Archive for the 'Vintage Computing' Category

Bringing Prodigy Back From The Dead

Monday, July 14th, 2014

Prodigy Online Service Logo

Since last year, I have been working with Jim Carpenter, a freelance programmer by trade, on hunting down old Prodigy data so that we may preserve it, display it again, and perhaps even one day use it to recreate Prodigy itself.

We're calling it the Prodigy Restoration Project.

By now you may have seen my latest piece for The Atlantic entitled Where Online Services Go When They Die: Rebuilding Prodigy, One Page at a Time. That article describes the genesis of the project while also diving into the technical back story of the Prodigy service.

The reason we have any hope of doing something like this is because Carpenter discovered that Prodigy screen data can still be found in the STAGE.DAT and CACHE.DAT files located in used Prodigy client directories.

Those two files were used as cache files to speed up load times when using the service. When connecting to Prodigy, the client would download page data into the files. Whenever the client last connected to Prodigy, that data got frozen in time. If a vintage Prodigy client install still exists, we can get at the "frozen" data today.

Here are some screens that Carpenter pulled from a STAGE.DAT I had in my personal archives (these are from a STAGE.DAT file dated October 6, 1996):

Prodigy Login Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT Prodigy Rebel Space Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT Prodigy Encyclopedia Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT Prodigy Golf Tour Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT

Prodigy Greeting Cards Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT Prodigy Email Template Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT Prodigy Phone Directory Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT Prodigy Problem Error Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT

We can extract these screens using a series of Python programs written by Carpenter. They read through a previously used STAGE.DAT file, generate a list of pointers to the pages or object data contained within, then direct the Prodigy Reception System client to display them one at a time so we can take screenshots.

Jim's code is not ready for release yet, but he hopes to polish it up enough to put up on GitHub soon. It has a long way to go before becoming a turnkey solution to extracting and displaying the data found in STAGE.DAT files. We're working on it.

With that in mind, I've written the rest of this post in the form of a Frequently Asked Questions.

[ Continue reading Bringing Prodigy Back From The Dead » ]

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The New Prodigy

Monday, July 14th, 2014

The New Prodigy Provocative Lady Advertisement - 1996You can't see her other hand, but it's holding a gun!

It's a Prodigy-y week around here thanks to my recent article on The Atlantic. So I poked around my scans directory for something Prodigy related, and ka-pow!

I have yet to see an ad for the pre-ISP Prodigy in any of the magazines in my sizable archive (but then again, most of my computer magazines date from before and after Prodigy's heyday, with a gap in the middle), but I did find this "New Prodigy" ad from an old issue of Internet World, which I proudly subscribed to for a few years in the mid-1990s.

Ads like this one represented a new marketing push at time when the company sought to find a new corporate parent and shifted its focus to being an ISP (its legacy NAPLPS-flavored content was soon re-branded "Prodigy Classic").

By the way, the "original" Prodigy had a wholesome, family-safe, squeaky clean image, with an army of moderators eager to censor any bulletin board postings or even emails (yes, they read, or at least filtered, everyone's emails) that contained a hint of sexuality, so I find it humorously ironic that the company ultimately resorted to a sexually-charged ad like this one.

[ From Internet World - February 1996, insert between p.32-33]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you meet a romantic partner online prior to the year 2000? (Including those that didn't involve physical relationships.) Tell us about it.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] AnthroCart

Monday, June 30th, 2014

Anthro Anthrocart Computer Desk Advertisement - 1993I may not be an expert on desks, but this looks a little dangerous.

[ From Scientific American - February 1993, p.29]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever bought a desk specifically to hold a computer?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] My CompuServe Password

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Benj's CompuServe Password - 1993I still love my dad's handwriting.

Here it is, folks: My CompuServe Information Service password that I used from 1993 until the late 1990s: "Needy-Sacred".

Feel free to log in as me the next time you get a chance. (I kid.)

"Needy-Sacred" is an almost magical combination of words for me — probably because it bounced around my mind so often in the 1990s. It has a tension to it; a phrase at odds with itself.

I didn't make it up, though. CompuServe assigned random combinations of two words (with a dash in the middle) as user passwords, and this is the hand I was dealt.

Well, "we were dealt" would be more accurate. This is the original note paper my dad used on February 21st, 1993 to write down the password to our new CompuServe account, which he set up for use with his business.

Heavily into BBSes at the time, I became the primary user of the account (surprise surprise). Soon his company often asked me — even as a young teenager — to relay international emails to and from Germany for them since I knew how to use it. Ah, those were the days.

