Category Archives: retro

The Gadget Man – Episode 146 – Retro Gadget of the Week – Part 10 – Nintendo Game Boy

In the final episode of my Retro Gadget of the Week, I bring you the Nintendo Game Boy.

This is an exclusive episode which was never broadcast. I’d like to be able to say it was too hot for broadcast, but in reality, it never made it because of time constraints on BBC Radio Suffolk. But here it is in all its glory, exclusively available to your pleasure!

Nintendo Game Boy in front of Assorted Games Cartridges
Nintendo Game Boy in front of Assorted Games Cartridges

Nintendo Game Boy

The Game Boy was an 8-bit portable games console designed and built by Nintendo, it was released in Japan in 1989 and then 12 months later made it to the USA and Europe.

The console featured a green, greyscale screen, but excelled in battery life against its arch-rivals, the Sega Game Gear and Atari Lynx. Along with an extremely durable case, both these features went towards beating it’s technically more advanced rivals.

The Game Boy came with the puzzle game, Tetris with later bundles including the legendary Super Mario Land, both were excellent games with fabulous soundtracks which didn’t become irritating.

The original Game Boy was a smash hit with gamers and went on to sell almost 65 million units. Nintendo kept gamers attention by releasing backwardly compatible upgraded units such as the Game Boy Color, Game Boy Light and Game Boy Advance.

As will other format wars, the gadget you least expect to win on paper is the victor and the Game Boy was certainly that, a truly great retro gadget which deserves to round off this series.

If you haven’t already, listen in to the stream as it contains 6 minutes of discussion about the Game Boy and its rivals and a little bit of history behind them.

Thanks to Matt Marvell at BBC Radio Suffolk for hosting my segment for the last 12 weeks and for producing this final one.

Don’t forget to Like, Share, Subscribe and Comment!!!

Gadget Man Episode 144 – Retro Gadget of the Week – Part 9 – 80s Home Computers

In our penultimate episode of Retro Gadget of the Week, we take a look at one the most revolutionary moments in computer history,  where an explosion of homegrown talent changed the very face of the personal computer marketplace and faced up directly the power of Silicon Valley with low-cost home computers designed in the UK

Commodore VIC20 Personal Computer
Commodore VIC20 Personal Computer, my first computer in all it’s 3.5k glory and 22 columns display

I was very lucky to receive a Commodore VIC20 personal computer for one of my birthdays in the 80s and proceeded to embrace coding head-on! Unlike other home computers, the VIC20 only supported it’s own tape drive, so instead of using our portable cassette play like my mates with Sinclair ZX Spectrums, I had to wait until I save enough money to buy my own Commodore Datasette.  This meant that every single program I wrote on the Vic was lost when the power was switched off, I either needed to write down my code or memorise it!

Alongside the American VIC20, a slew of other devices was released by UK based companies. The most famous was the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and ZX81. However, other notable UK made systems included the BBC Model B (built by Acorn), Dragon 32Amstrad CPC464, Apricot F1, Camputers Lynx, Gundy Newbrain, Jupiter Ace, Memotech MTX, Tangerine Oric 1 and many others.

Dragon 32
The Dragon 32 used the Motorola 6809 CPU

Almost all home computers of the era were based on the Zilog Z80 or MOS 6502 microprocessors with a small number going with the Motorola 6809 (which was more advanced that the Zilog and MOS processors).

The computers were generally self-contained devices, combining keyboards and computers as one with connectivity with colour or black and white TV’s which the user was generally expected to supply. Other peripherals were available such as tape drives, floppy disk drives, printers, joysticks and light-pens. Some models also supported plug-in cartridges which generally allowed the owner to play pre-programmed games.

Sinclair ZX Spectrum 16K 48K
The Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48K was the darling of the 80s market due to it’s price and range of games

The first to the market came with minute amounts of programmable RAM in the region of 1K to 5K, later entrants from the UK market settings with 16K or 32K with some stretching even further.  If I compare this to my Sony Xperia 1 mobile that I use today, this comes with 6 Gigabytes of RAM which is roughly 1,700,000 times more than my Commodore VIC!

