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Pixels by Martin Walls

I’m lazy. There I said it. Of course when I say, I’m lazy. I mean of course you’re lazy. Face it. You are.  I bet you are lazy enough you won’t even finish this paragraph.

Ha-ha! I tricked you into that one. Don’t be mad I promise the rest of the way, no tricks.

Let’s face it. We’re both lazy. More than ten years ago the Techlife office needed to store files much as we do today. We researched options and landed on a small server running a custom version of Linux and supporting RAID 1 (two hard drives that mirror each other, one dies, replace it and keep working.) Our office would diligently back-up the entire system every month taking the back-up hard drive off -site for safe keeping.

Pug Server

Three loyal readers of Techlife would often comment it was a great system for the time. But we began to see breakdowns in our process. First email back-up broke and wasn’t fixed. I got lazy. Then offsite back-ups stopped after a new PC didn’t get set-up with the backup software. I got lazy. Then the power supply in the file server died. I got scared, but was still lazy. But I did get the power supply replaced and then I got serious.

The three loyal readers each in their own way shared the same story. Hard drives are mechanical. They don’t last forever. I got more worried, but a little motivated. I did research and more research. I talked to the three readers about their areas of expertise. One is a business data back-up expert, one is a computer engineer and the third is a small business IT specialist. Each talked about RAID options (multiple hard drives setup to store data while reducing risk in case of drive failure.) They also talked about cloud storage for remote off site storage and about local back-ups as well.

With their help I setup Lazy Backup. It uses a variety of technologies but is flexible enough to allow you to mix and match your own Lazy Backup solution. Bottom line, protect your files before it is too late.

Here’s my custom Lazy Backup recipe:

1 x Windows machine to be the network file server (can be an older machine)

1 x 1 TB WD Blue Hard Drive – $60 (my Windows machine can handle more drives as  needed)

2 x 500 GB USB External Hard Drives – $55 (I had these already and just plugged them in)

1 x Install of TightVNC (allows remote log into the machine from another computer on the network)

1 x Install of Dropbox (allows easy sync of files if needed)

1 x Install of a backup software (I use Seagate’s which came with my external drives)

1 x Subscription to Backblaze (Used for off-site cloud storage, unlimited storage, less than $4/month)

Directions: Installed TightVNC, DropBox and the Seagate back-up software to the Windows machine. Manually installed the large hard drive and plugged in the two USB external drives  into the Windows machine.  Then copied all the files from all computers on the network to the new file server and set-up sharing so that each computer has network access to their files. After this I set-up  the Seagate back-up software and scheduled nightly at 10pm half the large hard drive to back up to one USB drive and half to the other USB drive, providing on-site local back-up.  Then installed Backblaze to the Windows machine and it backs up everything, including the Windows machine file server and the two USB hard drive local back-ups all to the cloud.

The three loyal readers all agree that RAID is nice but expensive and not needed for me. This solution has four copies of the data. One main, one local backup and then remote backup of each of the locals. After the initial setup, I do nothing and all data is backed up. Everything is automated. Just set and forget. It’s the perfect back-up for lazy people.  How lazy are you? What’s your solution?


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Tic Tactics Game Play

Every kid’s menu at every restaurant that provides them always includes a few games of Tic-Tac-Toe. It’s a staple. It’s simple. And it’s why you are about to be addicted to an updated classic game. Techlife has been heads down testing Tic Tactics by Hidden Variable Studios to ensure our readers would fall in love. Ok, who are we kidding we have been playing games all in the name of fun.

YouTube Preview Image

Tic Tactics takes the game we all know and adds just enough complexity that adults and kids alike can play and discover what’s old is new again. Tic Tactics is a multi-player, free game for both Android and iOS. The game starts with what looks like a big Tic-Tac-Toe board, a 3×3 grid. Looking closer each square of the board is subdivided again into another 3×3 Tic-Tac-Toe board, providing a total of nine little games of Tic-Tac-Toe that make up the big board. The goal is simple, get three in a row in any direction of the big board to win.

