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You Don't Know Flack (Tech)
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The Sweetest Ice Cream Cone

When I was a little kid — this would have been the late 1970s, possibly early 1980s — I owned a cup that looked like an ice cream cone. The bottom part of the cup looked like a cone. The “lid” looked like a scoop of ice cream. The plastic ice cream was covered with a removable brown piece of plastic that looked like melted chocolate. There was a hole to accommodate a straw. We owned two of these cups. Mine had a scoop of vanilla on top; my sister’s was mint green.

I don’t remember where they came from or what happened to them, but approximately a decade ago, I decided I wanted to own them again.

And. Here. We. Go.

If you search Google Images for ‘ice cream cone cups’ you’ll find thousands of ice cream cone cups of all shapes and sizes. There are plastic ones and ceramic ones of every color. There are also thousands of pictures of real ice cream cones, plastic bowls for eating ice cream, cupcakes and plastic banks that look like ice cream cones, and all kinds of things that aren’t ice cream cone cups. For ten years, I have been searching Google and Google Images for pictures of the cup I used to own.


I searched Amazon, eBay, Pinterest, and other similar sites for ice cream cone cups. I also set up automated tools to monitor websites for ice cream cone cups, and combined my searches with words like “retro” and “vintage”.

Two years ago, I finally found a picture of one.


This picture came from an Etsy reseller, and by the time I discovered the image, the cup had already been sold. I offered the seller a hundred bucks just to tell me who bought it, so I could offer them another hundred for the stupid cup, but no dice. Dead end.

Each year, I hit up my online army of friends to remind them that I’m looking for the cup. Occasionally I get “I remember those!” and “I had one of those!” but it hasn’t turned up any leads.

Until this year.

This year, Twitter pal GabeDiGennaro asked, “was this a Disney cup?” Mine wasn’t, but then he shared a picture that put me on the right track.


It’s the cup. It’s the same exact cup — well, almost, but with a Disney label attached. I tracked the image to an eBay auction… that had just ended. I contacted the seller and discovered that although the auction had ended, the cup hadn’t sold. A deal was quickly arranged and… well, I think we all know how this story ends, don’t we?


The only difference between this cup and the one I owned as a kid are those Disney characters, and I’m debating whether or not to remove them. I still haven’t tracked down the source of the original cup — we’re leaning toward Tupperware, although Avon is a possibility, too.

I have found at least one other color combination — a strawberry on strawberry combination that also appeared on eBay, which tells me there are more of these out there.

And while the strawberry one is interesting, and I wouldn’t mind owning a mint green one, I’m pretty darn happy with the one I got. After a decade of searching, this plastic cone is sweeter than any ice cream could ever be.

Laptop Lemonade

Last week I bought some new stickers for my laptop.


Thirty seconds after I finished applying them I spilled a large glass of lemonade down into my keyboard. I dried the keyboard off with a towel and things seemed fine for a while,but when I turned on my laptop later that evening, 1/4 of the keys were stuck in capital mode and 1/4 were completely stuck.

But, hey — I’m a tech guy! How hard can it be to pop off the keyboard and clean it? Turns out, pretty hard. The instructions started with removing a dozen screws, then the battery, then a trap panel, then the hard drive, then the DVD player, and another two dozen screws. The next step involved running a knife all the way around the top of the laptop to break a seal, and then physically pry the keyboard off. Once removed, I found the bottom of the keys covered in a sheet of electrical tape. I used rubbing alcohol where it would reach, and I fixed the shift key, but by the time I got everything back together my delete key was stuck at a weird angle and my “k” key stopped working altogether.


ASUS doesn’t carry replacement parts for this laptop, but I found a seller on eBay who (for whatever reason) had a few keyboards for this model for sale. $30 later — and really, that’s cheap for dumping 20oz of lemonade into a laptop — I had to disassemble the entire thing (again). Funny thing, each time I put this laptop back together a few more screws get left out.



I’m going to go on the record and say that having to remove a laptop’s hard drive to replace a keyboard is ridiculous.

Roughly thirty minutes later, the new keyboard was installed and I was — am — back in business. It feels like new!


