The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

July 22, 2007

A novel approach to auto body repair

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:22 am

So someone rear-ended your old beater, and the body shop wants more than the car is worth to fix it? Repair those unsightly dents and dings with Stucco!

 Who needs duct tape?

(Seen in a local parking lot earlier today.  I can relate.)

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July 20, 2007

Classical Gas – Abandoned Route 66 Gas Stations

Filed under: Culture, History, Wanderings — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 1:34 am

Over at buzz.mn today, James Lileks made an interesting little post about old gas stations.  He makes an interesting point:

 …in the old days you could get a comb and a soda, nothing more. Maybe the plague, if you used the restroom. But the modern stations lack pizzazz. With a few exceptions they’re bland utilitarian structures smothered with ads for lotteries and smokes. The fifties and sixties saw the finest gas station architecture – and much of it is still around.

This post also called for the readers to submit their own photos of old gas stations.  Gas stations in general tend not to be built to last, and tend to also be built in cookie-cutter designs that face the wrecking ball swiftly and unlamented when their usefulness has waned.  Oddly enough, it’s that relative fragility that gives us this scene from the 1963 comedy epic It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, which is almost as notable for it’s depiction of a contemporary gas station as it is for the manner in which said station is systematically demolished:

Around here, one of the few surviving 60s gas stations (for the time being, at least) can be found in downtown Bellevue, on Northeast 8th Street.  The station has slanted windows and a triangular canopy over the former location of the pumps, which are the hallmarks of a former Phillips 66 station (although I can’t recall ever seeing a Phillips 66 station in the time I’ve lived here.) This former station has most recently hosted a toy store, but now sits vacant, serving as an impromptu parking lot.  Given the rapid growth in Bellevue, chances are the station will probably be bulldozed as soon as someone decides to put up another hi-rise on the land.  An aerial photo of the station can be found here (you can switch to the birds-eye view for a better look,) which shows the encroaching construction which will probably eventually seal this old station’s fate.  Maybe if I have some time in the next few days I’ll go take some better photos.

Although there aren’t a lot of interesting old gas stations to be found around here, a roadtrip I took through the Southwestern United States back in April took me to one of the longest remaining stretches of the old Route 66 in Arizona, between Seligman and Kingman, a route lined with a number of ghost towns.  After the jump, a few photos of some gas stations I took along the route. (more…)

July 16, 2007

Console Check-Up: Sony

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Brian Lutz @ 12:49 am

Note:  This is the last of three posts that take a look at some predictions I made for the current generation of video game consoles last October prior to the PS3 and Wii launches.  In this post, I will take a look at the predictions I made for Sony.  If you haven’t seen the two posts before this one, I would suggest reading the first one (or at least the introduction to that post) to give a bit of background on this.

Back when I made the predictions I am basing this on, I stated that whether they intended to do so or not, Sony has found themselves betting the proverbial farm on the Playstation 3.  I also stated that I believed that if the PS3 had been designed as a reasonable incremental upgrade over the previous generation which could be sold at a lower price point than the $599 it was launched at, there would have been a lot less people questioning their strategy with regards to the PS3.  I questioned the decision to include Blu-Ray with the system, as it was one of the major contributing factors to the high price tag, and wondered if Sony was ever going to stop making PR blunders on a regular basis and get their act together.

Nine months later, a lot of the questions about the PS3 still have not been answered, but it is clear that the system is not on the path to duplicate the success of the PS2.  In spite of initial shortages that resulted in people camping out for days to get a system at launch (a lot of those to resell for significant profits on eBay) the intitial demand quickly faded, and within weeks of launch PS3s were readily available on the shelf (while Jack Tretton offered $1,200 for any PS3 that was found on the shelf for more than five mniutes in an interview,) and people who camped in line for days for their launch day PS3s ended up returning them to the store after being unable to sell them on eBay.  This was just one in a lengthy series of PR and marketing blunders committed by Sony over the course of the last year, dating back to the trainwreck that was their 2006 E3 press briefing.  Notable incidents included multiple instances of using screenshots of Xbox 360 exclusive Project Gotham Racing 3 to promote Gran Turismo HD, the use of racist themes in advertising to promote the PSP in Europe, and one of the most inept attempts at astroturfing to date.  And that was just the Playstation division (it seems that the rest of the company wasn’t exactly having a good year on the PR front either.)  Although the PS3 does appear to be selling reasonably well in the PAL territories (Europe and Australia,) sales in the US and Japan remain sluggish, with the PS3 not only outsold by Nintendo products, but the PS2 as well, and the Xbox 360 in the US.

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July 13, 2007

Console Check-Up: Nintendo

Filed under: Games — Tags: , , , — Brian Lutz @ 1:17 am

(Note:  This is the second of three posts intended to follow up on a set of predictions I made for the future of the three participants in the Console Wars back in October, before the Wii and the Playstation 3 were launched.  For further explanation and an analysis of the current status of the Xbox360, please see the previous post.  I will conclude this with a post on Sony within the next day or two.) 

