Informational



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Leon Kiriluk - NES Reproductions

Father’s Day used to mean a neck tie, a steak dinner and some quality time with the old man. Today’s dad grew up not wearing a necktie and swears off too much red meat. So that leaves quality time. For those Dad’s who grew up playing the  Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), we have the ultimate Techlife 8-bit gift this Father’s Day; never released Nintendo Games ready to play on Dad’s NES. Often called ROMS, these games for many reasons were never published or in the case of my personal favorite Super Tecmo Bowl, have a loyal fan following that has updated the ROM with new player rosters and stats and even a few more teams.

Meet Leon Kiriluk of NES Reproductions. Leon was kind of enough to sit down for an interview and this will only add to the gift for dad; the backstory.

Techlife: What is NES Reproductions?

Leon Kiriluk: As a collector and gamer, I love playing NES games on the real system, rather than the artificial constraints found on a PC game emulators.  Through sheer luck, I discovered a community of game hackers that took these game dumps and put them back on original NES carts.  Being proficient with electronics, I decided to experiment with making my own NES games as well.  After I successfully reproduced a few of these never released NES games, I posted my creations to a popular video game forum.  To my surprise, many collectors, less electronic savvy than me, messaged me pleading me to make these games for them.  NES Reproductions was born.

 TL: When and why did you start this hobby?

LK:  I grew up with Nintendo (the original) in the late 80’s.  As with most kids, my Nintendo was eventually sold off in a garage sale as the family upgraded to better and newer video game systems.  Sometime around 1998, my brother brought home an NES system with a handful of games which he purchased at a flea-market.  I was hooked.  We played for hours on that system, bringing back all my childhood memories.

For the next 5 years I made it a personal mission to collect as many NES games as I could; I completed my NES collection a few years later.  In the process, I discovered that there were many NES games in development that were never released for one reason or another (mostly due to marketing pulling the plug in the last minute).  These game prototypes went home with the engineers and eventually made it into the hands of game collectors, such as myself.  These collectors proceeded to dump the games from these prototype boards and provide them for free on the Internet.  Gamers are now able to play these games on their computers using NES emulators.
Over the next decade, it grew to not only reproduce never before released games, but also game hacks, such as the community based hack to Tecmo Superbowl.
TL: What is your background?

LK:  From a very young age I was interested more in how toys worked rather than play with them.  Every new toy I ever got, I proceeded to disassemble it, learn what made it function, and then put it back together.  Over the years, as my interest in electronics grew, the tools of the trade naturally grew with it: soldering stations, desoldering stations, memory chip programmers and erasers.

TL: How did you figure out what hardware you needed?

LK:  There’s a big community out there (thanks to the Internet) that can help anyone do what I do.  Someone just has to be driven enough, and invest enough time/money in this hobby.  It’s also not that expensive to get started.  I started with a cheap 40$ programmer and 5$ soldering iron.  These tools will suffice for half a dozen reproduction carts, but for any significant volume, investing in professional equipment is a must as with any “hobby”.

I use the word hobby because that’s what NES reproduction is for me.  A hobby that fills my time most evenings when my kids are asleep.  I’m fortunate enough to have a very good full time job where I don’t need to supplement my income with making these games – I consider it a way of giving back to the community, for gamers such as myself.  This is the main reason why I never raised my prices for reproductions in a decade.
NES Reproductions - A Collector and Gamer's Dream
 TL: How long does it take to create a cartridge?

LK:  On average, about 30-45 minutes per cart.  Surprising, the finishing touches on a cart (making the label, cleaning the cart, installing the cart, and testing it) take a lot more time than the actual electronic desoldering/soldering of new memory chips process.

TL:  Of the 52 titles listed on your site what’s the most popular title?

LK:   Earthbound followed by Super Mario Brothers 2 (Japan) by far; both made by Nintendo, and both killed for silly reasons.

Earthbound courtesy of NES Reproductions

Earthbound courtesy of NES Reproductions

Earthbound only came out in Japan.  Nintendo did have a full english translation completed, but for some reason never released it.  It wasn’t until the SNES release of Earthbound did North Americans got access to this wonderful RPG game.  But in reality, Earthbound on the SNES is actually Earthbound 2.
Super Mario Bros. 2 courtesy of NES Reproductions

Super Mario Bros. 2 courtesy of NES Reproductions

The other game, Super Mario Brother 2 – Japan, looks and plays the same as the original super mario bros, except it’s a lot more difficult.  It wasn’t released in North America because Nintendo felt the game was too difficult for us.  Instead, they took a different game, hacked mario characters into it and released it as SMB2.  Nintendo fans aren’t stupid – anyone can see how different SMB2 is from every Mario game that came before it, and after.  Simply put, it’s because it’s not a real Mario game.
TL: Have you seen requests steady since you began?

LK:  For the most part, yes.  I have also taken breaks (4 month breaks when both my children were born, as my families’ needs took precedence.)

TL: What’s the most unusual request to date?

LK:  Oh .. that’s a tough one (for the most part, game reproductions boil down to the same process)  I think special or custom game hacks.  I’ve had customers request special one off reproductions and requested of me not to share the games with anyone else, which I complied with their wishes.  I actually did have a couple of customers request a special NES game made for them, which they can use to ask their girlfriend to get married.  Unfortunately, I’m not that good at actually programming a new NES game.

TL: Have you had any companies or individual game makers approach you? Any interest or even legal hassle?

