Archive for the 'VC&G Announcements' Category

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?

[ Newsbits ] March 26, 2014

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

VC&G Newsbits Logo

Hi, Benj here. People send me stuff all the time hoping I'll post something about it on VC&G, but each item alone rarely warrants its own post. There is a solution: a regular compressed news and links column. It's something I've been meaning to do for, well, almost 9 years now.

So I finally got around to it. (Just in time for blogs to become thoroughly obsolete, natch.) Newsbits could become a weekly thing, or I'll just post them as news collects. I'll feel it out as I go along.

News & Links

  • Vintage Computer Festival East 9.1
    April 4-6, 2014, InfoAge Science Center, Wall, New Jersey

    "Vintage Computer Festival East is a hands-on, family-friendly celebration of computer history. Activities include a book sale, classes, consignment sale, exhibit hall, food, lectures, museum tours, prizes, vendors, workshops, and more. (Why "9.1″? We skipped 9.0 in 2013 due to damage from Hurricane Sandy.)

  • Second Edition of "Atari, Inc." Possible
    Marty Goldberg and Curt Vendel are working on a second, revised edition of the epic Atari history book they released in 2012. More info as it comes along.
  • Surfing Modern Web With Ancient Browsers
    Awesome technique renders pages as image-mapped GIFs.

    "Webrender.py came to life. It’s a cgi-bin application that resides on a machine in the middle. It renders a gif image and spits it out to the browser together with a simple web page, containing a URL and search input boxes plus the gif and image map.

  • The Temple Operating System
    The demo video for this Judeo-Christian-inspired homemade operating system will blow your mind. (via Antoni Sawicki)

    "TempleOS is an x86_64, multi-tasking, multi-cored, public domain, open source, ring-0-only, single-address-map (identity mapped), non-networked, PC operating system for recreational programming. I capped the lines of code at 100,000, so it will never be an ugly monstrosity. Currently, it is 81,489. Since God's temple must be perfect and we have 1,000 years in mind, I do not promise that anything is future-proof.

Echo Box

Here are some products, creative works, and upcoming projects seeking support. No endorsement from VC&G is implied.

  • Nova Phase
    A downloadable comic book with NES-style pixel art graphics.
  • donkulous DONKEYS (iTunes Link)
    "We've just released a new free iOS game, donkulous DONKEYS. It's an unapologetically hard but insanely addictive retro arcade game, inspired by Bill Gates' first one-and-only DOS game.
  • Armiga Project on Indiegogo
    "Wouldn't it be great to be able to use all those aging Amiga disks again? Maybe the original Amiga is a bit big and video quality not so good… A smaller version, with modern connections would be awesome, isn't it? That's what we've done: take modern technology and make it work with good old floppies.

Submit News

If you want me to include something on a future Newsbits column, send me an email with "[Newsbits]" in the subject line. My email filter will route it directly into my brain.

Where Have the Comments Gone?

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Vintage Computing and Gaming LogoI just noticed recently that the volume of reader comments on this blog has gone way down in the past year or so.

Does anybody have any theories about why that is? (Ironically, you'll have to comment to tell me.)

It's unfortunate, because reader feedback is the currency that makes this site run. I like hearing from readers; it encourages me to keep updating this blog, as I have been doing since 2005 — almost 8 years now.

Traffic seems to be just about as strong as it has ever been. Is there some change in modern reader behavior that is discouraging people from commenting on this old style blog? Are people are moving away from RSS feed readers? Do I need a Twitter feed that tweets every new post onto there? Do people just hate filling out forms with email addresses, etc. every time they comment?

Maybe I'm just not posting stuff that people are interested in commenting on. Perhaps it's time to retire the 'ole beast. If I only get 2 responses to this, I think I will.

MadMaze-II Now Hosted on Vintagecomputing.com

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

MadMaze-II Title Image

In 2006, I wrote about a version of the classic Prodigy game MadMaze that had been adapted for the web by Russell D. Brown, an electronics engineer based in Rome, New York.

Just today, a commenter on that original post (thanks Joshua) let me know that Russell Brown passed away last year on July 1st. That means his implementation of MadMaze-II is now offline.

(Please note that the original author of MadMaze, Greg Costikyan, is still alive and kicking as far as I know.)

Luckily for all of us, I asked Russel Brown back in 2011 to share his MadMaze-II code with me in case his version of the game ever went down. He complied, and I have just now set up a fresh copy of his adaptation on this web server at the following address: http://www.vintagecomputing.com/madmaze/.

