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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.

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.

Goin’ Gangsta? Or just trying to goad editors and English teachers to pay close attention?

Good Advice Award - Check Yo Self, Before You Wreck Yo Self - Ice Cube

In celebration of the upcoming 20th anniversary of  the 1993 Ice Cube #1 hit single “Check Yo Self” Techlife honors the legendary rapper with a “Good Advice Award.”  Little did Ice Cube know the lyrical genius of that eight word phrase would still apply today. It works extremely well for your credit history. (Did he just segue from Ice Cube to credit history? He better make his point fast. He’s losing me.)

A friend of Techlife recently complained that she had been taken in by a free credit check scam. She filled in some information and the next thing she knew she had a charge she couldn’t reverse on her credit card and even worse it was recurring. She was able to immediately stop any future charges, but she was already down more than $40. With ads on television using snappy musical refrains to urge you to check your credit score for free (read the link carefully) it seems so easy. But those ads cost money, they aren’t Public Service Announcements, so I am carefully skirting giving them any publicity in this syndicated column.

Let’s go back to Ice Cube, his advice is sound. If you don’t check yo self (regularly) you run the risk of finding your credit history a wreck when you need to buy a car, house or get a loan. Here’s they key, your credit score is the summation of your credit history. Your credit history is where you should spend your time and today I am going to tell you how you can check your credit history for free three times a year (six if you are married.)

How to Check Yo Credit History For Free

Step 1: Visit https://www.annualcreditreport.com.

The ONLY official site created by Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. These are the three major players who keep your credit history.

Step 2: Select state and fill in the online form.

The form asks for the typical credit application information. This is used to verify your identity.

Step 3: THE MOST IMPORTANT – Only select ONE of the three credit reporting companies.

You only get one free credit history every 12 months per company. So by selecting a different company every 4 months you get to view an ongoing credit history to correct any issues.

Step 4: Put three annually repeating dates in your calendar one for each company’s report.

This ensures you will remember to go and check yo self.

Optional Step 5: If you are married, your spouse is also offered the same option, so set up your spouse on an alternating calendar.

Basically your family’s credit history can be reviewed every two months with this method to give you a very accurate understanding of your family’s credit history.

But what about my score?

Are you a bank? Are you giving yourself a loan? Don’t worry about the number, focus on doing the things to protect your history and keep it clean.  The score is a tool used by marketers and preys on the fear many people have about their credit. To be clear AnnualCreditReport.com does not provide your credit score. Even they understand the data underneath is what’s important.  AnnualCreditReport.com exists thanks to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act). It may not have been Ice Cube’s intention 20 years ago but even he doesn’t want you to wreck yo self.

Super vision. Check. Super plans. Check. Super funded. Check. This is the story of a Chicago designer with the plan to take over the world.

Matt Marrocco and Ryan Stegman

Matt Marrocco and Ryan Stegman

Meet Matt Marrocco, unassuming product designer who raised more than $300,000 in 2012 from people who want to learn to draw. Matt launched the “I DRAW ____” series first with the successful book “I DRAW CARS” and then in his second product he donned a cape, mask and ignited the world of crowd funding with the book “I DRAW COMICS Sketchbook & Reference Guide”. Matt used Kickstarter, a platform for raising money for projects. Tefchlife caught up with Matt right after his amazing project was successfully funded. He was changing into his super hero costume , but we both averted our eyes after all we are both professionals.

I DRAW COMICS book exterior

Techlife: Hours ago you just closed a successful round of funding for your book project “I DRAW COMICS.” The goal was $10,000 and due to the help of more than 6,400 people ended up raising more than $245,000 on Kickstarter. How do you feel?

Matt Marrocco: Honestly, a little overwhelmed.  If I hadn’t done a Kickstarter already I think I’d be freaking out.  It’s a lot to manage – keeping in communication with all of the pledgers, solving the myriad unique shipping and logistics issues and making sure everyone is happy.  All that aside from the most important goal – successfully delivering on your promise and shipping product.

TL:  Let’s rewind a bit; the project launched August 19, 2012 and ran for just 30 days. How far in advance did the planning for “I DRAW COMICS” start?

