A couple weekends ago, I made the requisite annual trek to RARSfest, my local hamfest of choice, which takes place on the NC State Fairgrounds. You might remember my in-depth slideshow on a similar hamfest adventure two years ago. Well, this year I decided to take a few shots of the 'fest again, and I thought you might enjoy them. So hop in the HamCar, and we'll take a quick ride through RARSfest 2008.
Archive for the 'Recent Finds' Category
Yesterday afternoon, I made a trip to some local thrift stores that I hadn't visited in eight years. I left with a 24-game N64 cartridge drawer, some books, an unopened copy of Bill Gates' The Road Ahead on audio cassette, some neat board games, and the two devices you see above. It's more junk, but it's good junk.
The VTech Talking Whiz-Kid (1987, right) came with the box, manual, and cards. This educational toy reads paper "program cards" as you insert them into an optical reader slot. The cards don't contain any software, but instead bear a simple bar code that tells the Whiz-Kid which built-in program to start. Highlights include Hangman, word scramble, and an extremely limited calculator.
I remember seeing the VTL Computron (1980, left) in J.C. Penney catalogs as a kid. It works too, although it's missing the battery door. The LED-based Computron plays matching games based on which letter you select. Most of the games obviously went along with a printed guidebook that I don't have.
Neither device does BASIC like the VTech Pre-Computer 1000, but they're both highly collectible microprocessor-powered toys. Total cost for both? $10 (US).
Anybody else have one of these? Feel free to share your memories with us.
If you're a regular reader of VC&G, you know the important role that clearance isles have played in my adventures as a video game collector. Silly as it may seem, collecting vintage computers and classic game systems starts now, in the present. Wise choices can be made as to what will become rare and collectible in the future, and collectors should seize the opportunity to purchase such items while they're still available through regular retail channels.
Case in point: Thanks to Blu-Ray's conquest over HD-DVD in the hi-def format wars, Microsoft's HD-DVD drive for the Xbox 360 is now $50 (US) new at Best Buy and Circuit City.
Best Buy even has a free HD-DVD movie rebate program that makes the deal much sweeter [expired] If you're feeling lucky, wait a few months and they may dump them for even less. Otherwise, go for it now. If you've got the cash, buy a second and keep it mint in the box.
I found this wonderfully stamped card in an old, metal, 20-drawer punch card filing cabinet that I bought from a N.C. State University surplus sale late last year. Actually, it was one of many hundreds of such cards, most of which were rubber-banded together in program stacks for the psychology department.
I'm no expert on punch card-era computers, so I'll let the more knowledgeable amongst us do the talking. It's a great piece of history, though. I'm currently using the card cabinet as a tool chest.
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Yesterday afternoon, I drove to a local Goodwill store in search of more random junk to clutter up my house. As always when the electronics pickings are slim, I spent most of my visit perusing their used books section. Among the mountains of Danielle Steele and self help guides, one can usually find a number of interesting obsolete computer and video-game related books there. Yesterday was no exception, as I picked up three interesting printed techno-artifacts from the past. Care to take a look? To the Bookmobile!
Last month I received the spiffy Apple IIe system you see above as part of a sizable donation to my computer collection (thanks Tom!). This particular IIe configuration hails from a high school in Ohio where it was used primarily as an AppleWorks machine in the mid-late 1980s.
After carefully peeling away decades of nasty, nasty sticky dirt and grime from the hardware, I naturally set it all up on my kitchen table (hence the ceramic duck, a must in every modern kitchen). Instead of splitting up the set for parts, I decided that it would be fun to keep it all together and preserve it as it was used in the school.
Much to the mixed delight/chagrin of my wife, I doodled on Deluxe Paint with the mouse and tried various games on disk every day for about three weeks while eating breakfast. Alas, after about a month in the culinary limelight, the Kitchen IIe's novelty has finally begun to wear thin. It will soon move on to another table, but I plan to keep this "school system" together with all its original parts so it will remain a functional example of 1980s educational computing.
I need to clean out my garage. That's where I keep most of my computer collection. In order to have space for new and exciting things, some of the older, less exciting, and bulkier items must go.
Up on the block today is this nifty Radius TDP/21E 21″ greyscale monitor. It's a unique piece of Macintosh history, but it's huge. It has the peculiar resolution of 1152 x 870, doesn't support color, and requires a unique NuBus controller card to work (which, incidentally, I have). Honestly, if I had a warehouse to store these things in, I'd definitely keep it. But I recently received it as a donation, and I don't really have the room for it.
So I thought I'd let you guys decide for me. Is it worth saving, even if it takes up tons of space and I'll never really use it? On the other hand, I could always toss out something else to make room for it. I'm having trouble deciding, so help me out.
For those of us who strive to remember or rediscover vintage computers and video games, it is rewarding to see how far we have come in such a short amount of time. However, this hobby has one disadvantage: you generally can't walk into a used game store and find an obscure, twenty year-old title. You must go out of your way (and usually pay a hefty price) to find something interesting.
