Archive for the 'Everything Else' Category

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Nintendo Smartwatch

Monday, September 15th, 2014

Nelsonic Nintendo Game Watches Zelda Watch Super Mario Bros. Watch Service Merchandise catalog advertisement - 1989Why not put LZDN1WBF and LSMN1WBF on your Xmas wishlist?

As you probably know, Apple recently introduced the Apple Watch. That got me thinking about other nerdy watches of yore, and I remembered something I recently found in my mom's attic.

Last month, my mother and I searched through boxes and boxes of my grandmother's old dishes to see what might be of use to me now. The dishes had been sitting in my parents' attic untouched for two decades. Many of them were padded with old newspaper from eastern Tennessee, which is where my grandmother lived until she died in 1992.

Among the usual black-ink-on-yellowing-paper fare, I found a handful of gloriously full-color advertisement circulars. A December 1989 mini-catalog for Service Merchandise caught my attention immediately because it featured a pair of Nelsonic Game Watches licensed by Nintendo. (That segment of the circular is what you see scanned above.)

Each of these two watches, which sold for ($19.97 a piece — or $38.37 today when adjusted for inflation) played a simplified prefab-LCD interpretation of its console namesake. If you remember Tiger's LCD handheld games, you're on the right track. In the Zelda watch game, you were forever trapped in a dungeon, and in Super Mario Bros. you were forever hopping between platforms.

While these watch games were limited at the time, it was amazing to think you could fit a portable, battery-powered "video game" on your wrist and play it wherever you liked. I personally recall seeing more than one of these watches getting confiscated by teachers during my elementary school days.

That desire to carry functional video games with us has never abated. Heck, I bet that within days of the Apple Watch's release next year, someone will hack it to play emulated versions of Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda — allowing us to finally have the full NES experience on our wrists. It may be 25 years too late, but it will be amusing to see how things have come full circle.

[ From Service Merchandise Circular (IE499J), Dec 1989, p.11]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever owned a watch that played a game? Tell us about it.

Macworld Magazine (1984-2014)

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

In Memoriam: Macworld Magazine, print edition (1984-2014)

Today I found out that Macworld will cease to be a print magazine and that many of my friends and colleagues have been laid off. Macworld.com will continue to exist, albeit with a relative skeleton crew.

It's very sad to see a day like this come (especially when I still look forward to a new issue of Macworld coming in the mail every month — one of the last print publications I read), but all things must come to an end. It is amazing, in retrospect, that Macworld magazine remained a constant, intelligent voice amid the chaos of a rapidly churning computer industry for thirty years.

Thirty years. Think of all the change that has happened in that time — the tech uphevals, the revolutions, the fall and rise of Apple, the Jobs-as-Phoenix, and rapid spread of the Internet — and through it all, Macworld has been there.

So thank you, Macworld, for serving the Mac community so well. And thanks to its staff in particular. I'd especially like to express my gratitude to Roman Loyola, Jason Snell, Dan Moren, Dan Frakes, Dan Miller, and Philip Michaels (among many others) for their wonderful work on the publication, and their genuine humanity, decency, patience, and fairness (sometimes rare qualities in an editor) through the years.

Roman Loyola, in particular, has been my go-to guy to get my — nay, our — particular brand of Apple history work pushed out to the world, and I am immensely grateful to have worked with him.

The talent pool of editorial labor laid off from Macworld today is immense, and other publications would be fools not to snatch them up as quickly as they can.

As for me, I've been contributing to the publication since 2008. As long as Macworld.com is still around, I might still write things for it. (Completely gutting a publication of its beloved veteran staff doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the future, however.) Time will tell. Until then, it's been a great ride.

Andrew Kay (1919-2014)

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

Andrew Kay, founder of KayProIn Memoriam: Andrew Kay (1919-2014), founder of KayPro
and inventor of the digital voltmeter

The Kaypro II (1982), sold by Andrew Kay's company, was one of the earliest vintage computers I added to my collection (and my first CP/M machine) way back in the early 1990s. Its high-quality components, including its sturdy metal case, its integrated serial and parallel ports, its full-sized keyboard, and its sharp 9-inch green-screen monitor made it a joy to use. And man, it had an 80-column display, which made it a competent word processing machine even in 1994.

With everything integrated, the Kaypro II was a truly plug-and-play machine at a time when other systems required hooking up chains of various peripherals to get things done. With the KayPro II, you folded down the keyboard, plugged it into an outlet, inserted a disk, and flipped it on. It was an island oasis in a sea of endless computer cords.

