Welcome to Bag Week 2018. Every year your faithful friends at TechCrunch spend an entire week looking at bags. Why? Because bags — often ignored but full of our important electronics — are the outward representations of our techie styles, and we put far too little thought into where we keep our most prized possessions.
I’ve always been wary of modular, rail-based bag systems. They’ve always struck me as rather military and imposing, which I suppose is kind of the point. Even Mission Workshop, whose other bags I have always enjoyed, put out one that seemed to me excessive. But they’ve tempered their style a bit and put out the Radian, a solid middle ground between their one-piece and modular systems.
The Radian is clearly aimed at the choosy, pack-loving traveler who eschews roller bags for aesthetic — which describes me to a tee. Strictly rolltop bags (originating in cyclist and outdoors circles) end up feeling restrictive in where you can stow gear, and rollers are boxy and unrefined. So the Radian takes a bit from both, with the added ability to add bits and pieces according to your needs.
What it is: Adaptable, waterproof, well-designed and not attention-grabbing
What it isn’t: Simple or lightweight
The core pack is quite streamlined, with no protruding external pockets whatsoever. There’s the main compartment — 42 liters, if you’re curious — and a cleverly hidden laptop compartment between the main one and the back pads. Both are independently lined with waterproof material (in addition to the water-resistant outer layer) and the zippers are similarly sealed. There’s also a mesh pouch hidden like the laptop area that you can pop out or stow at will.
You can roll up the rolltop and secure it with Velcro, or treat it as a big flap and snap it to a strap attached to the bottom of the bag — the straps themselves are attached with strong Velcro, so you can take them off if you’re going roll style. The “Cobra” buckle upgrade is cool but the standard plastic buckles are well made enough that you shouldn’t feel any pressure to pay the $65 to upgrade.
Access is where things begin to diverge. Unlike most rolltop packs, you can lay the bag on the ground and unzip the top as if it were a roller, letting you access the whole space from somewhere other than the top. The flap also has its own mesh enclosure. This is extremely handy and addresses the main ergonomic issue I’ve always had with strictly top-loading bags.
In a further assimilation of rolltop qualities, there’s a secret pocket at the bottom of the bag that houses a large cloth cover that seals up the pack straps and so on, making the bag much more stowable and preventing TSA or baggage handlers from having to negotiate all that junk or bag it up themselves.
Of course, a single large compartment is rarely enough when you’re doing real traveling and need to access this document or that gadget in a hurry. So the Radian joins the Mission Workshop Arkiv modular system, which lets you add on a variety of extra pockets of various sizes and types. Just be careful that you don’t push it over the carry-on size limit (though you can always stuff the extra pockets inside temporarily).
There are six rails — two on each side and two on the back — and a handful of accessories that go on each, sliding on with sturdy metal clips. The pack I tested had two zippered side pockets, the “mini folio” and the “horizontal zip” on the back, plus a cell phone pocket for the front strap.
They’re nice but the rear ones I tried are a bit small — you’d have trouble fitting anything but a pocket paperback and a couple of energy bars in either. If I had my choice I would go with the full-size folio, one zippered and one rolltop side pocket. Then you can do away with the cell pocket, which is a bit much, and have several stowage options within reach. Plus the folio has its own rails to stick one of the small ones onto.
There’s really no need to get the separate laptop case, since the laptop compartment would honestly fit two or three. It’s a great place to store dress shirts and other items that need to stay folded up and straight.
As far as room, the 42 liters are enough on my estimation to pack for a five-day trip — that is to say, I easily fit in five pairs of socks and underwear, five t-shirts, a sweater or two, a dress shirt, some shorts and a pair of jeans. More than that would be kind of a stretch if you were also planning on bringing things like a camera, a book or two and all the other usual travel accessories.
The main compartment has mesh areas on the side to isolate toiletries and so on, but they’re just divisions; they don’t add space. There are places for small things in the outside pockets but again, not a lot of room for much bigger than a paperback, water bottle or snack unless you spring for the folio add-on.
As for looks — the version I tested was the black camo version, obviously, which looks a little more subdued in real life than my poorly color-balanced pictures make it look. Personally I prefer the company’s flat grey over the camo and the black. Makes it even more low-profile.
In the end I think the Radian is the best option for anyone looking at Mission Workshop bags who wants a modular option, but unless you plan on swapping out pieces a lot, I’m not personally convinced that it’s better than their all-in-one bags like the Rambler and Vandal. By all means take a look at putting a Radian system together, but don’t neglect to check if any of the pre-built ones fit your needs as well.
The best thing about this 15×7 inch backpack is the compact size and internal pouches. The Nomadic can hold multiple pens, notebooks, and accessories, all stuck in their own little cubbies, and you can fit a laptop and a few books in the main compartment. This is, to be clear, not a “school” backpack. It’s quite compact and I doubt it would be very comfortable with a much more than a pair of textbooks and a heavier laptop. It’s definitely a great travel sack, however, and excellent for the trip from home to the office.
The bag comes in a few colors including turquoise and navy and there is a small hidden pouch for important papers and passports. There is a reflective strip on the body and it is water repellent so it will keep your gear dry.
Again, my favorite part of this bag are the multiple little pockets and spaces. It’s an organizer’s dream and features so many little spots to hide pens and other gear that it could also make an excellent tourist pack. It is small enough for easy transport but holds almost anything you can throw at it.
Nomadic is a solid backpack. It’s small, light, and still holds up to abuse. I’m a big fan of the entire Nomadic line and it’s great to see this piece available in the US. It’s well worth a look if you’re looking for a compact carrier for your laptop, accessories, and notebooks.
