[ Retro Scan ] HP 95LX

August 30th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Hewlett-Packard HP 95LX HP-95LX Handheld Computer Pocket Computer Palmtop PC User's Guide Cover scan - 1991HP-95LX: Like a computer-shaped cookie that you can't eat

In case you didn't know, the HP 95LX is a small, portable IBM PC compatible machine running a full version of MS-DOS that ran off of two AA batteries. It marked the beginning of HP's palmtop computer line, which I wrote about recently in a slideshow for PCMag.com.

The HP 95LX is special to me in particular because I've had one for over 20 years now. My dad bought the machine slightly-used from a friend not long after it came out. After fiddling around with it for a while, he gave it to me, and by 1993, I had it in my collection.

Using an RS-232 serial cable my dad built for me, I managed to transfer some MS-DOS programs to it (a few text-mode games mostly, and a few HP 95LX apps I downloaded from CompuServe), that I remember taking to school and using once or twice just for kicks. I also used that serial cable to hook the 95LX to a modem so I could call BBSes with it.

The worst thing about the 95LX — aside from its 1/4 CGA screen that doesn't let you run many MS-DOS apps — is that if you don't have a plug-in memory card, you lose all your saved data on the RAM disk if it runs out of batteries. Sure, it has a backup coin cell battery (or maybe two), but if that runs out, you're out of luck. The PC Card-like memory cards cost a lot of money back in the 1990s, so I never had one until recently.

Still, it's an amazing little machine. Very capable — if you have the patience to use it. A few years later, HP got everything right with the 200LX, which is still a popular portable MS-DOS machine among certain diehards today.

[ From HP 95LX Users's Guide, 1991, cover ]

Discussion Topic: Did you own a palmtop PC in the 1990s? Tell us about it.

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

January 18th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

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?

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VC&G Interview: Felicia Day — Actress, Author, and Geek Advocate

November 10th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Felicia Day Interview Headshot10 DAYS OF VINTAGE: Day 10

One week ago, I had a chance to talk to Felicia Day, an American actress who has gained considerable renown for embracing her geeky side.

In 2007, Day created a pioneering web TV show called The Guild that focused on a group of disparate characters in a World of Warcraft-like MMO who are nonetheless bound together by their devotion to the game — and to each other as teammates.

After launching The Guild, Day went on to co-star in Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, an award-winning musical miniseries crafted especially for the web. She has also acted in shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, and Eureka.

Just this year, Day released a memoir called You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), that I read from cover-to-cover in a few days and enjoyed immensely. In it, she talked about growing up in the American South, her gaming habits, embracing her geeky nature, and creating The Guild.

With that book in mind, I thought it would be fun to ask her some questions about her early computing and gaming habits. Along the way, we touch on the philosophy of genius and celebrity, and whether it's safe to do an interview while you're driving a car.

I hope you enjoy it.

This interview took place on November 4, 2015 over the telephone.

[ Continue reading VC&G Interview: Felicia Day — Actress, Author, and Geek Advocate » ]

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] VINTAGECOMPUTING.COM

November 2nd, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Benj Edwards Vintagecomputing.com Vintage Computing and Gaming domain name registration Network Solutions June 2000"I REPEAT, THIS IS NOT AN INVOICE"

Although Vintage Computing and Gaming turns 10 years old today, I actually registered the "vintagecomputing.com" domain name back on June 8, 2000. This is what Network Solutions sent to me in the mail. I was only 19 years old — now I'm 34. Time flies.

It wasn't the first domain I'd ever registered, but it was an early one. I wanted to use vintagecomputing.com for an online computer museum that would show off my vintage computer and video game collection. I never got around to creating that.

Another project got in the way of all of those plans, and I ended up working on music at Request-A-Song.com instead until October 2005.

I finally put my vintagecomputing.com domain to good use — over five years later — when I decided to make a blog on that fateful day in November 2005.

[ From Networks Solutions Domain Registration Letter, June 13 2000]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the first domain name you ever registered?

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Musician Shooter Jennings Launches New BBS Door Game

September 28th, 2015 by Josh Renaud

[ After hearing exciting news about a new BBS door game, I invited BBS door historian Josh Renaud of Break Into Chat to write up a post about it for VC&G. — Benj]

My name is Josh Renaud, and I run a BBS wiki and retrocomputing blog called "Break Into Chat." I love old BBS door games, and I'm also fascinated by the ways today's sysops are doing new things with old technology.

I'm here to tell you about a new BBS door game launching today. Its author is none other than Shooter Jennings, son of country music legend Waylon Jennings.

Shooter's new game is called From Here to Eternity, and for the last several weeks, he has been beta-testing it on his BBS, which is called "Bit Sunrise."

I first encountered Jennings when I came across his question on Reddit's /r/bbs: "If I made a door game for money would you play it?"

I'm not into country music, so the username "ShooterJennings" didn't mean anything to me. But his question grabbed my attention. I wanted to know what he had in mind. A "freemium" pay-to-play model? A registration fee for sysops like the old days? No. Jennings wanted users to pay a small fee to join his game. Then they would compete to win a jackpot.