The Encounters Forum was my favorite place to hang out. That, and the Atari Forum. GO ATARI.

[ From Personal note from Benj Edwards' collection dated 2/21/1993]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Tell us your best CompuServe stories.

In Turing Test, VC&G writer Ulaf Silchov Fails to Convince Judges He is Human

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Ulaf SilchovUlaf Silchov, our resident Ukranian computer and video game expert, recently decided to volunteer as the human control in a recent Turing test conducted at the University of Reading in the UK.

The only problem? Everyone thought he was a computer.

Here is an excerpt of one of his conversations with a judge:

Judge: Hi, I'm Cathy.

Entity: CATHY! THE NAME OF A WOMANS.

Judge: Yes, I'm a woman.

Entity: WHAT IS A WOMANS, REALLY? BUT A MANS WITH THE UNSTOPPABLE THIRST FOR KRELBS.

Judge: Right. What is your name?

Entity: WHAT IS YOUR NAMES?

Judge: I'm Cathy, remember?

Entity: THAT IS NOT A REAL NAMES.

Judge: Yes, it is. At least where I come from. What is your name?

Entity: ULAF HAVE BEEN GIVEN THE NAMES ULAF IN UKRAINE, BUT FRIENDS CALL ULAF "ULAF" FOR SHORTS IN SVADLOST.

Judge: Nice name. Are you from either area?

Entity: THE AREA OF A TRIANGLES BECOMES THE HYPOTENUSE…ULAF FORGET.

Judge: Uh huh. How could you forget something so important?

Entity: NO, ULAF NOT IMPORTENT. ULAF HAVE AT LEAST 3.5 CHILDRENS (ONE HALF SIZED).

Judge: That's a very personal issue. What's your specialty?

Entity: ULAF FORGET TO ASK WHERE EITHER OF YOUR MINDS ARE FROM.

Judge: The universe and you?

Entity: ULAF, ALSO, BECOMES FROM THE STUFF OF STARS, AS THE MIND OF CARLOS SAGAN ONCE TOLD.

Judge: Do you have any hobbies?

Entity: NO TIMES TO TALK NOW, RUSSIANS KARUMPING ON THE DOOR OF ULAF. REMEMBER, THIS IS ULAF SAYING, "BE THE MASTER." *END TRANSMISSION*

Judge: I'm still here.

[ Newsbits ] June 6, 2014

Friday, June 6th, 2014

VC&G Newsbits Newspaper Logo

VC&G Newsbits Logo

Vintage computing and retrogaming news small enough to eat.

Despite what you may think, Newsbits is not dead. It just needs more fiber.

Recent News

  • The RetroN 5 Launching June 6th (Today!) in the US
    (Source: Destructoid)

    Hope it works as advertised.

    This thing is a beast, supporting NES, Famicom, SNES, Super Famicom, Genesis, Mega Drive, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and GBA cartridges. All of that, with 720p output via HDMI and original controller support.
  • Wii U plugs first DS game into Virtual Console in Japan

    Once upon a time, Nintendo frowned strongly upon emulation. Now its business model depends on it. Oh, how times have changed.

    Puzzle-poser Brain Age is the first DS game to arrive on Wii U Virtual Console, and it's out now in Japan for free until June 30.
  • Unearthed E.T. Atari games will be curated by New Mexico space museum and then sold
    (Source: Polygon)

    A unique situation where one of these games in unopened, mint condition could be worth far less than one crushed and buried in a landfill for 30 years.

    Seven hundred of the 1,300 E.T. and other Atari cartridges recovered from a New Mexico landfill will be appraised, certified and put up for sale, the Alamogordo City Commission decided this week.
  • The Verge Publishes Rarely-Seen Photos of Apple's 1980s Prototype Case Designs
    (Source: The Verge)

    Incredible photos of early 1980s Apple products that never were

    Some of its earliest and most iconic designs, however, didn't actually come from inside of Apple, but from outside designers at Frog. In particular, credit goes to Frog's founder, Hartmut Esslinger, who was responsible for the 'Snow White' design language.
  • Watching kids trying to figure out how to use an old Apple II is totally hilarious
    (Source: Cult of Mac)
    This video of children from the ages of 6 to 13 trying to figure out how to work a vintage Apple II … shows just how inexplicable computing was to pretty much everyone before Steve Jobs released the original Mac in 1984.
  • Modder Stuffs a Raspberry Pi into a Game Boy Pocket
    (Source: Hackaday)

