This Happened With Our Very Nostalgic Technology!

Just because our beloved technology is dated, doesn’t mean you can’t find out something new about it!


This interesting idea for an article came to me while writing about what happens when you insert a LaserDisc “dead side” up.

Call me crazy, but inspiration hit to look back at some other interesting things we tried to do or figure out with our “primitive” 1980s technology. Truly it was a fun time that can’t be explained to today’s modern kids, who “know” and “discover” everything!

I’m sure some (or all) of this is not new to our very nostalgic minds, but humor me, this was a fun little bit of research! Plus, nostalgic technology! :-)

Our Very Nostalgic Technology

Did you have one like this?

We loved our gadgets in the 1980s just as much as we love our gadgets now. Sure our tech has advanced – Walkmans are replaced with mp3 players and phones, our portable phones are truly portable, cassettes and records have evolved into CDs and digital media, and BETA and VHS became DVDs, Blu-Rays, and like our music, digital media. We love our technology, and as it advances, it makes our lives better. But there was this awesome time when we tried to figure out what our “primitive” tech was doing, or what we could make our “primitive” tech do to work for us!

Because we loved experimenting with our tech then just as much as we do now!

Consider us the early innovators…or just a bunch of creative kids.

The Videocassette Dial-Up

Uploaded by BlueOctopede


I wasn’t the only little kid that heard the dial-up tone at the beginning of my videocassettes. And like the wonderful BlueOctopede (whose videos I highly recommend!), I heard this on my Disney videocassettes. Which reminds me, I really should pull out my Beauty and the Beast VHS for the nostalgia factor…but mostly to catch that dial tone.

The tone at the beginning of our videos is the Dual Tone Multiple Frequences, or DTMF, tone. This “dialing” sound, as described by Reddit user NerdyGerdy:

“DTMF signaling tones can also be heard at the start or end of some VHS (Video Home System) cassette tapes. Information on the master version of the video tape is encoded in the DTMF tone. The encoded tone provides information to automatic duplication machines, such as format, duration and volume levels, in order to replicate the original video as closely as possible.”

But why was this more commonplace on Disney videos?

…And the Videocassette “White Screen of Death”

That is actually more gray than anything.

Uploaded by Princess Daisy Fanatic Backup

And sometimes red…

Because a blood red screen and a long beeping squeal were perfectly acceptable at the end of a videocassette, when white/gray wasn’t scary enough. This color just screams “I murdered your favorite Disney video!”

Actually, it is a from a United Kingdom print of O Brother Where Are Thou?, and was uploaded (bravely) by You Tube user Daniel Mullins.

…Or This Strange Noise

Guess whose headphones were (accidentally) turned up for this one?!

Uploaded by tititag89

Because the White Screen of Death (and its snappy British cousin, the Red Screen of Death) wasn’t terrifying enough, here’s some loud music, followed by a faux siren!

Teddy Ruxpin Sings!

Uploaded by scbird

Everyone tried this at least once. I tried it with Cricket and my New Kids on the Block tape!

The whole thing with getting our talking dolls to rock out to our other cassette tapes is that, unfortunately, it doesn’t work well. Unless you’re uploader scbird.

This video’s uploader explained in the comments section that they recorded the song on the right channel, and the tones on the left channel to control the eyes and mouth, resulting in what everyone with a talking doll wanted to accomplish in the 1980s.

And this was the best video of the “experimental” bunch. Unfortunately, all the other videos trying the same thing were done by kids who probably found out about this…and felt the need to talk on the video. Nope, couldn’t handle them. This, on the other hand? I could seriously rock out to this!

…And Talking Doll Tapes Do This In Standard Tape Decks!

This was something I tried with my Walkman when I was nine years old. I still had all the tapes from my Cricket doll that I gotten about five years earlier, and while I wasn’t incredibly fond of the doll anymore, I still liked her stories and figured taking one “one the road” would be fine.

This is exactly what happens when you play a talking doll cassette in a standard tape deck (and no, it is not my video):

Uploaded by BB182000

You can hear the recording just fine, but your enjoyment had to contend with the beep boop bop sounds. These “beep boop bop” sounds are the signals that control the eye and mouth movements of our classic talking dolls. As explained with the Teddy Ruxpin video, there is one channel for the recording (right channel), and another for the eye/mouth motion controls (left channel).

Give ‘Em Credit!

