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10 Things You Might Not Know About Atari


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Forty years ago, on November 29, 1972, a startup called Atari announced the release of Pong, a coin operated “video game.” The company’s name was taken from the ancient Japanese board game Go, and vaguely translates as “to hit the mark.” In celebration, here are ten things you might not know about Atari.

1. In today’s dollars, you could found Atari for the price of a MacBook Pro.

Nolan Bushnell founded Atari in 1972 with a princely investment of $250. (His co-founder, Ted Dabney, put in an equal amount.) Within five years, the company was worth $28 million. Within ten years, its annual sales reached $2 billion. Many consider Bushnell to be the father of the video game industry.

2. There were early hints that Pong might be a success.

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The Pong prototype was installed at Andy Capp’s, a local bar. Its coin slot came from a Laundromat. The screen was a repurposed television. Quarters dropped into a milk carton. A week after the machine went live, Atari got a call from the bar with bad news: the machine was acting up. When Al Alcorn, the engineer who built Pong, checked on it, he figured out the problem: it was overflowing with quarters. He replaced the milk carton with a bread pan.

3. “Have fun, make money.”

In 1974, an unkempt, sandal-clad hippie walked into Atari’s lobby and demanded a job. He was answering an ad in the San Jose Mercury that read “Have fun, make money.” The hippie wouldn't leave until he got a job. Al Alcorn was called in to help. “I was told, ‘We’ve got a hippie kid in the lobby. He says he’s not going to leave until we hire him. Should we call the cops or let him in?’ I said bring him on in!” The hippie would earn $5 an hour and work as a tech.

Had the personnel director called the cops, they would have arrested Steve Jobs. Other Atari employees: Ron Wayne and Steve Wozniak. The trio would, of course, go on to found Apple.

4. The Gospel According to St. Pong.

Atari’s in-house newsletter was called The Gospel According to St. Pong. (“Founded in service to the Atari family,” read the masthead.) There had been a company-wide contest to come up with a name, and “a committee of Atarians” chose from a list of candidates. Dennis Flinn of the purchasing department was the winner.

5. Wii Fit was great ... when it was invented in 1982.

Atari's Corporate Research Department created the first computerized exercise device. It was called Puffer, and was designed by Tim McGuinness. As written in an internal memo from the company: “There is a whole generation of kids (and adults) out there who aren’t into sports and/or don’t get enough exercise. At the same time there is a huge fitness market. We have seen how kids can become addicted to our video games. We are going to hook up an exercise bike to a video game, where the bike is the controller.”

6. Atari had a fierce competitor ... secretly owned by Atari.

Pinball distributors in the 1970s demanded exclusive deals for products before they would sign contracts. This would have impeded Nolan Bushnell’s ambitious plans to establish an entire industry. To get around the exclusivity requirements, Bushnell and his neighbor, Joe Keenan, secretly formed a second company that would “compete” against Atari, selling slightly modified Atari games to other distributors. They called it Kee Games. Ironically, Atari would later run into management trouble, while Kee Games continued operating smoothly and successfully. As a result, Joe Keenan was brought to Atari and promoted to president of the company.

7. Atari culture set the tone for Silicon Valley.

Atari was well known for its egalitarian work environment. It had a casual dress code, hot tub parties, and beer bashes to celebrate meeting revenue goals. “T-shirts and jeans were something of a status symbol at Atari,” wrote Bill Haslacher, a former writer at Atari. “I swear my boss had a whole T-shirt wardrobe. He even had a T-shirt with a tie painted on it.”

According to Jim Huether, a former Atari game designer, “When I started they just said, 'We want you to do a game in about six months... you have no set hours, we don't even want to see you until the game is almost done.' It was great.”

8. There have been a lot of Pongs.


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Pong’s longevity is notable, and there have been versions of the game on just about every platform out there. In 1975, Atari built a home version that connected to televisions. Other Atari-designed variants include Pong Doubles, Super Pong, and Quadripong. Steve Wozniak programmed the prototype of a single-player version, called Breakout, in a sleepless four-day engineering marathon. Super Breakout followed. Pong’s visibility isn’t limited to consoles and arcades—Paddle 1 and Paddle 2 recently spent time on the silver screen in the film Wreck-It Ralph.

9. The magazine might have been called Atari Power.

When Nintendo’s executives decided to expand to the American market, it considered partnering with Atari for its first console, and releasing it with the Atari brand. The deal fell through, and the Nintendo Advanced Video Gaming System project was stripped of its keyboard and tape-storage, redesigned, and released as the Nintendo Entertainment System.

10. Clean out your desk, Bill.

In a million dollar deal, Atari contracted a company called Microsoft to port the BASIC programming language to the Atari 800. A young developer named Bill Gates was responsible for the project. One year later, the software had yet to be completed, and Alan Miller, an Atari game designer and programmer, took over the project. This very likely makes him the only person to have fired Bill Gates.

Special thanks to Dr. Tim McGuinness for his contribution to this article.

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technology
Trash Talk: 7 Ways to Recycle Your Tech Gadgets
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Our tech gadgets’ lifespans are short. New smartphone models come out at least once a year, and it’s easy to want the latest and greatest computer, gaming console, or 4K TV—without considering what happens to our used devices.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans generated nearly 3.4 million tons of consumer electronics waste in 2014 [PDF] and that only around 40 percent of that waste was recycled—the rest went to landfills or incinerators. The U.S. is also a top destination for e-waste from other countries [PDF]—and in turn, we export much of our e-waste to places like China and India. However, more manufacturers and recycling companies are now taking steps to ensure the e-waste they collect is handled responsibly.