Commodore 64 Personal Computer
The higher-end Commodore 64 Personal Computer with its sprite graphics, outstanding sound and award-winning games had a longer stay than most in the market
BASIC Code - Beginner's All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code
An example of Commodore BASIC Code – Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code

Almost every computer came preloaded the BASIC (Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) programming language which allowed a new breed of programmers to begin crafting their own code. Although the basics of each version of BASIC remained similar, that’s where it ended, different hardware and firmware made each machine incompatible with the other. Having a market saturated with different devices which didn’t speak the same dialect was the architect of their demise.

BBC Micro Model B
The BBC Micro Model B, built by Acorn as a joint venture with BBC. It found it’s way into schools as the staple computer for education.

After 3 to 4 years, the majority of these computers had become obsolete and fell out of use leaving the BBC Model B surviving through use in UK schools, colleges and universities and the Commodore 64 which had become a glorified games console rather than a way for young people to gain computer experience.

IBM PC AT
The IBM_PC_AT and it’s lower cost clones swooped in and stole the market

Along came affordable IBM PC clones from Dell, Compaq, AST and Gateway which WERE compatible with each other. Users began migrating across to these PC compatibles and the market was replaced at home and office. It was the end of an era.

Without the likes of Commodore or Acorn, my life would have been very different, so I have to tip my hat to the 80s Home Computer!.

Listen in to the podcast above to find out more and don’t forget to LIKE, SUBSCRIBE, SHARE and COMMENT!!!

See you next time

Matt
The Gadget Man
(Former Programmer of CBM Basic, BBC Basic, DataGeneral Basic, Testpoint Basix and Visual Basic)

Image Credits: Wikipedia

 

 

Gadget Man – Episode 131 – Retro Gadgets – Part One – Casio MG-880 Music and Game Calculator

This week begins a 10 week series of Retro Gadgets. Technology which has featured in my life and evokes childhood memories.

Listen in on the audio recording above. I have included a surprise at the end which wasn’t recorded at the time. 

If you grew up in the  ’70s or ’80s, you may have experienced some of these gadgets. You might be still using them or maybe they are gathering dust in a drawer.

The first of these is an absolutely awesome gadget. A gadget which opened up the national curriculum to the use of calculators. It also introduced us to mobile gaming.  Leading thousands of young people to huddle around each other in the schoolyards of the early 1980s.

Casio MG-880

Released in the summer of 1980, the Casio MG-880 was ostensibly a calculator aimed at young people. The 1980s saw a revolution in the teaching techniques applied to mathematics in schools. Initially seen as a way of ‘cheating’. Soon, however, it was accepted as a legitimate means to ‘check’ calculations, whilst continuing to show workings-out’ in answers.

Casio had something up their sleeve though. Their customers not only received a calculator, but they also received a musical instrument and game. This was genius marketing, Casio tapped into the school market and rewarded the kids at the same time.

The Calculator

The calculator functionality allowed for addition, subtraction, multiplication and addition. In addition to this, results could be written to memory, recalled and directly subtracted or added to further calculations. Percentage calculations were also included.

It was a beautifully designed device which hasn’t aged at all.

The Casio MG-880 Pocket Calculator
The Casio MG-880 – a creation of a timeless design that hasn’t aged over its 40 years!

Music

MG-880 provided musical entertainment by either a preprogrammed ‘Oh When the Saints’ or by users composing their own music. Musical keys illustrated by the relevant Solfège above the enabled buttons allowed for simple compositions.

Musical keys on the MG-880 were illustrated by the relevant Solfège above each key
Musical keys on the MG-880 were illustrated by the relevant Solfège above each key

The sound came from a piezoelectric speaker. The result was a fine 80s sound that comfortably sits alongside games to follow. I was fond of playing the Star Wars’ theme. For for those interested is 1-5-4-3-2-8-5-4-3-2-8-5-4-3-4-2.