Thirty Minutes of Three Chords: Boba Fett Youth

The reason most interviews “work” is because, in most cases, both sides need (or at least want) them to work. Usually the person doing the interview has an article to publish and a deadline to meet, and the person being interviewed typically has something to say. An interview is like a dance, and when both partners are of equal skill, the dance may be graceful. Things don’t always work out that way. Sometimes, one partner may be a better dancer than the other. In some cases it is up to the person performing the interview to coax answers out of an unwilling or nervous subject. Other times, it may fall upon the person being interviewed to take charge and steer the conversation in a way that benefits them.

But what happens when one of the parties doesn’t want to participate at all? Take Gregg Poppovich, for example. Poppovich, long time coach of the San Antonio Spurs, is well known for his curt answers. He doesn’t agree with the NBA’s policy that requires him to answer questions before, during, and after games, and he protests this policy by being rude to unfortunate reporters tasked with asking him questions.

There’s nothing worse than trying to interview someone who doesn’t want to be interviewed.

Trust me, I know first hand.

On January 10th, 1997, a punk band named Boba Fett Youth played a show in Spokane, Washington. While I would never claim to have been a “punk rocker,” I was certainly familiar with (and a fan of) punk music. In the late 1980s and early 1990s I was listening to the Misfits, Minor Threat, the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, and the Dead Kennedys. In the mid-90s, I followed the next wave of punk bands such as Green Day, Rancid, NOFX, the Offspring, and Social Distortion during punk’s resurgence. I never had a mohawk or stuck a safety pin through my nose, but I certainly listened to the music.

I was looking forward to talking to the band because of their ties with Star Wars. The band’s CD (which I bought) had Yoda on the cover. I also got (bought?) a bumper sticker, which you can see stuck to the side of my old computer case (surrounded by smaller, random Star Wars stickers).


I watched the band perform and they were great in that terrible, punk rock way. They even played a version of the Star Wars theme that would have made John Williams cry. When their performance ended, I sat down to do a quick interview with the guys, and that’s when things went to hell.

Actually, I shouldn’t say that. I spent several minutes talking to all the members of the band except the lead singer, and things went great. We talked about the Vegas punk scene, how the tour was going, the fact that the guys ran their own ‘zine, and how they thought the show went. THEN the lead singer joined us, and THAT’S when things went to hell.

With each question I asked I got a snarky, smart-assed response in return. After two or three responses, I realized that he was doing a second-rate Johnny Rotten impersonation.

I tried to change the tone by asking some lighter, Star Wars related questions like how many Ewoks could you fit on a “ska bus” (one of the band’s songs), but it didn’t help. I don’t recall exactly what was said next, but at some point he insulted me and I committed the cardinal journalism sin and insulted him back. When he asked me if I was familiar with the band’s song “This 150lb Vegetarian Is Going To Kick Your Ass,” I said “this 250lb reporter would like to see you try it.” I’m pretty sure he told me where to go and I told him where he could stick his ska bus, and that was the end of that.

As I mentioned at the beginning, interviews normally go well because both sides have a vested interest in pulling it off. In this case, neither side was. In-Tune Magazine catered to the Spokane music scene; I had very little to gain from focusing on an out-of-town band, and I wasn’t worried about returning to the office without a story since I knew both the editor and the owner of the magazine (me, and me) pretty well and the office was my bedroom. Likewise, Boba Fett Youth had little to gain from appearing in my small town news rag. The only thing they lost was me as a fan, and it wouldn’t be very punk to care about that.

Two decades later, I look back and laugh at the incident. If the same thing happened today, I would definitely stay and complete the whole interview. The pen is mightier than an amplified guitar, after all. When bands are on stage with amplifiers and microphones, they control the room. When the show ends and the lights go dim, it is the writer who gets the last word — even if it comes twenty years later.

Halloween and Friday the 13th

AMC is showing all the Friday the 13th movies today. I don’t think I’ll ever watch a Friday the 13th movie without thinking about Jeff Martin.


Jeff and I met in 7th grade, which means we had only been friends for a couple of months when he invited me to his Halloween party. I’m not 100% positive, but I think that was the first time I went to his house.

It was a costume party, and I arrived wearing a werewolf mask with a flannel shirt and blue jeans. One good thing about being a werewolf is you can wear pretty much anything with a werewolf mask. Jeff wore the only costume I remember him ever owning: a black Grim Reaper robe with a skull mask that came with red flashing eyes.