WP Standard – formerly called Whipping Post Leather – makes rugged leather bags, totes, and briefcases and their Rucksack is one of my favorites. Designed to look like something a Pony Express rider would slip on for a visit to town, this $275 is sturdy, handsome, and ages surprisingly well.
There are some trade-offs, however. Except for two small front pouches there are no hidden nooks and crannies in this spare 15×15 inch sack. The main compartment can fit a laptop and a few notebooks and the front pouches can hold accessories like mice or a little collection of plugs. There is no fancy nylon mesh or gear organizers here, just a brown expanse of full grain leather.
I wore this backpack for a few months before writing this and found it surprisingly comfortable and great for travel. Because it is so simple I forced myself to pare down my gear slightly and I was able to consolidate my cables and other accessories into separate pouches. I could fit a laptop, iPad Pro, and a paperback along side multiple notebooks and planners and I could even overstuff the thing on long flights. As long as I was able to buckle the front strap nothing fell out or was lost.
This bag assumes that you’re OK with thick, heavy leather and that you’re willing to forgo a lot of the bells and whistles you get with more modern styles. That said, it has a great classic look and it’s very usable. I suspect this bag would last decades longer than anything you could buy at Office Depot and it would look good doing it. At $275 it’s a bit steep but you’re paying for years – if not decades – of regular use and abuse. It’s worth the investment.
By the first few months of 1982, it had become more common to see electronics stores, toy stores, and discount variety stops selling 2600 games. This was before Electronics Boutique, Software Etc., and later, GameStop . Mostly you bought games at stores that sold other electronic products, like Sears or Consumer Distributors. Toys ’R’ Us was a big seller of 2600 games. To buy one, you had to get a piece of paper from the Atari aisle, bring it to the cashier, pay for it, and then wait at a pickup window behind the cash register lanes.
Everyone had a favorite store in their childhood; here’s a story about one of mine. A popular “destination” in south Brooklyn is Kings Plaza, a giant (for Brooklyn) two-story indoor mall with about 100 stores. My mother and grandmother were avid shoppers there. To get to the mall from our house, it was about a 10-minute car service ride. So once a week or thereabouts, we’d all go. The best part for me was when we went inside via its Avenue U entrance instead of on the Flatbush Avenue side. Don’t ask me what went into this decision each time; I assume it depended on the stores my mother wanted to go to. All I knew was the Avenue U side had this circular kiosk maybe 50 feet from the entrance. The name has faded from memory. I remember it was a kind of catch-all for things like magazines, camera film, and other random stuff.
But the most important things were the Atari cartridges. There used to be dozens of colorful Atari game boxes across the wall behind the counter. When we walked up to the cashier’s window, there was often a row of new Atari games across the top as well. Sometimes we left without a new cartridge, and sometimes I received one. But we always stopped and looked, and it was the highlight of my trip to the mall each time.
For whatever reason, I remember the guy behind the counter gave me a hard time one day. I bought one of Atari’s own cartridges—I no longer remember which, but I’m almost sure it was either Defender or Berzerk—that came with an issue of Atari Force, the DC comic book. I said I was excited to get it. The guy shot me a dirty look and said, “You’re buying a new Atari cartridge just for a comic book?” I was way too shy to argue with him, even though he was wrong and I wanted the cartridge. I don’t remember what my mother said, or if she even heard him. Being too shy to protest, I sheepishly took my game and we both walked away.
Mattel Stumbles, While Atari Face-Plants
Mattel began to run into trouble with its Intellivision once the company tried to branch out from sports games. Because Mattel couldn’t license properties from Atari, Nintendo, or Sega, it instead made its own translations of popular arcade games. Many looked better than what you’d find on the 2600, but ultimately played more slowly thanks to the Intellivision’s sluggish CPU. Perhaps the most successful was Astrosmash, a kind of hybrid of Asteroids and Space Invaders, where asteroids, space ships, and other objects fell from the sky and became progressively more difficult. Somewhat less successful were games like Space Armada (a Space Invaders knock off).
Mattel also added voice synthesis—something that was all the rage at the time—to the Intellivision courtesy of an add-on expansion module called Intellivoice. But only a few key games delivered voice capability: Space Spartans, Bomb Squad, B-17 Bomber (all three were launch titles), and later, Tron: Solar Sailer. The Intellivoice’s high cost, lack of a truly irresistible game, and overall poor sound quality meant this was one thing Atari didn’t have to find a way to answer with the 2600.
These events made it easier for Atari to further pull away from Mattel in the marketplace, and it did so—but not without a tremendous self-inflicted wound. A slew of new 2600 games arrived in the first part of 1982. Many important releases came in this period and those that followed, and we’ll get to those shortly. But there was one in particular that the entire story arc of the platform balanced on, and then fractured. It was more than a turning point; its repercussions reverberated throughout the then-new game industry, and to this day it sticks out as one of the key events that ultimately did in Atari.
Pac-Man (Atari, March 1982)
The single biggest image-shattering event for the 2600—and Atari itself—was the home release of its Pac-Man cartridge. I can still feel the crushing disappointment even now. So many of my friends and I looked forward to this release. We had talked about it all the time in elementary school. Pac-Man was simply the hottest thing around in the arcades, and we dreamed of playing it at home as much as we wanted. The two-year wait for Atari to release the 2600 cartridge seemed like forever. Retailers bought into the hype as well. Toy stores battled for inventory, JC Penney and Kmart bought in big along with Sears and advertised on TV, and even local drug stores started stocking the game. And yet, what we got…wasn’t right.