    This is one of the most amazing mods I've ever seen

    After sanding down the bosses on the inside of the case, gluing the battery door shut, and installing a bit of plastic over the cartridge slot, WarriorRocker was able to fit a Raspi inside. The buttons use the same PCB as the stock Game Boy, connected to a Teensy 2.0 board that simulates a USB keyboard.
  • Exhibiting .gifs: An Interview with curator Jason Eppink
    (Source: The Signal)

    Wonder if they know about Retro GIF of the Week

    Jason recently curated 'The Reaction GIF: Moving Image as Gesture,' which exhibits a set of GIFs he identified in consultation with redditors.

Cool Links

  • Where Have You Gone, Peter Norton?
    (Source: Technologizer)

    A look back at the PC utility guru's career by Harry McCracken at the newly-reborn Technologizer

    Norton’s empire grew to include multiple software products, articles (including a long-running PC Magazine column), and books. He was everywhere that PCs were. And then, in 1990, he sold Peter Norton Computing to Symantec, which made the Norton line of software even more successful.
  • Wolfenstein game graphics, 1992 vs 2014
    (Source: Twitter)

    A million more pixels, but the jaw remains the same

  • The Most 90s Thing That Could Ever Exist
    (Source: The Atlantic)
    The zeitgeist summed perfectly in one technological artifact, which is a VHS tape promoting Windows 95, starring Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry.
  • Total Chaos is the Best-Looking Doom II Mod You've Ever Seen
    (Source: PCGamer)

    More like a "GZDoom mod," but still very impressive.

    Total Chaos doesn’t run on the Doom 2 engine from 1993 proper, but a modified version of the original source code that brings in OpenGL, mouse looks and other features like 16x motion blur, high resolution textures, 3D models, and bloom effects.
  • The Secret History of Hypertext
    (Source: The Atlantic)
    Historians of technology often cite Bush’s essay as the conceptual forerunner of the Web. And hypertext pioneers like Douglas Engelbart, Ted Nelson, and Tim Berners-Lee have all acknowledged their debt to Bush’s vision. But for all his lasting influence, Bush was not the first person to imagine something like the Web.
  • The Woman Behind Apple's First Icons
    (Source: Priceonomics)

    …and Windows 3.0 to XP's Solitaire cards! (I did an interview with her about that once, gotta find it.)

    For many, Susan Kare's icons were a first taste of human-computer interaction: they were approachable, friendly, and simple, much like the designer herself. Today, we recognize the little images — system-failure bomb, paintbrush, mini-stopwatch, dogcow — as old, pixelated friends.

Submit News

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

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Performa: The Depressing Macintosh

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

Apple Macintosh Performa The Family Macintosh Advertisement - 1993Ugh. The Performa Era.

The Performa line originated as a way for Apple to expand retail availability of its then-waning Mac platform. They did so by re-branding a number of existing Mac models with the Performa name (plus some numbers that didn't make much sense).

The Performa line's commercial availability coincided almost exactly with Apple's darkest era, 1992-1997, when sales dramatically declined, market share dropped, the company was generally mismanaged and unfocused, Macs had 10 different names for the same model, and Classic OS was getting long in the tooth.

I remember seeing a few Performa models for sale at Sears as a teenager and thinking, "Wow, they still make Macs?" Then I tried one out, and the OS was barely different from the Mac SE I'd last used in 1987 — some 6 years earlier — and it liked to crash a lot. It was a depressing time to be Apple. Whatever happened to that company, anyway?

[ From Discover - July 1993, p.5]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the first model of Macintosh you ever owned?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Commodore 64

Monday, May 19th, 2014

Commodore 64 Advertisement It's the Commodore 64. 'Nuff said.

I've covered the Commodore 64 quite a bit over the years, including taking one apart for PC World back in 2008 and spending a week working with one in honor of its 30th anniversary in 2012.

But I don't think I've ever posted a plain 'ole ad for the Commodore 64 itself. Until now, that is. Here's a colorful one that graced the back of many computer magazine issues back in 1983.

[ From Personal Computing - November 1983, back cover]

Discussion Topic of the Week: When did you first get a Commodore 64? Tell us the story.

[ Newsbits ] May 15, 2014

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

VC&G Newsbits Newspaper Logo

VC&G Newsbits Logo

Vintage computing and retrogaming news small enough to eat.

