Archive for the 'Technology Commentary' Category

New Limited Edition Street Fighter II Cartridge Could Literally Burst Into Flames — or Just Ruin your SNES

Friday, September 1st, 2017

iam8bit Street Fighter II limited edition reproduction cartridge is a fire hazard on fire

This is really bizarre.

News hit a couple days ago that “iam8bit,” a boutique retailer of video game nostalgia products, is releasing a limited edition Street Fighter II cartridge for the Super NES.

It is part of a Street Fighter 30th Anniversary package for US $100 (plus $24 shipping, inexplicably) that includes trinket bonuses designed to lure cash out of a video game collector’s wallet.

The cartridge looks and supposedly plays like a real Super NES cartridge on a real Super NES console. There’s only one catch: iam8bit says it might catch on fire while you play it.

I am not making this up. Here’s a quote of the actual product page:

WARNING: Use of this reproduction game cartridge (the “Product”) on the SNES gaming hardware may cause the SNES console to overheat or catch fire. The SNES hardware is deemed a vintage collectible, so please exercise extreme caution when using the Product and make sure there is fire extinguishment equipment nearby. Use of the Product is at the sole risk of the user. The Product is sold “as is”. Neither iam8bit, Inc. nor Capcom Co, Ltd. make any representation or warranty, express or implied, of any kind, including any warranty of merchantability of fitness for a particular use, or that the Product is safe to use, and iam8bit, Inc. or Capcom Co, Ltd. shall have no liability for damage to property or persons arising from use of the Product. Nintendo of America is in no way associated with the release of this Product.

[ Continue reading New Limited Edition Street Fighter II Cartridge Could Literally Burst Into Flames — or Just Ruin your SNES » ]

Nintendo is Playing Risky Games With Its Cultural Legacy

Friday, July 7th, 2017

Super NES Classic fits in your hand

By now, all of you have probably heard about Nintendo’s upcoming Super NES Classic Edition, which the firm announced on June 26. It’s a tiny HDMI-capable Super NES that plays 21 built-in games and will retail for $79.99 US. And it’s due for release on September 29, 2017.

It is also, quite possibly, intended to be a huge publicity stunt.

You guys may remember the absolute fiasco that was the NES Classic Edition — Nintendo’s miniature HDMI NES with built-in games. The NES Classic edition was announced on July 16, 2016 and launched on November 11th of that year for $59.99.

Of course, when November 11th, came around, shoppers snapped up the limited supply Nintendo produced within seconds on Amazon.com and at other retailers, leaving many thousands of NES fans frustrated and unable to ever buy the tiny wonder console for a reasonable price.

Yes, that included me. Scalpers on eBay turned around and immediately sold the NES Classic Edition for 200% the retail price, and today they go for around $200-$300 unopened on eBay. (I did eventually buy one on eBay for around $250.)

I’m tempted to ask: Will the Super NES Classic Edition suffer the same fate? But this isn’t the right question. The question should be: Is the launch and availability of this new product going to make a mockery of Nintendo’s cultural legacy?

[ Continue reading Nintendo is Playing Risky Games With Its Cultural Legacy » ]

[ Retro Scan ] The Promise and Peril of Computer-Cars

Monday, April 24th, 2017

Oldsmobile Cutlass Cierra Computer Control fuel efficiency advertisement scan - 1984Our 1984 model: Only 3,000 superfluous wheel spokes to clean

Microprocessor technology hit the automotive world in a big way in the 1970s and 80s — car manufacturers began integrating microcontrollers into their products, and that move paid off with features like increased fuel efficiency, better cruise control, and more accurate climate control.

Some computer-related advantages in the automotive industry predated the invention of the microprocessor, however. In 1964, GM began using CAD software on IBM mainframes to help design the cars themselves. These computer design systems were some of the earliest to allow the manipulation of 3D models and the use of light pens for designer input. Their invention pushed forward the state of the art and practically invented the concept of CAD itself.

By the 1980s, manufacturers were touting products replete with computer-related perks, as this 1984 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera ad shows very well. Olds even provided an option for an integrated push-button digital calculator that could “help balance your checkbook.”

I’ve transcribed the ad copy below so you can read it more easily.

[ Continue reading [ Retro Scan ] The Promise and Peril of Computer-Cars » ]

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] NandO.net – My First ISP

Monday, January 18th, 2016

Raleigh News and Observer Nando Nando.net Newspaper Advertisement ISP Internet - 1994The only time I have ever read the term “MUSH” in print.

You are looking at a scan of the actual newspaper ad that got me on the Internet with a commercial ISP for the first time. (Prior to that, I got online through a free dial-up university dataswitch.) It’s an ad for NandO.net, a 1990s-era Raleigh, NC-based ISP originally owned and operated by our flagship newspaper, The News and Observer.