Just about everyone knows how Pac-Man is supposed to work, but just in case: You gobble up dots to gain points while avoiding four ghosts. Eat a power pellet, and you can turn the tables on the ghosts, chase them down, and eat them. Each time you do so, the “eyes” of the ghost fly back to the center of the screen and the ghost regenerates. Eat all the dots and power pellets on the screen, and you progress to the next one, which gets harder. Periodically, a piece of fruit appears at the center of the screen. You can eat it for bonus points, and the kind of fruit denotes the level you are on (cherry, strawberry, orange, and so on).
But that’s not the game Atari 2600 owners saw. After securing the rights to the game from Namco, Atari gave programmer Tod Frye just five weeks to complete the conversion. The company had learned from its earlier mistakes and promised Frye a royalty on every cartridge manufactured (not sold), which was an improvement. But this was another mistake. The royalty plus the rushed schedule meant Frye made money even if the game wasn’t up to snuff, and thus Frye had incentive to complete it regardless. Atari also required the game to fit into just 4KB like older 2600 cartridges, rather than the newer 8KB size that was becoming much more common by this point. That profit-driven limitation heavily influenced the way Frye approached the design of the game. To top it all off, Atari set itself up for a colossal failure by producing some 12 million cartridges, even though there were only 10 million 2600 consoles in circulation at the time. The company was confident that not only would every single existing 2600 owner buy the game, but that 2 million new customers would buy the console itself just for this cartridge.
We all know how it turned out. The instruction manual sets the tone for the differences from the arcade early on. The game is now set in “Mazeland.” You eat video wafers instead of dots. Every time you complete a board, you get an extra life. The manual says you also earn points from eating power pills, ghosts, and “vitamins.” Something is definitely amiss.
Pac-Man himself always looks to the right or left, even if he is going up or down. The video wafers are long and rectangular instead of small, square dots. Fruits don’t appear periodically at the center of the screen. Instead, you get the aforementioned vitamin, a clear placeholder for what would have been actual fruit had there been more time to get it right. The vitamin always looks the same and is always worth 100 points, instead of increasing as you clear levels. The rest of the scoring is much lower than it is in the arcade. Gobbling up all four ghosts totals just 300 points, and each video wafer is worth just 1 point.
The ghosts have tremendous amounts of flicker, and they all look and behave identically, instead of having different colors, distinct personalities, and eyes that pointed in the right direction. The flicker was there for a reason. Frye used it to draw the four ghosts in successive frames with a single sprite graphic register, and drew Pac-Man every frame using the other sprite graphic register. The 2600’s TIA chip synchronizes with an NTSC television picture 60 times per second, so you end up seeing a solid Pac-Man, maze, and video wafers (I can still barely type “video wafers” with a straight face), but the ghosts are each lit only one quarter of the time. A picture tube’s phosphorescent glow takes a little bit to fade, and your eye takes a little while to let go of a retained image as well, but the net result is that the flicker is still quite visible.
It gets worse. The janky, gritty sound effects are bizarre, and the theme song is reduced to four dissonant chords. (Oddly, these sounds resurfaced in some movies over the next 20 years and were a default “go-to” for sound designers working in post-production.) The horizontally stretched maze is nothing like the arcade, either, and the escape routes are at the top and bottom instead of the sides. The maze walls aren’t even blue; they’re orange, with a blue background, because it’s been reported Atari had a policy that only space games could have black backgrounds (!). At this point, don’t even ask about the lack of intermissions.
One of Frye’s own mistakes is that he made Pac-Man a two-player game. “Tod used a great deal of memory just tracking where each player had left off with eaten dots, power pellets, and score,” wrote Goldberg and Vendel in Atari Inc.: Business is Fun. Years later, when Frye looked at the code for the much more arcade-faithful 2600 Ms. Pac-Man, he saw the programmers were “able to use much more memory for graphics because it’s only a one player game.”
Interestingly, the game itself is still playable. Once you get past the initial huge letdown and just play it on its own merits, Pac-Man puts up a decent experience. It’s still “Pac-Man,” sort of, even if it delivers a rough approximation of the real thing as if it were seen and played through a straw. It’s worth playing today for nostalgia—after all, many of us played this cartridge to death anyway, because it was the one we had—and certainly as a historical curiosity for those who weren’t around for the golden age of arcades.
Many an Atari 2600 fan turned on the platform—and Atari in general—after the release of Pac-Man. Although the company still had plenty of excellent games and some of the best were yet to come, the betrayal was immediate and real and forever colored what much of the gaming public thought of Atari. The release of the Pac-Man cartridge didn’t curtail the 2600’s influence on the game industry by any means; we’ll visit many more innovations and developments as we go from here on out. But the 2600 conversion of Pac-Man gave the fledgling game industry its first template for how to botch a major title. It was the biggest release the Atari 2600 had and would ever see, and the company flubbed it about as hard as it could. It was New Coke before there was New Coke.
Grand Prix (Activision, March 1982)
The next few games we’ll discuss further illustrate the quality improvements upstart third-party developers delivered, in comparison with Atari, which had clearly become too comfortable in its lead position. First up is Activision’s Grand Prix, which in hindsight was a bit of an odd way to design a racer . It’s a side-scroller on rails that runs from left to right, and is what racing enthusiasts call a time trial. Although other computer-controlled cars are on the track, you’re racing against the clock, not them, and you don’t earn any points or increase your position on track for passing them.