Andrew Kay's achievements were great (among his other works, he invented the digital voltmeter in 1952). He will be missed.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Joust Guy

Monday, August 18th, 2014

Illustration from Joust Atari 2600 instruction manual - 1982If I were riding a flying ostrich, I'd probably be smiling too.

I don't normally take scans out of context, but I made an exception for this amazing illustration. It comes from the instruction manual for Joust for the Atari 2600. I isolated the image years ago for possible use in one of my Halloween costume ideas posts, and I've been staring at it in my scans folder ever since.

Joust is one of my favorite arcade titles, and I'm particularly fond of the Atari 7800 home version.

I'd like to find out who created this glorious piece of video game art. I'll do some digging in a bit, but if you know already, please leave a comment and I'll update this post. (The illustrator may be referenced in the manual itself, but it's packed where I can't get to it.)

By the way, I think this illustration would look awesome on a t-shirt. Anybody want to make one?

[ From Joust Atari 2600 Instruction Manual - 1982]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Which is better: Joust or Balloon Fight?

Bringing Prodigy Back From The Dead

Monday, July 14th, 2014

Prodigy Online Service Logo

Since last year, I have been working with Jim Carpenter, a freelance programmer by trade, on hunting down old Prodigy data so that we may preserve it, display it again, and perhaps even one day use it to recreate Prodigy itself.

We're calling it the Prodigy Restoration Project.

By now you may have seen my latest piece for The Atlantic entitled Where Online Services Go When They Die: Rebuilding Prodigy, One Page at a Time. That article describes the genesis of the project while also diving into the technical back story of the Prodigy service.

The reason we have any hope of doing something like this is because Carpenter discovered that Prodigy screen data can still be found in the STAGE.DAT and CACHE.DAT files located in used Prodigy client directories.

Those two files were used as cache files to speed up load times when using the service. When connecting to Prodigy, the client would download page data into the files. Whenever the client last connected to Prodigy, that data got frozen in time. If a vintage Prodigy client install still exists, we can get at the "frozen" data today.

Here are some screens that Carpenter pulled from a STAGE.DAT I had in my personal archives (these are from a STAGE.DAT file dated October 6, 1996):

Prodigy Login Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT Prodigy Rebel Space Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT Prodigy Encyclopedia Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT Prodigy Golf Tour Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT

Prodigy Greeting Cards Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT Prodigy Email Template Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT Prodigy Phone Directory Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT Prodigy Problem Error Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT

We can extract these screens using a series of Python programs written by Carpenter. They read through a previously used STAGE.DAT file, generate a list of pointers to the pages or object data contained within, then direct the Prodigy Reception System client to display them one at a time so we can take screenshots.

Jim's code is not ready for release yet, but he hopes to polish it up enough to put up on GitHub soon. It has a long way to go before becoming a turnkey solution to extracting and displaying the data found in STAGE.DAT files. We're working on it.

With that in mind, I've written the rest of this post in the form of a Frequently Asked Questions.

[ Continue reading Bringing Prodigy Back From The Dead » ]

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Quasar Hand-Held Computer

Monday, July 7th, 2014

Quasar Hand-Held Computer HHC Pocket Computer Advertisement - 1982"One Picture is Worth a Thousand Numbers"

I've never used or seen a Quasar Hand-Held Computer in person, but I am a big fan of the similarly-sized TRS-80 Pocket Computer, which I've written about a number of times on this site.

According to this ad, one of the unique features of the Quasar HHC was that you could hook it up to a large color monitor if you had the right expansion accessory. That reminds me of the TRS-80 Model 100 Disk/Video Interface. Pretty cool. I bet the software that utilized that feature was extremely rare, though. I'd love to see it in action.


See Also: BASIC in your Pocket (RSOTW, 2009)
See Also: Asimov's Pocket Computer (RSOTW, 2011)
See Also: Sharp Pocket Computer (RSOTW, 2013)

[ From Popular Computing - December 1982]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the smallest pre-year 2000 computer you've ever owned?

In Turing Test, VC&G writer Ulaf Silchov Fails to Convince Judges He is Human

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Ulaf SilchovUlaf Silchov, our resident Ukranian computer and video game expert, recently decided to volunteer as the human control in a recent Turing test conducted at the University of Reading in the UK.

The only problem? Everyone thought he was a computer.

Here is an excerpt of one of his conversations with a judge:

Judge: Hi, I'm Cathy.

Entity: CATHY! THE NAME OF A WOMANS.

Judge: Yes, I'm a woman.

