Archive for the 'Technology Commentary' Category

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] 32X Through the Keyhole

Monday, May 20th, 2013

Sega 32X Genesis Electronic Gaming Monthly ad - 1994Surely you have newer locks in your house.

I bought a Sega 32X for $30 new in 1995 or '96 at Toys"R"Us. They were on clearance because nobody wanted them. (I also bought a Virtual Boy for $30 this way around the same time.) There were good reasons why no one wanted them: chiefly, because better machines like the PlayStation and Saturn were out there, and most games for the 32X weren't very good.

Still, I have a soft spot for this system. It touches some fundamental nerdy part of me that likes convoluted electronic expansion modules — it means more to collect, and more to mess with. I have a bunch of 32X games, perhaps even half of the entire library for that system, but I rarely play any of them. I seem to recall the Star Wars Arcade title being pretty good for it. Virtua Racing wasn't half bad either.

By the way, the only explanation I can muster for the inclusion of the keyhole in the ad above is that it's some sort of sexual metaphor, much like those found in Sega's other 32X ads at the time (See "The Sega Mating Game," Retro Scan of the Week, 2008). In other words, I guess we're spying on a Genesis and a 32X having electronic intercourse.

[ From Electronic Gaming Monthly, November 1994, p.180 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: In an alternate universe where there was no Sega Saturn, do you think the 32X could have held its own against the competition for a few years?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Star Dot Matrix Printer

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Star Micronics Delta-10 Dot Matrix Printer Ad - 1983The Star Micronics Delta-10 Dot Matrix Printer: Mouse with Machine Gun

My family owned this exact printer. In fact, I think it's still sitting in my parents' attic as we speak. If I'm not mistaken, we used it with our Apple IIe system — the one my dad built from a bare circuit board and a set of cloned ROM chips (much like the one in this 2006 VC&G post).

It's probably the first printer I ever saw in action, likely before I could even walk. I can recall crawling under our computer desk (the printer was on the floor beneath it for some reason) and watching it print out whimsical banners and calendars from a program like Broderbund's The Print Shop.

But what I remember most about it, of course, was the sound it made: like a screeching robot mouse spraying lead into tractor-feed paper with a tiny machine gun. Like any dot matrix printer, once you hear one in action, the sound will never leave you.

Those were the days.

Of course, I was still using a dot matrix printer until the early 1990s, so I am pretty much scarred for life. Mice everywhere.

[ From Personal Computing, November 1983, p.28 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the first printer you ever owned?

Kotaku's Emulation Fear Mongering

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Ouya Console

Over at Kotaku, Tina Amini recently wrote a piece titled "Ouya Tries To Dispel Fears That The Console's Nintendo Emulators Will Promote Piracy." It's not a good piece.

First of all, the author isn't clear whose fears Ouya is trying to dispel. By my reading, it is only the author herself who "fears" what may happen if Ouya allows Nintendo emulators on its console, and only because she wants to drum up controversy for a blog post. Fear mongering bullshit.

Tina, don't use fear over emulation or piracy as your traffic-boosting media pawn. It doesn't help anybody.

Emulation isn't the enemy. Piracy isn't even the enemy. They're bogeymen that help preserve a system where media companies overcharge and re-charge for their works over and over and over again. (I'm talking all media here, not just video games.)

The never-ending war against piracy isn't a war against pirates. It's a war against consumers. The content industry has dressed it up to look like a battle of good vs. evil when it's really just a battle to keep your wallet pried open while dollars pour out.

That war has real casualties for everyone that are far worse than piracy: things like consumers' fair-use rights over products they have rightfully purchased or licensed, free speech, security research, and our historical legacy.

Piracy, if left completely unchecked, would definitely hurt publishers. But it's not unchecked. It's illegal.

Let people do what they want with open platforms. Let the law be the law, and let the people decide if it's in their best interest to respect it or break it.

You could always put people in straitjacket if you didn't want them to break any laws, but it wouldn't allow them to be free, would it?

