Archive for the 'Regular Features' Category

[ Retro Scan ] HP 95LX

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

Hewlett-Packard HP 95LX HP-95LX Handheld Computer Pocket Computer Palmtop PC User's Guide Cover scan - 1991HP-95LX: Like a computer-shaped cookie that you can't eat

In case you didn't know, the HP 95LX is a small, portable IBM PC compatible machine running a full version of MS-DOS that ran off of two AA batteries. It marked the beginning of HP's palmtop computer line, which I wrote about recently in a slideshow for PCMag.com.

The HP 95LX is special to me in particular because I've had one for over 20 years now. My dad bought the machine slightly-used from a friend not long after it came out. After fiddling around with it for a while, he gave it to me, and by 1993, I had it in my collection.

Using an RS-232 serial cable my dad built for me, I managed to transfer some MS-DOS programs to it (a few text-mode games mostly, and a few HP 95LX apps I downloaded from CompuServe), that I remember taking to school and using once or twice just for kicks. I also used that serial cable to hook the 95LX to a modem so I could call BBSes with it.

The worst thing about the 95LX — aside from its 1/4 CGA screen that doesn't let you run many MS-DOS apps — is that if you don't have a plug-in memory card, you lose all your saved data on the RAM disk if it runs out of batteries. Sure, it has a backup coin cell battery (or maybe two), but if that runs out, you're out of luck. The PC Card-like memory cards cost a lot of money back in the 1990s, so I never had one until recently.

Still, it's an amazing little machine. Very capable — if you have the patience to use it. A few years later, HP got everything right with the 200LX, which is still a popular portable MS-DOS machine among certain diehards today.

[ From HP 95LX Users's Guide, 1991, cover ]

Discussion Topic: Did you own a palmtop PC in the 1990s? Tell us about it.

VC&G Review: Areaware Windows Solitaire Cards

Friday, August 26th, 2016

Areaware Windows Solitaire Cards Jokers Photos by Benj Edwards

No, you're not seeing things. These are actual physical playing cards designed to look just like the classic Microsoft Solitaire card faces — the same faces Microsoft used for its Windows-based card games between 1990 and 2007.

Just this month, home decor vendor Areaware began selling the cards, which were produced with the help of the cards' original graphic designer, Susan Kare (and with the blessings/license of Microsoft).

Kare is best known as the designer of the original Macintosh fonts, icons, and interface elements. She also created most of the icons for Windows 3.0, which was the first version of Windows to ship with Microsoft Solitaire. Along the way, she ended up designing the Solitaire cards too.

Excited as I always am for computer nostalgia, I eagerly bought a pack of these new cards as soon as they became available, and I put them through the ultimate test: a game of real desktop Klondike solitaire.

[ Continue reading VC&G Review: Areaware Windows Solitaire Cards » ]

[ Retro Scan ] Mindscape NES Games

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

Mindscape NES Games Flier scan - 1990ULAF SAY, "MIND SCRAPE"

I believe this Mindscape flier came packed with Days of Thunder for the NES. I am not a huge fan of the games depicted here aside from 720 and Gauntlet II, both of which are pretty good Atari Games arcade ports.

And while M.U.L.E. is a favorite of mine on the Atari 800, I am not a big fan of the NES version. It's nice that it uses the Four Score / Satellite four player adapter though (Gauntlet II does as well).

[ From Mindscape Flier MIN-NES-US, 1990 ]

Discussion Topic: What's the best four-player game for the NES?

[ Retro Scan ] My First Website Setup Email

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

Benj's first website setup email scan - 1995"Don't give your password out." Oops!

21 years ago today, I received this email from Mike Leber of Hurricane Electric, a company that rented out web hosting space, among other services (in fact, they're still in business).

Since it was a setup email describing how to utilize my first-ever website space, it was important enough for me to print out on my nifty Canon BubbleJet printer. That's what you see scanned here. I probably have the original email too in electronic form sitting around somewhere.

You'll also notice that I wrote down a convoluted URL (in which I wrote a strange "(e)" after the ".com" — perhaps I was confused), which turns out to have one pointed to a ghost hunting website. I was big into that stuff back then (I was 14 at the time, if that explains anything). The Purdue email address scrawled in pencil probably has something to do with that as well.

Reading through this old email is fun today. System resources were relatively scarce back then, so the rules about what you could do with your minuscule web space were pretty strict. I particularly enjoy the "MUDS will not be tolerated" line. And the thing about calculating the mass of an electron.

Late last year, I wrote a big article about the process of creating this website (which I called "The Schmeli Caborgan") for FastCompany. I also wrote about my first ISP, Nando.Net, in a Retro Scan post earlier this year.

