Archive for April, 2011

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Apple II Digitizer Tablet

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Talos Digi-Kit-Izer Digikitizer Ad - Byte 1979The Talos Digi-Kit-Izer digitizer tablet

Digitizer tablets were a popular way of digitizing graphical information in the 1970s and 1980s — an era before cheap optical scanners (and the memory to store those scanned images) became available.

To use a digitizer, you would place an image you wanted "digitized" (translated into the computer) onto the tablet and mark the key points of the illustration with a special stylus or cursor (a handheld mouse-like device with a small targeting window) hooked to a computer. Through this process, the stylus/tablet combination would interpret the spacial relationship between the points you marked into a series of graphical dots on the computer screen. Those dots, in turn, could be turned into a 2D computer image (think connect-the-dots) if desired.

With some tablets, it was also possible to trace lines of an illustration with continuous strokes of the stylus. These tablets evolved into the modern Wacom-style graphics tablet we know today.

[ From Byte Magazine, November 1979, p.31 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever used a graphics tablet (of any kind)? Tell us about it.

VCF East 7.0 Coming in May

Monday, April 25th, 2011

VCF East 4.0It's just about that time of year again. Vintage Computer Festival East is coming to a New Jersey near you. Evan Koblentz, who organizes the show, wanted me to remind VC&G readers that the seventh annual incarnation of the show will taking place on May 14-15 in Wall, NJ. Here are more details pulled from the VCF website:

The 7th annual Vintage Computer Festival East will be held on Saturday, May 14th and Sunday, May 15th, at the InfoAge Science Center at Wall, New Jersey. The event is sponsored by MARCH and VintageTech.

The doors open at 10:00am each day. Speakers begin at 10:15am and end at 2:00pm. The Exhibit and Marketplace open at 2:00pm. VCF runs to 7:00pm Saturday and 5:00pm Sunday.

VCF is (mostly) indoors and is held rain or shine. Admission is $10 for one day, $15 for both days, and free for ages 17 and younger. Parking is free.

For more details, check out the VCF website.

I attended VCF 9.0 (the original western edition of the show) back in 2006 and had a great time. I've never been to a VCF East, but I hear they're just as fun as the ones they hold in California. If you live on the east coast, this is your best chance to meet and greet with other VC&G-type enthusiasts.

Sadly, I can't make the show physically this year — I will be attending via time-shifted remote telepresence from my non-mobile command center down in NC. (In other words, I'll read about it on the web after it happens.)

The History of Atari Computers

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

The History of Atari Computers Slideshow at PC World

Last month I said that I had created my last epic slideshow. Well, I guess I changed my mind.

Up now on PCWorld.com is a decidedly epic History of Atari Computers. This visually-rich slideshow covers just about every model of Atari computer ever released — the only exceptions are some minor revisions and generally-equivalent European variations (the 260ST comes to mind).

It's comprehensive enough that I will probably be using it as a quick reference when the need arises in the future. I hope you enjoy it.

Rare Computers of the 1990s

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

15 Amazing Computing Rarities of the 1990s

I have a secret: computer history didn't stop at the end of the 1980s.

This fact may seem obvious to long-time VC&G readers, because this site's working definition of "vintage" in the computer and video game realm is 10 years old or older.

But many vintage computer sites you'll find out there don't bother to cover PCs made in the 1990s — that era of utter and almost absolute IBM PC-clone dominance — mostly out of disgust for the bland uniformity of that decade's computer offerings.

Well, It's time to look beyond that self-imposed glass wall and peer into a decade that was not nearly as devoid of interesting alternative machines as some people think.

My most recent slideshow on Technologizer, "15 Amazing Computing Rarities of the 1990s," is dedicated to that task. It takes a good look at 15 rare and unusual machines that the 1990s made. I hope you enjoy it.

