How photo booth magic survives in the era of selfies


Sam Pidilla and Violeta Tayeh strike a spirited pose inside a photo booth during an international convention of photo booth enthusiast in Chicago. Photo: David Pierini/Cult of Mac
Sam Padilla and Violeta Tayeh strike a spirited pose inside a photo booth during an international convention of photo booth enthusiasts in Chicago. Photo: David Pierini/Cult of Mac

Anatol Josephwitz passed the time in a Siberian prison camp and ignored the bitter cold by imagining an automated photography machine he had not yet invented.

Nearly 95 years later, the photo booth is as tough a survivor as its inventor.

Photo booth adventurers across many generations have described a magic that takes place when the curtain is drawn and the camera is awakened by placing a few coins in a slot. Inhibitions fall and an authentic inner self emerges on a strip of four photos. Best friends smash their faces together, a girl on a boy’s lap gives him his first kiss, and a wide-eyed college kid proudly mugs for a shot that will get pasted into a first passport.

Many of the so-called dip-and-dunk chemical machines, the kind found in arcades, amusement parks and bus stations, are disappearing, but replacing them are booths with digital cameras and dye-sublimation printers.

Game Boy camera pictures look primitive — and that’s refreshing


Towards the end of the life of the Game Boy player, Nintendo added a camera attachment. Photo: Solopress
Toward the end of the Game Boy's life, Nintendo added a camera attachment. Photo: Solopress

We turned up our noses at the first digital pictures because they didn’t look as good as film. The camera added to the Nintendo Game Boy in 1998 certainly didn’t make the case for a digital future.

The bulbous attachment recorded a fuzzy, postage-stamp-size, black-and-white image. That’s black and white with no gray shades in between.

If you wanted to share your photo, you could purchase a separate printing device that plugged into the Game Boy and spit out a tiny print. The printer took a little roll of paper and looked like one of those small credit-card-processing machines that spit out a receipt.

Today, several megapixels later, the look of the Game Boy camera is refreshingly vintage.

Triplecorder didn’t have a dynamic sound but it sure looked pretty


The Answer  ATR-102 triple corder. Photo: Georges Meguerditchian
The Answer ATR-102 Triplecorder. Photo: Georges Meguerditchian

There was a time when a device that had more than one function was something to behold.

It took a real feat of engineering to make a machine that could do several things without taking up a good chunk of your living room.

I don’t know if the Answer ATR-102 Triplecorder can be considered such a marvel of technology, but it is awfully cool to look at.

50 years ago, this amazing event showed us the future


The 1964-65 World's Fair in New York was mid-century snapshot of American industry and a first-look at technological wonders we take for granted today. Photo:
The 1964-65 World's Fair served up a midcentury snapshot of American industry and a first look at today's technological wonders. Photo: After the Fair

Mitch Silverstein would have many visions of the future in 1964 and the first would appear in full-color wonder, his big 6-year-old eyes staring back at him in disbelief.

He was seeing himself on a color television at the RCA Pavilion at the World’s Fair at Corona Park in Queens, New York.

“It left such a big impression on me,” Silverstein said. “That was a first for most people because that was a pretty major technological step.”

For all the things the New York World’s Fair of 1964-65 was said to get wrong, the fair showcased several technological wonders that, some 50 years later, we take for granted.

Soviet space propaganda: rocket porn from the past


Space will be ours. Long live the first woman astronaut!
Space will be ours. Long live the first woman astronaut!

The Cold War and that whole mutual assured destruction thing sure made the space race fun.

Every astronaut strapped into a rocket and sent toward the stars was an ideological finger in the chest of the other side, each mission asserting who had the better technology or, more importantly, the most firepower.

The United States took its licks as the Soviet Union was first to launch a satellite, put a man in space (and then a woman) and execute the first spacewalk. Only after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon could the Americans begin to perceive they were finally winning the race.

But the Reds were absolutely unmatched when it came to using talented illustrators to make the average citizen believe their country would conquer the cosmic frontier.