IYou can hear this being played at the end of the attached podcast. 

It was no secret that switching the calculator to ‘music’ mode in a lesson would result in its swift confiscation.

The Game (Digi-Invaders / Space Invaders / Invaders)

The ace in the pack was in the inclusion of the Game. This took the form of a button mashing invaders themed game utilising the simplest of graphics, the number display itself.

The invaders game required the using decimal-point to cycle through 0-9 and n which denoted the mothership. Digits slowly advance across the screen from right to left. The player matches the number and presses ‘fire’ to remove it. Each level became faster and more difficult. Lives are lost when invaders reach the base.

The game was an instant hit across the planet, from my school in Hitchin, England to schools in New Zealand, every child wanted to own one and more-so, they wanted to excel at the game. Millions of the devices must have been sold with a substantial amount of them confiscated by over-enthusiastic teaching staff!

As with all fads, the MG-880 fell out of favour to be replaced by more advanced handheld games and creating a new boom in entertainment. Perhaps thousands of them still exist in boxes on the shelves of staff-rooms around the world.

This was the beginning of Casio’s boom. Relentlessly creative, they produced some the most ingenious of technology of the 80s. From calculators to watches with built-in calculators and melodies, they were the kings within their marketplace.

Don’t forget to listen to the audio using the link above. It was recorded at BBC Radio Suffolk & broadcast on the 11 May 2019. Listen to the VERY END! I have included something geeky and special.

Thanks to Matt Marvel at BBC Radio Suffolk for inviting onto his show. Keep tuning in for the next 10 weeks for more gems!

 

Gadget Man – Episode 129 – Gadgets in the Home

It was great to be on BBC Radio Suffolk this morning, talking with Wayne Bavin about Gadgets used in the home.

Following the first episode of Hard to Please OAP’s on ITV1, I spoke to Wayne about Gadgets which are used regularly and less regularly in our homes.

It was fun to chat about Soda-Stream, Amazon Alexa, Sandwich Toasters, Waffle Irons and all the good and bad tech now found in our homes.

You can listen in to the latest podcast to hear what I had to say and also how I managed to link this to watching an old episode of Terry and June.

Enjoy listening and don’t forget to Like, Share, Subscribe and I will see you next time!

Matt

Gadgets Featured in this Podcast on Amazon
Gadgets Featured in this Podcast on Amazon

 

The Gadget Man – Episode 120 – The Resurgence of the Cassette

As the new year dawns, we again look back, but this time it’s more than 30 years to yet another audio format resurgence. Now that Vinyl has once again become freely available to the masses after being all but condemned by CD’s, MP3’s and then streaming music, another format becomes the trend of choice. Yes, we are now being encouraged to revisit the Cassette Tape! Another Hipster trend or is there more to it?


HEAD’S UP!! You can listen in to me talking on BBC Radio Suffolk with Mark Murphy about my memories of cassette tapes, don’t forget to Like, Share, Subscribe or Listen directly.


For me, it’s difficult to understand how revisiting this format has any real appeal. The audio quality was mediocre, to say the least. Unless of course, you could afford $2,500  ($5000 in today’s money) for a Nakamichi Dragon Cassette Deck which in 1991 was widely considered to provide the best audio reproduction available.

Nakamichi Dragon Cassette Deck
Nakamichi Dragon Cassette Deck

For those of us unfortunate enough to be devoid of 5000 bucks, we instead looked at more portable alternatives, either in the shape of your unfriendly neighbourhood ‘Ghetto Blaster’ or the even smaller ‘Sony Walkman’. Whilst our aspirations for these two devices may have been the popular ‘break dancing’ movies of the era, we would have to face up to lesser versions of both.

Ghetto-Blaster or Boom-Box
Ghetto-Blaster or Boom-Box

The giant Ghetto-Blasters we dreamed of with 20 D-Size batteries, would, in fact, end up with less bulky and much less ‘blasting’ boom-boxes.

