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back to article Ghosts of Christmas Past: Ten tech treats from yesteryear

Christmas isn’t just a time for celebration – it’s also a time for bitter, tearful reflection on the things that might have been and the gifts you’d have received if only you worked harder at that paper round, or your parents loved you enough. So we at The Reg decided to sift the salty tears of seasonal recrimination and seek …

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The tsetse flies in Raiders Of The Lost Ark were a pain in the arse.

Crystal Castles was great though, and the tanks one.

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Crystal Castles... is that the one where you're a teddy bear?

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I still have the blister marks from 12 hour stints of Asteroids, joysticks where a RSI nightmare :)

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K
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Out that whole lot..

All I recall having was the Atari 2600... Joust FTW!

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Re: Out that whole lot..

Yup, the Atari is the only thing I had from that list. What I really wanted though, was a Mattel Synsonics:

http://www.hollowsun.com/vintage/mattel/

Finally got one earlier this year, nearly 30 years later! Scratching around on the Internets, I was amused to learn that Kraftwerk used one.

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Re: Out that whole lot..

I still have my Atari 2600 and it still works. :) I bring it out of the cupboard once a year or so for a few games of Space Invaders, Asteroids, etc.

I also had an FX-570 calculators which was well used until I got one of the ones that could draw graphs while I was doing my A-Levels.

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Re: Out that whole lot..

Back in the day just about ANYTHING with the Activision name on it was gold. I had stacks of Activision cartridges. We traded and passed them around at school between friends like packs of cigarettes. Oh the hours I wasted on Pitfall...and then when I got bored with it, I wasted even more hours with the game that would result if you flipped the power on Pitfall really fast (random scrambled game, but still fun).

The graphics were horrible but there was something about the 2600 that made it a must-have. Even Atari couldn't compete against it with later consoles. And those ancient Atari joysticks from 1982 had greater longevity than any joystick I owned since. (Although I really wish I had aquired a Wico back in the day...)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Out that whole lot..

I got an MB Vectrex this year, it's ace. Although it does take 10 mins to warm up due to dodgy caps.

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Re: Out that whole lot..

Still have an Atari 2600 (the second black plasitc design not the wood effect one - that died), also had the FX-570. Wanted the Big Trak but could afford it at the time.

Also remember work (An Art & Design uni) getting several of the Quicktake cameras in when they were newly out. Were VERY popular with the students.

Thanks for making me feel old.

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dvd

Re: Out that whole lot..

Ooooooooh Vectrex. I had one of those - it was great. So called because of it's vector graphics. I got it in a Woolco closing down sale with a shedload of games, played it for years, kept it in the attic for longer, then sold it on ebay for a huge profit. Still a cult machine, I understand.

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Re: Out that whole lot..

And..... Chopper Command! I loved that game.

If you showed that "wooden" console to kids these days, they'd think you built it yourself and are taking the piss...

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Re: Out that whole lot..

Yep, I reckon the Atari was probably the best family present (excluding for the oldsters of the time). I think we got at least three Christmases worth of games out of that console, pretty good considering the punishment it took.

I reckon biplanes was the one that gave those indistructable joysticks most grief - seem to remember having 4 player mode. all really pushing the wretched controllers as hard as we could for hours on end - never did break the things.

It was all still working went consigned by mum to the "cheridy" shop. :(

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Big Trak

I remember annoying my parents with Big Trak's laser. I was lucky enough to have the dumper trailer too!

I've seen Big Trak being sold again in the shops. It looks smaller than I remember it. (Just like Curly Wurlys)

I always wondered if Big Trak was the inspiration for the truck in Lunar Jetman

Happy memories....

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Re: Big Trak

I think they also did a mini version when it was re-released, which may have been what you saw.

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Re: Big Trak

Undoubtably. Also, didn't everyone try to find the trailer as displayed on the cover? Everyone in my school thought it existed and one or two (lying shits) claimed to have found it.

Much like the raft to the island on Jet Set Willy.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Big Trak

BigTrak was my main present for Christmas 1980 - I've seen photos of a much-smaller me, following BT around the lounge floor. It eventually broke (an axle, as I recall), but it introduced me to a simplified concept of programming, and gave me the opportunity to pretend I had a robot "dog" like K9. Still wish I could've got the add-on trailer too!

And to add to one of the other replies: it sounds like you've seen "BigTrak Jr" in Hawkins Bazaar (or some similar emporium). There's also a replica version of the full-size BT available... wonder if they've added WiFi and remote-control? Must go look...

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Happy

Re: Big Trak

It's one of those toys I could never afford as a kid in the 80s, school friend had one and I had fun playing with that, but now I have my own original 1979 looking-like-new Big Trak & Transporter (trailer) sitting proudly on my shelves of retro electronic toys, which includes all 7 variants of the TomyTronic 3D handhelds plus the Tandy clone, lots of tabletop VFD games as well as a Simon, Mercury Maze, Rubik's Magic, a lot of Nintendo gameandwatches, over 30 wrist watch games, and more...