As you can see by the handwritten notes on the ad, my dad used this actual piece of paper to sign us up for an account on the service (I modified the credit card number digitally, in case anyone is wondering). I found this rare artifact in my old computer papers recently while researching my early web history for a FastCompany piece I wrote last year. In that article, I explored what it was like to build a website in 1995. Here’s what I wrote about NandO:

As the Internet became more than just a way to access MUDs or look up the occasional novelty on text-based Gophers or web browsers, both of us sought a more robust way of accessing it. One of the first ISPs in our city was called NandO.net. Our local newspaper, the News and Observer, ran it as an extension of its efforts to pioneer online newsmaking processes.

On some day in late 1994, my father signed my family up for NandO.net. What we got in exchange for about $20 a month was an account on an Internet-enabled BBS, which had its own local message board and games, but would allow us to use text-only Internet email, web browsing, FTP, and Gopher. My dad paid extra for a “shell account” so I could log in and get a Unix command prompt. From there I could upload and download files from a terminal program, telnet to other servers, and push stuff from my shell account to remote machines via FTP.

What heady days those were. Incredible to think that I was just dipping my toes into what would eventually become a life-changing deluge — not just for me, but for all of humanity itself.

[ From The News and Observer, December 13, 1994, p.9A ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the name of your first ISP? What year did you first use it?

VC&G Anthology Interview: What Makes a Video Game? A Short Conversation with Nolan Bushnell (2011)

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

Nolan Bushnell HimselfBack in 2011, I wrote an article about the creation of Nutting Associates’ Computer Space on the occasion of its 40th anniversary. If you’ll recall, Computer Space was the world’s first mass-produced and commercially sold video game. It started the video arcade game industry.

While researching the piece, I conducted extensive telephone interviews with Ted Dabney and Nolan Bushnell, the co-creators of the game (who went on to become the co-founders of Atari). During my conversation with Bushnell, we touched upon some other topics too — when you have a guy like Bushnell on the phone, you tend to ask whatever you need when you have the chance.

VC&G Anthology BadgeWhile looking through the transcript of that 2011 interview again recently, I came across a section near the end where Nolan and I talked about what it really means to be a video game. During our conversation, Nolan hit on something that I think is rather profound, yet completely obvious in hindsight. I thought other folks might find our conversation, and its resulting conclusion, interesting.

I’ve kept this transcript nearly verbatim because I feel it reflects the spontaneous, free-flowing nature of the conversation. We were talking as he was driving home from a business appointment, so he was slightly distracted at the time.

[ Continue reading VC&G Anthology Interview: What Makes a Video Game? A Short Conversation with Nolan Bushnell (2011) » ]

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] 32X Through the Keyhole

Monday, May 20th, 2013

Sega 32X Genesis Electronic Gaming Monthly ad - 1994Surely you have newer locks in your house.

I bought a Sega 32X for $30 new in 1995 or ’96 at Toys”R”Us. They were on clearance because nobody wanted them. (I also bought a Virtual Boy for $30 this way around the same time.) There were good reasons why no one wanted them: chiefly, because better machines like the PlayStation and Saturn were out there, and most games for the 32X weren’t very good.

Still, I have a soft spot for this system. It touches some fundamental nerdy part of me that likes convoluted electronic expansion modules — it means more to collect, and more to mess with. I have a bunch of 32X games, perhaps even half of the entire library for that system, but I rarely play any of them. I seem to recall the Star Wars Arcade title being pretty good for it. Virtua Racing wasn’t half bad either.

By the way, the only explanation I can muster for the inclusion of the keyhole in the ad above is that it’s some sort of sexual metaphor, much like those found in Sega’s other 32X ads at the time (See “The Sega Mating Game,” Retro Scan of the Week, 2008). In other words, I guess we’re spying on a Genesis and a 32X having electronic intercourse.

[ From Electronic Gaming Monthly, November 1994, p.180 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: In an alternate universe where there was no Sega Saturn, do you think the 32X could have held its own against the competition for a few years?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Star Dot Matrix Printer

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Star Micronics Delta-10 Dot Matrix Printer Ad - 1983The Star Micronics Delta-10 Dot Matrix Printer: Mouse with Machine Gun

My family owned this exact printer. In fact, I think it’s still sitting in my parents’ attic as we speak. If I’m not mistaken, we used it with our Apple IIe system — the one my dad built from a bare circuit board and a set of cloned ROM chips (much like the one in this 2006 VC&G post).

