Archive for November, 2005

Behold: The Compact Mac Shelf

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

While I'm working on some more in-depth articles for VC&G, I thought I'd show you guys something you might find slightly amusing. The house I live in has a small shelf built into the wall, high up in a vaulted ceiling area. For years I've wanted to put some cool computer stuff up there, but my old roommate didn't like the idea. Then the other day a friend of mine suggested it again, and I seized the opportunity. I lined up most of my compact Macs up on the shelf, so now they're proudly on display — if you tilt your neck up, anyway (Click on the picture above for a bigger image of the shelf). This also freed up a bit of shelf space which I can now devote to new computer acquisitions.

Pictured on the shelf (from left to right) are a Mac Classic II, a Mac Classic, a Mac SE, a Mac SE/30, a Mac SE FDHD, and four Mac Pluses. Two of the Macs have tape over the disk drive slots because I had them in the attic and didn't want fiberglass dust to get in there. Not pictured: a Mac Color Classic that wouldn't quite fit, and a Mac SE, a 128k, and a few more Pluses that are in off-site storage. Luckily, I have lots of room on the shelf to add more.

Window to the Sky: the Incoterm A103-06

Friday, November 25th, 2005

A Proprietary Mystery

All I knew about this box before I bought it was that it was an airline reservation terminal at some point, and that it cost $2. So I went for it, not only because it looks cool, but also hoping that it might be a standard RS-232 serial terminal. Well, so far, no such luck. This thing is pretty weird. I'm not sure what system it was designed to hook up to, but it appears non-standard. It has four connectors in the back: a DB-9, a DB-25, a DB-15, and a female BNC jack (see picture below), labeled J1 through J4 on the chassis. The DB-25 is used for the keyboard. When I initially power it on, all the red LEDs on the keyboard light up and the main unit emits a steady beep that never stops. I guess it's not happy that it's lost its master — whatever mainframe that drove it back in the day (the other very obvious possibility is that it's broken in some way). I can't get anything on the built-in green CRT, not even a cursor of some type. I hooked the DB-9 port up to a modem to see if it might come alive with a serial input, but no luck. Same behavior.

Upon cracking it open, I found some curious stuff. The thing that surprised me most at first glace was that there is no logic on the main board inside the base unit at all– only power supply stuff. And of course, all the video circuitry is in the top "monitor" portion of the box. Also, the the DB-9 and the DB-15 connectors are both wire-wrapped (Exactly how old is this thing?!) to the DB-25 connector, and the DB-25 connector has a few pins connected to wires going to both the monitor section and the power supply. Much to my surprise, the DB-9 doesn't have the usual pins for RS-232 connected to anything (2, 3, and 5, if I recall correctly). In fact, only pins 1 and 6 are wrapped. All the posts on the back of the DB-15 are wrapped and connected to the DB-25. As a result, I would have to guess that this is the main data connector. I also noticed that the BNC jack goes directly to the monitor section; I suspect it's a direct composite video input, which is not too uncommon on terminals at the time. Maybe I can use it as a green screen monitor, if nothing else…not that I need one.

Then I opened the keyboard. That's where things get even more interesting. All the logic is in the keyboard unit itself. That explains the wiring on the DB-25 keyboard connector and everything else I saw in the main unit. Looking for an MPU of some kind, the only chip I recognized in there is an Intel 8048, which is apparently a common (and now very cheap) microcontroller used in some IBM PC-compatible keyboards. According to a few sites I found, the 8048 was first produced in 1977, dating this unit to that year or later. Cosmetically, I initially dated this unit to 1978-79 in my head, so that matches up pretty well. At about this point in messing with the Incoterm, I had to give up and put it back together. Why? First of all, it was cluttering up my dining room floor, making it hard to walk around. Second, I didn't want to forget how to put it back together, and third, I have other things to take apart. :)

Digging A Little Deeper

Right after writing most of this entry, I remembered that there is a sticker on the base unit that has a United Airlines logo and the word "Apollo" on it. I decided to search Google for "United Airlines" and "Apollo" and I found some neat info — not about the hardware, but the Apollo reservation system itself. There's some computer airline reservation history over at Wikipedia, a United Airlines history page, and airline fan site that says that the Apollo system was set up some time in 1970-71 for UA internal use and made public (to travel agents) around 1976. Then I ran across a cool article from 1996 talking about how the entrenched airline reservation systems like Apollo were on the verge of becoming obsolete thanks to consumers being able to look up flights by themselves on the Internet. Somebody should write a book about how the Internet completely shook up established institutions like that. Well, they probably already have. But as more and more time passes, such books will become less speculative (Wired: "eCrisp: The way you toast bread is about to change forever.") and more historical ("Through blogs, the Internet put editorial power back into the hands of the average man."). I like my toast just how it is.

