BEST OF THE WEB: The tech genius of the man who created Pong

If you’re older than 30, then you’ve probably played Pong. Credited as the very first popular videogame, it was a phenomenon that paved the way for the multi-billion dollar entertainment industry that PWC recently pegged as the biggest growth sector in media for the next few years.

You’ve probably either played Pong or heard of it. But you probably haven’t heard of the 69-year-old Nolan Bushnell, who created the game and is notoriously hold to get in contact with.

Over at Buzzfeed, however, the publication has managed to track him down for a discussion about how he created the game, and his thoughts on the legacy he created.

Nolan Bushnell is in many ways more iconic than the game itself. As the curator of the history of science and technology collection at Stanford, Henry Lowood, tells the publication:

It’s difficult to imagine Steve Jobs without Bushnell before him.

Nolan Bushnell’s personality established an important paradigm for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs: wilful, daring imaginative, hypercompetitive.

In more ways than one, Bushnell pioneered what Silicon Valley entrepreneurs would become decades later.

The story describes his efforts in building the arcade Pong machines, and then their transformation into a home product. Atari, Bushnell’s company, was the hottest business in tech at the time.

Consider this: Overall, 100,000 Pong arcade machines made their way into stores. Atari sold $3.2 million worth of cabinets in just two years, and was insanely profitable.

And while Atari eventually suffered as part of the decline of the games industry in the 1980s, with plenty of arguments and lawsuits along the way, the piece is essential reading about someone who helped create one of the world’s biggest entertainment industries.

As Henry Lowood says:

The main impact of Pong on contemporary culture is that it had an impact on contemporary culture.

Before this, connecting games and culture wasn’t even a question on anyone’s mind.

Why ‘The Daily’ failed

When Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad, the publishing industry got a shot in the arm. This would be the future of journalism, it proclaimed. Rupert Murdoch got in on the action, starting up a 100-employee strong publication specifically for the device.

This week, however, The Daily was shut down. And there are plenty of people explaining why. Jeff Sonderman, over at Poynter, has a great take.

It was difficult to grasp who exactly was the intended audience of The Daily. It excelled at interactive elements and visual appeal, but the contents were so sprawling and varied that it was tough to know who this publication was speaking for and to.

A good point. His piece is worth reading for an insight into exactly what went wrong, which he sums up as this: to serve customers content on only one platform is shooting yourself in the foot.

Meanwhile, The Daily was the subject of another piece by an actual employee, Peter Ha, who wrote a piece at Gizmodo about the publication. And while the launch was filled with problems, Ha says the team genuinely felt good about what they were building.

None of us wanted to write or publish news that would be stale and cold the next day. But the publishing platform felt like it was held together with spit and chewing gum. Were there fixes that could’ve improved the situation? Sure. But those don’t matter anymore. The Daily had every chance of flourishing and succeeding, but operating independently of the Internet as a whole was clearly a huge mistake.

It seems The Daily had a good idea, but the execution just wasn’t there. Both pieces are a good opportunity to consider how future internet publishing will end up cracking an audience across multiple platforms.

Silicon Valley’s wackiest workplaces

Silicon Valley is known for having a company or two that likes to splurge on its employees. Google is well known for its lavish workplace, and start-up after start-up has followed suit.

Over at The Atlantic, there’s a great slideshow on some of the more interesting workplaces. There’s some typical stuff in there, like the Twitter recreation room and Airbnb’s luxurious workspaces, completely fitted out with comfortable living room furniture. But there are also some more interesting office – Evernote encourages employees to draw on the walls.

The slideshow is well worth exploring. After all, you might find an idea for your own company.

John McAfee’s strange hide and seek

The John McAfee story just keeps on giving. After the internet entrepreneur was wanted as a suspect in a murder charge, McAfee ended up in reports suggesting he was on the run in Belize.

That ended up being only slightly correct – he was on the run all right, but had managed to hole up in his own house. Of course, that excuse has come under increased scrutiny. When it comes to John McAfee, who can tell the truth anymore?

Over at the New York Times, there’s another long piece examining this case and exactly what’s going on. Speaking to the major of San Pedro, the town in which John McAfee keeps his home, it’s obvious how big an impact this has had on the region.

The entire situation is bizarre – McAfee claims the government is out to get him, that they want him dead. The main theory being thrown around is that he’s simply drugged himself into a paranoid stupor over several years. His only interaction to the world now comes through his official blog, which gets more bizarre by the day.

Journalist David Segal travels to Belize to find out exactly what is going on, but it’s not easy – McAfee’s friends have holed up as well.

As of late Friday, Mr McAfee was still evading the 20 police officers and members of the Gang Suppression Unit that are said to be looking for him. He has been tapping out a steady flow of words and updates on his blog, and projecting an air of contented defiance.

Recently, he announced that he and Sam had been secreted into the home of a friend and had enjoyed a bath and a cup of coffee.

Who knows how this will end – but this piece is a good way to enjoy the ride.


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