RW83 - My IntelliVision Blister

This week, Dan and John talk about

The show title refers to a little callus that John had developed while playing games on his IntelliVision.

John was just threaded back into his normal life and his normal patterns after his trip to Washington DC.

Draft version
The segments below are drafts that will be incorporated into the rest of the Wiki as time permits.

The Amazon Alexa (RW83)

John’s mom is a big fan of Alexa and talks to her all the time. She wants to know a lot of things from her that John doesn’t want to know, like what the weather is and what band wrote the song ”Bad Company”. She is such a good friend of Alexa that she bought like 9 of them, one for everybody in her life. John didn’t know what it was, but she knew he does want it. John’s Alexa sat in the box in the corner of the kitchen table for 9 months until his mom came by to set it up. At 83 years old, it didn’t just take 3 minutes, but she figured it out. After that, Alexa sat on the bar in the kitchen. At the time John was dating his millennial girlfriend and she got really uncomfortable with a live Alexa on the table. She worked at SnapChat and she was sure that Amazon was recording all her thoughts. John just ignored Alexa at first, but periodically he would walk by seeing her sitting there and would ask her to play Iron Man which she did and that was cool! The problem is that John has a Sonos and he wasn’t 100% clear how to set up Alexa to play through the Sonos. Alexa remains on his bar in the kitchen and is listening to all his conversations, although John has not spoken to her directly for 4 months. The last time was when he asked her to play Iron Man.

Sonos and John’s music in milk cartons on his iPad (RW83)

A long time ago John had a friend who was one of the early Twitter people and then worked at Sonos. He asked John if he wanted a Sonos, but John didn’t even know what it was. His friends was sure he would figured it out and after that conversation a bunch of Sonos arrived. John has a big house, but he does not want a Sonos in every bathroom, so he gave some to his mom, some to his daughter’s mother and some to his sister. They all hooked them up in their homes and got good at using them. They even came out to John and set up his Sonos a way that is almost useful to him. The Sonos app is bad and unintuitive. For a long time John had music on his iPad. At one time he plugged it into a computer without understanding the syntax of the question that came up until he finally gave in and the music was gone. The iPad had been the only place where that music was and now it is only on some drive somewhere and John is at a loss. He used to play the music that was stored in milk crates full of records on this iPad through his Sonos. Not only is his music gone by now, but updating the software on this iPad bricked it and made it useless.

John managed to isolate the speaker that is in his daughter’s room from the other ones in the house. When he has to get up at 06:00am in the morning to get her to school, he will turn the speaker on in her room and play some music from his iPhone. Her mother has set up some playlists on Spotify or Pandora or Napster or something. John cut a little path through the woods where he puts his thumb here and here and music starts playing in her room. Then John makes her a peanut butter sandwich and an egg in a cup and packs her little bag while she is listening to Grandmaster Flash at a low volume in her room. When he finally gets in there, she is not 7000 leagues under the sea, but has come up to a place where she is wakeupable. At present that is the extend to which he is using the Sonos. At the time when he had it all going and the house resonated like a Cello, it was wonderful, but he doesn’t do that very often anymore. It is just a daughter-waking device. Somewhere John feels he still has a milk carton full of 10.000 records on a disc, but who knows whether Apple thinks he is still authorized to own it because he hasn’t transferred it in a timely fashion. This is the thing that bounces him out of the utopia that those companies think they are producing: John wants to own the vinyl or the disc for his music precisely for that reason! Apple says that once you buy it on iTunes, it is your and you can transfer it to all your other devices, but then you can only transfer it to so many devices which includes ones that don’t exist anymore and now he is out of devices.

John breaking his phone (RW83)

After breaking his phone, John got an old iPhone 6 from a friend, but he didn’t sync it to his computer, because it had 5 months worth of pictures that the person who gave it to John hadn’t synced to their own computer. John put his SIM-card in and now this phone is working as a kind of Frankenstein. It will ring if you call John’s phone number. If John texts you, it will come from his phone number, but the phone does not have John’s adressbook on it. Dan urged John to let them get those pictures off there and then reset the phone so it will be all new.