If anyone can contribute any knowledge as to how this terminal works or anything else about this it, please let me know. Until then, it will remain a nice conversation piece.

The keyboard unit without the case. Notice the ICs on the top of the board. There are also two unused key switches that are normally covered up by the chassis.

A label on the bottom of the unit that lists info on the terminal.

Vintage BBS Validation Message of the Week (#3)

Friday, November 25th, 2005

Call The Cave, Punk!Ah, the entertainment never stops. For an explanation of what a validation message is, check out the first entry in this series.

No, I didn't make any of these up.

Subject: Hey
Name: Unicorn #205 @1
Date: Wed Feb 07 14:09:56 1996
RE: Validation Feedback

Dear Red Wolf,
Hey, ummm…… I don't know what to write. I am a little shy as you might see. Ummm….. I am 12 and in the 7th grade. I have long brown hair that turns reddish in the sun. I have bright green eyes and a normal face I guess. Ummmm………… My friend Glen told me about this thing and it nearly took me forever to get on. The line was always busy and I wasn't about to try again, but FINALLY I got on!! Ummmm…… I am bored. That's why I decided to try this. I did use DNA but it got deleted or something. So, I am glad this BBs came. K-bye.

–Unicorn

Unicorn, I'm glad the BBS came too.

Here's another one for the road:

Subject: MY NAME IS BILLY…I AM HERE TO TALK TO THE SYSOP…SOMEONE
Name: Crash Override #278 @1
Tue May 14 16:20:40 1996
RE: Validation Feedback

MY NAME IS BILLY…I AM HERE TO TALK TO THE SYSOP…SOMEONE NAMED BEN RAMBLE SAID YOU MAY BE INTO KARDING….THAT BEING USING OTHERS CREDIT ARDS TO GET STUFF FOR YOURSELF…IF U ARE I NEED TO KNOW….I NEED A LAPTOP BAD AND I NEED IT BEFORE THE END OF THE SCHOOL YEAR…I WANNA HOOK IT UP TO THE FONE BOOTH AT SCHOOL AND GET THE SCHOOL INTROUBLE FOR HACKING INTOT EH FBI….IF U CAN GET THIS FOR ME PLEASE TELL E…I NEED IT TO COME LOADED….I NEED IT TO THAVE THE FASTEST MODEM YOU CAN FIND…I DONT HAVE ANY MONEY BUT IF I CAN GET THIS I WILL DO ALL THE HACKING YOU TELL ME TO DO AND I WILL DO ABSOLUTELY ANYRTHING FOR U
.

No, I wasn't into KARDING. An interesting note: the Ben Ramble mentioned in his message was a guy I went to school with at the time. He didn't know I was actually Red Wolf, for reasons that this entry explains.

Stay tuned for another exciting episode next week — same Vintage Computing time, same Vintage Computing channel!

RedWolf's Homebrew Game Genie Code Gallery: Super Mario Bros. 3

Monday, November 21st, 2005

The Game Genie is without a doubt the coolest peripheral I've ever owned for the NES. When I was bored with regular old NES games, I could essentially "reprogram" them with the device and make them more interesting. Tired of being told by game designers that I had to play the games their way, I delighted in manipulating game mechanics. After all, I thought, I bought the game, and I should be able to play it however I want ("Game Genie: empowering the gamer since 1991″). Before long, the codes included in the official Game Genie booklet got boring, so my brother and I made up our own. This resulted in some particularly reality-bending codes, the best of which I have included here. Some of these codes might have been discovered by other fellow Game Genie enthusiasts since then, but I assure you, these are straight from my circa-1994 spiral-bound, home made Game Genie Book.

