What's davintosh? Mostly just the random ramblings of a hopelessly distractible… Hey, what's that?

Whither the Sizzler?

Filed under: Cars!,Family,Fun!,The Kids — dave @ 5:58 pm 2009/12/22

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One of the coolest toys I remember from my younger days was the Hot Wheels Sizzlers. They were the size of regular Hot Wheels cars, but were made of plastic and had electric motors (like you’d find in slot cars) and batteries that would recharge in a minute or so using The Juice Machine — a gas pump-styled charging station — or the smaller charger that would clip to your belt.

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The cars and the triple-wide black tracks were all the rage when they came out in 1969, but Mattel phased them out by 1976(?) Then a few years ago (2006?) just before Christmas I saw them again in the Target toy department! Tracks, cars, chargers, the whole works! The really cool thing was that Mattel had used the original graphics for the packaging and the original tooling to make the cars & track — it was like going back in time!

But being the procrastinator that I am, I waited too long to buy that Christmas season, and the opportunity to bless the kids with one of my boyhood toys was gone. I never gave it much thought after that, but then last weekend I went into one of the local Ace Hardware stores — they usually have a decent selection of oddball toys you don’t find at department stores — and there it was! One lone box with the Sizzlers Extended Eight racetrack inside!

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$20.00 later, it was mine (to give to one of the boys, of course!) and I was on my way. But looking closer at the box I noticed that there’s only one car and the belt-clip charger inside; what good is a racetrack if there’s nobody to race against? So in the days following I started looking around for more cars. They are nowhere to be found locally. I even asked at Target, and the kid there said others had asked about them, but as far as he knew they hadn’t had them since that one year a while back.

Shopping online it’s possible to find them, but they don’t come cheap at all; Amazon has them but they start at $20 for just the car, and go up from there, some listing for $70! I’m unsure whether that’s for a 30-year-old original or one of the more recently built cars… A Google search will yield other websites that specialize in selling original Sizzlers to collectors, and some of them go for a lot of money.

So for this year, it’s just the track and one car, and I’ll keep an eye peeled for more Sizzlers to pop up in coming years.

One thing I did to make-do without multiple Sizzlers cars is buy a few Darda race cars; they are German-built wind-up cars that are really pretty incredible. You press down on the car and push it back & forth a few times to wind it, and when you let it go, it really flies! The cars can be purchased individually or with track packages, and the tracks are pretty incredible too, as they typically have a number of loops on them, sometimes stacked loops. And even more incredible is that these little cars can make the loops! We found out about them through a friend who babysat for us a number of years ago; she had several sets and a number of cars that her son had used, but didn’t play with much anymore. We borrowed them for a while, and I think I had more fun with them than the kids!

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There’s only one store in Sioux Falls that sells them — Kidtopia — and thankfully they had plenty on hand. I bought one for each of the boys, knowing that the older boys will want to play too. I don’t know if the Darda cars will have the endurance of the Sizzlers, but they’ll have plenty of speed. Should be a fun toy mashup for Christmas!

Cool Flash Presentation — International Space Station

Filed under: Cool Technology,Geek — dave @ 12:07 am 2009/12/19

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Somebody posted a link to this interactive Flash graphic on the USA Today website that shows the growth of the International Space Station since the first piece was put in orbit in 1998. I knew pieces had been sent up and added to the station over the years, but I had no idea it had become that big. Amazing!

Irony via Linotype

Filed under: Computers,Fun! — dave @ 3:06 pm 2009/12/15

I get marketing emails and newsletters on occasion from the good folks at Linotype, trying to sell me fonts. What kind of irony can come from them? Just the fact that the emails arrive in plain-text mode, like you see below:

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Linotype is of course one of the premier and longest-lived font houses around. I’ve bought a number of fonts from them over the years; what they sell is of excellent quality and their site is always a source of reliable information on fonts & typography. That they send out their newsletter in plain text speaks volumes. I don’t recall making a choice between html & plain text way back when I first signed up, but it’s noteworthy that they’d even give you that choice in this day of flash and hype.

Long live Linotype!

The Lost Mitten

Filed under: Fun! — dave @ 3:53 pm 2009/12/14

Our house is probably similar to many others with small(ish) kids in that we have a seemingly endless supply of orphaned gloves, mittens & socks. Yvonne was going through the winter stuff one day last week and pulled out more lone gloves & mittens than pairs. Where did they all go? We go through the lost & found at school and church very chance we get, but rarely score anything, so it sure seems like these things just up and walk away. Or our boys eat them, which is probably more likely.