Once-famous robot lives quietly away from limelight


Elektro, a robot built by Westinghouse in 1937, was a star at the World's Fair in 1939-40. Photo: Courtesy of Scott Schaut/Mansfield Memorial Museum
Photo: Scott Schaut/Mansfield Memorial Museum

America’s oldest surviving robot no longer smokes cigarettes.

Long lines of people no longer wait to see him, topless women haven’t danced around him in years and his legs have been broken since that amusement park gig.

But Elektro is home now, his head reunited with his body, cared for by a man named Scott Schaut, who is so fiercely protective that museum requests to borrow the gold robot usually end with him replying “over my dead body.”

Radio Shack may die, but its ’80s-era portable PC lives on


The Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100 came out in 1983 and was a popular tool with writers.
The Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100 came out in 1983 and was a popular tool with writers.

Some journalists remember the day the future arrived: We felt like James Bond on special assignment when our editors, playing the part of provision master Q, handed us the portable device that would allow a story to be written in the field and transmitted back to the office.

So when Radio Shack said earlier this month it would file for bankruptcy, more than a few of us flashed back to the TRS-80 Model 100, one of the first notebook-style computers.

Released in 1983, it set portable computing in motion. The TRS-80’s liquid-crystal display showed eight lines of text. The computer came in 8K and 24K versions and weighed just over 3 pounds. A later version, the Model 200, boasted a flip-up screen that showed even more text, but the original model was by far Radio Shack’s most popular, with more than 6 million sold.

First wearable computers made you look like a freaking Borg


The Xybernaut Poma was considered the first wearable computer - and a tech failure.
The Xybernaut Poma was considered the first wearable computer - and a tech failure.

It would have been hard to don a Xybernaut Poma wearable PC in 2002 without uttering the phrase, “Resistance is futile.”

What was arguably the first wearable computer had the look of a Borg, a cybernetic villain from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Borg’s design, a menacing mashup of species and technology, was badass, but Poma users just looked awkward. The computer’s processing unit was portable enough, fitting in a pocket or clipping to a belt. But once you added the keyboard to the forearm and a clunky-looking, head-mounted optical piece, your cool crashed like a bad hard drive.

As compact discs die off, so does a piece of me


A Yamaha CD-555 with the CD carosel stopped. Photo:  Leo-setä/Flickr
A Yamaha CD-555 with the CD carousel stopped. Photo: Leo-setä/Flickr

I stood in the doorway, still teary-eyed from goodbyes with my parents. There, before me, sat the first lesson of my freshman year in college.

Peter Otto had a blond mohawk and twirled a shiny butterfly knife. He had already adorned his side of the room with posters of his favorite bands: The Meatmen, Dead Kennedys and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

“I guess I’m your roommate,” I said and he pointed to the lower bunk. I was chubby, an Eagle Scout and a mama’s boy. But I had one cool card I could play — a boombox that played compact discs, a relatively new music format.

But with only two CDs — a synth-pop album by Kenny Loggins and the debut record from Bruce Hornsby & the Range — there would be no cool, not then anyway. Otto wound up being the best roommate I ever had during two college tours. Some of his music made it into my CD collection, which accelerated in the fall of 1985, but I doubt he ever took to Loggins.

Nearly 30 years later, I keep reading stories that eulogize the CD, report plummeting album sales and lay out how the music industry is now taking its product directly to customers through social media, streaming services or direct downloads from a group’s website.

Will flying cars ever get off the ground?


The Curtiss Autoplane in 1917 is considered the first flying car. It hopped but never got far off the ground.
The Curtiss Autoplane in 1917 is considered the first flying car. It hopped but never got far off the ground.

The first airplane was in flight for 12 seconds and flew 120 feet. But it was enough to send imaginations airborne.

  Not long after Kitty Hawk, aviators were trying to figure out how to fly a car.

Glenn Curtiss was the first with the Autoplane in 1917. It had a triwing, looked like a Model T and hopped. Before he could actually get its wheels off the ground, World War I broke out and Curtiss diverted his energy toward building aircraft for the U.S. Army.

While we have figured out how to put people in space, we’re still tinkering with a future that has yet to arrive. If you’re waiting for George Jetson’s future, consider that the car his family flew around in was a 2062 model.