How To Play Tic Tactics

Each player at the start of the game places nine of their X’s or O’s spread among the board. Tic Tactics won’t allow a user to complete a line in this initial setup phase, by taking away squares as you place each of your symbols. After both players have placed their initial moves, X goes first.

Each player then alternates playing a piece. The strategy is that each move impacts the full big board. When you place a piece the location corresponds to the placement of the next piece by your opponent. Place a piece in any of the  little boards’ upper right corners and the next move made by your opponent will be in the upper right corner little board.

Once a user does play three in a row on any little board they own that square on the big board. Getting three in a row on the big board wins you the game.

Tic Tactics You Won

Tic Tactics Strategy

My first time playing I had some questions and Techlife’s strategy section should help new users as well as experienced players. What happens if a little board has a “cat’s game” or a draw? If the last piece of a little board is played (9 in total) and the board is a draw, both players get to claim that board as a wildcard toward the goal of three in a row on the big board. This can include winning someone the big board.

Just because a little board is claimed, the empty squares on the little board are still in play, but they hurt you. A lot. Avoid getting into a situation where your opponent keeps forcing you to play in a little board that has already been won.

Each little board has one square that when played makes the next play on that same little board. Use these squares wisely, both on offense and on defense.

Giving up a little board isnt’ a bad thing. Be willing to sacrifice a little board.

When you start Tic Tactics you will notice your rating is 1500. This is because the game uses the Elo rating system. This system, invented by Arpad Elo allows the Tic Tactics server to try and set up fair matches between random players. Tic Tactics users can click on the person they are playing against to get a full game stats biography.

Keep your battery charged as you won’t want to put this game down.

Tic Tactics User Profile


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Scratch Programming: Imagine. Program. Share.

“I love engineering and science toys for young women,” a long time reader wrote to Techlife recently. As a mom, she was concerned how most science toys are geared toward young boys. She was sharing with me an engineering product aimed at young girls she had found. Breaking a stereotype is something many teachers, parents and grandparents think about, but find a challenge. Techlife has always believed the best new inventors need to be encouraged at a young age to explore their world, find a problem, no matter the size and solve it.

A local school in my area instead of holding a science fair holds an invention fair. It challenges students to find creative ways to solve problems. They build models of their inventions, many of which actually work. Students then present their inventions to the community and during the explanation you can hear their passion. They explain the problem they are solving and how it all worked out. From Jello ice cubes to a backpack with a a built in microwave/refrigerator to Cloudwater a device to solve the world’s drought issues these inventors were not just creative, but focused and driven.

Since 2003 students of all ages have been using Scratch to build games, share stories and create animations. (Shhh, don’t tell the students but they are really learning the building blocks to computer programming.) Students love the ability to quickly construct their ideas using a simple to understand interface of blocks. They chain the events together to build animations, sound controls, decision trees and more. Scratch has a great step by step hands-on tutorial to get users quickly building their first project and most of all understand the logic needed for a machine to process a set of instructions. Scratch offers a site built just for educators and another built just for parents as the two largest influences in a young inventor’s life.

Started in MIT’s Media Lab and offered for free, schools at all levels are using Scratch to teach the principals of computer programming. Harvard offers Scratch lessons during an introductory computer class for example, while many elementary schools have integrated it into their curriculum. With a simple tagline of “Imagine, Program, Share” the idea that anyone can do this by learning from what others have done before them is a pillar of computer science classes at any age.

The name Scratch comes from the idea that music DJs remix albums and scratch together their creations. Users of the language are encouraged to do the same. The best part of the learning is the ability to see someone’s amazing creation and not just peek behind the curtain at how they did it, but save a copy and start tinkering with the work right away. Users can see exactly who created what remix of their work, plus favorite, comment and love a project all of which builds a community. As of  this writing (Oct 2013) there were more than 2 million registered users with nearly 4 million projects shared in over 150 different countries.

As the thought everyone can build something becomes more and more prevalent, it’s a single graph buried on the Scratch site that is most telling; age of users when they registered to use the site. Impressively as you can never stop learning nearly 200 people registered when they were 80 years old. Conversely more than 3,000 registered when they were just four years old. The bulk of the age range is 12-13 with nearly 400,000 creators signing up. It’s a promising sign to see. But more amazing is what everyone is building.  Be sure to share your first Scratch with Techlife. We are ready to be inspired by your creations.

