The PLAY Experiments | No. 2

In the workplace or the research lab, adding a little Play to the mix often yields surprising results. The same can be said inside this Erlenmeyer flask. Here we have some ordinary dish soap, hydrogen peroxide and food coloring. But add a touch of potassium iodine, and a dash of play, and presto— Elephant toothpaste. Time to brush!

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Meet Simon, the world’s first smartphone. Released in 1994 by IBM, Simon had a touchscreen (though if you prefered, a stylus worked too). He had apps loaded via external memory drive. He could predict your next characters as you typed. Simon cost $899 and IBM sold 50,000 units.

Fantastical Nonfiction
Mutant Clouds!

It’s the… Cloud! The name sounds more suited for a comic book character than the moniker for a $100 billion dollar computer services industry. But soon even the most mild-mannered clouds will be getting some uncanny powers. Researchers at IBM, AT&T and ACS have developed a prototype system creating elastic bandwidth between clouds, reducing cloud-to-cloud set-up times from days to seconds. So all kinds of clouds, with all kinds of data sets, can join forces in an instant to become exponentially more powerful. For more about these mighty shapeshifters, read on →

The IBM PCjr is a computer who’s story begins before it was even announced. Just the sheer rumor of IBM working on a model of the PC targeted at home microcomputer users created a vaccum in the marketplace, where everyone decides to not buy computers because IBM is going to be releasing the next big thing soon. This was known as the “Peanut Panic”, as the rumored codename of the PCjr was the “Peanut”.

When it finally came out, everyone exhaled. The PCjr wasn’t very powerful, did not support the ISA bus cards that were popular with PCs at the time, was incompatible with most popular PC software (which contradicted IBM’s claims), and had an infamously bad keyboard. The keyboard was wireless (which is ahead of its time!), but it was a 62-key Chiclet keyboard. It was panned by everyone except IBM, who defended it religiously. To quote from an article in the February 21st, 1984 issue of PC Magazine:

And the touch - well, one wag said it was like massaging fruit cake. Personally, I found it more like jamming Plastic Wood into nail holes in my latest attempt at making another bookshelf for my home office, and that is not my favorite task in life.

The PCjr was unfortunate in that it had to compete with the launch of another microcomputer: the Apple Macintosh. And to twist the knife, Apple slashed the price of the Apple ][c (moreso for the educational market), then released the Apple ][e, which matched the specs of the high-end PCjr. And even then, the cheaper Commodore 64 and Atari 400/800 were just as good as the low-end PCjr.

There was one good thing to come out of this mess. IBM funneled $700,000 into a game studio to create a new video game to demonstrate the power of the PCjr. The game that was made… was King’s Quest I. Along with it, Sierra created the AGI game engine/platform, which made porting KQ1 to other systems that much simpler after the PCjr tanked.