I was the only person at the party not from Jeff’s neighborhood. The rest of the dozen or so kids had grown up together on the same block. There were five or six elementary schools in my town but only one middle school, and 7th grade was the year strong cliques formed. By the following Halloween, the kids at that party had gone on to become cheerleaders, football players, popular kids, nerds, and geeks. Over the next few years I became friends with a few of them and most of them never spoke to me again. But that year, at that party, we were all there together having fun — karate masters, monks, cheerleaders, punk rockers, devils, a werewolf, and the Grim Reaper.

The Martins had a hot tub in their den and had dropped a block of dry ice in the water for the party. It bubbled and smoked all night long and was one of the coolest things I had ever seen. In the living room, a volleyball net had been set up and kids — mostly the girls, if I remember — played volleyball using balloons.

When it was time to calm down, the lights were lowered, pillows were tossed on the floor, and one of the Friday the 13th movies was put on. In sixth grade I saw Nightmare on Elm Street at Jason Lee’s house and Children of the Corn at Andy Green’s house, so this was the third scary movie I had ever seen and it scared me to death. I remember some of the kids went outside during the film to play hide and seek outside in the dark and I didn’t want to go.

Morgan is a year younger than I was when I went to that Halloween party; Mason is two years older. It’s weird to think they are making lifelong memories now, when to me it seems like that Halloween party happened last month.

Friday the 13th: Part VII just ended and Part VIII is about to begin. Happy pre-Halloween!

The Art of Interviews

We’ve spent our past two Creative Nonfiction class periods interviewing fellow classmates.

I’ve interviewed a lot of people over the past 25 years. I cut my teeth doing interviews for my college newspaper, before doing intern stints with both the El Reno Light and the El Reno Tribune. Most of those interviews went horrible. Typically I showed up with a set list of questions (that I refused to deviate from), asked them, and left.

The first really good interview I did was for the El Reno Tribune. The city was relocating a historical home, and the newspaper asked me to cover the story. One of the first people I ran into was a woman dressed in historical clothing. She turned out to be from the historical society, and knew all about the house. After talking with her for quite some time, I tailed one of the construction workers and asked a million questions about the process of moving a house. Both people were more than willing to talk to me, and the story turned out great. I wish I still had a copy of it.

In the late 90s, when Susan and I were living in Spokane and working on In-Tune Magazine, we interviewed lots of bands. The best interviews were the ones where I arrived with no agenda in mind. I met Cotton Mouth at a local recording studio the day they received the first rough mix of their album on CD. We hopped into one of the guys’ cars and I spent the next hour with them as they listened to the album for the first time, discussing each track. I interviewed the (then) newest members of L.A. Guns for two hours the day they arrived two hours early for a sound check. I interviewed Life of Agony on their tour bus after they had been dropped from their label and was paying for a cross country tour out of their own pockets.


If you want a terrible interview, start asking your subject things they’ve been asked hundreds or thousands of times before. Asking bands that have been around for decades about how they got started is just asking for the interviewee to check out mentally. If you really want an interesting interview, find out what they want to talk about. I visited a musician’s home one time for an interview. When I arrived, he was working on a painting. I asked a question about his new album, and got almost nothing in return. I asked another question; that one fell flat, too. Finally, I asked him about his painting. We spent the next two hours digging around in his garage, looking at old paintings he had done. It ended up being a way better interview than what I had planned.

I have a few techniques I use when I’m interviewing people. Sometimes, I pretend like they are the most interesting person in the world. I don’t mean that in a sarcastic or demeaning way at all. If you can make people feel important, they will open up to you. Another technique I sometimes use is I mentally pretend like I would like to get a job doing the same thing my interviewee does. Oh, so you own a restaurant? How could I do that? Then of course there are the tried and true things that I mentioned above — do your research before hand, and don’t be afraid to go where your subject wants to go. If Eddie Van Halen wants to talk about cars, talk about cars.

I’ve had a couple of interviews go spectacularly terrible. I’ll write about one of those tomorrow.

No Tears Shed

My dad recently got rid of the shed in his backyard. It was uncharacteristically non-emotional for me. I have nostalgic connections with many things from my childhood, but apparently they do not extend to thirty-year-old wooden storage buildings.