LK:  Not yet.  🙂

Truthfully, for any game hacks, such as Gamepad Hero 1 & 2, I e-mailed the game developer first, and attained permission to offer a game reproduction of their games.  In most cases, the company that made the game is long gone, or simply doesn’t care anymore as there really is little to no money in these old titles.
Even Nintendo itself lost the patent on the NES a few years ago due to the original Nintendo patent expiring – this is why there’s so many NES clones on eBay these days – and there’s a lot more money to be made selling NES clones than game reproductions.
TL: What is the best game in your opinion that was ever released?
The Goonies courtesty of NES Reproductions

The Goonies courtesty of NES Reproductions

LK:  That’s a hard one.  It depends on the gamer.  The best RPG game is Earthbound (because it’s so different from any other RPG on the NES), for shooters nothing can touch Recca (I can’t believe this is an NES game! It really pushes the NES to its limits). I personally love playing The Goonies – what a great puzzle game.  And the soundtrack is awesome too!

 TL: What’s are some things you are requested to do that are not possible?

LK:  I get a lot of requests for games that only came out in Japan or Hong Kong pirates that simply can’t be reproduced.  They use special circuit boards that were only released in that part of the world, and as such I can’t reuse any of the game carts that came out in North America in reproducing these games.  This is a shame as some of those games are actually really good .. many of these games were created long after the last NES game was shipped.

 TL: What’s the most interesting story to come from this hobby?

LK:  For me personally, I can’t believe how long it lasted.  I initially created it just to help a few people on a popular chat board which I was an active member of.  Over the last decade, it grew to so much more.  I’ve had happy customers from all over the world, places that I never thought I’d ship a video game to.  It really shows how international the NES has become.

TL: Do you have any future plans for your hobby?

LK:  Truthfully, so much has changed in my life in the past decade.  Getting married, having kids.  Priorities in life have changed, and hobbies always tend to be the first to suffer.  Can I see myself still making NES reproductions a decade from now?  Probably not.  Heck, even hobbies change!  About 5 years ago my wife and I purchased our first home (a century old home) and my hobbies have moved away from working with electronics to doing home renovations.

TL Bonus question: We met when I found out you had Tecmo Super Bowl updated rosters. For the updated teams and rosters, how did you determine things such as “speed” or “quickness” or any other stat that has a no single statistics associated with it?
Tecmo Super Bowl 2K11 courtesy of NES Reproductions

Tecmo Super Bowl 2K11 courtesy of NES Reproductions

LK:  The Tecmo Superbowl updated NES game is developed by a team of developers on the Tecmo Superbowl repository web site.  I only provide the service of putting their game on a cart.  I’ve contacted the web site owner a few times, and sent him free reproductions as a ‘thank you’ for all the great work he does for the Tecmo community.


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Great creative on Craigslist

A real ad found on Craigslist from a creative seller.

Dear Techlife,

As a long time reader, I was excited by your column “Modern Day Alchemist.” (Editor’s Note: Column titled “Modern Day Alchemy“) I had read your experience with Freecycle and while that was good, my stuff is worth money to me. So how do I turn that stuff into both empty space AND money? Your column on Ebay and Craiglist was great. It inspired me to start the process using Ebay. I have sold a few things and it seemed pretty easy. So first thank you. But then I ran into a dilemma, for a heavy item,  a TV, I don’t want to ship it so how do I know what to list it for on Craigslist?  Any help?

Spring Cleaning for Profit

 

Dear Profit:

Your signature was so awesome it became the title to this column. What a wordsmith. Interestingly Techlife offices have a story for you, but be prepared for the twist.

Many years ago the Techlife offices bought a 36″ Sony television. In those days it was the largest picture tube on the market.  It was great TV, with a beautiful picture on a flat glass screen. The massive television weighed nearly 300lbs and was bulky and awkward. Moving the television always took at least two adults. Shortly thereafter the era of HD was unleashed. The Sony did a great job early on keeping up with the quality of the first HD sets on the market. Visitors often asked if we had a new HD TV because the picture was so crisp.

Over time HD sets improved and then the second phase of television development occurred. Thin. From plasma to LCD the surfaces became larger and the depth became smaller. The world was excited by crisp HD images on a canvas not thicker than, well, a canvas. “Thanks for the history lesson, professor. I just want to sell my TV.” I can hear you thinking.

As our story continues Techlife decided it was time to get a new thin HDTV. What to do with the Sony? As you noted Ebay is not an option leaving Craiglist.  I used two methods to research price.

Search Craigslist for the model number and compare existing listingsThis was simple but unlike Ebay, Craigslist doesn’t provide data completed sales data. Sometimes you see the same item listed a second time with a reduced price which is a clue. Craigslist can be a science.

Search Priceonomics for the model number and compare existing listings – Priceonomics is a startup (Dec. 2011) with the goal to be “the price guide for everything.”  They started out with price guides for 50,000 categories of used items including: bicycles, televisions, speakers, monitors, turntables, computers and cell phones. The “simple” goal to have price estimates for everything bought and sold. Ambitious aren’t they? As of this publication they have 21 categories and 163 sub-categories.

Great. I had a price range, I took some photos and listed it for $10 less than the lowest end of the range on Craigslist just wanting it gone.  And nothing happened. People don’t want to pay for a big bulky TV when they can buy a sleek thin one I reasoned. Next I turned to Freecycle, someone out there would want it for FREE. Of course the same problem existed. Who want’s a behemoth when svelte is in? Finally I reached out to my network and offered it to a non-profit. Happily a few group homes replied and were eager.  One showed up with a truck and picked it up.

The twist? Figure out first off if what you have is worth selling or would a donation better serve everyone. “Profit” might just be you having more free space than you had before.

 

 


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Look out! This is a warning to everyone who has ever bought a digital camera, and for all those future digital camera purchases. Don’t install the software! The first thing many readers are saying is, “Wait if I don’t install the software, how do I get my photos and movies off the camera?”

Here’s a secret the camera manufacturers don’t want you to know, you already have that software in most cases. That’s right, the cat is out of the bag. Now any good hardware company will argue you “need” their software but in reality  you don’t. Unless of course you do, tricky camera makers.