We had some back and forth. He told me he had come across Break Into Chat, and had been blown away by one of my ANSI game demos. So I looked him up. It was my turn to be blown away. Jennings has a successful music career. He's appeared in movies and on TV.

I wanted to know why he was spending time writing a new BBS door game, so I interviewed him at length about From Here to Eternity. Jennings explained how writing the game helped him through the loss of a close friend, and how important retrocomputing is to him (he started with an Apple IIe as a kid).

It's a fascinating story. And his game is pretty cool too.

To play it, you can access Bit Sunrise BBS and play the game over the web using a browser-based client at bitsunrise.com. Or if you want a slightly more authentic experience, then fire up a terminal program like SyncTerm, and telnet to bitsunrise.com.

In an email announcing the game's launch, Jennings promised that "the first player to pass through The Coil (the final gate) with all 20 artifacts will receive 1 Bitcoin (~$240) sent directly to their Bitcoin wallet!"

The game will last for 30 days, or until someone wins the game.

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Heretic

October 28th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Raven Software Id Software Heretic Advertisement Ad - 1995Killing the DEAD has never been so much FUN!

The Gothic fantasy atmosphere of Heretic excited me when id Software first published it as shareware episode in 1994. Either someone uploaded the game to my BBS or I downloaded it from another, but either way, I quickly found myself enveloped in a modem-to-modem online co-op Heretic session with a friend.

Fast forward 18 years later, and I played Heretic again — this time, the entire game (and again, co-op). The first episode is OK, but the level design for the others is incredibly tedious and disappointing. I can see now that it is a very mediocre game. But when first released, following hot on the heels of Doom, people loved it.

[ From Computer Gaming World, September 1995, p.61 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite Doom engine game?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Remembering My Dad

September 23rd, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Benj's Birthday FaxBenj's Birthday Fax

In 1993, I was heavily into BBSes and all things telecommunications, so my dad, an electronics engineer, lent me his old fax machine to set up in my bedroom. I hooked it to the second phone line in the house (used for my BBS at the time) so I could send experimental faxes to it from my dad's office.

On my 12th birthday, just over 20 years ago, this particular fax came in as a surprise. It was a happy birthday note written by my dad. Receiving my very own fax (probably my first one) delighted me at the time, and I tucked it away for safe keeping. It was one of the most thoughtful personal notes my dad ever wrote to me.

Earlier this year, just after my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I re-discovered the fax in a box of childhood mementos. Being printed on thermal paper, it's now heavily faded, but the message of love, acceptance, and encouragement it conveys is still strong. It represents some of the best things about my dad.

He is the reason I'm here — both in a literal, existential sense, and also as the enabler of my passion for technology. Growing up, if I wanted to experiment with something, he made it happen. If I was curious, he was curious with me. We shared thousands of tech adventures together, and that made him an awesome dad.

Yesterday morning, my father passed away after a 9 month bout with that terrible disease. There will be no more tech adventures between us, and that breaks my heart. But there's a new generation coming up, and I will do my best to continue his legacy of encouragement and gentle guidance with my own kids, who already possess a passion for technical and mechanical things like their grandpa.

Thanks, dad. For everything.

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Revisiting Hotline, the 1990s Internet BBS Platform

April 2nd, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Hotline Revisited

Back in the mid-late 1990s, an Internet-based BBS platform called Hotline sprung up and quickly spread throughout the Macintosh community. It was basically a client/server BBS software suite that allowed for multi-user chat, file transfers, and message boards.

By the early 2000s, though, Hotline had mostly died out. Today, only a handful of servers remain. But guess what? You can still connect to them — on Windows or a Mac. A new article I wrote for Macworld, "Hotline Revisted," tells you how.

Have fun. Remember to be kind to the Hotline veterans when you visit.

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[ Retro GIF of the Week ] X-Men's Colossus BBS Ad

March 8th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Colossus X-Men Retro GIFClick to see other views of this image: [ Original Size ] [ 2X Zoom ]

In ye olden days, BBS sysops often tagged image files that came within their possession with makeshift ads for their BBSes, as can be seen here on this image of Marvel's Colossus. The BBS in this case is "The Users's Choice BBS," which sysop Martin Scolero ran in Indianapolis, Indiana between 1990 and 1996. (That info is courtesy a historical BBS list created by Jason Scott.)

[ Continue reading [ Retro GIF of the Week ] X-Men's Colossus BBS Ad » ]

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[ Retro GIF of the Week ] Twin Chinese Dragons

February 1st, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Apple I Smithsonian 1992 Retro GIFClick to see other views of this image: [ Original Size ] [ 2X Zoom ]

This week we're taking a look at another image that made the rounds in the BBS days, DRAGON6.GIF. In it, we see two digitally illustrated Chinese dragons who appear to be springing forth from a magical stone. Iridescent waves crash around them, and smoke curls throughout an ethereal void. The color palette is rich and bold, underscoring the image's Eastern art influence.

At the moment, the artist behind this amazing work of digital art remains unknown. Still, we can narrow down when the image was made and how by taking a look at its resolution, color depth, and file date.

[ Continue reading [ Retro GIF of the Week ] Twin Chinese Dragons » ]

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