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Geek Toys, Part 1: Proto-geeks

By El Volio in Technology
Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 08:11:10 PM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)

Like a lot of other folks, I was a proto-geek when I was a kid. Sure, I played outside like everybody else, but in reality, I always preferred to be inside. Reading was great, but there were a few toys that I really liked playing with. Forthwith, a list of toys for proto-geeks.

First in a series.

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comments (24)
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Full disclosure: I'm 26 now, so most of this stuff is in the late 1970s and early-to-mid 1980s. If you're from an even slightly different era, you may have had completely different stuff, so feel free to throw it in.
  • Radio Shack electronic sets: These electronic sets often came with a number of components mounted on a sheet of printed cardboard. The terminals were connected to small springs that stood up from the cardboard, and you would wire them together according to a projects book by placing the end of the wire between the coils of the spring. I learned the basic principles of electronics and schematics this way. There's a modern version still available.
  • R/C cars: The really fun part for me wasn't racing them but putting them together. Driving them was great, but taking the time to put them together and make them work was where the real value lay. Unfortunately, they were a bit expensive for my family so I didn't get to do much of this. Lots of people are still interested.
  • Big Book of Answers: They went by different names, but there were innumerable books that claimed to answer all sorts of trivial questions (especially science-related) that kids asked, from "Why is the sky blue?" to "How does a compass know which way is north?" Sadly, I turned into something of a snotty little know-it-all kid because I supposedly had all the answers, but it was great to actually have a place to "look it up" when my dad got tired of answering my endless questions. Of course, they haven't really lost their popularity; places like Amazon still have some.
  • Paper airplanes: Yes, every kid played with paper airplanes. Turning it into a science of aerodynamics, though, was quite another story, as some of us would compete to see who could design a plane that would stay up longer than anyone else's. Good paper was important, but I seem to recall winning a few competitions with basic notebook paper. Maybe I should go try a few in the fall weather.
  • Lincoln Logs / Tinkertoys: Not the cheap plastic crap that kids get now, but actual wooden pieces that let you put together shapes from realistic (houses) to fantastical (never could get that hypercube to look right). Side note: the old wooden sets are making a comeback now; I saw some last week in an old-style dry goods store. And there's still quite a bit of info on these. In fact, it wasn't until I wrote this article that I found that John Lloyd Wright (Frank's son) originated these. Hasbro evidently considers Tinkertoys to be preschool toys.
  • Lego bricks: The quintessential geek toy. Every kid played with them, but you could take it to a whole new level by trying to build structurally sound fortresses or ethereal spires (which is also where I learned the concept of a "center of gravity"). Lego has a very nice sequence, as well, from Duplo to Lego to Technix to Mindstorms (which are now all the rage).
That's my list; others have mentioned Erector sets, science kits (like chemistry sets), and more. What did you make with them? Any creations of which you're particularly proud? What else did you play with? Gyroscopes, tops, radios, etc.? Do you have other useful links?

In the next article: Computer "toys" (think GW-Basic or the TRS-80) and a discussion of geeky toys now (not gadgets, just toys for adults: think Mindstorms, not TiVo).


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Favorite toy?
o Electronic set / science kit 13%
o R/C cars 2%
o Big Book of Answers 5%
o Paper airplanes 3%
o Lincoln Logs / Tinkertoys 2%
o Lego bricks 55%
o Erector set 7%
o Other (comment below) 9%

Votes: 122
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o modern version
o still interested
o Amazon
o try a few
o quite a bit of info
o preschool toys
o Lego
o Erector sets
o Also by El Volio

Display: Sort:
Geek Toys, Part 1: Proto-geeks | 114 comments (106 topical, 8 editorial, 0 hidden)
Let's not forget... (4.00 / 6) (#1)
by graal on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 02:05:27 PM EST

  • Chemistry set
  • Microscope
  • Telescope
  • Rock tumbler
Yes. I was a proud owner of everything you listed, plus the aforementioned bullet list and a shoebox full of miscellaneous electic motors, gears and whatnot. My geekiest affection (which continues, on and off to this day) is radio-related paraphenalia: scanners, shortwave and the like. I've not fully consummated the affair with a Ham ticket, but it's only a matter of time. I'm 31, for what it's worth.

For Thou hast commanded, and so it is, that every
inordinate affection should be its own punishment.
-- St. Augustine (Confessions, i)

also the Commodore 64 (NT) (4.50 / 2) (#8)
by tzanger on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 02:40:44 PM EST

[ Parent ]
With the Simon's Basic cartridge. (nt) (5.00 / 1) (#12)
by graal on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 02:45:53 PM EST

For Thou hast commanded, and so it is, that every
inordinate affection should be its own punishment.
-- St. Augustine (Confessions, i)
[ Parent ]

Also: Estes Model Rockets (nt) (4.50 / 2) (#19)
by graal on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 03:24:12 PM EST

For Thou hast commanded, and so it is, that every
inordinate affection should be its own punishment.
-- St. Augustine (Confessions, i)
[ Parent ]

What I played with (4.66 / 6) (#3)
by dopehead on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 02:15:38 PM EST

I played with sand, little stones and paper airplanes. I also made boats out of leaves, and gunpowder out of matchsticks. Yes, we were poor, but that does not make you more clever than I.

Give a man a compilation tape and he'll dance for a night. Teach a man to scratch, and he'll be dancing for generations!

It has to be said. (5.00 / 9) (#6)
by graal on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 02:31:22 PM EST

You were lucky.

We lived for three months in a paper bag in a septic tank. We used to have to get up at six in the morning, clean the paper bag, eat a crust of stale bread, go to work down at mill, fourteen hours a day, week in, week out, for sixpence a week, and when we got home, our dad would thrash us to sleep with his belt.

For Thou hast commanded, and so it is, that every
inordinate affection should be its own punishment.
-- St. Augustine (Confessions, i)
[ Parent ]

You had it good (5.00 / 9) (#35)
by dopehead on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 05:19:42 PM EST

We lived in with the rats in a church in Israel. Our father beat us to death every evening, and in the evening sent us on suicide missions. He made my sister prostitutes, but they were so cheap that the only clients they had were the big rats that lived in the neighbourhood. My mother was a slave, and had one free day in 10 years to visit us. We had to work for months without sleep, and were fed only with our dead siblings. When we did sleep, it was on a 10 lane highway, so we had to keep moving about to not get hit by cars.

And we never got designer clothes to wear.

Give a man a compilation tape and he'll dance for a night. Teach a man to scratch, and he'll be dancing for generations!
[ Parent ]

So that's the rest of the story (none / 0) (#112)
by BenJackson on Tue Nov 26, 2002 at 04:07:57 AM EST

I always wondered what you were doing when you weren't sleeping. Did you get any money for the video game about your life?

[ Parent ]
Oh Yeah! (1.50 / 2) (#39)
by miah on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 05:47:12 PM EST

When we got home from school my dad would pour salt in our eyes and play frisbee with our brains. When he got bored he'd kill us and dance about upon our shallow graves.

