A Pro Wrestling Reminiscence

When I was 10 years old, in the fall of 1991, I was getting a weekly injection of pro wrestling via WTLK channel 14. Every Saturday night, there would be one wrestling show after another. WCW and WWF syndicated shows, Joe Pedicino and Bonnie Blackstone's "Pro Wrestling This Week" show, and the random fare of the dying territorial system. It was a great time to be a kid and be a fan of the sport. Not just because there was so much wrestling, but because something amazing happened that year. One day, out of the blue, Ric Flair, the champion of the NWA and WCW, walked out on WWF television carrying his NWA World title belt. In my little mark mind, the Nature Boy was there to show all those WWF guys, especially Hulk Hogan, who the Real World Champion was.

In later years, I'd come to find out the behind the scenes shenanigans that resulted in Flair being there, and the legal battles that resulted in the belt being given back to WCW. But at 10, the world was very different for me. My champion, from my hometown territory, was going up to challenge Hulk Hogan, the WWF champion, and unify the belts. I had no doubt that was the plan. I was just amazed that the WCW shows simply stopped talking about Flair, who was obviously representing them (I guess WCW had a point to make about this angle causing confusion in the marketplace). At school, the following Monday, the debate amongst my friends was white hot. Who would win, Hogan or Flair? It was the ultimate fantasy come true. They were both in the same place, at the same time, with their respective belts, and it was just a matter of signing a contract as far as we could see. We all knew there'd be a title unification at Wrestlemania VIII, and I knew Flair was going to win it all. Of course, I also believed in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy at the time. Ah, the innocence of youth...
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Retr0Bright: The Cure for Yellowed Plastic

Do you have a yellowed game console or classic computer sitting in your closet? Are you ashamed to display it because of the unwanted color change it's experienced over the past 20 years? I was in this position, when I recently rescued my Tandy Color Computer 2 from storage. What was once a pristine system in near new condition was now a yellow disaster.

The last time I went looking for a solution to this problem, all I could find online were advice pages suggesting painting the system white or soaking it in bleach. However, this time I found the Retr0Bright site, which offers the perfect solution. A simple homebrew formula for deyellowing precious 80s heirlooms, which costs less than 20 dollars to make and gives fantastic results.

For all the details of preparing Retr0Bright and the science behind it, you should consult the actual link above. I just wanted to give an overview of what I used, and some of my results.

Here are my ingredients. The laundry booster was around 3 dollars at Dollar General, the Glycerine and corn starch were around 4 dollars total at Wal-Mart, and the peroxide was 11 dollars at the local Sally's Beauty Supply. All told it cost about 19 dollars with tax to get the ingredients to make several batches of Retr0Bright. I mixed everything in the blender and stored it in the black glass canister you see in the title picture.

I painted the Retr0Bright on with a cooking brush on a nice, sunny Florida day with the temperature around 90 degrees. Here was my first result after about 6 hours of "cooking."

Note the foaming action in the middle shot. That's the chemical reaction at work. Nothing was done to doctor these photos. I just resized them and stuck them side by side. This stuff really works. I mean, honestly, what good would it do to make doctored photos? The formula is free, we make it and use it for our own benefit, right?

So, after that success, I did several other items, including an Apple color monitor, my NES, an SNES, my Apple II disk drives, and finally my Apple II itself. Unfortunately, most of my before and after photos for those other items weren't very good. Not that the results were bad, just my photo composition.

One set that did turn out well for an example are these shots of the Apple II before, during, and after treatment. As you can see, it makes a world of difference.

Retr0Bright is amazing stuff. It's cheap, takes a few minutes to make, and after a few hours of daylight it will give fantastic results. If you've got a yellowed component that needs brightening up, definitely consider whipping up some Retr0Bright to get the job done.

I would caution you, though, to read all the warnings on the Retr0Bright wiki. Check the discussion threads there and look at the pitfalls gallery to make sure you are prepared for things that could go wrong. Use common sense and be careful with highly concentrated peroxide.
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LaserDisc: Better Late Than Never

In December 1978, DiscoVision, later to be called LaserVision and then LaserDisc, was made available to the public. Superior to VHS and Beta, it failed to find a wide audience in the US, primarily because the players and discs were expensive. It was a niche format that had an air of elitism around it. The introduction of DVD essentially finished the LaserDisc off around 2001, when the last new discs were released in Japan. Pioneer stopped manufacturing LD players in January 2009. The format is now obsolete. So, naturally, when I saw a Pioner CLD-909 LaserDisc player for 20 dollars, at the local Goodwill, I had to pick it up.