Our tech was much more sophisticated than most will ever give it credit for, because someone had to figure out how to make our toys talk and get our videos to work correctly in our VCRs! Sure we were weirded out by the sounds things made, and equally fascinated by how those weird noises made things work. But in the end, it was our technology, and we always made do with what we had…while figuring out all the cool ways to make something work for our adorably nefarious purposes.

Those kids trying this stuff probably think they’re the innovators. If they only knew how many 30-somethings were so far ahead of them…

pencil sharpener

Nostalgia for a Pencil Sharpener

It is easy to get nostalgic for stuff. Every day I find myself fixating on things from the past. Usually it is not surprising stuff. A TV show, movie or a toy are easy thing to recall and to have a fondness for. Today though, it was something else. I went to use a pencil and realized I did not have a pencil sharpener. Instead of thinking of where I could find some handheld one, my mind went back to the beautiful wall-mounted manual pencil sharpeners of my youth.

We had them in classrooms, of course, but my family also had one in the basement. It was randomly mounted on this support pillar near nothing. So the only reason you had to go to this area of the basement, was to sharpen a pencil. This was a thing I did often. Which when I was young was an event since I was terrified of the basement. Still, I needed to sharpen my pencils for school. So down the basement I went, nearly every day.

As I got more into Dungeons & Dragons, the sharpener became a much-needed gaming accessory. Not only did I need to keep my own pencil sharp, but often the pencils of 4 gamers as well. Eventually we started gaming in the basement and when we chose a place to put our gaming table we made it as close to the pencil sharpener as possible. I had a player who would sharpen their pencil out of nervousness at least once an hour. By the end of the session the pencils would be half the size as when we began.

Buy a wall-mounted manual sharpener of your own

That pencil sharpener was the one I used from before I could reach it, till I got the the pencils I sharpened and brought to college with me. One day I came home and it was just gone. My mother thought one of my sisters took it, but neither of them would admit to it. Nor have I ever seen it at their houses.

To this day, whenever I get the opportunity to sharpen my pencils on a hand-cranked pencil sharpener, I get to it with gusto. I just wish I had one right now. More to the point, I wish I still had that one from my childhood.

Watch someone take apart and explain a manual wall-mounted Pencil Sharpener

Sports Illustrated Sneaker Phone

The Sports Illustrated Sneaker Phone was hilarious

In the 1980s and 1990s, we were really getting jaded with that miracle of communication, the telephone. No longer did we venerate this hi-tech bit of magic with a place of honor on the wall or a special telephone table. No, the phone had become so ubiquitous that you could throw some anywhere. Not only did they start to disappear, we found it funny to make them look like other things. That is where you get things like the Sports Illustrated Sneaker Phone.

While not as well-known as its cousin, the football phone, the Sports Illustrated Sneaker Phone was released with a splash. Advertising was rampant and they put together a “hilarious” commercial to demonstrate just how much this thing looked like a sneaker. In the ad, unsuspecting “shoppers” are in a shoe store. Confronted by a wall of sneakers, they are surprised when one of them starts ringing. When they inspect the ringing, they discover with delight that this sneaker is actually a phone.

Read: The AT&T Genesis let you use cartridges to add features to your Phone

My first thought is that these people are all paid actors. Some of the reactions seem just a bit too perfect to not be scripted. But I am not going to be jaded. Instead I want to lean into the era. This was a time when gadgets were still fairly clunky. So putting a phone into a sneaker was actually pretty clever. So maybe a “Get Smart” reference could be expected.

Sneaker Phone

Hello Chief, this is Clark!

The phone does look a lot like a sneaker, but had everything you needed on a hi-tech phone in the 1980s, including Mute and Re-dial. The best thing about the Sports Illustrated Sneaker Phone? It was free with your subscription to Sports Illustrated. So for years after this promotion, you would find these things at garage sales and flea markets. Sadly I never picked one up for a bargain back then because nowadays they run between $20 and $30 online.

Was this commercial staged? Watch it and judge for yourself.

Watch the Sports Illustrated Sneaker Phone Commercial

Atari Flashback Portable

A retro review of the Atari Flashback Portable

Nintendo has deservedly received accolades for their Classic Edition console – but there’s another new system for those who like their gaming even more retro. The Portable is Atari’s latest entry in their Flashback line, and in my opinion, it is their best so far. The Atari Flashback Portable is a lightweight handheld system, measuring roughly 2.5 by 6 inches.

