Archive for the 'Vintage Computing' Category

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] AppleLine: One of Apple's Two Rarest Products

Monday, April 14th, 2014

AppleLine Service Sheet (Apple P/N 661-75203), rev. March 1991 (7.2.1) - circa 1991One of the only photos of this device on the Internet at present.

Almost thirty years after its introduction, the AppleLine Protocol Converter (1985) remains one of the rarest pieces of commercial hardware Apple has ever produced. It allowed a single Lisa, Mac, or Apple II to communicate with IBM mainframes using the IBM 3270 terminal protocol.

As far as I can tell, this is only the second photo of the AppleLine ever posted on the Internet (the first was in a slideshow from last year — see below). I bought this particular Apple service sheet just to share a photo of this elusive beast with you.

In 1983, Apple released a similar (and similarly rare) product, the Apple Cluster Controller, which I wrote about in this Macworld slideshow from last year. One model of the Cluster Controller allowed up to seven Apple Lisas to connect to an IBM mainframe (again, via IBM 3270), which required an intelligent protocol conversion process. As such, the Cluster Controller contained its own CPU and was a miniature computer unto itself, but technical specifications of either device are hard to track down.

If you or anyone you know owns an Apple Cluster Controller or AppleLine protocol converter, I'd love to hear from you. They are so rare I'm not sure if they even exist anymore. (Perhaps Apple only leased them out and recalled all the units when they phased them out, keeping them largely out of private hands. But this is pure speculation on my part.)

[ From AppleLine Service Sheet (Apple P/N 661-75203), rev. March 1991 (7.2.1) ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the rarest Apple product you own?

[ Newsbits ] April 10, 2014

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

VC&G Newsbits Newspaper Logo

VC&G Newsbits Logo

Vintage computing and retrogaming news small enough to eat.

There are too many good links this week. I honestly don't know what happened. Maybe I'm getting better at this.

Recent News

  • Vintage Computer Festival Southeast 2.0
    The AHCS does it again

    "The Atlanta Historical Computer Society and the Computer Museum of America are pleased to announce the second annual Vintage Computer Festival Southeast. We have selected the dates of the 3rd and 4th of May to make it easy for people to attend both VCF East and VCF Southeast this year.

  • Nintendo Launches Game Boy Advance on Wii U Virtual Console
    Another painfully slow trickle of games from Nintendo, but the emulation is very well done.

    "From April 3 through April 24, select Game Boy Advance titles will launch in the Nintendo eShop on Wii U each week. In addition to off-TV play, these games feature Restore Points that save progress during game play, and Miiverse functionality.

  • Microsoft Ends Support for Windows XP
    Spoiler: It's not really dead

    "Windows XP, Microsoft Corp.'s beloved seventh major operating system and arguably the company's most successful, was left to perish on Tuesday at its creators' hands. It was 12 years, seven months old.

  • Fifty Years of IBM System/360
    The most successful computer platform that the least number of people know about

    "50 years ago today, IBM unveiled the System/360 mainframe, a groundbreaking computer that allowed new levels of compatibility between systems and helped NASA send astronauts to the Moon.

  • Gmail 10th Anniversary
    A great piece by Harry McCracken I missed last week

    "If you wanted to pick a single date to mark the beginning of the modern era of the web, you could do a lot worse than choosing Thursday, April 1, 2004, the day Gmail launched.

  • Raspberri Pi Announces New "Compute Module"
    A new variety of this vertsatile, hackable machine

    "The compute module contains the guts of a Raspberry Pi (the BCM2835 processor and 512Mbyte of RAM) as well as a 4Gbyte eMMC Flash device (which is the equivalent of the SD card in the Pi). This is all integrated on to a small 67.6×30mm board which fits into a standard DDR2 SODIMM connector (the same type of connector as used for laptop memory*).

Cool Links

  • Story of the Windows XP Bliss Desktop Image
    Hachman hits it out of the park with this research piece

    "It's not too far-fetched to believe that a billion people have viewed the "Bliss" image that defines the desktop view of Windows XP, the seminal OS that Microsoft is retiring Tuesday. But you'd barely notice the real-world "Bliss" scene if you stepped out of your car and gazed at it today.

  • A Custom Portable N64 Console
    Kotaku drools all over a Bacman forum post

    "We've seen portable retro consoles before, but this N64 mod is beautiful. It uses a 3.5″ screen, internal memory and Rumble Pak, an Expansion Pak, a GameCube analog stick and 4 hour battery life.

  • Kevin Mitnick Befriends a Former Foe on Facebook
    …an old hacking target of decades past

    "You gotta love the old friends you meet on Facebook.

  • Looking at the Web with Internet Explorer 6, One Last Time
    Lee Hutchinson explores the modern web with IE 6 in all its splintered glory

    "Windows XP wasn't the only thing to be shuffled into unsupported purgatory yesterday. Also included in the group of applications to be dumped down the memory hole is the browser that everyone loves to hate: Internet Explorer 6.

