The IBM PC Turns 35

Friday, August 12th, 2016

Benj's IBM PC 5150

35 years ago today, IBM launched the IBM Personal Computer — the first-ever IBM PC. While it was simply called the “IBM Personal Computer” back then, we now know it more commonly by its model number, 5150.

PCWorld recently asked me to do something to celebrate this anniversary, so just a few days ago, I took apart my personal IBM PC 5150 and documented the process on my workbench. And back in 2011, I wrote some other articles about the IBM PC on the occasion of the machine’s 30th anniversary.

In fact, I’ve done a lot of coverage of the IBM PC over the years, so I thought you guys might enjoy seeing a collection of all of them in one place. Here we go.

Features

IBM PC Retro Scans of the Week

IBM PC-Related VC&G Posts

There may be more lurking out there, but that’s quite a bit of reading if you’re interested in the IBM PC.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] NandO.net – My First ISP

Monday, January 18th, 2016

Raleigh News and Observer Nando Nando.net Newspaper Advertisement ISP Internet - 1994The only time I have ever read the term “MUSH” in print.

You are looking at a scan of the actual newspaper ad that got me on the Internet with a commercial ISP for the first time. (Prior to that, I got online through a free dial-up university dataswitch.) It’s an ad for NandO.net, a 1990s-era Raleigh, NC-based ISP originally owned and operated by our flagship newspaper, The News and Observer.

As you can see by the handwritten notes on the ad, my dad used this actual piece of paper to sign us up for an account on the service (I modified the credit card number digitally, in case anyone is wondering). I found this rare artifact in my old computer papers recently while researching my early web history for a FastCompany piece I wrote last year. In that article, I explored what it was like to build a website in 1995. Here’s what I wrote about NandO:

As the Internet became more than just a way to access MUDs or look up the occasional novelty on text-based Gophers or web browsers, both of us sought a more robust way of accessing it. One of the first ISPs in our city was called NandO.net. Our local newspaper, the News and Observer, ran it as an extension of its efforts to pioneer online newsmaking processes.

On some day in late 1994, my father signed my family up for NandO.net. What we got in exchange for about $20 a month was an account on an Internet-enabled BBS, which had its own local message board and games, but would allow us to use text-only Internet email, web browsing, FTP, and Gopher. My dad paid extra for a “shell account” so I could log in and get a Unix command prompt. From there I could upload and download files from a terminal program, telnet to other servers, and push stuff from my shell account to remote machines via FTP.

What heady days those were. Incredible to think that I was just dipping my toes into what would eventually become a life-changing deluge — not just for me, but for all of humanity itself.

[ From The News and Observer, December 13, 1994, p.9A ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the name of your first ISP? What year did you first use it?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] WorldsAway

Monday, December 14th, 2015

Fujitsu Cultural Technologies WorldAway Graphical Multiuser Online Chat World on CompuServe First Advertisement - 1996“There’s More to Life On-Line”

Just a few months ago, the 20th anniversary of the launch of WorldsAway, a pioneering graphical online world, came and went without any major notice (it launched in September 1995). But I remembered the milestone, and I wrote a recent This Old Tech column over on PCWorld.com about my memories of the service, which I stuck with in some form or another until 2001.

WorldsAway was simply magical when it launched. It promised to put you, as a user, into a graphical world that you could share with other online users (the term “Avatar” as an online representation of your physical self came from the creators of this lineage of online worlds). It delivered on that goal with a charming atmosphere — where you could change between whimsical heads with ease — and a vibrant community that I still look back on fondly to this day.

Honestly, I miss being part of that WorldsAway community. My involvement there came at a time when I was fairly lonely and isolated with my hobbies — my high school years — during a time when few “average” people used any online service whatsoever. Don’t get me wrong; I did fairly well at school, and I wasn’t a freak with no friends — but the real-life friends I did have did not share my love for the online world. Online, of course, I could find others like me, and on WorldsAway, we all celebrated that commonality together in a vibrant, playful world.

Did anybody else use WorldsAway in the 1990s? I’d love to hear from you.

P.S. I was an avid reader and subscriber of CompuServe Magazine in the 1990s, which is where I found and drooled over this ad back in the day.

[ From CompuServe Magazine, March 1996, p.4 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you use any graphical online chat worlds in the 1990s? Tell us about it.

The VC&G Christmas Collection (2015 Edition)

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

Vintage Computing and Gaming Christmas Xmas Megapost

It’s that time of year again: the Yuletide. Over the past few years, I’ve been posting an annual collection of all the Christmas-related tech material I’ve written (both for this site and for others) into one place for easy reading. Below, you’ll find list of off-site Christmas slideshows, other features, and of course, plenty of Retro Scans of the Week.

I have a soft spot for Christmas, having been raised with the tradition, so this list is for me as much as it is for everyone else. After going through these things again, it’s amazing to see how much Christmas stuff I’ve posted over the years. I hope you enjoy it.

[ Continue reading The VC&G Christmas Collection (2015 Edition) » ]

Benj’s ‘This Old Tech’ Column Debuts on PCWorld.com

Friday, November 6th, 2015

This Old Tech Column on Toshiba T1000

Today, PCWorld published the inaugural entry of my new column, This Old Tech. In the column, I will be writing about vintage gadgets, games, and computers — pretty much the same stuff I talk about on Vintage Computing and Gaming. So far, the plan is to publish a new piece every Friday.

For the first column, I talk about the first MS-DOS computer I ever learned to use, the Toshiba T1000 laptop. I still have the same machine from all those years ago, so aside from just waxing nostalgic, I also attempt to get it working again.

So spread the word — I am looking forward to exploring my personal tech history in this new column. I hope you enjoy it.