 


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Imagine gripping your handlebars tight, gunning the engine, shifting your weight while hanging on during a forward full flip of you and your motor bike all from the comfort and safety of your mobile.

bikerace

Turning back the clock to your earliest days with a Nintendo Entertainment System you may recall the classic Excitebike and exclaim, except for the flips you remember that game. Then long time fans of Techlife may recall the physics based builder Line Rider where you guide a rider and sled over a hand drawn course. It wasn’t a game as much as a chance to build your own track.

Then we have our faithful readers, you lovers of the mash-up bring us a motorbike-riding physics-based simple-line-track with user created levels and multi-player cross-platform experience. (Let’s let the rider race over the hyphens in that last sentence). How does it work? Addictivley well.

How to Play Bike Race

Visit your favorite app store and download Bike Race. Level 1 is a simple tutorial which explains the right side of the screen is “go” and the left side of the screen is “stop”. The game forgoes actual visible control elements but you shouldn’t need them. The game uses the accelerometer. Tilting left while on the ground pops the bike into a wheelie. Tilting left while in the air the rider and bike perform a backflip and tilting forward does a front flip.

You progress through each level as a time trial. Complete the level more quickly to earn the maximum three stars. Just after starting I got an invite from the loyal reader to play them in a multi-player match. Multi-player is a turn-based style game awarding you a win if you beat your opponent in head to head match of a single race. While you wait for them to race you can race other people or continue the single player racing.

Like Line Rider and the grand daddy Excitebike, Bike Race offers a track creator for those who want to build their own. Bike Race will take care of sharing them in the game and let others play your levels too. It gets addicting quickly so be careful that you have a few hours to kill before you try and build your masterpiece.

Thanks as always to the greatest readers for finding some real amazing things. We had quite a little struggle this month as reader suggestions came pouring in and made the job of curating just one a tough chore. Send those small ideas, fun things, and creativity to techlife at dkworldwide dot com.

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As The Byrds say:

So you want to be a rock and roll star?
Then listen now to what I say.
Just get an electric guitar
Then take some time
And learn how to play.

Rock Stage by Lisa

Every musician starts somewhere, usually playing music with some friends. Next thing you know someone suggests you form a band with dreams of playing to stadiums or clubs full of fans. It is that last word, “fans” that makes you into a rock and roll star. While The Byrds teach you the music side, Techlife  has four simple tools for the self promotion side of the budding rock star in you.

It seems today that a new group pops out of nowhere and then before you know it even your mom is telling you about them. It starts because everyone who’s anyone gets their microphone, guitar, Facebook Fan Page and YouTube Channel. It almost seems silly for The Byrds to include the first two, but just as silly for Techlife to not include the last two. These two are the cornerstone of today’s self-promotion movement. Direct access to your fans on a Fan Page and great music shared via YouTube are the staples of a rock star. Fans get to see and hear you, both performing music and behind the scenes of the creative process. Welcome to the life, you are a budding rock star.

Your YouTube Channel is gaining some momentum, at least your mom checks it out. But it isn’t fast enough. What you need is more exposure and the best way is simply to let fans easily listen to your music. Bandcamp is a great service for helping musicians set up simple sites with songs, albums, album art, lyrics, liner notes all in digital format. It lets the artist keep full control over their music including even selling it. Though early on give it away to fans as they will share it with more people. Bandcamp like YouTube Channels and Facebook Fan Pages let you track your fans too, seeing stats on what they like and what they love. Bandcamp also plugs right into your Facebook Fan Page making it easy for fans to see new music from you.

All this exposure and the hottest club in town calls you to play Saturday night. Then you wake up with a little drool on the side of your face. A more likely route is your visiting local venues who have open mic nights or small bars or other places that encourage live music or might consider it. Talk to the manager, have them hear your music see your fanbase and if you are lucky get a chance on a Tuesday night. This is it, your first gig. Obviously sharing the gig is key. Sure Facebook Events lets you invite fans of your Fan Page, but a little bit more exposure using Songkick and their artist tool Tourbox allows you to seed your tour date (just one right now) to Facebook, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, Foursquare, Spotify, and of course your Songkick artist page.