If you ever want to watch human ingenuity at its finest, find something seemingly impossible to move and then advertise it for free on Craigslist. My friend did this once after purchasing a home that “came with” a less-than-new pool table in the basement. After scratching his head for a week, he advertised the pool table for free on Craigslist with that tagline that should make anyone suspicious — “as is, where is.” Two hours later a couple of guys showed up with a saw, a pickup truck, and a plan.

My dad’s shed was 16′ long, 10′ wide, 9′ tall, and had to be removed through a gate that was 8′ wide. It hadn’t been used in years. I got everything I wanted out of the shed in the early 90s when I first moved out, and went back a second time “just to make sure” there wasn’t anything left I wanted. There wasn’t. When all the stuff moved out, spiders, wasps, and God knows what else moved in. One of the shed’s doors had rotted and fallen off. My dad had considered paying someone to break it down and haul it off. Instead, he advertised it “as is, where is” on Craigslist, and within a day or two, some guys showed up with some saws, a pickup truck, and a plan.

It must have taken them several trips to remove the shed. To get it out through the gate (it was originally assembled on site), they had to disassemble a large puzzle that wasn’t meant to come apart. Based on the carnage they left behind, they didn’t need all the pieces. When Susan and I went over to visit my dad last weekend, we found bits of wood with old nails strewn across his yard, along with all the stuff that had remained inside the shed. It was stuff that each of us had put in the shed for one reason or another and never claimed. The people who took the shed didn’t want it either, apparently.


This was my first computer printer, a VIC-1525 that connected to my Commodore 64. There are few things worth less in the retrocomputing hobby than old dot matrix printers. The VIC-1525 wasn’t a great printer when it was new. The tractor feed mechanism was an equal opportunity offender and jammed as much paper going in as it did coming out. Years ago I acquired this same model of printer still in its original box complete with a $249.99 sticker on the side. I couldn’t give it away for free at a computer/gaming convention. If no one would take one in mint condition for free, you can imagine what the one pictured above (wasp nest and all) is worth.

The VIC-1525 was a 7-pin printer that lacked receding letters, and although its idea of “black” was “light gray,” I certainly used the snot out of mine. I printed volumes of game documentation, BBS log files, and hacking information, which I punched holes in using an old, dull three-hole punch and stored in three-ring binders for decades. All of the printouts have since been scanned in and archived. Of course.


(Spoiler: those passwords are from 1986 and no longer work.)

Almost nothing left where the shed had been brought back any memories, but I did find a couple of plastic cups that made me smile.


During the 1990s, Mazzio’s Pizza and Ken’s Pizza (both owned by the same parent company) sold refillable cups. After purchasing the cup for 99 cents, you could refill it for an entire year. The one from Mazzio’s on the left is a “Free Fill” (a play on refill) cup. Whenever I fill my “to go” cup one last time before leaving a restaurant I call that a “free fill.” I must have stolen that term from these cups but forgot. The cup on the right was a Fill-It-Up cup from Ken’s that worked the same way.

The only catch with these cups was that they were “only” good for a single calendar year (a year’s worth of soda for 99 cents seems like a fizzy good deal today). At the end of the year, the old cups were no longer honored and you had to buy a new one. If you ever wondered what happened to all those leftover cups that could no longer be sold, now you know — they went to my house. I literally owned hundreds and hundreds of those cups, so many that I don’t think I washed a single cup for several years. When you own an entire case full of plastic cups, they become disposable.

The cups, the printer, my old aquarium stand, the wood with nails still in it and the rest of the shed’s rotten guts are sitting on my dad’s trailer, waiting to be put in a pile next weekend for his neighborhood’s big trash pickup.

A New Opportunity!

Facebook has a feature called “On This Day” that shows you posts you made this date in previous years. Over the weekend, Facebook reminded me that I got a new job on this day back in 2009… and 2010, 2014, and 2015.

And now, 2016.

October 1st is the first day of the government’s fiscal year. That’s when our budget is approved (except in 2013 when Susan and I were on furlough). Because of this, that’s when a lot of federal jobs open up.

In 2009, I left Lockheed Martin and became a federal employee, taking a job with security. One year later, my old department hired me back and I worked as an enterprise administrator with one foot still in security. In 2014 I moved to a different security department, and last year, I decided to try my hand in the communication department. Each of these jobs have had their ups and downs, and some have been better than others.

