Archive for the 'Vintage Computing' Category

VC&G Review: Areaware Windows Solitaire Cards

Friday, August 26th, 2016

Areaware Windows Solitaire Cards Jokers Photos by Benj Edwards

No, you're not seeing things. These are actual physical playing cards designed to look just like the classic Microsoft Solitaire card faces — the same faces Microsoft used for its Windows-based card games between 1990 and 2007.

Just this month, home decor vendor Areaware began selling the cards, which were produced with the help of the cards' original graphic designer, Susan Kare (and with the blessings/license of Microsoft).

Kare is best known as the designer of the original Macintosh fonts, icons, and interface elements. She also created most of the icons for Windows 3.0, which was the first version of Windows to ship with Microsoft Solitaire. Along the way, she ended up designing the Solitaire cards too.

Excited as I always am for computer nostalgia, I eagerly bought a pack of these new cards as soon as they became available, and I put them through the ultimate test: a game of real desktop Klondike solitaire.

Manufacturing Quality

Areaware Windows Solitaire Cards Photos by Benj EdwardsAreaware's Solitaire Cards, which currently sell for US $14 a pack, come nicely packaged in a clear plastic reusable case with a cardboard slip cover. The deck arrives crisp and clean within, neatly wrapped in cellophane.

Physically, the cards feel well-made, about the same quality you'd expect from a $3 pack of Bicycle poker cards. Each Areaware card is coated and feels about as thick as a normal playing card. You get 54 cards in total — all the cards of the four Western playing card suits plus two joker cards that Susan Kare designed especially for this set (see photo above). The new joker design fits well with the vintage card theme.

Regarding the card's coating, they are perhaps a little too slick, because they very easily slide all over the place when you try to set them on top of each other. It's the kind of thing you do frequently when you, well, play a game of solitaire.

Card Design

Image DescAside from the new joker card design I mentioned above, the 52 other cards in the deck take their designs almost directly from Windows 3.0 Solitaire card faces. The card back design is also from the original Windows game.

Each of the cards has a square notch cut out of all four corners to add a pixelated motif. It's a nice touch, but the notches can catch on other cards and get in the way a bit if you're handling cards quickly. That being said, the notches are not a big problem.

Curious to see how accurately the Windows designs were reflected in the print cards, I scanned and compared several of the face cards. I discovered many subtle differences — none of them major enough to get in the way of the enjoyment of using the card deck. But still it is worth nothing that the cards are not 100% authentic facsimiles of Microsoft Solitaire card designs.

Here is a good example: the king of hearts card. All of the major design elements are there, and the corner suit markers have been re-positioned to better fit the card. If you directly overlay the two cards, you can see a few different pixel colors here and there. Aside from the removed magenta anti-aliasing, you have to be eagle-eyed to spot the differences (take a look at this GIF which alternates between the two cards).

Areaware Windows Soltiare Cards Photos by Benj Edwards

The king of clubs card has even more changes, many of which I'd say were unnecessary. But again, if you didn't sit down and study the differences like I did, you probably wouldn't notice.

As you can tell, I am a huge Windows Solitaire nerd — perhaps the only person who might bother with such a comparison. But then again, this Microsoft card game is probably one of the most (if not the most) played computer games of all time, so the subject is not entirely trivial.

I have been in touch with Susan Kare over the years, so just today I sent her an email asking about the design differences. Were they mistakes? Here's what she said:

"We had slightly to adjust the aspect ratio for the printed cards. I also had to make vector versions of each card and it's possible that I inadvertently changed a pixel or two in the KJQ cards; nothing intentional. It was a chance to look over everything and aim for consistency. I made the jokers new for Areaware. (I worked with Lisa Smith at Areaware — she was great.)" — Susan Kare

After looking a little more closely at the comparison I sent her, she also said, "I see where I missed one pixel but made decisions to remove another and make the hearts all red."

Again, this is just minutia, really. Kare is the designer, and if anyone can modify the design and get away with it, it's her. She did a great job optimizing the cards for a print run.

Playing Solitaire

So how to the cards play? Well, when you lay them all out in a Klondike pattern, they look like this:

Areaware Windows Solitaire Cards Photos by Benj Edwards

It's enough to make yer teeny Windows-lovin' heart go pitter-patter.

But I'm not going to lie: I had no idea how to set them up at first. Although I have played Klondike solitaire thousands of times on a computer, I had only played it with real cards once or twice, so I had to look up how to arrange the cards on Wikipedia. It would be nice if it came with printed instructions on how to play — or at least set up — Klondike solitaire.

