The vinyl resurgence shows no sign of slowing, so here's a great budget turntable for your newly thrifted LPs.

Play Zork Online!

Go on. Read the leaflet and let me know what it says...

Zork is the quintessential text game. There's no need to click your mouse, maneuver a joystick or mash a d-pad. All you need is the ability to read, type and think somewhat logically. The amusingly clever text adventure was developed on a PDP-10 mainframe at MIT in the late 1970s.

Three of the four original programmers went on to found Infocom, which released the Zork Trilogy for many popular microcomputers in the early 1980s. Three decades later, you can play it on your web enabled fridge for free. That's true progress.

Link: Welcome to Zork [This is a link to a page on Zork is not hosted by Retro Thing]

Miami Vice Ferrari Testarossa For Sale

Single flying mirror, just in case you're towing a camper.

The Ferrari Testarossa is a ridiculous car from a ridiculous era. And now the most ridiculous example of the species could be yours. This 1986 beast driven by Crockett & Tubbs originally sold for $85,000 and was placed in storage following the merciful cancellation of Miami Vice in 1989. It has 16,124 miles on the odometer and recently received an engine-out service at a cost of $8,000. 

Brand new, the Testarossa developed 390 bhp from a 4.9 L twelve-cylinder power plant mated to a 5-speed manual transmission. It comes with all the mod cons you'd expect in 1986 -- a built-in car phone, beige leather, power windows and locks, cruise control and air conditioning. 

Yes, kids. That's a phone. In a car!!

Here's a sobering thought. Had you invested the $85,000 instead and received the S&P 500 index return of 10.055% for the last 30 years, you'd have a cool $1,503,558.51 in your brokerage account. Enough to buy six shiny new Ferrari 458s

It's almost as if they ran out of money to style the rear end.

The Miami Vice car will be auctioned on August 15th, 2015 (my birthday, conveniently) at Mecum's Daytime Auction in Monterey, California. And, yes, it has been authenticated by Ferrari North America and Ferrari Classiche. Pastel Armani suits not included. 

1986 Ferrari Testarossa from Miami Vice up for auction [World Car Fans, via Robin Lee]

A Soyuz Space Capsule Owner's Manual


I'm trying really hard not to buy this Haynes Owner's Workshop Manual for Soyuz space capsules.

Haynes also publishes versions for the space shuttle, Mars landers (which could come in handy to resolve the recent short circuit problems plaguing Curiosity), the International Space Station and even Apollo 13. That one should come bundled with a roll of duct tape, a fire suppression system and an oxygen scrubber...

Vintage Synthesizer Reissues Invade NAMM 2015

Moog System 55

Perhaps it has something to do with Baby Boomer demographics, or maybe people are just looking for something different, but classic analog synthesizers are all the rage at this year's NAMM music industry show in Anaheim, California. 

Moog Music takes the crown with some absolutely breathtaking recreations of Bob Moog's groundbreaking modular synthesizer from the 1970s. They range from the suitcase-sized Moog System 15 (150 units at $10,000), the mid-range System 35 (35 units at $22,000) all the way up to the System 55, a massive $35,000 machine featuring 36 handcrafted analog modules in two walnut cases. There are no microprocessors in these monoliths. 

Only 55 copies of the System 55 will be built, based on original documentation and design files. Each module is hand soldered and mounted behind photo-etched aluminum panels, just the same way it would have been done when first unveiled in 1973. 

The new ARP Odyssey is available in three different versions.

If Moog's high-end recreations are a bit much for your pocket book, KORG has created a scaled-down $1000 (street price) version of the ARP Odyssey. This compact instrument went head-to-head with the Minimoog in the 1970s. The new 86% size dual oscillator machine includes modern niceties such as MIDI and USB, along with the classic dual oscillator analog voice that made the Odyssey a mainstay of many bands from 1972 until the company's demise in the early 1980s. There were three different filter designs used by ARP throughout the instrument's production run, and they're all included in this new version. Even the case is a slightly miniaturized version of the final revision (the previous two designs are available as special editions, too).

The brand new Sequential Circuits Prophet-6 analog polysynth.

ARP wasn't the only brand resurrected for the 2015 NAMM Show. After decades of ownership by Yamaha, Sequential Circuits -- one of the creators of the MIDI music interface protocol -- is back in the hands of veteran synthesizer designer Dave Smith. His response to the news is the $2799 Prophet-6, a modernized version of the first massively successful Sequential Circuits polyphonic synthesizer that has appeared on thousands of records and soundtracks since its introduction in 1978.

