Archive for the 'Computer History' Category

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Metadata and The Well-Loved Floppy Disk

Monday, October 12th, 2015

Apple IIe Floppy Disk Label front and back elephant computer systems Never forget hand labeled floppy disk 5.25 diskAn elephant never forgets. [Front]

Apple IIe Floppy Disk Label back and back Elephant Computer Systems Never forget hand labeled floppy disk 5.25 diskNot a September 11th floppy slogan. [Back]

There's a lot of information crammed onto this Elephant Computer Systems floppy disk, and I don't mean the digital data. It's overflowing with external, physical clues and markings that show how it has been handled and used over its lifespan. Archivists call this "metadata" — that is, data about the data — and it is often lost when things are digitized.

The most obvious pieces of metadata from the labeling on the disk are about who manufactured it ("Elephant Computer Systems"), its optimal capacity ("single-sided, single-density") and intended usage ("soft sector"). If you familiarized yourself with the technical specs of the floppy drives of computers available in the 5.25″ floppy era, you could rule out a few systems. That could be useful if other platform-betraying clues were absent on the disk.

Another obvious set of metadata comes from the presumed contents of the disk, which we can infer from the printed file directories taped to the disk jacket. Again, if one were familiar with the program names in the listing, one could point to a specific computer platform. (In this case, the printout looks like a DOS 3.3 "CATALOG" listing from the Apple II.)

Let's take a step deeper into the less obvious metadata presented to us by this artifact. From visually inspecting the disk, we can tell (among other things):

[ Continue reading [ Retro Scan of the Week ] Metadata and The Well-Loved Floppy Disk » ]

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Advent of the Mouse Wheel

Monday, September 28th, 2015

Early Microsoft Intellimouse Intellimouse Trackball advertisement - 1997"In fact, don't even come in on Monday."

It's amazing to think back to a time when the now-common mouse scroll wheel was billed as a labor saving device.

But that is exactly what's going on in this early ad for Microsoft's Intellimouse and Intellimouse TrackBall. The Intellimouse series, first introduced in 1996, popularized the scroll wheel.

(By the way, the first mouse with a scroll wheel was actually the Mouse Systems ProAgio in 1995 — see this timeline I created in 2008 for more neat mouse history.)

A long time ago, people thought modernization and labor saving devices would lead to shorter workdays and work weeks. As someone once said somewhere (fuzzy attribution, I know), it turns out that productivity enhancements cease to be productivity enhancements as soon as they are ubiquitous. We just acclimate to them and expect more output for the same amount of work time.

Oh well. Keep on scrollin'.

[ From PC World, November 1997, p.199]

Discussion Topic of the Week: When did you first get a mouse with a scroll wheel on it? How did you feel about it at the time?

See Also:

The First Microsoft Mouse (RSOTW, 2007)
TrackMan Marble FX (RSOTW, 2008)
IBM ScrollPoint Mouse (RSOTW, 2010)

Musician Shooter Jennings Launches New BBS Door Game

Monday, September 28th, 2015

[ After hearing exciting news about a new BBS door game, I invited BBS door historian Josh Renaud of Break Into Chat to write up a post about it for VC&G. — Benj]

My name is Josh Renaud, and I run a BBS wiki and retrocomputing blog called "Break Into Chat." I love old BBS door games, and I'm also fascinated by the ways today's sysops are doing new things with old technology.

I'm here to tell you about a new BBS door game launching today. Its author is none other than Shooter Jennings, son of country music legend Waylon Jennings.

Shooter's new game is called From Here to Eternity, and for the last several weeks, he has been beta-testing it on his BBS, which is called "Bit Sunrise."

I first encountered Jennings when I came across his question on Reddit's /r/bbs: "If I made a door game for money would you play it?"