Entity: WHAT IS A WOMANS, REALLY? BUT A MANS WITH THE UNSTOPPABLE THIRST FOR KRELBS.

Judge: Right. What is your name?

Entity: WHAT IS YOUR NAMES?

Judge: I'm Cathy, remember?

Entity: THAT IS NOT A REAL NAMES.

Judge: Yes, it is. At least where I come from. What is your name?

Entity: ULAF HAVE BEEN GIVEN THE NAMES ULAF IN UKRAINE, BUT FRIENDS CALL ULAF "ULAF" FOR SHORTS IN SVADLOST.

Judge: Nice name. Are you from either area?

Entity: THE AREA OF A TRIANGLES BECOMES THE HYPOTENUSE…ULAF FORGET.

Judge: Uh huh. How could you forget something so important?

Entity: NO, ULAF NOT IMPORTENT. ULAF HAVE AT LEAST 3.5 CHILDRENS (ONE HALF SIZED).

Judge: That's a very personal issue. What's your specialty?

Entity: ULAF FORGET TO ASK WHERE EITHER OF YOUR MINDS ARE FROM.

Judge: The universe and you?

Entity: ULAF, ALSO, BECOMES FROM THE STUFF OF STARS, AS THE MIND OF CARLOS SAGAN ONCE TOLD.

Judge: Do you have any hobbies?

Entity: NO TIMES TO TALK NOW, RUSSIANS KARUMPING ON THE DOOR OF ULAF. REMEMBER, THIS IS ULAF SAYING, "BE THE MASTER." *END TRANSMISSION*

Judge: I'm still here.

[ Newsbits ] June 6, 2014

Friday, June 6th, 2014

VC&G Newsbits Newspaper Logo

VC&G Newsbits Logo

Vintage computing and retrogaming news small enough to eat.

Despite what you may think, Newsbits is not dead. It just needs more fiber.

Recent News

  • The RetroN 5 Launching June 6th (Today!) in the US
    (Source: Destructoid)

    Hope it works as advertised.

    This thing is a beast, supporting NES, Famicom, SNES, Super Famicom, Genesis, Mega Drive, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and GBA cartridges. All of that, with 720p output via HDMI and original controller support.
  • Wii U plugs first DS game into Virtual Console in Japan

    Once upon a time, Nintendo frowned strongly upon emulation. Now its business model depends on it. Oh, how times have changed.

    Puzzle-poser Brain Age is the first DS game to arrive on Wii U Virtual Console, and it's out now in Japan for free until June 30.
  • Unearthed E.T. Atari games will be curated by New Mexico space museum and then sold
    (Source: Polygon)

    A unique situation where one of these games in unopened, mint condition could be worth far less than one crushed and buried in a landfill for 30 years.

    Seven hundred of the 1,300 E.T. and other Atari cartridges recovered from a New Mexico landfill will be appraised, certified and put up for sale, the Alamogordo City Commission decided this week.
  • The Verge Publishes Rarely-Seen Photos of Apple's 1980s Prototype Case Designs
    (Source: The Verge)

    Incredible photos of early 1980s Apple products that never were

    Some of its earliest and most iconic designs, however, didn't actually come from inside of Apple, but from outside designers at Frog. In particular, credit goes to Frog's founder, Hartmut Esslinger, who was responsible for the 'Snow White' design language.
  • Watching kids trying to figure out how to use an old Apple II is totally hilarious
    (Source: Cult of Mac)
    This video of children from the ages of 6 to 13 trying to figure out how to work a vintage Apple II … shows just how inexplicable computing was to pretty much everyone before Steve Jobs released the original Mac in 1984.
  • Modder Stuffs a Raspberry Pi into a Game Boy Pocket
    (Source: Hackaday)

    This is one of the most amazing mods I've ever seen

    After sanding down the bosses on the inside of the case, gluing the battery door shut, and installing a bit of plastic over the cartridge slot, WarriorRocker was able to fit a Raspi inside. The buttons use the same PCB as the stock Game Boy, connected to a Teensy 2.0 board that simulates a USB keyboard.
  • Exhibiting .gifs: An Interview with curator Jason Eppink
    (Source: The Signal)

    Wonder if they know about Retro GIF of the Week

    Jason recently curated 'The Reaction GIF: Moving Image as Gesture,' which exhibits a set of GIFs he identified in consultation with redditors.