MM: Conversations with Ryan (Stegman) and my manufacturer began late last year, I believe.  I was still handling some issues with the I DRAW CARS stuff that needed a lot of attention; once that was all ironed out I was able to focus on a new creative endeavor.

TL:  Previously you successfully launched  “I DRAW CARS” on Kickstarter as your first project. It ran for 30 days raising more than $55,000 from more than 1,400 people. What made you choose Kickstarter?

MM: Kickstarter seemed new and exciting – crowd funding in general is still in it’s nascent stages and has HUGE potential.  I think when I saw how successful the Lunatik watch project by MNML was, I just wanted to do that.  I wanted to make a thing that people wanted and deliver it to them.  Period.  To go through the entire process from the very front end ideation phase, to then physically fulfilling orders at the end of the Kickstarter was an incredibly educational experience.  And yes, fun.

TL:  How is “I DRAW CARS” doing outside of Kickstarter?

MM: Great!  We’re always being picked up in more and more schools, and always fulfilling orders.  My wife has become our marketing/sales/fulfillment department full-time!  So I guess she’s going to be busier with the “COMICS” book now.  Maybe she’ll need an intern?

I DRAW COMICS inside the book

TL:  Did you ever consider a traditional publisher when you first started or is the goal to build your own publishing empire?

MM: I never had visions of starting a publishing empire – I just wanted to see what it takes to get a book made and ship it.  It has been a great education going through that process, but I don’t know whether that means I want to be a publishing house.  We’ll see.

TL:  Have you been contacted by publishers now?

MM: We have, yes.  It’s something we have to think about – no plans yet.  We will be sending samples to many of them once we have product in hand.

TL:  How did “I DRAW CARS” do as “I DRAW COMICS” campaign began gaining momentum?

MM: Well naturally with more exposure, the other products under the “I DRAW” umbrella have had a decent uptick in sales.  There are also many pledgers who have added a “CARS” book to their “COMICS” pledge – something we encouraged from the beginning.

I DRAW COMICS story lessons

TL:  Have you had an celebrity backers for either project?

MM: One notable celebrity for the Comics project was author Joe Hill. My wife and I were peeked when he took notice and pledged. I think she cried a little.  Many well-known artists and designers have pledged for both – hard to name all of them.

TL:  What was the biggest difference outside of sheer numbers between the two campaigns?

MM: We’ve had a lot less shipping-related questions this time around and I’m not sure if I just worded things better in the campaign, or if it is because there are more American pledgers.  We’ll see when I get the surveys back.

Also, in spite of our big numbers, there was very little blog coverage this time around.  A lot of the blogs I follow are design-related, and think they maybe thought comics just don’t speak to their audience?  In any case, there were a few highly reputable comic blogs that posted it, and any other attention was mostly from twitter and the Kickstarter platform.

TL:  The transparency of raising $300,000 in 2012 must have family and friends asking questions. What’s the most interesting?

MM: HA – my family is happy for us, of course.  People seem to think I’m going to all of sudden quit my job and just start selling books 24/7.  Although that is an attractive proposition, my first love is still product design.  Publishing, sales and branding are hobbies – they do, however, pay me more than my design job.

TL:  While you are making a profit (I hope), what costs are you seeing?

MM: There are costs associated with everything – from running a website, to planning logistics, to order product.  I would say the biggest cost is time.  My wife and I spend an ENORMOUS amount of time discussing projects, product details, timeline, cost, etc.  When I’m not at work, I’m working with her on this brand so any time I get to relax and not think about anything is welcome.  I think we need a vacation.

TL:  Do you see opportunities to streamline the process?

MM: I think getting on board with a publisher could be a step in that direction.  Someone to handle a lot of logistical issues we deal with on a daily basis would be nice.  As well, there are other projects in the pipeline that we’d love to get started.  They require a certain amount of attention, so until we get into the swing of the new product addition we’ll have to hold off on development.

TL:  Did you make any mistakes? If so, what were they?

MM: One big mistake is thinking I can just do everything.  There are some things better left to professionals, so when I can I try to hire those people to do those things.

TL:  What advice would you provide to anyone thinking of using Kickstarter?

MM: 3 things:

TL:  How did  you conceive the the concept of working with an automobile artist and a comic artist for each project?

