When I Grew Up, We Had The Best Toys.

No question in my mind that we had the best toys and gadgets when I grew up in the mid 1970's. Being born in 1968, my childhood hit right at the end of the hippie 60's era and before the real hardcore computer craze hit full force in the late 80's. I guess one could say the peak of my "childhood" was around 1976. I would have been about 8 years old.  

We didn't have internet yet, but we could almost sense it had we known to look around the corner just a bit.  The internet as we know it today, (primarily websites and / or the "web"), would arrive a little later, sometime after high school if I recall,and yet I had flashes and visions of it early on with things like UseNet... What Was UseNet? Well I only barely remember except in that it was like using Outlook 2010, only way more complicated and you weren't sending emails but rather downloading thing that others had uploaded in 100 or 1000 parts that had to be rejoined into one large part once all the parts had been downloaded. Each part took about 20 minutes to download usually. Now if you downloaded 999 parts and yet one part was corrupt, well you basically wasted your time and had to start all over or find a thread that had all 1,000 parts complete. There is where the use of ALL CAPS by frustrated users started.


The biggest problem in this era was you couldn't just "Google it". If you couldn't figure out UseNet, your only recourse was to post a question within UseNet and as such was a Catch-22 situation. Only the fittest minds willing to download the latest software survived this era and made it to the next level.

But that was the internet in the mid 80's, and I've jumped way ahead of myself.

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In the mid 1970's, there was no internet, there was no social networking, there were no websites, chat rooms, instant messages, in fact there really were no home computers just yet. There were no terms like graphics, or photoshop, home buttons, instagram, or things cell phones.

It really wasn't until 5th Grade at my elementary school, "Edgewood", located in the town Scarsdale N.Y, that I was confronted one day with a single TRS-80 that could play Chess. That would have been about 1976 or 1977.

I remember walking into the class room for the first time, the computer was all alone on a desk to the left against the wall. This squarish shape, a keyboard, a screen or something. Some slots.  I couldn't keep my eyes off of it during class. None of us could. The teacher allotted us each some time. It was just THE coolest part of my 5th grade experience I can remember because it was THE first computer I actually remember seeing or touching. (About the same time, coincidentally, that the Atari 2600 was born, and new pastime was created, playing "Video Games". And From that point on, Video Games and Computer Games would compete, and still complete to this day, for users. For the ones that wanted to just Play, vs the ones that wanted to Create.)

For me though, before 5th grade, before all that computer stuff, before the internet, because the internet ran on computers, and those computers were based on electronics before them, I grew up with these electronics, before all the computer stuff. And in the mid 1970's the focus was electronics.

In the 1970's there was a wave of small and not so small electronic gadgets and games and devices. Casio calculator watches. Electronic Football, Cassette recorders, CB Radios, Walki Talkies, Digital (kind of) Clock Radios, Color TV's. Most importantly though it was the birth of the small electronics age and the LED, the Light Emiting Diode,  I remember vividly being fascinated at the age of maybe 5 or 6 with a new gadget, the electronic calculator by Texas Instruments. Red lights, numbers. Wow, it just blew me away. That was where it all began.
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Merlin was a gadget that had every kind of game you can imagine within the limitations of 11 lights (which doubled as buttons) and 4 specialized buttons. Tic tac toe, follow the pattern, a musical instrument ... And ...Well I don't remember much more than that... But it was fun. As fun as 11 red flashing lights could be. If you think about it, the grid of lights is laid out exactly like pixels on a modern computer screen except instead of 1920 x 1080 resolution it was a bit more modest at 3 x 3, and two control pixels, top and bottom. It was portable too so it was a good companion on long car trips with my parents.

Big Trax 

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 Like some of the other gadgets and toys I grew up with, Big Trax was way ahead of it's time. It was a programmable vehicle that was fascinating to play with because instead of "driving" it, you told it what to do ahead of time, by coding in it's instructions, and it then followed these instructions to perform tasks. For example, move forward 4 lengths, turn clockwise 90 degrees, move forward 8 lengths, turn clockwise 90 degrees, fire laser, turn counter clockwise 270 degrees, move forward 6 lengths, turn clockwise 90 degrees... wait... where was it supposed to be now? Exactly. That was  the fun. I remember a friend of mine also had one and we put the two of them head to head to challenge each other to crazy obstacle courses that both usually failed miserably at. But it was the whole "program a robot" concept that, looking back was very advance for its' time.

Now jump ahead 40 years and realize my son is heading into an advanced course in 6th grade where they will program robotic vehicles to perform tasks. Sound Familiar?

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This was a vector based home video game console, way ahead of its time (it had 64kb of Ram where the ColecoVision had 32kb and Atari 2600 had just 4k - numbers that are less thsn the size of your average email message ...without attachment... these days), and no doubt because of this new technokogy, failed to fully live up to its designers expectations because there were like 7 games that ever came out. And they all kinda sucked. But the graphics, the vectors, were straight out of the console's in the x-wings in star wars as the blew up the Death Star.

Mattel Electronic Football
Coleco Electronic Quarterback
Mattel Electronic Basketball
Tandy Color Computer
Atari 2600