Gameplay oddities aside, the oversized Formula One cars are wonderfully detailed, with brilliant use of color and animated spinning tires. The shaded color objects were the centerpiece of the design, as programmer David Crane said in a 1984 interview. “When I developed the capability for doing a large multicolored object on the [2600’s] screen, the capability fitted the pattern of the top view of a Grand Prix race car, so I made a racing game out of it.” Getting the opposing cars to appear and disappear properly as they entered and exited the screen also presented a problem, as the 2600’s lack of a frame buffer came into play again. The way TIA works, the 2600 would normally just make the car sprite begin to reappear on the opposite side of the screen as it disappeared from one side. To solve this issue, Crane ended up storing small “slices” of the car in ROM, and in real time the game drew whatever portions of the car were required to reach the edge of the screen. The effect is smooth and impossible to detect while playing.
The car accelerates over a fairly long period of time, and steps through simulated gears. Eventually it reaches a maximum speed and engine note, and you just travel along at that until you brake, crash into another car, or reach the finish line. As the manual points out, you don’t have to worry about cars coming back and passing you again, even if you crash. Once you pass them, they’re gone from the race.
The four game variations in Grand Prix are named after famous courses that resonate with racing fans (Watkins Glen, Brands Hatch, Le Mans, and Monaco). The courses bear no resemblance to the real ones; each game variation is simply longer and harder than the last. The tree-lined courses are just patterns of vehicles that appear on screen. Whenever you play a particular game variation, you see the same cars at the same times (unless you crash, which disrupts the pattern momentarily). The higher three variations include bridges, which you have to quickly steer onto or risk crashing. During gameplay, you get a warning in the form of a series of oil slicks that a bridge is coming up soon.
Although Atari’s Indy 500 set the bar early for home racing games on the 2600, Grand Prix demonstrated you could do one with a scrolling course and much better graphics. This game set the stage for more ambitious offerings the following year. And several decades later, people play games like this on their phones. We just call titles like Super Mario Run (a side-scroller) and Temple Run (3D-perspective) “endless runners,” as they have running characters instead of cars.
Activision soon became the template for other competing third-party 2600 developers. In 1981, Atari’s marketing vice president and a group of developers, including the programmers for Asteroids and Space Invaders on the console, started a company called Imagic. The company had a total of nine employees at the outset. Its name was derived from the words “imagination” and “magic”—two key components of every cartridge the company planned to release. Imagic games were known for their high quality, distinctive chrome boxes and labels, and trapezoidal cartridge edges. As with Activision, most Imagic games were solid efforts with an incredible amount of polish and were well worth purchasing.
Although Imagic technically became the second third-party developer for the 2600, the company’s first game didn’t arrive until March 1982. Another company, Games by Apollo, beat it to the punch by starting up in October 1981 and delivering its first (mediocre) game, Skeet Shoot, before the end of the year.
But when that first Imagic game did arrive, everyone noticed.
At first glance, the visually striking Demon Attack looks kind of like a copy of the arcade game Phoenix, at least without the mothership screen (something it does gain in the Intellivision port). But the game comes into its own the more you play it. You’re stuck on the planet Krybor. Birdlike demons dart around and shoot clusters of lasers down toward you at the bottom of the screen. Your goal is to shoot the demons all out of the sky, wave after wave.
The playfield is mostly black, with a graded blue surface of the planet along the bottom of the screen. A pulsing, beating sound plays in the background. It increases in pitch the further you get into each level, only to pause and then start over with the next wave. The demons themselves are drawn beautifully, with finely detailed, colorful designs that are well animated and change from wave to wave. Every time you complete a wave, you get an extra life, to a maximum of six.
On later waves, the demons divide in two when shot, and are worth double the points. You can shoot the smaller demons, or just wait—eventually each one swoops down toward your laser cannon, back and forth until it reaches the bottom of the screen, at which point it disappears from the playfield. Shoot it while it’s diving and you get quadruple points. In the later stages, demons also shoot longer, faster clusters of lasers at your cannon.
The game is for one or two players, though there’s a cooperative mode that lets you take turns against the same waves of demons. There are also variations of the game that let you shoot faster lasers, as well as tracer shots that you can steer into the demons. After 84 waves, the game ends with a blank screen, though reportedly a later run of this cartridge eliminates that and lets you play indefinitely. If I were still nine years old, I could probably take a couple of days out of summer and see if this is true. I am no longer nine years old.
Demon Attack was one of Imagic’s first three games, along with Trick Shot and Star Voyager. Rob Fulop, originally of Atari fame and one of Imagic’s four founders, programmed Demon Attack. In November 1982, Atari sued Imagic because of Demon Attack’s similarity to Phoenix, the home rights of which Atari had purchased from Centuri. The case was eventually settled. Billboard magazine listed Demon Attack as one of the 10 best-selling games of 1982. It was also Imagic’s best-selling title, and Electronic Games magazine awarded it Game of the Year.
“The trick to the Demon Attack graphics was it was the first game to use my Scotch-taped/rubber-banded dedicated 2600 sprite animation authoring tool that ran on the Atari 800,” Fulop said in 1993. “The first time Michael Becker made a little test animation and we ran Bob Smith’s utility that successfully squirted his saved sprite data straight into the Demon Attack assembly code and it looked the same on the  as it did on the 800 was HUGE! Before that day, all 2600 graphics ever seen were made using a #2 pencil, a sheet of graph paper, a lot of erasing, and a list of hex codes that were then retyped into the source assembly code, typically introducing a minimum of two pixel errors per eight-by-eight graphic stamp.”
Although you can draw a line from Space Invaders to just about any game like this, Demon Attack combines that with elements of Galaga and Phoenix, with a beautiful look and superb gameplay all its own.