  • 1988 Inside Edition Story on Nintendo
    Retroist digs up a vintage scare piece

    "In 1988 parents were still baffled by the spell that video games had cast over their children. This segment from Inside Edition tries to get to to the bottom of it all.

Echo Box

A place for products, creative works, and upcoming projects seeking support. No endorsement from VC&G is implied.

  • Project: MEGAFOOT
    An indie sci-fi action film seeking funding on IndieGoGo. One of the rewards ($150 level) is a limited edition Megafoot NES cartridge.

Submit News

If you want me to include something on a future Newsbits column, send me an email with "[Newsbits]" in the subject line.

[ Newsbits ] April 3, 2014

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

VC&G Newsbits Logo

Vintage computing and retrogaming news small enough to eat.

Recent News

  • Microsoft Releases Source Code for MS-DOS and Word for Windows
    A great move by Microsoft and the CHM

    "On Tuesday, we dusted off the source code for early versions of MS-DOS and Word for Windows. With the help of the Computer History Museum, we are making this code available to the public for the first time.

  • Yoshi's New Island Out Now on 3DS
    A Nintendo 3DS sequel to the Super NES classic with all-new stages.

    "New island. New adventure. Same awesome Yoshi. The little Mario Bros. are in big trouble. Help Yoshi save the day — with help from cool power-ups, giant Eggdozers, and crazy transformations.

  • New Ultima Online Shard Freeshard Open
    by the name of "An Corp"

    "A brand new freeshard for Ultima Online has opened up and it is amazing. T2A era, full-loot, open-world PVP, revamped loot tables, exciting new expansions like the Township/Kingship system, and Order/Chaos/Balance battles.

Cool Links

  • Play Zork on an Altair 8800 Clone via Telnet
    and watch the panel lights blink in realtime

    "Logon using your favorite telnet client to: altair.micronick.com on port 23. You can SAVE and RESTORE your Zork game. I suggest using terminal type vt100 or ANSI.

  • Magpi: The Micro Arduino Gaming Platform Interface
    A retro portable game console built from scratch

    "Here's a retro hand-held gaming console I built with my son. It uses an Arduino micro-controller, a small LCD screen, push-buttons, a 3D printed case and home-grown "PC" board. It's really pretty easy to solder and put together. My son & I wrote two games and a drawing program for it.

  • Classic Game Room Reviews the Sega Dreamcast Dreameye Camera
    A neat peripheral many people have forgotten

    "TV phone, video mail and photo mail with your Sega Dreamcast and the Dreameye camera! Hook this up to your Dreamcast and connect to the Japanese Internet in 2000 for some great times!! Records 25 second clips of video from a terrible webcam, but it's great for laughs.

Submit News

If you want me to include something on a future Newsbits column, send me an email with "[Newsbits]" in the subject line. My email filter will route it directly into my brain.

Top 1000 Video Games of All Time

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

The Top 1000 Video Games of All Time

Today, PC World published my latest slideshow, The Top 1000 Video Games of All Time.

The in-depth piece — split into 1000 separate slides, each with its own paragraph of text — took over two years to create.

You may be asking yourself how one person could create such an epic work. Well, I got a little help from custom algorithms I programmed partially in Haskell — and partially in Minecraft's redstone circuitry using Boolean algebra.

But I didn't just rely on computer wizardry. Much self-deliberation went into choosing the order of the items on the list. I argued with myself for hours while sitting on the bench at a local park, on the bus, and in the North Regional Branch of the Wake County Public Library. After being arrested 13 times (twice in the nude), I decided to perform future deliberations in the privacy of my own bathroom. I feel that it made the results more pure.

Here's a sneak peek at the bottom 11:

1000. Halo (Xbox)
999. Silpheed (IBM PC)
998. Sewermania (TI-99/4A)
997. Quadrapong (Arcade)
996. Section Z (NES)
995. Pooyan (Arcade)
994. New Super Mario Bros. (DS)
993. Popeye: Beach Volleyball (Game Gear)
992. Lloyd the Squirrel (???)
991. Snafu (Aquarius)
990. Descent (PC)

And here's a selection from somewhere near the middle:

555. Superman (2600)
554. Bioshock Infinite (PC)
553. Slipnosis (iOS)
552. Star Trek: Phaser Strike (Microvision)
551. Farmville (Flash)
550. Deadly Towers (NES)

As for the top 10, you may be in for a surprise. My Haskell program determined with scientific precision that the 10 greatest video games of all time are, in fact, different versions of Ms. Pac-Man:

10. Ms. Pac-Man (Apple iPod)
9. Ms. Pac-Man (Atari 2600)
8. Ms. Pac-Man (TI-99/4A)
7. Ms. Pac-Man (ColecoVision)
6. Ms. Pac-Man (Atari 5200)
5. Ms. Pac-Man (Atari 800)
4. Ms. Pac-Man (IBM PC)
3. Ms. Pac-Man (Intellivision)
2. Ms. Pac-Man (Arcade)
1. Ms. Pac-Man (Atari 7800)

Oddly, my redstone program placed Super Mario Bros. 3 in the top 10 seven times — that's how good it is. But I can't do the same game on the same platform in multiple spots, so I compromised. To see the full, final list, you'll have to check out the slideshow yourself. I hope you enjoy it.

