Archive for the 'Computer History' Category

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Laser 128 Family

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

Laser 128 Apple II Compatible clone machine computer advertisement - 1987A family on the move

This Apple II-clone machine became popular in the mid-late 1980s as a low-cost alternative to the Apple IIc (almost half the price but twice the RAM), especially for home use. I have a Laser 128 in nearly pristine condition in the box, and it feels nice to use. It echoes the integrated form factor of the IIc, which makes it convenient to setup in a pinch if you need to pull out an Apple II in an emergency. Or at least that's how I use it.

Happy Thanksgiving from VC&G

[ From Family and Home Office Computing, November 1987, p.69 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Do you have any Thanksgiving computer or gaming traditions? Tell us about them.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Ultima VII For SNES

Monday, November 16th, 2015

Origin FCI Pony Ultima The Black Gate for SNES Super NES Ultima VII port advertisement - 1994This keychain looks like it would hurt in your pocket

Here we see an ad for the Super NES version of Ultima VII: The Black Gate. Apparently, when VII received its port to Nintendo's console, its Roman numeral designation got the axe. As a result, the title became merely Ultima: The Black Gate.

I'm not a big fan of the SNES ports of the Ultima games (VI and VII). In the process of chopping things down to fit in a reasonably-sized ROM cartridge, a lot of content and features were lost (including the Roman numeral in this case). But at the same time, those ports likely gave console fans a taste of the Ultima universe that they would not have had otherwise.

As for me, I was lucky enough to originally play the Ultima games on the PC (and the Atari ST, in the case of Ultima III), so I guess I am spoiled.

[ From Electronic Gaming Monthly, November 1994, p.100]

Discussion Topic of the Week: In your opinion, what's the best console port of any Ultima game?

See Also:

Ultima VII Immortality Contest (RSOTW, 2007)
Ultima VI (RSOTW, 2009)
Ultima V (RSOTW, 2009)
The Savage Empire (RSOTW, 2010)
Tiny Pocket Ultima (RSOTW, 2013)

VC&G Interview: Felicia Day — Actress, Author, and Geek Advocate

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

Felicia Day Interview Headshot10 DAYS OF VINTAGE: Day 10

One week ago, I had a chance to talk to Felicia Day, an American actress who has gained considerable renown for embracing her geeky side.

In 2007, Day created a pioneering web TV show called The Guild that focused on a group of disparate characters in a World of Warcraft-like MMO who are nonetheless bound together by their devotion to the game — and to each other as teammates.

After launching The Guild, Day went on to co-star in Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, an award-winning musical miniseries crafted especially for the web. She has also acted in shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, and Eureka.

Just this year, Day released a memoir called You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), that I read from cover-to-cover in a few days and enjoyed immensely. In it, she talked about growing up in the American South, her gaming habits, embracing her geeky nature, and creating The Guild.

With that book in mind, I thought it would be fun to ask her some questions about her early computing and gaming habits. Along the way, we touch on the philosophy of genius and celebrity, and whether it's safe to do an interview while you're driving a car.

I hope you enjoy it.

This interview took place on November 4, 2015 over the telephone.

[ Continue reading VC&G Interview: Felicia Day — Actress, Author, and Geek Advocate » ]

The Story of AMD64

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

The Story of AMD64 Opteron
(An interpreted narrative told through real AMD stock photos)


[ Continue reading The Story of AMD64 » ]

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Ceiling Fan Robot

Monday, November 9th, 2015

CasaBlanca Fan Company Casablanca 1985 Robot Intelli-touch world's first computerized ceiling fan advertisement - 1985Play it again, Samtronic

I ran across this ad for CasaBlanca's Intelli-Touch, "the world's first computerized ceiling fan," in a 1985 issue of Home magazine that I found in my mom's house.

My mother has subscribed to house decorating magazines for as long as I can remember, and Home is only one of many (other examples: Better Homes and Gardens, Southern Living). I never thought that I'd feature a scan from one, though.

But this ceiling fan ad was too fun to pass up. It reflects a time when you could slap the term "computerized" on any electronically-controlled consumer product (even if it didn't actually have a computer inside, which was often the case) and use it as a marketing angle.

The robotic take on Humphrey Bogart's classic film reminds me of those famous Maxell ads. Perhaps the same people were responsible for both campaigns? I don't know, but frankly, this would have terrified me if I had seen it as a kid. Luckily, I found it when I was 34, so I'm only slightly afraid.

[ From Home, May 1985, p.3]

Discussion Topic of the Week: If you woke up one day and everyone looked like a metallic, boxy robot, what would you do?

[ VC&G Anthology ] A Detailed Timeline of Compact Disc Technology (2012)

Sunday, November 8th, 2015

The First CD-Player - Sony CDP-101

When I write articles about the history of technology — which, I'll admit, is fairly often — a few readers will sometimes say, "The author is obviously too young to remember X or Y," or "He forgot to include X." Sure, I don't know everything. But most of the time, if there is ever an omission of something notable in one of my articles, a) I know about it, and b) it was done for a good reason.