As a bonus tool, consider crowd sourcing your first studio album. This is how all the indie bands do it these days. They reach out to their fans and use a site like Indiegogo or Kickstarter to entice their fans to help share the cost of making the first album and give them great rewards for like good seats, sitting in a studio session and even guitar lessons. (Techlife has used Indiegogo to run a camaign and supported a few cool Kickstarter efforts.) It takes creativity and work but it is another way to connect with fans.

Having all these tools makes you look like a rock star. Now comes the easy parts; put out good music and a great show and the fans will follow.


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ISS  - International Space Station

“There are people up there? Real people? How did they get there? What do they eat?” and of course “How do they go to the bathroom?” These were the questions that came up the first night we went out to see the International Space Station (ISS).

Space is  a vast place that is hard to comprehend. You see stars but are told the light you are seeing is from years ago. Perplexing. Some stars we see today on Earth have not been around for millions of years. Head scratcher. Jupiter the largest planet in our solar system  is just a “bright star” as seen from Earth, but it really is more than 300 times the mass of Earth. Whoa.

Humans have long been fascinated by space travel. Children and adults often list astronaut as a career they would like to have when they grow up. One thing that brings the vastness of space a bit closer is to experience it.

Best Reader’s On The Planet

See what I did there? I said it because it is true. Techlife’s readers ask and inquire about many things. One reader loves the photos from NASA and sends amazing images every so often. A few months back the reader over some information about the ISS. I was busy and didn’t think much about it. But I bookmarked it for reading later. Turns out it was a chance to see the ISS from anywhere on Earth.

The International Space Station is third brightest object in space as seen from Earth after the sun and moon. The difference is that it isn’t found in a fixed area in the sky so the only way to see it is to know where and when to look.  NASA offers up “Spot the Station” a website for just that.

How do I see the ISS?

There are a few key facts to understanding the ISS and Spot the Station. First off the ISS orbits the Earth at an inclination of 51.6 degrees.  The ISS never travels past 51.6 degrees latitude north or south of the equator, so Techlife readers in Alaska won’t see it directly over-head.

To be notified you visit Spot the Station and sign up for either an email or text message notification which is based on the location you provide. It appears any country, state/region and city work across the globe. Then you wait.

The cryptic message delivered from Spot the Station looks like:

“ SpotTheStation! Time: Wed Jan 30 6:45 PM, Visible: 2 min, Max Height: 64 degrees, Appears: WSW, Disappears NE. ”

The quick breakdown of this message is the time is based on your timezone. A cool aspect is that messages will always be for just after sunset or before sunrise by no more than a few hours. This is the best time to catch the sun reflecting off the space station and provides an easy to find object in the dark sky.

NASA ISS Spot the Station Diagram

 

As the ISS is orbiting the earth it appears from below the horizon and then disappears back below the horizon. The visibility provides you with the length of time it will be easily seen. The longest I have seen is six minutes, but it was a cloudy overcast night that evening.

Spot the Station provides the maximum height in degrees, which combined with where it will appear and disappear gives you a viewing path to find the ISS. A simple hint, the horizon is zero degrees and straight above you is ninety degrees. I bisected those two spots to find the approximate 45 degree mark which helped. Also the letters of where it will appear and disappear relate to a compass markings.

What am I looking for?

The ISS is a small dot since it is more than 200 miles from the surface of the Earth. Seen with the naked eye it appears to be a shooting star. It moves pretty fast and evenly like an airplane. Mission Control calculates 4,600 sighting locations and suggests picking a nearby town if yours isn’t listed. Due to how far it is from Earth your location need not be the exact city listed.  Don’t worry if you don’t get notified for a while. Mission Control only includes what they consider “good” sighting opportunities. This means you might go a few weeks without getting notified.

