staying with Olympus. They didn’t have something interesting to me — and Sony was wowing the world with their small-body full-frame line, which allowed drastic improvement in the areas of photography most important to me.
Turns out, this was probably a good call: Olympus has exited the camera market in Korea. It’s hard not to read this as a harbinger of further exits to come.
Mark Rober has created a dart board wherein you cannot miss. It’s awesome.
This is creepy as all get out, and is reason enough to trash your Ring.
I mean, instead of putting a Hellcat engine in a Miata.
How a quartz watch actually works is kind of cool.
You know what this world really needed?
This is old, but great: The Scariest Thing About the Hellcat is the Third Owner
For those of you who don’t know what the Hellcat is, please allow me to provide the following background: it is a 707-horsepower rental car.
Do you know that Dodge Charger you rented a few months ago? When you landed in Dallas? And they were out of midsize sedans? And you couldn’t figure out why it smelled so bad? And the interior was made out of the same quality plastic they use for a Parmesan cheese container? Well, imagine that thing with more power than a Ferrari Enzo. That’s a Hellcat.
At the moment, they sell the Hellcat in two varieties. There is the Dodge Challenger Hellcat, which is a rather large two-door vehicle. And there is a Dodge Charger Hellcat, which is a rather large four-door vehicle. Reportedly they will soon be making a Hellcat version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which will serve as the primary example for at least the next decade when people in other countries discuss American excess.
Why the third owner, though? Well, he tells us:
You see, the first owner of the Hellcat is going to be a pretty careful, cautious, reasonable guy. The car’s price tag ensures that: most Hellcats cost somewhere in the $60,000-plus range, which is right in the heart of “careful, cautious, reasonable guy” territory. If you’re spending sixty grand on a car, you’ve probably been around enough attorneys in your life to know that the guy with the 707-horsepower car is the first person to get sued after an accident, even if the accident involved an industrial forklift and the 707-horsepower car was parked four blocks away. So you’re careful.
Sure. Okay. But what about #2?
The second owner is different from the first owner in the sense that he didn’t buy the Hellcat because it was the latest and greatest thing. He bought it because he lusted after it from the moment it came out – he just couldn’t afford it right away. So he buys the thing when it’s one or two years old, and he cherishes it. I mean he cherishes it. To the point where he creates one of those little plaques that he places next to his car when he brings it to cars and coffee.
The third owner will buy a Hellcat ten years from now. He will be under 30 years old. He’ll look for one with high miles, or a rebuilt title. And he’ll drive the thing like a cocaine fiend playing Mario Kart.
The problem with the Hellcat’s third owner is that he won’t be as cautious as the first owner, and he won’t be as obsessed with preservation as the second owner. He’ll just want cheap speed, and the Hellcat will provide it.
Now, if you’re the parent of a young child, this could be a serious problem when your kid grows up. Consider it: when I was 20, the fastest thing anybody could reasonably afford was a first-generation Cadillac CTS-V, which had 400 horsepower and a gear lever that felt like you were stirring butter with a rope.
But if your kid is eight or nine years old right now, he will reach 20 at a time when the seven-hundred-seven horsepower Hellcat is something his friends might be driving. As a parent, this changes your duties: you will have to educate your child about crossing the street, and talking to strangers, and finances, and sex, and friends with Hellcats.
Think of it this way: by 2026, a high-mileage Hellcat will be a sub-$30,000 way to get 700 horsepower; a 200-mph car that no longer requires a professional degree, or an MBA, or a long, successful career, or a profitable startup. All it will require is a promotion to assistant manager of a Pizza Hut.
Ever see one go 450 miles an hour?
Also, TIL that there exists jet model airplanes.
(My assumption is that this is an impossibly expensive undertaking, obviously.)
Amazon Key is a new service that lets their couriers COME INTO YOUR HOUSE to drop off packages.
HOLY CRAP what a shitty idea. Please listen to me; I know things. For one thing, “smart” door locks absolutely aren’t. They’re less secure than conventional keys, because an attack on your door lock needn’t be local — even with a “smart” lock that’s not tied to Amazon.
With something like this plan, where you trust a corporation to keep your lock closed, you necessarily create a HUGE target for bad actors even if we stipulate (which I absolutely will not) that no simple bug or software failure will compromise the lock on its own.