And remember: unlike most of my previous ranked lists, I used computer algorithms to ensure its accuracy, so don't get mad if you disagree with the list. You're completely wrong.

—-

Discussion Topic: What are your top 1000 video games of all time?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Benj's Early Computer Art

Monday, March 31st, 2014

Benj's Early Computer Art Kindergarten Art Print Printout 1986Watch out Mr. Rabbit!

As I've previously mentioned, I've found a wealth of Retro Scan material while looking through old family papers in the attic at my mom's house.

This time, I was sorting through a giant box of my ancient artwork from school, and I came upon this fascinating computer printout from my kindergarten era (1985-86).

I vaguely remember making it (although, strangely, I mostly remember coloring in those little boxes and being proud of it), but I have no idea what software I used to do it. I know that my school stocked itself with IBM PCs, but the font and the overall feel of the image remind me of an Apple II MECC educational game.

Whatever the platform, this looks like the output from a stamp/clip-art program for kids. Does anybody know what it is?

[ From 8.5 x 11-inch tractor feed printout, circa 1985-86]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the first computer paint program you ever used?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Canon Personal Computer

Monday, March 24th, 2014

Canon Personal Computer IBM PC compatible clone Advertisement 1985May the Clone Wars begin.

Here's another obscure IBM PC clone from the depths of time, the Canon Personal Computer.

As I mentioned in a recent RSOTW, it was pretty easy — even within a few years of the IBM PC's release — to undercut IBM price-wise by integrating ports and peripherals directly into the motherboard of a competing computer.

Note that the Canon PC used an Intel 8086 CPU, which packed the full 16-bit data bus (verses the 8-bit bus on the IBM PC's 8088).

[ From TIME (Small Business USA Insert), May 6 1985, p.2]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Canon is best known for its imaging products, but it made computers too. Can you think of any other companies best known for something else that made a PC?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Sega IR 7000

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Sega IR 7000 Haldheld Portable PDA Infrared Advertisement 1994"Whispering is for gutless weasels."

In the early-mid 1990s, Sega experimented with a few electronics items that veered away from mainstream console gaming. Case in point, the IR 7000 PDA, seen here (and don't forget the Sega Pico).

I've never owned an IR 7000, but I have to admit that I wanted one badly back in the day. The thought of sending secret wireless messages to other kids in class (I was 13 at the time this came out) excited me.

[ From Flux, Issue #2, 1994, p.7]

Discussion Topic of the Week: In your opinion, what was Sega's weirdest product?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Visual 1050 PC

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Visual 1050 Personal Computer System Advertisement 1983"The complete professional solution at an unbeatable price."

I've never owned a Visual 1050 Personal Computer System (seen here), but I have an old Visual brand terminal that uses the same (or a very similar) keyboard. That's the first thing that comes to mind when I see this, because it's a distinctively wide, flat keyboard.

The 1050 sported a Z80 CPU and ran the CP/M operating system, the grandfather of MS-DOS. Curiously, even though CP/M was a popular platform for business computers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I only have a a handful of pure CP/M-based machines in my collection. (My favorite such machine is probably the Kaypro II.)

In regard to the chart in the advertisement above, it's interesting to note that it was pretty easy to undercut IBM, price-wise, not long after the IBM PC came out. Fast advances in IC design allowed computer makers to inexpensively cram more functions (think serial, parallel, game ports, disk controller, graphics card, etc.) directly onto motherboards instead of offloading them onto separate plug-in cards. While the 1050 was not an IBM PC clone, true PC clone makers took advantage of this effect to hollow out the inside of IBM's hold on the PC market from the bottom up.

[ From Personal Computing, November 1983, p.40-41]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Do you have a favorite machine that runs CP/M?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Sharp Wizard 9600

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Kraft Super Mario Bros. Macaroni and Cheese flier flyer Advertisement 1994tap tap tap…tap tap…tap

In the early 1990s, a kid in my neighborhood had his own Sharp Wizard (we all thought he was rich or spoiled — probably both), and it was one of the most incredible things I'd ever seen. It was a tiny electronic organizer with a full QWERTY keyboard that one could have mistaken for a pocket-sized PC.

That same kid later offered to sell his Wizard to me, but my dad turned him down because he was asking too much. So I've never had a Wizard of any model in my collection. I did buy a NES advantage from him for $7 though.

[ From Scientific American, February 1993, p.19]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the smallest device (from the pre-smartphone era) you've ever used for word processing?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Epyx Winter Games

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Epyx Winter Games Summer Games Summer Games II Advertisement 1985Just in time for Sochi. Sorry for the page fold.

[ From Compute!, November 1985, p.37]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite winter sport(s) video game? This is mine.