Since moving to Seattle, I have been a fan of the amazing Living Computer Museum. It is a regular stop for me when I have free time. Over the short years I have been here it has continued to grow its historical collection. But this week, the museum is taking a leap into the future. The Living Computer Museum is now Living Computers Museum + Labs.
What does this mean? It means a heck of a lot more fun for anyone who has even the slightest attraction to technology. They have added a new level to the facility, this one dedicated to where technology is going. So instead of mainframes, you get to play with virtual reality. Instead of the earliest personal computers, you get robots and telepresence units. All of it done in the same interactive spirit that has made their vintage collection so compelling. According to Museum Executive Director, Lath Carlson, these additions to the museum will continue to revolve and rotate. So multiple trips to the new area of the museum will be just as compelling as the existing collection.
What I especially enjoyed about my time at the new Living Computers Museum + Labs is how they still bring history into the mix. You don’t just get to play with the most cutting edge VR technology, you also get to see how VR evolved over the years.
The museum has also added new lab and classroom space. Things that will pull people into the space to not just interact with technology, but also to learn how it works. That has always seemed to be the mission of the museum. It is interactive because it’s not a boring history lesson that gets you interested in technology. It is touching a LIVING Computer that does that. When I walked out of there yesterday, I wasn’t just thinking about the computers of my youth like I usually do. No, I was focusing on how technology and art will come together in the future. Oh, did I forget to mention they feature digital art now as well!
Fans of the vintage section of the museum, don’t think this newness is leaving you out in the cold. In addition to the spreading of vintage tech throughout the new floor, the museum continues to maintain and restore the most impressive collection of machines you will ever behold. Plus their new Atari-style retro living room corner is mighty enough to bring a tear to my eye. It was hard for me to leave.
Seattle is a pretty dynamic city. Lots of venues are vying for your attention. So it makes me so happy to see the new Living Computers Museum + Labs moving forward and doing so with an eye towards the future while maintaining respect for the past. For more information about the Living Computers: Museum + Labs, drop by their website and make sure you follow them on Twitter @livingcomputers.
Now here are the rest of the photos that I took during my visit yesterday.
Compelling digital beauty
Learn to decorate
History still alive
Welcome to Cyber
All new t-shirts
Updated Gift Shop
So many vintage keyboards
Play some Chess
When I call people nowadays, very rarely does anyone pick up the phone. People who know me will often text me back very quickly with an answer after listening to my message. We are living in a world that has shifted away from using voice to communicate and I am fine with it. Still, I do miss a few relics of our more vocal near past. For example, the telephone message. I am not talking about the bland short messages you still occasionally here even now. When people decide to actually record a message. No, I am talking about the grand creative ones of people doing skits or even singing. Yes, this wasn’t all that easy for un-creative types. Luckily for them, things like AT&T Telephone Tunes existed.
AT&T Telephone Tunes was one of many products that promised to spice up your otherwise drab answering machine message. In this case of AT&T Telephone Tunes that spiciness was added with clever music done in various styles. You could also buy funny voices or even tapes with celebrities on them. They were a fun addition to a then relatively new piece of technology. That unfortunately quickly got very tedious after you kept having to listen to the same message whenever you called your friend. You know the one who was constantly screening the calls. Not sure what this was like? Let me illustrate.
These tapes were pretty simple to use, although you did need a tape player to do it properly. You simply popped the tape into your player, held it a few inches from your answering machine and hit play on one and record on the other. I know many people would get frustrated trying to use the actual tape in their answering machine. Happily it was just frustration and not a ruined tape. Because they often made these tapes with the safety piece that prevented overdubbing.
So, do you have a phone and want to spice up your outgoing message? Maybe just want to annoy some people with a crazy lengthy message? Then grab your phone now and put it about 6 inches away from your speakers. Then after you find the AT&T Telephone Tunes song you like, just hit record. It is guaranteed to get a memorable reaction from anyone who might call you.
Listen to AT&T Telephone Tunes
When Gary Burton decided to pick up a new phone for his classic eighties car, he thought, “Why not add the ultimate eighties car accessory, the cellphone?” So he hit the antique mall and picked up the Uniden beauty you see above. That in itself is pretty great, but what he found with the phone is even more magical. A copy of the Cellular One phone plan.
As you will see, what we see as complexity in our phone plans, is nothing compared the menu of choice you had back in the eighties (I think late eighties). If you were to pick any of the plan that included minutes, they are all local and at $99.99 you are still only getting 360 of those local minutes. That doesn’t even include the $30 activation fee and what I assume are a bunch of taxes, plus whatever the phone guy is going to charge you to hook this up in your car. It makes today’s phones look simple and downright affordable by comparison. I wonder if in 30 years, people will look back at how much we pay for what we get and laugh at the simplicity of our current phones and the limitation of our phone plans? (No Mars texting included??? That is sooo shazbot!)