VC&G Interview: Benj Edwards, Creator of Vintage Computing and Gaming

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

Benj Edwards with a Commodore 64[ Earlier this year, I asked readers what they wanted to see on VC&G’s tenth anniversary. Most people said “behind the scenes coverage,” but I wasn’t sure how to approach that. So I asked my longtime editing partner Harry McCracken to interview me in the hopes that I might accidentally say something interesting about the history of the site. Happy Anniversary, VC&G readers. — Benj ]

I first met Benj Edwards back in 2007, when I worked at PC World magazine and he submitted an article — “The 10 Worst PC Keyboards of All Time” — over the transom. (Actually, we didn’t meet in person until later, and his submission arrived in my inbox like any other email, but you get the idea.) Even then, I was already a fan of his Vintage Computing and Gaming website, which was then a couple of years old.

We ended up publishing Benj’s keyboard slideshow at PCWorld.com, where it became a monster hit with readers. Since then, Benj and I have continued our writer-editor relationship: first at Technologizer, and today at Fast Company, where I’m an editor and he’s a frequent contributor, writing deeply-reported pieces about fascinating topics which everyone else has forgotten about. He’s also contributed to The Atlantic, Macworld, PCMag, Wired, and other publications.

Benj has never stopped blogging at Vintage Computing and Gaming, which celebrates its tenth anniversary today. To commemorate the occasion, he asked me to interview him about the site, his other writings, and his pursuit of collectible tech products and the stories behind them. I learned a lot from his answers — and so will you.

–Harry McCracken

10 DAYS OF VINTAGE: Day 1

[ Continue reading VC&G Interview: Benj Edwards, Creator of Vintage Computing and Gaming » ]

Introducing VC&G Anthology

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

Image Desc

It is no secret that Vintage Computing and Gaming is in its 10th year of publication (the site’s 10th anniversary is November 2nd of this year).

Ten years is like a century on the Internet. Throughout these long 100 metaphorical years, I’ve done a lot of side work for features both on VC&G and in my offsite freelance features that have never been published before.

That is going to change. Today I’m announcing a new series on this blog called VC&G Anthology. It’s just a fancy way of saying “old stuff from my archives.”

To fuel the Anthology, I’ve dug up old interviews, outtakes, notes, and other writings from my history that have previously never appeared on VC&G or anywhere else.

Additionally, some of the upcoming Anthology material will come from my work on other publications that is no longer accessible. This will be one way to remedy the Web’s propensity to forget things when host sites go belly up or get URL-confused or database-addled in their old age.

So stay tuned — this should be fun.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Gray Zapper

Monday, October 19th, 2015

Nintendo NES Zapper Light Gun Scan - Zapper ca.1985Released because Americans like guns

The Nintendo Entertainment System turned 30 years old in the US yesterday — well, according to Nintendo, anyway. That date is still a little fuzzy, in my opinion. Still, it’s close enough.

When the NES turned 25 (exactly five years ago today — creepy!), I wrote a few features about this classic system like NES Oddities for Technologizer and a NES workbench teardown for PCWorld.

This year, I have done nothing to celebrate except scan this NES Zapper. It’s a beaut.

Just a few days ago, the designer of the NES hardware revealed that the NES shipped with the Zapper because “Americans in general are interested in gun.” Indeed they are!

In 1989, Nintendo changed the dark grey parts of the Zapper to “blaze orange” to meet new US Federal regulations about toy guns. That regulation involved required orange plugs or paint at the tips of the barrels of realistic or imitation toy guns.

The regulation passed because people were robbing banks with toy guns, and the orange plug was supposed to let cops know the difference between a deadly weapon and a hunk of plastic. (Turns out the plug requirement doesn’t work as planned. But it did ruin the toy gun industry.)

The Zapper isn’t exactly a realistic toy gun, but acting with its usual overabundance of caution, Nintendo went way beyond a barrel plug. Either way, I am proud to say that, to this date, no one has ever been shot and killed by a NES Zapper.

P.S. In January, I scanned a line drawing of the Zapper from the NES manual. You may enjoy that as well.

[ From Video Games & Computer Entertainment, January 1991, p.50-51]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Do you think someone could rob a bank with a NES Zapper? What about in the 1980s?


See Also:
NES Zapper Diagram (Retro Scan, 2015)
Model No. NES-001 (Retro Scan, 2010)
NES Oddities
Inside the Nintendo Entertainment System

Virtual Boy Turns 20

Friday, August 21st, 2015

Virtual Boy on a Swing

Nintendo released the Virtual Boy 20 years ago today in North America (on August 21, 1995). I wrote an article about the creation of the Virtual Boy for FastCompany, which was just published today.

I hope you enjoy it.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Vector Graphic Vector 1

Monday, July 27th, 2015

Vector Graphic Inc. Vector 1 computer system advertisement - 1977NOW AVAILABLE IN RUST

The Vector 1 (1977) was the first complete computer system sold by Vector Graphic, Inc., a California-based firm founded by Lore Harp (now McGovern), Carole Ely, and Bob Harp in August 1976.

The Vector 1 included an Intel 8080A or Zilog Z80 CPU, and it utilized the S-100 bus introduced by the Altair 8800. In an unusual nod to aesthetics, the Vector 1 shipped in two case color options: green or “rust,” which was Vector’s name for orange. It retailed for for $849 fully assembled (about $3,288 today when adjusted for inflation) or $619 as a kit.

It just so happens that I wrote an article about the history of Vector Graphic for FastCompany recently. You may enjoy it.

[ From Byte Magazine, February 1977, p.61]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever owned an S-100 based computer? Tell us about it.