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”

Living Computers Museum

Living Computer Museum embraces the future and becomes Living Computers Museum + Labs

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.

The New Space at the Living Computers Museum

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!

classroom space at the Living Computers Museum

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.

atari corner at the Living Computers Museum

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.

AT&T Telephone Tunes

Remember AT&T Telephone Tunes?

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