Author Archive | Benj Edwards

15 Amazing Computing Rarities of the 1990s

There’s a certain false assumption among computer history enthusiasts that the age of rare and interesting machines ended around the time the IBM PC-compatible platform gained almost total dominance of the PC market. As a result, you’ll see endless celebrations of vintage PCs of the 1970s and 80s. But what about the decade after that?

While Windows’ pervasiveness did limit computer diversity in the 1990s, it by no means stamped it out. Here are 15 amazing and unusual machines that dared to swim against the tide of conformity–albeit with limited success that leaves most of these systems extremely hard to find today. Let’s pay tribute, at long last, to these rare computers of the 1990s.


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The Legend of Zelda Oddities

Hold up your Triforce and sound the ocarina! The Legend of Zelda is 25 years old. On February 21st, 1986, Nintendo released the seminal game for the Famicom (the Japanese version of the NES). It arrived in the States 18 months later.

Zelda spawned a lucrative franchise that spans over 15 releases for nearly every one of Nintendo’s consoles. It also defined a genre of action-adventure RPGs that are popular to this day. I dove headfirst into the shady corners and back-alleys of the Zelda universe to pull out various oddities for your entertainment. You’ll encounter them as you adventure through the slides ahead.


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Windows Oddities: 25 Years of Microsoftian Weirdness

Contrary to popular belief, Windows is far from boring. Dig below the surface, and you’ll discover a stranger side to the world’s most popular operating system. It’s filled with twisted homages, forgotten platforms, and dead ends. In a word, it’s full of oddities.

On the eve of Windows’ 25th birthday–version 1.0 shipped on November 20th, 1985–let’s explore this underground. When we’re done, tell us about the Windows oddities you’ve encountered.


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Nintendo Entertainment System Oddities

25 years ago today, Nintendo released the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in the US. The iconic console broke sales records, revived the video game industry from the brink of death, and influenced a generation of US kids. It also gave us classic franchises like Mario, Zelda, and Metroid.

You may have read plaudits and platitudes from other publications on this notable anniversary, but we here at Technologizer have decided to forgo dry historical analysis in favor of a look at all things odd in the world of NES. So without further ado, let’s pull back the curtain on our gallery of NES oddities.


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Super Mario Oddities

Super Mario Bros.–that classic of classics–turns 25 years old today. On September 13th, 1985, Nintendo released the seminal video game for the Famicom (the Japanese equivalent to the NES), and it made its way over to the States early the next year. With the possible exception of Pac-Man, no video game franchise symbolizes the art form more completely.

Since Super Mario Bros. has touched the lives of so many people (it was the top-selling video game of all time until Wii Sports eclipsed it recently), many works of art, culture, and merchandise have been inspired by it. In the spirit of this anniversary, let’s take a look at some of the oddest ones.


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The Great Operating System Games

Since the dawn of computers, games have been an entertaining way to demonstrate a system’s capabilities. Manufacturers like DEC distributed them as early as the 1960s: They were as powerful sales tools with universal appeal. The tradition continued with some of the earliest PCs. Simple (but often addictive) games are bundled with operating systems to this day.

Here’s a look at notable games that have shipped with OSes through the ages–including ones written by a few of the most famous programmers of all time.


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132 Years of the Videophone: From Futuristic Fantasy to Flops to FaceTime

Last week, Apple’s announcement of the iPhone 4 with FaceTime video calling capabilities brought the videophone back to the forefront of the media’s attention.  Steve Jobs’ keynote made it sound like FaceTime will bring video phone calls to consumers for the first time. But the idea of a two-way communications device that transmits pictures as well as sound is as old as the phone itself.

Economic factors have kept it out of the average consumer’s reach until the last few decades,  and the public has repeatedly greeted the concept–in stand-alone form, at least–with apathy. Still, inventors and dreamers keep coming back to the notion that the videophone is the way of the future.

Let’s take a stroll through videophone history to find out where things went wrong–and right–and how we got to the iPhone 4 and its rivals.


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The True Face of Mario

Everybody knows Mario–Super Mario.  And how: an oft-cited 1991 poll found that more American children recognized Nintendo’s cheerful mascot than they did Mickey Mouse.  Almost two decades later, the famous cartoon plumber, forever clad in blue overalls, regularly stars in blockbuster games for the Wii and DS.

Regarding Mario’s origins, it’s common knowledge among game fans that legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto created him for 1981’s Donkey Kong arcade game. But few know that Nintendo borrowed Mario’s name and Italian heritage from a real man.

That man’s name is Mario Segale, and he’s not a plumber. He’s a wealthy real estate developer in Tukwila, Washington.  Segale unwittingly stepped into video game history by renting out a warehouse that served as Nintendo’s U.S. headquarters in the early 1980s. At that time, a financially struggling Nintendo of America (NOA) was preparing the U.S. launch of Donkey Kong. Legend has it that NOA President Minoru Arakawa noticed physical similarities between Donkey Kong’s short, dark-haired protagonist and the landlord. So the crew at NOA nicknamed the character Mario, and it stuck.

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Fifteen Consumer Electronics Design Mistakes

You saved and you saved until you could finally buy that shiny new $1000 gadget that promised you everything under the stars. When it came time to plug it in, you found your joy being subsumed by abject horror. Your stomach plunged deep into your gut and you (yes, mortal non-designer you) recognized a fundamental flaw in your flashy gizmo so obvious that it made you want to pick up the device and smash it over the designer’s head.

Even the best designers make mistakes…but this article isn’t about them. We’re about to, ahem, celebrate the worst consumer electronics designers through the lens of their faulty creations. Since I’m far from an all-knowing technology god, I’ve limited our survey to fifteen design problems that have not only bugged me through the years, but that are widespread enough to have bugged many of you too. These problems aren’t limited to current technology, but they all fall into the nebulous realm known as “consumer electronics.” You know: TVs, telephones, VCRs, DVD players, MP3 players, and more.

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A 1980s Home Computer Family Celebration

Computers: The Heart of the 1980s Home

Familiar holiday tales tell of a time in the late 19th century when loving families would gather around the hearth to give thanks for their many blessings, sing songs, read Dickens, and roast chestnuts. But by the early 1980s — if you believed computer ads of the day — the home computer had become the center of the traditional nuclear family. Chestnuts  were replaced by joysticks and computer manuals.

With the holidays just around the corner, let’s carefully peel back the fabric of time and examine ten vintage advertisements from a more civilized age when dazed, zombified android families found themselves irresistibly drawn to home PCs.

As you look through these ads, keep this in mind: When was the last time more than two people sat around your computer?


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