This second entry on GG codes deals only with the US version of Super Mario Bros. 3 (the first entry is here). Unfortunately, I didn't have as many SMB3 codes in my book as I thought I did. Still, these are definitely neat. Try them out yourself and have fun. Also, feel free to share your own codes in the comments section.

OOKXGLIE

Code: OOKXGLIE
Tired of getting hit and losing the rare Swimming Purple Raccoon Mario power up? Well tire no more, since this code makes it permanent!
ANKXGLIE

Code: ANKXGLIE
Permanent Mario Shoe, as I like to call it. Exactly like Kuribo's shoe, but different. You're black and white, invincible, always small, and hopping around, but your shoe looks like a green Mario split in half. Awesome.
POKXGLIA

Code: POKXGLIA
Permanent regular Mario. No, not invincible — just small. All the time. It's tough being a short, stumpy man.
XNKXGLIA

Code: XNKXGLIA
Introducing…Black and White Mario! This is like having permanent Kuribo's shoe powers, but you always stay small, you don't hop around, you look like Mario, and you're intangible and invincible. You can stomp piranha plants too.

Lik-Sang Pulls Generation NEX from Sales Catalog

Friday, November 18th, 2005

Generation SUXChris Gregory, a VC&G reader, alerted me today that Lik-Sang, once taking pre-orders for the much-hyped Generation NEX console, has now dropped the product from its sales catalog, citing disappointment with an evaluation model they tested and also the rather negative VC&G review I posted on 11/03/2005. This move on Lik-Sang's part really impresses me, because it shows that they care enough about their reputation to pull a product that doesn't live up the promises of the manufacturer. Lik-Sang definitely has class. According to Chris Gregory, they have also gone above and beyond the call of duty for him in tracking down problems with hardware they sell, once even going out of their way to obtain an Australian NES to test product compatibility (incidentally, the product in question was Messiah's wireless NES pads). Pasted below is the email that Lik Sang sent out to all the people who pre-ordered a NEX. Once again, thanks to Chris for the help.

Dear Chris Gregory,

You are receiving this e-mail because you have pre-ordered a Generation NEX.

We have taken the decision to drop this item from the Lik-Sang product catalogue, as our initial disappointment with an evaluation sample has been confirmed by the bad reviews it has received in the press. For some examples, please see the following sites:

http://www.vintagecomputing.com/index.php/archives/6
http://us.gizmodo.com/gadgets/gadgets/generation-nex-new
-old-school-suckiness-135324.php

However, if you are looking for a famiclone you may be interested in the Pocket Famicom, a portable system that comes with a TV-Out connection. You can read more about it here: http://www.lik-sang.com/info.php?category=182&
products_id=6347&

Please note that your order no. xxxxxx will be canceled and refunded within 48 hours. Please note that depending on the payment method used, the refund may take up to a couple of weeks to show up on your account.

If you prefer, you may choose to receive a refund in Store Credit on your Lik-Sang Customer Account. This is the quickest and most convenient available option, as it avoids bank and financial fees that are associated with other money transfers.

Please accept our apologies for this inconvenience.

With best regards,

Your Lik-Sang Team
———————————-
Lik-Sang.com - Alternative Gaming Community

As a side note, it's kinda funny that the two reviews they cited were actually just one: there's the one I posted on this blog, and then there's a link to a news blog that quotes another news blog that quotes my review as its source. Crazy. I bet Messiah really hates my guts now. I hope they don't hire a hit on me. Of course, they should hate their own guts for releasing such a crappy product.

Vintage BBS Validation Message of the Week (#2)

Friday, November 18th, 2005

Call The Cave, Punk!Here we go again! For an explanation of what a validation message is, check out last week's episode.

No, I didn't make any of these up.

Subject: hello.
Name: Milamber #141 @1
Date: Mon Nov 06 20:58:55 1995
RE: Validation Feedback

Hello I am MILAMBER brother of SATURNIA. I bear the tourch of the lines now. I have inherited the golden crappy computer and I plan to use it for EVIL!!! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

A subtle approach. I like it.

And here's the stunning continuation of the MAD MAX saga from last week:

Subject: RED WOLF READ THIS!
Name: Mad Max #115
Date: Wed Apr 05 15:53:11 1995
RE: Tried Chatting.