Pitfall! (Activision, April 1982)
A watershed moment in video game history, David Crane’s Pitfall! was one of the best games released for the 2600. As Pitfall Harry, your goal is to race through the jungle and collect 32 treasures—money bags, silver bars, gold bars, and diamond rings, worth from 2,000 to 5,000 points each. Jump and grab vines, and you soar over lakes, quicksand, and alligators, complete with a Tarzan-style “yell.” You can stumble on a rolling log or fall into a hole, both of which just dock you some points. Each time you fall into quicksand or a tar pit, drown in a lake, burn in a fire, or get eaten by an alligator or scorpion, you lose a life. When that happens, you start the next one by dropping from the trees on the left side of the screen to keep playing.
Pushing the joystick left or right makes Pitfall Harry run. He picks up treasure automatically. Holding the stick in either direction while pressing the button makes him jump, either over an obstacle or onto a swinging vine (running into the vine without jumping also works). Push down while swinging to let go of the vine. You also can push up or down to climb ladders.
In an incredible feat of programming, the game contains 255 screens, with the 32 treasures scattered throughout them. The world loops around once you reach the last screen. Although Adventure pioneered the multiroom map on the 2600, Pitfall! was a considerably larger design. Crane fit the game into the same 4KB ROM as Adventure. But rather than storing all 255 screens as part of the ROM—which wouldn’t have fit—Crane’s solution was not to store the world in ROM at all. Instead, the world is generated by code, the same way each time. This is similar to games like Rogue, but even in that case, the game generates the world and then stores it during play. Pitfall! generates each screen via an algorithm, using a counter that increments in a pseudorandom sequence that is nonetheless consistent and can be run forwards or backwards. The 8 bits of each number in the counter sequence define the way the board looks. Bits 0 through 2 are object patterns, bits 3 through 5 are ground patterns, bits 6 and 7 cover the trees, and bit 7 also affects the underground pattern. This way, the world is generated the same way each and every single time. When you leave one screen, you always end up on the same next screen.
“The game was a jewel, a perfect world incised in a mere [4KB] of code,” Nick Montfort wrote in 2001 in Supercade: A Visual History of the Videogame Age, 1971-1984.
You get a total of three lives, and Crane points out in the manual that you need to use some of the underground passages (which skip three screens ahead instead of one) to complete the game on time. The inclusion of two on-screen levels—above ground and below ground, with ladders connecting them—makes the game an official platformer. And the game even gives you some say in where to go and what path you take to get there. Pitfall Harry is smoothly animated, and the vines deliver a genuine sensation of swinging even though the game is in 2D.
The game’s 20-minute timer, which approximates the 22-minute length of a standard half-hour television show, marked a milestone for console play. It was much longer than most arcade games and even cartridges like Adventure, which you could complete in a few minutes. The extra length allows for more in-depth play.
“Games in the early ’80s primarily used inanimate objects as main characters,” Crane said in a 2011 interview. “Rarely there would be a person, but even those weren’t fully articulated. I wanted to make a game character that could run, jump, climb, and otherwise interact with an on-screen world.” Crane spent the next couple of years tinkering with the idea before finally coming up with Pitfall!. “[After] only about 10 minutes I had a sketch of a man running on a path through the jungle collecting treasures. Then, after ‘only’ 1,000 hours of pixel drawing and programming, Pitfall Harry came to life.”
Crane said he had already gone beyond that 4KB ROM limit and back within it many times over hundreds of hours. Right before release, he was asked to add additional lives. “Now I had to add a display to show your number of lives remaining, and I had to bring in a new character when a new life was used.” The latter was easy, Crane said, because Pitfall Harry already knew how to fall and stop when he hit the ground. Crane just dropped him from behind the tree cover. “For the ‘Lives’ indicator I added vertical tally marks to the timer display. That probably only cost 24 bytes, and with another 20 hours of ‘scrunching’ the code I could fit that in.”
Pitfall! couldn’t have been timed more perfectly, as Raiders of the Lost Ark was the prior year’s biggest movie. The cartridge delivered the goods; it became the best-selling home video game of 1982 and it’s often credited as the game that kickstarted the platformer genre. Pitfall! held the top spot on Billboard’s chart for 64 consecutive weeks. “The fine graphic sense of the Activision design team greatly enriches the Pitfall! experience,” Electronic Games magazine wrote in January 1983, on bestowing the cartridge Best Adventure Videogame. “This is as richly complex a video game as you’ll find anywhere…Watching Harry swing across a quicksand pit on a slender vine while crocodiles snap their jaws frantically in a futile effort to tear off a little leg-of-hero snack is what video game adventures are all about.” Pitfall!’s influence is impossible to overstate. From Super Mario Bros. to Prince of Persia to Tomb Raider, it was the start of something huge.
If you’re looking for a good jacket or bag, you have your choice of materials: leather, heavy nylon, waterproof synthetic weaves like Gore-Tex… but for my money (and not a little of it either) the king of them all is waxed canvas. Pliant yet protective, wind and water–resistant but breathable, handsome to start but grows a character of its own, waxed canvas strikes, for me, the perfect balance of attributes. I drape myself in it, and in the case of bags, drape it from myself.
The main caveat is that it is not is cheap — sure, you can get a bag for $30 or $40 on Amazon, but if you want something that will live for years and years and get better with age, you’re going to be spending quite a bit more than that.
The bags here are expensive, but like leather the craftsmanship and material quality matter a great deal in whether you end up with an item that deteriorates steadily or comes into its own. Like so many things, you get what you pay for — up to a certain point, of course.
I’ve collected bags from a variety of producers and tried them all for the last few months during everyday use and trips out of town. I focused on the “fits a medium-size laptop with room for a couple books and a camera” size, but many of these makers have plenty of variety to choose from.