The show floor is packed with noticeably more synthesizer manufacturers than in years past. Many are tiny operations that make boutique modules for the immensely popular Eurorack modular synthesizer format, while others like newcomer Modal Electronics have created stunningly sophisticated digital/analog hybrid instruments that sell for thousands of dollars. 

Perhaps there's more to the resurgence of hardware synthesis than just nostalgia. While it's true that computers are now capable of running software-based instruments that rival even high-end hardware, there's something ephemeral about a virtual instrument. Without the physical controls and physical permanence of hardware, something is missing from the musical experience. 

Whether or not the hardware trend continues, it looks like the music industry is in for some very interesting times in years to come. 

Moore's Law and Affordable Computing

The Intel 4004. Two and a half thousand transistors of fun.

You've probably heard of Moore's Law. It's the notion that the number of transistors in dense integrated circuits will double every two years. When Intel co-founder Gordon Moore threw out the idea in 1965, he had no inkling that his observation would hold true for the next 50 years. In 1971, the Intel 4004 microprocessor contained about 2,300 transistors. In 1990, the Intel 80486 processor offered a staggering 1,000,000 transistors, and a modern 6-core Intel i7 processor crams several billion transistors onto a single die. 

A late model Commodore PET.

Analysts have highlighted the amazing rise in desktop computing power for decades, but many have missed the point -- it's not neccessarily about creating faster, more powerful machines. When I first started playing with computers in the early 1980s, they were cumbersome and expensive. My father gravely pointed out that we couldn't afford a $1000 home computer (the equivalent of $2,600 in 2014 dollars), but he was willing to rent me an old Commodore PET from the local microcomputer emporium for a month. In 1981, computer ownership was out of the question for all but the most die-hard fanatics. 

A surprisingly decent $150 computer.

Fast-forward 34 years and it's possible to purchase a name brand Windows 8 notebook computer for only $150. While it won't set any performance records, it's an ideal lightweight travel companion (which is why I recently bought one) or a decent starter machine for someone on a Mac & Cheese budget. In 1981 dollars, that computer would have cost a mere $58 -- about the same price as a couple of Atari 2600 video game cartridges. 

While bleeding-edge computing power still costs thousands, the industry has progressed to the point where a $150 notebook (or even a $59 smartphone) can fulfill the computing needs of many. And things are only going to get cheaper; the $100 laptop that was once the holy grail in third world educational circles will soon be something that anyone can pick up from a local big box retailer.

The recent availability of decent "good enough" computers is important for the millions of people here in the developed world who still don't own a computer or have access to the Internet. It's a good thing for parents who want their kids to have phones but don't want to spend hundreds of dollars on a gleaming new iPhone. It's a good thing for seniors who rely on the Internet to stay in touch with family and friends.

Information is power, and access to information has never been easier or cheaper.

Boutique Swiss Made Calculators

DM-16 calculator

I'm a huge fan of classic H-P calculators, especially the HP-16C -- their first and only programmer's calculator. It has become a much sought-after collector's item, which ensures that good examples sell for insane amounts on eBay. That's not so great for those of us who actually want a real, honest-to-goodness programmer's calculator on our desks. 

Every calculator should have a leather coat...

Enter DM Swiss Made Calculators. These clever little Swiss devices are miniature emulations of vintage Hewlett-Packard calculators, including the HP-11C (Advanced Scientific Programmable), HP-12C (Business Calculator), HP-15C (Scientific with Matrix & Complex Math) and HP-16C ("Computer Scientist" model). Each model costs 89 Swiss Francs (about $95) and is available in untreated, brown and blue titanium. They run on a single CR2032 battery which should last for years in normal use, and it's possible to update the firmware using a serial connection. 

Apart from that... they're calculators. They're really small. They fit in cool leather pouches, too. 

Visit DM Swiss Made Calculators for more info

Earliest Known Official Batmobile For Sale

I'm considering this as my daily driver.

Robin Lee writes, "A heavily-customised Oldsmobile said to be the first officially-licenced Batmobile will go to auction later in December. Created in 1963, three years before the infamously camp Batman TV show hit the airwaves, DC Comics allowed a US chap named Forrest Robinson to build a Batmobile."

I love the swooping look of this prehistoric Batmobile and I'm somewhat sad it didn't have the opportunity to star in its own series. Preferably in black & white. With gangsters. The minimum bid price is $112,500, but the auction house is expecting the final price to be significantly higher. 

Holy fish fins, Batman!

From Heritage Auctions: "What is believed to be the world's first car that became an officially licensed Batmobile was conceived and customized starting in 1960 by 23-year-old Forrest Robinson. After finishing the design, Robinson and a young friend, Len Perham, begun building the car in the Robinson family barn. Robinson completed the car in 1963-two years before the George Barris customization of the TV Batmobile was started. The '63 Batmobile is the earliest known car in existence that was sanctioned by a DC Comics licensee.

Although many people associate the Batmobile with the cars seen in recent Batman movies or the late-60s Batman TV show, Robinson's earlier car is instantly recognizable as 'more authentic' by comic book lovers. It has features seen in DC's Batman Comics from the 1940s and '50s, including the prominent front-end bat-nose and rear-end single fin.

The '63 Batmobile was custom-built from the ground up. Starting with a 1956 Oldsmobile 88 frame and the famous 324 Rocket engine -- a predecessor of 1960s muscle cars -- Robinson replaced the Oldsmobile body with his custom-designed body, measuring 17 feet by 83 inches, sporting the Batmobile's iconic dorsal fin, bat-nose front end and pocket sliding doors." 

Earliest Known Official Batmobile Goes On Sale []

The Last Revox Repairman in Brazil

The Revox Man from Baucia on Vimeo.

Alfredo Luiz Baucia writes, "I think you would like to know about the last Revox specialist still working in Brazil, Getulio Cinquetti."

Indeed, we would. Alfredo took the time to capture a typical working day for Mr Cinquetti on video. The result is a nod to the past and a reminder that in a few short years none of the original Revox technicians from the 1960s and 1970s will be around. Sadly, few want to learn their craft and there's a real risk that decades of technical knowledge will vanish moments after the last puff of solder smoke from the old workbenches. 

Classic Retro Thing: Vintage Pink

Pink Panther

[ed. note: This post originally ran in June of 2010. I've enjoyed each and every one of these cartoons at least thrice since then.]

Newsflash to cartoon creators: Kids hate kids' cartoons.

I'm the father of a young child, which means I've suffered through dozens of episodes of Dora the Explorer, whose target demographic seems to be acid tripping bilingual preschoolers. I don't think children genuinely like this kind of show, they just accept it because they don't know any better and parents think it's safe.

The simple truth is that kids crave real cartoons. Grownup cartoons. Wickedly funny and sometimes horrifically violent cartoons. It's one reason that Disney Pixar movies have been such smash hits; kids realize that there's something supremely adult in some of the humor. They may not understand the subtext, but they understand it's cool. Grownup cool.

Continue reading "Classic Retro Thing: Vintage Pink" »

The Internet Arcade: Over 900 Vintage Arcade Games In Your Browser


The Internet Archive has long been one of the coolest sites on the web, thanks to its incredible collection of long-forgotten web pages and public domain films. They added home console games to the mix with the Console Living Room late last year, and now they've unveiled The Internet Arcade - a browser-friendly collection of classic arcade games that will blow your mind. 

The list of games includes well-known titles like Frogger, Amidar, Joust, Lode Runner, Rally-X and Zaxxon along with hundreds of lesser known games -- many of which had slipped my mind. Because the emulations use the original game ROMs, you'll have to sit through a few seconds of power-up self tests and deal with odd control arrangements on a few titles. Thankfully, the Internet Archivists have created a page of games that should run at full speed on most hardware. 

So how is it done? They say, "The Internet Arcade is a web-based library of arcade (coin-operated) video games from the 1970s through to the 1990s, emulated in JSMAME, part of the JSMESS software package. Containing hundreds of games ranging through many different genres and styles, the Arcade provides research, comparison, and entertainment in the realm of the Video Game Arcade.

  The game collection ranges from early 'bronze-age' videogames, with black and white screens and simple sounds, through to large-scale games containing digitized voices, images and music. Most games are playable in some form, although some are useful more for verification of behavior or programming due to the intensity and requirements of their systems."

Visit The Internet Arcade at the Internet Archive to see if you've still got the chops to grab a high score. No quarters required. 

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