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Old 19th November 2017, 03:43 PM   #1
JoeBentley
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A rambling look back at an odd but interesting science magazine...

I hope everyone will pardon a rather silly but interesting trip down an odd memory lane. I love going back and looking at old magazines to get a feel for the various things that used to be popular and are now forgotten, predictions of the future, old products that are no longer with use, and so forth.

In 1978 Kathy Keeton, magazine publisher and wife of Penthouse creator Bob Guccione, decided to start her own popular science magazine.

Now the result of this, called Omni, ran from 1978 to 1996, spent another year as an early online magazine after the print version folded, then folded completely in 1997 upon Keeton's death. A short lived (10 episode) TV series called Omni: The Frontier aired in 1981, along with some comics and a couple of trade paperbacks containing collections of sci-fi short fiction from the magazine also were released. An attempt at a reboot has been and off for a while, at some point Penthouse holdings got the rights back and announced new issues would be returning but the promised date passed with no word I have no idea where the project is now. There's a website sitting on the name that right now just seem to be a sci-fi/science oriented clickbait site.

Anyway back to the original 1978-1996 run. It was an... odd duck. Imagine a fairly bog standard Popular Science ripoff, sprinkle in about 20-30% more paranormal and mystical woo, some surprisingly good interviews, some high quality original short fiction from leading sci-fi authors of the time, and wrap it up in some truly amazing cover art and just a general more weird and avante guard package that's pretty much what you got. And surprisingly while it was certainly weirder than most popular science magazines of the time it didn't have any added sleaze as you would expect from its publisher.

At some point in my late childhood / early teens I don't rmemeber exactly when I a box containing a couple of dozen issue from a relative who passed them on to me (them certainly not knowing the publishing company they were from, not that it really mattered. I later heard a few conversations in passing that leads me to believe they were originally from an uncle of mine who had had gotten them with a Penthouse subscription but didn't like them.)

Anywho at some point of course I tossed the magazines an mostly forgot about them until a few months back when, for whatever reason, Amazon published the entire run of magazine digitally for Prime Members.

So I decided to pick a few older magazines at random and browse them on my Kindle table.

October 1978 (First Issue)

- An interview with Freeman Dyson.

- An ad for L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. These were all over Omni in the early years. I don't know if younger folks get how much of a push Scientology made to be a legit religion back in the late 70s and 80s, really presenting itself in a pretty slick ad campaign as a mixture of a new age religion and a self improvement philosophy. It's still weird to see it in that context.

- A gloriously cheesy ad for Jovan Sex Appeal Aftershave with Boris Velijo art.

- Several ads for various book and records clubs. Another thing that I bet a lot of people under the age of... 25 or so don't quite get the utter ubiquity of at one time. Essentially you purchased an initial amount of the product (3 books for 99 cents each, 5 CDs for a dollar, whatever) but they would then automatically send you more that you would have to send back or get charged for at regular or even inflated prices. At some point these died off and I vaguely recall the government getting involved and squashing some of their more predatory practices.

- Cigarette ads. Damn these are weird to see now.

- An ad for the Polariod Sonar OneStep, an instant camera that uses "sonar" to automatically focus the lens. This was a thing?

- An article about the Shroud of Turin. *Laughs*

- A short stories by Theodore Sturgeon and Isaac Asimov

- A really good article on the Split-brain.

- An article about the "upcoming" 26 February 1979 total eclipse. The funny thing there's actually a line in the article that says "After next year most Americans will be forced to do their eclipse viewing in foreign lands or wait until August 21, 2017."

- An add for something called "Simulation Games from SPI." The weird thing is I read the ad from top to bottom and I have zero idea what they are selling. It's too early to be computer games so I'm assuming they are rule books for some kind of pen and paper D&D style game, but they aren't exactly clear on what exactly they are.

- An ad selling information that proves "UFO's May Doom Life on Earth! Read the Official U.S. Government Findings." The 437 page report was available for only 6.98 cents (money order only) from a P.O box in Brooklyn. Yeah I'll get right on that.

- Another ad for Scientology although I went back and noticed something. The first ad was for the "L. Ron Hubbard Foundation" and this one is for Dianetics and neither ad mentions the other. Weird it's like they had two brands going for some reason.