Check the galleries under each bag to see examples of anything I pick out as nice or irritating. (The galleries are all really tall because of a bug in our system. Don’t worry about it.)
ONA Union Street ($299) and Brixton ($289)
Pros: Rigidity and padding, customizable dividers, nice snaps
Cons: Cheap-feeling interior, bulky, could be waxier
Ona’s bags, at least these, are aimed more at the laptop-camera combo than others, with extra padding and internal dividers for bodies and extra lenses.
I reviewed the Union Street years and years ago during a previous bag week and liked it so much that I decided to buy one. It’s the larger of these two bags, fitting a 15-inch laptop and a DSLR with an extra lens or two small ones.
Not only is the whole interior lined with padding, but the dividers are padded and the main flap itself has a sturdiness that has helped protect my gear against drops and kicks. The bottom, although it is also padded and feels soft, has lived through years of scooting around and placement on rough terrain.
I like the spring-powered self-locking snaps, though when I first got the bag I was convinced they’d be the first thing to fail. Seven years and thousands of snaps later, they’re still going strong, and when I was worried one was failing (it didn’t), Ona gladly sent me a replacement.
It was my standby for a long time, and I still have it. It has aged well in some ways, not so well in others — its waxed front has survived years of scratches and slides along the floor and is marvelously smooth and still water resistant. I don’t know how they did it. On the other hand, some areas have worn holes and the magnet that holds the back flap shut (a smart idea) eventually burrowed its way out.
The newer one feels very lightly waxed, but I know it’s in there. That said, if you want the full waxy look and feel, it could use a bit more. It’s really a matter of taste.
The inside is the weakest link. The fuzzy plush interior feels cheap to me (though it’s undeniably protective), there are no internal pockets, and repeated sticking and unsticking of the Velcro dividers wears the material down in places. Although being able to customize the interior space is invaluable for photographers specifically, a couple strong decisions inside would make it a better all-purpose bag, in my opinion.
The Brixton is the Union Street’s smaller sibling, fitting a 13-inch laptop and a bit less camera-wise. They share many qualities, including price (only a $10 difference) and ultimately the decision is one of what you need rather than which is better.
For me it’s a toss-up. I like the open, separate pockets on the exterior of the Brixton for things like filters and cables, but the zippered front pocket of the Union Street is better for pens, phones, and more valuable stuff. Personally I like the look of the Union better, with its riveted straps and uninterrupted waxed canvas flap.
If I had to choose, I’d go with the Union Street again, since it’s not so much larger that it becomes cumbrous, but the extra space may make the difference between having to pack a second bag or not.
Filson 24-Hour Tin Briefcase ($395)
Pros: Versatile, well made and guaranteed, spacious
Cons: Lighter material and wax, floppy handles, storm flap nitpick
Filson has been a Seattle standby for a century and more, with its signature waxed-canvas jackets covering the bodies of the hip, the outdoorsy, and the tourists alike. Their most practical bag is this one, the 24-Hour Tin Briefcase, which as the name indicates is a little more on the overnight bag side of things.
This bag has a large main compartment with a padded laptop area that will hold a 15-incher easily, and a couple pockets on the inside to isolate toothbrushes and pens and the like. On the outside is a pair of good-size zippered pockets that open wide to allow access from either the top or side; inside those are organizer strips and sub-pockets for pens and so on.
This is definitely the best generalist out of the bags I tried — it’s equally at home as a daily driver or at the airport. Essentially it’s the perfect “personal item” carry-on. When I’m leaving for a trip I invariably grab this bag because it’s so adaptable. Although it looks a bit bulky it flattens down well when not full, but it doesn’t look weird when it’s packed tightly.
A bonus with Filson is that should it ever rip or fail — and I mean ever — you can take it in and they’ll fix or patch it for free. I’ve done this with my jackets and it’s 100% awesome. The scars where the tears were make for even more character.
On the other hand, unlike many Filson products this one feels only lightly waxed. If you want more protection from rain you’ll want to add some wax yourself, not something everyone wants to do. You’ll eventually re-wax any of these bags, but this one just seemed to need it right off the bat. The material is a little lighter than some of the other bags, but that could be a plus or a minus. I wouldn’t mind if it was a bit more heavy-duty, like their “rugged twill.”
The handles are nicely made and thick, but tend to sort of flop around when not needed. And the storm flap that covers the top zipper, while welcome, feels like it has the snap on the wrong side — it makes attaching or detaching it a two-hand affair. When it isn’t full, the bag can be a bit shapeless — it’s not really boardroom ready. For that you want Croots or Ernest Alexander below.
Ernest Alexander Walker and Hudson – $385
Pros: Great texture and color, nice style details, low-profile
Cons: Impractical closure on Hudson, Walker has limited space, looks compromise utility a bit
Note: I tried two bags from this maker and unfortunately in the meantime both have sold out. I’ve asked when they’ll be back on the market, but for now you can take this review as a general indicator of the quality of EN bags.
The one I took to from the start is the Walker; it has a pleasantly sleek, minimal look on the outside, the material a handsome chocolate color that has started to wear well. But open up the flap and you have this lovely blue fine canvas inside (there’s a reverse scheme as well). To me this was the most refined of all the bags in this roundup. I like that there are no snaps, clips, or anything visible on the outside — just a wide expanse of that beautiful material.
It’s slim bag but not restrictively so; if what you need to carry isn’t awkward or bulky, there’s room for a good amount in there. Books, a mirrorless with a pancake lens, laptop — sure. But you’re definitely not fitting a spare set of clothes or some groceries.
The small zippered exterior pocket is great for a phone or cables, while the deep interior and exterior pockets are easily accessed and relatively spacious. If you control your loadout, there’s room for lots of stuff in here.
Unfortunately, if you don’t control it, the bag gets bent out of shape easily. Because the top flap attaches to the bottom at the center, if it gets too full the whole thing bulges awkwardly and the tips flip out. And the carry strap, alas, tends to tug on the flap in a way that draws its sides up and away from the clip. And don’t even try to pick it up with the flap detached.
Placing the clip underneath the flap also makes for a fiddly procedure — you have to lift up one side to get at it, and because the loop flips down when not in use, it becomes a two-handed operation to put the two pieces together. A sturdier, more fixed loop would make this easier. But it’s all in the name of style, and the sleek exterior may make up for these fussy aspects.
The cross-body strap has a lot of extra material but I made it into a neat little knot. I think it works pretty well, actually.
The larger Hudson messenger I was prepared to like but ultimately just can’t recommend. Theoretically it’s fantastic, with magnetic pocket closures, tons of room, and a cross between the simplicity of the Walker and the versatility of the Filson bag. But the closure system is just too much of a hassle.
It’s two straps in a simple belt style, which are a huge pain to do over and over if you’re frequently opening and closing the bag. Compared to Ona closures, which combine speed with the flexibility of belt-style adjustment, it just takes forever to access the Hudson. If they make a revised version of this bag that addresses this, it will have my hearty recommendation.
Croots England Vintage Canvas Laptop – $500
Pros: Handsome, well padded, excellent craftsmanship and materials
Having encountered a Croots bag in the wild one time, I knew I had to include this long-time waxed canvas player in the roundup. Croots waxed canvas is less oily than Filson or ONA, more like a heavy sailcloth. It feels very strong and holds its shape well. It is however on the high end of the spectrum.
That said, because of its stiffness, the Vintage Canvas Laptop bag seems to want to wear prematurely in areas that stick out a bit, like corners or folds near stitching. The wear process shifts the material from the smooth, almost ballistic nylon texture to a rough fuzzy one that I’m not so sure about. The aging from just a couple weeks of use already has me a little worried but it’s also very thick canvas.
The design is a bit more busy than the Ernest Alexander bags, but very handsome and mostly practical. I love the olive color, which contrasts beautifully with the red backing for the zippers. It doesn’t look Christmas-y at all, don’t worry.
The straps are a standout feature. The thick leather handles are attached below the zipper and rear pocket to D-rings, which in turn attach to separate leather straps that go under the entire bag. First this means that the handles flip down easily out of the way, since the D-rings rotate in their loops. The riveted construction also means that there’s no stitching to worry about in the whole strap assembly. And the bottoms of the loops do a little basic protection of the canvas down there.
It also means that when you’re walking, the outside handle tends to flap rather ungracefully against the side; the inner one, up or down, will be rubbing against your flank or back. You can however stow them in the side pockets with a bit of effort, which is a thoughtful touch.
The interior is a lovely shade of red, with several large loose pockets and some stiff leather ones for notebooks and so on. Unfortunately the laptop pocket is poorly proportioned: it’s hugely spacious, enough for three or four laptops to slide in, but the button to snap it shut is so low that I can’t get it fastened over a single 13-inch MacBook Pro. The idea that it could hold a 15-inch is ludicrous.
There’s lots of padding, though, so I wasn’t worried about anything banging around. There’s also the option for a separate camera insert, though large SLR users will likely want to size up.
There isn’t a heck of a lot of room in there but this is definitely meant to be a daily driver briefcase and not an overnight bag — a “personal item” on the plane perhaps but I would take the Filson or ONA over it for space reasons. However as a bag to take to work, the cafe, or the bookstore it’s a great option and a striking one. The Flight Bag is a slightly more expansive and unique option.
S-Zone – $30
Pros: Price, magnetic closures, leather edge details
Cons: Cheap-feeling interior and leather, little padding for laptop
To balance out the admittedly very expensive bags in this review I decided to grab a cheap one off Amazon as well. As I expected, it isn’t up to the quality level of the others, but for $30 it’s a bargain. If you want to experience how waxed canvas evolves and wears, an inexpensive bag like this is a great way to try it out.
The S-Zone’s fabric is a little thin but solid, rather stiff to begin with, but that’s fine — it’ll loosen up as you use the bag. The interior is a cheap-feeling synthetic, however — it’ll work, but you won’t feel like royalty using it.
There’s leather detailing all over, and in some places it feels solid, like the attachments for the shoulder strap and at the corners, where there are big patches that will scuff up nicely. But the handle feels like trouble waiting to happen.
Instead of a D-ring to allow it to flip down, the leather itself has been loosened up so that it’s extra bendy just above where it attaches. When it’s down, the thin rope around which the handle leather is wrapped is exposed; I can just see this getting soaked, bent, soaked again, bent, and getting weaker and weaker.
The front pockets are a little tight, but I like the little magnetic snaps — they make it easy to open and close them without looking. Just be careful not to stuff too much in there or the snaps won’t hold against the pressure. There’s a good deal of room inside, more than the Croots or Ernest Alexander, but less than the ONA or Filson.
But then there’s the curious design choice to put padding in the divider defining the laptop section, rather than on the outside. And the leather corner pieces stop just short of it! That means the only thing between the corner of your laptop and the ground is the nylon and canvas — and they don’t make for much of a cushion. Though the other bags don’t all have dedicated padding in this area, they do all seem to mitigate it better, and the S-Zone bag puts your laptop in the most danger of hitting the ground.
Hopefully the high prices of these won’t turn you off — watch for sales and you can get even these high-end options at huge discounts (it’s how I’ve been able to afford them myself).