MM: Hiring a pro to work with me seemed the best way to make the whole thing legit.  For instance, I can draw a car and a figure(kinda), but I’m not the person to be telling people how to do these things.  When you have a professional (and in Ryan’s case, a WELL KNOWN professional) working with you, it adds an air of validity to the project that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

TL:  What’s next for the “I DRAW” brand? Will you continue to use Kickstarter?

MM: We’ve got lots of exciting ideas in the pipeline – stay tuned.  Kickstarter is a great place to generate funds, but also to simply get the word out!  Many projects don’t’ really need the funds, they just want the social bump that having a kickstarter gets you.  I’ll have to cross that bridge when I come to it.

Here’s the video Matt made for the project:



Balloon Classic 2009 by Jerry Bolton c/o Aunty Monkey

I’m often asked by readers about reading. “How do you find the time to read?” “You must read a lot?” “What’s your secret to good reading?” Truth is I am a slow reader. If I don’t concentrate fully on my reading I find other ideas will creep into my mind and whole paragraphs go by before I realize I was off somewhere else and not comprehending the words in front of me. I then re-read those paragraphs once again. But the point is I read.

Those of you who have read to this point must like reading or you might be stuck in a jail cell or a hot air balloon and this is the only written word you have in your possession. For the latter group, welcome to Techlife. I don’t welcome the people who like to read, as they need very little motivation.  This column is aimed squarely  at the prisoners and balloonists of the world. You see prisoners and balloonists share the confines of a small space and limited contact with the outside world. In addition these two groups have niche interests so while they might read a general consumer publication they also might enjoy something written just for them.

Where do you find your niche?

Techlife reads c/o Google Reader

Techlife reads c/o Google Reader

Here’s where it gets interesting, in the past 30 days I have read more than 1000 articles.  (In reality the reading occurred on 22 days during the past 30, as I do take days off.) Diving deeper into the stats, I have only gotten to read 10% of the content from across 115 subscriptions. You likely imagine my postal worker cringing as he gets my mail each day. Lest you forget prisoners and balloonists, this is Techlife  and these subscriptions are all digital,  portable and free. Try Google Reader to see your own stats, and enjoy the in-sync mobile web browser version too. It’s my first bookmark on my smartphone.

Let’s assume our incarcerated readers are trying to better themselves. Finding a new interest and pursuing it with a passion might help a parole board see how you are a changed person ready to re-enter society. Construction would give you a chance to get hired and learn a skill in a trade. Start reading anything and everything on construction. Using a site like Technoorati you might find a site like “Green Building Elements” or  “A Daily Dose of Architecture.” Each site added to your list of subscriptions means more writers, more content and varied view points on the niche areas you are targeting.

115 subscriptions might seem like a lot, even if I am only reading 10% or less of each one. But finding unique sources on your own niche topics is how you become an expert? Use the sites you uncover to lead you further jumping off points. On “A Daily Dose of Architecture”, you will see on the left sidebar 10 entries under bookmarks leading toward new publications. A bit further down the sidebar offers the “66 Most Popular A/D Websites” and then below that “33 Favorites (not in the above list of 66)”.

Where do you go next? Balloonists your turn to reply.


It’s not an easy question. Like what did you have for lunch yesterday? It’s history, something humans easily forget.

With quotes like “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” by Winston Churchill and “History takes time. History makes memory.” by Gertrude Stein it is clear we create and internalize our own history. For our purposes at Techlife Rudyard Kipling said it best,

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”

Last summer the Techlife West office was my home base for a few great weeks. I traveled the Pacific Coast and soaked up the people, food, climate and culture of California. I made some great personal history in other words:  memories.  In today’s digital world, there are a few great ways to remember the time.  Most readers have seen or own a digital picture frame. These are a nice and easy way to allow you to rotate the old analog picture frame image. But what else can you do with the memories you make?

Many people move their photos and videos online to easily share. It is also great to have them online for a cloud storage backup. Fast forward one year, now only you care about that history, and how often do you see it? If you are like most people the answer is never.

We have great camera tools such as mobile phones, point and shoot cameras, flip cameras, DLSR cameras along with great photo and video editing software but what becomes of our personal history after the initial share? It fades from memory, from our personal history.