That being said, I am very excited about my new position for several reasons. I’ll be working in Client Planning and Design — CP&D for short. Not only are they working on some interesting projects, but I know several of the guys in that department and I am greatly looking forward to working alongside them.

For the first day of work of my new job I shaved and put on a dress shirt and tie — kind of ridiculous since I’ll be working from home and the only other person here is Mick Rib, but it’s the thought that counts. A new leaf has been turned!


Star Wednesday: The Power of the Force Wall

I showed this picture to a coworker once and he replied, “That looks like your kind of store!” Then I had to tell him that this was not a store, but rather inside my house. I couldn’t tell if he was impressed by this or simply thought I was insane. Probably a little of both.


In the mid-90s, after having been dormant for over a decade, the Star Wars machinery began to turn once again. Return of the Jedi, the final film of the original trilogy, was released in 1983 just as I was wrapping up fourth grade. By 1995, when Kenner (now owned by Hasbro) introduced their new Power of the Force line of action figures and toys, I was a big boy, earning big boy money.

I goal (I assume) of the Power of the Force line was to reintroduce Star Wars to the masses. We didn’t know it at the time, but Lucasfilm had started working on special editions of the original films, which were released in theaters in 1997. In a way, I think the line succeeded — it got fans like me who grew up with Star Wars excited about the franchise again. What I’m not sure it did was introduce Star Wars to the next generation. To my son, Star Wars is just a movie that came out twenty-five years before he was born. To guys like me, walking into Walmart and digging through shelves to find the one figure I needed brought back nostalgic memories from when I was a kid. My kids didn’t have the nostalgic connection to the franchise the way I did, and didn’t get into Star Wars until they saw the newer trilogy of films.

When the first wave of Power of the Force figures were released, I drove all over town hitting every Toys R Us, Walmart, and K-Mart toy aisle trying to track them all down. By the time I had them all, I learned that there were variations in some of the figures, and I decided I had to have all of these, too. By the time I had all of those, Kenner began releasing new figures on green cards. What good is a collection of all the red carded figures if you don’t have all the green ones too, amirite? Then came the purple ones, and the deluxe ones, and… you get the picture. By the time Kenner/Hasbro began releasing figures for 1999’s The Phantom Menace, the walls in my computer room looked like this:


Two years later in 2001, something happened — my son Mason was born. Now I won’t falsely claim that having kids stopped all of my Star Wars collecting, but it definitely changed it. Suddenly I had less disposable income and less room to display all of these things. When we moved, every one of these figures came down off the wall and went into storage bins, where they lived for almost another decade.

In our current home, I’m very fortunate to have enough room to display the fruits of all of my kooky collecting habits. While brainstorming what I should do with all these Power of the Force figures I’ve picked up over the years, I decided a store-like display complete with pegs and pegboard would be a fun thing to put together.


The display is six figures wide, seven figures tall, and each peg is five figures deep, for a total of just over 200 figures. People have asked if each peg contains the same five figures — no, they’re all different. People have also asked if I rotate the figures around, and I do, but very rarely. The most I do is walk by the wall, dig through a peg I can easily reach, and move a different figure to the front.

Some people ask me about money — what all the figures cost, and what they’re worth. When they were originally released in stores, the figures were $5.99 each. I paid $10 each for some of them at local comic book stores, and paid more than that for some of the hard to find ones. I also bought a lot of them after they went on sale. Some of them have $4.99 price tags on them from Walmart and some of them have $3.99 price tags. The blue Attack of the Clones figures on the top row I bought in a large 4/$10 sale at Kay-Bee Toys. If you pluck an average of $5/figure, the wall cost me around $1,000 (over eight years). Their value today is anyone’s guess. A local Star Wars store is currently selling them for $50/each, but I haven’t seen any of them sell for anywhere near that price. I’d sell the entire collection for $5/each, not because I don’t like them, but because I don’t love them.

With my vintage toys, I also have vintage memories — memories of playing Star Wars with my friends or by myself, recreating adventures from the films or making completely new ones. These figures bring back different memories of a time when I didn’t have enough to do with my money or my free time. By the time I quit buying carded figures, I had almost come to resent them and what they stood for — not the films, but corporate greed. As I saw the same figures being released multiple times with different accessories or packaging (to lure collectors like me to buy the same figures time and time again), I started to see some of this for what it was.


