Just saw "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" (so so movie--the joke wore thin pretty
quickly and Uma wasn't particularly in looks). Vex was all over the place
in it, suggesting that somebody dropped a bundle for product placement.
With Rat Shack apparently bailing on the line it seems unlikely that it was
them, does that mean that somebody else with some marketing savvy is
picking it up, or was the movie just so long filming that the shots were in
the can before Rat Shack decided to bail?
Actually this for me is an interesting subject....how should Vex be
marketed (or should have been marketed depending on your point of
When I look at the Vex system, it is apparent that significant thought
was put into its design and the overall quality is satisfactory.
Wayne Lundberg wrote:
I think my son's business and vex are in the same boat. They both cater to
an intelligent experimental biased group of people in quest of knowledge
while learning about the basics of their interest. My son was
www.rcsailcars.com and got a fair start, never anything as grand as, say the
hula-hoop, but a start. Then the Chinese came in with a 10% priced knock off
and he shut down. Shipped his last unit a week ago and lefty with tears in
I don't see many do-it-yourself automation companies making a lot of hay.
Remember the X-10 controllers? What happened to that great concept? And is
Mindstorm really making any money? Parallax may be doing something right by
catering to the science teachers, but I just don't see the American public
as that much interested in science and technology as they are in American
You mean something that costs 10% of what he sold his for right? Yeah,
it's hard to compete with that. I first though you meant something that
was only 10% less than his.
Economy of scale is so important in many businesses these days. If the
market is large enough, fast turnaround engineering and mass-production
techniques using low cost labor on the other side of the world can make
things so cheap it's almost hard to believe. There's just not a lot of
room left in the world for small custom shops. We expect things to be of
such high quality and low cost that it's hard to compete.
My house is full of them. I still buy new ones from time to time. Radio
Shack sells them. (under there plug-n-power brand rather than X-10 but it's
the same technology). You can also buy them on the internet (www.x10.com).
I don't understand why someone hasn't come along in all these years and
created a version that actually works. They are extremely sensitive to
power line noise and half the time, the controllers can't be heard by the
receivers depending on relation to each other and relation to noise
sources. And the more you house is filled with high-tech devices like
computers the more problems you have.
At the moment, my wife and I have X-10 transmitters and lights on either
side of the bed, but my box can't control her light and her box can't
control my light. This happened when I plugged in a few new large APC UPS
units in the basement 2 floors away.
By now, someone should be selling cheap 2-way units where the controller
actually tells you the status of the devices it is controlling and which
always works even with typical noisy power lines.
I find it interesting that Lego now has dedicated stores in shopping malls,
and that the stores don't carry the Mindstorm products.
Growing up, I was always into hobbies and crafts and engineering where I
got to actually build things with my own hands. These days, it doesn't
seem that kids are into that type of stuff as much. There's so much more
to fill their time and distract them now, such as 200 TV channels, video
games, computers and the Internet. It's hard to even find toys where you
get to build something these days - you have to find a speciality hobby
shop which are few and far between (compared to toy stores).
We really are transforming into a world where all we do is push buttons.
---snip for brevity---
Great write-up Curt. I can't agree with you more. But somehow we in the US
keep coming up with innovative stuff, eventually made in China, but invented
and developed here. I've read that fully 70% of our gross domestic product
is inetllectual. Books, movies, software, hardware, processes, ag science,
medicine... so somebody is out there getting their hands dirty with making
And just a peek at the economics of making things in China. It's only 2 or 3
percent of total company expenses and most companies pay their white collar
workers very well, and most are in the US.
The big problem I think was that Rat Shack was never really clear on what it
was--basically it's what 21st Century Meccano _ought_ to be and adds on top
of that a very capable microcontroller. But instead of coming out and
_saying_ that and making it clear that anybody from a 6 year old to an
electrical engineering grad student could do interesting stuff with it,
they got wrapped up in pushing it for a robotics competition and
When I first saw it in the store, I was quite interested, but looking at
the box, I really couldn't tell much of anything about its real ability.
The part that was most important to me was the microcontroller and I
couldn't tell anything from looking at the box. Could I program it? How
flexible was it? Was the programming limited to some stupid flow charting
for a 6 year old or could you do something real with it? How much memory
did it have? How fast was it? Could I easily use it to control non Vex
And the box had no photographs of what the hardware really looked like or
what you could build with it. Instead, it was just covered with those
graphics that left me feeling it was hiding something. Was the transmitter
just a cheap plastic toy like you get with most the cheap R/C toys at Radio
Shack - I had to assume it was. I was quite surprised when I finally saw
the real Vex transmitter and found out it's true quality.
At $300, these questions I couldn't answer by looking at the box made it
too risky for an impulse buy - even though it is something I would probably
have bought for $300 if I had only known it's full features and quality.
The packaging made it look too much like a toy for 6th graders than
something you could do some fun hobby engineering with.
What I also found in Radio Shack was the Boe-Bot kit. Not only was it much
cheaper, but it was also clear from the box that it was a real engineering
kit and not just a toy. So I bought that instead. I didn't understand
what the Vex was really about until this 1/2 price sale started. And now I
have a lot of the hardware.
I think Radio Shack made the mistake of trying to market the vex as a toy
for kids - where it had little hope because of it's high cost (around $400
once you add even a small assortment of extra parts like the batteries and
charger and a few sensors). Unless they could have gotten enough interest
going in Vex competitions where the hardware was being purchased by
sponsors for kids, they weren't going to sell them. Had they marketed it
more like the Boe-Bot as a true engineering learning product / robot hobby
product they might have sold more. They should have had a working Vex
robot in each store for people to see and play with as well. The box,
though it was nice, didn't do the product justice.
"Rat Shack" was the one who did the product placement in the
movie...before "it hit the fan".
Been in a "new and improved" store yet?
Kind of sad...they used to get alot of my money when they carried items
that a science minded kid wanted..
Who is their replacement for those of us who have science for a hobby?
J. Clarke wrote:
I'd say for kids and science, good choices are Scientifics (who bought
out Edmund Scientific), Timberdoodle, Kelvin, and most any of the
outfits specializing in home school curriculum.
RadioShack was basically good for the impulse buy, but even things like
the electronics experimenter's kits are cheaper/better at places like
I *will* be said when RS is no longer there for the quickie trip to get
some resistor I desperately need (though Frys and other retailers now
have this stock, and more), but other than that, they won't be much
missed. I can't see they've been relevent for the last 5-7 years.
Wayne Lundberg wrote:
Yeah. Cute ending but the rest could just be cut out and replaced with the
The funny part is that it shows up in a scene that was a flash back from
current times to their elementary school days - as if VEX was around 10 or
20 years ago!
Both my kids noticed it right away and said "Dad Look, it's your robot!".
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