To do your part, don’t simply dump the old model in the trash—use one of these methods to resell or recycle.

1. DROP IT OFF AT A RETAIL STORE.

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Home and office suppliers often have in-store recycling programs that offer cash back or trade-in options. For instance, Best Buy accepts everything from appliances to car GPS units. (Not all products are accepted, though, so check before you go.) Staples offers trades on phones and tablets and will also take most other electronics, from fax machines to shredders, for recycling. Take your rechargeable batteries and cell phones to Lowes.

2. HOST AN ELECTRONICS DRIVE.

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Work with your employer or a group to put on a tech recycling event. It’s easy enough for people to bring in old TVs, audio equipment, and laptops. Then, you can collect all the items over the course of a few days or weeks and recycle them in bulk with a local organization. A good place to start: the EPA's list of certified electronics recyclers.

3. TRADE IT IN.

Several sites allow you to swap used electronics for cash. These companies refurbish, resell, or recycle old devices. To get started, enter your device’s details to receive a quote, then ship it in using a prepaid label and get money via PayPal, check, or gift card. Amazon’s Trade-In service accepts phones, tablets, speakers, and gaming equipment, provided the items are in good condition; Gazelle takes smartphones, tablets, and Apple computers; and NextWorth buys back tablets, smartphones, and wearables.

4. DOWNLOAD LETGO OR GONE.

Of course, there’s an app for that. Letgo is a free mobile marketplace for a variety of goods, including electronics, and all you have to do is take a picture of your old computer or TV, upload it, and then communicate with potential buyers within the app. Gone deals specifically with used tech, and the app does all the work, including pricing and generating shipping labels, for you—which means you don’t have to limit your sale options to your local area or meet strangers face to face.

5. SELL IT ON CRAIGSLIST, FACEBOOK, OR EBAY.

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Go old-school: List your old electronics on Craigslist, Facebook’s Marketplace, eBay, or your local classifieds. It’s not uncommon to find people who buy and refurbish gadgets for resale or to repurpose parts—or parents looking for a cheap used iPhone or laptop for their child. This way, you can negotiate the sale price and get cash on the spot. While there’s no guarantee that the buyer will dispose of your old phone or tablet responsibly once they’re done with it, selling does give the device a second (or third) life and hopefully will replace the purchase of a new product.

6. DONATE IT.

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While a new phone or gaming console seems like a no-brainer to some, there are many who can’t afford to purchase tech gadgets at all—new or used. If you aren’t able to find a recycling or donation center locally, consider one of these mail-in donation options:

Computers and peripherals: Goodwill has a partnership with Dell called Dell Reconnect. The program takes old computers—and anything you can connect to them, from keyboards to scanners—and refurbishes them for resale. Any parts that can’t be fixed are recycled. The National Cristina Foundation connects consumers to local nonprofits that need computers, and the World Computer Exchange accepts most computer equipment through a local chapter or by mail.

Cell phones: Several organizations collect old cell phones to refurbish, re-sell, and recycle in bulk and then use the funds to support their programming. The National Coalition for Domestic Violence will provide a prepaid shipping label for your phone, laptop, or gaming system, as will Lifecell —the latter purchases Lifestraws for those who lack access to clean water. Cell Phones for Soldiers takes gently used phones to provide communication services to troops and veterans.

Gaming gear: AbleGamers, which provides accessible gaming technology to people with disabilities, accepts donations of used consoles and games via mail. Gamers Outreach and Charity Nerds will take your donated gaming equipment to children who are hospitalized.

7. SEND IT BACK TO THE MANUFACTURER.

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Many companies, including Apple, Dell, HP, and IBM, offer branded recycling programs, which means they’ll take back used devices, recycle them responsibly, and often give you a gift card or a credit towards the purchase of a new device. Take your Apple products to your nearest store or create a prepaid shipping label online. IBM facilitates shipping of its branded products to preferred recyclers in certain states. Because Dell’s recycling program is in partnership with Goodwill, their take-backs aren’t limited to branded devices.

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Live Smarter
The Google Docs Audio Hack You Might Not Know About
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To the uninitiated, Google Docs may take some warming up to. But although it may seem like any other word processor, Docs offers its fair share of nifty features that can make your life a whole lot easier. The only problem is that few people seem to know about them.

The Voice Typing function is one such example. As Quartz discovered, this tool can be used to drastically cut down on the time it takes to transcribe an interview or audio recording—a feature that professionals from many fields could benefit from. Voice Typing might also be useful to those who prefer to dictate what they want to write, as well as those with impairments that prevent them from typing.

Whatever the case may be, it's extremely easy to use. Just open a blank document, click on "tools" at the top, and then select "voice typing." A microphone icon will pop up, allowing you to choose your language. After you've done that, simply click the icon when you're ready to start speaking!

Unfortunately, it's unable to pick up an audio recording played through speakers, so you'll need to grab a pair of headphones, plug them into your phone or voice recorder, and dictate what's said as you listen along. Still, this eliminates the hassle of having to pause and rewind in order to let your fingers catch up to the audio—unless you're the champion of a speed typing contest, in which case you probably don't need this tutorial.

According to Quartz, the transcription is "shockingly" accurate, even getting the spelling of last names right. For a how-to guide on the Voice Typing tool, check out Quartz's video below.

[h/t Quartz]

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