Life’s Too Short to Wear Underwear You Don’t Love

I recently read that most adult males keep pairs of underwear for, on average, seven years.

When I look at the underwear in my drawers it’s hard to remember how long I’ve owned them. Unlike larger purchases like houses and cars, I don’t think most people — or at least I don’t — have a good frame of reference as to when any particular pair was purchased. They don’t change models each year.

I didn’t keep the receipt.

I’m pretty sure all the underwear I currently own I also owned in our previous house. Some of them I owned in the house before that, which we purchased in 1998. If that seven-year average is to be believed, there must be people out there who wear their underwear once and then throw them away.

About three months ago, Susan bought me a three-pack of Hanes boxers. According to the package, they contain advanced wicking technology designed to keep my butt cooler and less sweaty. The thought of my underwear containing advanced technology of any sort entertains me. Somewhere at work we have an infrared thermometer gun and I have considered setting up a controlled comparison to see if the latest breakthrough in wicking technology is measurable.

My weakness is that I frequently choose quantity over quality. I swore that after I added three new pairs of underwear to my wardrobe, I would get rid of the three oldest ones. It’s not tough to tell which are the oldest. They’re literally falling apart. But I didn’t throw them away, because 13 pairs are better than 10, even if you don’t wear most of them.

Last week while Susan was out of town I went online in search of more underwear. I made a pact with myself — if I bought enough of them, I would get rid of the old ones. After an hour of searching online, I found the exact same ones Susan had purchased. It was easy to confirm they were the same ones Susan had purchased. They’re black, they’re Hayes, and they come with advanced wicking technology.

They’re also roughly $17 per 3/pack. I ordered three packs of three packs. Nine new pair of underwear, for close to $50. At first that sounded ridiculous, but then I did the math. If I keep each pair for seven years, they’ll cost me $0.0023 per day. Based on past history, I’m liable to keep them even longer.

I pulled all the old ones out of my drawer and intended to throw them away, but I didn’t. Instead I put them on the bed in a pile. I considered donating them to a thrift store, but I can’t imagine anyone would want them. I don’t want them, and I own them! When Susan came home from her trip, she put them back in the laundry. As they come through this time, I’ll toss them out.

I must say, the new pairs of underwear is very enjoyable. I own the only black boxers in the house, so spotting them as they come through the laundry is very simple. They don’t have any holes in them that didn’t come from the manufacturer, so that’s nice.

Life’s too short to wear underwear you don’t love.

Next month, I’m going to treat myself to some new socks.


A Guide to (Many) NES Alternatives

Big Lots is already consolidating their Halloween shelves to make room for incoming Christmas-themed items. (Yes, in September.) One hot item for retrogamers this holiday season will be Nintendo’s official NES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the classic Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) that comes with 30 games built-in and goes on sale on November 11, 2016.. If the last video game system you owned was an original NES, you may not be familiar with all the ways you can play those old NES games, which vary greatly in both quality and price.

In this post I’ll be discussing all of the methods I’m familiar with when it comes to playing old NES games: original hardware, emulation, Famiclones, FPGAs, plus a couple of systems that don’t fall into any of those categories. For many of you, you are excused — come back tomorrow!


Nintendo originally introduced the NES to North Americans in October of 1985. It was the holiday hit of the season, and if you are still reading, it’s possible you spent the following year (along with millions of other people) playing Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt, and other classic early Nintendo titles.

Millions of NES units have survived the test of time, and it is still possible to pick them up today in video game stores and on Craigslist. The one part most prone to fail are the internal pins where cartridges connect. If the cartridge doesn’t make a good connection, the screen will simply flash when the system is powered on. Replacement pins are available and sometimes they can be bent back into place, but just know if you are seeing these symptoms, the NES most likely needs some minor repair.

Additionally, the NES uses old school A/V (composite) video cables and only provides mono sound. The video signal looks great on old CRT (tube) televisions, but not so much on modern flat screen HDTVs. A later hardware revision solves the cartridge loading problem by moving the slot to the top, but only provides coax (cable) video output. Unfortunately, these “top loaders” are even more coveted by collectors, and the price reflects it.

Summary: While the original hardware provides a 100% accurate experience, expect to buy a few adapters to get this old system to connect to your modern television.