Back when I made the original predictions I am basing this on (if you read the last post, you probably already read this,) I stated that Nintendo seemed to be the wildcard among the big three in the current console war.  Three years ago, the Gamecube had fallen well behind the competition, and Sony was threatening Nintendo’s largely uncontested leadership in the handheld market with the PSP.  In response to the threat of the PSP came the Nintendo DS.  Although largely dismissed by gamers as a gimmick before it was released (I was among the skeptics,) the combination of imaginative uses of the integrated touchscreen, combined with a solid lineup of first and third party titles ultimately served to convince me to buy one.  I now own two (an original and a Lite) and I have more games for my DS than for any of the other systems I have currently.  The DS wouldn’t see its greatest success until the introduction of non-traditional game titles like Nintendogs and Brain Age, which have sold millions in Japan, and continue to make the DS the best selling gaming device on the market by far.

To a large extent, it was because of the DS and its success with expanding the audience beyond the standard gaming demographics that I was interested by the Nintendo Revolution, which was ultimately renamed to the Wii. Even before the Wii’s unusual control scheme had been unveiled, Nintendo was making it clear that they did not intend to compete directly with Sony and Microsoft.  Given their lackluster showing in the past two generations from attempting to do just this, I can’t say I blame them.  Instead of trying to compete in the ongoing arms race between Sony and Microsoft,. they instead planned to build a less powerful but more affordable system, and rely on the non-traditional audiences that the DS has captured to sell the system.  At the time I wrote my initial predictions, I said that the Wii could either sell half as many or twice as many systems as the competition.  It has been clear from the start that the Wii was a gamble.  Has the gamble paid off?

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July 12, 2007

Console Check-Up: Microsoft

Filed under: Games — Tags: , , , — Brian Lutz @ 12:58 am

If you’re a gamer, it’s that wonderful, magical time of year where  you get to reenact the old “Kid in a Candy Store” routine of your childhood, only this time, hardly anyone is actually allowed to go to the candy store, none of the candy is going to be available for sale for another three months, and most of the kids just sit around having pointless arguements about whose candy is going to be better when it actually does come out.  Yes, it’s time for E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (such as it is now that it’s been reduced significantly in size.)  Over the past couple of days, the big three in the console business (Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony) have presented their keynotes illustrating their upcoming plans.

 Last October, a few weeks before the PS3 and the Nintendo Wii made their debut, I made a number of predictions about what strategies the major console makers were following with their machines, and where I thought they would ultimately end up.  My predictions for Microsoft and Nintendo can be found here, and my predictions for Sony can be found here (note that the links go to a message board post, since I was not blogging anywhere at the time.)  With E3 providing a convenient opportunity to check up on things, and a look at what’s coming up from each of the Big Three, will take a look at how my prior predictions  have panned out so far, and how things look in the future.  First up is Microsoft.  Posts for Nintendo and Sony will be posted separately within the next day or two.

I have to apologize in advance if I happen to come across as being a bit cynical about this.  Lately, I’ve been a little bit sick of video games in general.  I’m not entirely sure of why this is, just that I haven’t really seen any games worth getting for a while now, and that my consoles have sat mostly untouched for several weeks at a time lately.  My tastes in video games do tend to run outside of the mainstream (the message board I link to for my predictions above is dedicated to 2-D shooters, a largely forgotten genre with a small group of devoted fans,) and I also tend to have little interest in online multiplayer in games (I suspect that I could get the same experience by hanging out in the hallway at the local Junior High between periods, which doesn’t sound all that entertaining to be honest.)  In short, I could probably be best described as a finicky niche gamer, which means that I’m probably not going to have any interest in a lot of the big-name titles for any given system.  That said, on with the show…

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July 2, 2007

A Commentary Lapse of Reason

Filed under: Culture, Technology — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 2:56 am

As I mentioned briefly in my iPhone post, one of my major stumbling blocks with Apple products has to do with the inherent fanaticism of many of their users.  With the release of the iPhone and the massive tidal wave of hype that has accompanied it, the Apple users have been whipped into a froth.  In my opinion, it remains to be seen whether all of the hype is truly justified (If you haven’t already, see my previous post for my first impressions from messing around with a demo unit) but regardless of the actual merits of the product itself, it seems that the hype, from both the users and Apple itself, isn’t going away anytime soon.

As an example, I will point to this thread over at Engadget, which deals with a PDA phone with absolutely no connection to the iPhone.  For the most part, the discussion remains on the topic at hand, but as seems to be the case with most threads on anything over there lately, a number of users have to throw in “why bother, just get an iPhone” comments.  Other comments serve no useful purpose at all besides hurling insults at nobody in particular.  The comment ranking  system that Engadget employs (such as it is) shows most of the iPhone comments ranked down significantly, with a couple of the higher ranked comments being ad hominem attacks directed at the iPhone comments.  Repeat this scenario 30-40 times a day, and you’ve got a typical gadget blog. (more…)

July 1, 2007

Phoning it in – First Impressions of the iPhone

Filed under: Technology — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:06 am

If you’ve been reading some of the tech blogs lately, you might have heard something about Apple getting into the phone business with their new iPhone, which was released yesterday afternoon. Assuming you can manage to find any coverage of the thing, it sounds like a fairly typical Apple product: cleverly packaged, with plenty of flash and style, some nice features, and a huge price tag to top it all off. On the other hand, if the coverage the iPhone has gotten over the past six months since it was announced is any indication, they should manage to sell roughly half a billion of the things by next Thursday. Being somewhat of a gadget junkie myself, I should be quite interested in something like this, but to be honest, I’m not so sure what to think of this. (more…)

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