A few weeks ago a Techlife reader was taking their new camera out for a spin. They shot some photos and recorded some video and got back to the computer to transfer it. Lo and behold they had never installed the included software so they asked me if they should. What do you think I would say? The title of this column should clue you in.

“How do I get my photos and video off the camera then?” they asked.

Cameras are big thumbdrives

Cameras are truly big storage device enclosures with a lens. Obviously they do much more, but to your computer they are just another drive. If you pop out the portable storage often times an SD card,  a computer can accept them with a USB card reader. The camera company often preaches for a user to connect the camera via included cable directly to the PC. Of course then the more modern operating systems attempt to detect the type of camera and then offer a dialog asking what you want to do.

Since most start up guides explain you should install their software first, the dialog box has you naturally choosing the “camera software”. But look at the dialog box from the Techlife computer (see image). Notice the Secure Digital Storage Device, that’s the card taken out of the camera and put in the computers SD card reader.  I then have three Picture Options and some other General Options.  The simplest option is often the best.

How to get your Photos without Camera Software

  1. Under General Options choose Open folder to view files
  2. You will see a basic folder view with all the files
  3. Simply choose the images you want and copy them to the folder on your computer
  4. Then delete the files off the SD card

No additional software was needed. It was easy and something most users are comfortable with doing; copying files from one place to another.

Camera Makers Fight Back

Bringing us back to the Techlife reader, who followed this How to with ease for their photos. Then asked about the movie files.  After careful review it seems the camera shipped from the manufacturer set to record in a non-standard format. Worse there was no mention of this anywhere and the only way to access the few movies were, you guessed it, the software that shipped with the camera. The simple fix, switch the camera to record in a standard movie format and ignore the installed software once again.

New Camera? File Basics

For all new camera purchases, take a few test shots and test movies before you do anything.  If your the files are easy to copy to your computer with the additional software great. You’re done. If they aren’t, change the file format the camera saves in and try again until you do.  In the end the camera should have files that allow you do use the software you want to modify the still images and the movies, not the other way around.

And what of our Techlife reader? Happy to report the movies are now set to record in a standard format, and we should see a lot of new cat videos on YouTube.


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Click. Click. Click. There is not much more satisfying a sound. Sorry I realize because this Techlife you likely think I meant the sound of a mouse or a keyboard. Actually something much more clickable – LEGOS! There have been countless articles, fan sites, acronyms (AFOL, SNOT) and more created for this very physical toy which has grown in spite the of the evolution of the digital age. It’s a testament to the creativity and simplicity that allows anyone to sit down and start playing immediately.

But this is Techlife, and we want to provide five very different LEGO experiences in the online world. Our summaries won’t do these justice, so please jump off and explore them all.

Life of George

Help George with your building skills. A LEGO official product that combines a free iPhone/iPod app with physical brick set. This takes the best thing about LEGO; the ability to create endless new things with the same bricks and combines it with an interactive story about George. The challenges you are presented with help move the story along. A race against the clock puzzler combined with a cool snap a photo of your creations to check accuracy make this a really unique meld of physical and digital and story and game. (may contain an easter egg or too)

Rebrickable.com

Rebrickable makes replay endlessly amazing. It’s the ultimate unofficial LEGO replay resource. LEGO sets always provide instructions to build the pictured item. Some sets even allow for a few more items from the same pieces.  Simply enter some existing LEGO set numbers you own and the power of the database sparks to life. As of this writing, 6436 sets and more than 1 million parts power the database and the suggestion engine often provides multiple sets you could build with your parts on hand. Even better there are photos to help you along the way, just like real LEGO instructions.

Cuusoo

Unusual name. Still in beta. Cuusoo is an official LEGO site that is a simple to use crowd sourcing tool. Non-employees who are fans for LEGO submit designs they have built. If the designs reach 10,000 supporters, LEGO turns on the production of these into official sets with the designer sharing in the proceeds. To date three projects have hit the 10,000 supporter mark including a submarine, a satellite, and most recently a Minecraft model. Interesting to note how LEGO really adds value in helping design the models after they reach evaluation.  The creative initial Minecraft model is quite different from the production model, Minecraft Micro World which looks even better.

The Brothers Brick

Earlier I mentioned AFOL, and The Brothers Brick is a blog for Adult Fans of LEGO. Started in 2005, the same time as Techlife, The Brothers Brick is a showcase for LEGO creations from around the world. They sprinkle in new set releases, news about events, and even a bit of education. I learned and built a Studs Not On Top (SNOT) creation after reading about how many AFOL use this method to showcase how the small bumps that connect one brick to another are hidden with this method of building. One of  The Brothers Brick contributors was a bit part in helping get the Minecraft Micro World built on Cuusoo.

Rebrick

Rebrick is another LEGO official site also in beta. The site attempts to form a community of users around LEGO creations. Rebrick promises in multiple places it won’t use the site to advertise or market. With a name that’s confusing compared to Rebrickable, contains less high end quality builds and writing than highlighted on The Brothers Brick and lacks the interactivity of Cuusoo, Rebrick is worth exploring for a few minutes.  It has an easy-to-use tool to bookmark and share things found in other online locations. Re-brick could use a bit of a re-think.

Have another online place you love to explore the world of LEGO. Share it.


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Money. You work hard for it. You save. You look at how you can amass more of it. It hasn’t been since the sell an item on Ebay how-to of  “Modern Day Alchemy” that Techlife delivered an article about money. (Editor’s note: “Modern Day Alchemy” was the most recent published syndicated Techlife column.) (Author’s note: The proceeding editor’s note is completely fabricated for artistic license, but it did look highly impressive.) So prior to the how-to on using Ebay, the last time I spoke of money was back in 2009 with “Freecycle – Give, Get, Save“.

