Modern Retro

plastic seat coversHaving been born in 1955 I grew up through the plastic craze of the 1960’s. Plastic was new and fascinating. Plastic designer products of the 1960’s helped us believe that we were living in the future.

And so that brings us to products such as the Fingerhut plastic seat covers as well as plastic furniture covers. At the height of the plastic craze, it was popular to cover car seats with mail ordered plastic seat covers. They were constructed of clear plastic, and came in two designs – flat or a sort of raised diamond plate bubble design. For whatever reason, the diamond plate bubble design seemed to be the most popular, and that is what my parents had.

sofa-plastic-coverWhen my younger brothers and I would sleep while riding in the car with our faces lying against the seat, we would wake up, with the imprint of the diamond plate pattern on the sides of our faces. The plastic seat covers grew very hot and pliable in the summer and cold and stiff in the winter. Inevitably the plastic would become brittle, crack and tear at certain stress points, often remaining partially intact.

At the very height of the plastic craze some people also covered living room furniture with form fitting clear plastic covers. Somehow some people were convinced that the plastic cover would prevent the new furniture from becoming worn out, despite the fact that the plastic was cold and uninviting.

plastic1It’s a wonder that this plastic craze didn’t result in plastic cosmetics to help “protect” skin. I can imagine children with shining plastic covered faces.

Plastic is certainly still around, though the craze has long since dissipated. Plastic has faded into the background of our consumer lives, quietly weaved into the majority of products around us.

Fortunately the plastic seat cover idea went away. However, like a reconstituted T-2 Terminator the plastic cover is back and lives on department store shelves near you.

plastic screen protectorThe modern idea of plastic covers lurks in the 21st century in the form of useless plastic screen protectors for mobile devices. Screen protectors are a 1960’s fantastic plastic product just waiting to be applied to the screens of beloved mobile devices. And just like those plastic seat covers of the 1960’s, plastic screen protectors are of dubious value.

Bespoke Arcades at The Gadget Show

Geeks of a certain age will remember fondly “going to the arcade” where much time and money was spent on video games. This was a time before home consoles, before Nintendo, PlayStation and Xbox. An era of Space Invaders, Missile Command, Defender, Pacman and Battlezone that has passed into history. If this all brings a tiny tear to your eye, then you might be interested in Bespoke Arcades, creators of “the world’s finest arcade machines” that will take you back to that mis-spent youth.

Bespoke Arcades will hand-build in the UK arcade machines to specification in a range of styles, from the traditional upright cabinet to table-top machines. Everything is customisable from the cabinet finish to the controls and all come with a huge range of games.

Bespoke Arcades

Bespoke Arcades

Bespoke Arcades

Ben tells me about the history of Bespokes Arcades, some of their famous clients and how these might look like old arcade machines but are actually bang up-to-date PCs under the skin. Prices start at GB£2000.

Space Invaders

Wind up Space InvadersSpace Invaders marched into the arcades in 1978, making the pixellated alien an instant classic, daa-da-ing his way backwards and forwards across the screen. Designed by Tomohiro Nishikado, Space Invaders brought video games to a worldwide audience.

The National Media Museum in Bradford, England, is offering a range of Space Invader-themed novelty items that would make great stocking fillers for old and young geeks alike. There’s an ice cube tray full of Space Invaders (£6), a Space Invaders-themed iPhone cover (£6), a pocket Space Invaders game (£8) and a wind-up Space Invader (£8). With the 80s being particular in vogue at the moment, anything Space Invaders is undoubtedly cool.

Space Invader Ice TraySpace Invader iPhone Cover

Somewhat bizarrely, you can’t order these on-line and you have to actually phone up to place an order. It’s probably taking the retro experience a bit too far but there you go. Order from the Museum Shop to beat the Christmas rush on 01274 203448 for our UK readers.

While reviewing the Museum of Media’s website (vainly looking for the on-line store), I also discovered that the Museum has a Videogame Archive, dedicated to consoles long forgotten such as the Nintendo Famicom. There’s also an Internet and Home Computing collection, with several items looking very familiar, including a BBC Microcomputer.

Worth a quick browse on-line or a real-world visit if you are in the neighbourhood.

Elite: Dangerous

There’s a pretty good chance that if you are a 40+ British geek, the mere mention of “Elite” will roll back the years to hours of gameplay in front of a BBC Model B, flying a wireframe starship around an almost limitless universe. Trading, fighting, arms-dealing, slavery, whatever it took to get respect and the coveted Elite status. Even now, I still feel a small hint of pride in my own Elite achievement, over 20 years later.