John had been talking about getting a flip-phone and many listeners had beenvery excited about that! The current state of affairs is that John has this iPhone with zero functionality. He can go on Safari and look things up, but it does not have his email, his Instagram, his Twitter or his Facebook accounts. It is working as a text and telephone device that also has Google. It is working weirdly as a flip phone, but he can still google the grandsons of Gingis Khan. John hasn’t posted to Instagram in two weeks, but he did go on Twitter from his laptop and posted a couple of things which was very exciting. It is nice to be on your laptop because you can live in one corner of Twitter and don’t have to go into the big room. If Twitter is Versailes, then John is walking around the working rooms now, like the kitchen and the stables, but he is not going into the hall of mirrors. John has not abandoned his plans for a flip-phone yet, because he just wants email, text and phone in one little device that doen’t distract him.

Sudoku and Minesweeper (RW83)

While John was in an airport with his daughter on his way to Washington DC, he showed her how to play Sudoku on the back of a magazine and she got it really quickly. Then he downloaded an app for easy Sudoku to this Frankenstein phone. There must be a million people who want easy Sudoku, because for some that is just like raking the gravel in their Japanese gardens. As it turned out, that game did not have an easy level and he couldn’t let her play it, but during a day and a half, that Sudoku had injected itself into his own day. During the week where he didn’t have anything like that on his phone, he would just stare out the window every time he had to wait for 15 minutes and watch people go by. The Sudoku was only on there for a day and a half, but whenever he had 15 minutes to spare he would pull it out and would start playing.

When John wakes up, he can spend an hour and a half going through his phone responsibilities, like check all his social media, answer emails and reply to texts. Today when all that was done already, he played a little game of Sudoku. It is the dumbest thing and even if it is great for keeping his brain flexible, he is susceptible to retreating into this game for a little while. He doesn’t have those other four games anymore that really plagued him before, old people games like mahjongg, sudoku, spider solitare and that gem diamond game (not candy crush). They are games for old people and for really young people who have just gotten their first computer. For years, John’s favorite game was Minesweeper that was bundled with all the PCs. When he got an Apple round about 2001, there was still an active PC in the house to play Minesweeper, which he would sometimes do from 1am to 9am. People in John’s life thought that Minesweeper was some kind of opiate that was doing real damage to his life and his relationships. He didn’t get enough sleep and he wasn’t responsive because he was thinking about Minesweeper all the time, a game that somebody probably programmed for a High School science fare. There are surely a lot of listeners their age who had the same kind of problem and were playing it a bit too much. The same is true for Tetris. You can still play Minesweeper online! Back when John did a lot of business on the phone, he really felt he was more engaged in the conversation if he was playing Minesweeper at the same time and it made long meetings tolerable.

The light wall at SeaTac (RW83)

Throughout the 1970:s and 1980:s there was a pretty large relaxation room at SeaTac airport, that was almost completely dark and full of soft chairs to lay back and fall asleep in. Almost an entire wall in this room was made up of LEDs with 4-bit patterns of light moving around. The opposite walls was made of smoked glass and being able to see the light show while you were walking around the airport would entice you over. It was during a time when airports thought of themselves as public places and not as just as awful bus stations. This room was the source of great fascination for John and his sister. What made it triply fascinating was the control panel that was sitting in the center of the room like an easel, a pillar with a brushed metal face plate like a lectern at the top. There was an enormous number of buttons you could push, probably 20x20 red buttons the size of an Aspirin. It duplicated what the wall of lights looked like, but as you pushed these buttons there was no way to know whether you were actually changing what the wall was doing. What a great way to devote quite a large amount of floor space in an airport, acknowleging that people want to lay down sometimes when they are stuck in an airport and they want a place to chill out. It was there as late as 1989/90 and then one day it was just gone. It was so gone that John can’t even tell you where it had been. John used to know that airport inside and out, but even though the recent changes had been years ago, it still feels like a strange place and like the ”new airport”. All the humanity had been taken out of it! There had been an ice cream parlour over there that had always been there, there had been a weird sculpture in the middle where all the kids would play on and there had been the room with the lights. Down at the end of the hall there was the wall where they would hang the big wreath at Christmas time. It had been a hall, but now it is a security theater mall.