When I did pick it up, I found it was heavy. Very heavy. About 25 pounds heavy, according to the bathroom scale. It clearly isn't 90% empty space like most DVD players. If sheer volume of internal components and shelf footprint was a measure of quality, the LaserDisc player would win hands down. For comparison, here is my VCR riding atop the LaserDisc player, symbolic of how this lesser format with a smaller resolution managed to win out over its hulking superior.

LaserDiscs are analog video recordings, usually with digital soundtracks. Each side of the disc will contain about an hour of programming, which means flipping the disc and/or changing discs for longer movies. LaserDisc introduced concepts like commentary tracks and special features like making-of documentaries and still galleries. It also allowed for chapter jumping, which has proven far superior to rewinding video tape. All those things aside, the real novelty is in the discs themselves. To give you an idea of what you're in for, take a look at the disc tray:

See that smaller indentation in the center? That's for CDs (Yep, it plays CDs, too!). See that 12" indentation surrounding it? That's for one of these:

One of the most appealing parts of this monster is that it comes in one of these:

Which folds out like this:

The presentation of the media is stylish and glossy, which is a definite plus. The album size covers leave room for beautiful movie poster artwork, and as a lover of movie posters I find that awesome. Here are a few of the other covers and fold outs I've acquired:

But what do the movies look like, you ask? Not as good as a DVD. A little darker, a little less sharp, but definitely better than a VHS or Beta tape. The movies do seem to have a fluidity that reminds me of film. Whether a difference can be seen between the digital format of DVD and the analog format of LaserDisc is subjective. Here are a few shots of the player in action:

Indy and Marion tied to a pole

The melting face scene

"Clever girl.", Jurassic Park

Keeping with my need to have multiple copies of Frankenstein in every format, it was the first movie I sought to buy and here it is:

I love this cover. I kind of wish it didn't have the giant "RESTORED VERSION" label on it. I'd take the disc out and just frame the album otherwise. In terms of the actual movie, I find the black and white films look the best on the LaserDisc player. Possibly because the lack of color masks a lot of the analog graininess. Here are a couple of shots from Frankenstein:

The Monster!

And His Maker!

Now, for the sake of comparison, I give you the Legacy Collection DVD version in relation to the LaserDisc. Sadly, my VHS copy is 300 miles away or I'd do a side by side shot of the actual movie on each format. Maybe later.

Should everyone rush out and buy a LaserDisc player? No, I don't think so. DVD and now Blu-Ray outstrip it in almost every way. Why did I spend around 40 dollars for the privilege of watching movies, that I already own on DVD, in lower quality? The novelty of it, the preservation of obsolete technology, the LaserDisc only special features, and, of course, getting to join the elite group of videophiles that adored the format. Better late than never.
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Fixing An Akai 42" LCD TV

I recently purchased an Akai 42" LCD, model LCT42Z6TM, off eBay. It was listed in "As Is" condition because it wouldn't power on. My research led me to believe that that particular model had a history of capacitor failures, and as I had recently salvaged a 15" monitor by doing a cap replacement, I thought I'd try something bigger. If I got it working, it would be a fantastic deal for an HD TV of that size, and I'd learn in the process. When I received it, much to my surprise, it worked right off the bat and it seemed like I'd been cheated out of the fun part. Fortunately, after it had a chance to warm up, wild lines started criss crossing the screen, the menus turned to gibberish, four boxes appeared in each corner, and it became clear I was going to have to fix the TV after all. In the interest of helping other potential Akai 42" owners out there, I thought I'd share what I did to repair it.

The short of it is that I replaced nine capacitors on the main board. Below I've listed the total number of each, their Farad and Voltage values, and their location on the board:

1 - 1000uf 16v - c157

2 - 47uf 16v - c143, c339

5 - 100uf 35v - c323, c301, c302, c320, c290

1 - 470uf 35v - c336

I salvaged the two 47uF 16v caps from an old DVD player and the 1000uF 16v from the rectifier/transformer brick from a dead power supply. The 100uF 35V caps I bought on eBay, 100 pieces for 11 dollars. The 470uf 35v cap I ordered locally for a whopping 50 cents. Which brings the grand total for replacement parts to $1.05. Only the 1000uf cap is a Rubicon, the rest are mid-range quality caps, but they're an improvement over the Decons that populate the whole board.

If you plan to do this yourself, you'll need the following items (most of which are pictured above): A philips head screwdriver, a soldering iron, needle nose pliers, a solder sucker or soldering braid, wire cutters, and solder. Patience and the above mentioned caps are a given. A multimeter with a cap tester is an optional.

