Benj Writes History at How-To Geek

April 15th, 2020 by Benj Edwards

Back in February, I landed a full-time job at How-To Geek as a Staff Writer. It’s been a great gig, and I am enjoying helping people with tricky (and sometimes very simple) tech problems.

I’ve written a lot about iPhone, iPad, Mac, Windows 10, and the Nintendo Switch so far, but HTG also lets me do a history feature about once a week. That way I can keep flexing my tech nostalgia muscles. Here are the history pieces I’ve done so far:

Expect much more where that came from, so keep an eye on my How-To Geek page, and you’ll see new ones pop up from time to time.

I hope everybody out there is doing well.  This blog isn’t dead yet — I still plan to post some more Retro Scans some day.

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Life in the Age of COVID-19

April 7th, 2020 by Benj Edwards


How is everyone doing out there? We’re living through historic times, with most of the world on lockdown due to COVID-19 (AKA novel coronavirus).

My family and I have been staying at home since early March. We stocked up on supplies in February when it seemed things were getting really bad in China, so we’ve been ok regarding food. We’ve also received some supplemental grocery deliveries every few weeks. We typically buy non-perishables and let them sit for a few days before touching them, then wash them off before using. Any perishables get a scrub down immediately then sit quarantined in a bag in the fridge. Checking the mail involves surgical gloves and a multi-day quarantine in a safe spot before opening.

We’re fortunate enough to have a large enough house and a big enough yard that we don’t get cabin fever too badly. The weather has been nice in general, so me and the kids have spent a lot of our free time outside catching toads, gardening, and repeatedly washing the pollen off of everything.

And every night since it came out, I’ve been playing a little bit of Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the Switch. It’s a fun diversion.

Since February 10th, I’ve worked for How-To Geek as a Staff Writer. It’s a work from home job, so not much has changed there — I work 8 hours a day Monday-Friday. The kids have mostly left me alone, but it can be stressful. Luckily, my wife has kept them busy. They just recently started doing online schoolwork, and that has been a stressful adventure unto itself. But I think they will soon get into the rhythm of it.

I hope everyone out there stays healthy and safe during these strange times. They’re not permanent; We will get through this, and I hope we will all be wiser and kinder for having lived through the experience.

Discussion Topic: How are you and your family coping during these times? Have you played any games or used any old computers to keep yourself busy?

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Larry Tesler (1945-2020)

February 19th, 2020 by Benj Edwards

Larry TeslerIn Memoriam: Lawrence G. “Larry” Tesler (1945-2020),
inventor of Copy/Paste at Xerox PARC, member of Apple Lisa team,
human-computer interaction expert

Tesler was a giant in the field of human-computer interaction, having pioneered modeless interfaces at Xerox PARC and carried those over to Apple as part of the Lisa team. While at PARC, he and Timothy Mott created a text editor called Gypsy that included the first implementation of the now-common Copy and Paste features for moving blocks of information easily within a document. According to Robert Scoble, Tesler was also on the committee at Apple that decided to re-hire Steve Jobs in the mid-1990s. He will be missed.

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Atari 800 Turns 40

December 23rd, 2019 by Benj Edwards

Atari 800 FastCompany Article by Benj Edwards

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Atari 400 and Atari 800 home computers — Atari released them in the fall of 1979.

(Many sources say November 1979, but I found some newspaper references to retailers having them in stock in October 1979.)

To celebrate the birthday of my favorite computer and game machine, I investigated the story behind its creation for FastCompany. I threw in some personal nostalgia and vintage photos of my older brother using an Atari for good measure.

Forty years ago, Atari released its first personal computers: the Atari 400 and 800. They arrived in the fall of 1979 after a prerelease marketing campaign that had begun the previous January when the company unveiled the machines at what was then called the Winter Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Then as now, “Atari” was synonymous with “video game,” and the new machines packed more technological potential than any game console at the time, with custom graphics and sound chips, support for four joysticks or eight paddles, and the ability to play games on cartridge, cassette, or disk. At launch, one of the machines’ first games, Star Raiders, defined cutting-edge home entertainment.

To research the piece, I spoke in depth with former Atari engineer Joe Decuir and former Atari software evangelist Chris Crawford (also a game designer best known for Eastern Front: 1941 and Balance of Power). Crawford is a fascinating guy, and I should probably publish my full interview with him at some point.

I’ve been meaning to write a piece like this about the Atari 800 since 2009 when the console turned 30. (Read more about that on this post about my 30th anniversary teardown.) What can I say — I play the long game.

I hope you enjoy it — and Merry Christmas!

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[ VC&G Anthology ] The Ghosts of Christmas Games Past

December 17th, 2019 by Benj Edwards

The Ghosts of Christmas Games Past by Benj Edwards Title Image

The Christmas Games of Yesteryear

Of the tens of thousands of video and computer games released since the 1970s, few have featured Christmas themes. That’s surprising considering that the holiday is an insanely popular topic in other forms of media (especially movies–the number of Christmas-themed films could probably fill the Grand Canyon).

Here are twelve video and computer games, all released more than ten years ago, that dared to buck the trend. Some failed, some succeeded, but all tried to deliver holiday cheer with Santa, sleighs, elves, evil snowmen, flying turkey helicopters, and other beloved symbols of Christmas.