Red Wolf,MAD MAX here.Are you ready to talk buisness?If you are this is how it works.When I am in "COMMAND",I will still use "your" BBS number,except I take over!If you want,you can be my second in command if you like.That is all for now.One more thing,give me some E-mail.

Sinerely,
(your future leader)
MAD MAX
/
s

"/s" was the command used on a new line to end the message. Many people often messed it up on their first typing attempt but were too lazy to fix it, as in the example above.

Stay tuned for another exciting episode next week — same Bat Time, same Bat Channel!

RedWolf's Homebrew Game Genie Code Gallery: Super Mario Bros.

Thursday, November 17th, 2005

The Game Genie is without a doubt the coolest peripheral I've ever owned for the NES. When I was bored with regular old NES games, I could essentially "reprogram" them with the device and make them more interesting. Tired of being told by game designers that I had to play the games their way, I delighted in manipulating game mechanics. After all, I thought, I bought the game, and I should be able to play it however I want ("Game Genie: empowering the gamer since 1991″). Before long, the codes included in the official Game Genie booklet got boring, so my brother and I made up our own. This resulted in some particularly reality-bending codes, the best of which I have included here. Some of these codes might have been discovered by other fellow Game Genie enthusiasts since then, but I assure you, these are straight from my circa-1994 spiral-bound, home made Game Genie Book. This first entry on GG codes deals only with Super Mario Bros. More specifically, the Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt cartridge was used to make these codes. Try them out yourself and have fun. Also, feel free to share your own codes in the comments section!

LUIGIO

Code: LUIGIO
Totally whacks up the graphics, and the game freezes at the third pipe. Why use it? Just because you can (…it spells Luigi-o).
YLYYYA

Code: YLYYYA
Permanent ice-skating Mario. This was always one of my favorites. Everything else seems fine.
SOSSSO

Code: SOSSSO
You get an extra life with every stomp, on every type of enemy. Awesome!
OZOPPI

Code: OZOPPI
Coin blocks are in weird positions, but inside every one is a mushroom / fire flower. You can only have one power-up on the screen at a time though.
PISPEG

Code: PISPEG
This is hilarious: the regular floor is replaced with water. Mario falls down and dies not only on the first stage, but the title screen as well.
OZTLLX

Code: OZTLLX
Ah, one of the classics. With this code you can be regular small Mario and still have the fire flower. You can't break blocks though.

Coming Soon: Game Genie codes for Super Mario Bros. 3. There are some awesome ones for it in my personal code book, so stay tuned.

Generic Famicom Converters / Adapters on Ebay

Thursday, November 17th, 2005

Famicom ConverterI was just poking around on Ebay today, looking at Famicom stuff when I noticed that this guy is selling generic Famicom to NES converters. He has three auctions at the moment — one for a single converter only, one for a lot of six converters, and one for a lot of twelve. It's likely that this guy has a million of these things, so if you buy one, don't bid it up more than the base price. Just check back next week and he'll probably have another single one listed. Also, his feedback rating is pretty good (with a lot of transactions under his belt), and his location in Canada explains the $5 shipping…although it still seems maybe a dollar too steep. Either way, I knew you guys had been looking for adapters, so I thought I'd share it.

How to Tell if a Copy of Gyromite has a Famicom Adapter in it

Monday, November 14th, 2005

Famicom Converter in GyromiteIt's not a myth if it's true. Yes, Mario, there might be a Famicom to NES adapter in your copy of Gyromite. In fact, there might be an adapter in other early NES games, but so far, Gyromite is the only game cart I have personally found adapters in. Recently Jake at 8-Bit Joystick was bustin' on the well-known NES fan fact that there are NES to Famicom converter boards in some early NES games. Well, I'm here to try to set that straight. For the record, I've bought eight copies of Gyromite in my life, and two of them had Famicom converters in them (25% rate so far). I'm not going to speculate on the absolute ratio of Famicom to non-Famicom Gyromites out there, or even why the adapters are in there in the first place. Instead, here's a quick guide to show you how to determine if any copy has one of these hidden treasures inside.

