[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Ceiling Fan Robot

November 9th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

CasaBlanca Fan Company Casablanca 1985 Robot Intelli-touch world's first computerized ceiling fan advertisement - 1985Play it again, Samtronic

I ran across this ad for CasaBlanca's Intelli-Touch, "the world's first computerized ceiling fan," in a 1985 issue of Home magazine that I found in my mom's house.

My mother has subscribed to house decorating magazines for as long as I can remember, and Home is only one of many (other examples: Better Homes and Gardens, Southern Living). I never thought that I'd feature a scan from one, though.

But this ceiling fan ad was too fun to pass up. It reflects a time when you could slap the term "computerized" on any electronically-controlled consumer product (even if it didn't actually have a computer inside, which was often the case) and use it as a marketing angle.

The robotic take on Humphrey Bogart's classic film reminds me of those famous Maxell ads. Perhaps the same people were responsible for both campaigns? I don't know, but frankly, this would have terrified me if I had seen it as a kid. Luckily, I found it when I was 34, so I'm only slightly afraid.

[ From Home, May 1985, p.3]

Discussion Topic of the Week: If you woke up one day and everyone looked like a metallic, boxy robot, what would you do?

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The Strangest Classic Mac Peripherals I Have Ever Seen

November 3rd, 2015 by Benj Edwards


It's a famous story: Under the direction of minimalist Steve Jobs, Apple designed the first Macintosh to be a security-screwed box that kept internal hardware upgrades away from users' hands. He wanted to keep things simple and user-friendly, but the limited memory capacity (128K) and fixed nature of the first Mac held the platform back significantly during its first year on the market.

Apparently, that inspired companies to create batsh*t crazy peripherals for the machine.

That's because, with a sealed box, Mac hardware upgrades could only come in the form of external, plug-in peripherals. Here are six of the strangest ones I've ever come across in all my Macintosh-Related Virtual Online Reading and Researching Travels (or "MRVORRT" for short).

Honestly, these are not necessarily bad or useless peripherals. They're just strange. You'll see what I mean.

[ Continue reading The Strangest Classic Mac Peripherals I Have Ever Seen » ]

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VC&G Anthology Interview: What Makes a Video Game? A Short Conversation with Nolan Bushnell (2011)

October 23rd, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Nolan Bushnell HimselfBack in 2011, I wrote an article about the creation of Nutting Associates' Computer Space on the occasion of its 40th anniversary. If you'll recall, Computer Space was the world’s first mass-produced and commercially sold video game. It started the video arcade game industry.

While researching the piece, I conducted extensive telephone interviews with Ted Dabney and Nolan Bushnell, the co-creators of the game (who went on to become the co-founders of Atari). During my conversation with Bushnell, we touched upon some other topics too — when you have a guy like Bushnell on the phone, you tend to ask whatever you need when you have the chance.

VC&G Anthology BadgeWhile looking through the transcript of that 2011 interview again recently, I came across a section near the end where Nolan and I talked about what it really means to be a video game. During our conversation, Nolan hit on something that I think is rather profound, yet completely obvious in hindsight. I thought other folks might find our conversation, and its resulting conclusion, interesting.

I've kept this transcript nearly verbatim because I feel it reflects the spontaneous, free-flowing nature of the conversation. We were talking as he was driving home from a business appointment, so he was slightly distracted at the time.

[ Continue reading VC&G Anthology Interview: What Makes a Video Game? A Short Conversation with Nolan Bushnell (2011) » ]

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Metadata and The Well-Loved Floppy Disk

October 12th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Apple IIe Floppy Disk Label front and back elephant computer systems Never forget hand labeled floppy disk 5.25 diskAn elephant never forgets. [Front]

Apple IIe Floppy Disk Label back and back Elephant Computer Systems Never forget hand labeled floppy disk 5.25 diskNot a September 11th floppy slogan. [Back]

There's a lot of information crammed onto this Elephant Computer Systems floppy disk, and I don't mean the digital data. It's overflowing with external, physical clues and markings that show how it has been handled and used over its lifespan. Archivists call this "metadata" — that is, data about the data — and it is often lost when things are digitized.

The most obvious pieces of metadata from the labeling on the disk are about who manufactured it ("Elephant Computer Systems"), its optimal capacity ("single-sided, single-density") and intended usage ("soft sector"). If you familiarized yourself with the technical specs of the floppy drives of computers available in the 5.25″ floppy era, you could rule out a few systems. That could be useful if other platform-betraying clues were absent on the disk.

Another obvious set of metadata comes from the presumed contents of the disk, which we can infer from the printed file directories taped to the disk jacket. Again, if one were familiar with the program names in the listing, one could point to a specific computer platform. (In this case, the printout looks like a DOS 3.3 "CATALOG" listing from the Apple II.)

