Archive for the 'Computer History' Category

One Scan Per Week for Ten Years

Monday, February 1st, 2016

Benj Edwards Vintage Computing Retro Scan of the Week Turns 10 Years Old - 10th Anniversary

On January 30th, 2006, I posted my first entry in the Retro Scan of the Week column: "When to Use Low Speed Modems." Below that first scanned image, I wrote:

I found this amusing, so I thought I'd share it. More to come.

I was right about that last sentence. Since then, I've shared weekly scans on my blog 522 times — every Monday for 10 years.

Yep, Retro Scan of the Week just turned 10.

While it is not an achievement on-par with, say, building the pyramids, working at the same company for 50 years, or hosting a late-night talk show for decades, I am slightly overwhelmed when I try to consider the scope of this anniversary and what it actually means to me personally.

Get Somma That Tinney ActionWhat I think it means is that I have been dedicated to preserving computer and video game history for an officially long time now (this blog itself turned ten last year). And I have always wanted to share it with others. Retro Scan of the Week has been a regular and effective way to achieve both goals.

For years, I have used the column as an opportunity to provide more than just images. When I could, I have attached personal commentary about the scans I'm showcasing because I hope it will give valuable context to future historians (assuming copies of my blog survive that long). Also, reader comments have been equally important in capturing the firsthand reactions to products and events over time.

Without that extra something that gives RSOTW its unique quality, I probably would have quit posting them years ago. But NOPE. 10 years.

The End of an Era?

On the occasion of this colulmn's fifth anniversary, I wrote a retrospective that is worth reading if you are interested in learning some historical background on my Retro Scan of the Week column. (There's also more about RSOTW in this interview from last year.)

Retro Scan of the Week ScannerThat earlier anniversary — coming in a different era where blogs and scans were slightly more relevant — felt more meaningful somehow. At that point, I had done something for a long time (in blog years). Now I've done it twice as long. And honestly, not much has changed in five years, other than the fact that I finally upgraded to an 11″x17″ large format scanner last year — and that there are twice as many scans on this blog.

But now that I have reached this milestone, I think I might be winding down the column some time soon. While it wouldn't be too hard to keep going for years on end, I think ten years is a nice emotional and philosophical cap to this project.

For now, I'll mull it over. It's a hard considering pulling the plug on something you've spent every Monday for ten years doing. But whatever happens, there will be a legacy left behind. At some point I plan to put all my high-res scans on the Internet Archive, for example. And RSOTW images still haunt Google Image Searches like nobody's business. I keep running in to my own work when I'm trying to research something else.

Whatever happens, it has been a fun 10 years. Thanks for reading along with me as we have rediscovered the past together.

[ Continue reading One Scan Per Week for Ten Years » ]

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Benj's Apple II Notes

Monday, February 1st, 2016

Benj Edwards Apple II+ AppleSoft BASIC handwritten programming notes scan - circa 1990 or 1991An authentic, Coke-stained programming reference

I'm sure I've told this story somewhere else — probably about five times at this point, but here it goes again. When I was maybe 9 or 10 (in 1990 or 1991), my dad bought me a nice Apple II+ setup from someone at the local hamfest for about $100.

(I recently found the original handwritten price tag for that machine, which you can see here. I said about $100 because haggling was common, and he may have actually paid $70 or $90 for it. It's worth noting that $100 was a lot of money for an old computer back then, and it commanded that price because it was perceived as still being useful at the time. Later, used Apple II prices sunk, then went back up again as they became collectible.)

As I learned to program BASIC on the machine using Apple's fairly well-written AppleSoft programming manuals, I began to make a list of frequently-used programming techniques that I could easily reference.

It was my dad's idea — and he was very big into making notes, dating papers, and documenting things. However, I found that handwriting cramped my hand because I didn't hold a pencil properly, so I absolutely hated it. And yes, that gave me trouble in school. But I can still remember my dad's words now. It was a familiar conversation:

"Write this down: Initialize prepares a new disk."

"Ok, dad."

"WRITE IT DOWN."

Obviously, I did as he instructed, then continued to add to the list over the following days. Not long after creating it, I taped the notes to my desk right beside my Apple II+. There they stayed for at least a few years as I continued to tinker with BASIC.