Religion is not the opiate of the masses. It is the biker grade crystal meth of the masses.
[ Parent ]
You had a bag? (5.00 / 2) (#45)
by theNote on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 07:54:28 PM EST

Lucky bastard.

[ Parent ]
Luxury! (5.00 / 3) (#46)
by Eater on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 07:56:43 PM EST

Well, of course, we had it tough! We used to have to get up out of the shoebox in the middle of the night, and lick the road clean with our tongues! We had to eat half a handful of freezing cold gravel, work twenty-four hours a day at mill for fourpence every six years, and when we got home, our dad would slice us in two with a breadknife!

[ Parent ]
Right. (none / 0) (#113)
by IEFBR14 on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 11:22:28 AM EST

I had to get up in the morning at ten o'clock at night, half an hour before I went to bed, eat a lump of cold poison, work twenty-nine hours a day down mill, and pay mill owner for permission to come to work, and when we got home, our Dad would kill us, and dance about on our graves singing "Hallelujah."

[ Parent ]
The real proto-Geeks. (3.57 / 7) (#4)
by Ethnomythologist on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 02:15:41 PM EST

I think all phenomena such as this can be illuminated by consideration of earlier peoples. Where they failed, we should fear to tread; on the other hand, where they succeeded, we should rush at full tilt.

This article reminds me of the Powhatan Indians, who lived generally where Virginia rests today. They would craft simple models of the European settlers' strange tools and boats from twigs and weeds, then present them to their children as talismanic protections against those terrifying (to them) tools and boats. It was believed that whoever buried one of these models underneath his cornfield would find, upon the coming of the next harvest, a crop of tomatoes intermixed among the corn. In fact, this traditional belief is what inspired James Raleigh to invent ratatouille.

If you think about it, these model-making Powhatani (some of the most ingenious craftsmen in Native America) were the real proto-Geeks. It bears considering, however (and obviously we have no data to establish this), whether their children, who played with the models, were also "proto-Geeks" or were more athletically inclined.

OT: Wot? James Raleigh invented ratatouille? (none / 0) (#57)
by fraise on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 07:21:26 AM EST

Have you got any sources for that? As far as I know, ratatouille is a vegetable stew that originated in Provence, France sometime in the late 1700s, although that's not written in stone. I can't find anything on Google when I do a search on Raleigh and ratatouille, and when I search for ratatouille, invented, origins, etc., and in the dictionary, everything points to France.

Just curious, seeing as homemade ratatouille is one of my favorite dishes (and I happen to live in Provence).

[ Parent ]
You know ... (4.00 / 1) (#59)
by Simon Kinahan on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 07:39:34 AM EST

... I think rusty should give half the CMF's money to Adequacy. Then all might be peaceful again. Funny one, though.


If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]
Model Railroads (3.50 / 4) (#5)
by frankwork on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 02:16:41 PM EST

Another toy that's kinda boring once it's up and running, but a lot of fun to build. For better or worse, mine never got off the ground.

I was learning too quickly to ever want to build on top of stuff I had put together a few months prior. The experience taught me a lot about how to approach learn-as-you-go projects.

A lifelong geek toy (4.83 / 6) (#7)
by dissonant on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 02:33:06 PM EST

You missed one that starts as a protogeek toy and grows with you: RPGs. I started when I was about 8 with D&D. What better toy\game to learn about modeling and analyzing systems, statistics, strategic thinking, and basic math? Not to mention that it's played in a group, so it (ostensibly) can help build social skills, and also strongly encourages imagination and reading. As you grow older and more sophisticated, so too do your characters, settings, and possibly rules.

RPGs own.

Re: Lifelong geek toy (4.00 / 2) (#21)
by ultimai on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 03:52:05 PM EST

1 problem: It is dificult to find people who would play table top RPGs. There are a few groups who do but they either disturb or are total strangers. It is an effort to play RPG's, that is for sure.

[ Parent ]
RPGs (5.00 / 2) (#40)
by TurboThy on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 06:03:33 PM EST

It is an effort to play RPG's, that is for sure
Yes, but it's worth the effort. As a side note, I may be able to console you: I started playing RPGs (table top, analog, meatspace, call 'em what you like) at the age of 11. My friends and I developed what looked like an obsession, playing 2-3 times a week after school etc. It soon quieted down to about once a week until I was about your age (you're 16, right?) when I stopped altogether. I got a (serious) girlfriend, people started getting drunk and partying - in general, a whole lotta shit happening other than RPGs. A few years ago (I'm 24 now) we started again. People have quieted down, gotten married, some has children and so on and so forth. Some of us have even tricked our spouses into partaking, increasing their lenience when several men are sitting in their living room for hours on end, screaming and rolling dice. And now that we're actually able to play a mature and challenging session of RPGs once a fortnight, it's really more fun than in the old days.

But I'll never forget the day I opened the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set box and took forth the red booklet.
'Someone will sig this comment. They will. I know it.' [Egil Skallagrimson]
[ Parent ]
Ok. (none / 0) (#83)
by ultimai on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 09:11:13 PM EST

Oh ive bought like, 3 systems (Shadowrun, D&D and GURPS, which is the best one IMHO). Anyway no one is interested or has no time. I'm one of the ones with no time. I am 16

[ Parent ]
campaign champagne (5.00 / 1) (#84)
by hawaii on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 09:31:35 PM EST

But I'll never forget the day I opened the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set box and took forth the red booklet.

I agree entirely with the above. When me and my friend's finally found D&D, it was like a life-long quest was answered (we were in late 4th grade). Then the expert/companion/masters series. Yeehah. We thought we were experts and then masters of the trade. I also remember the move to AD&D sometime in 6th grade, we were totally psyched to be 'advanced' haha.

It was ironic, but we were actually making our own D&Dish games before this. Around 3rd grade, after we learned how to use flowcharts to model computer programs, we would make adventure-game-like flowchart quests, and play them on each other. Also we spent alot of time making mazes, complete with weapons and mosters in them, etc, It wasn't till we found D&D that we realized how to make a system of what we were already doing. (I'm 27 now, if that puts the eras into scale).

I kind of fell out of RPGing for awhile, but then around sophomore-junior year of high school got mad back into it, and by senior year we would often spend weekends at someone's house chugging mountain dew to stay awake to maximize campaign sessions going all night long. and for anybody wanting to say 'get a life', most of us had girlfriends and went out and did other things too.

Of course, after playing like 2-3 times, the GM would get bored and want to be a player, or we'd change RPG's to another, so we never had crazy long campaigns like the books like to convince you are the norm.

Speaking of, has anybody had really long campaigns that they didn't get bored of or resort to in-party fighting over dividing the magical items resulting in the party's death or split-up? Has anybody actually started out at 1st level and played the same character for a few years building up to a wickedly-high level or similar?

