Archive for March, 2008

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Man's New Best Friend?

Monday, March 31st, 2008

TRS-80 Model 4 Family Ad"Gather 'round, kids, and warm up by the TRS-80 Model 4″ (1983)

[Edit (04/02/2008) - This was an April Fool's Day scan. It was edited by me to look weird. Hope you enjoyed it! ]

Discussion topic of the week: Have you ever used a computer with all four members of your nuclear family at the same time?

If you use this image on your site, please support "Retro Scan of the Week" by giving us obvious credit for the original scan and entry. Thanks.

Inside the Apple IIc

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

Inside the Apple IIcMy trusty workbench has officially gone mainstream, courtesy of PC World. They've just published my autopsy of Apple's first portable computer, the Apple IIc, as a richly illustrated slide show. It's peppered with factoids and doses of VC&G-style humor, so I think you guys will like it. Here's an excerpt from the intro:

Earlier this year Apple released its thinnest and lightest portable computer yet, the MacBook Air, to great fanfare. But it wasn't the first time for such an event: Twenty-four years ago critics hailed another Apple computer–its first portable ever–as a masterpiece of compact industrial design. The Apple IIc marked an important milestone for Apple's stalwart Apple II line, squeezing the power of a full-size IIe into a svelte 7.5-pound package.

With that intro in mind, I have a question for my keenly intelligent, historically-minded readership: Which release made more of a splash? The Apple IIc or the MacBook Air?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Child as Executioner

Monday, March 24th, 2008

Talking Whiz-Kid 2 Player Hangman Program CardExhibit A: Talking Whiz-Kid Program Card #43 (1987)

Nothing captures the childlike zeal and enthusiasm most kids have to murder grown adults like this illustration from 1987. A young boy mercilessly withholds the "answer" from a balding, middle aged man — ruthlessly toying with his life — while the innocent adult faces imminent death at the end of a hangman's noose.

And for what? I couldn't tell you. Is the enjoyment of a "game" worth a man's life? Maybe the answer lies somewhere in the deep, sordid archives of Vtech.

Discussion topic of the week: How many child players of Hangman grew up to be murderers?

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Welcome to the Family, Whiz-Kid

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

VTech Talking Whiz-Kid and VTL Computron

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.

Shining a Rotten Apple

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

What is Nasty?

Nasty Apple II Plus Keyboard

Nasty is the keyboard of my well-loved 29 year-old Apple II Plus.

It's always a bad sign when a keyboard that's been sitting untouched for ten years in climate-controlled storage is wet beneath the keys, coated with a glistening, gooey gunk of unknown origin. Mix in two decades of fuzzy dust and moldy cat hairs, and you have yourself a potent cocktail of pure, unadulterated Nasty.

[ Continue reading Shining a Rotten Apple » ]

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Atari 2600 Computer Attachment

Monday, March 17th, 2008

Atari 2600 Computer Attachment

Atari announced this ambitious computer add-on for their popular Atari 2600 game console just as it was bleeding to death from record losses. Sadly for us collectors, this unit never went into production — although the wisdom of releasing such a device is highly debatable.

Discussion topic of the week: What if Atari had included a built-in keyboard with the 2600 at its launch in 1977? How would it have changed the nature of the system?

[ Scanned from Atari Age, May-June 1983 ]

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Hairy Man-Thigh Computing

Monday, March 10th, 2008

Tandy 1000 SX Ad - Shorts

In this ad for the Tandy 1000 SX, Radio Shack shamelessly depicts the 1980s version of the "work in your underwear" marketing tagline: work in your shorts. Oh, the indecency. If this guy shows any more leg, it's going to cause a scandal.

Discussion topic of the week: What if everyone wore shorts while using computers? Would global economic productivity grind to a halt?

[ Scanned from BYTE, July 1987 ]

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Gary Gygax (1938-2008)

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

Gary GygaxIn Memoriam: Gary Gygax (1938-2008), co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons.

Stop a moment and think about the profound influence Dungeons & Dragons had on computer RPGs and MUDs. It's immeasurable.

How China Warrior Ruined My Childhood

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

China Warrior kicks MarioI've read a lot of bad press about China Warrior recently due to its re-release on Nintendo's Virtual Console service. Many make fun of the simple beat-'em-up as being a completely horrible game, which is not far off the mark: playing China Warrior is about as fun as eating a brick. But they don't know exactly how horrible it can be. In the early nineties, I had a personal run-in with this TurboGrafx-16 non-classic that still haunts me to this day.

[ Continue reading How China Warrior Ruined My Childhood » ]

Collectors Take Note: Microsoft HD-DVD Player Hits Clearance

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

Microsoft Xbox 360 HD-DVD Drive

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.