Cool Links

  • Where Have You Gone, Peter Norton?
    (Source: Technologizer)

    A look back at the PC utility guru's career by Harry McCracken at the newly-reborn Technologizer

    Norton’s empire grew to include multiple software products, articles (including a long-running PC Magazine column), and books. He was everywhere that PCs were. And then, in 1990, he sold Peter Norton Computing to Symantec, which made the Norton line of software even more successful.
  • Wolfenstein game graphics, 1992 vs 2014
    (Source: Twitter)

    A million more pixels, but the jaw remains the same

  • The Most 90s Thing That Could Ever Exist
    (Source: The Atlantic)
    The zeitgeist summed perfectly in one technological artifact, which is a VHS tape promoting Windows 95, starring Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry.
  • Total Chaos is the Best-Looking Doom II Mod You've Ever Seen
    (Source: PCGamer)

    More like a "GZDoom mod," but still very impressive.

    Total Chaos doesn’t run on the Doom 2 engine from 1993 proper, but a modified version of the original source code that brings in OpenGL, mouse looks and other features like 16x motion blur, high resolution textures, 3D models, and bloom effects.
  • The Secret History of Hypertext
    (Source: The Atlantic)
    Historians of technology often cite Bush’s essay as the conceptual forerunner of the Web. And hypertext pioneers like Douglas Engelbart, Ted Nelson, and Tim Berners-Lee have all acknowledged their debt to Bush’s vision. But for all his lasting influence, Bush was not the first person to imagine something like the Web.
  • The Woman Behind Apple's First Icons
    (Source: Priceonomics)

    …and Windows 3.0 to XP's Solitaire cards! (I did an interview with her about that once, gotta find it.)

    For many, Susan Kare's icons were a first taste of human-computer interaction: they were approachable, friendly, and simple, much like the designer herself. Today, we recognize the little images — system-failure bomb, paintbrush, mini-stopwatch, dogcow — as old, pixelated friends.

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If you want me to include something on a future Newsbits column, send me an email with "Newsbits" in the subject line.

[ Newsbits ] May 15, 2014

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

VC&G Newsbits Newspaper Logo

VC&G Newsbits Logo

Vintage computing and retrogaming news small enough to eat.

Since I missed last week's column, I decided to fold some of those links into this week's edition. So there may be a few older newsbits, but at least they're still interesting.

Recent News

  • 2300 Console Games Now Playable on Internet Archive

    'Ole pal Jason Scott writes about the sudden influx of games playable on the Internet Archive website

    For the last couple of weeks I’ve been working with a range of volunteers on a massive expansion of what we call the Console Living Room at the Internet Archive. Previously weighing in at about 800 game cartridges from seven console systems, the new collection is roughly 2300 cartridges and a total of 21 different consoles.
  • George R. R. Martin Writes Using WordStar 4.0 in MS-DOS

    I'm not surprised. To avoid distractions, I sometimes write using Word 6.0 for DOS on a Compaq Aero 4/25 laptop.

    The 'Game of Thrones' author confessed to late-night talk-show host Conan O'Brien that he prefers to write his popular books on a DOS word processor instead of the latest laptop.

    'I hate some of these modern systems where you type a lower case letter and it becomes a capital letter. I don't want a capital. If I wanted a capital, I would have typed a capital. I know how to work the shift key.'

  • Nintendo Forces Takedown of GBA Emulator for iOS

    From the not-very-surprising department

    In order to play titles like Super Mario and Zelda on your iPhone, then, you have to look at unofficial alternatives. GBA4iOS was one of the most popular — but after its creators received a DMCA notice from Nintendo this week, it is no more.
  • Analogue Interactive's $499 NES Clone Up for Pre-Order

    TinyCartridge reports on this fancy console with a healthy grain of salt mixed in. (Memories of Generation NEX still make me shudder.)

    Analogue has opened pre-orders for its Nt, the Famicom/NES device with RGB output, four controller ports, and purported 'unparallelled'" compatibility with American and Japanese games and accessories.
  • New Book About How Sega Nearly Won the Console Wars

    Chris Kohler provides an overview of Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo and the Battle That Defined a Generation.

