SpaceWar from Vectorbeam


(The following is a true story.)

A while back (September, 1997) I had placed an advertisement in some usenet newsgroups looking for various old electronics parts (such as Z-80's, 6116 SRAMs, EPROMs, etc.) to use when repairing old videogames. I got a few nibbles on some parts available for a pretty good price and couldn't help but notice that one of the replies came from someone with an account at a local Internet Service Provider in Vancouver, WA.

On a whim I decided to try to strike up a conversation with the fellow offering the parts locally in hopes of just picking them up instead of having them mailed to me. He (Jim Bell) came by where I work with the parts and we chatted a bit. (He was really interested in us making an encrypted hardware version of an "internet phone". I didn't pay much attention to it at the time.) Eventually he asked why I was interested in the old parts and I explained the Arcade Game Collecting hobby. Jim mentioned that he had a "sit down" (!) Space War that I might want to buy...

(Click for larger image)

I arranged a visit to see this "sit down" Space War. Much to my suprise it actually was a sit-at Vectorbeam SpaceWar! The monitor was dead, but the rest of the machine was in excellent condition. It was purchased by Tektronix (apparently when it was new) and kept as amusement for the engineers for numerous years.

Jim told me he was a graduate of MIT and remembered playing "Computer Space" on the PDP's there when he was a student, so when he happened across the SpaceWar at a Tektronix surplus sale he picked it up. It had then sat in his basement until I showed up.

I did my best "oh... another one of these..." routine and wound up trading a new Diamond graphics card for the Space War and a 13" Electrohome B/W XY monitor. Several days of troubleshooting and tinkering later and the game was fully operational!

Curiously enough, Jim took a job with a company in the same business park that I work at. I'd see Jim walk by my office window pretty much everyday...

Zonn Moore (author of the Cinematronic's Emulator at: http://www.concentric.net/~Zonn/emu.htm) described the Space War to me back in January of 1997 before I'd ever seen one:

"There was also a really cool sitdown cocktail, where the two players sat side by side. The monitor sits up on the table top at about a 60 degree angle, and the panel in front of the monitor (that contains the controls) wraps around the monitor with no sharp edges. Gives the entire thing the look of Mr Spacely's desk in the Jetsons. It has the manufacturer name of Games Inc. on the front overlay. The artwork is similar to Vectorbeams with Space War (no 's') as the name. All the boards and monitor are standard Vectorbeam stuff. It has a version number 'V013' stamped on it, and no one replied to a previous post asking if anymore of these things exist."

  Imagine my suprise when, several weeks later, I'm listening to the radio and hear something to the effect of: "Vancouver, Washington <blah> <blah> <blah> Jim Bell <blah> <blah> <blah> assassination <blah> <blah> <blah> federal <blah> <blah> <blah> no bail <blah> <blah> <blah>."

A viewing of the evening news revealed the full story-- apparently Jim had written an essay titled "Assassination Politics" which he published on the Internet. The essay described a system by which an anonymous pool of money would be used to reward anyone that assassinated a government official. That's a good way to make new friends with the Federalies. :-)

In Jim's own words:

"... I look at it this way: The Federal government (and all other governments, around the world) are curently parasites on the rest of the population. Now "parasite theory" is that the parasite has some sort of optimum "parasite level" above which he cannot go. Once the cost for such parasitism is removed, there will be an economic boom for those "hosts" of the parasite. Naturally, the parasite will be in trouble, but that's only justice."

I haven't heard from Jim again. I think he's spending a lot more time with his newly found Federal Friends.*

The SpaceWar however is safe and sound. :-) Tom Cloud purchased it for his collection (and drove several hundred miles to pick it up!) and last I heard it was still working well.

-Clay

* and as a new foot-note to this story... A little update from the Associated Press:

'Bitter' Man Accused of Stalking Federal Agents
Sought to Turn Tables on Investigators, Authorities Charge

Nov. 21, 2000

By Joe Beaird

TACOMA, Wash. (APBnews.com) -- A convicted felon with a decade-long antagonism against the federal government has been arrested for stalking two Treasury Department agents.

James D. Bell of Vancouver is being held at a federal detention center near the SeaTac International Airport as he awaits a bail hearing Wednesday.

Bell is the author of an Internet manifesto called Assassination Politics, which proposes a way for people to anonymously claim cash rewards for correctly "predicting" the deaths of government employees and officeholders.

The current charges against Bell allege that he made interstate trips attempting to track down agents Jeff Gordon and Mike McNall, who work for the Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration.

Bell allegedly pursued these agents, who had investigated him in previous cases, "with the intent to injure or harass" them, according to the 17-page criminal complaint filed with the U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington at Tacoma.

Prior record

Gordon led a team of agents who searched Bell's house and arrested him in 1997 on similar stalking charges. He has also testified against Bell -- a Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemistry graduate -- on several occasions.

McNall was involved in another 1996 case in which Bell was convicted of "corrupt interference" with internal revenue laws.

"It had to do with Mr. Bell's belief that the agents were illegally harassing him, and his response was to begin an investigation of them," said Bell's court-appointed defense lawyer Robert M. Leen.

Leen was appointed after Bell complained in Internet-published letters that the federal public defender's office was acting in collusion with federal prosecutors.

"Given Mr. Bell's history of stalking and aggressively pursuing people when he feels that someone has wronged him, [the public defender's office] thought it would be best if someone outside the office represented him," Leen told APBnews.com.

Allegedly gathered names of workers

According to the criminal complaint against him, Bell has been using online databases, voter registration data and motor vehicle records to collect the names and home addresses of dozens of government employees working for the IRS, FBI, Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, as well as members of local police agencies.

He also has bragged of using his chemistry knowledge to manufacture the toxic nerve gas sarin, the complaint alleges.

In 1997, he pleaded guilty to contaminating an IRS office with noxious chemicals, collecting the names of IRS employees, attempting to obstruct the enforcement of internal revenue laws, and using false Social Security numbers to hide his assets, according to the criminal complaint against him.

Bell apparently believes that federal officials will be less apt to investigate him if he collects personal information about them. In Internet newsgroup postings he allegedly wrote: "It is very likely that these people will be far more pliable and less abusive in the future if they are well-known."

After having tracked down what he thought was Gordon's home address and personal information, but which was in fact data about another Jeff Gordon who has a son, Joshua, Bell allegedly posted the following Internet message: "So say goodnight to Joshua, Mr. Anonymous. Tell him it's not his fault that his father is a thug."

Playing with chemicals

Bell's vendetta against the government apparently took root in 1989 when he was arrested for the possession of unregistered chemicals at his home, said Milo Wadlin, Bell's brother-in-law.

"He picked up this one chemical that has almost no uses except to manufacture methamphetamines," Wadlin told APBnews.com. "It wasn't illegal to have it, but they busted his place and it was all over the papers that he had a meth lab. ... He became bitter at that point."

Though not illegal to possess, the chemical had to be registered, and Bell failed to do so. He was sentenced to probation, which he apparently violated, according to court records.

Bell had always been a prankster, Wadlin said, and used to delight in filling aerosol cans with marijuana odor and spraying them at police gatherings. But after his arrest for unregistered chemicals, the tone changed, he said.

Joe Beaird is an APBnews.com staff writer (joe.beaird@apbnews.com).


Updated: 6/27/99


1999, Clayton Cowgill clay@yahoo.com