May 1979.

- An ad for the Casio Melody Calculator. A pocket calculator that could play the eleven note musical scale from A to D for some reason because I guess this is a thing that people needed in 1979.

- An article about the possibility of putting a giant turbine (with blades as "long as a football field) underwater in the Gulf Stream to generate "enough energy to power the entire Eastern United States." I don't think we have one of those.

- An interview with Richard Feynman.

- Another ad for Dianetics, but this one name drops Hubbard. So I have no idea what's going on at this point.

- An ad for "The Incredible Beamscope Zoom Lens." It's a 60 dollar lens that hands in front of your TV to make it bigger. I'm not making this up. "Turns a 13 inch TV into a 96 inch TV!" And I'm sur it looks amazing.

- Two separate adds from automatic phone dailers. Didn't know these were a big mainstream product.

January 1987.

- Article "Fourteen Futurist Describe 2007." Oh you know this is going to be good. A sampling.

Bill Gates: His is actually pretty sane with only a few forays into over-predictions. He correctly pretty much nails the internet as a concept, saying we'll be able to be able to view most any information from home as easily as being there. I did chuckle a bit when he expressed concern that future simulations of things like concerts and sporting events and tourist spots might be so good there's no point in living home.

Tony Vera: (Audiovisual innovator, inventor of Instant Replay): "I can tell you step by step what's going to happen. We'll have high definition TV with a wide screen of, say 1125 lines rather than 525." Okay not too far off. A lot of his other predictions didn't happen though.

Timothy Leary: "By 2007 the problem of scarcity will have been solved." *Snort*
"Within 20 years we'll have scrapped the current political system of partisan politics." I haven't been paying attention is that what happened?

Andrew Greenley: "The so-called conflict between science and religion will have vanished 20 years from now." Yeah that didn't happen.

- A short story from Ursela K. Le Guin.

- An article "Robotic Warriors Clash in Cyberwars!" - an article that seems to think we'll jump straight from 1980s level of military tech to full on Skynet Judgement Day killer robots controlled by supercomputer with no stage inbetween. For some reason futurist had a real hard time with the idea of a transitional stage where computers and robots were tools in warfare but not running the show.

- An ad for for 799 dollar "budget" PC. Complete 4.77 mhz processor, 640k of RAM, two floppy drives, and a monochrome monitor. A 20 meg hard drive was an available add-on for 450 bucks. God I love old computer ads.

- An ad for "Earth Scents" branded incense. Was there really a period where incense was big enough to have major brand name?

- An ad for Casio digital calculator wristwatches. Damn those were cool.

May 1990.

- An ad for a "portable" Smith Corona Word Processor which looks to be the size of a small laser printer.

- An ad for CompuServe. I have a soft spot for the pre-World Wide Web internet.

- "The Killing Fields: Latter Day Plagues." An article about AIDs. Okay given how much stigma was attached to AIDs/HIV in the early days and much rampant homophobia and to a much lesser degree Puritan attitudes about sex informed it all I don't want to harp on this too much but it is odd looking back at how alarmist the disease's potential was seen at the time, how the popular theory of the time was that a sexually transmitted disease was going to be able to reach plague levels when, and again not to make light of the disease, sexually transmitted diseases on a basic mechanical level can't spread that fast. But "By 2000 AIDs will have killed a 1/4 of the world's population" and/or that it was basically going to be the end of sex as we knew it were ideas you could express and be taken seriously.

- An article about robotic insects, which apparently by 2029 (a weirdly long point in the future for a futurist magazine but whatever) will be cleaning our teeth, vacuuming our carpet, and my favorite "Robohornets" will defend our homes with onboard DNA sampling machines and "Steel quarter inch stingers" to deter intruders. I'm going to start saving up now so I have enough to buy a set of these in 2029.

- An ad for a "Subliminal Brain Programming Cassettes." Another weird New Age bit of nonsense that was all over the place back in the day. For only 3.99 per cassette you can lose weight, quit smoking, or look years younger. There's another 3 ads in this issue alone selling essentially the same idea.