Once it was set up, though, I had no trouble playing. It was quite fun until I got into an unwinnable situation. I was tempted to cheat because, unlike on the computer, the cards were sitting right in front of me (and no one was watching), but I didn't. After a re-shuffle, I played another game that I promptly won.

And just like in the Windows version, the cards started flying everywhere, bouncing all over the room.

Ok, I'm kidding: I just threw them up in the air and laughed like a crazed Solitaire fan. It's been a good day.

Q&A With Susan Kare, Designer of Microsoft Solitaire Cards (from 2008)

Back in 2008, I planned to write a feature about Windows Solitaire, so I asked Susan Kare a handful of questions via email. She answered them very briefly, so I never used them. But looking back, I think there are some interesting tidbits in there. — Benj

VC&G: How did you end up being the designer of the Windows Solitaire cards?

Susan Kare: It was part of the Windows 3.0 contract

VC&G: Was any particular card more challenging to draw than another?

SK: Kind of obvious, but the K, Q, J were the most complex.

VC&G: Do you have a favorite card design from the bunch?

SK: Not really

VC&G: Did you model your cards off of any particular brand of real playing cards?

SK: No

VC&G: What method did you use to design the cards?

SK: Studio 8 (from Electronic Arts) and the paint program that came with Windows — 16 VGA colors

VC&G: While designing the cards, how much did you interact with Wes Cherry, programmer of Solitaire?

SK: Not at all.

VC&G: To your knowledge, have the Windows Solitaire card face graphics remained unmodified from your original Windows 3.0 version until XP?

SK: Believe so

VC&G: When's the last time you played Windows Solitaire with your card designs in it? Did you enjoy it?

SK: I love Solitaire. I mostly play on my phone now though.

The Skinny: Areaware Windows Solitaire Cards
Good Features: Clever idea taps into nostalgia, high quality card material, good quality printing, Susan Kare involvement
Bad Features: Not 100% accurate to Windows card faces, corners and slickness make handling more difficult, slightly expensive, no solitaire instructions included
VC Rating:
(10 Being Best)
[ 8 out of 10 ] Shiny Marbles - Excellent

[ Retro Scan ] My First Website Setup Email

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

Benj's first website setup email scan - 1995"Don't give your password out." Oops!

21 years ago today, I received this email from Mike Leber of Hurricane Electric, a company that rented out web hosting space, among other services (in fact, they're still in business).

Since it was a setup email describing how to utilize my first-ever website space, it was important enough for me to print out on my nifty Canon BubbleJet printer. That's what you see scanned here. I probably have the original email too in electronic form sitting around somewhere.

You'll also notice that I wrote down a convoluted URL (in which I wrote a strange "(e)" after the ".com" — perhaps I was confused), which turns out to have one pointed to a ghost hunting website. I was big into that stuff back then (I was 14 at the time, if that explains anything). The Purdue email address scrawled in pencil probably has something to do with that as well.

Reading through this old email is fun today. System resources were relatively scarce back then, so the rules about what you could do with your minuscule web space were pretty strict. I particularly enjoy the "MUDS will not be tolerated" line. And the thing about calculating the mass of an electron.

Late last year, I wrote a big article about the process of creating this website (which I called "The Schmeli Caborgan") for FastCompany. I also wrote about my first ISP, Nando.Net, in a Retro Scan post earlier this year.

[ From Benj Edwards personal email printout, August 16, 1995 ]

Discussion Topic: When did you set up your first website?

The IBM PC Turns 35

Friday, August 12th, 2016

Benj's IBM PC 5150

35 years ago today, IBM launched the IBM Personal Computer — the first-ever IBM PC. While it was simply called the "IBM Personal Computer" back then, we now know it more commonly by its model number, 5150.

PCWorld recently asked me to do something to celebrate this anniversary, so just a few days ago, I took apart my personal IBM PC 5150 and documented the process on my workbench. And back in 2011, I wrote some other articles about the IBM PC on the occasion of the machine's 30th anniversary.

In fact, I've done a lot of coverage of the IBM PC over the years, so I thought you guys might enjoy seeing a collection of all of them in one place. Here we go.


IBM PC Retro Scans of the Week

IBM PC-Related VC&G Posts

There may be more lurking out there, but that's quite a bit of reading if you're interested in the IBM PC.