Since I missed last week's column, I decided to fold some of those links into this week's edition. So there may be a few older newsbits, but at least they're still interesting.

Recent News

  • 2300 Console Games Now Playable on Internet Archive

    'Ole pal Jason Scott writes about the sudden influx of games playable on the Internet Archive website

    For the last couple of weeks I’ve been working with a range of volunteers on a massive expansion of what we call the Console Living Room at the Internet Archive. Previously weighing in at about 800 game cartridges from seven console systems, the new collection is roughly 2300 cartridges and a total of 21 different consoles.
  • George R. R. Martin Writes Using WordStar 4.0 in MS-DOS

    I'm not surprised. To avoid distractions, I sometimes write using Word 6.0 for DOS on a Compaq Aero 4/25 laptop.

    The 'Game of Thrones' author confessed to late-night talk-show host Conan O'Brien that he prefers to write his popular books on a DOS word processor instead of the latest laptop.

    'I hate some of these modern systems where you type a lower case letter and it becomes a capital letter. I don't want a capital. If I wanted a capital, I would have typed a capital. I know how to work the shift key.'

  • Nintendo Forces Takedown of GBA Emulator for iOS

    From the not-very-surprising department

    In order to play titles like Super Mario and Zelda on your iPhone, then, you have to look at unofficial alternatives. GBA4iOS was one of the most popular — but after its creators received a DMCA notice from Nintendo this week, it is no more.
  • Analogue Interactive's $499 NES Clone Up for Pre-Order

    TinyCartridge reports on this fancy console with a healthy grain of salt mixed in. (Memories of Generation NEX still make me shudder.)

    Analogue has opened pre-orders for its Nt, the Famicom/NES device with RGB output, four controller ports, and purported 'unparallelled'" compatibility with American and Japanese games and accessories.
  • New Book About How Sega Nearly Won the Console Wars

    Chris Kohler provides an overview of Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo and the Battle That Defined a Generation.

    If a few small things had changed, might we be gaming on a Sega PlayStation right now? That’s the picture Blake Harris paints in his new book Console Wars. It is a narrative history of the brief time period in the lifespan of the videogame publisher Sega when it was on top of the world.
  • Midway Planned HD Remakes of Mortal Kombat Games

    I would have really loved to see this

    With the [ Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection], Midway's initial plan was to release HD remakes of the original games with new actors, and even though that's not what happened in the end, these images with Liu Kang, Sonya, Shao Kahn and the others show that the remakes would have been quite faithful to the original

Cool Links

  • The Last Survivors of Meridian 59

    A rare examination of obscure Internet game culture from a mainstream publication (The New Yorker)

    Today, almost eighteen years after Meridian 59’s launch, Barloque’s streets are quiet and vacant, its cobblestones buffed and rounded by little more than a digital breeze. They are rarely visited by more than twenty people in the world at any one time.
  • The Great Works of Software

    Paul Ford muses about a software canon

    Is it possible to propose a software canon? To enumerate great works of software that are deeply influential—that changed the nature of the code that followed?
  • How Steve Wozniak Wrote BASIC for the Original Apple From Scratch

    Woz himself writes for Gizmodo, re: BASIC 50th anniversary

    The problem was that I had no knowledge of BASIC, just a bare memory that it had line numbers from that 3-day high-school experience. So I picked up a BASIC manual late one night at HP and started reading it and making notes about the commands of this language. Mind that I had never taken a course in compiler (or interpreter) writing in my life.
  • How Sega is Rejuvinating its Classic Games in 3D

    I'm not sure if "rejuvenating" is the right word here, but I welcome Sega dipping into the past

    Few games have had as much attention lavished upon them as the Sega 3D Classics series. The first wave of titles was released between November and December of last year, in pairs over four successive weeks.
  • Super Mario Bros. Level Belt (Etsy)

    Incredible artistry — an entire Super Mario Bros. level crafted into a leather belt

    The images are of a belt that I crafted for my brother, who is a big Super Mario fan, and depicts the last level of Super Mario brothers where Mario finally rescues the princess.

Submit News

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

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Mad: Computer Virus Edition

Monday, May 12th, 2014

Mad Super Special Summer 1991 Computer Virus Edition CoverHis missing tooth is a hanging chad

I found this in my old collection of Mad magazines. In 1991, computer viruses were relatively novel — although I did lose all of my early BBS data to a malicious virus just one year later (see the story in that link).

[ From Mad Super Special - Summer 1991, cover]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever had a computer virus that wiped some or all of your data?