Archive for the 'Everything Else' Category

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Family Quizagon Night

Monday, November 24th, 2014

Quizagon family Apple II IBM PC Commodore 64 VIC-20 computer game advertisement - 1983“Whoa…what’s in these brownies, Grandma?”

Thanksgiving is almost upon us again, so it's time to gather around your home PC for a game of…Quizagon?

Yes, Quizagon. A game I've never played, nor will I for the foreseeable future. It looks like a hexagon-themed family trivia game, which is not my bag, man. But what a great photo.

Instead, I'm going to host a The Seven Cities of Gold marathon on an Atari 800XL with my brother. We plan on exploring a completely new continent while interacting vigorously with the natives. Meanwhile, my brothers- and sisters-in-law will be playing Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed on my dedicated gaming PC that is hooked to the flat-screen living room TV. It's a great kart game to play on Steam with four Xbox 360 controllers that's easy to set up and jump into. Fun times shall be had by all.

By the way, I first used this amusing scan in a 2009 Thanksgiving-related slideshow I did for Technologizer (hoping I'm not repeating it on VC&G). If you're in the mood, here's some other Thanksgiving-related material from the VC&G archives.

[ From Compute! - November 1983, p.15]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Do you have any family video gaming planned for this Thanksgiving? If so, what are you going to play?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Disk Box Modern Art

Monday, October 20th, 2014

From Fellows 3.5The beauty of silent instructions

[ From Fellows 3.5″ Softworks Instructions - 1994, back]

Discussion Topic of the Week: If you had to guess, how many floppy disks do you own?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Donkey Kong Puzzle

Monday, October 13th, 2014

MB Puzzle Milton-Bradley 200 piece Donkey Kong Puzzle box cover art - circa 1983That is one dangerous and sexy construction site

When it comes to vintage 1980s puzzles, few can beat the sheer cultural nostalgia value of this 200-piece Milton-Bradley Donkey Kong puzzle, which comes straight from my childhood. This is a scan of the front of the box.

It's not often that I find a true surprise lurking in our old family toys, but I had completely forgotten about this puzzle until I ran across it in the back corner of my mom's attic a few months ago. Memories of poring over the lush, vibrant artwork on the box rushed back to me as I pulled it from where it had lay, dusty and neglected, for 25 years.

Look at the the highlights, the curves, the gradients. The richness.

Luckily for me, all the pieces were still in the box, so I have now re-assembled the puzzle and framed it. It will never be lost again.

The artwork for this puzzle no doubt echoes the side cabinet art of the Donkey Kong arcade machine, but with added detail and an airbrushed vividness. I think it would make an awesome poster — does anyone know who the artist was?

By the way — even though I find it insanely difficult at times, the original Donkey Kong is one of my favorite arcade games. It was also one of the first video games I ever played, courtesy of a port to the Atari 800.

P.S. Pauline is way hotter than Princess Peach.

[ From MB Donkey Kong 200 Piece Puzzle Box - circa 1982-1983, front]

Discussion Topic of the Week: In your opinion, which is better: Donkey Kong Jr. or Donkey Kong 3?

The Warning Signs of Computer Dad Syndrome

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Computer Dad SyndromeDuring the 1980s, a debilitating disease broke out among white middle-class nuclear families across the United States. Fathers everywhere were seen awkwardly encouraging their children during regular activities — often while playing video games or using personal computers.

Thirty years later, doctors have finally identified this malady as Computer Dad Syndrome (or "CDS" for short), which manifests itself in spontaneous episodes of uncomfortably becoming someone's dad for the duration of a photography shoot.

Diagnosis of this condition is contingent upon the appearance of three or more of the following symptoms.

Clutching of the upper arm

Clutching of the upper arm

[ Continue reading The Warning Signs of Computer Dad Syndrome » ]

[ 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 forever hopped 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?