Archive for the 'Computer History' Category

[ 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)?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Sierra Battle Bugs

Monday, June 15th, 2015

Sierra Battle Bugs advertisement Wired - November 1994"This is it, boys. Over the anthill."

[ From Wired, November 1994, p.33]

Discussion Topic of the Week: How many insect-themed computer or video games can you name off the top of your head?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Toaster

Monday, June 8th, 2015

Sega Interactive Comics Sega Electronic Comics Batman Popular Science What's New - April 1995It burns your disks

I know nothing about this dual removable hard disk device — called "The Toaster" — by XCOMP. The only time I've ever seen it is in this ad. But judging by the lightning, it was completely awesome.

It was also completely expensive — about US $6,639.50 when adjusted for inflation.

[ From Byte, February 1983, p.60]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever used a removable hard disk system?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Sega Interactive Comics

Monday, June 1st, 2015

Sega Interactive Comics Sega Electronic Comics Batman Popular Science What's New - April 1995WHAM! POW! ZAP!

I've been intrigued by this Sega Electronic Comics System prototype since I first saw it in Popular Science's What's New section back in April 1995. Here is an excerpt from that very magazine.

As far as I know, this device never made it into production — in fact, the only mention I can find of it on the Internet as of this writing is this post on the Collectors Society forums.

Apparently, the Sega Electronic Comics device worked in conjunction with a tailor-made paper comic book that one would place onto the device. A series of pressure-sensitive buttons beneath the comic book could be pressed to somehow direct the narrative of the book. (Perhaps like Choose Your Own Adventure — i.e. if you do this, turn to page 3.)

This reminds me of the comic book device Tom Hanks' character outlines in the film Big (1988), albeit without any type of electronic screen. The crazy thing is that 15 years after this Sega Prototype, you could buy an iPad that could store and display thousands of entirely digital comics in a much thinner form factor.

[ From Popular Science, April 1995, p.11]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Do you use an electronic device to read comic books? Tell us about it.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Star Trek KB and Mouse

Monday, May 25th, 2015

Star Trek Keyboard and Star Trek Mouse Catalog Scan Things You Never Knew Existed - 1995Make it no, Number One.

I once lampooned a Klingon keyboard for a PC World slideshow back in 2009 (looks like the images on that slideshow are broken now — bummer), so I found it especially fun when I ran across this entry for a Star Trek-themed keyboard and mouse in a 1995 Things You Never Knew Existed catalog.

The year 1995 seemed like the height of TV Star Trek, with TNG ending not long before, Voyager starting, and DS9 still on a roll. So it was as an appropriate time as ever to market a keyboard and mouse like this. Sadly, neither one looks very comfortable to use. But if ergonomics were the point of novelty products, then Things You Never Knew Exsited would have never existed.

By the way, I love the extremely 1995 hairstyle. I think my hair looked like back then too.

[ From Things You Never Knew Existed (J9506), 1995, p.3]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What is the weirdest keyboard or mouse you have ever used?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Zork

Monday, May 18th, 2015

Personal Software Infocom Zork advertisement - 1981A scene from "Zork: Brick Collector"

This is it, folks: an early ad (maybe the first) for the original commercial release of Zork, the famous Infocom text adventure, published by Personal Software ca. 1980 for the TRS-80 Model I and III home computers.

(This site has some wonderful background history on this release.)

I love the artwork featured in this ad. It is excised from the full cover art for the Personal Software version, which captures a great deal of the majesty and wonder of the seminal adventure title — plus a hefty dose of out-of-place machismo.

The mere mention of Zork takes me back to the mid-1980s when my older brother delved into the Great Underground Empire with the aid of photocopied maps and worn out InvisiClues on our family's Atari 800. Warm, fuzzy memories. Of course, by then, Infocom published the title directly.

[ From Byte, February 1981, p.31]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite text adventure game of all time? (Modern ones count.)

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Get Your Start in Color Computing with the TRS-80 MC-10

Monday, May 11th, 2015

Radio Shack TRS-80 MC-10 micro color computer catalog page - 1984SMALL ENOUGH TO FIT IN A DINOSAUR SHOE

I've owned a TRS-80 MC-10 since at least 1996 (according to this photo), so it holds a nostalgic place in my collection. It's a really neat little machine despite its limitations (chief among those problems? Tiny chiclet keyboard). But Radio Shack designed this machine as a low-cost entry-level PC for the home, so most of of those issues can easily be overlooked.

The MC-10′s price at the time of this catalog printing had slipped to just $79 (about $178 today when adjusted for inflation). For comparison, the Apple IIc (a far more sophisticated machine, but typical for a home PC at the time) retailed for $1295 upon its introduction that same year (that's a whopping $3,688 today). Price wise, that's similar to the difference between buying a low-end Windows 8 tablet and a Mac Pro. The technological difference was not nearly that dramatic, however.

Perhaps the coolest thing about the MC-10 is that you can now download software for it over the Internet in the form of audio files and load them into the MC-10 via its cassette port. Check out this site for an awesome array of homebrew MC-10 games.

[ From 1984 Radio Shack TRS-80 Catalog (RSC-11), p.59]

Discussion Topic of the Week: If you were stuck on a desert island and you could only use a TRS-80 MC-10 or a Sinclair ZX81, which would you pick?