Archive for the 'Collecting' Category

Why History Needs Software Piracy

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Why History Needs Software PiracyOver at Technologizer, I've written an opinion piece that argues why history needs software piracy.

I had the idea for this piece a few years ago, so it's nice to finally put my thoughts into written form — especially at a time when public debate over digital piracy's role has reached a new high.

I don't claim to be laying down the final word on the subject; instead, I view my piece as the beginning of a broader discussion about piracy's role in the study of history. I hope you enjoy it.

Do you Collect Software?

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Pile of Floppy DisksHere's a question for my intrepid readers: Do you collect software? Operating systems, applications, computer games, or even image or sound files? If so, do you have a focus for your collection? How do you store it?

I've been collecting software for about 17 years. Much of it was once locked into deteriorating floppy disk formats, but luckily I've been able to find working disk images of those particular apps and games (say, for the Atari 800 or Apple II) created by others, so not much is at risk of being lost there.

Everything else — all my personal floppy disks, ZIP disks, CDs, and hard drives for Macs and PCs — I long ago backed up to a central file server that uses a RAID 5 array and offsite backup for extra protection. In that collection are the contents of over 30 different PC hard drives imaged and preserved "in state" for research purposes. I keep all the files in place as they were when those drives were in use, because you really never know what you'll need in the future when it comes to historical research. Many of those files have come in handy already.

I should note that if you have anything backed up on CD-R, get it off now, because I've already found CD-Rs from as recent as 2000 that I can't read anymore. They really are a terrible archival format. The best hope for long-term software preservation (in my opinion) is to maintain a live RAID array of hard drives that you maintain and update over time.

So how do you do it, and what do you collect? I'm interested to hear from you in the comments below.

[ Memory Dump ] The DEC Rainbow 100

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Benj's Memory Dump[ Memory Dump is an irregular series wherein Benj dives into his garage, pulls out a random technological artifact, and describes what he knows about it for your entertainment. ]

I own a garage full of history. Literally. It's dark, dusty, and sometimes damp, but that space houses most of my computer and video game collection. It's almost a crime not to dive in there and share it with VC&G readers more often. And believe me, the guilt of not doing so has tortured me for years.

That task is an overwhelming one, though. It's hard to know where to start. The sheer mass of history crammed in the place is enough to give one a panic attack on sight. For the sake of the Internet's safety, I dare not publish a picture of my garage's contents larger than 200×200 pixels. Anything larger and mass hysteria may erupt.

[ Continue reading [ Memory Dump ] The DEC Rainbow 100 » ]

I Hate It When This Happens (Leaky Battery Blues)

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

Burst Macintosh Clock Battery
VC&G Collecting Tip: Remove your old computer clock batteries.

Right now.

I'm serious: do it. Despite my regular battery purges (done to avoid just such a situation), I forgot to remove the Mac IIsi PRAM battery you see above because the computer was buried under a bunch of stuff. The battery electrolyte leaked out and corroded everything it touched, ruining the logic board. Sometimes you can recover from battery leaks with extensive cleaning if the damage isn't that bad. In this case, it wasn't worth the effort. Bye, bye, IIsi.

While you're ditching the vintage clock batteries, do yourself a favor and remove the main power batteries from any laptops in your collection. I typically store laptop batteries in a gallon zipper bag each. Even if the batteries are dead/bad (which they usually are), I save the plastic cases for re-use if I plan to rebuild the battery in the future.

As a good rule of thumb, never keep batteries (no matter how new) in any electronic device for longer than a couple weeks of non-use. Any longer, and you're just playing Russian roulette with your gadgets.

Almost all batteries leak eventually. If your old ones haven't leaked already, you're very lucky. Focus on alkaline and NiCd batteries first, because they leak the worst; lithium cells can leak as well (as seen above), but it's less common overall.

Regardless of the type, if they're old, remove them now — even if it requires clipping or desoldering — and spare yourself the leaky battery blues later on.

Unboxing the Atari Touch Tablet

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

Atari Touch Tablet Unboxing

So I bought this Atari Touch Tablet last year, right? (always an encouraging way to start a blog entry) It was new in the box, and I documented the process of opening it up via the magic of digital photography. The pictures languished on my computer for some time, anxiously awaiting their day in the sun. Well, their time has come: as of yesterday, they're part of a slideshow on Harry McCracken's Technologizer, authored by no one but the one known as myself, me.

If you don't recall, Harry McCracken has some renown as the excellent former-Editor-in-Chief of PC World, a position he manned for four years. Anyway, this slide show has apparently been a pretty big hit on Slash-something-or-other, especially amongst the personally-grieved-by-everything crowd who are currently neck-deep in complaining that it's presented on 14 separate pages (instead of all at once, like other slide shows).

Long story short: I thought you might enjoy checking it out.

A Truckload of Vintage Computing

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

A Truckload of Vintage Computing

I should be ashamed of myself. I do so much vintage stuff every week, but I'm usually too lazy to tell you guys about it — and I run a blog called Vintage Computing and Gaming. Well, maybe I can do more quick updates on my activities in the future. Here's the first.

A few months ago, I visited a family friend's house. She was cleaning out her attic, and I had long since promised to help her get rid of the numerous dusty computers her late husband had collected.

