Archive for November, 2011

Ask the Chessmaster

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

Ask the Chessmaster

Greetings, my fellow chess fans. Welcome to The Chessmaster.

That is, welcome to a new feature where I, The Chessmaster, will answer your personal letters to the best of my chessly ability.

Since I have been playing chess almost non-stop for over 300 years, I thought it might be a good time to bring my accumulated wisdom directly to the people.

In preparation for this column, I have been soliciting questions from a troubled American populace for the last six months. It is my hope that my responses will benefit all readers as much as they help those who submitted the questions.

With that out of the way, let's get to the first question.

[ Continue reading Ask the Chessmaster » ]

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Super NES on Ice

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Way Cool Super NES Super Nintendo Ice Cube Ad -1994A novelty cocktail ice cube for giants.

[ From Nintendo Power, January 1994, back cover ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Has one of your computers or video game consoles ever overheated? Tell us about it.

You Know It's an Old Website If…

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

You Know Its An Old Website If...

Just a little while ago on Twitter, I started spouting out some one liners, Jeff Foxworthy style, about how you know if a website is old. I love coming across old websites, so it's fun to spit these out.

I can't guarantee that they're funny, but I think they're at least amusing. People liked them enough that I decided to post my lines here and ask you guys to continue the list. I may add more to it over time.

  • You know it's an old website if…
    …every image on the site rotates.
  • You know it's an old website if…
    …they refer to AltaVista in the present tense.
  • You know it's an old website if…
    …you found it through a web ring.
  • You know it's an old website if…
    …it says "Best viewed in IBM WebExplorer."
  • You know it's an old website if…
    …your browser complains that there's no MIDI plug-in installed.
  • You know it's an old website if…
    …it forces you to enter the site through a splash page.
  • You know it's an old website if…
    …it asks you not to hotlink the GIF images.
  • You know it's an old website if…
    …every single link on the page '404s.
  • You know it's an old website if…
    …the owner claims it's "under construction."
  • You know it's an old website if…
    …it brags about having 1,000 hits.

Now it's your turn. Add your one-liners in the comments below.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Family Computing

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Family Computing - September 1983 - Cover ScanThe cover of the first issue of "Family Computing" magazine, September 1983.

Happy Thanksgiving from VC&G

[ From Family Computing, September 1983, cover ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite food to eat for Thanksgiving? Favorite video game to play?

Time for a VC&G Redesign?

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

Vintage Computing and Gaming LogoVintage Computing and Gaming has retained the same general site design, albeit with a few aesthetic changes, since it started in 2005. Do you think it's time to change the layout of the site? Do you think I should add any features to the site to make it like more modern blogs?

For VC&G, my philosophy has long been, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." And I defintely don't think the site is broken. But perhaps it is time to modernize a few elements of the blog. The thing I'd like to add most is a tag-based post system. I think that would work better than post categories as they now stand.

The commenting system works pretty well for the number of comments we get, so I don't think we need a complex comment rating or moderation system at the moment.

As for the current design, I like the fact that, because I haven't added complex bells and whistles to the site's software, VC&G is easy to view on older computers with slightly older browsers. It's simple and it does the trick.

Let's put it this way: do you think if I redesigned the site that more people would read VC&G? (Although statistically speaking, we have more readers than ever.) Is the design out of touch with a "modern" web audience? Your thoughts count, so let me know in the comments.

Secret Lives of the Intel 4004 (40th Anniversary)

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Intel 4004 40th Anniversay

Forty years ago today, Intel announced the 4004. It was the first single-chip microprocessor in the world — an entire central processing unit (CPU) rendered as in integrated circuit on a single chip of silicon.

Up to that point CPUs were typically constructed of many ICs and discrete components soldered onto multiple circuit boards that, when combined, would have trouble fitting in a cigar box. The 4004 compressed similar functionality into a silicon chip 1/8 inch wide by 1/6 inch long.

The story of the 4004 began in in 1970, when Japanese manufacturer Busicom commissioned Intel to help create a chipset for a desktop calculator. Intel rejected the initial Busicom-designed chipset and countered with its own simplified design, which included the 4004 and three other supporting chips. Those chips, when used together, could form the heart of a complete microcomputer.

While the 4004 first appeared in the Busicom 141-PF calculator (seen above) during mid-1971, a contract renegotiation later in the year left Intel free to sell the microprocessor and its supporting chipset to others. It announced the 4004 to the general market using a carefully placed advertisement in the November 15, 1971 issue of Electronic News, an important trade newspaper for the emerging semiconductor industry.

It's a Secret to Everybody

Once available to the general market, the Intel 4004 appeared in only a handful of 1970s commercial products before more powerful microprocessors, like the 8008, made the 4-bit CPU thoroughly obsolete.

Those early 4004-bearing products are quite hard to find today, making them generally unknown to computer history. That's why I created a slideshow over at Technologizer that explores little-known applications of 4004. Some of the applications — like arcade games and electronic voting machines — might surprise you.

I hope you enjoy it.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Beyond Zork

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Atari 400/800 BASIC Reference Manual Cover - 1979That spot in the upper left is actually mold that grew on the paper.

When is a text adventure game not a text adventure game? When it's Beyond Zork: The Coconut of Quendor.

Infocom's fourth entry in the Zork series (actually the 8th if you count the related Enchanter series and Wishbringer) combined interactive fiction with light RPG elements such as equipment, stat sheets, an on-screen map, and character leveling to create a unique game that may be best compared to a single player MUD (a SUD?).

Beyond Zork sports procedurally generated maps in some areas, so replay value is theoretically infinite. But randomness is a double-edged sword in this case: its magic items move around between saves and loads, and that can frustratingly break the suspension of disbelief (i.e. you see it, you die, you come back, and it's gone). Still, Beyond Zork is an amazing game that deserves more attention than it usually gets.

[ From Family and Home Office Computing, November 1987, p.89 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite entry in the Zork series? Every Zork-related game counts.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Father and Son at the Atari

Monday, November 7th, 2011

Atari 400/800 BASIC Reference Manual Cover - 1979Stranded in a jungle with only a desk, a cup of coffee, and an Atari 800.

I've always enjoyed the illustration style found on the earliest Atari 400/800 instruction manuals, such as the one here for the Basic Reference Manual. I've included an extra large scan this time so you can enjoy the detail up close.

Does anybody know the name of the artist who did them? I'll admit I haven't looked very hard.

By the way, this manual was written by River Raid creator Carol Shaw.

[ From Atari 400/800 BASIC Reference Manual, circa 1979, cover ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever programmed with your dad? Tell us about it.