[ Snapshots ] MULE: The Ultimate Party Game

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

The Ultimate Party Game: M.U.L.E. (MULE) - A scene from Benj's recent birthday party.A scene from Benj's recent birthday party (April 2011)

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Rear Guard

Monday, April 18th, 2011

Snappy Video Snapshot Ad - 1995They came out of the blue of the black sky.

[ From Compute!, June 1982, p.25 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite 2D space shooter of all time?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Snappy Video Snapshot

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Snappy Video Snapshot Ad - 1995If Dvorak loved it (see quote), then there must be something terribly wrong.

The Snappy is one of the greatest gadgets I've ever owned. It captured full color still images from a composite video input in a variety of resolutions and interfaced to a PC via a parallel port connection. The greatest part was its price — the MSRP in 1995 started at $199.95, which was staggeringly low for a device of that capability. In effect, the Snappy turned your family camcorder into a digital still camera at a time when digital cameras were rare and extremely expensive.

I used my Snappy to capture my first digital photos and some of the earliest directly digitized screenshots of video games ever made, which I distributed on my BBS. This was at a time before widespread emulation, so it was miraculous to have a JPEG file of, say, The Legend of Zelda's title screen on your computer.

To see the 1979 equivalent of the Snappy, check out this Retro Scan from last December.

[ From ComputerLife, October 1995, p.210 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: When did you take your first digital picture?

Jerry Lawson (1940-2011)

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Jerry Lawson creator of Fairchild Channel F and Black Video Game PioneerIn Memoriam: Gerald A. Lawson (1940-2011), black video game pioneer.

I am very saddened to announce the passing of a truly important figure in the history of video games. Jerry Lawson died Saturday morning, April 9th, 2011, at the age of 70.

Lawson was notable not only for being a rare African American electronic engineer in Silicon Valley, but also for leading the team that created the world's first ROM cartridge-based video game console. I speak, of course, of the Fairchild Channel F, which hit the market in August 1976.

Lawson did an interview for this site in 2009, and I am proud to say that the feature brought this amazing man some long overdue recognition. The IGDA honored Lawson's contributions to the industry during an informal session at this year's Game Developer's Conference on March 4th, 2011.

I heard the news of Lawson's death only this afternoon from David Erhart, a personal friend of Lawson. Erhart tells me that he and Lawson were planning to go to a ham radio swap meet Saturday morning, but he received a call from Jerry's wife on Friday night telling him that Lawson was in the ICU. The next morning, his wife phoned Erhart again to say that Lawson had died.

The cause of death is unknown to me at the moment, but I do know that Lawson struggled with severe diabetes for years. An obituary for Jerry is in the works, and I will post an update whenever I receive it (or a link to it).

Rest in peace, Jerry. Thank you for all you've done for us. History will not forget your name.

[Update (04/14/2011) - David Erhart was told by Lawson's family that Lawson died of a heart attack. "He was feeling bad Wednesday afternoon/night as was taken to the hospital," Erhart wrote in an email. "He then died at 6:15am Saturday morning." This New York Times obituary quotes Lawson's wife as saying that Lawson died from "complications of diabetes."]

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Pool 1.5 - Atari 8-bit

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Rexall Typewriter Paper Pad Cover - circa 1950s - 1960s"Now you too can play Pool 1.5″

I have fond memories of Pool 1.5 for the Atari 8-bit computer line. I remember finding a neglected copy of it in the back of our Atari disk box as a kid and playing it for hours. Despite it's age, I still enjoy playing Pool 1.5 more than any other billiards simulation.

The "1.5″ designation in the name is interesting and somewhat unusual for a game. I assume it's a version number, but I've never heard of, say, "Pool 1.0." Maybe it's a title that metaphorically suggests improvement on the real game of Pool, similar to how we say "Revolution 2.0″ today. Or maybe not.

If you get a chance, you should try it out. The game holds up surprisingly well.

[ From Compute!, June 1982, p.17 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite pool/billiards video or computer game?