Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever dressed as a video game character for Halloween? Tell us about it.
Archive for October, 2011
Here's an interesting piece of obsolete technology — a plastic Lanier daisy wheel for a daisy wheel printer. Its actual size is about three inches in diameter.
There was a time when having a "letter quality" impact printer meant that the machine printed text using pre-formed, typewriter-like type elements. Some printers held these elements in the shape of a cylinder or a sphere, but in the case of the daisy wheel printer, the character forms projected from a central wheel in a shape that resembled a daisy flower.
Daisy wheel printers produced text by rotating the wheel to the proper character spoke and striking the back of it against an ink ribbon, which would leave a mark on the underlying paper.
Each daisy wheel rendered a different font (or type size), and thus fonts could be changed as easily as replacing one wheel with another. In this case, you're looking at a wheel for the font called "Prestige Elite 12," but printer makers sold dozens of other font wheels, such as those for Courier 10 or Cubic 15.
The daisy wheel method reproduced fonts using a dramatically different technique than, say, dot-matrix printers, which used a single matrix of metal pins to form various characters.
Laser and inkjet printers, which produce much less noise and use software-based fonts, made impact printers thoroughly obsolete for every-day PC use by the late 1980s (though stragglers used dot-matrix printers well into the mid-1990s due to lower prices). Even so, impact printers still reign supreme in specialized applications that require physical force, such as document reproduction via carbon copy paper.
Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever used a daisy wheel printer? Tell us about it.
Ten years ago today, Steve Jobs introduced the first iPod to the world. Many people didn't know what to think. It would take a little time for idea of the iPod to sink in, so to speak, but once it did, it did so in a very big way.
I first encountered the iPod shortly after its 2001 launch at a local Circuit City. Its simple white scroll wheel stared at me from across the room like a giant eye that had just opened for the first time. Yep, it got my attention. A ring-shaped kiosk in the middle of the room held iPods projected upwards, each player perched on a security rod, restricted, but available for public tinkering.
I walked up to it and touched it, ran my fingers across the front and spun the wheel. It was almost insultingly intuitive to a gadget freak like myself. It worked, and it was obvious that everyone would know how to use it almost immediately after picking it up.
Before playing with the iPod, I was skeptical of the device — like just about everyone else. But after touching it, I knew that the future of music consumption wore an Apple logo. By God, I wanted one. Bad.
Three Articles about iPod
So here we are, ten years later. The iPod unquestionably shook up the world. How should we mark the anniversary? Well, to start, I have written three pieces about the iPod for this exact occasion. I'll go through them below.
- The Birth of the iPod - In this piece over at Macworld, I take a look at the origins of the first iPod — how it was created, by whom, and why. I owe great thanks to Tony Fadell for sharing his time to talk about the iPod's creation, and to Steven Levy and Leander Kaheney, whose previous works on the iPod also provided invaluable sources for my article.
Despite those sources, this is not some iPod creation rehash. In fact, it puts together a number of disparate information sources for the first time. And thanks to my interview with Fadell, you'll definitely learn some new tidbits about the birth of the iPod.
- iPod Oddities - In which I continue my long-running Technologizer-hosted Oddities series by examining weird accessories, art, and history related to the iPod. Fun stuff, as always. Don't miss the iPod ballistics calculator.
- The iPod as an Iconic Cultural Force - Also at Macworld, this piece openly muses about how the iPod changed our culture, the music industry, and the world around us.
I wish I could say that I wrote more (ha), but you'll have to be satisfied with that — oh, and all the other iPod tributes you'll find on the web in the next few days.
Happy birthday, iPod.
Discussion Topic of the Anniversary: What did you think about the iPod when you first heard about it? Did your opinion change after you actually used it?
Way back in early August, I put together a list of the 10 Greatest MS-DOS Games of All Time for PC World to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the IBM PC. Everything was set to go, then my editor got into a doozy of a bicycle accident.
Thankfully, he's OK. He managed to edit the slideshow, which is up now, despite having a few broken ribs. Take a peek.