Many were released on more than one platform; whenever possible, I’ve included the cover art for all of the versions. Some of the games are still available, and I’ve given links to the ones you can download online. Our list of Christmas games is not exhaustive, though, so if you have a favorite that we left out, please share it in the comments.

[ Continue reading [ VC&G Anthology ] The Ghosts of Christmas Games Past » ]

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The VC&G Christmas Collection (2019 Edition)

December 9th, 2019 by Benj Edwards

Vintage Computing and Gaming Christmas Xmas Megapost

It’s that time of year again: the Yuletide. Over the past eight years, I’ve been posting an annual collection of all the Christmas-related tech material I’ve written (both for this site and for others) into one place for easy reading. Below, you’ll find list of off-site Christmas slideshows, other features, and of course, plenty of Retro Scans of the Week.

This year, I updated the PC World/MacWorld/Techhive links to Archive.org WayBack Machine links. The images on all of my old PCWorld features are now sadly broken.

I have a soft spot for Christmas, having been raised with the tradition, so this list is for me as much as it is for everyone else. After going through these things again, it’s amazing to see how much Christmas stuff I’ve posted over the years. I hope you enjoy it.

[ Continue reading The VC&G Christmas Collection (2019 Edition) » ]

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[ VC&G Anthology ] The Evolution of Computer Displays

September 17th, 2019 by Benj Edwards

Evolution of Computer Displays by Benj Edwards Title Image

Take a good look at this sentence. You’re reading it thanks to the magic of a computer display — whether it be LCD, CRT, or even printed out on paper. Since the beginning of the digital era, users have needed a way to view the results of programs run on a computer — but the manner in which computers have spit out data has changed considerably over the last 70 years. Let’s take a tour.

[ Continue reading [ VC&G Anthology ] The Evolution of Computer Displays » ]

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[ Retro Scan ] 9.9.99 – Dreamcast Turns 20 in America

September 9th, 2019 by Benj Edwards

Sega Dreamcast 9.9.99 9/9/99 9_9_99 September 9 1999 American Launch advertisement scan - 1999Gaming used to be very painful

On September 9, 1999, Sega launched the Dreamcast in America. This is one of its pre-launch print ads.

20 years later, I am still not sure exactly how to interpret this advertisement. The tagline in the corner seems the most obvious part. To me, “it’s thinking,” implied that the Dreamcast packed a powerful CPU and could generate complex gaming experiences.

But the screaming, eye-pain stuff? At the time, video game advertisement in the US leaned toward cryptic and edgy. This was drumming up interest for a launch date, so it threw in some mystery, not even naming the console itself.

But if taken literally, the ad makes it look like playing games on this upcoming console could be a painful or negative experience. Somehow marketers calculated that dark and painful imagery attracted American gamers. What this cultural masochism says about American gamers, I am not sure. That’s a deep one to unravel.

I didn’t like the ad much at the time. But I was hyped for the Dreamcast launch, so maybe it worked.

9.9.99

1999 was a big year for me. In June, I graduated high school and started my first full-time job. A month later, I moved out of my parents’ house. I had money to burn, my own bank account, my own credit card. So I did what came naturally to an 18 year-old at the time: I bought a Sega Dreamcast. It was one of the highlights of my adult life — a symbol of independence.

[ Continue reading [ Retro Scan ] 9.9.99 – Dreamcast Turns 20 in America » ]

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[ Retro Scan ] IBM 4341 Super-Mini

July 12th, 2019 by Benj Edwards

IBM 4341 Super-Mini Mainframe computer University Big man on Campus advertisement scan - 1984A controller bigger than your head

As far as I recall, this is the first time I’ve ever featured an advertisement for an IBM mainframe computer system on VC&G. The system in question is the IBM 4341, a System/370-compatible model first launched in 1979 and discontinued in 1986.

In this 1984 ad, we catch the system — apparently used commonly at universities — near the end of its lifespan. Other than this ad, I know nothing else about it. But Wikipedia does.

Huge IBM mainframes at universities predate my time in college — I’m actually glad I never had to use them.

[ From Discover Magazine, January 1984, p.22-23 ]

Discussion Topic: Have you ever used an IBM mainframe computer? Tell us about it.

[ Fuzzy Memory ] Mouse and Snake Labyrinth Game

July 5th, 2019 by Benj Edwards

Fuzzy MemoryEvery once and a while, I receive emails from people looking for a certain game, electronic toy, or computer from their distant past. I then pass it on to intrepid VC&G readers to crack the case.

The Clues

Roberto writes:

I’m trying to find an “nostalgy” old game, I remember a mouse running through a labyrinth eat cheeses and a boa pursuit it.

Several years I’m trying to find this old dos or ms dos game.
Can you help to find it?

Thanks in advance,
Roberto

The Search Begins

It’s up to you to find the object of Roberto’s fuzzy memory. Post any thoughts or suggestions in the comments section below. Roberto will be monitoring the comments, so if you need to clarify something with him, ask away. Good luck!

Have a memory of a computer, video game, computer software, or electronic toy you need help identifying? Send me an email describing your memories in detail. Hopefully, the collective genius of the VC&G readership can help solve your mystery.

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