Emulators are programs that run on a computer (or tablet, or phone) that emulate the experience of playing old games. The key is “emulate” and not “simulate” — emulators are often very good if not great at emulating old games, however those looking for a pixel-perfect experience may find minor imperfections to squabble about.

The best thing about emulation is that it’s free. Emulators like FCEUX and NEStopia are free to download. Obtaining ROMs (software dumps of the original games) to play on the emulators is a gray area at best, although archives containing every known NES ROM are not difficult to find.

If emulation is free, why isn’t it the only (or preferred) solution? For starters, setting up most emulators takes more technical know-how than connecting a gaming system to a television. Some people prefer what I call the “living room experience” of inserting physical cartridges into a console and playing the games from their couch. You can simulate this experience by connecting a computer to your living room television. They even sell USB adapters that allow you to connect vintage NES controllers to your computer! These are obviously the exception to the norm. Most people play emulated NES games while sitting in from of their computer.

I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the Raspberry Pi, a $35 mini-computer that does a tremendous job of playing NES games through emulation. With HDMI output adding a USB joystick, you can be up and running in no time by following any of the easy-to-follow installation guides available through Google.

Summary: Not the most authentic NES experience, but definitely the free’est.


In Japan, the NES was known as the Famicom (short for “family computer”). Any unofficial system that plays NES games is called a Famiclone. There are three major categories of Famiclones and literally hundreds of different clones on the market, all of which have different games, features, and quality. The three major categories of Famiclones include the “All-in-One,” the cartridge-based Famiclone, and the Multi-system Famiclone.

The “All-in-One” Famiclones do not include a cartridge slot. These were really popular in flea markets about five years ago, advertising “10,000 games in 1” (and sometimes more). According to Wikipedia there were a total of 713 licensed NES games (826 if you include unlicensed games), To get 10,000 games, these developers cheat in many ways; some of the “games” are simply levels from other games, some of them are games with the graphics modified, and in the cheapest of these units, the menu simply repeats after 100 or so games. The build quality on these all-in-one systems are often shoddy (at best) and the emulation quality isn’t much better. Kids who have never seen an original NES game in their life may still complain about the quality.

Summary: Toys for kids. Fun until they break, which will be soon.

Cartridge-based Famiclone systems allow gamers to use original NES cartridges, but run their emulation from what has been dubbed a “Nintendo on a Chip” (NOAC). The problem with these systems is that they are a dime a dozen, and quality (both build and emulation) varies greatly. The NEX (released in 2005 by Messiah) drew great ire from classic gamers when they learned it played most games pretty well and a few poorly or not at all. Famiclones have mostly been replaced by multi game system Famiclones.

Summary: Tough to know what you’re getting until you get it.

Multi-systems, like the RetroN 5, have largely replaced the original Famiclones. The RetroN 5 has 5 cartridge slots that allow it to accept not only NES but Super Nintendo (SNES), Sega Genesis, and all the Gameboy (original, Color, and Advance) cartridges. The RetroN 5 includes HDMI video, supports cheat codes, and allows vintage controllers to be used. All of these features don’t come cheap, as the RetroN 5 currently sells for $180 on Amazon. It’s a little tough to categorize the RetroN 5 as technically under the hood it’s running an Android emulator, but without removing the case, it’s hard to tell. The older model (RetroN 3) along with other competitors like the Super Retro Trio and FC3 are also still available and cost much less. These systems are all better than generic Famiclones (and leaps and bounds beyond those cheap All-in-One alternatives), but they’re definitely not perfect.

Summary: The best of the Famiclones. It’s still emulation, but it’s better than older models.


FPGA stands for Field Programmable Gate Array, and explaining how it’s different from emulation (and why that’s important) can be difficult. Here’s how someone explained it to me, and while it’s not 100% technically accurate, it helps clarify the difference.

Pretend the original NES was an abacus — one of those ancient devices that allowed you to perform math by sliding beads back and forth on a series of rails. An emulator would be like a series of memorized math facts — let’s say the single-digital multiplication table. We know 3×4 is 12 and 6×9 is 54 because we memorized those answers. Note that we don’t need any understanding of multiplication properties to provide these answers; we simply memorized them. If someone asks us what 12×13 is, we don’t know, because that wasn’t on our memorized chart. An FPGA is a chip that has been reprogrammed to perform like an abacus. It doesn’t just provide math facts it has memorized. Because it is acting as an abacus, it acts exactly how an abacus does.

