Bertie the Brain - Danny Kaye

First Computer Game Was 1950’s Bertie The Brain?

It of course depends on how you look at it, friends. However in 1950 Bertie the Brain made a splash at the Canadian National Exhibition. It has been said that awestruck visitors were lining up to challenge Bertie the Brain, matching wits with the computer in a simple game of tic-tac-toe. In fact that image you see at the top of the post? That happens to be none other than Danny Kaye (White Christmas) quite pleased he has bested Bertie the Brain!

How did Bertie come to be? That is thanks to an Austrian-Canadian immigrant named Josef Kates. The ‘first’ computer game came about thanks to another invention of Dr. Kates. The Rogers 6047 Additron tube!

Bertie the Brain - Dr. Josef Kates - Spacing Toronto

Image courtesy of Spacing Toronto.

Named so because Dr. Kates was working at Rogers Majestic. While at the same time I should add building one of the first computers in the world for the University of Toronto. The Additron tube was an electron tube that acted as a full binary adder. Which was of course Dr. Kates’ way of minimizing the amount of tubes and equipment needed in a computer. If you want your mind blown, I beg you to watch this video from Uniservo!

Sadly while patented in 1951, the Additron was never put into full production. As an old time radio enthusiast I obviously love the look of Vacuum tubes. Which is probably why I am so enamored by the look of Bertie the Brain. Rogers Majestic wanted Dr. Kates to build something that would show off the Additron tubes power, which is how the world was introduced to the tic-tac-toe playing computer.
Bertie the Brain - Computer

The fact that Bertie the Brain used lights on it’s display instead of graphics. This of course has sparked discussion on if it can be considered a video game. Hence why most folks will admit it was at the very least one of the earliest computer games. Bertie measured a whopping 13 feet or 4 meters tall and possessed a keyboard. As well as allowing Dr. Kates to adjust the difficulty of the game on the fly.
Bertie the Brain - Dr. Josef Kates

What ever became of Bertie the Brain though? After it’s two week presentation at the Canadian National Exhibition it was dismantled and stored away. As a matter of fact there is a wonderful article from back in 2016 on the Popular Mechanics site. It goes into far more detail and is worth your time to read!

Here is a short video from Mitten Squad, in which the early history of electronic gaming is discussed. Including a segment on Bertie the Brain of course!

Floppotron - Toto - Africa

Marvel At The Floppotron Playing Toto’s Africa

Friends, just a couple of weeks ago the Floppotron uploaded a brand new video. While in the past the Floppotron has covered the likes of the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams as well as even Daft Punk’s Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger. This go around it performs Toto’s Africa!
Floppotron - Scanner

What is the Floppotron you might ask? Well, it just happens to be 8 hard disks, with 64 floppy drives, and 2 scanners. Of course all of that working together happens to create beautiful music from every genre. TV and movie themes, video game music, and popular 80s songs can be performed by the Floppotron.

Yeah, Vic…we know what it is made up of but how does the Floppotron play music?!

That is a good question. Honestly the easiest way to describe it is, just head over to Silent.Org and let Pawel Zadrozniak explain it, as he is the creator of it. In a nutshell however using an application that Pawel wrote in Python 2.7 – the devices are triggered, with speed determining the pitch of the device, like the hard disks.
Floppotron - Hard Disks

Pawel states on his site that he uses the columns of floppy drives, in fact in stacks of eight. To simulate everything from a piano as well as string instruments. While I will certainly admit that some of the mechanics go over my head. At the very least I do know I highly enjoy the music it plays.

Now how about you enjoy the Floppotron playing Queen’s The Show Must Go On!

We have to give a huge thank you to Travis Falligant for the heads up on this excellent video! Travis is not just a friend of The Retroist and myself but has constantly shown his love of pop culture. The talented artist has given us Friday the 13th coloring pages as well as the mash-up of The NeverEnding Story and The Breakfast Club!

Last Jedi Trailer by way of the Apple IIc

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Trailer By Way Of The Apple IIc!

That is something you will not normally read, right? The Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer by way of the Apple IIc . Because as a matter of fact, who would think that is even possible? Thankfully for all of us fans of retro as well as movie buffs, one artist decided to do that very thing. Moreover this Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer by way of the Apple IIc manages to make it even more awesome!

The artist in question I should add is Wahyu Ichwandardi or Pinot as he is known on Twitter. Furthermore he had this to say on his Twitter channel on remaking the trailer using solely 1984 technology.
“It’s not just about a nostalgia journey, but also a tech history lesson. Kids have access to the old tech to experience better, beyond. And show it to my children.
New tech old tech, we just need to respect the tool to create something beyond its original task.”