It features 60 built-in games, playable using a direction pad and a small color screen. The system is inexpensive but that shows in places. There’s a USB cord to charge the battery – but not an AC adapter. The screen is low resolution – but that’s more of a factor when the game boxes are displayed rather than the games themselves. And finally, the system feels very light – not packing the same heft as some other handheld gaming systems.

atari flashback portable

Those flaws are easy to forgive, though, thanks to one saving grace. The Atari Flashback Portable comes with an SD card slot – allowing you to add more games to the system. So, while Atari’s 60 built-in games are not bad – it’s no longer a concern that their lineup doesn’t feature your favorites. Simply add an SD card with the games you love, and the Flashback Portable lets you relive the memories.

Thanks to its mobility, the Atari Flashback Portable is currently my game system of choice. It’s the perfect addition for road trips and vacations. And, it’s proved an easy way to introduce my young daughter to the joys of retro gaming. If you’re an Atari 2600 fan, you might want to check it out.

VCR retirement

The Retirement of a Legend

It is with much praise and sadness that I announce the retirement of a legend.

Before you freak out about the possibility that something negative happened already in 2017 (and seriously, people, we don’t need to be so edgy!), this wonderful legend gave twenty years to entertaining and archiving for its owner. It is responsible for much of what that owner shares both here and on my blog. While it still worked somewhat, the best years were behind it, and it was time.

I’m talking about my prized VCR.

What did you think I was talking about?

Last Thursday, for the final time, I attempted a tape transfer using my first and only VCR. But the obvious tracking issues, diminished video quality, and the general incompatibility with my television (which I was remedying with a Hauppage PVR to some success) proved that the VCR was, in fact, old and tired.

But just as beautiful as the day I hooked it up, twenty years ago.

This lovely piece of equipment, the Sharp VC-A552, was a Christmas present in 1996. I remember asking for this very specific one. Mind you, this was before the internet was a big deal (and before we had it in my house), so any researching I did solely came from reading Beat Buy sales fliers and walking around electronics stores. I was fourteen years old, and specifically asked for a “Sharp VCR,” since I had a Sharp television at the time (a lovely 13″ set, a Christmas present in 1995). My middle school had these VCRs included in their A/V equipment, and I was fascinated with how it looked, especially that circular set of buttons. Forget 19 Micron Heads, I wanted the Rewind/Fast Forward Knob! And it was more than just a pretty package, it worked nicely too. Even at 14, I knew exactly what I wanted in A/V equipment.

When I got it, I had aspirations of not only watching movies in the comfort of my bedroom (the ones I wanted to watch!), but also of recording EVERYTHING. I set timers, bought VHS tapes, and for ten years, it was a wonderful relationship. I bought my lovely (but not as long-lasting) DVD recorder in 2006, effectively ending my VCR’s recording days, but it got a new lease on life of transferring recordings to blank DVDs. It was actually used fairly regularly until about five years ago, and I think I was just afraid to overuse it.

By the numbers, this VCR outlasted three televisions (including that Sharp TV), two DVD players (including the DVD recorder I semi-retired the VCR for), survived three house moves, and outlived the remote that came with it.

It was a great remote, folks.

Like all good things (and the great first family VCR we had that I unintentionally murdered in 1996), after seeing the obvious decline in quality (I’d noticed it while putting together the various VCR tests I did last year), I felt it was time to finally retire my VCR completely. It was a sad retirement, but one done out of necessity.

But, never you worry about it – my parents gave me their Panasonic VCR (which is twelve years old, and infrequently used), and I now have something to finish all of those ongoing projects I love having a VCR for.

It doesn’t have a Rewind/Fast Forward Knob, but it does rewind at lightning speed.

Which is a little too fast for its own good. And also has a remote that doesn’t work.

Oh well.

Allison is a firm believer of owning items until you run them in the ground. She has run two VCRs and numerous items of clothing into the ground as a result of that theory. If you like reading things in the vein of VCR retirement notices, you should check out her blog, Allison’s Written Words. You can also follow her blog on Facebook, and her on Twitter @AllisonGeeksOut.

Allison’s other most recent retirement? Stinky, her first space heater. 

Bonus content time! Allison wrote several VCR test articles (and made videos to accompany them!). Take a look, if you dare!

Video/VCR Test – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie

Video/VCR Test #2 – “The Land Before Time”

Video/VCR Test #3 – “The Albert Achievement Awards”