It’s a great family or co-worker event opportunity and a great chance to learn more about what they are doing up on the ISS too. Let the ISS staff and Techlife know what you see.


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You sit white knuckled behind the wheel. You quickly check your rear view mirror, then scan the field of cars ahead. Then you make your move and gently coast and brake into the red light during your commute home. This. Is. Racing.

Four Driving Metrics - Miles, Braking, Time, Speed

Raise your hand if you’re a good driver? Ok, put your hands back on the steering wheel. Now raise your hand if you can prove it. This becomes much tougher for a variety of reasons, starting with what is your definition of good? It is your amazing ability to simultaneously talk on the phone, eat lunch, check your email, drive with your knees while still obeying most of the rules of the road? Maybe it is your uncanny ability to beat the train and know where all the traffic cops sit so you can avoid long delays and speeding tickets?

As with most things, data might say otherwise. Insurance companies have always known more data is better. Now they are taking the stance more data is even better when shared with you. It just might change your driving habits. Techlife feels like a good driver, no insurance incidents, including accidents or major moving violations. But that kind of thinking is so last century.

I recently agreed to become a real life driver in the Data Racing League, allowing the insurance company to know nearly everything about every trip I take in my car. So I can hear half of you saying “Why would you allow that invasion of privacy?” and the other half saying “What does “everything” mean? What are they measuring?” Let’s look a little closer at what they measure first.

  • Mileage
  • Braking Events
  • Time of Day
  • Speed over 80mph

Seems simple enough with just four metrics. But here’s where the leery among you might cringe a little more. With just these four data points, the system breaks them up into smaller increments, such as a Hard Braking Event and an Extreme Braking Event.  What does that mean? Hard Breaking Events are a deceleration of 8 -10 mph in one second. Extreme Braking Events are a deceleration of over 10mph in one second. Pretty detailed. The system also tracks how many miles were traveled during various times of the day and how many miles you travel over 80 mph.

Overall Grades for Driving

You might be pretty skeptical, let’s just turn your fear of being tracked and monitored to the maximum setting . You, the person who tells the world on Facebook what you ate, where you ate it, and more than most of us care to know about it. The tracking breakdown is by trip, providing the four base metrics, combined with a start and stop time down to the minute of the whole trip, plus average speed and maximum speed.

“There better be a great reason for doing this! I’m not just giving my private life out to any company who will penalize me even more because -” Let me stop you right there. It’s money. That’s right, the insurance company is offering money in the form of a discount of up to 30% off my next premium and it continues as long as the device stays installed. The live discount for my company is clearly displayed on a companion website and adjusts daily. All of a sudden you might be wondering how invasive could it really be and how does it actually work?

Weekly Driving Grid by Event

Contact your insurance company or agent to see if they offer the program. If they do they will send out a small device that plugs into your car above the gas pedal  below the steering wheel. It’s a data port used by mechanics. This small device about the size of a large pack of gum talks to your car’s computer to collect the data. A few things to note, my insurance company insists that no matter what the device can only lower premiums. The goal of the company is to share this information with drivers so they can consider their habits long term.

Single Trip Details

I spoke to a company representative who said she tried it personally and due to her long commute via high speed highway most of her driving was over 80 mph and lots of mileage daily and her discount was zero. She opted out. There is no obligation to try it, you can quit the program at any time. Let’s face it your travels aren’t top secret and if you can save on your premiums, it’s probably worth it. Are you a Data Racer? Share your experience.


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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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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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“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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Sharing this corner of the world with you takes the effort of many. It starts with folks who make and do amazing things from a 15 year old artist to my mom’s hack of Gmail to IBM’s researchers who built a thinking computer in Watson. While Techlife shares some things you have seen, and some you haven’t the goal is always the same giving some focus to these talented people and their efforts. It’s great when organizations get behind sharing too. Often they do it to showcase their own wares, while providing a spotlight on the exceptional. So for all the print and mobile readers, spend some time with “GL doesn’t stand for Good Lookin’ but it could” in a full screen browser, it’s worth it.