This week one of our Tehclife West readers asked about an email I sent him that was a little jog down memory lane of the places, sites and photos from a day we spent together a year ago. I sent him one of my Timehop emails. Timehop is a simple concept. Send me a daily email with what I was up to 1 year ago.  To automate this it uses your choice of services including, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram and Text Messages.

Another service I use is Memolane, which offers a visual timeline of your history on their site and a daily email. Memolane can tie into more than 15 different online services to extract last year’s memories and let you relive them. Plus the timeline feature allows browsing of the chronological history by day which adds a new dimension to reviewing your online and offline life. Memolane also offers MemoSearch and MemoShake, available on Google Play.

One of my favorite tools for personal history is the Android app  WallSwitch. This app does a single easy thing, rotates my wallpaper every so often and uses my photos folder to pull from. Since my phone is always with me to capture my history it is great to pull out a photo from 3 years ago and relive the moment. WallSwitch seems to have an uncanny knack for pulling recent photos and anniversary of 1 year, 2 year or 3 year photos. I haven’t seen the algorithm, but it’s perfectly balanced. I have WallSwitch change hourly from my more than 3000 photos.

Are you an iPhone user? Do you have a wallpaper rotation or wallpaper automatic switching tool you love? Please share it.

Incomplete Pass by Scott R. Kurtz

Incomplete Pass by Scott R. Kurtz

Friends, Romans, Countrymen. We live in an age where the only thing separating you from online theft or your friends from your spam is your password. By a show of hands, how many of you here today have a password that has at least one dictionary word in it? How many of you use a simple numerical sequence or single number in their password? Finally, how many of you today use a password that is used in at least one other place? That’s a lot of hands. Okay put down your hands.

Today, as a public service to you and as a protection to the Techlife inbox we are going to change all of that. In one fell swoop all three of the common password concerns can be addressed. Of course let’s first address the, “Why does this password thing even have to be so complex?”

When you use a simple password, it makes it simple to guess. If a hacker’s malicious virus script or someone who knows you well can guess your password they often start with simple words. Words found in the dictionary.

Of course hacker’s know you aren’t an idiot, you took the precaution of sticking “some number” often at the end of your password. Year of your birth? Year you were married? Or maybe just “12345” so you could remember it.

Which leads to the last issue, your memory. You, like most people can’t possibly remember all the passwords for all the places you sign up. There are many tools to help you remember if you are diligent enough to store and then retrieve your passwords when needed, but what’s even easier? Taking that simple dictionary word plus “12345” and using it everywhere on every site. Easy. And when a hacker gets your password, they have it for not just one place, but every place.

Even one of these practices puts a high amount of risk your password will be hacked. Most people by your show of hands, repeatedly do all three. Dictionary word or words + simple string of numbers + same password everywhere = risk of Techlife inbox getting stuffed with spam from you.

The Reverse Password Hack How To (Hide in Plain Sight)

Quick, what’s your favorite movie? Favorite song? Favorite vacation spot? Favorite dish? Let’s use my favorite movie Hoosiers.

  1. Create a sentence about that favorite thing making sure to have some proper nouns, a number and with a blank.
  2. Sample: In 1954 Hickory Coach Norman Dale didn’t use _____.
  3. Visit our first site where you need a password, say Amazon.
  4. Your current password as we exposed is likely named after your dog, spot1234.
  5. Your new password should complete the sentence you created.
  6. My sample: In 1954 Hickory Coach Norman Dale didn’t use Amazon.
  7. That’s a very long password full of dictionary words so we add one more twist, use only the first letter of each word:
  8. Hidden in plain sight: I1954HCNDduAmazon.

Now, that’s a password! Using The Password Meter  a rating tool which ranks passwords on 16 various criteria, spot1234 gets a score of 44% and a complexity of “Good”. Our easy to remember sentence password, I1954HCNDduAmazon. has a score of 100% and a complexity of “Very Strong.”

This password passes the dictionary and hard  to guess test, the consecutive numbers test and gives you a chance to change the password for each and every site you visit. Finally the best part is humans have a good memory for sentences and phrases and this a great way to have a unique password that is easy to remember.

So pick a poem, song lyric, or a sentence you make up yourself. How creative can you get?


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.

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.



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.

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 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.


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 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.

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.

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.


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.


“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.

“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.”


“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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