Sunday, March 12, 2023

A Pence-ive Turn

If Mike Pence is to have any hope in the 2024 primary, he had to make his turn against Donald Trump, and as possible state-level indictments in New York and Georgia draw closer, Trump's former VP is finally making his move.
Former Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday harshly criticized former President Donald Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, widening the rift between the two men as they prepare to battle over the Republican nomination in next year’s election.

“President Trump was wrong,” Pence said during remarks at the annual white-tie Gridiron Dinner attended by politicians and journalists. “I had no right to overturn the election. And his reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day, and I know history will hold Donald Trump accountable.”

Pence’s remarks were the sharpest condemnation yet from the once-loyal lieutenant who has often shied away from confronting his former boss. Trump has already declared his candidacy. Pence has not, but he’s been laying the groundwork to run.

In the days leading up to Jan. 6, 2021, Trump pressured Pence to overturn President Joe Biden’s election victory as he presided over the ceremonial certification of the results. Pence refused, and when rioters stormed the Capitol, some chanted that they wanted to “hang Mike Pence.”

The House committee that investigated the attack said in its final report that “the President of the United States had riled up a mob that hunted his own Vice President.”

With his remarks, Pence solidified his place in a broader debate within the Republican Party over how to view the attack. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, for example, recently provided Tucker Carlson with an archive of security camera footage from Jan. 6, which the Fox News host has used to downplay the day’s events and promote conspiracy theories.

“Make no mistake about it, what happened that day was a disgrace,” Pence said in his Gridiron Dinner remarks. “And it mocks decency to portray it any other way.”
This comes about two years too late, frankly.
I wonder then if Pence will cooperate with Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith's grand jury subpoena, which he was trying to block as recently as last week.

If Pence actually believes any of the the things he said last night, then he should be more than willing to cooperate with Smith.

Of course, that's not what's going to happen.  But notice if Trump lays into Pence on social media this week or not. If Trump manages to hold his tongue, maybe it's because Pence's grand jury testimony could really damage Trump if Smith can work out a deal with Pence.

We'll see.

Sunday Long Read: On Like Pong

Our Sunday Long Read this week comes from Charles Russo at SFGATE as he covers the oral history of the first mass market video game ever made: the ubiquitous Pong, the creation of video game company Atari as it celebrates its 50th anniversary, and the world that changed as a result.
Nolan Bushnell had a glimpse of the future on his hands.

So in a savvy marketing maneuver, he decided to package it in a 6-foot-tall shell of amorphous yellow fiberglass. It smelled of noxious chemicals but exuded science fiction. He called it Computer Space.

Bushnell and his business partner Ted Dabney had created the world's first coin-operated video game as a side hustle while working in Silicon Valley for electronics heavyweight Ampex. They completed a prototype in the spring of 1971, a decade before arcade classics like Donkey Kong, Frogger and Ms. Pac-Man would fully capture America’s imagination (and quarters). In fact, at the time that Bushnell and Dabney wheeled a working version of Computer Space into Stanford University hangout the Dutch Goose, very few Americans had ever seen a video game before.

"We just had one little rocket ship on the screen, but it was impressive," Bushnell told SFGATE. "I thought we had a huge win on our hands."

Computer Space never quite took off into the stratosphere, but the two aspiring entrepreneurs knew they were on to something. They had formed a futuristic-sounding startup named Syzygy and departed Ampex in pursuit of an industry that did not yet exist. Informed that a candle-making company on a hippie commune in Mendocino was already operating under the name Syzygy, Bushnell rebranded with a Japanese term akin to the phrase "check" in chess. Their scrappy Silicon Valley startup was now known as Atari.

After soon setting up shop in a small facility in an industrial section of Santa Clara, Atari created a new game that was as captivating as it was simple — and that would effectively launch the modern video game industry to the world.

Aiming for a name that was catchy and succinct, the innovators at Atari simply called it Pong.

It’s easy to underestimate just how massively lucrative the video game industry is today. A recent New York Times report stated that it was worth “nearly $200 billion in 2021 — more than music, U.S. book publishing and North American sports combined.” If that seems hard to fathom, consider that Microsoft is right now trying to acquire A-list video game company Activision for the colossal sum of $69 billion. The sheer size of the proposed purchase price is staggering, going well beyond — for comparison's sake — what Elon Musk spent to purchase Twitter ($44 billion) or what Disney paid to acquire the Star Wars and Marvel franchises ($4 billion each).

This month marks 50 years since Atari released Pong as an arcade game nationally to the American public. It was created and first released months earlier here in the Bay Area, before quickly having a much wider cultural and economic impact.

“Pong proved that there could be a market for a video game industry,” author and pop culture historian Tim Lapetino told SFGATE. “It demonstrated that there could be companies and whole ecosystems based around video games.”

In many ways, Pong was the big-bang moment that occurred after early gameplay pixels had begun to form together for years prior. A key pioneering moment in that regard occurred at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1961, shortly after Digital Equipment Corporation gifted the school its latest state-of-the-art computer, the Programmable Data Processor-1. Weighing over 1,500 pounds and taking up the space of a small automobile, the PDP-1 boasted a whopping 9 kilobytes of memory. Yet its most notable characteristic was that it operated through a monitor, a new and innovative feature that made for a uniquely user-friendly interface.

A few of the bookish (read as: nerdy) members of MIT's Tech Model Railroad Club immediately began experimenting with the PDP-1. Underclassman Steve Russell, an avid science fiction reader, suggested that they design a game that could play out on the monitor. By January 1962, Russell had finished his prototype of Spacewar, a two-player game in which a pair of rocket ships battled in a cosmic landscape. His classmates improved upon the gameplay with their own design upgrades, and before long, Spacewar was so popular that the faculty had to limit the hours that students were allowed to play it.

“Spacewar was just one of those things that captured the imagination of what could be,” says Lapetino. “It caused a shift in the understanding of what computers can do.”

More than just creating one of the very first video games, Russell and his classmates had developed a template for video game systems. Beyond the game itself, they had designed an external handheld control pad so they no longer had to bang endlessly on a keyboard. Better yet, they realized that the code for Spacewar could be copied and played on other computers, so it soon spread to other elite computer science programs around the country.

"If you were going to play Spacewar in the '60s," Bushnell explains, "there were four places in the world you could do it: MIT, Champaign-Urbana, Stanford and the University of Utah."
Having grown up on the venerable Atari 2600 as a kid in the early 80's, I was there when Atari became a home console behemoth, and then burned itself out, leaving the market open for a new path as Apple and Commodore joined the fray, and then Nintendo and Sega years later. I've always been a gamer, and none of it would have started without Bushnell and Pong. 

Here's to the oldest of the old school.
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