It’s probably the first printer I ever saw in action, likely before I could even walk. I can recall crawling under our computer desk (the printer was on the floor beneath it for some reason) and watching it print out whimsical banners and calendars from a program like Broderbund’s The Print Shop.

But what I remember most about it, of course, was the sound it made: like a screeching robot mouse spraying lead into tractor-feed paper with a tiny machine gun. Like any dot matrix printer, once you hear one in action, the sound will never leave you.

Those were the days.

Of course, I was still using a dot matrix printer until the early 1990s, so I am pretty much scarred for life. Mice everywhere.

[ From Personal Computing, November 1983, p.28 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the first printer you ever owned?

Kotaku’s Emulation Fear Mongering

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Ouya Console

Over at Kotaku, Tina Amini recently wrote a piece titled “Ouya Tries To Dispel Fears That The Console’s Nintendo Emulators Will Promote Piracy.” It’s not a good piece.

First of all, the author isn’t clear whose fears Ouya is trying to dispel. By my reading, it is only the author herself who “fears” what may happen if Ouya allows Nintendo emulators on its console, and only because she wants to drum up controversy for a blog post. Fear mongering bullshit.

Tina, don’t use fear over emulation or piracy as your traffic-boosting media pawn. It doesn’t help anybody.

Emulation isn’t the enemy. Piracy isn’t even the enemy. They’re bogeymen that help preserve a system where media companies overcharge and re-charge for their works over and over and over again. (I’m talking all media here, not just video games.)

The never-ending war against piracy isn’t a war against pirates. It’s a war against consumers. The content industry has dressed it up to look like a battle of good vs. evil when it’s really just a battle to keep your wallet pried open while dollars pour out.

That war has real casualties for everyone that are far worse than piracy: things like consumers’ fair-use rights over products they have rightfully purchased or licensed, free speech, security research, and our historical legacy.

Piracy, if left completely unchecked, would definitely hurt publishers. But it’s not unchecked. It’s illegal.

Let people do what they want with open platforms. Let the law be the law, and let the people decide if it’s in their best interest to respect it or break it.

You could always put people in straitjacket if you didn’t want them to break any laws, but it wouldn’t allow them to be free, would it?

DRM is a digital straitjacket, and a “walled garden” is a fancy name for a comfortable prison. If a company like Ouya is brave enough to let their console be used for whatever purpose, that should be commended, not discouraged.

P.S. Fix the DMCA

Predicting the Smartphone in 1989 — as the Smartwatch

Monday, March 25th, 2013

Seiko UC-2000 Semi-Smartwatch

While researching my slideshow on smartwatch history for TechHive last month, I came across an interesting 1989 letter to Computerworld magazine. It was a response to an earlier article in the publication about the inevitability of a wearable watch-sized microcomputer.

I find the letter prescient because its author imagines the consequences of walking around with a full-blown networked computer on your wrist. And he was right about his predictions in every regard except one: instead of computers on our wrists, we’re walking around with computers in our pockets. In other words, smartphones.

But that’s the nature of predicting the future. You can often get the general trends correct without knowing the details. Nobody in 1989 had any idea that the cell phone, instead of the watch, would first become the vehicle through which we’d wear tiny networked computers on our persons almost every hour of the day.

[ Continue reading Predicting the Smartphone in 1989 — as the Smartwatch » ]

Fix the DMCA to Preseve our Cultural Heritage

Friday, March 15th, 2013

Mickey Mouse Copyright Blur

Just up on The Atlantic.com is an op-ed I wrote that argues for repealing the anti-circumvention section of the DMCA because it threatens the preservation of our cultural heritage.

Perhaps by now you’ve heard about the campaign to repeal the anti-circumvention section (1201) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This most recent challenge to the DMCA arose from a recent decision by the Librarian of Congress to discontinue a three-year exemption that made cell phone unlocking legal.

Opponents of the DMCA anti-circumvention provision claim that the law threatens consumer control over the electronic devices we buy, and they’re right. But the stakes are much higher than that. Our cultural history is in jeopardy. If the DMCA remains unaltered, cultural scholarship will soon be conducted only at the behest of corporations, and public libraries may disappear entirely.

That’s because the DMCA attacks one of the of the fundamental pillars of human civilization: the sharing of knowledge and culture between generations. Under the DMCA, manmade mechanisms that prevent the sharing of information are backed with the force of law. And sharing is vital for the survival of information. Take that away, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Share my article. Spread the word. It’s time to fix the DMCA.

“DRM is a problem like mold is a problem, like fire is a problem. What distinguishes it, of course, is that it’s a man-made construct, which makes it seem really sad.” – Jason Scott, Archivist at The Internet Archive