[ Parent ]

I grew up in the mid to late 60's (4.75 / 4) (#9)
by IHCOYC on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 02:41:07 PM EST

These are some of the playthings I remember that seem to qualify:
  • Crystal radio sets. (Back then, we had a real metal clothesline. It made a fine AM radio antenna. Which leads to. . .)
  • Ancient tube radios. (I used to wait up until I could start getting CKLW reliably; my favourite radio station back in the age of AM music radio. I was fascinated by the fact that you could listen to stations in Philadelphia, New Orleans, and St. Louis late at night.)
  • Dinosaur stuff! I got my first plastic dinosaur from the Sinclair exhibit at the New York World's Fair that my dad went to. Eventually I got all the Sinclair dinosaurs.
  • Fossils. Used to be dozens of them in the rocks by the abandoned railroad tracks.
  • The disassembly of mechanical alarm clocks.
  • Old Christmas tree lights of the kind you could get to light with a big 6-volt battery.
  • I used to save up my pennies to purchase vinegar and baking soda, which I made into crude gas explosives.

Heus, nunc, heus, nunc, mihi cantate hanc æruginem.

Oh, so your Dad (4.42 / 14) (#11)
by davidduncanscott on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 02:45:11 PM EST

got tired of answering questions, eh? Mine always maintained that every question deserved an answer, whether or not he had a clue. He'd look me right in the eye and claim that the sky was blue because of a massive Crayola explosion or whatever the hell crossed his mind. He figured he was teaching me that you not only had to ask the right question, but also the right person.

Of course, he did distinguish between ordinary curiosity and potentially lethal issues. If he said the gun was loaded, it was loaded.

My childhood dream... (5.00 / 1) (#15)
by YesNoCancel on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 02:54:23 PM EST

...was to build a small rocket that would fly to the moon. Of course I knew it was impossible, but I was maybe 6 years old and had a vivid fantasy. I remember having long discussions with a friend about how we would construct the rocket, what kind of robot we would need to collect moon rocks and so on. We even drew "construction plans". It was great fun.

Later, when I was 8 or 9 years old, I wanted to build my own toy robot. :)

Of course I also had RC cars, an RC ship, RC submarine (it sank on its maiden voyage) and RC plane. I was fascinated by technical toys and machines and I still am today to a certain degree.

Ah yes (none / 0) (#20)
by El Volio on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 03:52:01 PM EST

I remember drawing up detailed plans to build my own ultralight plane in about 3rd or 4th grade. Then I went to an airshow and saw an ultralight that used a parachute (the foil style) for a wing, which sent me back to the drawing board. And my dad used to tell a story (over and over and over and...) about a model rocket where he crammed in an engine several sizes more powerful than that rocket was rated for and how he didn't think it ever came down. He was pulling my leg, of course, but I was convinced as a child that my father had put a toy in orbit.

[ Parent ]
Sub (none / 0) (#24)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 04:16:29 PM EST

RC submarine (it sank on its maiden voyage)

Isn't that kind of the point? I'd be disappointed if it didn't sink.. :)

jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.
[ Parent ]

Submarine (none / 0) (#26)
by YesNoCancel on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 04:22:50 PM EST

There's a difference between "submerge" and "sink". In my case, it first submerged, then sank. Unfortunately the lake was about 15 metres deep where it sank, so I could never get it back.

[ Parent ]
Also... (none / 0) (#31)
by YesNoCancel on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 04:57:51 PM EST

...I just found out the RC submarine kit I had is still being sold. If you're thinking of buying an RC submarine kit, don't buy this one, it's very badly designed. Buy that one instead, it's far better (I knew someone who had it). Or, if you have the money, you can get a German U-Boot scale model based on the same construction.

[ Parent ]
For me... (4.00 / 2) (#22)
by ultimai on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 03:55:26 PM EST

The modern one is a computer. All those other toys seem to be towards engneering geeks. BTW i am 16.

Ahhh ... (5.00 / 1) (#61)
by vrai on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 08:05:24 AM EST

... but you missed out on the Golden Age Of Home Computing [tm]. When all we had were .9Mhz processors and 48K of RAM (of which 16K was used as video memory). When 8 year old kids learnt to program in assembler because it was the only way you could get the bloody computer to do anything useful. Come to think of it you weren't born when the Amiga 1000 was released ... feeling old now ...

[ Parent ]
Software development *is* engineering. (none / 0) (#105)
by smithmc on Fri Nov 22, 2002 at 01:42:01 PM EST

Why are you differentiating software development from engineering? By the time you're out of college, chances are good that software engineers will be state-licensed, just like other engineers are today. Software development is an engineering discipline if done right; the mental processes and practices are not very different in principle. So if you're going to play with "computer" toys, you might as well play with "engineering" toys, too.

[ Parent ]
when I was young (4.50 / 2) (#23)
by zephc on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 04:07:12 PM EST

I had my collection of drawings and 'schematics' for computer designs and houses (I loved architecture), I took apart my Commodore 128, etc etc, but there is something to be said for the simple joy of sitting on your skateboard on a hill and dragging a G.I. Joe's face along the pavement as you roll.  Ah, destruction.

My First Computing Device and Word Processor (4.00 / 2) (#25)
by HidingMyName on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 04:21:29 PM EST

In the early 1970's when I was a kid (and dinosaurs ruled the earth according to my wife and daughter) my Grandfather got his first electronic calculator. He gave me his mechanical calculator (like they had in the galley slave scene in Monty Python's meaning of life). Unfortunately I no longer have this any more (I dropped it on the way into show and tell). I still have my mechanical typewriter which my folks gave me. I learned word processing on that as well. It had a very interesting cut and paste tool, using scissors and Elmer's glue :-). Corrections could be done by retyping the page or using an eraser (this was before whiteout became popular).

What was the name of this geek toy? (3.00 / 1) (#27)
by nekrosys on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 04:32:14 PM EST

When I was a kid, in the 70s, there was this building set with transparent red, green, blue and yellow squares, cylinders, circles, and maybe triangles that you could fit together with cut-out "slots" on the sides of each piece. I've been wracking my brain trying to remember their name for approximately the last two years! You could build some really cool looking forms out of them!

Anyone rembember these?

St. John Climacus:
"Pray often in the tombs and paint an indelible picture of them in your heart."

I know these too (none / 0) (#28)
by YesNoCancel on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 04:46:30 PM EST

However those I had were not transparent. Can't remember the name, though I remember they came in a yellow plastic box with the company's logo on it. I think I'll look for them in the cellar at my parents' house when I visit there next time. They are probably still there.

[ Parent ]
Romagon (sp)? (none / 0) (#85)
by hawaii on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 09:36:08 PM EST

I remember having something like this that was pretty cool, called something roughly like Romagon. But I don't remember the shapes being translucent, but rather opaque.

[ Parent ]
toy shapes (none / 0) (#87)
by rockinricky on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 10:15:01 PM EST

I remember having a toy called "Shapey" which had circles, squares, and other shapes which connected along the edges. This was early 70s.