Incedentally, did you know they put a Big Trak on Mars? (that's my one) :)

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Re: Big Trak

No one else reminded of a mako?

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Re: Big Trak

I worked in a long-gone toy chain called Taylor & McKenna when Big Trak came out.

We sold shed loads of them and their tipping trailer, it was genuinely a must-have toy for Christmas and we eventually ran out of both.

When we opened for business after Christmas that year we discovered that the build quality was not quite as good as it could have been.

Broken keypads. Sticking wheels. Trailers that would not tip. Trailers that wouldn't stop tipping.

Most of customers wanted a working Big Trak and we had no replacements. Fortunately I had already had a rummage about in the innards of one that had been bought as a birthday present and had failed so I knew how to fix them.

The broken keyboard - peel apart the plastic layers and put electroconductive paint on the broken circuitry. Removing and reseating the wheels fixed the circling problem. The trailers had a plastic component that informed the controller whether the trailer was in the process of tipping and usually just needed reseating as it tended to stick.

We had customers holding Big Traks and trailers queuing right out of the shop and forming a line in the shopping centre. I had to triage the machines into definitely defunct, needed serious attention (keypad painting) and reseating jobs.

Customers in the queue were watching me fix a trailer and copying what I was doing. The majority of them successfully fixed their own, which took some of the load off. I think we eventually ended up with about a dozen ones that were sufficiently dead that we could cannibalise them for spares and fixed the rest.

I don't know what the failure rate was but it kept me occupied for weeks. The nice thing was I only recall ever seeing a couple come back again as faulty after we had fixed them.

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Re: Big Trak - WiFi / RC

http://www.themagpi.com/issue/issue-6/

Might set your juices flowing

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Re: Big Trak

Hey I had a Big Trak back in 1979. Mine came with a dumptruck attachment that you plugged into the main unit. So you COULD use the thing to bring a gin & tonic, as long as you didn't program it to "dump." Mine broke an axle as well (must have been a common failure point). And actually mine was a dark shade of gray, not white like in the picture.

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Re: Big Trak

"No one else reminded of a mako?"

Yeah, I couldn't help but think of Big Trak whenever I saw the Mako! I loved the Mako and its improbable climbing abilities (and equally improbable indestructibility, considering my driving skills...)

As regards things shrinking, the Curly Wurly is right up there, but I think Wagon Wheels were the real defining factor. I remember them being at least a foot across when I was six years old.

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Unhappy

re: Wagon Wheels at least a foot across.

They were the size of dustbin lids when I was a sprog.

Robbing bar-stewards.

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Re: re: Wagon Wheels at least a foot across.

Dustbin lid? Dustbin ld? When I were a youngen they used t'wagonwheels t'fix locomotives when a drive wheel cracked, dustbin lids, hah!

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Biscuit size and memory...

Whenever I wonder if a biscuit has really shrunk, I bring a pack to my parents' house, as they still have the cups that used to hold the milk I dunked my biscuits in. Certain biscuits needed a bit bitten off the side before they would fit. If they don't any more, then I know they've shrunk them.

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Re: Biscuit size and memory...

This is so very deserving of research funding.

And possibly insulin.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Big Trak

I had the trailer, you could program bigtrak to tilt it up (to drop off the load on the trailer).

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I never made that connection until I read this article, Glad someone else sees the resemblance too. I guess BioWare also wanted a Big Trak.

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Re: Big Trak

What a nice thing to do !

I wish your shop was near me. at the time - you could have fixed my broken one.

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I had the Sharp PC-1500 in 1992

Was a fun device. I remember programming a working(!) rudimentary piano program in basic utilising inkey$

What was bananas, though, was the printer. It was actually a tiny plotter, with 4 pens.

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Re: I had the Sharp PC-1500 in 1992

Found my old PC-1500 in the bottom of one of those 'sort it out when everything else is settled' house-moving boxes a couple of weeks back when rummaging in the garage. Haven't tried to power it up yet (power block was there). Myself & a mate made a few quid programming them up for a company that wanted to send its salesmen out with a rudimentary estimator, they bunged us one each (with the bog roll printer) as part of the deal. Not bad considering we were basically schoolkids :)

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Re: I had the Sharp PC-1500 in 1992

Didn't have the Sharp but I did have a Casio one - as you say, great fun at the time.

Think mine is still in the loft somewhere and I now feel like I should get it out and start playing :)

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JLH

Re: I had the Sharp PC-1500 in 1992

I have the Casio equivalent - the FX-720P in my desk drawer.

Must get some betteries for it!

Someone else in the office uses his on a daily basis...

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Re: I had the Sharp PC-1500 in 1992

A friend and I had one each and I remember writing a program to work out starship specs (for Traveller - a D&D in space) which worked pretty well as I recall.

I also have a 2600 in the loft, but I also enjoy listening to Johnathon Coultons '2600' which is a tribute to it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tu1bRm7XXNo

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Re: I had the Sharp PC-1500 in 1992

Funny enough I found my PC-1500 in the attic a couple of days ago.