Method #1: Label Variations

Gyromite CartsI've noticed that there is a small difference on the labels of my two copies of Gyromite with Famicom adapters in them (henceforth to be called FA Gyromites) and the ones without adapters (henceforth to be called regular Gyromites). The difference is subtle but noticeable if you can compare the two, or if you have a really good eye for color. Take a look at the picture on the right. Click on it and load the full-sized image. Notice the "Robot Series" logo on the cartridge on the right (the FA Gyromite copy has a piece of tape on it so I know which is which).

Gyromite Label ComparisonThe color of the purple in the FA Gyromite is a different hue than the regular Gyromite on the left. The two FA Gyromites I have have less red in the Robot Series color, making for a softer, deeper "grape" color, whereas the regular Gyromites have more of a "plum" color to them, with more red in the label. Also, the black background in the regular Gyromites is of a lighter, more washed-out looking color than the deeper black in the FA Gyromites. Also to the right is an up-close comparison of the two labels. Note the difference in red content in the half-toning pattern and the difference in the surrounding black background.

I can't promise that this color difference will hold true for all copies of Gyromite, but my two copies of FA Gyromite and five copies of regular Gyromite all follow the same color differences described above, so I thought I'd mention it.

Update: Shortly after writing this article, I noticed another difference between FA Gyromite and regular Gyromite labels. On the label spine where it says Gyromite in purple, my FA Gyromites have a tiny "TM" trademark symbol after the title. All of my Gyromites that don't have TM symbols are regular Gyromites, indicating that they changed the label later in the production run. But this is where it gets slightly complicated: I do have one regular Gyromite with a TM symbol, so the TM is not a guaranteed indicator that it's a FA Gyromite. But I'm willing to bet a lot that if it a Gyromite cart doesn't have a TM on the spine, you can rule a FA out — it's a regular Gyromite. Further experience will be necessary to make sure this is completely true, but I think it's almost assured. And before you start complaining that I'm wrong, make sure you're looking at the label spine (the edge of the cartridge opposite the connector), not the main label face.

Method #2: Center of Gravity

Gyromite Cart in HandThis is the least scientific test of the bunch, unless you want to go to the trouble of precisely balancing the cart on a specific pivot point. In lieu of such complicated measures, you can use your hand. Pick up a copy of Gyromite and hold it in your hand like the picture on the right. If the center of gravity is more towards the middle of the cartridge than toward the connector (and the weight is spread out a little more evenly), then it's likely that you have a FA Gyromite in your hand. You'll see why in a minute.

Method #3: Weight

Regular Gyromite WeighedThis test is my favorite of the bunch, because you can quantitatively tell if your Gyromite has an adapter without opening it up. If you happen to have a scale that can read in ounces, you'll find that a regular Gyromite cartridge weights about 3.5 ounces, and a FA Gyromite weighs about 4.5 ounces. The extra ounce comes from the converter hardware inside, which you'll see in a minute. I tested my other early NES games and they all weighed 3.5 ounces, telling me they don't have adapters inside. Also worth noting: I just realized that the pictures of FA game carts (one is Gyromite, one is Hogan's Alley) on this page and this page have full-size DIP ROM Chips on the boards instead of glob-tops like mine (which you'll see in a minute). That would definitely make a copy of FA Gyromite with DIP chips heavier than 4.5 ounces.

FA Gyromite WeighedI also weighed a later NES game (Kirby's Adventure) and found that it weighed about 4.5 ounces as well. Does this mean Kirby's Adventure has an adapter inside? No — it has a bigger board to make room for a battery and likely heftier ROM chips since it's a bigger game (in KB terms). So keep that in mind if you're planning on doing a hand weight test in a store. Pick up a copy of Gyromite and compare its weight to another early NES game (like Pro-Wrestling, but not Zelda, which is also heavier because of its battery). If it feels slightly heavier, then you've probably got a FA Gyromite in your hand.