Eventually, that desk (made out of a hollow, uncut door laying across two shelf pillars) got so nasty with stickers and writing that it went to the dump. Just before it departed, I peeled my BASIC note off and stuck it in my files. There it stayed until I rediscovered it just last year in some old papers.

As dirty and Coke-stained as the note is today, I am glad I still have it. At the risk of stretching a metaphor, it's a little bit like rediscovering an old friend that helped me through a tricky period of my life. At the very least, I will always remember PR#6.

[ From Benj Edwards personal handwritten AppleSoft BASIC notes ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the first programming language you ever used? How old were you?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] 1995 Nintendo.com Promo

Monday, January 25th, 2016

Nintendo Nintendo.com Website promo AOL Keyword NOA Nintendo Power Advertisement Scan - 1995Crap. I spilled toxic waste on my keyboard again.

I've always wondered who made these in-house Nintendo promos/ads for Nintendo Power magazine. Most of them were fairly well done over the years. This vivid promo, featuring Nintendo's early website in 1995, is probably one of my favorites. It also mentions AOL (keyword "NOA"), of course, which was still a big online player at the time.

By the way, anyone who can convincingly explain (with in-world fiction, not marketing) the presence of a poison/toxic waste barrel on this kid's desk wins 10 cocoa points. Even Diddy Kong sitting there makes more sense.

[Update: 02/01/2016 - It turns out that the toxic waste barrel is actually a boss character named Dumb Drum from Donkey Kong Country. Special thanks to etranist for pointing that out in the comments. ]

[ From Nintendo Power, August 1995, back cover ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the first video game website you ever looked at online?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] NandO.net - My First ISP

Monday, January 18th, 2016

Raleigh News and Observer Nando Nando.net Newspaper Advertisement ISP Internet - 1994The only time I have ever read the term "MUSH" in print.

You are looking at a scan of the actual newspaper ad that got me on the Internet with a commercial ISP for the first time. (Prior to that, I got online through a free dial-up university dataswitch.) It's an ad for NandO.net, a 1990s-era Raleigh, NC-based ISP originally owned and operated by our flagship newspaper, The News and Observer.

As you can see by the handwritten notes on the ad, my dad used this actual piece of paper to sign us up for an account on the service (I modified the credit card number digitally, in case anyone is wondering). I found this rare artifact in my old computer papers recently while researching my early web history for a FastCompany piece I wrote last year. In that article, I explored what it was like to build a website in 1995. Here's what I wrote about NandO:

As the Internet became more than just a way to access MUDs or look up the occasional novelty on text-based Gophers or web browsers, both of us sought a more robust way of accessing it. One of the first ISPs in our city was called NandO.net. Our local newspaper, the News and Observer, ran it as an extension of its efforts to pioneer online newsmaking processes.

On some day in late 1994, my father signed my family up for NandO.net. What we got in exchange for about $20 a month was an account on an Internet-enabled BBS, which had its own local message board and games, but would allow us to use text-only Internet email, web browsing, FTP, and Gopher. My dad paid extra for a "shell account" so I could log in and get a Unix command prompt. From there I could upload and download files from a terminal program, telnet to other servers, and push stuff from my shell account to remote machines via FTP.

What heady days those were. Incredible to think that I was just dipping my toes into what would eventually become a life-changing deluge — not just for me, but for all of humanity itself.

[ From The News and Observer, December 13, 1994, p.9A ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the name of your first ISP? What year did you first use it?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] AOL Game Disk

Monday, January 4th, 2016

GamePro AOL Game Disk Package - 1996click on the image above to see front and back

I've previously featured a scan of an AOL CD, but so far I have not ventured into the world of America Online floppy disk packaging…until now. Here is a gaming-centric AOL giveaway disk package — still unopened — which I believe came with an issue of GamePro magazine I received as part of a subscription in 1996.

I love the AOL screenshot printed on the package here (possibly mocked up for marketing purposes) because it offers a rare glimpse into the mid-1990s AOL interface (with a Windows 3.1 window motif), centered on "The Games Channel." If anybody has a collection of AOL screenshots from the 1990s, I'd love to see them.