The question is, what do you do with the ones that are left behind? Most often they just get tossed, but that’s such a waste, I rarely do it. Thankfully, Yvonne does, so our collection isn’t what it could be.

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Seeing the pile of lone mittens & gloves that day made me think about a possible solution, so I went to Google to see if I’m the only crazy with a hangup about widowed handware or not… Surprisingly (or not) there have been efforts to bring the parted pairs back together — Lost Glove was an effort that ended back in 2007, and was in the UK. More recently, there was One Cold Hand, which was essentially an art project in Philadelphia, but looks like a flash in the pan, so who knows how long that’ll be around. Lands End does something that’s a bit unique; with their Lost Mitten Club, if you lose one of your Lands End gloves or mittens, you can call the Club’s toll-free number and buy a replacement for half the price of a pair. Not exactly much help for those of us who don’t shop Lands End, but it’s something.

What is needed is an organization that accepts lost & found gloves or mittens mailed in from all over, then organizes them, matches them up with the other hand, then sells them online and/or in a store, or gives them away. And even the gloves that can’t be matched up with a mate can maybe be given to one-armed people…

No, I don’t think I’m the one to put flesh on this idea (as good as it might be) so here’s the concept, out there for the taking. Working out the business model and whether it’ll hold water financially, that’s your baby. Email me when you get things going and I’ll give you an address where the royalty checks can be mailed. PayPal works too if you prefer. Thanks!

/tongue_firmly_in_cheek

Robots in the Cowshed

Filed under: Gadgets,Geek,The World — dave @ 5:24 pm 2009/12/09

A couple of years ago my sister-in-law met and married a Dutch dairy farmer; around here that wouldn’t be much of a feat because there are plenty of Dutch dairy farmers in Northwest Iowa… but they now live on the farm in Holland! Keeping up with family means Skype and long airline rides are pretty much the norm. They made the trip back for a holiday visit a couple of weeks ago, and had some fun showing off (via photos & video anyway) the new toys they installed in the dairy barn; two milking robots.

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The robots were designed & built by Lely, a Dutch farm equipment manufacturer. And they truly are robots; aside from routine maintenance, they require no human intervention to milk the cows. They and the cows just hum along, day and night, and in the process milk production is bumped up by a decent amount, which allows the dairyman to increase the size of the herd and focus on other details of running the farm. They really are pretty amazing:

  • The cows are trained to walk into the machines when they feel the need to be milked (on average, 2.8 times a day)
  • RFID tags allow the machine to recognize individual cows as they enter.
  • A portion of feed is dispensed that is custom blended to meet that particular individual’s nutritional needs.
  • The robot cleans the udder & teats,
  • It then uses a laser tracking system to locate the individual teats and attaches a suction device to each and begins milking.
  • When finished, it detaches from the cow and turns her loose from the stall.
  • The robot then cleans the suction devices and prepares for the next cow.
  • As the milk is drawn, the quantity tracked, and the chemical composition is analyzed to diagnose potential health problems in the cow.
  • If the analysis shows the milk fails to meet predetermined quality standards, the milk is discarded.
  • The computer controlling the robot also keeps statistics for the entire herd, allowing the dairyman to keep track of trends and potential issues with individual cows.

Since the thing is controlled by standard PC hardware, they were able to pull up the machine via VNC to check up on things; it was evening when he was showing this to me, but about 3 am local time at the farm, and we saw that a cow had just stepped into the machine. Apparently one of the things that helps to boost milk production is that the old way of doing things — milking twice a day — doesn’t really fit with a cow’s natural cycles, as is shown in the stats with the robot; on average, they will go in to be milked 2.8 times a day. And they will go in at all times of the day and night, whenever they feel the need to be milked, which I would think makes for happier cows!

The video below shows the machine in action;

Something He Needn’t Worry About

Filed under: Politics — dave @ 8:53 pm 2009/12/06

I was listening to the radio just a little while ago (Beyond the Beltway was on) and the host, Bruce DuMont, was commenting on some stories in the news today. He read through part of an article in today’s New York Times

On the afternoon he held the eighth meeting of his Afghanistan review, President Obama arrived in the White House Situation Room ruminating about war. He had come from Arlington National Cemetery, where he had wandered among the chalky white tombstones of those who had fallen in the rugged mountains of Central Asia.