[ Parent ]
hmm (none / 0) (#92)
by hawaii on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 01:25:46 AM EST

Romagon was late 70's, maybe very early 80's (definitely before 1982). I know this because I remember playing it in my old house before we moved.

[ Parent ]
I collected navel lint (3.00 / 2) (#29)
by jabber on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 04:47:22 PM EST

I used to stare at my navel endlessly, looking for lint. Then, when I found some, I'd tell all my friends, and anyone else who would listen, all about it. Sometimes I wrote notes to pass around in class, usually with itemized lists of the kinds of lint I found.

Good thing I outgrew that irritating self-referential habit.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

FischerTechnik (4.50 / 2) (#32)
by ewhac on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 05:03:24 PM EST

I was a fan of FischerTechnik, which I thought of as Lego++. At the time, all Lego really did was rectilinear blocks to create static structures. FischerTechnik did blocks, axles, wheels, pulleys, elastic belts, gears, platforms, and other goodies to create kinetic, moving gadgets.

They were expensive as hell, though...

Editor, A1-AAA AmeriCaptions. Priest, Internet Oracle.

You had the motor-sets ? (nt) (none / 0) (#64)
by fhotg on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 10:49:19 AM EST

Gitarren für die Mädchen -- Champagner für die Jungs

[ Parent ]
Yup! (none / 0) (#88)
by ewhac on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 10:43:43 PM EST

Yes, I had the motor. That's the only way to go :-)!

Mind you, the motor seemed fairly weak, and the battery case only held three 'C' cells, as I recall. But I still had all kinds of fun with that thing.

Editor, A1-AAA AmeriCaptions. Priest, Internet Oracle.
[ Parent ]

right. (none / 0) (#94)
by fhotg on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 04:16:53 AM EST

I had the big one, and a small one. Plus some sort of gear box. The most impressive thing I recall having built was a remote-controlled truck with motorized crane. Biggest problem was the lacking stiffness of the elements, so cogwheel and motor-shaft were hard to keep properly in touch under heavy stress.
Gitarren für die Mädchen -- Champagner für die Jungs

[ Parent ]
shockwave paper airplane simulator (none / 0) (#33)
by kpaul on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 05:05:35 PM EST

This simulator is worth at least a few minutes of amusement. How far can you get it to go?

2014 Halloween Costumes

Did anyone beat 100 feet? (none / 0) (#71)
by p3d0 on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 12:39:46 PM EST

The best I got was 99.1273 feet. (Angle=-22, thrust=100, elevator=1.)
Patrick Doyle
My comments do not reflect the opinions of my employer.
[ Parent ]
100.8507 feet (none / 0) (#72)
by Mr. Peabody on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 01:25:40 PM EST

Ok, so I just barely made it past 100 feet, but you threw down the gauntlet and I couldn't resist accepting the challenge. :-)

Angle: 4
Thrust: 100
Elevator: 8

Gives a pretty weird flight path (two loops and a slow descent), but it's the best I've managed so far.

[ Parent ]
106 odd feet (none / 0) (#75)
by Canar on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 02:04:52 PM EST

Angle -13, thrust 100, elevator 8. Elevator 8 seems to give the best long range flight, the trick is just getting it started off correctly, thanks to the looping and junk.

[ Parent ]
You forgot legos/bristle blocks? (4.00 / 2) (#34)
by kpaul on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 05:07:59 PM EST

These were good for hours and hours of enjoyment. I had a lot more of the generic type that wasn't lego - I think bristle blocks was the name but I'm not sure...

2014 Halloween Costumes

Bristle blocks (none / 0) (#41)
by Happy Monkey on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 06:36:01 PM EST

Bristle blocks were a bit bigger than Duplo blocks, and were covered with hundreds of tiny rods that interlocked when two blocks were pushed together. Similar, but not quite generic clones of Lego.
Length 17, Width 3
[ Parent ]
Sticklebricks? (none / 0) (#43)
by Gully Foyle on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 06:37:38 PM EST

If you weren't picked on in school you were doing something wrong - kableh
[ Parent ]

I'm so ashamed... (3.50 / 2) (#36)
by ffrinch on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 05:30:15 PM EST

... my childhood play never reached such dizzying heights of physics and engineering.

When I was really young I played with my He-man toys and my Transformers (robots in disguise!), and when I made things from Lego I never thought past making them look cool.

When I was a bit older I started spending most of my free time reading — words, not tech, took over my life.

*sniff*, I've missed out on so much! ;)

"I learned the hard way that rock music ... is a powerful demonic force controlled by Satan." — Jack Chick
Do explosives count? (3.33 / 3) (#37)
by SocratesGhost on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 05:36:10 PM EST

Everyone likes a big explosion and since I lived not too far from the Mexican border, we could get some really good fireworks that were highly illegal. I don't know if this is really proto-geek or just common adolescence.

Either way, though, not a single mailbox on the block was safe...

I drank what?

And, and, and! (4.25 / 4) (#38)
by TON on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 05:42:44 PM EST

I just have to add a few other things:

  • Books by David Macaulay. Underground, City, Castle, and Cathedral were especially geeky faves of mine as a kid.
  • Lenses. We used to go to the Childrens Museum in Boston now and then. They had a room full of junk you could buy by the bag. I used to get piles of cheap plastic lenses.
  • Let us not forget the Edmund Scientific catalog. I don't think I ever bought anything, but I pored over it evry time it arrived in the mail. I just dreamed of getting my hands on all that stuff.
  • Computer knick-knacks. My Dad started working with computers at GE back in the mid to late 60's. As things went by the wayside, they sometimes wound up at our house. IIRC, I used to have old punch cards to color on. We definitely made Xmas tree garlands out of colored tape with holes punched in it. It was plasticky, inch and quarter or so wide, and came in a wide array of colors. I'll have to ask my Dad what system it came from. Geek Christmas- Family makes decorations out of defunct computer storage media- Children geeked for life.

"First, I am born. Then, the trouble begins." -- Schizopolis


The Best David Macaulay Book (none / 0) (#53)
by dasunt on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 01:28:18 AM EST

You forgot to mention the best and second best books of David Macaulay.

"Motel of the Mysteries". If you know archeology, its a hoot. Even for children, its a great way of showing that not all deductions are right.

(For the more serious, best book would be "The Way Things Work" because of its depth and scope.)

[ Parent ]
I bought stuff from Edmund Scientific (none / 0) (#58)
by 87C751 on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 07:28:19 AM EST

In the dim mists of the past (around 1971), I was playing with LEDs and fiber optics, thanks to Edmund Scientific. I had a red LED attached to the cieling over my bed, as a "meditation light", which burned brightly for 4 years (until I moved out). The instructions said pulsed DC would make it brighter, so I used an unfiltered full-wave rectifier for the power supply.