First, place a blanket or other soft material on your work area. Lay the TV face down on it. Now remove all the screws from the back of the TV. Look around and make sure you don't miss any. Once you're sure the back of the case is loose, lift it up on the side where the power cord plugs in.

You don't want to try to just pull the back straight off at this point because the power connector is screwed on to the case and plugged into the power supply board. You have the option of either unplugging the connector from the power supply and unscrewing the green ground wire, seen above, or you can remove the two screws that hold the connector to the case. I opted for the latter.

Now, with the power connector disconnected from the case or the power supply, you can pull the back completely off and see the guts of the TV. We're interested in the main board seen in the center of this picture.

Here you see the main board for the TV up close. The offending caps are the group on the upper left corner. There are a lot of wires here that you need to carefully remove. If they've never been taken off before they'll have glue on them that you need to break off. Take note of where all of these are and where they go because it is kind of important you put them all back the same way. Remove the screws from the board itself, and use the needle nose pliers to remove the two tightening screws on the VGA connector. Once those are removed you should be able to remove the board from its little box.

Here is the board free and clear. See all those black caps labeled Decon? Those will probably fail sooner or later as well. I'm just not enough of a masochist to do the right thing and replace them all.

Here you see the upper left corner in close-up. If you're paying attention you'll see those five purple caps are actually 50v 100uf, instead of the 35v I specified above. That's because someone already capped this board at some point and used a higher voltage replacement, which is perfectly fine, but 35v is what it originally called for and what I had on hand. You may also notice nothing appears to be wrong with these caps. In an ideal world, caps pop open on the top or bottom to indicate they're shot. Sometimes, usually when they're cheaply made, they don't show any sign of a problem. I know that it's the latter in this case because replacing them did fix the TV. In all honesty, some of those caps may be just fine, but since the price was right I just swapped them all to be safe.

Here is the bottom of the board. You can see that the replacements soldered in by my predecessor have a dull finish to them. That could be a sign of a cold solder joint. The two larger caps closer to the edge of the board seem to be scorched and the metal box the board sits in is also brown directly under that spot, which suggests to me that they've probably had current arc across them. I have no photographs of me desoldering these because I only had two hands to work with, but if you're not familiar with desoldering you should probably look for instructions elsewhere anyway. The idea is to heat up the old solder and then either suck it off with a vacuum or solder sucker tool, or wick it off with a soldering braid. Do this until the wires from the capacitor are loose so you can remove them. Repeat until all the caps are out. Simple enough.

Here you see the depopulated board. You might find this helpful if you want a clear shot of the location numbers for each cap. This is also probably a good time to mention polarity. You're replacing electrolytic caps here and they need to be put in just one way. Most caps will have a stripe down one side with minus signs in it that indicate the negative terminal. On this board, the component/top side of the board has a little white block to indicate the negative side and a plus sign on the bottom/circuit side to indicate the positive. New caps will also often have a long and a short pin, with the long indicating the positive lead. Make sure you get the polarity right for every cap before you put power to this thing.

Here are the replacements. Putting them in works exactly the opposite of taking the old ones out. You generally want to work from the shortest cap to the tallest, so the big caps don't get in the way of installing the little ones. Make sure the pads are clean and as shiny as possible so the solder will hold to them. You can use electronic circuit cleaner or an old fashioned pink pencil eraser if you don't believe all the stories about it being a bad idea. I went with the latter because I like to live dangerously. I put the cap through, checking my polarity, soldered one lead and then the other, then snipped off the excess with the wire cutters.

At this point, you just reverse all the previous steps as well. Put the board back in its little box, put the screws back in, put the nuts back on the VGA connector, hook the power connector back to the case, put the case back on, put all the screws back in, and you're done.

For my 45 minutes and $1.05 I was left with this:

As you can see, the 42" is a tad larger than the 32" I already had.

Good luck to you if you're trying this. My advice is go slow, be careful, and have fun. Feel free to comment if you have a question I might be able to answer.

UPDATE: This "junk" set continues going strong. As pointed out in the comments, I had actually put one of the 100uF caps in backwards, just as the person who previously capped the TV had. Though it caused no visible issue, I have since flipped that cap around. Hopefully, no one followed my example exactly and made the same mistake.

I also determined the reason why no universal remote would work with the set. It was because the IR receiver board wasn't plugged in. How I overlooked that one I have no idea, but I hooked the board back up and now the remote works as well.
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Transorbital Lobotomy

If you have a strong stomach, you can watch the American Experience documentary on Dr. Walter Freeman, the Father of Transorbital Lobotomy, on PBS's website.