John’s dad’s relationship to technology (RW83)

John’s dad had a special relationship to technology. When he got something good, it was only by chance. He liked buying radios and cameras and stereo equipment, but he was not a conesoure. He would not develop a relationship with the guy at the stereo barn in order to buy a Macintosh receiver and listen to his classic sides with the diamond tip on the turn table. Instead he was an impulse buyer and if there was some Sanyo by the cash register, he would think it was great because he thought they would need one of those. His dad would not even try the good consumer electronics, but he bought 4 shitty ones instead. Even at the age of 10 John found that very frustrating. It is not that they didn’t have a cassette player in the house, but they had too many cassette players and none of them were good. It is not that they didn’t have games at Christmas or presents at Christmas, but they had too many presents and none of them were good. They were all stuff his dad bought at the last minute when he was walking through an airport.

The one piece of technology John’s dad did care about was his Canon AE1 camera. He even bought a second one when there was a later iteration called the Canon AE1 program. In the end he had 3 Canon camera bodies and a whole range of lenses because taking pictures was what he liked to do. He was a terrible photographer and John has boxes and boxes of his photos. His dad loved going to the photo stop to get his pictures developed. When they did their rounds through town together, which they liked to do, his dad would sometimes go to the back of this Chinese restaurant and disappear in there for 15 minutes before they would drive on. John has no idea what was going on in there and what his routines were. His dad also had a friend who owned a record store and that friend would make 8-track mixtapes for him, which was very unusual because you couldn’t record on an 8-track as a consumer. They had an 8-track in the car and his dad’s friend would put all these great Artie Shaw sides on a tape with handwritten labels. It felt that they were in the know. At last they would go by the photo stop where his dad knew the people. He would bring his new film in there to be developed and they would give him the prints. At some time in the early 80:s they invented doubles which would later they become standard. Everybody got 2 prints of the same photo.

John’s IntelliVision video game (RW83)

Casual gaming like Minesweeper or Sudoku is the only kind of game that John ever played after he had grown up. He never turned on a game console saying ”Now I am going to play”. As a kid, John had an IntelliVision with that little disc on the controller. Dan would play IntelliVision in the back of the mall. What John really wanted was an Atari 2600, because his friend across the street had one and John really liked the Combat game. He didn’t have any video game besides those portable Matell Football games. They were rudimentary at best, but were still so much fun! It felt like you had just enough control that it was a real game, but there was also enough randomness in it to make it really frustrating, like that wall of lights in the relaxation room at the old SeaTac. When it became time for Christmas, John wanted an Atari 2600.

What he got was an IntelliVision, which was still the one instance where his dad impulse-bought a toy for John that some people could argue was a good gift, rather than show up with something that was either clearly made for younger kids or was clearly the cheaper immitation of a superior game. There was a lot going on with the IntelliVision: There was a Star Wars game and there was a cartridge called an IntelliVoice that would talk to you in war games. The problem for John was that video gaming is very social and you are supposed to invite a friend over to play. You don’t want to just sit and play against the game. Everybody had an Atari 2600 and everybody knew how to play those games, which was one of the reasons John wanted a 2600. Whenever he went to a friend’s houses to play on the 2600, they would be good at them and John would be bad, so his friends would waste him which was fun for them. He was the only kid with an IntelliVision and during his whole life he only met a couple of people who said they had one, too. He knew nobody in Anchorage who had one. When he would invite people over, they would try and familiarize themselves with the disc controller, but even if they had a fun time playing, it never really turned into a thing where peole would have wanted to come over and play his IntelliVision.

There was something about the IntelliVision that made it into more of an intellectualist’s game console. There was more attention to detail in the animations of the characters running on screen and in the sprites moving around. It was a much higher end system than the Atari 2600. For Dan, it always felt a little bit janky, which is hard to explain, because the quality was clearly there, but all the Atari games, especially the Activision games like Hit Fall or Chopper Command were like a whole other level and all the other games sucked compared to them. Those were the games that they had played and played when they were kids. There was something on the Atari that made those games just fun to play, even though Dan knew that the Intellivision was better. The graphics were better, but there was something missing, it was the Beta Max problem all over again. John’s family did have a Beta Max which quite soon became useless. The argument people made in the video game magazines was that the IntelliVision had some potential for the future of gaming. John is sure that somewhere in a suburb of Chicago there were neighborhoods where six kids had IntelliVisions and they were using all that technology spearheading gaming in a new direction, but all John wanted to do was play Tank Commander and have some friends come over. He never used the term ”we” when talking about his IntelliVision, but it was a thing that had an ”I” pronoun associated with it. Neither his sister nor anybody else in the house played it. Only occasionally a friend would come over and look at it.

