Feature Article
Post Christmas Blues

February 1, 1998
By Scott Lewis

Now that Christmas has had time to sink in, it's time to review what went on.

For starters, I suggest you buy stock in Eveready and/or Duracell. My son got so many toys that take batteries, these companies will be going strong for some time.

Radio Controlled Cars

My son got two radio control (RC) cars. One is a Batmobile, and the other is a Tonka dump truck. The Tonka truck is pretty cool. But the Batmobile is a bit of a joke. What is the deal with radio controlled cars that only turn in one direction and only while going backwards. That is how the Batmobile works. Is it that difficult to build an RC car to turn left and right, going forward and backward. Obviously not, since the Tonka truck goes left and right, forward and back, and tips the dumper up and down. All from the remote control. The truck also has two speeds, although this you set with a switch on the truck.

I remember getting my first radio controlled car when I was around 6 or 7 years old. It was pretty good. It would steer left and right, and move forward and back. It was a race car design, and moved pretty fast. Fast enough we liked driving it up and down the sidewalk of our house, and even in the street. The problem back then was batteries. Standard batteries (back then were those cheap carbon batteries) would not last more than 10 or 15 minutes. Alkaline batteries (remember this is almost 30 years ago) would last for 30-45 minutes.

Rechargeable Batteries

I remember we ran down to Radio Shack and bought rechargeable batteries for the RC car. We bought enough batteries to run the car with one set while we charged the other set. However, the battery charger would only hold enough of the batteries to change one set at a time. Back then the only rechargeable batteries that were available were Nickel Cadmium (NiCd). These were terrible. We would get no more than 20 minutes of use out of the batteries before they needed recharging. Also, the car was a little slower with the NiCd batteries than with alkaline ones. Time to recharge the batteries... 8 to 10 hours. Needless to say this toy did not get nearly the play time it deserved from a 7 year old.

Flash to 5 years ago. I got Sega's Game Gear. This was Sega's competition for Nintento's Game Boy. The Sega a color screen though and looked much better than the Nintendo. I thought it would be much better than the Game Boy that my brother-in-law had. Wrong. To major problems with the Sega. 1) it ate batteries for breakfast (and lunch). A set of alkaline batteries lasted around 6 - 8 hours. 2) Games were expensive compared to the Game Boy, and there were not that many available.

It had been a long time since I tried rechargeable batteries, so I figured it was time to try it again. I went to a K-Mart (I think) and picked up two sets of batteries (still NiCd), and two chargers. One changer held 8 batteries and the other held 4. The latter was a quick charger, and claimed to fully charge the batteries in under 2 hours. The "full" charger require 8 hours to charge the batteries. The game took 6 batteries. So I needed both chargers to fully charge both sets of batteries. I figured I could use the quick charger while I was playing, and both together when I put the game away for a while.

As it turned out, the game went through the NiCd batteries in about 1 hour. Since the game used 6 batteries the quick charger could not keep up. I can't believe that in this day of computers (read: laptops) that they haven't invented a truly decent rechargeable battery for toys. My son's toy's go through batteries pretty fast. I haven't timed them yet, but he is on his 4th set for the Batmobile.

Michael Jordan speaks for Renewal. These are supposed to be rechargeable alkaline batteries. But no one can answer the question "can you recharge Renewal batteries in my old chargers design for NiCd batteries?" The Renewal package says to only use their chargers. Duh! They want more of my money. I have spent too much money on rechargeable batteries and chargers in the past to do it again.

Also, I don't trust the hype about getting the same performance form rechargeable alkaline batteries that I get from non-rechargeables. Does anyone have experience with Renewals. Let me know.

The laptop I maintain this site on will only last a maximum of 1-1/2 hours on a single charge. It is an IBM ThinkPad 760CD. It even has Lithium Ion batteries, but they don't seem to go as long as I think they should. I seriously worry about the battery business. It is this kind of battery performance, or lack there of, that has prevent me form getting into radio controlled cars. I would love to get a good one, but don't want to have to buy 20 battery packs, and 20 chargers to run a RC car continuously for an afternoon.

CD Changers

Last month, in Scott's Column, I told you about the Sony 200 Disc CD Changer, affectionately called The JukeBox, that I got for Christmas. Well let me tell you that some things can be more trouble than they are worth. In this case, I would recommend that you think hard before getting one of these. There programming is pathetically small for the amount of songs they can hold. I currently have over 150 CDs cataloged containing more that 1,800 songs. Yet I can only program up to 32 songs. This is appalling.

To counter the effect I wrote my own CD Catalog program for my computer. Its main use will be for me to print out an instruction sheet telling me what buttons to push to program 32 of my favorite songs at a time. The songs in the list can come from a number of different combinations I select. Basically I will use my computer to augment The JukeBox.


That's it. Don't forget to stock up on Eveready/Duracell stock.