One thing readers often comment about is their confusion after reading a column. Upon hearing this remark, like any good columnist I make plans how the next time I will just dial it back. Make it easier to understand. But then you get deep into a subject about online cartography, such as “Why North is No Longer Up” and realize, maybe there are readers who don’t know what cartography means or what how it would relate to immersive photographic cartography. And right there a reader says, “I’m lost, I didn’t realize I picked up the New England Journal of Medicine.” Clearly they are lost because cartography is the study and making of maps and likely would be a minor side bar in the New England Journal of Medicine. I wonder though; “Hey you, yes you, the reader. Your epidermis is showing.”

In an effort to bring a bit of fiscal responsibility to Techlife–  Wait sorry, in easier terms, in an effort to showcase how to save you some money I have a simple piece of advice for your online shopping. Don’t checkout. Of course I don’t mean, never. That would make it hard to get anything purchased. Instead it might be better to say, slow down when checking out. When you purchase anything these days, many people as suggested by an early Techlife column, are conditioned to read reviews. Learning from other users the positives, negatives and little tricks of products and services helps improve decisions and buying habits. This is being a smart consumer.

I specifically said “save you some money.” You are nodding your head, saying to yourself, “I stuck with him this long, let’s see where he is going.” There are many sites that exist to offer online shopper’s coupon codes, Retail Me Not is easy to use and user driven. The site has coupon codes for more than 150,000 sites. The strength of the site is the data around each coupon code. Users can rate the codes providing a success rate of each code. A recent search for Amazon.com coupon codes found the average discount was $40. There were 20 codes listed as “active” which means more than 50% success rate and recent usage. There were another 32 codes listed as unreliable, which is based on success rates less than 50% and age of the code.  What this means is with more than 50 coupon codes for just a single site, albeit a popular one, Retail Me Not is a site to visit EVERY time you are starting to make an online purchase on any web site. Be sure to share how much you have saved? To date I have saved over $500 using this site. Savings like that is habit forming.


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As the new year begins, time to think about fall clean up. You know the clean up you said you would do to be ready for the holiday season. Oh yeah, now you remember. That one. Time to evaluate the 1980 toaster oven instruction manual and the -. Wait what’s that? You said the manual is garbage? Well have I got a story for you. Anything to procrastinate the clean up right?

In a previous Techlife, “Freecycle – Give, Get, Save I highlighted Freecycle, a service for getting rid of items to local community members. Many readers still refer to that column but add “their” items have value; like the gold plated fondue set, never opened? Or the slightly used collection of every MAD magazine that has Star Wars on the cover?  Easy answer, use Ebay or Craigslist depending on the item. Raise your hand if you have?

A Simple Ebay How To

Ebay and Craigslist both are 17 years old. Yes, really. Here’s the primer for a seller. Ebay gives your item view to a worldwide audience and handles the financial transaction smoothly while taking about 10% of the final sales price. The seller handles shipping.  Craigslist offers a sales tool with a more local focus and charges nothing for listing and selling relying on the two parties to meet and exchange cash and goods.

A friend had some Nintendo DS games which sell well on Ebay, so we collected the inventory. My friend had smartly kept the instruction books and boxes too. While reviewing things he realized he sadly had lost a game.

“Guess this instruction book and box are garbage.”

My simple reply was, “It costs nothing to list on Ebay.”

“C’mon this is garbage. The game is missing. I’m not going to list it. Waste of time.”

“Let me try.”

“Fine, have at it.”

We took a simple, clear photo of each game and the box and instructions, figured out a fair cost for shipping and clicked “sell” on Ebay. We built the listing page of each item by adding our photo and a clear easy to understand description. By starting  the listing price at a penny we hoped to generate some excitement and take what the market would bear. And yes we did this for the “garbage” too. We listed the box and instructions only, highlighting no game was included. The auctions began. It was fun and entertaining watching page views climb, seeing more and more people watch our auctions. (Watching is Ebay’s way of letting a shopper keep an eye on an auction without committing.)

Everything was getting bids except the “garbage.” I took my lumps and ribbing, always pointing out there were people watching the box and instructions so maybe a last minute bid. And then all the auctions ended. My friend was right. We did not get a single bid for the garbage. So I asked, if I might re-list the garbage. The laughing increased five fold, and the joking increased too.

Except suddenly it was I who was laughing with a few days to go someone had bid the minimum .01. Game on. When  the auction came to an end – $7.00 for garbage. Laughing turned to thank you.

Ready, set, get cleaning. Share with Techlife  your best Ebay and Craigslist stories in the comments. Good or bad, weird or zany, let’s hear it.


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YouTube Preview Image

When you see a headline like “Drive for $1000, Alex” you may think Techlife’s electric car column is on its way. (Hint: Nissan, Tesla or Chevrolet when you drop one off, my outlet will power not just a review.) So if not electric cars, maybe this is about Google’s self driving cars that were on real roads with live drivers. Strike two. How about if you stop guessing and just let me tell you? No? You want to keep guessing? Bingo. That’s the “Drive” I am talking about.

We have covered so many unique folks to date, in just 2011; Connor Dunn of TabCloud, Jared Fanning and Michael Baldwin the cartographers, Josh Nimoy, Aleksandar Rodic, Chris Milk for coders of Open GL, Jeremy Young the amazing artist and let’s not forget my mom and her gmail hack. What did all of these people have in common? Ok, that was rhetorical – I set you up to say “Drive.” So as we explore a time in the calendar when some people take it easy, I wanted to share the story of drive. Instead of just sharing one person, learn about the passion two vastly different people bring to what they do.