- An ad "YOU CAN MAKE UP TO $9,800 IN 24 HOURS!" And then an entire page of small text that doesn't actually tell you how, and I don't mean how I mean in the loosest sense of what broad industry or service you'd be in. I'm assuming pyramid scheme.

January 1993.

- A US Robotics Ad. 40% off the world's fastest fax modem! 14,440 bps!

- An ad for Power Translator software. Available on Spanish, French, and German. Only 275 buck each.

- An article that complains that antisemitism is hurting the UFOology field. Yes really.

- Sooooooo many ads for Cable TV Converters. So many.

- In a rare case of cross-brand promotion an ad for the "New Penthouse Online." Read Penthouse Letters and look at pictures (Remember this is a pre-web 1993 with 9,600 baud modems and VGA screens so that must have been soooo hot) for only 5.95 a month.

- An ad for the Sharp pocket touchscreen word processor. I love how everyone at the time thought that people would actually be typing out full documents on a Chiclet keyboard.

- An article the upcoming first generation of CD Base game consoles. "Right now the hardware with the best chance of survival is the SegaCD. Waiting in the wings is Nintendo. Although Nintendo won't release a compact-disc player peripheral for its Super Nintendo machine until well into 1993, don't count it out, because Nintendo has allied itself with Sony."

*Laughs for several hours.* Okay if you don't know why this is so funny in hindsight. Nintendo pulled the plug on their the shared CD-ROM ad with Sony almost literally at the 11th hour, leaving Sony to swallow the entire R&D budget. Well Sony decided screw that and took what they had learned making a CD-ROM add-on for Nintendo and redesigned it into a stand alone CD-ROM based system... the Playstation. Sega's CD-ROM drive was a flop, confusing customers (by the end of the cycle there 3 completely different gaming architectures requiring a base machine and one or two add-ons for the Sega Genesis) which caused it to lose ground with it's next system and never fully recover before dropping out of the hardware market entirely.

- An ad for a floppy disk containing the "Guide to America's Best Restaurants," a listing of 3,000 restaurants and their ratings. There's also ads in the magazine for every major city phonebook on CD. It's weird to see attempts at high level information distribution in the the days before internet ubiquity.
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Old 19th November 2017, 03:46 PM   #2
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Got into reading Omni at exactly the same period of my life and loved it.
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Old 19th November 2017, 04:05 PM   #3
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I used to pick up Omni every other month, or so. I think I had a subscription for a year.

Originally Posted by JoeBentley
October 1978 (First Issue)- An add for something called "Simulation Games from SPI." The weird thing is I read the ad from top to bottom and I have zero idea what they are selling. It's too early to be computer games so I'm assuming they are rule books for some kind of pen and paper D&D style game, but they aren't exactly clear on what exactly they are.
The Apple II was introduced in 1977 and there was a pretty brisk development of games, so 1978 would easily have seen computer games with ads in magazines of the time. However, SPI were board wargames, I think in the TSR mold.
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Old 19th November 2017, 04:37 PM   #4
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LOVED Omni! Loved it.
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Old 19th November 2017, 04:50 PM   #5
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I loved Omni too. I have an Amazon Prime account, so I may go shopping.
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Old 19th November 2017, 05:24 PM   #6
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The polaroid sonar autofocus was definitely a thing. One of the very first autofocus systems. It had a little difficulty shooting through glass.

If I'm recalling correctly, that was the one that introduced the battery in the film pack.
(Off to Wikipedia...)
Nope, I'm semi-wrong. The original SX70 did the battery in the film pack, they added the sonar later.
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Old 19th November 2017, 06:24 PM   #7
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I think I have a book The OMNI IQ Contest around here somewhere. I don't think I took the test.
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Old 19th November 2017, 11:07 PM   #8
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Yes, I also loved it!
Only discovered Omni some time in the mid/late 80's.
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Old 20th November 2017, 02:23 AM   #9
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Another Omni fan here. There was some great stuff in it.
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Old 20th November 2017, 02:56 AM   #10
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I vaguely remember Omni; as I recall, it was very entertaining but a lot of the content was best not taken too seriously.

Dave
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Old 20th November 2017, 03:35 AM   #11
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It was one of the few USA imports I managed to get with any regularity from about the 5th issue.