I also built a little plastic box with a push-button and a small LED. Took it to school, and none of the kids would believe that was all it did. I could tell them it was a shortwave transmitter or a metal detector and they'd buy it. But if I said "you push the button and the light goes on", they'd invariably reply "come on... what does it really do?"

And let's not forget the Digi-Comp 100, my very first (3-digit mechanical) computer!

My ranting place.
[ Parent ]

More Geek "Toys" (1.63 / 41) (#42)
by Hide The Hamster on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 06:36:03 PM EST

  • K-Y Jelly: An all-time favourite of lonely geeks everywhere, K-Y can be used to lube up one's own loose asshole for inserting coke bottles, carrots and kielbasa. Also useful for the all-too prevalent masturbatory habits of a nerd.
  • Coleman Camp Toilet: Being a geek, you're probably a really huge fat fuck. This portable camp toilet is very handy because you're, naturally, too obese to hoist yourself out of an office chair with cracking plastic base. Suggested accompanyments: aluminum walker in case camp toilet needs emptying and sponge-on-a-stick for washing.
  • 50%/50% Lard/Frosting, Tubs of: While not a marketed product, this is THE time-honored snack of overweight sysadmins.
  • Electric Butt Plug: Hey! You're a geek, it's Saturday night! You've got nothing else to do, sit on this fella for a couple hours.
  • Jgermeister: Ah yes, the ol' Jger. Best put by Eric S. Raymond, "Jgermeister is best consumed super-chilled; from the ass-dimple of a young twink."

    Free spirits are a liability.

    August 8, 2004: "it certainly is" and I had engaged in a homosexual tryst.

  • Error Correction (5.00 / 1) (#44)
    by Hide The Hamster on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 06:39:51 PM EST

    'Jger' needs to read 'Jäger'.

    Free spirits are a liability.

    August 8, 2004: "it certainly is" and I had engaged in a homosexual tryst.

    [ Parent ]
    what fascinated me (none / 0) (#47)
    by speek on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 08:38:17 PM EST

    That electronic, vibrating football game - the one where you set up all the dudes and press start which begins a god-awful racket as the metal sheet surface vibrated and caused the dudes to move, sometimes randomly, sometimes brilliantly, and always resulting in some completely gay-looking twirly dances.

    Something about meticulously setting everything up and then pressing a button to make everything go and sit and watch what happens really appealed to my pre-programming self.

    al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees

    Why the hell is my fullback turning left???!!!!... (5.00 / 1) (#56)
    by obyteme on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 07:19:15 AM EST

    I loved those also. Used ta bend the little plastic fins at the bottom of the players to make them turn the way I wanted. Spend 30 minutes setting up one play and then not do a damn thing right.

    Kinda like the real NFL!!!

    To err is human, or I could be wrong.
    If you can't poke fun at it, get a sharper wit.

    [ Parent ]
    We had this ... (5.00 / 1) (#60)
    by vrai on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 07:57:27 AM EST

    ... but being British we had no idea of the rules of American football (it was bought back from the states by my father). In the end we managed to just about figure it out by watching the 3am live matches on Channel 4. Of course today kids would just get the rules from the internet, they will never know the joy of reverse engineering a sport ...

    [ Parent ]
    RE: Electric Football (none / 0) (#77)
    by cod on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 02:12:55 PM EST

    My son will find this under the Christmas tree this year. Patriots vs Rams. My wife has issued a threat of extreme violence if I so much as break the seal on the package prior to Christmas morning :) It came via JCPenny.com if you interested...

    [ Parent ]
    woa!~ (none / 0) (#99)
    by Prophet themusicgod1 on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 12:48:40 PM EST

    i hadnt heard anyone talk about one of those in so long...yet another peice of my childhood remembered now, thank you!
    "I suspect the best way to deal with procrastination is to put off the procrastination itself until later. I've been meaning to try this, but haven't gotten around to it yet."swr
    [ Parent ]
    "r%(%(%(%(%))))"? [OT, sig comment] (5.00 / 1) (#106)
    by astatine on Fri Nov 22, 2002 at 03:59:22 PM EST

    Ouch! That's a lot of dumpage. In fact, for a minute you confused me into thinking 'r' was recursion. :-)

    Society, they say, exists to safeguard the rights of the individual. If this is so, the primary right of a human being is evidently to live unrealistically.Celia Green
    [ Parent ]
    yea (none / 0) (#114)
    by Prophet themusicgod1 on Thu Dec 26, 2002 at 09:42:15 PM EST

    its exteemly hard to find a girl who wants commitment. i give up.
    "I suspect the best way to deal with procrastination is to put off the procrastination itself until later. I've been meaning to try this, but haven't gotten around to it yet."swr
    [ Parent ]
    Ah, the good old days.. (none / 0) (#48)
    by Arthur Treacher on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 08:45:31 PM EST

    when I was but a wee lad, and put together model airplanes, and then blew them up with firecrackers, or sometimes vinegar and soda bombs for a change of pace, and made crude flamethrowers with discarded medical hypodermic syringes and candles.  
    Then there were the  experiments with calcium carbide and water, which makes lovely amounts of acetylene gas.
    And match-head rockets.  And the gun I made from an old car antenna and some plumbing parts, which shot lead sinkers powered by firecrackers.  And the gasoline mortar, which shot coffee cans filled with cement into the neighbor's backyard.

    I led a charmed life back then.

    "Henry Ford is more or less history" - Bunk

    Capsela! (5.00 / 4) (#49)
    by TheOnlyCoolTim on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 09:16:43 PM EST

    This was one of the best of geek toys.

    It's based around plastic interlocking capsules that generally made up the basic structure of your construction, and more importantly held motors, gears, axles, and other machinery. Then you hooked up wheels, propellers, impellers, winches, wires, batteries, and switches. One of the coolest parts was that all the parts except the motor and the batteries could be submerged (they might have been submergable too, but I never tested it - I only had two or three motors), and there were these yellow floats that could attach to the capsules, so you could build working boats and stuff. There was even a pump that took up water and shot it out of a hose.

    Here's an eBay auction that has pictures of a lot of these parts: http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=1789791680

    "We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."

    Mechanics 101 (none / 0) (#86)
    by hawaii on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 09:45:59 PM EST

    Capsela rocked!

    That's where I learned how gears work, and the tradeoff between angular velocity and torque. Easy experiment - you can stop the spinny interconnection spindle easily with your finger out of the motor where it's spining the fastest. (it's scary at first when you're a kid). Then attach a gear-reduction divide-down capsule, and now try to stop it. It's moving slower, but much harder to stop.

    I thought that was so cool, it taught me how 10-speed bicycles work.

    [ Parent ]

    Paper airplanes! (4.00 / 1) (#50)
    by phliar on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 09:45:22 PM EST

    I've been an airplane fanatic since early childhood so of course paper airplanes played a huge role. They also taught me a frustrating but valuable lesson: fancy shit doesn't make them fly better, simple designs that are accurately folded do best. After much anguish I gave in and practiced careful folding, and my airplanes flew better than anyone else's.