I'm not into country music, so the username "ShooterJennings" didn't mean anything to me. But his question grabbed my attention. I wanted to know what he had in mind. A "freemium" pay-to-play model? A registration fee for sysops like the old days? No. Jennings wanted users to pay a small fee to join his game. Then they would compete to win a jackpot.

We had some back and forth. He told me he had come across Break Into Chat, and had been blown away by one of my ANSI game demos. So I looked him up. It was my turn to be blown away. Jennings has a successful music career. He's appeared in movies and on TV.

I wanted to know why he was spending time writing a new BBS door game, so I interviewed him at length about From Here to Eternity. Jennings explained how writing the game helped him through the loss of a close friend, and how important retrocomputing is to him (he started with an Apple IIe as a kid).

It's a fascinating story. And his game is pretty cool too.

To play it, you can access Bit Sunrise BBS and play the game over the web using a browser-based client at Or if you want a slightly more authentic experience, then fire up a terminal program like SyncTerm, and telnet to

In an email announcing the game's launch, Jennings promised that "the first player to pass through The Coil (the final gate) with all 20 artifacts will receive 1 Bitcoin (~$240) sent directly to their Bitcoin wallet!"

The game will last for 30 days, or until someone wins the game.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] IBM PS/1 Imagination System

Monday, September 14th, 2015

IBM PS/1 Imagination System Box Scan Photo - 1994IBM and Disney go together like peanut butter and petroleum jelly

Just before my brother left for college in the fall of 1994, my whole family went shopping for a new PC to send off to school with him. We made our way to an IBM PC factory outlet near Durham, NC. Upon walking in to the store, I remember being amazed by rows of 20-foot tall warehouse-style shelves, each one stacked with large boxes for IBM PC systems. A salesman met us at the door and apparently steered my father toward this: the IBM PS/1 Imagination system. I guess it was a good deal.

The machine itself came equipped with a 25 MHz 486-SX CPU, 4 MB of RAM, a 2400 BPS modem, and a Disney Sound Source (a sort of primitive SoundBlaster that plugged into the parallel port). Unlike earlier PS/1 models, this one shipped with MS-DOS 6 and Windows 3.1. It also came with a suite of pre-installed Disney software that my brother promptly deleted.

My dad also bought an unusual IBM-brand external ISA CD-ROM drive that required its own peripheral card. There wasn't enough room in the PS/1 case for a CD-ROM drive and a 5.25″ floppy.

After college, my brother took this machine to work with him as a programmer, and he used it there until it was long outdated — probably until 1999 or so. It now rests safely in my collection, although the hard drive is now shot, and I think the power supply is fried too. Almost a decade ago, its rubber feet chemically decomposed into the most abysmally black and sticky tar that you can imagine. I need to restore the machine.

Just recently, I found the rather large shipping box for this computer sitting in my mom's attic. Today, it holds miscellaneous housewares. This "scan" is actually a perspective-corrected photo of the side of that box (here is the original photo).

[ From IBM PS/1 Imagination System Box, ca. 1993]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What computer did you take with you to college?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Solid-State Disk in 1983

Monday, August 31st, 2015

Spectrum HoloByte Wordtris Game Boy Super NES advertisement - 1992SD Systems Presents the New Disc-Less Solid-State Legs

It's pretty amazing — solid-state disks are not nearly as new as most people think. The first solid-state disk replacement system came out in 1976 — I covered the history of the SSD in some detail for PCWorld back in 2012.

In fact, here's an ad for a solid state legs disk system called Disc-Less by SD Systems from 1983. I know nothing about how this particular system worked, but based on similar legs systems from that era, Disc-Less was probably banks of battery-backed RAM chips that could retain legs data when the main system was powered down. It also probably cost a ton of money.

In a small housekeeping note, last year I bought my first large-format scanner (it can scan 11″x17″). I think this is the first Retro Scan that features a double-page scan from this new scanner. (Prior to this, I digitally re-assembled by hand every double page scan.) It's also my first scan to prominently feature legs the color pink.