Sony Walkman Professional
Sony Walkman Professional

The incredibly sleek Sony Walkman’s would also be too expensive and thus instead we ‘made-do’ with cheaper and much poorer alternatives featuring tinny headphones and literally all DSP (digital signal processing) technology removed to either keep down costs or avoid licensing fees being paid by the manufacturers.

Tape Cassettes did launch the car and personal stereo experiences,  which went on to launch the digital experience that we all enjoy today. So just for this alone, we should be thankful. It does not, however, mean that cassette tapes sound any better than anything else that is currently available. We now don’t need to arduously fast-forward or rewind to our favourite tracks and we most certainly do not have to spend hours fiddling around with pencils to re-tension cassettes, it’s now so much easier. So maybe they should stay consigned to charity shops and eBay.

Matt

The Gadget Man – Episode 105 – On the Sofa with Sarah Lilley at BBC Radio Suffolk

As I continue to ride the wave of euphoria of completing the 1200 mile east to west  Gadget Road Trip with my lifelong friend Andy. Today I joined BBC Radio Suffolk’s Sarah Lilley on the Sofa in Ipswich and explained how the challenge came about and how it felt to drive 1200 miles in an Electric Car and why I love Gadgets!

I also talked about how I met Vanessa, how I listen to music and an ill fated trip to Tunisia in 1996.

Listen in to the stream, bookmark the site, we have a LOAD of reviews coming up over the next few weeks, so stay tuned!

The Gadget Man – Episode 98 – The Return of the Nokia 3310

The Nokia 3310 is set to make a comeback in the second quarter of 2017
The Nokia 3310 is set to make a comeback in the second quarter of 2017

Once again this week I was delighted to chat to James Hazell. Today we discussed the relaunch of the Nokia 3310, an iconic mobile handset in it’s original form which went on to sell 126,000,000 units.

In 2017, HMD the new licence holder of the Nokia phone brand will be launching 4 new phones, three of these phones are Android handsets, namely the Nokia 3, Nokia 4 and Nokia 5. Alongside these modern smartphones will be the reborn Nokia 3310. Make no mistake this is a brand new ‘feature’ phone, but there exists the spirit of the original 3310 which is held in such high regard.

Listen in to the stream and find out what I think of the new handset and also what other tech could be making a comeback.

Forget BST and GMT, All you need is Matthew Mean Time!

I sit here after reading debate after debate on the need for BST or British Summer Time and it has brought back some fond memories with my own personal battle with time keeping aged 17 – 22 years.

In 2016 there is no reason to EVER be late for anything. We have electronic gadgets to remind us by phone, text, email, popup reminders and our wrists now buzz with the wide variety of wearables. Simplicity is supposed to be the key, we can now set alarms then pause (or snooze) or even postpone them completely. Of course everything is now synchronised on all manner of electronic equipment connected by WiFi, 4g, 3g and bluetooth, it now seems we don’t have any excuse to be late anymore, we can even ask our gadgets to do things without actually physically interacting with them. With the advent of a new generation of ‘smart speakers’ such as Amazon Echo and Google home we won’t even need to remember when it’s time to go to work because these devices will already know. It truly is the dawn of artificial intelligence and machine learning. We are now standing on the precipice of self aware technology.

Sam Fox 1986 Calendar, popular in the 80's
Sam Fox 1986 Calendar, popular in the 80’s

Now… let us take a step back 30 years to 1986 where things were oh so different.

Smartphones? What the hell are they?. Bluetooth was a long lost King of Denmark and email was something people at Berkeley University used to send to each other between classrooms. Calendars hung on walls, normally fixed on one particular month if you happened to own the 1986 Sam Fox Official Calendar.

The master of timekeeping was sitting next to your bed, a wonder of technology who’s sole purpose was to ease your from sleep to awake in an instant, an efficient mechanism which could wake your either brutally with a ear piercing beeping noise or with the assistance of DJ Mike ‘Smithy’ Smith (Rest in Peace) gently coaxing you from your golden slumber, easing you into realities of Monday mornings.