Last Jedi Trailer by way of the Apple IIc

I think you will absolutely agree with me, that Pinot just said something very wise. In addition to something incredibly true. Pinot by the way also used two other bits of 1984 technology as well. Broderbund’s Dazzle Draw which is a bitmap paint program that was developed by David Snider. Who you might know better as the designer for the groundbreaking 1982 pinball simulation David’s Midnight Magic.

In addition, Pinot of course had to animate the Last Jedi trailer by way of the Apple IIc…by hand.

He did this by using none other than the Koala Pad. A drawing tablet released by Koala Technologies. Naturally. In fact, Pinot was kind enough to comment on Rob O’Hara’s 2012 post just a few days ago.

Animating The Last Jedi trailer by way of the Apple IIc took 48 140KB double density disks. As well as 288 image files with a total of 6MB. Obviously a whole heck of a lot of work went into bringing this labor of love to fruition.

However I think after you see the work for yourself you will totally agree on two things. It was totally worth it and Pinot has created something incredibly beautiful!

[Via] PinoDita

Having reveled in The Last Jedi trailer by way of the Apple IIc. Why not take a few moments and really see how much work Pinot put into the project?

[Via] PinoDita

MCI Mail

MCI Mail wanted to be the nation’s new postal system

MCI Mail was a commercial email and messaging. It was operated by MCI Communications from 1983 to 2003. Started on September 23, 1983, it was ahead of its time. Naturally being one of the first commercial email services in the United States, it was met with confusion by many. The commercials they released for MCI Mail didn’t really answer what they were all about.

Commercial for MCI Mail from 1983

Even though it was confusing to the non-technical person, it was a clever ad. A father and son, with comically over-sized should-pads visit a museum in the future. There they see a letter from 1983. The son has never seen one before and even mispronounces the word. Then he asked what did it “let” people do. Hilarious!

The evolution of MCI Mail seems pretty logical and tried to piggyback on the technological expectations of the times. First you used it just like a closed email system. Access to the initial MCI Mail service was provided using up to a 5600 baud modem. Which you connected to a standard telephone land line. Then you would dial-in on the toll-free access number at (800)444-Mail.

Read A $339 PCMCIA Modem is a Lot Like an Oreo?

Later it would be expanded to allow you to communicate with non-MCI customers. While at the same time, you could use a hybrid service which sent electronic mails to distant areas. There they would be printed out and could be delivered in under 4 hours.

In 1994 MCI stopped supporting the product, but remarkably the service persisted for almost another decade. By 2003, e-mail and other forms of electronic communications were ubiquitous. MCI Mail just couldn’t compete. So at 11:59 p.m. ET on June 30, 2003 it was officially decommissioned.

Want a more detailed breakdown of MCI Mail? This Promo video describes the MCI electronic mail process. It outlines the benefits and includes an overview of the prices associated with the service. It is a real gem.

Promotional Piece About MCI Mail

Video Professor

Learn to use the Internet with Video Professor

Many people have heard of Video Professor. They ran commercial on cable TV channels and on late night programming throughout the nineties. I recall seeing the commercials and laughing at some of the concepts. In the mid-nineties, I was already “online” most days. So a lot of the concepts in videos like Learn to use the Internet seemed comically simple.

Now I wish I had watched them back then, because it would ad a nice layer of nostalgia to my appreciation of them. And I do appreciate them. Why? Because they capture a wonderful moment in time. An era before the internet became ubiquitous and before slick video production would become commonplace.

Watching this now, I am struck by how information packed this 46 minute video is. It walks you through concepts and ideas that were new to people at the time. While at the same time gives you practical advice on using the internet through Prodigy.

We learn not only the hows and whys of getting online, but what to do once you do. From email to emojis and from auto-updates to Yahoo! It is all covered in this simple video.

Read Quantum Link for the Commodore 64

If you happened to be around during this time in the internet’s history, you will find this a fun trip back in time. When blue links lead to mysterious and unpredictable places and images were few and far between. This was the internet where I saw a possible career for myself, so watching this walk-through takes me back to a time when each click of the mouse shined a light on all the potential for this burgeoning technology.

I read that Video Professor had some legal issues in their later years. Some of them well into the new millennium. Which is shocking to me, I don’t recall seeing their ads after the nineties ended, but I guess they did. Seems like the business took a dark turn at some point before disappearing.

Now I feel guilty about my negative feelings towards Video Professor in the nineties. I don’t know much about their later products, but this video is a wonderful set of instructions for early users of the web. Without videos like these, how many people would have never gotten online in the early days? So a big thanks to Video Professor for being a cheerleader and educator of this technology I love so much.

Watch Learn to use the Internet with Video Professor