A lot of the technology things that John would buy over the years would end up sitting on the shelf staring at him with this low hum saying that they were gradually going obsolete and he knows it! One day they would not be usefull at all anymore, but you were leaving them there alone to wither. That blood is on you! He would look at the IntelliVision and he would turn it on out of some feeling of obligation to it. There were some games he played enought o develop a callus on his thumb from using the disc, his little IntelliVision blister. Immediately after that, while new titles were still introduced for the 2600, smarty pantses with TRS-80:s and Apple IIe:s were stepping forward and said that you won’t need a game console anymore because all the gaming is now going to happen on computers. Dan’s recollection of this era is about the TI99 home computer that had a cartridge port very much like the Atari or the other devices, but he doesn’t know if a single game had ever been made for it. These things were very expensive and they plugged into your TV, jumping past the C64 / VIC-20 time period. Dan never had so much fun playing computer games than he had with the C64. It took cartridges, but if you were lucky enough you could get games on floppy discs as well. It looked like games would happen on computers now until the Nintendo dropped. It was the next iteration of home gaming and it reintroduced the idea of gaming on a standalone console, which soon became the standard way of thinking about gaming. John never asked for a Nintendo in 1985, partly because he felt burned by the IntelliVision.

His mom was born in 1934 and she was 20 in 1954 at the advent of Rock ’n’ Roll. She lived in the Midwest and she was dating a disc jockey who called himself ”Merve the Swerve” for the big radio station in Columbus, Ohio at the time. She met Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino and all these characters as part of events she would go to with her boyfriend. As she was 20 years old she was wearing hornrim glasses and a beehive hairdo, but she saw Rock ’n’ Roll as the music for hillbilly kids. At 20 years old she was a grown-up, listening to Jazz and this was just teenager music! It is interesting to hear her talk about 1954 and 1955 because. When John as 21/22 years old and Grunge took off, he felt he was one of the younger guys in the scene, but when his mother was 20 years old in the 1950s, she was a full-grown woman and she was not going to listen to teeny-bopper music, going to sock hops and stuff.

The analogy for John is that he felt too grown up for video games when he was a Junior in High School. Video games were something a ten-year-old would do, but not a 16-year-old. Two years later, gaming had become an acceptable thing for you to continue to do as you grew up. There were plenty of people John’s age who made that transition and who did game, but he was on his way to college and he felt he should be reading books with dusty leather covers instead of letting Mario jump over barrels. Even in the 1990:s this generational gap was still there when he went over to his potdealer’s house and everybody was sitting around getting high and playing the Nintendo, which was job number 1 for most of those people. John would sit there and watch the Nintendo getting played while doing the age-old dance where he had to hang out at this house for a while and not just show up, buy some pot and leave, because he didn’t have enough money. Instead he had to come like ”ey man, I only have 8 dollars”, sitting on the couch for a while and play video games.

Extra content

They talk a bit more about Dan’s CalicoVision during the Extra Content of this episode. Dan had only two games total: Smurf (possibly the worst game ever made) and Spy Hunter (where you just shot things). He didn’t even have Donkey Kong on it! They would trade games at the school for the Atari 2600. Dan traded a game once where the kid opened up his Combat, a game that came with the Atari, and swapped the internals of the cartridge with Dan’s game. To him it was just a joke, he was one of the richest kids in the school. He had a Movado watch while Dan had a Casio. This was so wrong and it bothers him to this day. ”Craig, you are a dick!” Dan should look him up, it is always interesting to find the old bully.

The intellectual bummer for John is that he is probably part of the last generation that did not make it onto the internet en masse. If you go to the high school reunion pages for the classes around John’s, there are like 70 people online. John graduated in 1986 and there where 85 people online. By the class of 1988, their page has 450 people on it. John will always be a member of the generation that didn’t fully get online. When he looks for the people of his childhood, like for his best friend Aaron Kinneman or the girl that he lost track of or the guy who would tourment him, he usually doesn’t get anything, because they had kids young and now they are grandparents and they think of the Internet as a thing for kids or something they missed the boat on. Their grandkid showed them how to use Facebook. Dan found his bully as they were talking, he is a dentist and a pilot and there is a picture of him out on the beach with his wife and their two kids and Dan wonders if he still has that cartridge.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License