If this doesn’t sound cheap, you’re right. My MiST FPGA computer cost roughly $250 (US). The cool thing about it is it can be programmed with cores to simulate lots of different 8-bit and 16-bit systems. It is also very accurate in the way it does this. The bad thing is, emulators are also pretty good at doing the same thing, and they are free. Lengthy, vitriolic arguments have taken place over which solution is better, and why.

For $250 you can do what I did; purchase a MiST FPGA and play all those old NES games in pure VGA glory. But wait; there’s more.

Last week, RetroUSB announced their all new AVS, an FPGA-based NES console. With FPGA guts, the company is promising 100% compatibility and accuracy. The HDMI connector outputs 720p video (perfect for modern televisions) and it uses the original NES controllers. It uses vintage NES cartridges, supports Game Genie and Pro Action Replay cheat codes, can simulate scan lines, and even connects to some sort of proprietary online scoreboard for tracking high scores. MSRP is $185, cheaper than a MiST and, is probably the best modern hardware implementation of an NES we’re likely to see (at least this week).

Summary: That person in your life who has a hundred NES cartridges and balks at watching movies on a non-HD television will own one of these.


For completion’s sake I’ll mention the Analogue NT, a yet-to-be released NES console that combines original vintage NES chips with a new case, multiple video outputs, and some options for configuring and tweaking games. I won’t go into details because, with HDMI output, this unit will cost more than $600 including shipping.

Summary: A unique and expensive solution to playing NES games that nobody you know will ever own.

Finally, to bring things around full circle, there’s Nintendo’s own addition to this already huge market: the NES Classic Edition. Unlike most of the consoles mentioned above, the NES Classic Edition does not use cartridges, nor can it be expanded. It comes with 30 built-in games. The final list of games to be included is:

Balloon Fight, Bubble Bobble, Castlevania 1 and 2, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Double Dragon II: The Revenge, Dr. Mario, Excitebike, Final Fantasy, Galaga, Ghosts’N Goblins, Gradius, Ice Climber, Kid Icarus, Kirby’s Adventure, Mario Bros., Mega Man 2, Metroid, Ninja Gaiden, Pac-Man, Punch-Out!!, StarTropics, Super C, Super Mario Bros. 1-3, Tecmo Bowl, The Legend of Zelda, and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.

Many of these games are classics. If these are the only 30 games you want to play, you’re in luck! If there’s one NES game you want to play that’s not on this list, you’re out of luck.

Summary: Great solution for casual NES fans who want a taste of nostalgia.


I’ve presented a ton of options, solutions and choices in this article for playing NES games. Which one is right for you?

– Emulation ($0): If you’re technically minded and haven’t done so already, give emulation a chance. Along with the NES, almost every 32-bit and earlier video game console (and computer) has been emulated. A $35 Raspberry Pi combined with a USB joystick and an afternoon’s worth of configuration is worth the investment!

– NES Classic Edition ($59.95): If you’re looking for a living room solution that plays some common NES games and you don’t own any NES cartridges (nor do you plan on buying any), the NES Classic Edition would be a nice solution, especially for those with little kids.

– RetroUSB AVS ($185): If you’re looking for a modern replacement for the original NES, based on what I have read, I believe this is the best solution. Keep in mind that $185 doesn’t include any game cartridges, but if you’re willing to drop almost $200 on one of these, I suspect you may already own some.

– RetroN 5 ($180): Inside this is running an Android emulator, so as far as quality goes you would get the same from a $35 Raspberry Pi. What you do get is the ability to use vintage joysticks and vintage cartridges. If I were only interested in playing NES games I would go with the RetroUSB AVS listed above; if I also wanted to play Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and Gameboy games and had limited space to dedicated to consoles in my game room, I’d consider the RetroN 5.

– Original NES ($100+): Prices go up around the holidays, and based on what I’ve seen on my local Craigslist, are already beginning to do so. An original NES won’t look great on a modern flatscreen television, and may require some minor repairs if someone hasn’t already refurbished it. If you’re not dying to own an original piece of history, there are better options.

– Cheap Famiclones ($20-?): You get what you pay for.
– Analogue NT ($500-$600): I like the $400-cheaper Retro AVS better.

Whatever solution you pick, I hope your children (or you) look like this.