The game still requires Internet Explorer 5 or up, and it seems to work in IE 9 for me. Brown programmed the game in such a way that obfuscated its function to prevent cheating (he even incorporated a copy protection scheme), so at the moment I have no idea how to successfully modify it if players find any bugs. But if you encounter any problems, please feel free to let me know, and I'll have a look.

Have fun in the maze. And may Russell Brown rest in peace.

VC&G's Retro Scanner Breaks

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

The Retro Scan Scanner - an Epson Perfection 2480 PhotoAs a small administrative note, I'd like to mention that the scanner I've used for our Retro Scan of the Week column since its inception in 2006 crapped out on October 15th, 2012.

It up and died. The scanning head got stuck a few times, then the scans started returning blank white images. It's the digital equivalent to coughing up blood.

I've used the scanner, an Epson Perfection 2480 Photo, to scan thousands upon thousands of images, so it's amazing it has lasted this long. It would be amusing to see how many miles the scanning mechanism has traveled since I first received the scanner as a gift from my dad in 2004 or 2005.

I might be able to fix the unit, but I thought of a better solution. My father happened to have the exact same scanner model, which he hasn't used in many years. I picked it up on Sunday, dropped it in place of the old scanner, and it's like nothing has changed. So Retro Scan of the Week is saved.

Of course, new flatbed scanners cost about $50 these days, so it may be time for an upgrade. I'll think about it, but for now, the Epson Perfection 2480 Photo rides again!

Inside the Magnavox Odyssey (40th Anniversary)

Monday, May 28th, 2012

Inside the Magnavox Odyssey Teardown Slideshow

Believe it or not, it's been almost two years since I did my last tech teardown slideshow for PC World. After 11 visual disassemblies with my haggard workbench as a backdrop, I figured I'd give the series a rest until an interesting new venue came along.

Fast forward to April 2012 — it was a beautiful spring day outside, and I had decided to take apart a 1972 Magnavox Odyssey (the first commercial video game console) in honor of its 40th anniversary. I walked out to my back yard, sat down on the moss, and the result is now up on PCWorld.com.

I hope you enjoy it.

Here are my previous tech teardowns: Nintendo NES, Atari 1040STf, Atari 800, Commodore Amiga 1000, Commodore 64, Nintendo Game Boy, Nintendo Famicom, Apple IIc, IBM Model M Keyboard, TRS-80 Model 100, and Macintosh Portable.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Surfin' The Net!

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

PopSci for Kids September-October 1995 CoverOuch. Get off my hand, you tiny mounted knight.

Few magazine covers represent the playful optimism of the early Internet craze years like this cover of PopSci for Kids from 1995. Before the public understood what the Internet really meant, it was up to journalists (who usually didn't know either) to tell them. This resulted in lots of visual hyperbole (see children happily trapped inside a computer above) and colorful metaphors like "surfin' the net" to convey the energy and potential of something that, in reality, looked rather mundane on the screen.

Did these whimsical and exaggerated media tactics succeed? I think so, because that little thing called The Internet became much more popular than even journalists in 1995 could imagine. There is no doubt that the media played a large part in popularizing the global computer network in its early public years.

[ From PopSci for Kids, September/October 1995, cover ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: When was the first time you surfed the 'Net? Did you feel like you were actually surfing on a digital surf board made of ones and zeros?

10 Classic Video Game Hacks Everyone Should Play

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

10 Classic Video Game Hacks Everyone Should Play

Fans of my old VC&G column Hacksterpiece Theatre will enjoy my new slideshow on PCMag.com that profiles 10 amazing classic video game ROM hacks. Not surprisingly, the piece is titled, 10 Classic Video Game Hacks Everyone Should Play.

I'm sure you can suggest some great hacks too, so I'd like to know — what are your favorite ROM hacks?

Benj Talks Piracy and History on Public Radio

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Why History Needs Software PiracyYesterday I made a live appearance on Word of Mouth, a show on New Hampshire Public Radio, talking about my recent piece, "Why History Needs Software Piracy." You can listen to the audio of the interview online. The interview appeared at the top of the show and lasted about 9 minutes.

It was my first live radio interview, so I'm not sure if I made any sense. Even if I didn't, you can check out the dulcet tones of my telephone speaking voice.