Earlier this year I covered the amazing feat of IBM Researchers in “What is a computer overlord? Meet Watson.” Their goal was to have a computer be able to understand and beat the best human players of all time in a game of “Jeopardy!”  Well, be amazed again; meet Roger Craig, the all time Jeopardy! single day money winner.  He did it in just his second match, beating Ken Jennings record. Roger went on to become a Tournament of Champions winner as well.

This was no accident. This was pure drive. Roger details his dominance, with a look at his training methods. He used popular Jeopardy! site J-archive to build a private web learning tool around the data. Just to prove it works, he allowed three other friends to train with it. Each was a contestant who also crushed their competition (though they remain anonymous at this time.) His brilliant move, dismantling learning as he knew it.  His drive led him to re-learn, how to learn. Re-read that again. He taught himself a new way to learn.

You are sitting there nodding right now. Saying, yeah but Roger’s very smart to begin with and that helped in his quest. Drive has no barriers. Meet Kenny Brooks, door-to-door salesman. In just seven minutes he will have you wanting to buy his product.

YouTube Preview Image

“Yeah, right? I don’t think so,”  you are saying to yourself. For years you have been conditioned to  not trust door-to-door folks, and be a skeptic. Kenny does more than show his drive, he details it for the listener. He explains himself and his goals, along with his role models. His drive is clear and direct but the delivery gets you laughing and excited. With nearly 1000 comments some claim this video to be phony, even so Kenny’s methods and his style show the human drive to immerse yourself in the challenge.

As the year winds to an end, and we begin to look ahead, pick your passion, and drive it into next year.


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“On thine day, in thine month, in thine year, it has come pass thy new The Tab King has been crowned.”

Is Techlife really declaring it is the king of something? Well of course not loyal subjects, I mean readers. Kings are people and Techlife is but a vessel to share knowledge. And what is it again that I rule you ask? Tabs? Sit back and let me explain the kingdom of web browsing and open tabs.

Modern web browsers all employ the concept of tabbed browsing. A tab is a way of storing many browsing sessions in a shared window. Need to look up something but want to keep search window open as well, just open the search in a new tab. Visiting Facebook and need to read an article in your stream, open it in a new tab . The advantage of a new tab is your existing window remains as you left it. There is no hard and fast data on tab usage but in a recent unofficial Twitter poll, my usage of more than 60 concurrently open tabs outdistanced the rest by more than 35 tabs. (As I write this there are 73 open tabs in two browser windows.)

Why so many open tabs?

I use tabs for Techlife research of course. As well as keeping tabs on news of the day, shopping takes a few tabs for research and reviews, another for price comparison and yet another for the actual online store.

“So it came to pass that The Tab King began to worry about losing all the tabs.”

With all the open tabs Google Chrome rarely crashes and even when it does restoring the tabs is pretty easy. But yet, there are times when restoring the tabs is not easy and tabs are lost. I’m sure the astute reader says, what about Xmarks, the solution from a previous Techlife column? Bookmarking each tab is more of a chore and less a solution for short and mid term tabs.

The Elegant Evolution

Faithful reader Rob who has emailed back and forth suggested a new tool he found, TabCloud by Connor Dunn, a student at the University of Warwick, UK. This amazing tool allows a user to save the current tabs. But it does more. It lets you save them to the cloud. (Quick sidebar: The Cloud is another way of saying the internet, or more accurately not saved locally on your computer.) By saving your tabs to the cloud, TabCloud let’s a user access them anywhere.

“So faithful subjects of the realm, The Tab King was worry free and the brave reader Rob granted knighthood.”

Epilogue

“As The Tab King began to prepare for sharing the discovery of the brave knight Sir Rob with the loyal subjects, the King made yet another discovery.”  

TabCloud has an Android application and an iPhone and iPad webapp! The apps allows a user to access their saved tabs on their mobile device as well and it is as simple to use as the Chrome and Firefox extensions.


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Data can be beautiful. Upward trending profits, doubling your donut intake,  increased use of kleenex instead of a kid’s sleeve; each one tells a story. Then overlay that data with a map and suddenly you begin to see regional trends such as the combined donut intake and increased use of kleenex means  upward trending profits for stores in various locations that sell both these items. Pretty standard stuff.

Recently Techlife’s Facebook page shared one of these such maps titled “The United States of Football” by Jared Fanning as seen on Visual.ly.  But of course in my brain there was something that clicked. I had seen this before. Where? The internet is after all a big place.  So I promptly forgot about it.

As I was preparing the new column I was reviewing an interesting site called The CommonCensus Map Project by Michael Baldwin. The approach this political scientist took was removing zip codes from the question of “Where do you live?” Michael instead attempts to understand “Where do you think you live?” Using the idea your community is not always your town’s name or zip code was the premise when the site started in 2005.

The CommonCensus Map Project starts with a simple survey of just a few questions. 61,000+ have since inception have participated. Michal admits the sample size is tiny compared to the people counted in the US Census. Admittedly he has partially moved on and the project isn’t up to date. But the maps are still interesting to look at and provide some interesting commentary on people’s state of mind. Notice how large the geographic region of living “near” Salt Lake City and Denver is compared with anywhere else.  How could you use the map?

After adding my own data to the map project I noticed there was a spin off project – The CommonCensus Sports Map Project. Had we found The United States of Football’s data source by accident?

Michael tells the story how The CommonCensus Sports Map Project blossomed from the initial project and shows sports fan affiliation by sport across the US. He started by focusing on NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and NCAA Football. The NFL has had more than 35,000 contributing fans, with MLB right behind. Following is a small drop to near 32,000 NCAA football fans contributing.  The NBA has had near 27,000 and the NHL just over 25,000 fans contributing their views on which teams they affiliate with based on location.