How much their sacrifice weighed on him that Veterans Day last month, he did not say. But his advisers say he was haunted by the human toll as he wrestled with what to do about the eight-year-old war. Just a month earlier, he had mentioned to them his visits to wounded soldiers at the Army hospital in Washington. “I don’t want to be going to Walter Reed for another eight years,” he said then.

I got a good laugh out of that. I seriously don’t think that’s something he’ll need to worry about.

Of course, once he’s out of office in three years & change (that’s change I can believe in!) he’s free to visit Walter Reed as a private citizen, but realistically, how often will that happen? How often did it happen prior to him being elected to the Presidency?

And one more thing to note in my never-ending quest to find fault in everything President Barack Hussein Obamma (mmm, mmm, MMM!) does, his speech last week not only managed to severely tick off his leftist base, he also preempted the broadcast of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Way to wreck Christmas, dude.

The Texaco Fire Chief Helmet

Filed under: Fun!,Gadgets,Old Things — dave @ 1:15 am

Somebody at work was complaining the other day about feeling like she hadn’t accomplished anything that day because she spent all her time “putting out fires”. I could relate; I have days like that pretty regularly. But with Christmas approaching, the thought occurred to me that it’d be fun to get her a toy fireman’s helmet as a gag gift, and that led me to remember one of the coolest toys of my childhood, a Texaco Fire Chief helmet.

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This was not just any plastic toy hat; it had an adjustable head strap, and a microphone with an amplifier and speaker built into the front of the helmet. I don’t remember when I got the helmet; probably a Christmas gift that kinda blended in with all the other gifts, not leaving any distinct memories. I also have no idea what happened to it, but I’d bet it was jettisoned back in 1977 when my family moved from the house I grew up in — a lot of stuff disappeared during that move. By that time I had pretty much outgrown that toy, but these days I’d sure like to have it back, just for old time’s sake. I do remember being frustrated with it not working, but if I had it now, I bet I could get it working again.

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I found several helmets like mine up for bids on eBay (of course); the one pictured was in particularly good condition, and had some great photos (that I could actually borrow; it’s eBay is making it pretty tough to link or directly download images from auctions these days.) I’m really tempted to bid on it.

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Loop The Loop!

Filed under: Cars!,Fun!,Gadgets — dave @ 3:39 pm 2009/12/05

Ever since the days when I spent my days rolling Hot Wheels cars down the orange track and around the loop, I’ve wondered whether it would be possible to do with a real car; leave it to the guys at Top Gear to pull it off! (VideoSift link)


via videosift.com

They seem to go through a lot of hullabaloo over the g-forces involved, but it seems to me that the 6-g’s would be only momentary, during the transition from horizontal to vertical, then again when it goes from vertical to horizontal; when it’s upside down there’d be nearly zero-g’s. Still something to be concerned about for the structural integrity of the loop, and the car’s suspension, but not so much for the driver. But no more concern than for the riders in a roller coaster.

And speaking of roller coasters, how about this; The Blue Streak — a home-built backyard roller coaster! Only one rider at a time, but it looks like it could be a real rush. The guy who built it did a great job of engineering the track; not overbuilt, but looks like it holds together pretty well. Too bad about the 200lb weight limit though. Time to lose a few lbs maybe!

BMWotD — 1988 M535 Touring!

Filed under: BMW Of The Day,Cars! — dave @ 10:21 am

This car is it. Not only is it an über-rare Touring, but it’s also got the ///M-package with the M30 big six engine, and the euro bumpers! Saw a link to the eBay auction for this car on mye28.com today… It’s not perfect — it has an accident in its history, and the interior looks like it needs some attention — but the Touring is rarer than rare, especially in the US. They weren’t built by BMW (God only knows why), but were aftermarket conversions done by a handful of European outfits. From what I understand, many were poorly executed, and after living 20+ years in the UK and Europe… rust.

This one looks to be in decent shape. All I can say is it’s a good thing I don’t have any money or I’d be bidding and making arrangements to ship it here from Germany. And if I won the auction, I’d probably end up without a home, so the wagon-back would really come in handy.

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I’ve Always Liked Bob Hope

Filed under: Fun!,Politics — dave @ 11:48 pm 2009/12/03

This line makes him just that much more lovable. He is so right!

From the 1940 classic, The Ghost Breakers.

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