Charles Platt, Author


Cool Tools Show 268: Charles Platt

Our guest this week is Charles Platt. Charles used to write science fiction, was a senior editor for Wired magazine, and is the author of several books about electronics, one of them an Amazon bestseller in its field.

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Show notes:

All about “Region Free” DVD and Blu-Ray players, which are created as a cottage industry
This is retro, but some of us are retro. Especially if we want to watch, for instance, Hong Kong martial arts movies from the 1990s. You really have very little choice, you’re going to watch a DVD. The important thing to understand is that the player is not made this way by the manufacturer. A lot of people imagine that companies in Japan somehow violate their terms of contract and sell region free players, but of course they don’t. What they do is they sell them to some little basement place in Illinois run by some rather nice immigrant people who have found a niche industry. Industry is too kind a word. Where they basically hack the DVD player by refreshing some memory inside it. At that point it completely disables the region setting so that you can just play it. As far as I’ve been able to discover, these things actually do work. I have a couple. So far so good, but if it doesn’t work I’m not sure what your recourse would be because it’s certainly out of warranty at this point.

Outdoor TV Antenna for those who are too cheap to pay for cable (and it works indoors)
I did a bit of research on this because I’m in line of sight of a mountain which is approximately 18 miles away and that’s where all the broadcasting antennas are. I really hate dealing with Dish Network and people like them who always have some complicated deal wanting to sell me sports channels, which I don’t watch. So the idea of just using a plain antenna is very attractive if it will pick up the signal. The one that I found actually does pretty well. I get about 18 channels off this mountain. It’s a loop antenna which has been squashed a bit so it becomes an oval. I think it’s about two feet from end to end, and about six inches wide. I have a house which is fabricated from two by sixes, so it doesn’t block much in the way of radio waves. So I have it just hanging on the wall, it works fine.

The challenge of finding a 2-slice toaster with wide slots. Caveat: There is no ideal solution.
I don’t know what your local supermarket does, but my local Safeway sells what they call fresh baked bread. Basically they get it frozen and then heat it. It’s very nice bread, but some of the loaves are about 10 inches in diameter. If you want to take a slice off that loaf and toast it, you’ve got a problem. So I thought there must be toasters that are made with this in mind. But in fact you can either get single, normal width, or double width. Then, if you try to toast a regular slice of bread in a double width toaster it will get burned at the edges because there’s too much heat. It turns out that toasters have not been properly redesigned in decades, I guess. They’re all designed for Wonder Bread, really. I guess you’re expected to have a toaster oven, but that takes longer than a toaster. This is a double width slice toaster, which works fine if you want to do two slices of bread.

Karambit-style knives: A very counter-intuitive tool or weapon designed to be held in the fist
They’re so weird. First of all you hold it in your fist with the blade sticking out of the bottom. It’s just a little blade about two inches long and triangular in shape. It’s a self defense weapon. It cannot really be used for attacking people, so I kind of like it for that reason. I think knives are creepy, I don’t really like them, but if you want a knife this one has a nice feel to it, to me. It’s really intended for if you’re in some confrontation with a belligerent person. It comes with a little sheath, and you can just grab it in your fist. It’s a very good way to discourage someone. I think the advantage of a weapon like this is that the other person is unlikely to have seen it and will think what the hell is that.

About An Accidental Life: Volumes 1, 2 and 3

Kevin Kelly:
Charles, one of the things that both Mark and I have read is your ongoing series of memoirs. Which are amazing. I have a pile of books next to my bookstand, books that have been reviewed on the New York Times, books that are quality books, and by high priced authors. When your book comes along I immediately have to read it. I just sit down and I go through it immediately. I’m not even sure why. You’re not famous, you haven’t killed anybody yet, at least not into volume three. But I find it totally engaging. You’re so honest about the little ways your life has been screwed up, that I can’t wait to find out how you’re going to screw up your life next. I just find your biography to be some of the best page-turning writing that I’ve read recently.

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