    If a few small things had changed, might we be gaming on a Sega PlayStation right now? That’s the picture Blake Harris paints in his new book Console Wars. It is a narrative history of the brief time period in the lifespan of the videogame publisher Sega when it was on top of the world.
  • Midway Planned HD Remakes of Mortal Kombat Games

    I would have really loved to see this

    With the [ Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection], Midway's initial plan was to release HD remakes of the original games with new actors, and even though that's not what happened in the end, these images with Liu Kang, Sonya, Shao Kahn and the others show that the remakes would have been quite faithful to the original

Cool Links

  • The Last Survivors of Meridian 59

    A rare examination of obscure Internet game culture from a mainstream publication (The New Yorker)

    Today, almost eighteen years after Meridian 59’s launch, Barloque’s streets are quiet and vacant, its cobblestones buffed and rounded by little more than a digital breeze. They are rarely visited by more than twenty people in the world at any one time.
  • The Great Works of Software

    Paul Ford muses about a software canon

    Is it possible to propose a software canon? To enumerate great works of software that are deeply influential—that changed the nature of the code that followed?
  • How Steve Wozniak Wrote BASIC for the Original Apple From Scratch

    Woz himself writes for Gizmodo, re: BASIC 50th anniversary

    The problem was that I had no knowledge of BASIC, just a bare memory that it had line numbers from that 3-day high-school experience. So I picked up a BASIC manual late one night at HP and started reading it and making notes about the commands of this language. Mind that I had never taken a course in compiler (or interpreter) writing in my life.
  • How Sega is Rejuvinating its Classic Games in 3D

    I'm not sure if "rejuvenating" is the right word here, but I welcome Sega dipping into the past

    Few games have had as much attention lavished upon them as the Sega 3D Classics series. The first wave of titles was released between November and December of last year, in pairs over four successive weeks.
  • Super Mario Bros. Level Belt (Etsy)

    Incredible artistry — an entire Super Mario Bros. level crafted into a leather belt

    The images are of a belt that I crafted for my brother, who is a big Super Mario fan, and depicts the last level of Super Mario brothers where Mario finally rescues the princess.

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If you want me to include something on a future Newsbits column, send me an email with "[Newsbits]" in the subject line.

[ Newsbits ] May 1, 2014

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

VC&G Newsbits Newspaper Logo

VC&G Newsbits Logo

Vintage computing and retrogaming news small enough to eat.

Recent News

  • See Atari's Buried Treasure: E.T. Among 30 Retro Games Unearthed In The Desert
    I never thought I'd live to see the day

    "The legend was true, but that's not all. Atari buried a lot of stuff back in 1983–and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

  • Andy Warhol's Amiga Computer Art Found 30 Years Later
    Always felt Amiga + Warhol was one of the more bizarre partnerships in computer history

    "The Andy Warhol Museum has recovered a set of images, doodles, and photos created by the seminal pop artist on a Commodore Amiga home computer. The artworks, made by Warhol as part of a collaboration with Commodore Amiga, had been stranded on Amiga floppy disks for almost twenty years after the artist saved them in the mid-1980s.

  • ICHEG Preserves Atari Coin-Op Divisions Collection
    It gives me great mental relief to know someone is doing this so well and so thoroughly

    "ICHEG has acquired a massive collection of materials chronicling the history of Atari's pioneering video arcade and pinball machine divisions from 1972 to 1999. The collection represents the largest and most comprehensive assemblage of archival records and other documentary items related to Atari's coin-operated games anywhere in the world.

  • Bob Hoskins, Actor Who Played Mario, Dead at 71
    Now both live-action Marios are gone

    "Bob Hoskins, the pugnacious British actor known for playing gangsters, tough guys and working-class gentlemen in such films as 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit,' 'The Long Good Friday' and 'Mermaids,' has died, publicist Clair Dobbs said Wednesday.

  • Fifty Years of BASIC, the Programming Language That Made Computers Personal
    Harry McCracken's epic study of BASIC on its 50th

    "Once upon a time, knowing how to use a computer was virtually synonymous with knowing how to program one. And the thing that made it possible was a programming language called BASIC.

  • A Short History of BASIC, as Told in Animated GIFs
    An animated supplement to McCracken's BASIC story above

    "I used a neat program called Camtasia and some post-processing in Photoshop to create animated GIFs capturing what I saw as I loaded some significant BASIC programs, listed the code and then ran it.

  • Sony Quietly Removes Ability to Download PSP/PS One Games Unlocked a Few Days Ago on PS Vita
    An update to last week's Vita story

    "A few days ago we reported about Sony suddenly unlocking a large amount of PSP games and PlayStation Classics for download and play on the PS Vita. Unfortunately its time to mourn, as that ability was quietly removed this morning. None of those games is available for download anymore.

  • Atari Landfill Tweet from Scott Weinberg

    "My generation buried those E.T. Atari cartridges for a reason. You're awakening something not even Lovecraft could imagine.

Cool Links

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If you want me to include something on a future Newsbits column, send me an email with "[Newsbits]" in the subject line.