Archive for the 'Vintage Computing' Category
Ah, the good ole days when you had to pay $535 (that's $1,744 in today's dollars) for the privilege of merely being able to hook a printer to your home computer. What can I say — it was a useful feature.
My first computer, an Apple II+, came equipped with a Grappler+ printer card (from the previous owner), although I can't recall ever using it. Instead, I printed school reports by that time from whichever family MS-DOS machines we had at the time, each of which included a built-in parallel port for printer use.
What a great day it was when I switched from a noisy dot matrix printer to the that awesome Canon Bubblejet we had. Silent printing! And the day we got our first full-color photo capable HP inkjet printer around 1996. It was pretty low resolution, but still amazing.
Today, I don't print much. I have a color laser copier in service to reproduce scanned documents (in lieu of a copy machine) in case I need a hard copy of something — usually a form or contract — to mail.
Discussion Topic of the Week: Do you regularly print anything from your computer these days? What do you print?
After 94 years in business, it is likely that Radio Shack will soon be no more. And sadly, it has taken the impending death of Radio Shack for me to realize how absolutely ingrained its products have been in my life.
As the son of an electronics engineer living in the US, our home growing up held at least five Radio Shack products per room (or those of its related brands: Tandy, Realistic, Optimus, Archer, or Micronta).
I am not joking or exaggerating. I could probably go through my parents' house today and fill a whole room with that stuff: speakers, tapes, radios, hi-fi receivers, turntables, headphones, microphones, clocks, intercoms, outlet timers, telephones, cables, wires, adapters and more.
It's almost absurd, I tell you. My first IBM compatible PC was a Tandy 1800HD laptop. My first cassette recorder, microphone, telephone, cordless telephone all came from Radio Shack. My first kiss…well, a Radio Shack robot, of course.
And who can forget the batteries. The batteries!
Above and beyond all that were the games, the toys, the amusements. The Armatrons and Cosmic Fire Away 1000s. Pocket Blackjack, electronic chess, Pocket Repeat, RC cars, tiny kid DJ stations, microphone FM transmitters, electronic coin banks, joysticks, talking alarm clocks (Dare I add the Tandy 1000 series and the TRS-80 Color Computer). The list is endless, I tell you.
In honor of the foundering electronics retailer, I pulled together a slightly massive collection of Radio Shack toy and game box art from the late 1960s up to the early 2000s. For good measure, I threw in a handful of non-toy product boxes as well (such as one for a Zack Morris-sized cell phone and a pocket TV set).
As you look through them below, I have but one question to ask:
How many of these have you owned or played?
In September 1990, Kodak announced a brand new system for storing and viewing photographs: Photo CD. At a time when Compact Discs represented the vanguard of consumer electronics technology, Kodak capitalized on the excitement by blending digitized photos with a custom CD format.
Kodak designed that format for viewing through special a Kodak CD Player device (think DVD player for still photos) that hooked to a standard TV set. Using such a player, one could view the digitized photos via a virtual slideshow.
With a base image resolution of 512 x 768, Photo CD was far from an archival medium. It tried to offer convenience, but instead ended up adding needless cost and encumbrance to the photo viewing process. In an era before most people were equipped to view, edit, or print digital photos from a PC, the fact that the photos came in an electronic format did not add anything notable to the experience. Predictably, adoption of the Photo CD system never gained much steam. (Wikipedia's article on Photo CD has some pretty good additional analysis of why Photo CD never took off.)
I personally remember encountering a Kodak Photo CD player in either a photography store or a Radio Shack as a kid. I thought it was amazing — your own photos on a TV set! But my dad, an experienced photographer, never bought into the system.
P.S. For more CD history, check out my Compact Disc 30th Anniversary article that I wrote back in 2012.
Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you ever use the Kodak Photo CD service or own a Photo CD player?
Plenty of companies experimented with pocket and handheld computers in the early 1980s. Among them we must count HP, which introduced its HP-75C in 1982.
I peronally own an HP-75D (the successor model of this machine) that allows use of a bar code wand. I bought it on eBay around 2000, messed around with it a few times, and I think it's been sitting in a box or a closet since. I couldn't get into it, for some reason, like I could my TRS-80 Pocket Computer. Perhaps it's time to revisit the 75D and try again — if it still works.
Discussion Topic of the Week: Are you a fan of HP calculators? Which model is your favorite?
Once upon a time, companies tried to achieve video phone calls using non-networked, proprietary point-to-point devices such as the AT&T VideoPhone 2500 (RSOTW, 2010) — almost all of which utilized traditional telephone lines or ISDN.
Then the Internet came along and blew the field wide open. Suddenly, video chat could happen over any data transfer medium that supported TCP/IP, and it could be routed around the world to any node on the Internet. Connectix's VideoPhone software (circa 1995) was one of the first consumer video chat products to take advantage of the Internet. Using the software and the company's QuickCam digital camera (arguably the world's first webcam), folks could video conference all over the world — albeit in black and white.
For more on the history of video phones and video chat, check out this piece I created for Technologizer back in 2010.
Discussion Topic of the Week: When was the first time you ever made a video call or did video chat?
I'm a big fan of educational, semi-toy computers like the VTech PreComputer Power Pad (seen here in his scan from the 1994 JCPenney Christmas Catalog) because historians and collectors alike often completely overlook them in study of computer history.
I don't have a Power Pad at the moment, but I do have a few other educational computers, including some featured in that slideshow. My favorite is probably the VTech I.Q. Unlimited or the Tiger Learning Computer. But we'll save those for another day.
Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you ever own any educational or kids' computers? Tell us about them.
It's that time of year again: the Yuletide. Over the past few years, I've been posting an annual collection of all the Christmas-related 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.
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.