I remain ABSOLUTELY GOBSMACKED at the level of trust some people are willing to give massive corporations that already have terrible, terrible, terrible privacy records: Google, Facebook, and Amazon. People are literally purchasing devices from Amazon that listen to your house all the time without regard to the privacy implications. It’s bananas.
Don’t do that. And for the love of God, Tom Waits, and tacos, absolutely do NOT consider putting a lock on your house that Amazon has the key to. I mean, HOLY SHIT.
The McLaren F1 was introduced 25 years ago this year. Road & Track has a nice oral history that’s worth your time, including bits from McLaren owners and employees.
Here’s my favorite bit from the story:
MARK GRAIN (Senior technician, McLaren Cars/Motorsport): There was a German customer, a businessman. He lived in Cologne, commuted in the car every day. He said, “Oh, I’ve got a problem, this warning light. I’ve looked in the manual, can’t find anything. Can you send somebody out, see what it is?”
So one of the guys went. It turns out it was the engine cover lifting slightly. The warning light for the engine cover.
But the only time the car ever did it was 185, 190 mph. “It does it on the way to work, and it does it on the way back.” Every day.
This video about the world’s first supercar is pretty fun. Lambo made the Countach from 1974 until 1990, which is kind of insane; at that point, they moved on to the Diablo, and then to the Murciélago, and then, in 2011, to the current Aventador.
For a comparison between an ’88 Countach (effectively, the pinnacle of the breed) and a new(ish) Aventador? We’ve got you covered.
And as long as you’re falling down this hole, Jay Leno has an ’86.
Over at The Awesomer, they have a bit about the new 911 Turbo S that’s kind of fun, but in the blurb I noticed some interesting verbiage; I’ve added some emphasis to point out the shocking bit.
Our friends at DriveWithDave spent an afternoon behind the wheel of the fastest accelerating non-electric production car in the world.
Have we really reached the point already where explosion-powered cars are the slower variety, at least in acceleration? That’s kind of amazing, but according to the list provided (sourced from Motor Trend), it’s the truth. The Tesla S P100D can get you to 60 in 2.3 seconds, and to 30 in 0.9. This 911 matches the 0-30 time, but is slower to 60 by 0.2, and everything else they list (Lambo, GT-R, Audi, Ferrari, McLaren) is slower.
Ars Technica has a pretty interesting piece up about the rise and fall of 8-track, but they miss some bits I wish they’d included.
I grew up in the 70s and 80s, and was always baffled at why those awful things existed in the first place when cassette was also available. The whole weird imposition of the 4 programs, plus the seemingly inevitable need to split songs between programs (complete with fade-out, that chunk-chunk sound, and the fade back in) really put a damper on actual audio pleasure, let me tell you.
Also, contrary to the 2nd graf line (“What went wrong is easily explained with hindsight—though it seemed mysterious at the time.”), there was nothing mysterious to ME about why cassette won, and it’s encapsulated in this fanTAStic Sony ad, which more or less pitches the lack of on-demand rewind as an impediment to getting laid.
In case you can’t read the text, here it is:
If you’ve got 400 horsepower and things still aren’t moving fast enough, try adding the new Sony Automobile Stereo Cassette-Corder(r). One big advantage of the new Sony Model 20 is that it plays cassettes instead of cartridges. And a cassette gives you twice the music of a cartridge (up to two full hours). What’s more, if she wants to hear “Light My Fire” right now, her fire can get lit. Right now. (With a cartridge machine, you’d have to wait for the whole program to recycle.) (Emph. added.)
What they mean, kids, is that there’s no rewind on 8-tracks. The music was broken into 4 “programs,” and to hear a given song again, you hit the “program advance” button 3 times and then waited for your song to come around again. Awesome, right?
The Draper-worthy Makeout Point location and “cassette = sex” positioning isn’t even the most dated thing about the ad. Look at it. It’s got a whole paragraph of intelligently constructed text extolling the virtues of cassette over 8-track, and it’s written as though talking to an intelligent adult. Find an ad in 2017 that has that much text. I dare you.