I keep track of the Computer, Electronics, and Toys "For Sale" listings of my local Craigslist through RSS feeds of each section. A few weeks ago I saw someone was selling a Fairchild Channel F, with 25 games and game carry case. I emailed the seller and we set up a place and time to meet. He advised me that the Channel F wasn't working at the time, but I still wanted to buy the system and add it to my collection. Since I didn't know much about the Channel F at the time, I didn't really pay too much attention to what games were included.
I found myself up in Boone, NC last week at a recently opened Goodwill store. Upon arriving, I quickly made my way back to the electronics section. The place was packed with an unusual surplus of wireless 802.11g network routers — something I'd never seen before in a thrift shop. Most of the items were overpriced, though.
Among the dozen TVs and broken stereos on the sagging back shelves, I found a few gems. In the end, I walked away with a new, in-box controller for the forgettable HyperScan video game system ($2), a shrinkwrapped copy of Microsoft's Return of Arcade ($4), and my most interesting find, a VTech PreComputer 1000 ($4). Believe it or not, but I've actually wanted a VTech Precomputer for some time. A handful of different toy and electronics companies produced a whole class of "educational" or kids' computers in the 1980s that I'd like to collect. Most of the more sophisticated models have some version of BASIC built in, and the VTech PC1000 is no exception.
Back in the day, the BASIC programming language (or even Logo — remember the turtle?) was considered the best way to teach kids how to use a computer. They called the push to teach ordinary people how to use these machines "computer literacy" like we do today, but the methods of obtaining that literacy were different. For a time in the late 1970s and early 80s, educators, politicians, technologists, and pundits in major publications around the U.S. worried that every citizen would have to know how to program a computer or they'd be left out of the computer revolution, and thus, the future. After all, if you want to tell a computer to do something, you have to program it, right? How else are you going to get it to do what you want? It seems strange to us now that they didn't realize that we'd all be running other people's programs instead (Microsoft did, of course). That popular perception began to shift after the release of the Macintosh in 1984, but the change didn't fully get here until the mid-1990s. Now we teach people how to use Microsoft Word. By golly, if someone doesn't know how to program complex and obtuse Word macros, how will they ever be able to create a competitive résumé? In a way, not much has changed.
Anyway, back to the PreComputer. I disassembled the unit today to see what makes it tick. As I suspected, the unit's CPU is a Z-80 clone, the Toshiba TMPZ84C00AP. I also spotted the prominently marked Video Technology (VTech) ROM on the motherboard which contains built-in trivia games in subjects like history, geography, and science, calculator functionality, Hangman, and a typing course. One of the rubber-button options on the PC1000 is "Computer Drill," which lets you look at nine built-in sample BASIC programs or program in "Pre-Basic 1.0″ yourself. Although the PC1000′s twenty-character, one line LCD display is quite limiting, it's still a compelling feature that's fun to play with. And heck, the thing has an impressive full-stroke QWERTY keyboard with insert and delete keys. It's almost as if the PreComputer's designers were begging for their creation to be used for more than meets the eye.
I don't have the manual for the PreComputer, so I have no idea if it can save your programs temporarily in memory, or the extent to which its interpreter supports traditional BASIC commands. I'd particularly like to know how to print to the LCD screen without the automatic pause after each line, if that's possible. If anyone has a copy of the manual for this and can scan it or type it up for me (especially the section on BASIC), I would be much obliged. Did anyone out there have one of these as a kid? I'd love to hear from you in the comments section.
[ Update: 07/30/2007 - Many generous thanks to Chris Ball for obtaining, scanning, and providing the BASIC section of the PreComputer 1000 instruction manual. You can download all the pages in high resolution JPEG format here (25 MB). Be warned, though: the file is big. Thanks again, Chris! ]
I've wanted an Apple Lisa since I first set eyes on one around 1994 in my middle school library. I was studying there with a class when I spotted an exotic-looking Apple machine sitting on a cart across the room. After puzzling for a bit, I realized that it must be an Apple Lisa, an almost mythical machine that I had read about in The Journey is the Reward, but I had never even seen a picture of until then.
I had already been collecting computers for at least two years when I saw the machine, and I was always on the lookout for more additions to my collection. I had heard of a little-known machine called the "Lisa" that Apple released somewhere between the Apple III and the Macintosh, but I had never seen or used one. So when I spotted the Lisa in the library that day, it was an epiphany to me — the Apple story was vividly coming together in my brain. Knowing that the Lisa (a Lisa 2, as it turned out) in the school library was obsolete, I feared that the librarians wouldn't know what to do with it and would throw it away. I had to take action, but I was painfully shy, and I was only about thirteen or fourteen years old. I was afraid to ask them about the computer because I figured they wouldn't take me seriously. So I convinced my mother (the best mom ever) to drive back to the library after school and ask the librarians if we could buy the Lisa from them. The librarians had to decline the offer, since it had been donated to the library and was property of the county school system. Sadly, I fear that the Lisa in the library probably met a nasty fate not too long after that incident — a victim of short-sighted middle school bureaucracy.