[ From AOL disk package, circa 1996, front and back ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you ever play games on America Online back in the day? Tell us about it.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Crusader: No Remorse

Monday, December 28th, 2015

Origin Crusader No Remorse PC Advertisement - 1995Beware the tiny red man

[ From Computer Gaming World, September 1995, back cover ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the best non-Ultima game Origin ever made?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Dad's Christmas Art

Monday, December 21st, 2015

Benj's Dad homemade Christmas Xmas art drawing computer art KoalaPad KoalaPainter Atari 800 Polaroid print - 1985A Christmas Tree in the Window

Back in the day, my dad bought a KoalaPad drawing tablet for our Atari 800. Perhaps that very December — in 1984 or 1985, he drew this scene of the front of our house at Christmas time, complete with a view of our Christmas tree through our living room window. So proud was he of his creation that he snapped a photo of it with a Polaroid camera, and that's the print I am showing to you now.

Merry Christmas from Vintage Computing and Gaming!

[ From Personal Polaroid SX-70 print, ca.1985, front ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you draw any Christmas art on your computer when you were a kid? Tell us about it.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] WorldsAway

Monday, December 14th, 2015

Fujitsu Cultural Technologies WorldAway Graphical Multiuser Online Chat World on CompuServe First Advertisement - 1996"There's More to Life On-Line"

Just a few months ago, the 20th anniversary of the launch of WorldsAway, a pioneering graphical online world, came and went without any major notice (it launched in September 1995). But I remembered the milestone, and I wrote a recent This Old Tech column over on PCWorld.com about my memories of the service, which I stuck with in some form or another until 2001.

WorldsAway was simply magical when it launched. It promised to put you, as a user, into a graphical world that you could share with other online users (the term "Avatar" as an online representation of your physical self came from the creators of this lineage of online worlds). It delivered on that goal with a charming atmosphere — where you could change between whimsical heads with ease — and a vibrant community that I still look back on fondly to this day.

Honestly, I miss being part of that WorldsAway community. My involvement there came at a time when I was fairly lonely and isolated with my hobbies — my high school years — during a time when few "average" people used any online service whatsoever. Don't get me wrong; I did fairly well at school, and I wasn't a freak with no friends — but the real-life friends I did have did not share my love for the online world. Online, of course, I could find others like me, and on WorldsAway, we all celebrated that commonality together in a vibrant, playful world.

Did anybody else use WorldsAway in the 1990s? I'd love to hear from you.

P.S. I was an avid reader and subscriber of CompuServe Magazine in the 1990s, which is where I found and drooled over this ad back in the day.

[ From CompuServe Magazine, March 1996, p.4 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you use any graphical online chat worlds in the 1990s? Tell us about it.

The VC&G Christmas Collection (2015 Edition)

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

Vintage Computing and Gaming Christmas Xmas Megapost

It's that time of year again: the Yuletide. Over the past few years, I've been posting an annual collection of all the Christmas-related tech material I've written (both for this site and for others) into one place for easy reading. Below, you'll find list of off-site Christmas slideshows, other features, and of course, plenty of Retro Scans of the Week.

I have a soft spot for Christmas, having been raised with the tradition, so this list is for me as much as it is for everyone else. After going through these things again, it's amazing to see how much Christmas stuff I've posted over the years. I hope you enjoy it.

[ Continue reading The VC&G Christmas Collection (2015 Edition) » ]

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Thoughware JingleDisk

Monday, December 7th, 2015

Thoughtware JingleDisk Jingle Disk Animated musical computer christmas card animation artwork Xmas - 1985Jingle disk, jingle disk, jingle all the way

Throughout the ages, fans of Christmas have found new and varied ways to express their love for the holiday. In the 1980s, personal computer users joined in the fun, using their machines to host a new breed of animated Christmas greetings that were distributed through magazines, BBSes, or even sold on disk like Thoughtware's JingleDisk, seen here.

Upon inserting JingleDisk into your Commodore 64 or Apple II computer (It's a double-sided disk with data for the different platforms on each side) and booting it up, the user is presented with a Christmas-themed animation set to various holiday musical standards. It's fun to watch.

There is something about the warmth of the glow from a cathode ray tube screen that lends itself well to computerized Christmas celebrations — perhaps it echoes some primal link to prehistoric man sitting around the fire telling stories.

By the way, this JingleDisk came to me by way of a family friend who just turned 40 years old today. Happy Birthday, Chris!

[ From Thoughtware JingleDisk product packaging, 1985, front/back ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever programmed a Christmas-themed demo or sent a computerized Christmas card? Tell us about it.