Run Vintage Video Games (From Pac-Man to E.T.) and Software in Your Web Browser, Thanks to Archive.org

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Note: If you're having difficulties getting this software running in your browser give Firefox a try. It seems to work the best.

Movies, commercials, radio shows, even books: we've enjoyed the ability to effortlessly pull up things we remember from our childhood on the internet just long enough that it feels strange and uncomfortable when we can't. Up until now, though, we haven't had an easy way to re-experience the computer software we remember using in decades past. In my case, of course — and likely in a fair few of yours as well — I spent most of my computer time in decades past playing games and not, say, building balance sheets. But whichever you did, the Internet Archive's newly opened Historical Software Archive makes it easy to re-live those old days at the keyboard without having to buy a vintage computer on eBay, track down its software, remember all its required commands and keystrokes, and hope the floppy discs — or, heaven help us, cassette tapes — boot up correctly. They've made these wealth of games, applications, and oddities freely available with the development of JMESS, a Javascript-powered version of the Multi Emulator Super System, "a mature and breathtakingly flexible computer and console emulator that has been in development for over a decade and a half by hundreds of volunteers."

mystery-house

They say a bit more about the technology behind all this on the Internet Archive Blog, and the Historical Software Archive's front page offers recommendations for which "ground-breaking and historically important software products" to try first, including 1.) Jordan Mechner's Karateka (top), a hot game in 1980 and the most popular item in the archive today; 2) Sierra On-Line's Mystery House (above), which gave rise more or less by itself to a vast genre of graphic adventures; 3) three adaptations of Namco's Pac-Man (one for the Atari 2600, one remade for that same console, one lawsuit-inducing knockoff for the lesser-known Odyssey2); 4) E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, a "1982 adventure video game developed and published by Atari, Inc. for the Atari 2600 video game console;" and 5) Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston's Visi-Calc (below), the granddaddy of all spreadsheet programs, and arguably the single application that turned computing from hobby into necessity. Or how about 6) WordStar, the early word processing program? Just click on the "Run an in-browser emulation of the program" link to fire up any of these and, if you're under about 30, experience just what computer users of the late seventies and early eighties had to deal with — and how much fun they had.

Visicalc

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los AngelesA Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

Charlie Parker Plays with Jazz Greats Coleman Hawkins, Buddy Rich, Lester Young & Ella Fitzgerald (1950)

In a post earlier this year, we showcased one of the few known sound films of Charlie Parker performing live. Above, we have another very rare clip, from 1950, with Parker, young upstart alto, trading lines with veteran tenor Coleman Hawkins. Buddy Rich plays drums, and Hank Jones and Ray Brown play piano and bass.

Parker looks characteristically cool between the distinguished poise of Hawkins and the boyish exuberance of natural bandleader Buddy Rich who, in the second tune, exudes much goofy enthusiasm as he destroys the snare drum. This take may be hard bop at its hardest, which makes Parker’s understated contest with Hawkins all the more vital, propelled by some of the most frenetic rhythms in jazz history.

There is much more after the first two takes, as a voiceover segment announces. The rhythm section gets a little time, then they’re joined by Bill Harris and Lester Young. And then, at 12:18, the already all-star cast gets rounded out by a scatting Ella Fitzgerald off stage left, leaned over Hank Jones’ piano. This is a hell of a fun performance to watch, whether you’re a student of bop, have a music-historical bent, or just love seeing live jazz at the top of its game.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch Very First Film Adaptations of Shakespeare’s Plays: King John, The Tempest, Richard III & More (1899-1936)

Shakespeare sells: counterintuitive, but seemingly true. The film industry, which pumps out Shakespeare adaptations (of varying levels of creativity) on the regular, has known this ever since it could hardly have had much awareness of itself as a film industry. At the top, we have the only surviving scene from 1899's King John, where Shakespeare on screen all started.

"The next three decades would see varied approaches to the challenge of filming Shakespeare in a medium denied the spoken word," writes the British Film Institute's Michael Brooke, "from the imaginative tableaux-style mime of Percy Stow's The Tempest (1908) to truncated productions of the major tragedies (Richard III, 1911; Hamlet, 1913)." Excerpts from one of these last, F.R. Benson's Richard III, you can watch just below:

Early Shakespeare adapters like Benson tended to make less Shakespeare films than, as Brooke puts it, "compilations of memorable moments" from the plays. Then again, every genre of movie attempted simple things back then, and Shakespearean productions would grow far richer in the sound era, which 1929's The Taming of the Shrew ushered in for the Bard, and with no less a silver-screen legend than Mary Pickford in the role of Kate. Seven years later, the not-yet-Sir Laurence Olivier, "cinema's first great Shakespearean artist," would make his Shakespeare debut as Orlando in Paul Czinner's As You Like It (1936), which you can watch below. He'd almost made this debut as the lead in George Cukor's Romeo & Juliet, but ultimately turned it down.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los AngelesA Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

The Case for Studying Physics in a Charming Animated Video

Xiangjun Shi, otherwise known as Shixie, studied animation at RISD and physics at Brown. Then, she harnessed her training in both disciplines to create an animation explaining the virtue of studying physics. Pretty quickly, it gets to the crux of the matter: Studying physics will change how you see the world and how you understand your place in it, all while letting you wrap your mind around some pretty electrifying concepts. I think I'm sold!

You can find more videos by Shixie here.

