Running with the night

April 24, 2013

asics1I finally bought new running shoes! I’ve decided to try to run a few road races (5k) this summer and since I haven’t run since the Achille’s tear I thought it might be a good idea to retire my venerable Asics in an effort to protect my feet. I remembered writing about them before and found this post from my old blog. Amusingly I mention that “they’re so old I don’t remember when I bought them.” And that post was from 2005! So I guess I was more than overdue for a new pair.

I found these new Asics on 6pm.com, which I discovered through dealnews.com. Buying shoes online may seem risky but these days it’s not hard to find reviews that inform whether a certain shoe runs to size or not. And they do fit perfectly, so I have no complaints about my shoes. My body, however, is not reacting well to the resumption of running. I seem to have underestimated the amount of work it will take to get in even half-way respectable running shape. Today I planned to run two miles and after a half a mile I switched to walking for a bit. I was huffing and puffing and since the bike path was infested with gnats I also ate quite a few bugs by accident. I thought my wind wouldn’t be a problem since I’ve been able to play some light basketball and soccer without tiring too much, but I guess I was getting way more rest during those games.

I did complete the two miles through a mixture of running, walking, running backwards, and running sideways. These last two I mixed in because I figured I need to strengthen all the muscles in my legs and wanted to hit the calves a bit extra. At this point I just want to achieve balance and good form. I’ll worry about speed later if all goes well.

 

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Early Electroedutainment

April 19, 2013

Quiz-Wiz-1

The Smarts! That’s the “incredible” prize you get for playing Quiz Wiz, according to the memorable television commercial. This toy was probably a Christmas present for us in 1979 or 1980, and I remember we played it quite a bit back then. Fast forward 33 years later and it still works fine.

Basically it’s a computerized (a big time buzzword in 1979) multiple choice trivia game. You type in the number of the question you want to answer, then the answer letter (A, B, C or D) and hit the answer button.

Sample Questions from Book #1

Sample Questions from Book #1

I rediscovered this toy recently while searching for a board game to play with my nieces at my parents’ house. I only found the original questions book (#1) and the “Book of Lists” (#8) book. The system is designed to use cartridges that presumably hold the “answer key” for each book, but the #8 book seems to work fine with the #1 cartridge. I’ll need to find more books in order to determine whether the “cartridge” actually stored anything or whether it was simply a marketing gimmick (cartridge systems were considered more advanced – think Atari VCS vs. Atari Pong).

Since I suspect the cartridge may not be storage, I tried to see if there was a pattern to the answers. I answered the first 100 questions and couldn’t find one. Memory was incredibly expensive in 1979 and storing 1001 answers on a 4-bit system requires 1.5K of ROM, which was an awful lot in those days. Far more likely is some sort of algorithm that determines the answer based on the number inputted. It would have to be fairly simple like multiplying the question number by some constant and then using the last two bits to determine the answer.

I did an experiment in Excel where I multiplied the question number by 8 and divided that product by 5 and then converted it to binary (base 2 number system – all 1s and 0s). Using only the last two digits of the product and converting to letters (00=A, 01=B, 10=C, 11=D) I get this for the first 50 answers:

BCABDABDACDACDBCDBCA BCABDABDACDACDBCDBCA BCABDABDAC

It’s a pattern that repeats after the first 20 answers. Altering the constants changes the length of the pattern, so I’m sure with enough experimenting I could create a pattern over 100 letters in length, as they probably did. As an additional experiment, I typed in a number greater than 1001 (3256) to see if there was an answer for that number. There was, and that answer did not correspond to the answer for either 325 or 256. Therefore I’m almost certain that the “answer key” is algorithm-based. The cartridge could serve as a “key” that could alter the pattern somewhat though. I’ll post an update if I find another book/cartridge.

Quiz-Wiz-3

The final step in my investigation was to take apart the Quiz Wiz to see what was inside. As you can see at left, there wasn’t much there. The other side of the board is where the keys connect and since it’s glued on I decided not to break the unit just to get a look. There is one small chip visible on our side that could be a simple processor (most likely purpose-designed to do the above calculation).

Coleco went bankrupt in 1989 but Quiz Wiz lived on, it seems. Tiger came out with its own Quiz Wiz in the mid-90s that used the same buttons and booklet format. And judging by this cringe-worthy commercial it was not lacking in street cred.