Method #4: Open the Cartridge

Gyromites UniteUnlike Jake and Ben Heckendorn, I actually have an array of screwdrivers on hand, arranged nicely in a toolbox. :) There will be no smashing/ripping open NES cartridges today. All it takes is a small flat-blade screwdriver to open your Gyromite cart. All Gyromite carts have at least five screws (unlike the later three-screw NES carts), but if you have a FA Gyromite, you'll be surprised to learn that it actually has seven screws in total! In the picture on the right, I have two copies of Gyromite open. The one on the top is the regular Gyromite, and the one on the bottom is the FA Gyromite. Notice how the adapter/game assembly is screwed down to two posts inside the cart. Ah-ha — so that's what whose posts are for! If you unscrew the adapter assembly, you'll notice that it's in three pieces. There's the top board, which is the Famicom board with the ROM data on it, then there's the 60-pin pass-through connector, and then there's the bottom adapter board. Here are some more pictures:

FA Gyromite Boards

The FA Gyromite assembly up close.
Regular Gyromite Board

The regular Gyromite board up close.
FA Gyromite Boards Reverse

The other side of the FA Gyromite assembly.
Regular Gyromite Board Reverse

The other side of the regular Gyromite board.
FA Gyromite Assembly Apart

The FA Gyromite assembly in three pieces.

Some Notes on Using Your New Famicom Adapter

I did some simple testing using the FA Gyromite ROM board and the adapter itself. First of all, I plugged a Famicom cart, Zippy Race into the FA Gyromite's adapter and tried it in a top-loading NES. It worked perfectly. Then I put the FA Gyromite ROM board (the Famicom part only) into a Famicom, and no surprise, it played perfectly as well. It is very important to make sure the board/cartridges are facing the right way when you use them in a NES. The front of the Famicom cartridge should be facing opposite the front of the adapter (the side with the IC on it). Then, the front of the adapter must be facing either up (on a front-loader), or forward (on a top-loader). Also, you'll have to flip the 60-pin connector on the adapter around so a Famicom cart will fit on it, and you might even have to trim a bit of the black plastic off the sides so it fits correctly. You might be able to chop off the top of a standard NES cart and screw the adapter into it, as it was in the Gyromite cart, so that you don't have to handle an unprotected PC board all the time and you can use the same adapter with different Famicom games. Also, the mountability of the adapter in an NES cartridge case brings about the possibility of making a permanently converted Famicom game. That is, you could disassemble your Famicom cart, take out the ROM board, mount it in a NES cart case (ala FA Gyromite), and screw it back up. Then you've got a sturdy Famicom game ready to play any time that you want on your regular NES! Whether the adapter works perfectly with later Famicom games is unknown by me. You'll just have to test that yourself.

Great Games You've Probably Never Played: Moon Crystal

Sunday, November 13th, 2005

Moon Crystal Title ScreenOver time on VC&G, I'd like to introduce vintage gamers to obscure, overlooked or never released in North America games that are worth playing. And unless you live in Asia, you've probably never played Moon Crystal, as I believe it was only released in Japan. It's a shame this title didn't come to the US — it's a grade-A quality game, with incredible gameplay, graphics, and animations. The only beef I have with the gameplay is that it takes a long time for your character to turn around (a lot longer than the instant 180 in most games), and that takes a lot of getting used to. All of the monsters and the main character have very fluid animations, with more frames per movement than I think I've ever seen in a NES game. Moon Crystal also has a great story-telling intro and detailed, animated, and colorful cinematic cut-scenes between stages (ala Ninja Gaiden).

Moon CrystalI haven't played much past the third stage yet, but I'm looking forward to the rest of the game. So far the difficulty level hasn't been too hard. The style of gameplay is pretty typical action platformer, where you jump around and stab enemies with your sword. You can also get power ups over time to become stronger, which is nice. The main character has a really neat ability taken straight from Prince of Persia — the edge grab. You can jump up to a platform that's too high for you to jump to conventionally by pressing up on the control pad while jumping. Your character can then grab onto the nearest ledge and pull himself up. This comes in handy as a last-second save: if you underestimate your jumps over an open abyss, you can hold down up and grab on to the side of the edge before you fall in.

Moon Crystal is one of the best Famicom games never released in the US. But don't take my word for it — try it out! Unless you can find the original cart for the Famicom and have a means to play it, you'll probably have to stick with the emulator route. But where can you get the game? I guess you'll just have to find it yourself. But once you do, it's definitely worth a play.

Here are some more Moon Crystal screenshots:

Moon Crystal

Moon Crystal

Moon Crystal