So for the first time we have The CommonCensus NFL Fan Map and the United States of Football Map. Readers you be the judge what say you?

 

 


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We have an implied relationship. You the reader, me the writer. You the question asker, me the answerer. Techlife enjoys being your answer source, but dear reader you should know the world is one big three year old. With an endless supply of questions; Where do you turn for answers? (There’s another one.) While Techlife is great and Wikipedia is good (see what I did there?), sometimes your question can’t be answered by either fountain of knowledge. Enter stage left – Quora. (getting its name from Question or  Answer and a self created plural of the word quorum.)

Quora (rhymes with “nora”) is the resource for your inner three year old. It offers up questions by users and answers by really smart people. Quora has done a great job of allowing an expert’s answer to be voted upwards as the best answer to a question, while also allowing multiple answers in case a breadth of knowledge is what’s needed. Do we need some examples? Sure we do.

Is it fun for movie stars to kiss other movie stars on-screen?

So right away a great question. Even better the best peer-reviewd answer at the time of publication was by Ashton Kutcher who said:

It totally depends on the co-star. Seann William Scott in Dude, Where’s My Car?… not so fun. Natalie Portman… not an awful day on the job.

Right away you know this isn’t Wikipedia. What else you ask? Here are a few I have answered:

Has anyone in the public sphere ever reached the pinnacle of three entirely different disciplines like Arnold Schwarzenegger has?

The answers on this question have many luminaries in society listed with Leonardo Da Vinci leading all vote getters with Painter, Scientist, Engineer and Inventor.  My submission was Bill Gates who as a computer engineer developed the BASIC programming language, went on to create Microsoft and lead them as a business titan, has authored two best sellers and finally is the world leader today in philanthropy and getting other wealthy people to follow his example.

How do you know who is answering your question and their level of expertise? Each person has a profile page that can link to other social media profiles. On that page you can see what kind of questions they have asked and answered recently, what topics they follow and who else they follow.

Another one I answered is something that crosses physics with paleontology but I just applied a little common sense to get the second best answer to date.

Could a Tyrannosaurus Rex bite through a modern day tank?

My answer backed  up with some science was “NO” quite simply because the T-Rex couldn’t open his jaw wide enough  to take a bite. My counterparts in answering this question are Andy Lemke, a polymath IT Architect with knowledge of nuclear engineering and physics and Gary Stein a retired CTO.

So am I being replaced? According to, “What are telltale signs that you may be facing a mutiny and/or coup?” It looks like I am going to —

*Note that every question mark in this article has a question on Quora tied to it, comment on which one is your favorite question used. There are some unique ones.

 


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Jeremy Young - Stare into Me

Jeremy Young - Stare into Me

When you were 15, were you cool? How about humble? How about talented? Meet Jeremy Young, a digital artist from New Zealand who’s artistic talent had him winning awards as young as six. Techlife was lucky enough to sneak in an after-school interview with Jeremy. He has a ton to share, so less of me and more of him.

Techlife: How did you get started?

Jeremy Young: I have been doing digital art since 2008 but as long as I can remember, I have had a passion for designing with expressive use of colour. I won my first colouring in competition at age six and went on to win the next eight which I entered. I guess I’ve always loved colouring and design, using a computer enables me to create images which I couldn’t create using traditional drawing/painting methods.

TL: What is your main medium and why do you use it?

JY: My main medium is vexel. Vexeling is basically vector work done in photoshop. I love vexel because of the precision and clean lines which you can achieve. I prefer to vexel rather than vector because my knowledge of Photoshop is far greater than my knowledge of Illustrator. I also like it because it gives me more freedom to experiment and bring other elements in when I want.

TL: How long does it take from start to finish to complete a piece?

JY: It really depends. I will often go at my own slow and leisurely pace, working on and off on each piece. Because of this they usually take around  3-4 weeks. If I really concentrated and set myself a deadline then I could complete each one much faster.

TL: Many of your works appear to be painted, have you transferred any to canvas or even photo canvas?

JY: All of my works are made almost entirely in photoshop, I have had a few printed for family and friends  but apart from that they remain solely on the computer.

Jeremy Young - Mindless Wisdom

Jeremy Young - Mindless Wisdom

TL: What would you define as your style?

JY: I aim to make my works vibrant yet clean lined. The structure of the designs is very minimal; I combine this with extreme colour which gives the works great impact. However I am currently working on a black and white piece.

TL: What other artists influence your work?

JY: There are really too many to name, I am influenced by countless artists I have found online, but also by famous artists in history such as Andy Warhol.

TL: Where do you draw your inspiration from?

JY: Even though I’m surrounded the beautiful landscape of New Zealand, nature doesn’t particularly inspire me. Instead, I am fascinated by objects that are man-made. I’m also inspired by other art, people and cultures.

Jeremy Young

TL: What does your studio space look like?

JY: Since I’m 15, I don’t have a studio but work in my bedroom, overlooking the sea.  My workspace is a very large desk clear of everything but my computer. I also like to surround myself with art I enjoy.

TL: Why did you choose DeviantArt.com as a place to showcase your work?

JY: It is a fantastic place to meet other artists and get feedback. It has a great sense of community where you can learn from other artists and let them easily see your works.

TL: Have you had any major news coverage, journals, magazines, blogs or other media?

JY: Yes, I was featured in Advanced Photoshop magazine last year and have just done an interview for a feature in the French edition of Advanced Creative Magazine. My work has also been featured on numerous blogs, sometimes without my knowing. I often will stumble across a website featuring me through googling the names of my works and my name. I have also had three main page ‘daily deviation’ features on Deviantart.com. They were Stare into Me, We’re All Mad Here and Mindless Wisdom.

TL: Have you shown your work in a gallery, museum, festival or other public place?