[ Retro Scan ] Disemboweled IBM PC 5150

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

IBM PC 5150 Apart Components Inside Advertisement Scan - 1982Is somebody gonna clean this mess up?

Here we have a biggole two-page IBM PC 5150 advertisement spread from 1982 — published not long after the launch of IBM's first PC in August 1981.

It looks like IBM is trying to play up the bare-metal technical angle for Byte readers, who likely were building their own PCs from kit parts just a few years prior (and some still were doing it then).

The result, quite frankly, is a huge mess (looks like my workbench). And the advertisement didn't come out too well in the magazine print run, which makes the image dark and muddy. It's not my fault, I swear!

I particularly like the phrase "the RS232C interface that gives you the world" in the advertising copy. It implies using the serial port for networking — that is, in connecting to remote computers. It's funny because back then, that statement was a hyperbolic boast that was not meant literally. Online services were limited to a teeny-tiny fraction of the world population and their capabilities were limited. Today, networking does really give you the world.

[ From Byte Magazine, February 1982, p.24-25 ]

Discussion Topic: Have you ever broken a computer while you were taking it apart? Tell us about it.

[ Newsbits ] June 29, 2016

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

VC&G Newsbits Newspaper Logo

VC&G Newsbits Logo

Vintage computing and retrogaming news small enough to eat.

I've recently received a big influx of news, announcements, and press releases, so I thought I'd bring Newsbits out of cold storage and use it to share everything all at once.

Recent News

  • Producer of The Oregon Trail Donates Collection to The Strong

    It's wonderful to see this stuff preserved, as always

    A group of former employees from the Minnesota Educational Computing Corporation (MECC) recently donated an extensive collection of materials to The Strong museum documenting the history of the pioneering company from 1973 to 1996. The collection includes hundreds of pieces of software, internal documents, and press clippings.
  • Turning 20 Years Old

    Brock Kyle recently let me know that his essential Apple info site is turning 20 this Saturday. Quite an accomplistment!

    Established in 1996, is the complete guide to every Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPad and Mac clone in the world, with technical specs, configuration details, system identifiers, performance benchmarks, and global pricing info.
  • Atari Video Documentary Project Needs Support

    They've assembled some incredible footage so far; would be a shame to see this disappear

    This 100 minutes long documentary about the Atari story will feature a list of unreleased interviews with the key people of these events, including a very rare one with Warner VP Manny Gerard and a unique one with Atari CEO Ray Kassar, the man held responsible for Atari success and the video game industry crash at the same time, who never appeared in a documentary before.
  • YouTube Gamer on a Quest to Play 1001 Games Hits 100th Episode

    Quite a project

    My name is Gaming Jay. I'm a retro gamer who started a challenge this past year to play through a book called '1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die.' Each week I’ve been playing 2 games and recording my gaming sessions and uploading them to YouTube. I have also recently developed a new website to document my journey with written summaries to supplement my YouTube videos.
  • iOS Camera App with Retro Filters Released

    Neat iOS camera app that simulates vintage graphics

    I created Famicam64, an 8bit RetroGaming style Camera app. Famicam64 lets you take photos with 40+ real-time filters that emulate the nostalgic look of retro computers (and games) of the 80s and 90s. CGA, EGA, VGA, Hercules and old PC graphic modes are all there, as well as style emulating home computers and handheld consoles (C64, Spectrum or Gameboy etc. etc.).
  • Secret History of Mac Gaming Book Seeks Funding

    It's a niche subject, but a story worth telling

    The Secret History of Mac Gaming is the story of those communities and the game developers who survived and thrived in an ecosystem that was serially ignored by the outside world. The work draws on archive materials as well as 60+ new interviews with key figures from Mac gaming's past.
  • Cool Links

  • Circuit Classics Boards Re-Create Classic Forrest Mims Designs

    Very, very creative electronics project from Star Simpson

    Forrest M. Mims III is a trusted name in the electronics world for good reason: his charming and engaging texts have drawn millions of people into the world of electronics for the first time. I am bringing some of those hand-drawn circuits projects to life by creating an exquisitely designed series of finely crafted and highly detailed boards. These are the Circuit Classics.
  • NES Coffee Table on Etsy

    VC&G reader Ben Winchester built a NES-shaped coffee table; it's up for sale on

    I wanted to show this to you because I feel this piece is truly unique and original to me. I got my start by replicating your NES DVD player and then moving on to putting my own twist on the NES coffee table, and now I think I have created an original design.
  • Artist Re-Creates Classic Byte Cover in Photo