Let's take a step deeper into the less obvious metadata presented to us by this artifact. From visually inspecting the disk, we can tell (among other things):

[ Continue reading [ Retro Scan of the Week ] Metadata and The Well-Loved Floppy Disk » ]

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Windows 95 Gaming

August 24th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Pitfall Mayan Adventure Windows 95 PC Game advertisement - 1995If swinging on vines was a good idea, everybody would do it

20 years ago today, Microsoft released Windows 95, the GUI-based operating system that launched Microsoft as a commercial Juggernaut into the mainstream consciousness. That's because Windows 95 was accompanied by what was likely the largest marketing push for an OS to date (no sources cited, just my brain), and it created a minor media frenzy. People actually lined up to buy Windows 95.

Windows 95 initiated a new epoch in PC gaming, courtesy of the then-completely new DirectX system of gaming APIs. DirectX made it easy for developers to create powerful, hardware hungry games that ran natively (and smoothly, CPU permitting) on Windows. (Windows nerds will recall that it followed up on the similar, if under-utilized, WinG API for Windows 3.11.)

The very first third-party Windows 95 game ever released commercially (to my knowledge — at least, it was promoted this way) was Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, a 1990s reboot of the classic Atari 2600-era platformer Pitfall!. Here is an ad for that game around the time of its debut in August 1995.

That being said, while I am a fan of Pitfall! and Pitfall II, I have never liked The Mayan Adventure. Seems too hard and not fun. Of course, your mileage may vary.

[ From Computer Gaming World, September 1995, p.117]

Discussion Topic of the Week: How did you feel about Windows 95 when it came out? Did you upgrade?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] IBM's Bizarro Alt-Reality PC

June 29th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

IBM Instruments Computer System advertisement - 1983The IBM Instruments Computer System

What a strange machine. The IBM Instruments Comptuer System was a completely modular 68000-based PC with its own custom OS (CSOS, according to Wikipedia, which stood for "Computer System Operating System" — ???). It also utilized Motorola's rarely-seen Versabus bus architecture. The ICS was aimed at scientific and engineering use, and it launched in 1982 — the year following the launch of the IBM PC 5150.

Has anyone used or seen one of these? This is an oddity of oddities. Thank goodness the IBM PC didn't end up like this.

[ From BYTE Magazine, February 1983, p.116-117]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the first IBM brand computer you ever owned (even when collecting)?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Get Your Start in Color Computing with the TRS-80 MC-10

May 11th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Radio Shack TRS-80 MC-10 micro color computer catalog page - 1984SMALL ENOUGH TO FIT IN A DINOSAUR SHOE

I've owned a TRS-80 MC-10 since at least 1996 (according to this photo), so it holds a nostalgic place in my collection. It's a really neat little machine despite its limitations (chief among those problems? Tiny chiclet keyboard). But Radio Shack designed this machine as a low-cost entry-level PC for the home, so most of of those issues can easily be overlooked.

The MC-10′s price at the time of this catalog printing had slipped to just $79 (about $178 today when adjusted for inflation). For comparison, the Apple IIc (a far more sophisticated machine, but typical for a home PC at the time) retailed for $1295 upon its introduction that same year (that's a whopping $3,688 today). Price wise, that's similar to the difference between buying a low-end Windows 8 tablet and a Mac Pro. The technological difference was not nearly that dramatic, however.

Perhaps the coolest thing about the MC-10 is that you can now download software for it over the Internet in the form of audio files and load them into the MC-10 via its cassette port. Check out this site for an awesome array of homebrew MC-10 games.

[ From 1984 Radio Shack TRS-80 Catalog (RSC-11), p.59]

Discussion Topic of the Week: If you were stuck on a desert island and you could only use a TRS-80 MC-10 or a Sinclair ZX81, which would you pick?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Game Boy Lemmings

May 4th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Psygnosis Ocean Lemmings for Game Boy advertisement - 1993Biggest Lemming I Ever Seen

My brother received the IBM PC port of Lemmings as a gift (probably for Christmas) in the early 1990s. It made a distinct impression in my young mind, with its vivid VGA graphics, a playful MIDI soundtrack, and charismatic little creatures that you could bid to do your every whim.

I have never played the Game Boy version, but this ad caught my eye.

When I wrote a feature about the most ported games of all time for 1UP.com back in 2007, Lemmings featured prominently with ports to 28 systems up to that point in time. What can I say — Lemmings is a classic.

[ From Electronic Gaming Monthly, November 1993, p.48]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the best Lemmings-like or Lemmings clone game? (Other than Lemmings, of course — The Humans and Baldies come to mind.)

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] MicroProse Gunship

April 6th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

MicroProse Gunship Commodore 64 advertisement  - Compute's Gazette - 1988The Ultimate Helicopter Eclipse Simulator

[ From Compute's Gazette for Commodore, December 1988, p.7 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Other than Civilization, what is the best MicroProse title of the 1980s and 1990s?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] HI-RES ADVENTURE #4: Ulysses and the Golden Fleece

March 23rd, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Sierra On-Line Systems Ulysses and the Golden Fleece HI-RES ADVENTURE #4 Adventure Game Apple II Atari 800 advertisement  - Compute - June 1982HI-RES ADVENTURE #4

[ From Compute!, June 1982, p.15 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite static-screen graphical adventure game of all time?

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