JY: Getting my work into galleries has certainly been a goal of mine but I have yet to approach a gallery and see if they would take my work.

Jeremy Young - We're All Mad Here

Jeremy Young - We're All Mad Here

TL: Have you done any private, public commissions?

JY: No I haven’t done any commissions. I have had requests, but previously I have been focusing on my own style and wants. If a great offer comes my way I would happily accept.

TL: Are you making a living/spending money doing this today?

JY: I’m currently a school student and therefore don’t have time to be a doing graphic design as a living. It is more of a hobby for me at the moment. Who knows where it will go once I finish school though.

TL: What do your teachers, parents and friends think?

JY: My parents are obviously very proud of me and encourage me to keep doing design work. I don’t do any ‘computer design’ subjects so my teachers are unaware of my interest in art. I don’t like to talk about graphic design much with my friends, but I seem to have gained a reputation of someone who knows what they are doing when it comes to design. Only one or two of them know that I am in magazines, etc.

TL: What are the future plans for Jeremy Young?

JY: I’m definitely going to University but I’m unsure of what I want to study. I love being creative and that will always be a part of my life but I have a broad range of interests and I am unsure if I will take a career to do with digital design. My family is very supportive of my design work but they also are aware of my other strengths, so they try to keep me broad in my choice of subjects. At the moment I’m tossing up ideas of economics, medicine or design.

TL: How could someone contact you for more information?

JY: Flick me an email at navrasmail {at} gmail {dot} com or send me a note on my deviantart: http://navras2535.deviantart.com.


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Here at Techlife we have had the pleasure of writing about many family and friends who needed technology assistance. Remember the reader who dropped his phone in the toilet? A fan favorite and a personal friend. How do I get so lucky knowing these folks?

As Techlife likes to pay homage to the greatest hackers, Moms, we have had past columns such as GeekDad happy for Mother’s Day and This Mother’s Day Tell the Truth. Well, now it’s personal. In a celebration of Moms’ ingenuity, I offer up How my Mom Hacked Gmail.

My mom plays this mental game with herself. Maybe you do too. “Technology is too hard, and I don’t get it,” she often exclaims. But in reality she does get it, just at her own pace. Which leads us to the recent multi-year process of getting a smart phone. Now you may be saying to yourself what special smart phone did she get that took a few years to arrive?

Well, once again this is my Mom. The smart phones have been here, it was her reluctance mentally that hadn’t turned the corner. She had a cell and a Palm and was eager to carry a single device.  After years her realization was,whatever she imagined as the perfect device still hadn’t been made apparently.

So she settled on a top of the line Android Powered G2 with Google. Immediately the questions begin. Her biggest was Palm Notes. She used the basic notes function and wanted something like it. A simple request. Searching the Market resulted in more than 1000 note apps. “But, son,” she said. Always there’s a catch, right? Hers was she wanted to access the notes even when in the basement of her work with no connection, she wanted changes to auto-sync, she wanted to search them, and wanted to organize them. So far there are still hundreds of apps that work, no problem Mom.

Life got in the way of the family helpdesk, a few days later the smart phone vs. the toilet and other tech foibles speaking circuit concluded, I checked in with Mom again and asked her how it was going.  Expecting to hear how she still had had 48 more apps to test drive in the notes. She said, “I just decided to use Gmail.” I cocked my head to the side like a dog does upon hearing an unfamiliar sound. Slowly I replied, “How does that work?”

My Mom’s Gmail Hack

  1. Visit Gmail on Desktop and log in (not all Androids can do this on the device)
  2. In the upper left click on Contacts
  3. Under the New Contact Button, scroll down to “New Group”  and click
  4. Enter a name, I chose “Notes”
  5. Click the “New Contact” Button
  6. In the “Add Name” field add a category such as Work, Home or School
  7. Click the button with the “…” and enter the Note’s subject as the last name
  8. Now begin entering your notes
  9. Upon completion, click on the groups pull down and select “Notes” and leave “My Contacts” selected
  10. Repeat for all your notes
  11. Notes are searchable on desktop and handheld and synced to Google’s back end servers

Yep, my Mom took the simplest, easiest method she knew and adapted. Creating Gmail Notes, proving once again simple beats fancy every time. If you know her, call her a geek. She earned it. Happy Mother’s Day to all those moms.

 


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Renaissance. The word conjures up images of painters, sculptors, scientists, builders, writers, politicians all working side-by-side with one area bleeding into the next. While the word renaissance literally means rebirth, it also connotates cultural shifts and applied learning. In today’s digital realm we have access to information at our fingertips and the ability to sort and shift that data, as Techlife covered in recent columns like What is a computer overload? Meet Watson. and 189 Paradoxesand 700,00 Archives to Listen By.”

Body and Seoul

Google Earth originally debuted in 2001, under a different name. In June it celebrates 10 years of helping people understand our Earth. The applications have been wide reaching, being used in many media and educational settings to help better explain the world around us. We have gotten use to the flyovers, layers, zoom, rotate and ability to see how the world has been affected by hurricanes, tsunamis or earthquakes. Now Google Labs has applied a digital renaissance thinking to this technology in the new Google Body.

Google Body uses the same navigational tools to make exploring the human body familiar and informational. With unique tools to rotate, zoom and uncover layers of own anatomy. Labels like in maps can be turned on and off, allowing a clear understanding of the muscles, bones, organs, and much more. A friend who was a doctor was blown away, then I dropped the final nugget. It’s available for Android too. Digital Renaissance indeed.

Eye ful Tower

A few weeks ago the weather was inclement, and a case of the sniffles was running through the house. A perfect day to have a museum come to me. Go ahead, read that again. Good. So the only question was which museum? Thanks to Art Project by Google we could explore not just the real Renaissance, but any other period of art covered at currently 17 different art museums in places such as Moscow, Berlin, New York City, London, Prague, and Madrid.