The story of how I found the ad itself is pretty hilarious, too, if you’ll indulge me. My dad passed away when I was a teenager, and it fell to me to clean out his office at his veterinary clinic. In a seldom-used drawer, I found a stack of random documents and folded-over magazines — professional journals, newspapers, and popular rags, too. The ad in question was in one of those popular mags, but it was folded over in a way that showed only a page of text on one side and this full-page ad on the other. I was so tickled by the ad, though, that I didn’t notice until several minutes later that it was from Playboy. Which, apparently, my dad really DID have for the articles. ;)
Or, musical history, inflation, and AV receivers
Dynaco Tube Amp, 1988
A gift from my uncle, who’d built it from a kit; this stuff was serious hi-fi nerdery in the 1970s, and I was lucky to get it (along with a tuner, a pre-amp, a tape deck, and a pair of really great Fisher speakers).
Thanks to Uncle Bob’s largesse, I was a very well equipped freshman indeed. Perhaps my favorite parts of this era’s rig were that (a) the tape deck was a toploading thing, which interfered with stacking and (b) the CD source was actually a boom box with RCA outs, which made it a great mix of old and new.
Low-end Pioneer, 1988
Sadly, the Dynaco didn’t last the semester; I suspect it had been on a shelf for years, so putting it into constant usage in a dorm room was a bit of a shock. My friend Peter insisted he could fix it, so I let him have it, and have recently confirmed via Facebook that he STILL has it, and it STILL doesn’t work. Hilarious.
Anyway, I scraped together about $250 for this low-end Pioneer, but it served me well until I got out of the dorm and wanted to upgrade. It lived out its final years with Heathen Chief Legal & Pancreatic Counsel Farmer.
Surround comes to town: Onkyo, 1992
This was actually a bit of a debacle. I started out with a Sony, but the Sony kept crapping out, so the 2nd time I drove it back to Birmingham to swap out, I said “fuck it” and dropped more than I should have on what remains probably the most high end piece of kit I’ve ever owned. The Sony was like $600, but stepping up to the Onkyo was a cool grand (about $1700 in 2016 money). You could feel the difference in the weight alone, to say nothing of the feel of its controls (or my credit card bill, for that matter; I didn’t pay that off for YEARS). This guy was SOLID, and made my apartment into my first “home theater” experience with then-novel Dolby Pro Logic.
I actually used this one until 2000, when I upgraded to the next item on the list as part of moving into what remains Heathen World HQ. Even then, I used it as the bedroom stereo and then, later, as the stereo in my office until last year, when space and convenience led me to Sonos.
After that, it languished in the closet until I found a good home for it. (No, seriously. It’ll live out its life in the home studio of a musician friend of mine, which is approximately as close to “your old dog lives on a farm now” as you’re likely to get in this life.)
The Age of Digital Hothouse Flowers, 2000: Arcam AVR100
When I bought the house, I also bought some very fancy speakers and a new receiver, because modern home surround had gone digital, and the Onkyo didn’t know how to do that.
Eschewing more mainstream brands, I bought an Arcam from the same witch-doctor woo-filled audiophile shop that sold me the speakers, and it was a mistake. It was technically cheaper than the Onkyo had been, by which I mean its price tag was the same, but the 8 year gap meant it was about $300 less real money in 2016 dollars. It was British and idiosyncratic, which lead me to note that I could tell it was high-end audio because it was a pain in the ass to use.
It got back at me by requiring factory service TWICE before a third failure in 2008 led to its ignominious end in a recycling bin. Oh, and in this era, the Onkyo had a triumphant victory lap because we’d started buying used vinyl as cheap entertainment — it was the post-crash years — and the fancyboy Arcam had no phono stage. My old pal the Onkyo, of course, did.
Let’s just make the damn thing work: Yamaha RX-V863, 2008
With the Arcam dead, I bought this one quickly. And I think Mrs Heathen may have even paid for it just to get the TV and whatnot running again. It was the third straight box with the same price tag, but time meant that it was the cheapest $1000 box yet: about $1100 in 2016 money.
This one also marked the point when the AV equipment turned towards ease of use, which is great, because at one point when I was using the Arcam I sat down to write a quickie guide for a houseguest and ended up with five pages. To watch TV. Whisky. Tango. Foxtrot.