My original captions have been expertly truncated to more appropriately fit the slideshow format, so it may not contain as much of my reasoning for each game's inclusion as I had hoped. Still, it turned out very well, and I feel strongly about my picks. (I also love my intro slide, the crafting of which sometimes becomes my favorite part of making slideshows.)
Here is my inclusion and ranking criteria, from my original introduction from before it was shortened:
For this author, a combination of factors roll together to constitute Greatness: among them, innovation, influence, fun factor, and replay value with considerations for each game's contribution to the MS-DOS gaming culture thrown in. In the ranking, games that originated or most prominently thrived on non-DOS platforms were generally disqualified from consideration.
Whenever I do a slideshow like this, I like to remind people that my top 10 list is nothing more than a work of educated opinion. I'm typically not a fan of the format because the results are always subjective, but I still think it works because it stimulates public thought and gives me a good excuse to both entertain and educate on a subject I love.
So now I turn the spotlight to you, dear readers. If you were assembling a top 10 MS-DOS games list, what would be on it?
Few individuals have been as influential in the field of computers as Dennis Ritchie. Programmers have used his language, C, to author much of the world's best software. UNIX, an operating system Ritchie first co-developed in 1969, led the way for all modern interactive operating systems, including MS-DOS, Linux, and Mac OS X. UNIX still forms the conceptual and technological basis of most server operating systems in use today. Ritchie will be richly missed.
Carol Shaw likes to stress that she isn't your average American woman. Growing up in a world of technology and science traditionally guided by men, she ignored implicit gender barriers and pursued what came to her naturally.
She says she had little interest in dolls as a kid, instead preferring to tinker with her brothers' model railroad layout. In school, she proudly excelled in math and found herself gravitating toward computer science in college, a field of study populated by few women in the 1970s.
Two degrees later, Shaw landed a job at Atari programming games for the company's new VCS console. She didn't know it at the time, but she had just become one of the world's first female professional video game designers.
Shaw enjoyed a short but fruitful career in video games that lasted from 1978 to 1984, stretching between two prominent California companies: Atari, of course, which all but founded the video game industry; and Activision, a firm most notable as the very first third-party video game software publisher.
During her time at Activision, Carol Shaw created River Raid, a title almost universally regarded as a masterpiece of game design for the Atari 2600 console.
For decades, Shaw downplayed her role in video game history. Now 56, she seems ready to embrace that part of her life, although she does not actively seek attention or fame. In that regard, we are fortunate that she accepted my request for an interview.
In May of this year, Shaw and I spoke for nearly two hours over the telephone in a career-spanning discussion that touched on her educational background, her time at Atari, Activision, and Tandem Computers, and her reflections on being a woman in a historically male-dominated industry. She also generously provided many of the rare photos you'll see below.
It's a long piece, but I think you'll enjoy reading the extended thoughts of this pioneering software engineer.
Of all the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer devices made in the 1990s, the Creative Labs 3DO Blaster was perhaps the most unique. Retailing for $399.95 in 1994, the full set contained an ISA expansion card for an IBM-PC Compatible computer, a special CD-ROM drive, a game pad, and a couple games.
With the 3DO Blaster, 3DO software didn't run on the PC's computing hardware itself (as would be the case with a software emulator). Instead, the Blaster's expansion board contained a nearly complete set of 3DO console circuitry that merely used its PC host for power, video output, and as an optical media reader with the included CD-ROM drive. To get sound, you had to have a Creative Labs Sound Blaster card already in your PC.
Once installed in your PC, you could use the 3DO blaster to play 3DO games loaded from official 3DO game CDs that displayed on your computer's monitor. 3DO Blaster supported a windowed graphics mode in Windows 3.1 and full-screen in MS-DOS.
The 3DO Blaster did not fare well in the marketplace due to its high price, impractical nature, and the fact that the 3DO platform never really took off. If you happen to own one of these, treat it kindly, as it is most assuredly a rare gaming artifact from the early 1990s.
Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever owned a 3DO console? What are your favorite games for the platform?