Made to showcase Google’s Chrome browser and the advanced features it can support, Chrome Experiments is a site with a curated “best of the best in cool” all showing off user-submitted works. (Techlife ran some tests and some of the developers were kind of enough to still play nice with others, so the latest Microsoft Internet Explorer, Firefox or Opera Browser might work just as well.)  In just over18 months the site has posted 277 works, starting with the first one “BallDroppings” by Josh Nimoy which has gotten nearly 5 stars from over 1500 people. It reminds me a lot of Line Rider.

Some of the best works involve animated water you can interact with in the browser, such as “Chrysaora” by Aleksandar Rodic and “WebGL Water Simulation” by Evan Wallace.  The first is a collection of jellyfish and the second is a simple ball in pool of water. But when you consider both are using just the browser to render and animate you begin to understand the genius behind these works.

As expected there is quite a collection of games, all of which aren’t built in Flash which has been a common building block of web based games.  “Dots, the Game” by Nicolas Smith and Aviv Keshet, “Z-Type” by Dominic Szablewski, “Asteroids, Inc.” by Jarred Draney, and “Word²” by Massively Fun are all examples of the future of web gaming built right in the browser.

YouTube Preview Image

The Techlife favorite of these Chrome Experiments is an interactive digital short using Arcade Fire’s “The Wilderness Downtown” by Chris Milk and Google Creative Lab. Sure the team works for Google, but it does not diminish the effort.  For online viewers we have embedded a screen capture of the interactive experiment, but trust me it doesn’t do it justice compared to typing in your own childhood address and it building a custom show for you. (Be aware not every address works.) This has taken music videos to the next evolutionary stage of development. And I like the direction.

As a final fun, enjoy the “Shaun the Sheep” by Google Chrome Team, clearly an entry by the team that has all the tricks at their disposal. They don’t disappoint.

As the future of browsing evolves into what we see here, the enjoyment and fun of even everyday work and entertainment should keep interfaces and applications from all looking and acting the same. I like the future.

*So what does GL stand for then? Nothing fancy, just “Graphics Library.”

 

 


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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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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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Do you like fairy tales? This one has explosions, wizards and two arch enemies.  While there are no princesses or frogs there is a columnist and a few game developers and most of all a happy ending.

Once upon a time, back in 2007, a lowly columnist was penning his latest April Techlife column titled, “chick chick BOOM – Baby Chick gaming warfare at its best“. The article spoke of a mysterious, fun game for the web browser. Then all of a sudden this highly addicting game vanished. Our lowly columnist was asked about this and in February of 2009 made a bold prediction, “…maybe they will release it one day as WiiWare for the Wii.”

As if this voice was heard whispering on the wind, a return voice whispered from Frankfurt, Germany where the game developer “tons of bitscame out from the shroud of silence to tell their tale of the resurrection of chick chick BOOM in multi-player for Wii Ware.

Techlife: How did the original chick chick BOOM get started?

Tons of Bits: Before chick chick BOOM we had developed another flash game called Mission in Snowdriftland, which had a great impact and positive response by the players. Mission in Snowdriftland was created as an advent calendar with 24 jump ‘n’ run levels for christmas. The idea of making a game for Easter was an obvious next step. chick chick BOOM was born.

TL: Sounds like it was hatched. How long did it take to plan and implement?

TOB: The whole project was realized in a pretty short time for a game of this complexity. From scratch to release it took approx. 8 weeks.

TL: What was your measure of success?

TOB: The constant positive feedback from the community. In the form of comments on the web but also as direct e-mails; or for instance fans writing a detailed article in Wikipedia.

TL: Why did it disappear?

TOB: It was planned as a limited easter event. We thought it wouldn’t feel right outside of this seasonal context if we would have kept it online.

TL: Is the new chick chick BOOM the same game?

TOB: The new chick chick BOOM has been completely redesigned and improved. The core idea “two chick teams fight each other in a whacky way” is the same, but the presentation and the game mechanics have been completely changed. The focus was on optimizing the game for the Wii, especially on the feature of simultaneous use of the Wii remotes for the multiplayer mode.

TL: What are the coolest new features?

(more…)

Next Page »


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