Can’t this be easy yet? It’s 2016!: Denon
Yes. Yes it can. For $399 from Amazon, I just bought last year’s model. We’re back into goofy no-pre-amp territory these days (Denon doesn’t include one on any model south of $1300, so fuck that), so I had to add an outboard one, but even so I was still spending WAY less money than on any previous receiver except the gifted Dynaco and the cheap Pioneer. My $528 this year is about the same as $261 in ’88, $309 in ’92, $379 in 2000, and $470 in 2008.
Oh, and this time around the device is smart enough to calibrate itself with an included microphone AND be controlled by an iPhone app should the remote be too far away. Progress!
(Hilariously, the speaker story is way simpler: from the Fishers to a pair of Cerwin-Vega D3s to a pair of Klipsch towers to the Vandersteens.
The Fishers got lost along the way somewhere when I got the hyperefficient (and thus CRAZY LOUD) CVs in 1988 (sorry, college neighbors!).
In 1997, I gave them to Tim Carroll and bought the Klipsches, which got demoted to surround speakers in 2000 when I bought the Vandys. They’re still there, which makes them the oldest bits in the kit and, come to think of it, eligible to vote. Wacky.)
None of you have given me the LEGO Technic Porsche 911 GT3 RS, though I understand the reason may be that it’s only marginally less expensive, relatively speaking, than the actual car it represents.
Still: Very cool. 2,704 pieces!
Fifteen years ago when I bought my car, I kinda WANTED a 964, but in Houston you opt for newer cars to get better AC.
This guy didn’t, and it’s glorious.
In this episode of Harry’s Garage, he’ll tell you. The video is long — 30 minutes — but you’ll want to make time.
tl;dr? It’s fucking awesome. Fun fact: they’re tiny, far smaller than you probably think. At only 4.1 meters, they’re shorter than either a Cayman or a Boxster. Despite that, they hold over 30 gallons of fuel.
It’s a damn shame that there is literally NO WHERE in our home that Mrs Heathen and I could deploy these really cool doors.
Almost 30 years ago, my friend Rob had a laptop-like device made by Tandy called a TRS-80 Model 100.
It’s very much a sort of proto-laptop, and was widely used by non-geeks as a portable writing platform when similarly robust and functional laptops were still years away. There’s no hinge; it’s just a flat device with a small LCD screen. You could, if memory served, run programs (i.e., a simple word processor / text editor) or boot the thing to BASIC like every other TRS-80. I remember Rob using it backstage at the all-school production to catch up on a paper for AP English in about 1987.
(A few years later, Radio Shack was selling a descendent product called the WP-2; I bought one to take notes with in college, since (then as now) I can type much more quickly (and legibly) than I can write longhand.)
In the intervening years, laptops have gotten much, much more capable, to the point that for most folks there’s no reason to use a desktop at all. However, if you have a full computer with you, it’s easy to get distracted by other activities — especially if there’s a network connection. What if you just want to write without distractions?
Enter Hemmingwrite. It’s a little precious — the prototype is styled to look like a portable typewriter — but inside it’s reasonably clever:
The Hemingwrite is-a single purpose, distraction-free writing composition device. It combines the simplicity of a 90s era word processor with the modern tech we all require like cloud backups and integration into our favorite document editors like Google docs and Evernote.
They’re planning a 6-week battery life, internal memory for a million pages, and a proper, mechanical-switch keyboard.
I’m not sure I have a need for one, but it sure is neat.
This analysis is really astute and spot on, I think. Some bits:
The overall level of design in the Apple Watch simply blows away anything – digital or analog – in the watch space at $350. There is nothing that comes close to the fluidity, attention to detail, or simple build quality found on the Apple Watch in this price bracket. The Sistem51, for example, is a very cool, inexpensive mechanical watch. But it feels like it costs $150 (for the record, I bought one and adore it). Then, for closer to the price of the Apple Watch, you could own this, which is, well, downright horrific in just about every conceivable metric. Seiko does offer some nice things at $349 or less, but again, they feel like they cost exactly what they do. The Apple Watch feels like a lot of thought went into it, and no doubt it did. It feels expensive.