I remember it not just for the articles but the production quality, one of the first premium feeling magazines I can remember.

Sadly during a move in my 20s I decided to do a huge clear out and got rid of all my old editions - along with my old comics - 2000AD from issue 1.... perfect condition - so much money thrown away!!
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Old 20th November 2017, 03:48 AM   #12
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Just done a google image search for the Omni covers and it's amazing how many I remember - fabulous artwork!

Looking back I didn't realise how much of an influence it's artwork had on my commercial art output back in the 80s. I did hell a lot of airbrush work, a lot looked a lot like this cover from 1984.

In fact I remember doing a piece very similar, so much so I'm hoping my memory is a tad mixed up and I didn't in effect copy it! If my recollection is correct the headpiece came out not back into the image - sort of a like an egyptian headpiece. But....
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Old 20th November 2017, 06:33 AM   #13
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I subscribed to OMNI till it went in the tubes. Great combination of science and science fiction publishing.
I remember cutting edge articles on “String Theory” and other items.

“How many people do you think understand this “Nine-space” idea?”
“Oh, 8 or 9 in the whole world....”
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Old 20th November 2017, 07:10 AM   #14
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I remember catching the title at an odd angle once and realized it spelled out "0-3-2-1". (I think they used that in an ad as well.)
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Old 20th November 2017, 09:52 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by Darat View Post
I remember it not just for the articles but the production quality, one of the first premium feeling magazines I can remember.
That's one of the things I remember most about first reading them, that they felt "adult." Not in the "Boobs and swearwords" way but in the... this isn't something you're supposed to just read and forget way.

The cover art (which yes I agree was consistently amazing Most all of them were way more creative and detailed than the standard and even the ones that weren't were generally just a little more off kilter, weird, and unique to be memorable. And some of the standouts like the November 1978 H.R. Giger cover and the May 1984 cover you mentioned belong up there with the John/Yoko Rolling Stones cover, National Lampoon's "If you don't buy this magazine" cover, Steven McCurry's "Afghan Girl" National Geographic cover and Margaret Brundage's "Bat Woman" Weird Tales cover.) added a lot to this, as did the general "quality" feel of the magazine at time when many magazines were little more than glorified newspaper inserts.

The whole thing in its heyday was just this odd mix of 80s slick quality with just enough of an underground 'Zine feel. It was a weird mixture that carried over to the magazine's "60% hard science futurism, 20% sci-fi stories, 20% batcrap crazy paranormal new age nonsense" content.
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Old 20th November 2017, 10:15 AM   #16
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Originally Posted by Darat View Post
J\ did hell a lot of airbrush work, a lot looked a lot like this cover from 1984.
Title: Techno Madona 1
Airbrush painting
Artist: Stanislaw Fernandes
Date: 1981

http://www.sf01.com/PagesSF/Stock.html

Fernandes seems to really like the "Post-pulp/pre-punk style woman's face with sci-fi embellishments" motiff.
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Old 22nd November 2017, 07:02 AM   #17
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Me thinks I bought every issue
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Old 22nd November 2017, 07:26 AM   #18
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Omni Magazine

Yes - it had good stuff. But it had a of of woo also as I recall. And a bit of Omni trivia - the first issue was titled NOVA but PBS objected because that was, and still is, the name of their science program.
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Old 22nd November 2017, 09:25 AM   #19
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At that stage I found most of the woo as fascinating as the science.
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Old 22nd November 2017, 11:05 AM   #20
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I saw copies of Omni at a school friend's house, figured it was a science magazine but then spotted that it seemed to have credulous articles about paranormal crap and figured it wasn't to be trusted.

By that stage I was reading New Scientist as my sister had a subscription.
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Old 22nd November 2017, 03:22 PM   #21
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My dad got all kinds of magazines in the 70s and 80s: Omni, Analog, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics and at least one of the three car magazines (Car and Driver, Road and Track or Motor Trend). Oh, and magazines like Outdoor Life and Field and Stream, too.
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Old 22nd November 2017, 06:08 PM   #22
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July 11, 2017OMNI Magazine Back in Print This Fall

Quote:
enthouse Global Media has acquired OMNI magazine, bringing back to life the beloved and groundbreaking science fiction magazine. It’s a fitting move, as Penthouse magazine publisher Bob Guccione co-founded OMNI in 1978 with his wife Kathy Keeton. The next print issue of OMNI will be available October 24.
Alas, October 24 has come and gone, I've not seen anything.