    Bob Alexander turns Tinney's train illustration into a photo composition

    I've just completed an art project that was inspired by Robert Tinney's painting "Computer Engineering" for Byte magazine. That's the one with a train chugging around a printed circuit board. I made a printed circuit board that resembled the one in the painting, photographed it, and Photoshopped a picture of an HO scale model train onto it.
  • [ Retro Scan ] VREAM Virtual Reality Development System

    Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

    VREAM Virtual Reality Development System for PC Advertisement Scan - 1994If it's as easy to use as it is to pronounce, then I want it.

    I was so excited about PC-based virtual reality back in the 1990s. I remember reading the early Web (circa 1995-96) about how people would build their own HMD goggles and modify a NES Power Glove to use as input for certain VR software packages. I wanted to do that too, but never did.

    I also played some shareware 3D world demos where you could walk around a polygonal-3D town (and prior to that, I had vivid dreams about jumping into a 3D computer-generated world that looked like the Money for Nothing Dire Straits video).

    Apparently, VREAM made some of those 1990s VR demos possible. It was a PC-based virtual reality development system created by VREAM, Inc. of Chicago. I have never used it, but it looks neat.

    This ad comes from the back cover of an issue of PCVR magazine that I got from a relative. You can read more about that in this Retro Scan from 2014.

    [ From PCVR, January-February 1994, back cover ]

    Discussion Topic: Did you use any 3D modeling software in the 1990s? Tell us about it.

    See Also:

    [ Retro Scan ] IMSAI 8080

    Thursday, April 7th, 2016

    IMSAI 8080 S-100 Computer Advertisement Scan - 1977The only winning move is not to play

    Here's an oldie but goodie — the IMSAI 8080, a 1975 clone of the pioneering Altair 8800. Like the Altair, it used an S-100 bus, an Intel 8080 CPU, and a blue, boxy sheet metal case with front panel lights. Unlike the Altair, the IMSAI 8080 featured prominently in the 1983 movie WarGames. The machine apparently greatly annoyed Ed Roberts, the inventor of the Altair.

    [ From BYTE, February 1977, p.48 ]

    Discussion Topic: Have you ever used an IMSAI 8080 or Altair 8800? Tell us about it.

    Andrew S. Grove (1936-2016)

    Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

    Andrew S. Grove, Former CEO of IntelIn Memoriam: Andrew S. Grove (1936-2016),
    Former President, CEO, and Chairman of Intel

    Few tech executives have had as monumental an impact on the computer industry as Andy Grove, who passed away yesterday at the age of 79. His stewardship of Intel marked a period of astounding success and growth for the company, including establishing the firm's x86 microprocessors as a de facto standard for the PC industry — a legacy that continues today. May he rest in peace.

    [ Retro Scan ] Dogs and Families Love IBM PS/1

    Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

    IBM PS/1 IBM PC Dog Family Smithsonian Advertisement Scan - 1991Now you'll have more time to spend with your dog

    I've previously featured a later-model IBM PS/1 that also happened to be my brother's college computer, circa '94. But here we see an ad for an early — if not the first — model of the PS/1. This is back when PS/1 systems had the OS and a nifty mouse-based GUI program launcher built into ROM. They also shipped with Prodigy on the hard disk. I'm starting to really want one of these for my collection.

    [ From Smithsonian, December 1991, p.20-21 ]

    Discussion Topic: Has a pet ever done damage to your computer or game system? Tell us about it.

    [ Retro Scan ] DWANGO Online Service

    Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

    DWANGO Quake Doom Online FPS multiplayer online server Advertisement Scan - 1998Looks real to me

    DWANGO, which stood for "Dial-up Wide-Area Network Game Operation," was an online matchmaking service that specialized in FPS games like Doom and Quake. It has a fascinating history that you can read about more in its Wikipedia article.

    I believe I signed up for a free trial of DWANGO circa 1994 so I could play Doom with someone when I was bored, but I don't remember ever getting it working for some reason. Instead, I often played co-op Doom (and later Quake) modem-to-modem with friends who called my BBS.

    [ From GamePro, May 1998, p.67 ]

    Discussion Topic: When was the first time you played a FPS multiplayer online? How did you set it up? (i.e. modem-to-modem, TCP/IP, services like Dwango)