The Apple Watch, in its own way, really pays great homage to traditional watchmaking and the environment in which horology was developed. We have to remember that the first timekeeping devices, things like sundials, were dictated by the sun and the stars, as is time to this day. The fact that Apple chose to develop two faces dedicated to the cosmos shows they are, at the very least, aware of the origins and importance of the earliest timekeeping machines, and the governing body of all time and space – the universe. (Sidenote: this “Astronomy” face will make it super easy to set the moonphase on your perpetual calendar. #watchnerdalert)
Apple paid great attention to detail with this new wrist-bound peripheral, and it shows the Swiss that it is possible to have great design at low costs. That is the most exciting thing about the Apple Watch for me – it will push the Swiss to take the sub-$1,000 mechanical watch category more seriously.
Now, do I want one? Only maybe. I’d have to see one first. But I suspect later iterations will be even more interesting, so it does seem likely that, eventually, I’ll pick one up even if it’s not in 2015.
Mrs Heathen may regret that I have found this excellent exploration of Adam Savage’s shop & cave. Make time.
864 actual kilometers. One of only 50.
Expected bids $600,000 to $800,000.
Jeorg “Slingshot Channel” Sprave has created a football slingshot capable of launching a soccer ball the full length of a pitch.
Because of course he has.
You may have seen this video of fireworks as shot by a remote controlled photo drone by now; if not, go watch. Use the HD option, and see it fullscreen (just turn the volume down if you find Andrea Bocelli as banal as I do). It’s pretty remarkable.
What’s not immediately obvious, or part of the story in most of the links I’ve seen, is what I think is the coolest aspect of this. It wasn’t shot with professional or exotic equipment. It was done with less than $2,500 worth of gear, including the “live view” features. Basically, it’s a high-ish end remote controlled quadcopter with a GoPro attached. Check the link; it’s not even CLOSE to the nicest quadcopter that company sells.
File under: Whoa
(The footnote is that while this vid was apparently shot with probably $2500 of gear, improvements have already happened in the product line that suggest it’s now possible for about half that.)
Of course, it better be, as the Van Cleef & Arpels Midnight Plantarium Poetic Complication runs a cool $245,000.
The face itself is amazing:
At the center is the Sun, represented in pink gold. Surrounding it are gems representing the six innermost planets, each of which rotates the Sun in real time — by which I mean Mercury takes 88 days to go ’round, the Earth takes a year, and Saturn won’t make the trip for nearly 30 years. The actual time of day is represented by a shooting star on the outermost ring. By rotating the bezel, you can set the watch to note a “special” day — on which the Earth stone passes directly under a star engraved onto the crystal itself.
Click through for video. It’s totally ridiculous and over the top, but also cool as screaming fuck that this is all done with gears and springs.
“A 1950s whisky dispenser [was] sometimes found in offices.”
Oh, we are SO getting an Inside Slide for Heathen World HQ. Maybe two.
Yeah, I know. Can’t be made. But I still want one.
Note the stacked boxes of train cards on the couch, etc.
Top Gear sent Richard Hammond out on a pretty unique handling test. The question: Would you rather be in a BMW 1M or a Porsche Cayman R when trapped in a desperate movie-style car chase with snipers, commandos on motorbikes, helicopters, tanks, and off-road attack vehicles?
The Targa is back.
Sofa. King. Gorgeous.
PetCube is a remote-controllable device you can use to entertain your pets when you’re not home.
The future is weird.
The P1 produces 903 horsepower, which turns out to be good enough for a sub-7 minute lap. The official number hasn’t been released, but they’re claiming the record — and the 918’s already done it in 6:57.
I think certain Heathen should construct a tiny vehicle to go around it, and take it to Bonneville.
Parts of this are still in a box in my closet.
I am forty-three years old.
Here’s Super Mario Brothers rendered entirely in HTML5, playable in any (modern) browser. Enjoy.
SpaceX has been doing tests of a rocket capable of landing vertically (i.e. as opposed to splashdown). In this video, you get to watch a 2,440 foot test flight and subsequent landing from the vantage point of a hovering hexacopter with an HD camera.
To break this down for you even more: this is high-def video of a civilian space vehicle shot from a flying robot. Maybe we do live in the future after all.
In any case, it is very, very cool, and you will not find a better way to spend a minute and a half this morning.
Which of you Heathen-aged nerds can identify the doll used in the picture atop this Ars Technica story about the whole Silk Road affair?
Uncrate, a gadget blog I follow, is featuring an affordable, portable hydrogen generator for outdoor, off-the-grid use today.