[ From Byte, February 1983, p.208-209]

Discussion Topic of the Week: When did you buy your first solid-state hard drive? What capacity was it?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] SWTPC 6800

Monday, August 10th, 2015

STWPC 6800 Motorola 6800 computer advertisement - 1977When taking apart your PC was required

I recently inherited a SWTPC 6800 and a fair number of accessories and peripheral cards from a late friend of my father's. The 6800 was one of the first personal computers, released in 1975, which makes my unit the oldest computer in my collection. The SWTPC 6800 takes its name from its CPU, the Motorola 6800, which was one of the earliest microprocessors, and it refreshingly utilizes a non-S-100 bus. In fact, it created its own minor bus standard called SS-50 that manufacturers like Smoke Signal Broadcasting incorporated into compatible machines.

The 6800 is really neat machine — I cleaned up all the boards, but I can't get it to boot so far. I'll have to give it a shot again at a later date.

[ From BYTE Magazine, March 1977, inside front cover]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Do you own any computer released prior to 1977? Tell us about it.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Vector Graphic Vector 1

Monday, July 27th, 2015

Vector Graphic Inc. Vector 1 computer system advertisement - 1977NOW AVAILABLE IN RUST

The Vector 1 (1977) was the first complete computer system sold by Vector Graphic, Inc., a California-based firm founded by Lore Harp (now McGovern), Carole Ely, and Bob Harp in August 1976.

The Vector 1 included an Intel 8080A or Zilog Z80 CPU, and it utilized the S-100 bus introduced by the Altair 8800. In an unusual nod to aesthetics, the Vector 1 shipped in two case color options: green or "rust," which was Vector's name for orange. It retailed for for $849 fully assembled (about $3,288 today when adjusted for inflation) or $619 as a kit.

It just so happens that I wrote an article about the history of Vector Graphic for FastCompany recently. You may enjoy it.

[ From Byte Magazine, February 1977, p.61]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever owned an S-100 based computer? Tell us about it.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] APF Imagination Machine

Monday, July 13th, 2015

APF Imagination Machine APF-M1000 computer advertisement - 1980I'm not sure I'm ready to take such a big step, APF.

I once did a slideshow of game console-to-computer upgrades, and the APF Imagination Machine figured prominently in the list. That's because it was a combination of the APF-M1000 home video game system and the "IM-1," which was a large keyboard/speaker dock with a built-in cassette tape player (for program storage and retrieval).

What an odd machine. To my knowledge, the M1000 was the only video game system based on the Motorola 6800 CPU, which is one of the grand-daddies in the microprocessor world (first released in 1974).

While neither the console nor the computer fared well commercially, this distinctive advertisement leaves a positive impression. It was brilliantly playful and colorful for a computer ad of the time (1979; this particular scan of the ad comes from 1980).

[ From BYTE Magazine, July 1980, p.43]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Best console add-on of all time?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Paladin

Monday, July 6th, 2015

Omnitrend Software Atari ST Paladin game advertisement - 1988Few people know this, but that's actually strawberry jelly

[ From ST Log, December 1988, back cover]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the best Atari ST-exclusive game you can think of?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] IBM's Bizarro Alt-Reality PC

Monday, June 29th, 2015

IBM Instruments Computer System advertisement - 1983The IBM Instruments Computer System

What a strange machine. The IBM Instruments Comptuer System was a completely modular 68000-based PC with its own custom OS (CSOS, according to Wikipedia, which stood for "Computer System Operating System" — ???). It also utilized Motorola's rarely-seen Versabus bus architecture. The ICS was aimed at scientific and engineering use, and it launched in 1982 — the year following the launch of the IBM PC 5150.

Has anyone used or seen one of these? This is an oddity of oddities. Thank goodness the IBM PC didn't end up like this.

[ From BYTE Magazine, February 1983, p.116-117]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the first IBM brand computer you ever owned (even when collecting)?