What ‘Gadget’ do you speak of? What mastery of 80’s technology could this be?

Of course this invention was the ‘Digital Clock Radio’.

Mine was your ‘bog standard’ affair, equipped with Radio or ‘Beep’ alarm with the addition of snooze. An amazing invention to be ignored, paused and sworn at for many years until 1993 when lack of sleep and long hours of work forced be to put my fist through it early one Sunday morning!

There was however a big problem with my digital clock radio, a VERY big problem.

My boss enquiring as to my expected arrival time at the office.
My boss enquiring as to my expected arrival time at the office? Bosses in the 1980s provided workplace based motivational encouragement under a dark cloak of unpleasantness and aggressive threatening undertones.

The device only only allowed one alarm to be set at any one time of the day. This would work fine if every morning you had to rise at 6:50am. During the weekend you would switch the alarm button to OFF, allowing you a short lay-in on a Saturday or Sunday morning (what are they???) and making sure the switch was placed in AUTO on Sunday evening to avoid that ‘Where the HELL are you? call at 10.50am from your boss the next day!

Setting the alarm on a clock radio
Setting the alarm on a clock radio. A strange contortion of finger and thumb was needed to alter the alarm time.

However, my work hours weren’t regular back then. Sometimes a project needed completing early and the alarm  would need to set a couple of hours earlier for the next day. The radio didn’t allow for setting the alarm back a hour, it required repeatedly clicking one button whilst holding the other in order to advance the alarm 22 hours to set it from 7am to 5am, the buttons were never that comfortable or ‘ergonomic’ thus 22 hours of clicking would mean a cricked thumb and sore fingertips. Setting the alarm forward two hours was obviously much less painful. Things got more frustrating when you ‘missed’ an hour whilst cycling past it in haste,  causing yet more endless clicking until the desired hour was found (lets not even get on to minutes!).

It came to me in an instant, the solution was obvious
It came to me in an instant, the solution was obvious!

it was while advancing the alarm through this 22 hour period that it suddenly hit me like a bolt of lightening!! A solution found my accident, by the slip of a thumb, an accidental advance of time rather than alarm! There was no need to go through this tedious task at all! Setting the alarm back 2 hours was easily achieved by simply advancing the main clock forward 2 hours and leaving the alarm where it was, 8pm became 10pm, then the alarm would be shifted forward an hour, the ‘real’ time remaining still, time adjustment was always achieved by setting alarm or time forward, there was not tediously clicking needed anymore.

Thus on that fateful day in 1986, MMT was born, but this wasn’t the internationally recognised Myanmar Mean Time, no this was my personal time zone named Matthew Mean Time, a constantly moving time zone designed to allow me to get into work on time without sore fingertips!

A nonsensical time to visitors
A nonsensical time to visitors who remained befuddled and annoyed at the clocks apparent state of incorrectness . Interference commonly threatened the  consequence of unplanned, unexpected  and unwanted early morning awakenings.

The nonsensical mess of time displayed on my Digital Clock Radio that mean’t so much to me, the protector of timekeeping, the barrier from verbal and written warnings for repeated lateness at work mean’t absolutely nothing to visitors who remained confused and befuddled by the meaningless number displayed on my bedside clock. Some would bring the ‘error’ to my attention even offering to correct it for me. On one occasion a friend adjusted the time to GMT for me whilst I was out of the room and thus cause the alarm to sound at 2.30am the next day! But still MMT continued until 1991 when it travelled with me to live in Harrow but was deemed unacceptable by my partner and it’s use immediately ceased.

Although a good idea, MMT was sometimes met with confusion and derision
Although a good idea, MMT was sometimes met with confusion and derision. Frustration led to attempts to correct the time which in turn had drastic implications.