    Of course blowing things up (we made "explosive" from match heads, or firecrackers) played a huge part. Many airplanes exploded in mid-air. We tried very hard to have mid-air collisions but never succeeded. All this was of course practical chemistry. I made hydrogen gas (explosions!) acids (burn things!) shrapnel bombs... I learned electronics so we could do remote detonations and timers. We used Erector Sets (except they were called "Meccano") to build gantries for rockets (that never worked) and towers for more bombs. We found an old fluorescent lamp -- blow it up! A broken TV -- blow it up!

    It was amazing how much truly dangerous stuff a kid could get his hands on back in the 70s. It's a miracle I survived. And it was so cool!

    Faster, faster, until the thrill of...

    Hazardous recreations (none / 0) (#51)
    by Polverone on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 11:22:09 PM EST

    I loved and still do love chemistry. My first exposure to it was from old college textbooks of my father's. Much of it I couldn't understand (what do you expect from an 8 year old?) but there were many purely descriptive passages and mini-histories/biographies of different chemists and substances. I loved that book.

    I loved it even more when I discovered that it said how to make black powder. To make a long and rambling story short, I spent countless afternoons of my childhood having a fine time with homemade pyrotechnics. It's cheap entertainment, too. For the price of a movie on VHS you could (and still can) get a sack of agricultural-grade potassium nitrate too heavy for a child to lift. Dusting sulfur is very affordable as well. High-quality grapevine charcoal is practically free if your father grows grapes in the backyard.

    I had supportive parents, slightly worried neighbors, and a disposition that kept me out of trouble. Unlike a large number of boys with pyromaniac tendencies, I never wanted to destroy anything, make explosions, or play dangerous games. I liked huge clouds of smoke and pretty flames. The smell of burning sulfur still brings back happy memories.
    It's not a just, good idea; it's the law.
    [ Parent ]

    rocket launching... (none / 0) (#54)
    by KiTaSuMbA on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 06:04:43 AM EST

    empty cans, acetylene and a home-made fuse... The darn things went sky-high (except the cases they exploded in place - ahahahaaha).
    During winter though (rain and a more "granular" parental control) we sticked to legos (trying to make crush-tolerant structures) and tinkering with spare and/or broken electronics, almost invariably destroying them beyond recognition.
    Lots of friends had game consoles or small computers they used for no more than games (C64s, ZX80s etc.) but I never liked gaming that much (and still don't).
    There is no Dopaminergic Pepperoni Kabal!
    [ Parent ]
    Although typically an outdoor activity, (5.00 / 3) (#52)
    by dirvish on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 12:22:47 AM EST

    blowing shit up is a favorite past-time of mine.

    Technical Certification Blog, Anti Spam Blog
    Explosions and Insects (none / 0) (#63)
    by rleyton on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 09:41:02 AM EST


    My father has the best blowing things up story. He and his brothers used to live on the Isle of Wight in the 1950's (The Fort above Freshwater bay, if you know the place). My grandfather was busy test firing re-entrant rockets for the UK's short lived rocket programme.

    Anyway, he and his brothers found a very large lump of something-interesting on the beach, and broke off chunks of it, and - as you do - threw it into a fire they had started. The lumps promptly popped rather loudly.

    When my grandfather returned from work, and they showed him what they found, he went a rather horrible colour and called the police.

    Before too long, Freshwater bay had been evacuated: They'd found an unexploded mine that had washed up on the shore from WW2.


    Anyway, my rather measly anecdote from my childhood is that Blowing things up should be closed followed by killing insects and miscellaneous bugs/critters.

    My brother and I used to collect snails. We once went to the trouble, on a particularly troublesome summer day, of lining up snails right across the road outside our house. The poor little beasts got squished by passing cars. Very satisfying.

    Oh, and squirting ants with a water pistol loaded with a mix of WD40, washing up liquid and water. The poor critters never had a chance.

    Ooooooooooooooh! What does this button do!? - DeeDee, Dexters Lab.
    My Website
    [ Parent ]

    Little known, but one of the best... (5.00 / 1) (#55)
    by Belgand on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 06:23:57 AM EST

    While I certainly loved Legos and to a lesser extent Construx the best building toy was always Omagles. I've never seen them in any stores (got them as a gift from relatives) and have only known one other person who had heard of them, but they were great. Essentially they were yellow plastic pipes that connected together with various joints and used plastic clips to lock in place. You could then add wheels, end-caps, panels, etc. to them. The important part that makes them so special is that they were kid-sized. Enough Omagles would let you build a pretty nice fort that would hold up well both inside and outside not to mention pretty much anything else you can readidly make out of plastic tubing. They have a website up at http://www.omagles.com/ which is probably the best place to buy them as they appear to be European. A bit pricey though.

    Togl's -- U.S., Late 60s-Early 70s (5.00 / 1) (#62)
    by jck2000 on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 08:46:38 AM EST

    I think Mattel or Hasbro made them. They were hollow cubes with either a hole or a prong in the center of each face -- and several faces on each cube swung out like a door (could be used to build hinged structures). A prong could go in a hole or be connected to another prong by a straw-like tube. A full kit came with a brick sized wind-up motor that could be used drive wheels.

    [ Parent ]
    From the Omagles web site... (1.00 / 1) (#70)
    by p3d0 on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 12:18:52 PM EST

    Doesn't she seem a bit young to be married?
    Patrick Doyle
    My comments do not reflect the opinions of my employer.
    [ Parent ]
    oh, those 70ies marketing departments... (3.00 / 2) (#65)
    by nex on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 10:49:46 AM EST

    Nowadays, no one would let his child play with an Erector Set.


    Model Rocketry? (5.00 / 1) (#66)
    by avdi on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 10:57:19 AM EST

    One of the quintessential proto-geek pastimes was building model rockets from Estes (or one of the more obscure companies if you were a really badass rocket geek).  Nothing beats the thrill of waching something you built shoot up impossibly fast, seeing the first stage break away and the second stage ignite until the rocket is just a speck, and then see that blessed bloom of parachute or streamer that means the rocket will live to fly another time.  Of course, that was often followed by the annoyance of coaxing it out of a tree, or getting permission to retrieve it from a roof...

    Now leave us, and take your fish with you. - Faramir
    How to choose a rocket (none / 0) (#67)
    by TheWake on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 11:23:45 AM EST

    We always chose our rockets by weight. We picked the lightest kit that could take a C size engine. Then of course we always used the C 6-7's

    [ Parent ]
    I had it all (none / 0) (#68)
    by FourDegreez on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 12:03:36 PM EST

    I had all of these things! Legos, lincoln logs, tinker toys, erector set, books of answers (and optical illusions!), RC cars, Capsela, Radio Shack electronics things... Radio Shack was heaven (Christmas came out of a Radio Shack product catalog). How about metal detectors? Or those magnetic shape things that you could build things out of? What about mazes- books of mazes or creating your own? Chemistry sets. Fireworks. How many people took apart fireworks and made new fireworks out of what was inside (bonus points if fireworks are illegal where you live)? Model train sets. Puzzles...rubiks cube-type things. Does Domino Rally count? Or those little electronic keyboards? I had one that let you record any sound and use it as musical notes. Heck, you can do geeky things with a simple tape recorder or one those mini voice recorders.