This link says that a "Winter 2017 edition is available on newstands. Anybody seen it?
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Old 22nd November 2017, 07:53 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by crescent View Post
July 11, 2017OMNI Magazine Back in Print This Fall

Alas, October 24 has come and gone, I've not seen anything.

This link says that a "Winter 2017 edition is available on newstands. Anybody seen it?
No I did some googling for reference and context before I wrote up the OP and came across the reference to a reboot/continuation and like you I saw references to an October or Winter 2017 edition but I can't actually figure out if an actual magazine was ever produced or distributed.

ETA: There's a copy up on Ebay so I guess it exists.
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Old 23rd November 2017, 12:51 AM   #24
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Originally Posted by Arisia View Post
.....Popular Mechanics.......
Apart from 1001 different gun racks, I remember this magazine most of all for an article on building your own Indy 500 single seater racer! Great fun.
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Old 23rd November 2017, 07:52 AM   #25
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I have three ' Collectors ' editions of ' The Best of Omni Science Fiction ' ..

Lots of great stories and illustrations.
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Old 23rd November 2017, 07:54 AM   #26
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I never read it, but it sure had cooler covers than Popular Science.
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Old 23rd November 2017, 10:51 AM   #27
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One of the early issues had the terrific short story, Sandkings by a young George RR Martin.

For those not on Amazon Prime, Archive.org has a number of issues. Here's the first one, downloadable in multiple formats.
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Old 23rd November 2017, 11:00 AM   #28
John Jones
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Originally Posted by Arisia View Post
My dad got all kinds of magazines in the 70s and 80s: Omni, Analog, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics and at least one of the three car magazines (Car and Driver, Road and Track or Motor Trend). Oh, and magazines like Outdoor Life and Field and Stream, too.
Analog was one of my favorites. That's where I first read about about black holes, and on-line computer time-sharing services. I subscribed to Compuserve in 1982 because of what I read in Analog. In those days, you could get online with a teletype machine and a 300 baud acoustic coupler (a modem into which you fit your telephone handset). 110 baud may have been available, but I never tried it.

Compuserve charged by the fractional hour and bit-rate and time of day. My wife threw a fit when I ran up a $100 bill for one month.

Also, we lived in a cardboard box in the middle of the road, worked 24 hours a day, and walked 5 miles to school and back, uphill both ways.
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Old 24th November 2017, 07:29 AM   #29
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Originally Posted by John Jones View Post
Analog was one of my favorites. That's where I first read about about black holes, and on-line computer time-sharing services. I subscribed to Compuserve in 1982 because of what I read in Analog. In those days, you could get online with a teletype machine and a 300 baud acoustic coupler (a modem into which you fit your telephone handset). 110 baud may have been available, but I never tried it.

Compuserve charged by the fractional hour and bit-rate and time of day. My wife threw a fit when I ran up a $100 bill for one month.

Also, we lived in a cardboard box in the middle of the road, worked 24 hours a day, and walked 5 miles to school and back, uphill both ways.
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Old 24th November 2017, 09:22 AM   #30
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Omni yes! I was subscriber up to 1992 when I started working in Saudi and they would often 'lose it'. Great magazine. One of the editors, retired now lives in the town I do and I've meet up with her on several occasions.
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Old 24th November 2017, 09:51 PM   #31
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I moved this past September. When packing I threw out about 30 issues of Omni from 1978 through the early 80s. I bought them back then as they came out.
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Old 26th November 2017, 10:55 AM   #32
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Originally Posted by John Jones View Post
Also, we lived in a cardboard box in the middle of the road, worked 24 hours a day, and walked 5 miles to school and back, uphill both ways.
You were lucky. We lived in a paper bag, worked 30 hours a day, and got up 4 hours before we went to bed.