It's a heart rending to thing to see. If you don't cry, you must have an iron constitution. Read more on "Transorbital Lobotomy"

Destroying the Past for Fun and Profit

I have just watched Discovery Channel's new program Treasure Quest. I had recorded the first few episodes on DVR and was planning to catch up in one fell swoop. Instead, after one episode I've deleted the recording and all the saved episodes. I believe this show is best described as greasy.

Treasure Quest left me feeling dirty for having watched it and not at all convinced of the sincerity of the people involved at the Odyssey Exploration company or Discovery. What I thought would be a program about searching for underwater archaeological treasures like the Antikytheran wreck, turned out to be more a bastard offspring of Deadliest Catch and Indiana Jones, with all the excitement cut out. As Zach Zorich of Archaeology Magazine so succintly put it, "Treasure Quest [depicts] scenes of middle-aged men sitting in comfortable chairs, sipping coffee, and cracking lame jokes while the ROV pokes around a couple of wreck sites that had been discovered years earlier."

The show tries hard to reel people in, with exciting music, montages of bleeped profanity, and constant quotations of treasure values. I don't watch archaeology, history, and science programs for drama, so trying to imply drama and suspense seemed unnecessarily forced. The whole package of music and montages comes across as tacky editing, meant to attact people that love the manufactured conflicts of unreality shows like The Biggest Loser and Survivor.

That is not the main fault I found with the show, though. Rather, I was most appalled at the dishonest character of the treasure seekers, the methods used to recover the treasure, and the secrecy involved. Discovery chooses not to highlight any of the glaring problems or controversies surrounding this method of excavating, and I have to believe the omissions are intentional to make the show successful. The practices onboard the Odyssey's ships Explorer and the Finder are disgraceful.

At one point in the first episode, a representative of Odyssey, onboard the Finder, advises the ship's captain to let him know if anyone of authority challenges them, night or day. Shortly thereafter, a French Coast Guard ship radios in to ask their intentions in sailing into French territorial waters. The Odyssey representative lies and says they're avoiding some bad weather and will be sailing back into international waters later that afternoon, when in fact they're trolling with a sidescan sonar looking for new wrecks. The Odyssey dissuades the French from intervening, then orders the Finder's captain to sale in a random zigzag to conceal their true purpose from the French observers. No honest archaeological excavation I've ever seen has lied to governmental authorities in such a way. It belies a low moral character. If hunting for treasure there was legal, what harm would come to them by being honest?

Discovery spends little time discussing the science behind the project. If anyone is mapping the shipwrecks, cataloguing the locations of items before they're collected, making any effort to keep the site's archaeological record intact, it is never mentioned. Rather we see the ROV's arm vaccuuming up coins and bones, seemingly at random. This seems contrary to proper archaeological practice and makes the site worthless at saying anything about the past. Perhaps the correct treatment of the wrecks is being carried out behind the scenes, but I have strong doubts.

Most discouraging of all is the secrecy. I don't believe I've watched a show with so much blurring in all my life. Almost every computer monitor, every piece of paper, every scrap of identifiable information about the locations, the ships, the firms analyzing the data, etc. are concealed. That makes the whole affair seem dishonest. Science and archaeology are done in the open, with findings being shared with everyone. Treasure hunting like this is not archaeology, it's just sucking up the ocean floor for a profit. One of the ships in the first episode, at an area nicknamed Black Swan, contained millions of dollars worth of lead ingots. They found this out by having them tested at a secret lab. What process did they use to find out if the lead was a valuable, low-alpha variety? Which lab was used to do the research, so others could verify it as well? We don't know because that's a carefully guarded secret for some reason. Archaeology and secrecy do not go together. Archaeology could practically be defined as the process of bringing to light that which is hidden and revealing the truth of that which is kept secret.

Mister Zorich's article linked to his name above is far better at describing the problems with this show and with the company involved. I just wanted to express my own impressions. As I said, the Treasure Quest left me feeling dirty. Deceitful, money hungry scavengers are not archaeologists, even if they put a sign on their door to the contrary. If they're going to salvage the seas for profit, they shouldn't make a TV show out of it to glorify their work and try to paint it as something it certainly is not. Discovery should be ashamed of themselves for once again compromising their committment to real science in exchange for ratings.
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Fallout (PC) - Review

I got Fallout 3 from my wife as an early Christmas present. After arriving at the first town in the game, I decided to stop where I was and go back to the originals to make sure I didn't miss any inside jokes. Fallout has such a rich and engrossing back story, plus a love for self-reference, that I felt like I'd be missing out in the new game if I didn't go back and remind myself of what the first two were like. After about three solid days, I've once again saved Vault 13 and broken up the scourge of the mutant armies. This is my first full play through in almost 10 years. How has the game held up? Let me tell you...