I came home with seven machines, including an Apple IIc and an old Compaq bearing a Post-It Note warning: "Do not get on this computer." The note backfired, of course, as it insured that I would be getting on it post-haste.

Once atop the slumbering beast — some five inches off the ground — I booted the machine. Therein, I found a sluggish, hobbled-by-its-own-nature install of Windows ME and no less than 86 virii (this is not an exaggeration) intertwined with every facet of the operating system. As per my promise to the former owner, I formatted the drive with extreme prejudice.

A Truckload of Vintage ComputingChief among the other spoils were a NES Action Set in a near-mint box; the aforementioned Apple IIc's original box with all documentation; an Apple IIc color monitor and monitor stand, both in box; various boxed Apple II and PC software; a box; six PC clones of various vintage between an AT-class machine and Pentium stuff (no boxes to be seen); and an awesome, non-boxy Model 500 rotary telephone in stylish red and black.

Above all else, the equipment carried with it a priceless nostalgic element: I had watched my brother's best friend use most of these items when I was a kid, so it was very familiar to me.

What you see in the back of the truck above would have met death-by-dumpster had I not gallantly rushed in to save it. Of course, now it's cluttering up my house instead of hers. Despite the nostalgia rush, I'm starting to think our family friend got the better end of the deal.

Apple I For Sale

Monday, September 15th, 2008

Apple 1 For Sale- Keyboard Apple 1 For Sale - PC Board

[ Update: 02/11/2010 - Rick Conte donated this Apple I to the Maine Personal Computer Museum in 2009 ]

It's not every day that an original Apple I goes up for sale. In fact, it's not every year that an Apple I goes up for sale. In case you didn't know, the Apple I is an exceedingly rare machine.

Apple Computer LogoHow rare? Well, various sources on the net say that about 200 units of Apple's first computer were produced, and perhaps 30-50 survive to this day. To find out the truth behind these numbers, I checked with the designer of the Apple I himself, Steve Wozniak. But first, it's time for a little history.

Apple co-founders Wozniak and Steve Jobs originally sold the Apple I for $666.66 (US) in 1976. With the help of friends, the duo built each and every Apple I by hand, although admittedly, there's wasn't much to the primitive machine. It shipped without an enclosure, keyboard, power supply, or display; the buyer was expected to furnish those parts. (Many people built them into briefcases, like the one seen here.)

[ Continue reading Apple I For Sale » ]

The 2008 Hamfest Report

Monday, April 28th, 2008

Benj's 2008 Hamfest ReportA couple weekends ago, I made the requisite annual trek to RARSfest, my local hamfest of choice, which takes place on the NC State Fairgrounds. You might remember my in-depth slideshow on a similar hamfest adventure two years ago. Well, this year I decided to take a few shots of the 'fest again, and I thought you might enjoy them. So hop in the HamCar, and we'll take a quick ride through RARSfest 2008.

[ Continue reading The 2008 Hamfest Report » ]

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Choose Your Own Adventure

Monday, April 7th, 2008

Choose Your Own Adventure #39: Supercomputer - Front CoverFront cover of Supercomputer by Edward Packard (1984)

While looking through some old boxes a few weeks ago, I stumbled across my brother's large collection of vintage Choose Your Own Adventure books. These books, as a series, were very popular in the early 1980s. Bantam published over 180 different Adventures from 1979 to 1998.

Each Choose Your Own Adventure book is similar to an adventure computer game. You read a few pages, and then you're faced with different paths that your character can take:

If you free Danny from the barn even though Uncle Grog might catch you, turn to page 23.
If you give up and throw your SuperTorch in the hay, turn to page 40.

The outcome of the story depends on your choices, and every book contains multiple endings.

One book in my brother's set stood out from the rest: Supercomputer, by Edward Packard (1984). It's an interesting artifact of the popular conception of computers at the time, echoing common 1980s fantasy themes involving 500 lb. CRT-display machines achieving sentience, starting a nuclear war, or simply doing all your homework.

[ Continue reading [ Retro Scan of the Week ] Choose Your Own Adventure » ]

Welcome to the Family, Whiz-Kid

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

VTech Talking Whiz-Kid and VTL Computron

Yesterday afternoon, I made a trip to some local thrift stores that I hadn't visited in eight years. I left with a 24-game N64 cartridge drawer, some books, an unopened copy of Bill Gates' The Road Ahead on audio cassette, some neat board games, and the two devices you see above. It's more junk, but it's good junk.

The VTech Talking Whiz-Kid (1987, right) came with the box, manual, and cards. This educational toy reads paper "program cards" as you insert them into an optical reader slot. The cards don't contain any software, but instead bear a simple bar code that tells the Whiz-Kid which built-in program to start. Highlights include Hangman, word scramble, and an extremely limited calculator.

I remember seeing the VTL Computron (1980, left) in J.C. Penney catalogs as a kid. It works too, although it's missing the battery door. The LED-based Computron plays matching games based on which letter you select. Most of the games obviously went along with a printed guidebook that I don't have.

Neither device does BASIC like the VTech Pre-Computer 1000, but they're both highly collectible microprocessor-powered toys. Total cost for both? $10 (US).

Anybody else have one of these? Feel free to share your memories with us.