You tell kids how it was, and they don't believe you.
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Old 28th November 2017, 12:07 PM   #33
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Originally Posted by JoeBentley View Post
- Several ads for various book and records clubs. Another thing that I bet a lot of people under the age of... 25 or so don't quite get the utter ubiquity of at one time. Essentially you purchased an initial amount of the product (3 books for 99 cents each, 5 CDs for a dollar, whatever) but they would then automatically send you more that you would have to send back or get charged for at regular or even inflated prices. At some point these died off and I vaguely recall the government getting involved and squashing some of their more predatory practices.
DVD versions of this club were still active as of 2003. If you were alert it was a good way to fill your collection but you had to watch out and make certain they didn't send the monthly full price item if you didn't want it. Too much effort and supplanted these days.

Quote:
- An add for something called "Simulation Games from SPI." The weird thing is I read the ad from top to bottom and I have zero idea what they are selling. It's too early to be computer games so I'm assuming they are rule books for some kind of pen and paper D&D style game, but they aren't exactly clear on what exactly they are.
SPI was a board gamimg company best known for wargames. They were a head to head competitor with Avalon Hill (known for Panzer Blitz and Squad Leader). SPI produced some excellent games in their era but were an early casualty of the move from war games. Didn't help that at the end they were either taking their games too seriously or not seriously enough with the ridiculously complex Campaign for North Africa, a game where you not only had to keep track of every pilot over a 3 year campaign, but also the extra water consumption Italian units needed to cook their pasta.

Ads where you have no idea what they are selling were typical of the company.
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Old 28th November 2017, 12:25 PM   #34
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I think my favorite was the June 1980 article, "Save the Giant Flying Vampire Toad", by Norman Spinrad.

Y'see, there was this Florida resort with its own golf course, and the rough included the habitat which supported the previously-unknown Giant Flying Vampire Toad, which was discovered when golfers looking for lost balls started staggering out of the woods with the things clinging to their necks. The article ends with the call for volunteer golfers to support the population of this critically endangered species.
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Old 28th November 2017, 12:43 PM   #35
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Wow, I had forgotten all about Omni and that TV expando-lens thing. Don't think we had the same one as noted above but dang those optics were crappy. It worked a bit better if you made a box for it and turned out all the lights but you still would have done better just looking through the bottoms of a couple of Coke bottles.
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Old 28th November 2017, 12:49 PM   #36
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Originally Posted by Trebuchet View Post
The polaroid sonar autofocus was definitely a thing. One of the very first autofocus systems. It had a little difficulty shooting through glass.

If I'm recalling correctly, that was the one that introduced the battery in the film pack.
(Off to Wikipedia...)
Nope, I'm semi-wrong. The original SX70 did the battery in the film pack, they added the sonar later.
Yep, the old SX-70. What was nice was after the film was done the batteries still had plenty of juice. I rigged a transistor radio, a flashlight and even an old 1960's Polaroid land camera to use them.
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Old 28th November 2017, 01:11 PM   #37
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I think they even sold a kit with the sonar and batteries for hobbyists.
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Old 28th November 2017, 01:27 PM   #38
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Originally Posted by John Jones View Post
Analog was one of my favorites. That's where I first read about about black holes, and on-line computer time-sharing services. I subscribed to Compuserve in 1982 because of what I read in Analog. In those days, you could get online with a teletype machine and a 300 baud acoustic coupler (a modem into which you fit your telephone handset). 110 baud may have been available, but I never tried it.

Compuserve charged by the fractional hour and bit-rate and time of day. My wife threw a fit when I ran up a $100 bill for one month.
I remember Compuserve. Where I worked we used it to run a program called Profit II, which could provide cash flows for office building leases (1981-1982 or so). It was a real pain in the neck; all the inputs were ones or zeroes and you had to get them precisely right. It almost ended up being more trouble than it was worth, because we had to do some moderately time-consuming error checks. Fortunately we got Lotus 1-2-3 shortly afterwards and we started using that for the job.
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Old 29th November 2017, 08:53 AM   #39
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Originally Posted by John Jones View Post
Analog was one of my favorites. That's where I first read about about black holes, and on-line computer time-sharing services. I subscribed to Compuserve in 1982 because of what I read in Analog.

The Compuserve forums are still around, but the last of them are shutting down in December.
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