If you don't know already, Fallout is a post-apocalyptic, retro-future game. It was created by Interplay in 1997 and is generally seen as a spiritual successor to an earlier game from EA called Wasteland. A nuclear war in 2077 has ravaged the planet, but pockets of civilization live on. Some people escaped altogether by living in underground shelters called vaults. The main character you play is from one of those vaults. You create your character RPG style, modifying stats, picking skills, and traits. At which point you're thrust out into the world to look for a water purifying chip for your home vault.

Played in a 3D isometric view on a hexagonal based map, the game is for all intents and purposes in realtime except in combat mode. It's played entirely with the mouse. The game is open ended to the point that you can conceivably defeat the last boss in the first few minute of play. Similarly, you could wander around the desert for 13 game years and never achieve any of the goals set for you. You can talk to everyone or shoot everyone on sight. Your choices aren't necessarily unlimited, but they're certainly varied. There are consequences to your actions in the form of the karma system, which causes you to be viewed positively or negatively by other characters, which can effect the dialogue choices you have with them or whether they'll pull a gun on you the moment they see you. Unlike most games with such good/evil systems, it's possible to complete the entire game killing everyone and everything you encounter. It's easier to play smart and use your words, though.

Most goals in the game can be achieved in several ways. If someone has something you need, for instance, you might be able to bargain with them for it, challenge them to a duel for it, shoot them out right and take it, pick pocket it from them, pick a dialogue choice (if your intelligence is high enough) that gets them to just hand it over, etc. The game has many sidequests and stray missions here and there that can be solved either with brute force, trickery, diplomacy, or all three. There are several alternate endings possible based on the choices you make, which causes the sidequests you take to feel more meaningful.

Combat is turn based and strategic, carried out with an assortment of guns, hand to hand weapons, or simple fists. After combat is initiated and it's your turn, you have a limited number of action points to spend on walking, shooting, reloading, or just readying yourself for an attack. You use those up, then your enemies take a shot. This back and forth style allows you to think about your moves before you make them, weigh the pros and cons of shooting or running away, and makes the game feel more like a refined chess game with guns than a simple first person shooter.

One of the best aspects of Fallout is the game environment, which is a 1950s futurist vision of the future, complete with ray guns, tube based computers, dome headed robots, art deco architecture, etc. It's an alternate future where technology developed faster after World War II than in our own world, while the cultural icons stayed frozen in time. The opening sequence, complete with a classic song from the 1940s, "Maybe" by the Inkspots, sets the scene in a fantastically ominous way. In this post-bomb world, where the bottle cap is the legal currency, there are an eclectic mix of mutants, ghouls, gigantic insects, Mad Max-style gangsters, farmers, religious cults, peasants, rangers, businessmen, gamblers, and street vendors.

Fallout does have a couple of annoying problems. First and foremost, the inventory system can be tedious. If you have collected a lot of items, you can wear out your hand clicking the down arrow to scroll through the list to find what you're looking for. Similarly, if you find a few thousand bottle caps you'll have to spend a fair amount of time moving them into your inventory 999 caps at a time because that's the limit on the number of things you can add to your inventory at once. Another problem I ran into frequently was getting stuck in rooms thanks to my NPCs. You don't control the sidekick you pick up along the way, and they have the bad habit of standing doorways you need to get through. About the only way to move them is to run further into the room and hope they follow to clear a path. There is also an issue with one of the great features of the game. Namely that the non-linear nature of the story can sometimes work against you. If you don't pay close attention to everything the characters say, you might miss a quest and find yourself wandering the wasteland for a few weeks before you get back on track. I can't say anything about my biggest gripe of all because it would ruin the plot. I'll say that one part of the ending always effects me emotionally. It's a kick in the stomach.

If you have never played Fallout, now would be a good time to do so. Before you tackle the new game I'd recommend getting back to the roots of the series. I had fun leading my ragtag band of misfits around the wasteland protecting the innocent and slaughtering the evil. I saw things I'm pretty sure I missed on my original playthrough because of that whole varied ways of achieving the same goal thing. The game takes time, but it will feel like time well spent when you get those cutscenes telling how your actions impacted the environment. If you like to grind levels in an RPG, this is a game well suited to you. If you like guns, blood and guts exploding everywhere, off color humor, and general chaos, then you should enjoy this game as well. Fallout covers a great many genres quite well. Pick it up today off Amazon or eBay. Try to find one of those dual packs with Fallout 2 in it if you can.

Speaking of Fallout 2, that's what it's now on to. I got quite a ways into this game back in the day and never finished for some reason. I'm hoping this time will be the charm. I'll come back to tell you all about it if I finish.
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