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.
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 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.
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.
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!
It’s been 10 years since the last Star Wars movie was released and it looked like we wouldn’t been seeing anymore of the George Lucas universe. That was until 2012 when Lucasfilm was snapped up by Disney for $4 billion!
With this announcement came the news that the Star Wars movie franchise was to start again with the release of Episode VII The Force Awakens, followed by Episode VIII and IV plus other Star Wars movies not part of the main series. It’s certainly all go! As with the previous movies the mega marketing machine around Star Wars kicked swiftly into gear and earlier in the year Star Wars Day heralded the official reveal of a slew of toys, games, apps, games and much more.
The most enduring characters of the Star Wars series have most certainly been the droids R2D2 and C3PO, both featuring in all the films in the current series and set to continue to appear in the future too. Along with these fan favourites a new droid is set to take a starring role in The Force Awakens, his (we think it is a he) name is BB8.
BB8 shares certain similarities with R2D2 in the style the dome that carries the eye, however rather than the dustbin style body with legs, BB8’s body is made up of a large ball with the head magically floating onto as the ball rotates to move the droid around.
Disney have licenced the job of producing a ‘toy’ version of BB8 to the tech wizards at Sphero, who have in the past produced a number of robots based on balls that can be controlled by phone apps. BB8 retains this style of control, requiring the user to control the droid using a iPhone or Android device connected via a special app and Bluetooth. BB8 is charged by sitting the ball in a little cradle and whilst charging the dome head will move around is if taking in the surroundings.
Once charged, you place BB8 on the floor and run up the special app, the droid jumps into life with all the sound playing through the smart phone. You can choose to pilot the droid using controls on the app, control it via ‘set piece’ moves, set it on patrol around your space where it with detect obstacles and attempt to avoid them whilst chirping away in the same style as R2D2. You can also control BB8 via voice by training the app to recognise different commands.
Finally you there is a entertaining ‘Hologram’ mode. This allows you to record a short video message on your phone and then have BB8 project it like a hologram. In reality this is done by pointing your phone camera at BB8 and having the hologram overlaid onto the image on the screen. It is quite cool though,
The Sphero BB8 is not really a toy aimed at young children and at around £120, it’s fairly pricey to and might have limited interest after the hysteria of the movie dies down. Expect more from BB8 in the upcoming movies and a revised ‘battle damaged BB8’ in 2016
The gadgets are coming in thick and fast at the moment, but one gadget I was really looking forward to reviewing is none other than the Star Wars BB8 Droid from Sphero, not only was it featured on the show but I also spent some time in the green room demonstrating it to none other than magician Paul Daniels and singer Andy Abrahams. I also had the duty of cracking open our fully brewed keg of Brew Barrel which featured last week, it was very tasty!!!
Listen in to the stream above and watch out for a full review on BB8 in the next few days
Like many, we are really looking forward to the next trilogy of Star Wars movies coming our way, starting in December 2015 with Episode VII The Force Awakens.
The new trilogy is being directed by J.J. Abrams, who is famous for adding plentiful lens flare into his movies. There’s been much discussion on Twitter and Facebook about whether the new Star Wars movies will inherit this trait along with maintaining the visible style of the previous ‘Hexalogy’.
Right up to the release of the teaser last week YouTube became awash with fan made versions, some good and some bad, we’ve added a selection of the above, including the official version with added lens flare and George Lucas’ ‘Special Edition’.
If you have found some Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens teasers that you think should be added to the list, include them in a comment below!!