    Man, I never knew what a geeky kid I was. LOL

    Oh hell, I knew I'd forget things (none / 0) (#69)
    by FourDegreez on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 12:09:05 PM EST

    Microscopes! I had a pretty decent one with lots of cool slides. And I also had this portable one... more like a glorified magnifying glass with a light, but in a long, rectangular shape with a little lens to look through. You could carry it around the house, examining everything close-up.

    Paper airplanes were mentioned... what about origami?

    [ Parent ]
    Fireworks (none / 0) (#73)
    by anon868 on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 01:27:14 PM EST

    I once took apart a model rocket (solid fuel) motor and attempted to make fireworks out of it. Cost me most of the hair on my right arm, but it was fun! And I went through a phase where I was making mazes out of my lego for a few months too.

    Radio Shack still makes me drool, but here in Canada, they've mostly stopped selling the fun stuff (electronics kits & parts).
    Open a window. No, not that one! One made from actual glass, set in an acual wall, you dork.
    [ Parent ]

    Construx! (none / 0) (#74)
    by gmol on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 01:42:45 PM EST

    Was it just a Canadian thing?

    I bet you called 'em "bluies" and "greenies" too.

    Definitely not a canadian thing! (none / 0) (#76)
    by Kugyou on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 02:06:17 PM EST

    I still have my old Construx kits. I have the space set and the military set...man were those things cool for building weird stuff.
    Dust in the wind bores holes in mountains
    [ Parent ]
    I loved these! (none / 0) (#98)
    by Kintanon on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 11:30:16 AM EST

    I built a robot out of these and motors stolen from my broken RC cars. It could turn its head, move its arms, and shuffle forward and backwards. It was controlled by 4 different remote controls as I recall. One for the head, one for the legs, and one for each arm. And none of them were wireless....
    But it was still fun. I put them all in a big control panel and it impressed the heck out of most of my friends.


    [ Parent ]

    Broken Electronics (5.00 / 1) (#78)
    by senjiro on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 02:17:02 PM EST

    I was famous among family and neighbors as 'that kid who takes old junk apart'. From age 8 to about 16 I was notorious for grabbing radio's, TV's, VCR's, Microwaves (got in trouble for that one) or whatever electronic stuff I could find that people didn't want. I'd sit in my dad's garage for hours taking apart wires and tubes and boards. It was free, fun, and (after I got past the destructive part) very educational.

    This was back in the 80's, before home computers were real popular, by the time college rolled around, I was always after somebody's old Apple IIc, or 286 to take apart.

    it is by will alone that i set my mind in motion
    the big trak (4.00 / 2) (#79)
    by zzzeek on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 02:53:43 PM EST


    (still own mine)

    And I, 20 years later, STILL envy you (none / 0) (#90)
    by NFW on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 11:59:38 PM EST

    Lucky bastard!

    Got birds?

    [ Parent ]

    I remember those! (none / 0) (#97)
    by Ricochet Rita on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 09:07:24 AM EST

    But it's been, cripes, at least a quarter century, since we played with our Big Trak.

    geeze, i feel old now. thanks. ;-/

    [ Parent ]

    Rubix Cube (5.00 / 1) (#80)
    by anyonymous [35789] on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 06:42:50 PM EST

    I loved the cube and the pyramid. I still to this day have not cheated by moving the stickers. I have just barely begun to master the cube...the pyramid is around here somewhere. I also loved Transformers! And I grabbed a screwdriver and took apart everything I could when I was little. Sometimes it was stuff I wasn't supposed to. I always got it back together. Amazing for a little kid. Now I do it for a living.

    I also loved making forts. I'd make forts in the woods with sticks or in the living room with the couch cushons and a blanket.

    The first computer I had that I new how to use (I had a unix box when I was in elementary school and had absolutely no clue)was a tandy color computer. I played donkey kong and zaxon a lot.

    I still feel guilty for taking my fathers old toy, a toy robot called Mr. Mercury to show and tell and cracking the cheap plastic battery holder. Now it's taped together. But that old meatl robot from my fathers youth still works.

    forts rule (5.00 / 1) (#110)
    by El Hober on Sun Nov 24, 2002 at 02:11:07 AM EST

    I made some great forts. My friend and I made one around a tree in the 8th grade. It took us most of the year too, by the end of the year we each had a fully developed fort, they were joined by a tunnel, and it was really big. My half was made of scavenged roofing tin held together by old bailing wire over a wooden frame, it even had an area that was raised, held up by a rusty barrel, and it even had a door, with a stick to hold it shut. My friend's side was made of many, many sticks stacked into a round, igloo-esque shape around the tree, and somehow managed to actually hold off rain. The common area had stacked stick igloo walls, but by the time we got to the roof, we were out of the huge pile of uniform-length sticks we found in the desert, so we used one of those blue plastic wading pools for a roof. And we had traps set all around it, that tripped many a person. We had a stockpile of food (soda and pop-tarts, mostly) in a garbage bag in the common area, along with our cool stuff pile. And we wiled away many an hour sitting in it shooting at stuff with pellet guns through holes in the walls. Good times, I would love to have friends who I could do that kind of thing with again. The guy I built that fort with has turned uber-mature, and doesn't know how to have fun, right along with most of my other friends. I think I have 2 friends left who I could build a fort with.
    "Painting is an infinitely minute part of my personality."
    -Salvadore Dali
    [ Parent ]
    The Commodore 64 (4.50 / 2) (#81)
    by dani14 on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 07:30:02 PM EST

    I know somebody brought it up as an [n/t] earlier, but I think the Commodore 64 deserves its own post.

    I remember playing Lemonade Stand, programming the bouncing smiley face...Oh! Wasn't Bladerunner on the Commodore as well?

    But really, the best game on the Commodore 64 was Zork. That was the most fun and frustrating game you could play...

    "Use Sword"
    Use Sword on what?
    I don't understand.
    "Use Sword on Self"
    Are you sure?
    You are dead, the end.

    I don't remember the exact commands, but it was so frustrating to try and figure out what word you needed to use to get the game to understand what you wanted. I could never find the stupid bird's nest that had...what? a key? or a special egg? (maybe if I stopped committing suicide in frustration...) And then they came out with sequels!

    At the risk of sounding old, those text based games and rpg's really allowed you to develop your imagination. Sometimes I wish the newer games weren't so realistic and "real-time."