I also have one of the Ti portables which I will have to find (wish I had the cassette interface for it)

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re: what it clearly lacks is enough space on the top to balance a gin and tonic

Moving stuff about is what the trailer was for...

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memories

I had one rich kid friend who had a bigtrak.

back then we still had a black and white tv. I don't think I had any electrical toys - so I remember it really being space age.

We finally got a colour tv in about 1982. I remember we occasionally hire a VCR and a movie or once, even an atari console for the weekend which was pretty special.

It's easy to forget how much more dispostable income people have generally these days. I think it's taken the 'awesome' out of xmas for kids a bit - seeing the £1000+ amount of crap my neices get these days for example.

Saying that, of course I'm still using xmas as an opportunity to induldge myself in buying as much uncessary expensive gadgety tat that I can possibly get away with.... it's what christmas is all about :-0

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Re: memories

We got colour in late 1980, just before Xmas, a rented set from Rediffusion. I think that was four years or so after we'd made the leap to UHF-only with a Grundig black and white set to replace the old Ferguson dual standard model.

I'm sure we weren't the only kids for whom Saturday tea time was often marked by us pestering to be allowed to go to friends up the road to watch Dr Who in colour.

So, things like the VCS and Simon really did seem pretty amazing back then, both in their technical novelty and the fact that they were the exception, rather than just another chip-packed bit of gadgetry to add to the toy box

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Re: memories

We eventually got a colour telly in 1983 - my dad's farm worker's salary of £13 per week not really stretching to such things. I remember walking up the fields to a neighbour's house - over a mile away - to watch the Royal Wedding in colour. My mum insisted.

I had a version of the Casio calculator; bought it myself in '85. It had most of the function keys on a membrane keyboard in the wallet/cover/thingy. Can anyone remember what model number that was?

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Headmaster

Re: memories

Probably the fx-451 (he says holding one in his hand [the one I had for school work, some 30-odd years ago]).

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Re: memories

I'm holding a fx-450 which I bought when working for Crosfield in the 80's. We used PDP's and it was great for octal to hex/dec conversions. Still got it today and it works just as it used to. The fx-451 was a slightly updated version.

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Re: memories

Probably the fx-451 (he says holding one in his hand [the one I had for school work, some 30-odd years ago]).

yup, I've got mine still too! and it still works fine.

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Re: memories

"We got colour in late 1980, just before Xmas, a rented set from Rediffusion."

We rented ours from DER, being early adopters in the mid '70s! The repair man spent so much time at our house that he may as well have moved in with us.

I was relegated to watching Doctor Who in black and white on my parents' portable. Because we were a two TV family, don't'cher know. (Actually, I remember my dad taking a photo for posterity during the week our household accidentally owned no fewer than two cars because it was such a rarity. :D)

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Re: memories

Casio fx-451 - Probably the best 20 quid (IIRC) that I ever spent, it got me through C&G224 parts II & III & a HNC in Swindon.

Somewhere still in the house I hope, though I think I last saw it before we moved to Canada in 2009.

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Re: memories - DER

That's the company I was trying to remember! We were customers of theirs for years (I don't think my parents actually owned a TV outright until well into the 1980s). I can't quite place the year, but I remember the getting the latest Phillips TV (with remote control!) and VHS just before Christmas, and being the only one in the house who could make either work reliably (because I fiddled endlessly with the controls on both during the boring Christmas holiday - probably contributing to why no-one else could ever work them out ...) I even remember taking the top cover off the VHS so I could work out how it functioned, though only when it wasn't so new.

Somehow, buying my own tech isn't as exciting as waiting to see what the rental man was going to bring through the door ...

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Re: memories

Ah, another fellow Casio fx-451 owner here. Bought it myself just as I started college.

Still have it here, 'he says reaching over to the shelf to the side'. Yup, still switches on and does still get used occasionally.

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I *so* coveted one of those Sharp hand-held computers...

...I would spend hours in Comet just looking around them and wanting one so badly. Finally got myself a a FX360P with two-line display and a large library of in-built progs some of which were very esoteric but quite a number were also very useful so not a total gimmick - plus you got an inch thick manual documenting it all beautifully.

The BASIC was, well basic and the computer itself laughably slow if you had any loops, but I played it with it for hours and used it for serious stuff too so not all bad.

Still have it and it still looks good to my eye. Only downside is that you had to remember to replace the back-up battery before the mains got too flat or you lost everything - I balked at the cost of the interface that would allow saving to tape - it was more than the fx IIRC :-O

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Anonymous Coward

Is it me, or does the period between 1984 and 1994 feel like a century?

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Not just you - I suspect it does feel the same for most readers here (aka "the cooler part of childhood")...

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Happy

I suspect it does feel the same for most readers here (aka "the cooler part of childhood")...

Meh... your spring chickens then. When I got my Sony Walkman spent several hours dismantling the head set and embedding the speakers into my helmet for music on the move. Made the London to Paris run on the Honda CBX (6 cylinders) much more enjoyable.

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