Created by David Braben and Ian Bell, Elite was the first 3D game and eeked every last ounce of performance from 8 bit processors and 32 KB of RAM, even less once the OS had taken its share. There were tricks such as making all the objects in the universe concave, which significantly reduced several calculations in techniques such as hidden line removal and despite being largely only in monochrome, it was totally amazing for its day.

The successor to Elite, “Frontier”, never gained the same traction as the original Elite. In some ways it was too big and just wasn’t as immediate as the original Elite.

Returning to the original ethos of Elite, David Braben has launched a Kickstarter campaign for “Elite: Dangerous” to raise £1.25 million ($2 million) for the development of a new game in the canon, aiming for delivery in March 2014. Elite: Dangerous will be a multi-player game in a massive universe and initially the game will be for the PC, but other platforms will be looked at.

As usual, there are various funding levels, but £20 gets you a copy of the game plus the opportunity to reserve your commander’s name. But if you were looking to get lunch with David Braben at £5000, I’m afraid that all five slots have already been taken.

There’s additional reporting at the BBC.

 

Say Goodbye to the 90s

Geeks older than 40 are likely to remember the 90s well. The Internet was a sleepy village, PCs were expensive, hard disks were small and software came on floppy disks. And I have lots of floppy disks, from packaged software and magazine cover disks to drivers and trial software. A rough estimate is that there are around 500 3.5″ floppy disks in both 720 kb and 1.44 Mb varieties stashed away.

Old Floppies

In my mind, I always hoped to get into retro computing, but the reality is that there’s always going to be something new which is more interesting than hacking CONFIG.SYS to squeeze the drivers into as little memory as possible. So it’s with resigned acceptance that I’m finally having a clear out of the disks to reclaim valuable storage space.

Of course, I can’t simply throw the floppies in the bin. I’ll have to copy the files to my NAS “just in case” which has thrown up a couple of interesting things.

First, I’m surprised at how well the disks have survived. Of all the hundreds of disks, only two disks proved unreadable, both of which were magazine coverdisks. Expectations of floppies shedding iron oxide like Italian cars of the same era have proved unfounded and on the whole, they have been quite reliable.

Secondly, and not entirely unexpectedly, there has been the massive increase in file sizes and numbers over the years. Here’s a quick comparison of the Windows install disks.

  • Windows 1 – 178 files 1.9 MB over six 320 kB floppies
  • Windows 3 – 282 files 47 MB over eight 720 kB 3.5″ floppies
  • Windows 95 – 1946 files 574 MB on one CD
  • Windows XP – 6655 files 542 MB on one CD
  • Windows 7 – 2.2 GB download

Finally, it’s the “blast from past”. What companies and software has survived the 20 years since then? Here are a few of the disk sets that I uncovered.

Ah well…all good things have to come to an end. I suppose I’ll have to clear out the data CDs next….

Rubik’s Cube Speaker

Geeks of a certain age will undoubtedly remember when the Rubik’s Cube craze (or Magic Cube as it was originally known) spread through school playgrounds in the early 1980s. Building on the current popularity of all things retro, this Rubik’s Cube Speaker will bring back memories of success or frustration depending on whether you were able to solve the puzzle or not.

Rubik's Cube Speaker

The Cube speaker uses the USB connector for power and the 3.5 mm jack for the audio, so there’s no batteries or power adaptor required. Unsurprisingly the speaker is NOT a functioning Rubik’s Cube but you can try and impress your friends by saying that you solved it…until they spot the cables.

Available from the Science Museum Shop (and other online retailers) for £20.

Smashing Retro Games

I try not to give too much love to any one single website, but this is too good to resist.  Smashing Magazine have a great article listing some of the best retro and DOS games which are now available on-line, some as downloads, some online.  As far as I can tell, all the games are legitimate, but use your own judgement.

The games include (and my progress in them when they first came out.)

– Prince of Persia – completed.
– Lemmings – completed (and Oh No! More Lemmings).
– Pac-man – can it ever be completed?
– SimCity – thousands of hours wasted!
– Secret of Monkey Island – never really played it.
– Leisure Suit Larry – man, I played this and several sequels to death.
– Doom I/II – completed, but lost interest with Quake.
– Micro-Machines – even have this on my Playstation 2.
– Dune II – the precursor to Command and Conquer, Total Annhilation, Z and a thousand other strategy games.  I loved Total Annhilation and Z.
– Wing Commander – I, II and III completed.  Didn’t get far in WC Armada.
– Worms – best played against your mates.  Watch them suffer.
and loads more.

These were the games of my youth and it’s fantastic to see them getting a second life.