Monday, February 02, 2004

Radio Shack and Parallax. I visited the Radio Shack in Doral Saturday. Its the back half of these stores that fascinates me, not the front where all the satellite dishes, cell phones, and stereo equipment reside. The back half harbors the stuff for people who like to tinker and experiment and, obviously, for word-oriented, liberal arts types who wonder about the decision they made 45 years ago not to go to engineering school.

I have never seen anyone but myself actually poke around in the back half, but there must be quite a few of us or there would not be a back half in a Radio Shack. I wonder when the others visit? Who are those people? What do they look like? Do they know how to write a paragraph?

Anyway, I came across a new thing: a microprocessor kit, built around a "stamp" or computer chip. The kit includes a book that is to teach you all about what to do with the chip and how it works. It promises to teach you to program the chip with BASIC. And the kit includes a little motor and other things that the chip will operate, once you do the programming.

The manufacturer is a company called parallax and the website is This company seems to be mainly in the business of designing microprocessor systems, but someone there is interested in teaching people "12 years of age and older" (I qualify) about what microprocessors do. According to the website, parallax entered into an arrangement with Radio Shack to put together a package for about $75. Separately the cost of the parts and the book, it is alleged, would add up to over $150. The blurb on the back of the package and on the website talks about how "educators" can order the packages in bulk to use in their junior high and high school science classes. I didn't buy this thing, but I am going to go back and get one this weekend. I am going to try to find a junior high kid to help me with it.

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