H/T to Gareth for sending this video our way....

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In One of his Final Interviews, Frank Zappa Pronounces Himself “Totally Unrepentant”

In a year that marks some significant pop culture 20th anniversaries—Wired magazine, Nirvana’s In Utero, The X-Files--one in particular may get somewhat less press. This coming December will be twenty years since Frank Zappa died of prostate cancer at age 52, after achieving infamy, notoriety, and finally, actual, run-of-the-mill fame. The latter he didn’t seem to cherish as much, and certainly not during his sickness. Nevertheless, Zappa sat for a Today Show interview, one of his last, and discussed his current work and failing health. A young chipper Katie Couric gives Zappa an ambivalent intro as the “bizarre performer with a penchant for lascivious lyrics.” “What few know,” she goes on to say, “is that he’s also a serious and respected classical composer.” Zappa’s bona fides as a “serious” artist seem to grant him a pass, at least for a bit, from interviewer Jamie Gangel, who begins asking about the successful performances of his work in Europe, where he “sells out concert halls.”

Zappa responds respectfully, but is obviously quite bored and in pain. He’s subdued, downbeat, guarded. Then the inevitable grilling begins. “How much do you think you did for the sound and how much for the humor?” asks Gangel. “Both,” answers Zappa, “The goal here is entertainment.” Zappa pronounces himself “totally unrepentant” for his life. In answer to the question “is there anything you’ve done that you felt sorry for?” he simply says, “No.” And why should he confess on national television? There are many more interesting things to discuss, such as Zappa’s stand against Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) during the legendary 1985 Senate Hearings (along with Dee Snider and, of all people, John Denver). When the conversation turns to that history, Zappa learns a fun fact about Gore that genuinely catches him off-guard. The interview goes to some very sad places, and while Zappa hangs in there, it’s not particularly entertaining to see him staunchly refuse to view his condition through Gangel's lenses. He clearly doesn’t see his illness as theater and won't play penitent or victim.

A much more lively interview, by a much better informed interviewer, six months before Zappa's death, is with Ben Watson for Mojo. In both of these moments, however, Zappa insists on the only label he ever applied to himself: he’s an entertainer, nothing more. Whether touted as a “classical composer” (a phrase he doesn’t use) or thought of as an artist, Zappa to the very end dodged any hint of serious moral intentions in his music, which perhaps makes him one of the most honest musicians in all of pop culture history. He saved the serious intentions for an arena much more in need of them. His PMRC hearing testimony contains an eloquent statement of his ethos: "Bad facts make bad laws. And people who write bad laws are, in my opinion, more dangerous that songwriters who celebrate sexuality."

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

Watch an Exuberant, Young Woody Allen Do Live Stand Up on British TV (1965)

In 1965, Woody Allen took time out from his first film What’s New Pussycat to tape a half-hour of stand up in front of a live television audience in the UK.

Exuberant and horny in an adorable, puppyish way, the 30-year-old comic seemed to relish this return to his nightclub act. The comedy is situational, observational, autobiographical - imagine Louis CK with a PG vocabulary, no kids, a necktie and a twinkle in his eye. Already ensconced on the Upper East Side, he paints a decidedly downtown vision of a New York populated by artists' models, swinging Bennington girls, and women with pierced ears. Like Louis---or the young Brooklyn hipsters on Girls---he's itching to score.

It does a body good to see him at this "childlike" stage of his career.

As he told journalist Eric Lax in Conversations with Woody Allen:

"...comics are childlike and they are suing for the approval of the adults. Something goes on in a theater when you're fourteen years old and you want to get up onstage and make the audience laugh. You're always the supplicant, wanting to please and to get warm laughs. Then what happens to comics -- they make it and they become a thousand times more wealthy than their audience, more famous, more idolized, more traveled, more cultivated, more experienced, more sophisticated, and they're no longer the supplicant. They can buy and sell their audience, they know so much more than their audience, they have lived and traveled around the world a hundred times, they've dined at Buckingham Palace and the White House, they have chauffeured cars and they're rich and they've made love to the world's most beautiful women -- and suddenly it becomes difficult to play that loser character, because they don't feel it. Being a supplicant has become much harder to sell. If you're not careful, you can easily become less amusing, less funny. Many become pompous… A strange thing occurs: You go from court jester to king."

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Ayun Halliday wonders that she has yet to bump into this famous and curmudgeonly  New Yorker.  Follow her @AyunHalliday

“Titanic Sinking; No Lives Lost” and Other Terribly Inaccurate News Reports from April 15, 1912

Titanic-Sinking-No-Lives-Lost

Over at the Retronaut they've highlighted some early, overly-optimistic newspaper reports that came out after the Titanic sank in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912. The World reported "Titanic Sinking; No Lives Lost."  The Vancouver Daily Province declared "The Titanic Sinking, But Probably No Lives Lost." Meanwhile, The New York Times got closer to the truth with its lengthy headline: "Titanic Sinks Four Hours After Hitting Iceberg; 866 Rescued By Carpathia, Probably 1,250 Perish; Ismay Safe, Mrs. Astor Maybe, Noted Names Missing." The real death toll climbed to 1,514. Last year, on the 100th anniversary of the maritime tragedy, Christopher Sullivan, an editor at the Associated Press, researched the story and tried to explain how newspapers fell so short of the mark. Speaking to the web site Journalism.co.uk he gave this explanation:

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