[ From Benj Edwards personal email printout, August 16, 1995 ]

Discussion Topic: When did you set up your first website?

[ Retro Scan ] Hi Tech Expressions NES Games

Thursday, August 11th, 2016

Hi Tech Expressions NES Games Flier scan - 1991High Times with Hi Tech Expressions

This fold-out flier celebrating NES games published by Hi Tech Expressions came packed with a NES game, likely Sesame Street A-B-C and 1-2-3. (Although the "DMG" in the flier name gives me pause, because that was Nintendo's in-house abbreviation for the Game Boy.)

The games shown here aren't particularly well noted for being classics, but I am very fond of Big Bird's Hide & Speak, a fun game for small children which features impressive sampled voice work by Caroll Spinney. I was older than the target audience when it first came out, but I have played it with my youngest daughter a number of times over the years, and she loved it.

[ From Hi-Tech Expressions Flier HIT-DMG-US-1, circa 1991 ]

Discussion Topic: Have you ever played any educational games on the NES?

[ Retro Scan ] Disemboweled IBM PC 5150

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

IBM PC 5150 Apart Components Inside Advertisement Scan - 1982Is somebody gonna clean this mess up?

Here we have a biggole two-page IBM PC 5150 advertisement spread from 1982 — published not long after the launch of IBM's first PC in August 1981.

It looks like IBM is trying to play up the bare-metal technical angle for Byte readers, who likely were building their own PCs from kit parts just a few years prior (and some still were doing it then).

The result, quite frankly, is a huge mess (looks like my workbench). And the advertisement didn't come out too well in the magazine print run, which makes the image dark and muddy. It's not my fault, I swear!

I particularly like the phrase "the RS232C interface that gives you the world" in the advertising copy. It implies using the serial port for networking — that is, in connecting to remote computers. It's funny because back then, that statement was a hyperbolic boast that was not meant literally. Online services were limited to a teeny-tiny fraction of the world population and their capabilities were limited. Today, networking does really give you the world.

[ From Byte Magazine, February 1982, p.24-25 ]

Discussion Topic: Have you ever broken a computer while you were taking it apart? Tell us about it.

[ Newsbits ] June 29, 2016

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

VC&G Newsbits Newspaper Logo

VC&G Newsbits Logo

Vintage computing and retrogaming news small enough to eat.

I've recently received a big influx of news, announcements, and press releases, so I thought I'd bring Newsbits out of cold storage and use it to share everything all at once.

Recent News

  • Producer of The Oregon Trail Donates Collection to The Strong

    It's wonderful to see this stuff preserved, as always

    A group of former employees from the Minnesota Educational Computing Corporation (MECC) recently donated an extensive collection of materials to The Strong museum documenting the history of the pioneering company from 1973 to 1996. The collection includes hundreds of pieces of software, internal documents, and press clippings.
  • EveryMac.com Turning 20 Years Old

    Brock Kyle recently let me know that his essential Apple info site is turning 20 this Saturday. Quite an accomplistment!

    Established in 1996, EveryMac.com is the complete guide to every Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPad and Mac clone in the world, with technical specs, configuration details, system identifiers, performance benchmarks, and global pricing info.
  • Atari Video Documentary Project Needs Support

    They've assembled some incredible footage so far; would be a shame to see this disappear

    This 100 minutes long documentary about the Atari story will feature a list of unreleased interviews with the key people of these events, including a very rare one with Warner VP Manny Gerard and a unique one with Atari CEO Ray Kassar, the man held responsible for Atari success and the video game industry crash at the same time, who never appeared in a documentary before.
  • YouTube Gamer on a Quest to Play 1001 Games Hits 100th Episode

    Quite a project

    My name is Gaming Jay. I'm a retro gamer who started a challenge this past year to play through a book called '1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die.' Each week I’ve been playing 2 games and recording my gaming sessions and uploading them to YouTube. I have also recently developed a new website to document my journey with written summaries to supplement my YouTube videos.
  • iOS Camera App with Retro Filters Released

    Neat iOS camera app that simulates vintage graphics

    I created Famicam64, an 8bit RetroGaming style Camera app. Famicam64 lets you take photos with 40+ real-time filters that emulate the nostalgic look of retro computers (and games) of the 80s and 90s. CGA, EGA, VGA, Hercules and old PC graphic modes are all there, as well as style emulating home computers and handheld consoles (C64, Spectrum or Gameboy etc. etc.).
  • Secret History of Mac Gaming Book Seeks Funding

    It's a niche subject, but a story worth telling

    The Secret History of Mac Gaming is the story of those communities and the game developers who survived and thrived in an ecosystem that was serially ignored by the outside world. The work draws on archive materials as well as 60+ new interviews with key figures from Mac gaming's past.
  • Cool Links