    "The samaritans parable obviously missed the bit where jizzbug ... kicked the crap out of the guy "just to see if he could do it, you know, to test if the law was perfect and all"." -- Craevenwulfe
    Commodore PET (5.00 / 2) (#91)
    by NFW on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 12:04:02 AM EST

    Before the C64 and Vic20, there was the Personal Electronic Transactor. There was this really cool space invaders video game that was copy-protected... but with two audio tape decks, placed side by side, one playing really really loud and the other recording...


    I'd name the uber-hacker who thought up that scheme, but I don't want to get my dad in trouble.

    Got birds?

    [ Parent ]

    Zork (5.00 / 1) (#96)
    by graal on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 07:20:47 AM EST

    You can get the Z-code for all the Zork original games out on the web, and Z-machine interpreters to play them on just about any platform you can think of. The one for the Palm Pilot is PilotFrotz. One source for the games (and other interactive fiction) is here.

    Relive the memories!

    "There is a familiar brass latern here."

    For Thou hast commanded, and so it is, that every
    inordinate affection should be its own punishment.
    -- St. Augustine (Confessions, i)
    [ Parent ]

    But today's PCs... (none / 0) (#104)
    by smithmc on Fri Nov 22, 2002 at 01:16:05 PM EST

    ...well, not such good geek toys, IMO. Obviously, you can get a lot more computer for your money today than you could then, but today's PC is much more "grown-up" and "opaque" to children. Hit the switch on a C64, and two seconds later you're at a BASIC interpreter. It's just begging to be hacked on, and you practically couldn't avoid learning some programming since the BASIC interpreter was also the command shell. It's not easy to get that kind of immediacy these days (though I suppose if you set the machine up so it were really easy for your kid to get to a Python interpreter, you might not be too far off...)

    [ Parent ]
    yes! (4.00 / 1) (#82)
    by iamadingy on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 08:27:25 PM EST

    i think it's a bug, but i get at least 340 feet in distance(and around 140 in max altitude). it's -8 angle, 69 thrust, 2 elevator

    shameless self-promotion (5.00 / 1) (#89)
    by NFW on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 11:53:10 PM EST

    Some of my happiest childhood memories are of sitting in the middle of a pile of Lego widgets putting together some gizmo that I had in my mind. I built a lot of stuff that rolled, learned a lot about suspension geometry (oh so helpful when I got into RC cars), but though I wanted to build something that walked, I never had enough motors for that.

    20some years later, I made a Windows application that gets me pretty close to that childhood bliss, and with enough motors to build stuff that walks (and no drivetrains, which makes things a lot easier). It's got lots of buzzwords, like 3D graphics, realistic physics, visual programming language for the motor control systems, etc, etc. Documentation is still pretty sparse, but I'm told that the UI is pretty intuitive (YMMV though).

    It's a free download, just click the link in my signature. I hope you get a kick out of it.

    Got birds?

    That's awesome (none / 0) (#93)
    by carbon on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 02:44:46 AM EST

    I was going to code something like that, but it never got past the design stages (mostly due to the fact that, during that time, I only thought that I understood C++, and by the time I learned it, I had other projects), but even its design was nowhere near as cool as what that site describes. Could I possibly get at the source code?

    Wasn't Dr. Claus the bad guy on Inspector Gadget? - dirvish
    [ Parent ]
    opening the source (none / 0) (#103)
    by NFW on Fri Nov 22, 2002 at 12:32:05 AM EST

    I'm glad you enjoyed it. :-)

    I've been handing out bits of the source to help other people working with ODE and/or Demeter, but for the most part this is a solo project and I'm keeping the source to myself.

    I am looking forward to turning this into a collaborative project, and I will be making the source available... I just don't know when.

    Got birds?

    [ Parent ]

    reminds me of... (none / 0) (#109)
    by El Hober on Sun Nov 24, 2002 at 01:34:03 AM EST

    sodaplay (sodaplay.com), except 3d. in other words: COOL!
    "Painting is an infinitely minute part of my personality."
    -Salvadore Dali
    [ Parent ]
    ...as well it should! (none / 0) (#111)
    by NFW on Sun Nov 24, 2002 at 02:20:14 AM EST

    Sodaplay was a big inspiration. My executable is still Juiceplay.exe, as a tribute of sorts.

    A year or two ago I did a prototype in two dimensions that looks even more like sodaplay - except that in this case, the "physics" utterly sucks. If you're willing to accept the risks of running an unsigned ActiveX control in your browser, I'll promise not to do anything devious to your computer... Click here and follow the "Do it" link.

    (I wish I'd done that one in Java.)

    Got birds?

    [ Parent ]

    My favourite toy was a speccy (none / 0) (#95)
    by S1ack3rThanThou on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 04:33:00 AM EST

    Got the rubber keyed chum when I was 7, moving up from a zx81. Played on that LOTS.

    "Remember what the dormouse said, feed your head..."
    And magnets (none / 0) (#100)
    by phliar on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 04:33:18 PM EST

    I also had a fascination with magnets. Around age 7 I read that if a current was passed through a wire wrapped around iron, the iron would get magnetised. Wow! Magnets from nothing? How could I resist. I found a nail and about 4 inches of wire. Wrapped the wire around the nail, inserted the ends into the wall socket, and turned on the switch. There was a loud bang and a flash and the nail shot across the room, and the lights went out.

    Mom was pissed off, and it was a little hard to pretend that nothing had happened since all the lights were out. When Dad got home in the evening (he was an electronics engineer) he had a good laugh.

    Faster, faster, until the thrill of...

    I did that too (none / 0) (#108)
    by El Hober on Sun Nov 24, 2002 at 01:24:01 AM EST

    but I used a 9 volt, still managed to leave it on there way too long though. Guess I wanted to make ABSOLUTELY sure it was magnetized, and when I tried to take it off I burned myself nicely.
    "Painting is an infinitely minute part of my personality."
    -Salvadore Dali
    [ Parent ]
    Water rockets (none / 0) (#101)
    by El Volio on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 04:35:24 PM EST

    I forgot about the water rockets. They were made of red plastic, and you would fill them up with some amount of water, then pump it full of air with a hand pump. Once you let the latch go, it would take off, powered by the compressed air. My mother preferred this to the model rockets because it was safer I guess.

    I'm still pissed about that.

    "machines" out of regular blocks (none / 0) (#102)
    by texchanchan on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 08:44:30 PM EST

    These were little-kid wooden blocks--squares, rectangles, cutouts, short lengths of dowel (not the kind with the alphabet on them). I used to build tremendous (couple of feet high maybe), complex towers with a lever built into the base. We called them Exploders. After they were done and everyone had admired them, somebody would step on the lever and blocks went everywhere.

    I did that! (none / 0) (#107)
    by El Hober on Sun Nov 24, 2002 at 01:21:22 AM EST

    In fact, if I still had my blocks, I would probably still be doing it...
    "Painting is an infinitely minute part of my personality."
    -Salvadore Dali
    [ Parent ]
    Geek Toys, Part 1: Proto-geeks | 114 comments (106 topical, 8 editorial, 0 hidden)
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