(That reason, by the way, is usually brevity — editors almost always trim things out to make the article shorter. The second most common reason is that the omitted info, while generally understood to be true, is actually false.)

VC&G Anthology BadgeWhen the occasion warrants it, and if time allows, I do the most exhaustive research I can manage on a topic. While browsing through my old writing files recently, I came across a fairly vivid illustration of this: a very detailed timeline of CD technology that I created while writing an feature about the 30th anniversary of the CD Player for TechHive back in 2012.

During that process, I set out to understand the history of the CD Player and the Compact Disc medium as much as possible so I could explain it with confidence. One of the best ways to do that — to cover 30+ years of history and get it all straight — is to make a timeline. So that's what I did.

The published article on TechHive includes key selections from this timeline at the bottom, but not everything. With the hope that my more detailed CD timeline might some day help future researchers, I am publishing it below, complete with sources when available.

This kind of thing makes me wonder how many other man-hours of journalistic research lay just out of reach because there is no proper context in which to share it. In this case, I'm lucky to have the VC&G Anthology series.

[ Continue reading [ VC&G Anthology ] A Detailed Timeline of Compact Disc Technology (2012) » ]

[ VC&G Anthology ] Origins of the ASCII Smiley Character: An Email Exchange With Dr. David Bradley (2011)

Friday, November 6th, 2015

IBM Smiley Characters

The famous IBM PC 5150 turned 30 in 2011, and I spent quite some time preparing for that important anniversary. During my brainstorming process, I thought it would be fun to celebrate the 30th anniversary of another famous cultural icon — the "smiley" ASCII character, which originated with that seminal IBM machine.

To me, the the smiley character (seen above in its original and inverse forms) is best known as the protagonist of pseudo-graphical text-based games like ZZT.

VC&G Anthology BadgeTo find out the origins of this whimsical denizen of Code Page 437, I sent an email to Dr. David J. Bradley, one of the creators of the IBM PC, whom I had corresponded with before. In fact, Dr. Bradley is best known as the inventor of "CTRL-ALT-DELETE" keyboard combination that once reset almost every IBM PC-compatible computer.

I never did get around to writing that Smiley celebration as I planned, but I just ran across my conversation with Dr. Bradley recently, and I still find it interesting. With Dr. Bradley's permission, I am reproducing a transcript of our email conversation below, which I hope will aid future IBM Smiley researchers in their quest for information.

[ Continue reading [ VC&G Anthology ] Origins of the ASCII Smiley Character: An Email Exchange With Dr. David Bradley (2011) » ]

Benj's 'This Old Tech' Column Debuts on

Friday, November 6th, 2015

This Old Tech Column on Toshiba T1000

Today, PCWorld published the inaugural entry of my new column, This Old Tech. In the column, I will be writing about vintage gadgets, games, and computers — pretty much the same stuff I talk about on Vintage Computing and Gaming. So far, the plan is to publish a new piece every Friday.

For the first column, I talk about the first MS-DOS computer I ever learned to use, the Toshiba T1000 laptop. I still have the same machine from all those years ago, so aside from just waxing nostalgic, I also attempt to get it working again.

So spread the word — I am looking forward to exploring my personal tech history in this new column. I hope you enjoy it.

VC&G Anthology Interview: F. Randall Farmer, Co-Creator of Lucasfilm's Habitat (2008)

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

F. Randall Farmer HeadshotIn September 2008, I began working on an in-depth history of the early online virtual world called Lucasfilm's Habitat for After delays in hearing back from Chip Morningstar (one of the game's co-creators) and an unexpected death in my wife's family, the article got the kibosh. It's probably for the best, because I barely knew what I was doing back then.

Along the way, I did manage to interview Habitat's other main creator, F. Randall ("Randy") Farmer via email. Farmer didn't answer half of my most probing development questions (he kept pointing to an earlier piece over on Gamasutra), but what he did answer is pretty interesting.

VC&G Anthology BadgeSome of this information be recounted elsewhere by now — I think more articles have been written about Habitat since 2008 — but I'm publishing my complete interview here in the hopes that it may help someone else with research about Habitat in the future.


[ Continue reading VC&G Anthology Interview: F. Randall Farmer, Co-Creator of Lucasfilm's Habitat (2008) » ]

The Strangest Classic Mac Peripherals I Have Ever Seen

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015


It's a famous story: Under the direction of minimalist Steve Jobs, Apple designed the first Macintosh to be a security-screwed box that kept internal hardware upgrades away from users' hands. He wanted to keep things simple and user-friendly, but the limited memory capacity (128K) and fixed nature of the first Mac held the platform back significantly during its first year on the market.

Apparently, that inspired companies to create batsh*t crazy peripherals for the machine.

That's because, with a sealed box, Mac hardware upgrades could only come in the form of external, plug-in peripherals. Here are six of the strangest ones I've ever come across in all my Macintosh-Related Virtual Online Reading and Researching Travels (or "MRVORRT" for short).

Honestly, these are not necessarily bad or useless peripherals. They're just strange. You'll see what I mean.

[ Continue reading The Strangest Classic Mac Peripherals I Have Ever Seen » ]