DRM is a digital straitjacket, and a "walled garden" is a fancy name for a comfortable prison. If a company like Ouya is brave enough to let their console be used for whatever purpose, that should be commended, not discouraged.

P.S. Fix the DMCA

Predicting the Smartphone in 1989 — as the Smartwatch

Monday, March 25th, 2013

Seiko UC-2000 Semi-Smartwatch

While researching my slideshow on smartwatch history for TechHive last month, I came across an interesting 1989 letter to Computerworld magazine. It was a response to an earlier article in the publication about the inevitability of a wearable watch-sized microcomputer.

I find the letter prescient because its author imagines the consequences of walking around with a full-blown networked computer on your wrist. And he was right about his predictions in every regard except one: instead of computers on our wrists, we're walking around with computers in our pockets. In other words, smartphones.

But that's the nature of predicting the future. You can often get the general trends correct without knowing the details. Nobody in 1989 had any idea that the cell phone, instead of the watch, would first become the vehicle through which we'd wear tiny networked computers on our persons almost every hour of the day.

[ Continue reading Predicting the Smartphone in 1989 — as the Smartwatch » ]

Fix the DMCA to Preseve our Cultural Heritage

Friday, March 15th, 2013

Mickey Mouse Copyright Blur

Just up on The Atlantic.com is an op-ed I wrote that argues for repealing the anti-circumvention section of the DMCA because it threatens the preservation of our cultural heritage.

Perhaps by now you've heard about the campaign to repeal the anti-circumvention section (1201) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This most recent challenge to the DMCA arose from a recent decision by the Librarian of Congress to discontinue a three-year exemption that made cell phone unlocking legal.

Opponents of the DMCA anti-circumvention provision claim that the law threatens consumer control over the electronic devices we buy, and they're right. But the stakes are much higher than that. Our cultural history is in jeopardy. If the DMCA remains unaltered, cultural scholarship will soon be conducted only at the behest of corporations, and public libraries may disappear entirely.

That's because the DMCA attacks one of the of the fundamental pillars of human civilization: the sharing of knowledge and culture between generations. Under the DMCA, manmade mechanisms that prevent the sharing of information are backed with the force of law. And sharing is vital for the survival of information. Take that away, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Share my article. Spread the word. It's time to fix the DMCA.

"DRM is a problem like mold is a problem, like fire is a problem. What distinguishes it, of course, is that it's a man-made construct, which makes it seem really sad." - Jason Scott, Archivist at The Internet Archive

Virtual Console Makes Nintendo Look Incompetent

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Wii U Virual Console

In light of the news that Virtual Console games on the Wii U won't be able to use save files from the Wii's Virtual Console, I would like to point something out.

Just today, I found a NES save file for The Legend of Zelda dated May 28th, 1998 (created by legendary NES emulator Nesticle) and continued that saved game in Nestopia in the year 2013.

I did it to spite Nintendo, because this is ridiculous.

That emulator save file originated on a PC I owned 15 years ago, and it resided on a long-since-decommissioned hard drive. Now it's saved to a SSD in a computer a bajillion times more powerful, with a different emulator, and it still works.

[ Continue reading Virtual Console Makes Nintendo Look Incompetent » ]

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Quick, Illegal, and Wrong

Monday, December 10th, 2012

ADAPSO Anti-Piracy Advertisement - 1985Piracy is as easy as hitting the Enter key on your numeric keypad.

27 years ago, the industry group Association of Data Processing Service Organizations (ADAPSO) created this public service ad warning of the evils of software piracy. I've transcribed its text below — just so you don't miss it.

It's easy to make a copy.
It's quick.
It's illegal.
It's wrong.

It's hard to believe.

People who wouldn't think of shoplifting a software product on their lunch hour don't think twice about going back to the office and making several illegal copies of the same software.

Making unauthorized copies of software is a violation of U.S. Copyright Law. Yet, the problem has reached epidemic proportions because many people are unaware, or simply choose to ignore the law. The software industry is urging decision-makers and software users to take steps to stop software piracy in their organizations. In the meantime, the industry has been forced to prosecute willful copyright violators.