Do you have any recommendations for more bags along these lines that we should check out for the next time we do Bag Week? Tell me in the comments!
How do you tell your robot not do something that could be catastrophic? You could give it a verbal or programmatic command or you could have it watch your brain for signs of distress and have it stop itself. That’s what researchers at MIT’s robotics research lab have done with a system that is wired to your brain and tells robots how to do their job.
The initial system is fairly simple. A scalp EEG and EMG system is connected to a Baxter work robot and lets a human wave or gesture when the robot is doing something that it shouldn’t be doing. For example, the robot could regularly do a task – drilling holes, for example – but when it approaches an unfamiliar scenario the human can gesture at the task that should be done.
“By looking at both muscle and brain signals, we can start to pick up on a person’s natural gestures along with their snap decisions about whether something is going wrong,” said PhD candidate Joseph DelPreto. “This helps make communicating with a robot more like communicating with another person.”
Because the system uses nuances like gestures and emotional reactions you can train robots to interact with humans with disabilities and even prevent accidents by catching concern or alarm before it is communicated verbally. This lets workers stop a robot before it damages something and even help the robot understand slight changes to its tasks before it begins.
In their tests the team trained Baxter to drill holes in an airplane fuselage. The task changed occasionally and a human standing nearby was able to gesture to the robot to change position before it drilled, essentially training it to do new tasks in the midst of its current task. Further, there was no actual programming involved on the human’s part, just a suggestion that the robot move the drill left or right on the fuselage. The most important thing? Humans don’t have to think in a special way or train themselves to interact with the machine.
“What’s great about this approach is that there’s no need to train users to think in a prescribed way,” said DelPreto. “The machine adapts to you, and not the other way around.”
The team will present their findings at the Robotics: Science and Systems (RSS) conference.
PAX Labs, makers of the popular PAX 3 and PAX Era vaporizers, have today updated their app to offer a new feature called Session Control.
The idea here is based around the fact that people can sometimes overindulge when using a vaporizer for the first time, as the effects of cannabis oil can take a minute or two to kick in, leading people to continue puffing.
With Session Control, users can control their intake by selecting micro, small or medium puffs. Once the user has maxed out their session by puffing, the PAX Era will lock for 30 seconds, stopping users from overdoing it.
PAX launched an app called PAX Mobile in 2017 to give vape users even more control over their experience. From temperature control to different color schemes, the PAX Mobile app lets users fiddle with the PAX 3 or PAX Era on the fly.
While temperature control makes sense for more experienced users, Session Control lets newer users control their intake without making the process overly complicated.
“We want the tech to get out of the way,” said PAX Labs CEO Bharat Vassan. “A big part of what we want to do is to not have people staring at their phone. That’s why we use firmware so that the device updates itself. This way, users can set it and forget it.”
Session Control is available for the PAX Era, which vaporizes oil, and Vassan said they’re thinking of ways to introduce something similar with the PAX 3, which is a floral vaporizer.
Apple has been fined AUS$9M (~$6.6M) by a court in Australia following a legal challenge by a consumer rights group related to the company’s response after iOS updates bricked devices that had been repaired by third parties.
The Australian Competitor and Consumer Commission (ACCC) invested a series of complaints relating to an error (‘error 53’) which disabled some iPhones and iPads after owners downloaded an update to Apple’s iOS operating system.
The ACCC says Apple admitted that, between February 2015 and February 2016 — via the Apple US’ website, Apple Australia’s staff in-store and customer service phone calls — it had informed at least 275 Australian customers affected by error 53 that they were no longer eligible for a remedy if their device had been repaired by a third party.
The court judged Apple’s action to have breached the Australian consumer law.
“If a product is faulty, customers are legally entitled to a repair or a replacement under the Australian Consumer Law, and sometimes even a refund. Apple’s representations led customers to believe they’d be denied a remedy for their faulty device because they used a third party repairer,” said ACCC commissioner Sarah Court in a statement.
“The Court declared the mere fact that an iPhone or iPad had been repaired by someone other than Apple did not, and could not, result in the consumer guarantees ceasing to apply, or the consumer’s right to a remedy being extinguished.”
The ACCC notes that after it notified Apple about its investigation, the company implemented an outreach program to compensate individual consumers whose devices were made inoperable by error 53. It says this outreach program was extended to approximately 5,000 consumers.
It also says Apple Australia offered a court enforceable undertaking to improve staff training, audit information about warranties and Australian Consumer Law on its website, and improve its systems and procedures to ensure future compliance with the law.
The ACCC further notes that a concern addressed by the undertaking is that Apple was allegedly providing refurbished goods as replacements, after supplying a good which suffered a major failure — saying Apple has committed to provide new replacements in those circumstances if the consumer requests one.
“If people buy an iPhone or iPad from Apple and it suffers a major failure, they are entitled to a refund. If customers would prefer a replacement, they are entitled to a new device as opposed to refurbished, if one is available,” said Court.
The court also held the Apple parent company, Apple US, responsible for the conduct of its Australian subsidiary. “Global companies must ensure their returns policies are compliant with the Australian Consumer Law, or they will face ACCC action,” added Court.
We’ve reached out to Apple for comment on the court decision and will update this post with any response.
A company spokeswoman told Reuters it had had “very productive conversations with the ACCC about this” but declined to comment further on the court finding.
More recently, Apple found itself in hot water with consumer groups around the world over its use of a power management feature that throttled performance on older iPhones to avoid unexpected battery shutdowns.
The company apologized in December for not being more transparent about the feature, and later said it would add a control allowing consumers to turn it off if they did not want their device’s performance to be impacted.