*Thanks to Gary for sharing this find with us and allowing us to post this here.
Browsing old magazines and newspapers, it is amazing to see just how many people were using the United State’s 200th birthday as a flimsy excuse to sell something. I am sure they seemed like a good idea at the time, but now they really do seem like a cash grab and I love it.
Radio Shack, on the cover of their 1976 catalog offered something called The Bicentennial “Everything System”. Which they claim is the best way to kick off America’s 3rd century (with a boon, not a boom).
For $499 you get a tuner/amplifier, speakers, cassette deck with Dolby, turntable, headphones and two cassettes.
Then they end with something I do not really understand, but I really like…
“The cases and the bases. You’d better give in soon. Because you can’t beat the System!”
I assume they are referring to the stereo system, but it is so cryptic. Are they referring to the political system? Is Radio Shack trying to start a political revolution? So many questions….
This commercial from the early eighties is pretty straightforward. A great retro graphic (see above) and a fast talking salesman giving the skinny on an upcoming sale of what are probably used color TVs in Cambridge, Massachusetts. If it is so straightforward, why do I love this little snippet of retro advertising? Because my family used to go to floor model and remaindered electronics sales all the time hoping to score a cheap entertainment or life-improving option. Most of the time this ended badly for us, since they tended to make “all sales final”. Yes, it turns out a $99 air conditioner is usually too good to be true, but my first “walkman” came from such a sale and when I could afford batteries that thing ran like a champ for years. So results were mixed.
Nowadays I reckon they advertise a lot of sales like this online. That’s a shame because when you pop a fun graphic and throw it on the TV, a sale of potential junk at a Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge common room seems a lot more glamorous.
In the seventies, Henry Kloss invented the Advent Video Beam Television. It was a CRT TV projector that allowed you to watch TV on a projected screen. This wasn’t the standard projector size we are all used to nowadays. They had to put an entire TV in this unit along with the projection system. So this machine was large, but on the plus side, the early models had an amazing seventies era Sci-Fi look.
Kloss would continue to improve upon the technology and by the dawn of the eighties was selling the NovaBeam Projector. The Kloss Video Corporation would continue to iterate on this technology until the later part of the decade with the release of the Videobeam 3000. The model they would probably be selling in this ad is probably the Novabeam Model Three or maybe the Model 100. I am guessing the Three is more likely, it was available widely in 1983 and this ad is touting its advantage while watching the 1984 Olympic games on it.
Sadly the form factor for the NovaBeam was streamlined and made more “early eighties”. Meaning it was squatter, boxier and had a wood finish. Normally, I like that style, but compare to the VideoBeam…well…it ain’t gonna win a beauty contest between the two.
Henry Kloss, who passed away in 2002, was an amazingly talented engineer and business person who was instrumental in the creation of the acoustic suspension loudspeaker and the high fidelity cassette deck. For his work creating the VideoBeam, Kloss would earn a technical Emmy Award. If you don’t think that Kloss’ achievements were impressive enough at this point, he also helped found two other companies that you probably heard of, Cambridge SoundWorks and Tivoli Audio.
I have never seen a VideoBean or NovaBeam in action, although I have seen a couple of them for sale at Flea Markets. The Video Beam is hard to miss because of its size and design style. Unfortunately everyone who I have found selling them has wanted more money than I am willing to spend on old tech. Still I keep my eyes open, because you never know when a good deal is going to pop up. And even if I might not pull the trigger on a purchase, I can still appreciate the find and the learning that accompanies it.
I am nutty about robots. As a kid I have always wanted one and as an adult I have kept a close eye on the robot world looking for a bot that will finally be the electronic best friend I have always wanted. Over the years some robots have caused more of an infatuation than others. In the mid eighties, one of those robots was RB5X by the RB Robot Corporation. I would like to say I wanted him because I thought his capabilities were impressive, and they were for the time period.
No, I wanted RB5X because he kind of looked like one of the coolest robots to ever grace the big screen, R2-D2. Yes, it was just that simple. I wanted to live the Star Wars lifestyle and most of the commercial bots I saw did not resemble Artoo or Threepio, but RB5X with his domed head and cylinder body fit the bill perfectly. Plus it didn’t hurt that this particular piece of tech was featured on the arcade game show, “Starcade“.
Here we see a report about RB5X from 1984, when the promise of a robotic future still seemed likely.
Nowadays RB5X is still being manufactured and the capabilities have improved. This fabulous bot has infrared sensing, ultrasound sonar, 8 sensors/bumpers, voice synthesizer, and an optional 5 axis armature that can lift a full pound. It can also play interactive games with up to 8 people and programs can be written and downloaded from any computer including Macintosh, DOS, Windows and Linux/Unix. Plus it still looks awesome.