There are legal, moral and economic imperatives forbidding theft of copyrighted software.

There is a free pamphlet on the subject. Call or write for a copy. A copy. A copy. A copy for everyone you know.
Please ask for Priscilla.

ADAPSO
1300 North Seventeenth Street
Arlington, Virginia 22209
(703) 522-5055

"A copy. A copy. A copy. A copy."

It really says that. I think it's supposed to be a joke, albeit a very bad one.

ADAPSO changed its name to Information Technology Association Of America (ITAA) in 1991, although its supposedly current website is now owned by the International Trial Attorneys Association, so who knows if it even exists today.

[ From Compute!, November 1985, p.67 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the first piece of software you ever copied (or received a copy of) illegally?

See Also: Why History Needs Software Piracy (2012)
See Also: [ Retro Scan of the Week] Software Piracy (2009)
See Also: [ Retro Scan of the Week ] "What's Wrong With Copying Software?" (2008)
See Also: Old-School PC Copy Protection Schemes (2006)
See Also: EGM Advertisement: Sell Famiclones, Go to Prison (2006)

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] A 1985 Solid State Drive

Monday, November 5th, 2012

SemiDisk Solid State Disk SSD Disk Drive Emulator Ad - 1985This IS your daddy's SSD.

Back in January, I traced the evolution of the Solid State Drive from its 1978 origins to the present in a PC World slideshow. From that experience, I learned that SSDs, as a product class, were far older than most people realize.

Case in point: Seen here is an advertisement for a 1985-era SSD called the SemiDisk. The company behind this early SSD, SemiDisk Systems, sold a wide range of "disk emulators" (as they were called back then) for platforms like S-100 bus systems, the TRS-80 Model 2, and the IBM PC. All of them used solid-state RAM chips to achieve read and write speeds far beyond those of rotating platter drives at the time.

The 2 megabyte SemiDisk for the IBM PC retailed for $1,795 in 1985. That's about $3,860 today when adjusted for inflation. Amusingly, at that vintage price rate — about $1,930 per megabyte — a 256 GB SemiDisk SSD would cost over $494 million today. Yep, that's a 494 followed by six zeroes.

Of course, you can buy a 256GB flash-based SSD right now for under $180. Not bad.

[ From BYTE, September 1985, p.329 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: When did you buy your first solid state PC drive? How big was it?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Osborne 1

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Osborne 1 Portable Computer ad -  1982Two out of three doctors recommend Osborne 1 for muscle fatigue.

We've come a long way from what many consider to be the first commercial portable PC, the Osborne 1 (seen here), and the recently announced Microsoft Surface tablet.

Here's a brain twister for you. If you packed a case the size of the Osborne 1 (think small suitcase) with Surface-sized portable tech, how powerful would the machine be?

[ From BYTE Magazine, February 1982, p.31 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was your first portable computer? When did you get it?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The iPad of the 1980s

Monday, March 12th, 2012

1980s iPad - TRS-80 Model 100 Catalog Page - 1984It's the MICRO EXECUTIVE WORKSTATION, people!

iPad, schmyepad. In the 1980s, we had hair on our chests, far fewer seat belts, and we walked backwards downhill halfway from school every day in the monsoon season. AND WE LIKED IT. We also used the TRS-80 Model 100 — a sleek 3.9-pound, 2-inch thick machine that could run 20 hours on a single set of four AA batteries — for all of our mobile computing needs.

Imagine 8 kilobytes of RAM. Imagine a full travel keyboard and a 240×64 display that could fit in your lap. Imagine downloading stock prices at $12/hour from CompuServe at 300 bits per second over two acoustic couplers. It's not a fantasy — it's life in 1983.

Below, I present for your perusal a stat-by-stat comparison between the mighty Radio Shack wonder and today's iPad, then I ask you: which is truly superior?

[ Continue reading [ Retro Scan of the Week ] The iPad of the 1980s » ]