  • Circuit Classics Boards Re-Create Classic Forrest Mims Designs

    Very, very creative electronics project from Star Simpson

    Forrest M. Mims III is a trusted name in the electronics world for good reason: his charming and engaging texts have drawn millions of people into the world of electronics for the first time. I am bringing some of those hand-drawn circuits projects to life by creating an exquisitely designed series of finely crafted and highly detailed boards. These are the Circuit Classics.
  • NES Coffee Table on Etsy

    VC&G reader Ben Winchester built a NES-shaped coffee table; it's up for sale on Etsy.com

    I wanted to show this to you because I feel this piece is truly unique and original to me. I got my start by replicating your NES DVD player and then moving on to putting my own twist on the NES coffee table, and now I think I have created an original design.
  • Artist Re-Creates Classic Byte Cover in Photo

    Bob Alexander turns Tinney's train illustration into a photo composition

    I've just completed an art project that was inspired by Robert Tinney's painting "Computer Engineering" for Byte magazine. That's the one with a train chugging around a printed circuit board. I made a printed circuit board that resembled the one in the painting, photographed it, and Photoshopped a picture of an HO scale model train onto it.
  • [ Tech Songs ] Baked at Atari

    Monday, June 20th, 2016

    Benj Edwards Tech Songs Album Cover

    Some of you may recall that from 2002-2005, I ran a band/website called Request-A-Song.com. Well, since March of this year, I've been publishing music online again as part of a musical project I call Tech Songs.

    Tech Songs, for me, is essentially a writing prompt for music — a concept that inspires me to write songs about a certain topic. In this case, the topic is the past, present, and future of technology. In some ways, I think of Tech Songs as an open-ended album about tech.

    Today I am officially announcing the release of "Baked At Atari," a lighthearted, ficticious song (but inspired by true events) about engineers at Atari in the mid-1970s. Atari fans amongst you will likely pick out several familiar names and references in the lyrics.

    You can listen to the song on my SoundCloud page, or click on the embedded song below.

    When you're done listening, I'd love to hear some suggestions for new tech history song topics — just leave a comment, and I'll see what I can cook up.

    I plan to post future VC&G-related Tech Songs on this site, but you can also follow Benj's Tech Songs on Twitter: @techsongs

    [ Retro Scan ] Vectorman "Play to Win"

    Monday, May 23rd, 2016

    BlueSky Software Vectorman Play to Win Sega Genesis Advertisement Scan - 1995IT"SSSS AWEESSSOOOMME

    I was a big fan of Vectorman back when it first came out. Around that time, I bought a used Sega Genesis from a friend (my first), and I rented a copy from Vectorman from Blockbuster (or did I rent an entire Genesis itself first — my memory is hazy on that point). I was blown away by Vectorman's fluid animations, great sound effects and music, and tight overall feel of the game. I still think Vectorman is one of the best games on the Genesis.

    This ad comes from Wizard (the comic book magazine), and in a two-page spread, it took up one whole page on the left and about a third of the page on the right. I have cropped out the remaining 2/3 of the right page which was unrelated to the ad.

    That right portion, by the way, describes Sega's "Play to Win" contest that tied into the game. Apparently, certain randomly distributed Vectorman cartridges contained in-game messages that advised the player to call a phone number and claim a prize. The top prize was $25,000 and some other perks, which you can read about on Wikipedia. The contest was a clever way to entice people to play the game at a time when 16-bit systems were on the way out.

    [ From Wizard, December 1995, p.10-11 ]

    Discussion Topic: In your opinion, which Sega Genesis game had the best graphics?

    [ Retro Scan ] VREAM Virtual Reality Development System

    Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

    VREAM Virtual Reality Development System for PC Advertisement Scan - 1994If it's as easy to use as it is to pronounce, then I want it.

    I was so excited about PC-based virtual reality back in the 1990s. I remember reading the early Web (circa 1995-96) about how people would build their own HMD goggles and modify a NES Power Glove to use as input for certain VR software packages. I wanted to do that too, but never did.

    I also played some shareware 3D world demos where you could walk around a polygonal-3D town (and prior to that, I had vivid dreams about jumping into a 3D computer-generated world that looked like the Money for Nothing Dire Straits video).

    Apparently, VREAM made some of those 1990s VR demos possible. It was a PC-based virtual reality development system created by VREAM, Inc. of Chicago. I have never used it, but it looks neat.

    This ad comes from the back cover of an issue of PCVR magazine that I got from a relative. You can read more about that in this Retro Scan from 2014.

    [ From PCVR, January-February 1994, back cover ]

    Discussion Topic: Did you use any 3D modeling software in the 1990s? Tell us about it.

    See Also: