Tag Archives | Nostalgia

The Offbeat World of Atari

For a forty-year-old company that remains synonymous with video games, Atari has experimented with an awful lot of other businesses. In its early years, it made pinball machines, jukeboxes, video phones, digital photo booths, music-visualization boxes for your hi-fi, and more. Benj Edwards, who knows more about this stuff than anyone, has compiled a look at Atari Oddities–including the aforementioned and others, and some strange games, too. (If you remember Puppy Pong, I’m impressed.)


Visit Atari Oddities slideshow.



Atari Oddities

Atari OdditiesForty years ago this June, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney founded Atari, Inc. in California. And with it, they founded the video game industry as we know it today. Since then, the name Atari has become synonymous with the golden age of video games and a sense of Generation X nostalgia that will never fade.

If you’re reading this, I suspect you know the Atari 2600, 5200, and 7800 consoles. You’ve played the hit arcade video games, and you may have even used an Atari 8-bit or ST computer. But the story of Atari is filled with many unseen and little known oddities. Here are 13 examples of weird Atari products and strange Atari marketing you can use as trivia at your next 1970s or 80s theme party. When they ask, “How’d you know that?”, just tell them Benj Edwards sent you.


Why History Needs Software Piracy

Amid the debate surrounding controversial anti-piracy legislation such as SOPA and PIPA, our public discourse on piracy tends to focus on the present or the near future. When jobs and revenues are potentially at stake, we become understandably concerned about who is (or isn’t) harmed by piracy today.

I’m here to offer a different perspective, at least when it comes to software piracy. While the unauthorized duplication of software no doubt causes some financial losses in the short term, the picture looks a bit different if you take a step back. When viewed in a historical context, the benefits of software piracy far outweigh its short-term costs. If you care about the history of technology, in fact, you should be thankful that people copy software without permission.

It may seem counterintuitive, but piracy has actually saved more software than it has destroyed. Already, pirates have spared tens of thousands of programs from extinction, proving themselves the unintentional stewards of our digital culture.

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The Timeless Genius of Kodak’s George Eastman

Over at the Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal has an exceptionally good post with an exceptionally good title: “The Triumph of Kodakery.” Inspired by the sad news that Eastman Kodak may be on the verge of bankruptcy, he points out that the dream the company was built on–making photography so effortless that it’s everywhere, and enjoyed by everybody–is hardly in trouble. It’s just that its purest expression today is the camera phone, not a Kodak camera that takes Kodak film that’s processed by a Kodak lab.
The dream originated in the brain of the gentleman in the above photo, George Eastman (1854-1932). He was the founder of Eastman Kodak, and he didn’t just start one of the most important companies in the history of consumer technology products. He played as important a role as anyone in inventing the idea of consumer technology products. 
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Before PCs, There Were Digital Watches

This is my new watch. If you ever owned a Commodore 64 or an Amiga, you recognize that insignia below the display: It belongs to Commodore, the company that sold vast quantities of personal computers in the 1980s before petering out in the early 1990s.

My new watch is also an old watch: It’s a Commodore Time Master, manufactured in 1976 or thereabouts. I bought it from a specialist called LED Watch Stop, which has a supply of new-old-stock Time Masters that never got sold back in the 1970s. (It’s selling them for $229 apiece at the moment, although the price was $129 just a few days ago–I guess I lucked into a sale when I impulsively ordered one.)

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The More CES Stays the Same, the More It Changes

While rummaging through the official CES photo bank for an image of Steve Ballmer giving a CES keynote, I came across this picture of the show floor, jam-packed with booths, attendees, and stuff. (Click on it for a larger version.)

Consumer Electronics Show 1980

At first blush, this could be any year’s show–you can see Sony, Panasonic, Pioneer, and other companies that will be at next week’s edition. I might believe you for a moment if you told me this was last year’s show, which I attended.

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Computer Space and the Dawn of the Arcade Video Game

Forty years ago, Nutting Associates released the world’s first mass-produced and commercially sold video game, Computer Space. It was the brainchild of Nolan Bushnell, a charismatic engineer with a creative vision matched only by his skill at self-promotion. With the help of his business partner Ted Dabney and the staff of Nutting Associates, Bushnell pushed the game from nothing into reality only two short years after conceiving the idea.

Computer Space pitted a player-controlled rocket ship against two machine-controlled flying saucers in a space simulation set before a two-dimensional star field. The player controlled the rocket with four buttons: one for fire, which shoots a missile from the front of the rocket ship; two directional rotation buttons (to rotate the ship orientation clockwise or counterclockwise); and one for thrust, which propelled the ship in whichever direction it happened to be pointing. Think of Asteroids without the asteroids, and you should get the picture.

During play, two saucers would appear on the screen and shoot at the player while flying in a zig-zag formation. The player’s goal was to dodge the saucer fire and shoot the saucers.

Considering a game of this complexity playing out on a TV set, you might think that it was created as a sophisticated piece of software running on a computer. You’d think it, but you’d be wrong–and Bushnell wouldn’t blame you for the mistake. How he and Dabney managed to pull it off is a story of audacity, tenacity, and sheer force-of-will worthy of tech legend. This is how it happened.

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The Antique Known as the Corded Phone

J.J. Sedelmaier provides a neat visual retrospective of a device that’s still out there, but which feels like a relic: the non-cordless phone. (I still have one at home, but only because I occasionally do guest spots on radio shows from my house–and the producers always ask if I can do them from a wired landline.)
[Via Mark Evanier]

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4-bit. 2300 transistors. 740 kHz.

On November 15th, 1971–forty years ago this Tuesday–Intel publicly unveiled the world’s first single-chip microprocessor, the 4004. It was a modest start to what would become a grand silicon empire led by Intel. So modest, in fact, that many would quickly forget the 4004 as Intel churned out more powerful chips throughout the rest of the 1970s–the predecessors of the ones inside every current Windows PC and Mac.

Few commercial products used the 4004. Let’s rediscover seven of them, and learn about the chip’s history along the way.


Mossberg’s Twentieth

Walt Mossberg has been writing his Wall Street Journal column for two decades (!). He’s celebrating the landmark with a look back, including links to some historic columns–such as the first one.

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