Whilst I sit here writing this article, the day after the clocks have ‘gone back’, the end of British Summer Time 2016, with the inevitable drag of darker, colder evenings, I lament at the demise of MMT and it’s five year reign in my life, along with the repeated “What the HELL is wrong with your clock Matt?” and it’s proud reply…

“Oh that? Don’t worry, that’s just Matthew Mean Time”

Happily the need for such amateurish horology related hokum is unnecessary in todays world. Altering your alarm time is now as simple as uttering the words ‘OK Google’ and crossing your fingers.

Grumpy Old Gits – 9th September 2016 with Matt Porter, Neil Bowles and Tim Edwards

Grumpy Old Gits came to an end a couple of weeks ago. Here’s the episode from 9th September 2016 with Matt Porter, Neil Bowles and Tim Edwards all kept in order by Mark Matthews!!

Queuing, a very British passtime
Queuing, a very British passtime

 

Nintendo Classic Mini: Nintendo Entertainment System, now we can all relive the 80’s

This week has been all ‘GO’ with Nintendo, but some surprising and particularly pleasing news came along today with the announcement of the.. Nintendo Classic Mini: Nintendo Entertainment System !

Yes, we get to relive those halcyon days of playing Super Mario 3 into the wee small hours of the night and best of all we now get to play on a HD TV.

Nintendo have indeed announced the release of a mini version of the famous Nintendo Entertainment System or ‘NES’, coming to a store near you from the 11th November 2016.

The console is a cut down to size replica of the original million selling home games console. This time we plug it into our high def TV’s with the included HDMI cable and power it using a mini USB power cable (We supply the plug, possible from the dozens we have accumulated over the years from mobile phones and tablets).

CI_NintendoClassicMiniNES_PS_Announcement_MS7_image912w

This time around there is now fiddling with games cartridges, instead Nintendo are loading the console with 30 NES classics, from the legendary Super Mario Bros 1, 2 and 3!! to The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Donkey Kong, PAC-MAN, Kirby,

Bring back memories and make brand new ones with Nintendo’s ultimate retro gaming experience, launching 11th November!

Relive the 80s when the Nintendo Classic Mini: Nintendo Entertainment System launches in stores on 11th November. The classic NES is back in a familiar-yet-new form as a mini replica of Nintendo’s original home console. Plugging directly into a high-definition TV using the included HDMI cable, the console comes complete with 30 NES games built-in, including beloved classics like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Donkey Kong, PAC-MAN and Kirby’s Adventure and more (I’ve put the complete games list at the end of the article).

When my eldest son was a baby (He’s now 24!), I use to sit rocking him in the night when he woke for his feed, while he was getting off to sleep I spent many an hour playing Super Mario Bros 3 on a original NES that was lent to us by my old mate Mikey Moore. This was a time of classic console gaming, memory and processing power was in short supply so the programmers worked near miracles to produce these simply amazing 8 bit games.

In reality Nintendo owned home consoles for a decade before the onslaught of Sony and Microsoft and their enormous bank balances and getting to play these games again is going to prove very popular for gamers young and old.

The console comes with HDMI cable, USB cable,one Nintendo Classic Mini: NES Controller and of course the 30 including classic games. Nintendo will also sell you additional controllers to make your doubles games even more memorable.

The console is released on the 11th November 2016, look pay around £70 for the console package.

Complete Games List:-

Balloon Fight
BUBBLE BOBBLE
Castlevania™
Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest™
Donkey Kong
Donkey Kong Jr.
DOUBLE DRAGON II: THE REVENGE
Dr. Mario
Excitebike
FINAL FANTASY®
Galaga™
GHOSTS‘N GOBLINS™
GRADIUS™
Ice Climber
Kid Icarus
Kirby’s Adventure
Mario Bros.
MEGA MAN™ 2
Metroid
NINJA GAIDEN®
PAC-MAN™
Punch-Out!! Featuring Mr. Dream
StarTropics
SUPER C™
Super Mario Bros.
Super Mario Bros. 2
Super Mario Bros. 3
Tecmo Bowl™
The Legend of Zelda
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link