Students who want to explore paintings can now do so with the highest resolution imaginable. Architects who want to get a feel for some of the most famous buildings can do a virtual walk through. And best of all, you, can curate your own favorites from all the museums, useful for art fans, teachers and artists.

I decided to visit the Palace of Versailles where I was treated to vast galleries with ornate opulence at every turn. A nice change was a tour around the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Here I spent time lost in The harvest a painting by Vincent Van Gogh; “he considered this impressive vista one of his finest works.”

Continue to learn, stretching your mind across seemingly vast spaces. It is only this effort that will result in true personal renaissance.


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YouTube Preview Image

Danger, Will Robinson!”  Attention, science fiction writers, time to find new material.  Reality has arrived. In the form of a supercomputer named Watson. Most Techlife readers probably heard about the Jeopardy! match between Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, two of the game show’s all time champions and a machine built by IBM named Watson after the founder of the company.

Since there have been science fiction storytellers, there have been sidekicks and stars, villains and heroes, useful and funny characters who were created by humans but took on a life of their own. What made these characters so endearing was not their intelligence which was often portrayed as super human, but their inability to “get it.”

In Star Wars, when C-3PO mistakenly understands his owner Luke Skywalker is being crushed by the garbage compacter, but in reality Luke is cheering loudly at being saved and is happy.

In Terminator 2:Judgement Day, when John Connor attempts to explain how to lighten up and joke to a cyborg, who is able to mimic but not truly get the human idea of a joke.

On three consecutive days in February 2011, Watson, a computer competed and crushed two of the best Jeopardy! human contestants of all time.  Ken Jenning’s even joked in Final Jeopardy with the famous meme quote, “I for one welcome our new computer overlords.”  (from The Simpsons “Deep Space Homer”)

What is Watson?

Simply a computer with a focused problem to solve.  The ability to answer questions posed by anyone.  At first this seems relatively easy until you begin to dissect the vast knowledge humans have amassed, and even more so the sinews of connection between something that we know and something we are trying to process in a new way.  As an example asked today, “What do they sell at the Apple store?” Most 5 year olds in the civilized world, will answer “iPods, iPhones and Macs.” 25 years ago most 5 year olds would say, “Apples.” Both answers are right, in the context of time.

To be able to understand a question, the programming team had to take into account millions of variables of this type. To assist them they begin feeding Watson with data.  At the time of the match Watson had 200 million pages of information and was not online during Jeopardy! Watson itself is housed on 90 high end IBM servers with nearly 3,000 processors.

What now Watson?

Speed is the killer factor in computing.  People write into Techlife asking how do I make my PC faster. The number one answer I give people, add more RAM. IBM added more RAM, than repeated until they had 16 terabytes. (1000 gigabytes) I venture to say most readers don’t have more than 2 terabytes of hard drive storage, and this was RAM, the fast stuff.  So now Watson moves the tassel of graduation to the right and starts careers — with an s. First up, and fitting is Dr. Watson to aid in patient diagnosis.  Next Watson’s employer might be legal eagles using the brainpower as a research computer. And of course Five Star General Watson, as IBM counts the U.S. government as a big client, where Watson will be asked to do who knows what.

What would you do with Watson at your beck and call? Share with me.


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Critically speaking, there are few ways people name companies and products; literally, descriptively and memorily. Ok I wanted you to remember the last one. By memorily I of course mean distinctively. On the internet these days all three kinds abound from TV.com to YouTube to Hulu.  Each does video on demand albeit in various ways but their names each speak to a different way we interpret them.

Which bring us to a site that wears a name so bold it could be the considered the only site you would ever need, at least that’s their hope at Find The Best.  According to them:

FindTheBest is an objective comparison engine that allows you to find a topic, compare your options and decide what’s best for you.

Maybe they could start with finding the best description of their site.  Techlife’s view is:

FindTheBest is a mashup between search, Wikipedia, and data sets organized in a sortable spreadsheet, with the added of twist of a do-it-yourself sheet too.

Of course as with most things the easiest way to understand is simply to experience.  Find it Best in a bit of confusion, calls each of their data sets an app. For example with the NFL heating up a good example is the National Football League Franchises App, letting user sort by 14 different criteria for 85 different active and inactive teams.

The football information is easily sortable with sliders and column headers, but nothing you couldn’t find elsewhere.  So let’s turn to a more human question; What’s are some 8 person or more board games? Using the Board Games App I grabbed the “Players” slider and moved the left side to “8” and it filtered it so I could see the 21 games out of 245 in the dataset. Easy.
Of course data sets that are hand created can be confusing too.  Techlife found a Fish Mercury app that had over 1,000 species of fish and more than 37,525 matches. It gave a 5 star health rating along with the name, state, county and waterbody of each fish along with the mercury concentration.  I’m happy to see that 19,642 fish got a 5 star rating. This seems like great information but then there was a second mercury data app which dealt with Mercury in Commercial Fish. This data set had just 66 fish listed, but it did cite the source for the mercury readings which was helpful.  There was no clear correlation among these two data sets, again as will happen with user generated content.
Here are some other common and not so common apps:
Highest Grossing Movies – interesting to see adjusted gross for top 100
Nobel Prize Winners – youngest winner was just 25 years old
Luxury Resorts – For just $1,457 per night at the standard room rate stay at the Burj al Arab
Comets and Asteroids – of the near 500K items tracked, nearly 1100 are classified as potentially hazardous!
and of course we end with our headline…
Paradoxes – filter by the subcategory of self-reference for some gems.

Improving knowledge, tracking something important or something less important, despite the name paradox Find the Best is a great resource for anyone who wants some easy to sort databases.  Send us a link to your latest data set.

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