Ed Smith and the Imagination Machine

September 2nd, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Ed Smith and the Imagination Machine

Just today, FastCompany published my in-depth history of Ed Smith and APF Electronics.

APF was responsible for several video game consoles in the 1970s (like the MP1000) and a personal computer called The Imagination Machine. Ed Smith was the primary electronics designer for the MP1000, and he has quite a story to tell.

I think you guys will really enjoy the piece.

Thirty-seven years ago, New York-based APF Electronics, Inc. released The Imagination Machine, a hybrid video game console and personal computer designed to make a consumer's first experience with computing as painless and inexpensive as possible.

APF's playful computer (and its game console, the MP1000) never rivaled the impact of products from Apple or Atari, but they remain historically important because of the man who cocreated them: Ed Smith, one of the first African-American electronics engineers in the video game industry. During a time when black Americans struggled for social justice, Manhattan-based APF hired Smith to design the core element of its future electronics business.

What it took to get there, for both APF and Smith, is a story worth recounting—and one that, until now, has never been told in full.

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

November 2nd, 2015 by Harry McCracken

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 » ]

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The Invention of the Video Game Cartridge

January 22nd, 2015 by Benj Edwards

The Untold Story of the Invention of the Game Cartridge

Three and a half years ago, I started writing a history of the Fairchild Channel F, the world's first commercial game console to use software cartridges. As part of the research, I first interviewed two Fairchild veterans to follow up on my 2009 interview of Jerry Lawson.

As I kept digging, the rabbit hole of history went deeper and deeper, and the story turned out too complex and nuanced to properly research for whatever venue I was planning at the time. Budgets were tight, and the economics didn't work out, so I had to shelve it.

Just last year, I picked up where I left off and did the rest of the legwork, summoning primary source documents from around the world (special thanks to ICHEG) and interviewing over 15 people who worked for Alpex, National Semiconductor, Fairchild, Atari, and RCA to piece together the most accurate portrait of the birth of the game cartridge that I could possibly manage.

The result was finally published last night — in a somewhat abridged format — on FastCompany.com with my friend and longtime collaborator Harry McCracken editing the piece.

What I have created sheds light on a heretofore completely unknown segment of video game history (especially regarding Alpex), and it is my hope that I have done so in a way that does justice to the achievement of those involved some forty years ago.

I am grateful to everyone who helped with my research — especially Ron Smith, the mechanical designer of the Channel F, who provided me with countless documents and a patient ear for all of my questions, and Wallace Kirschner and Lawrence Haskel, who decided to talk to the press for the first time ever for my piece.

There is more to the story than could fit in the article, but don't despair — it will probably end up as part of a book.

I hope you enjoy the piece.

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Benj's Oddities Series Returns with "PlayStation Oddities"

December 9th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

PlayStation Oddities

Last week marked the 20th anniversary of the Sony PlayStation's release in Japan. To celebrate, my old friend Harry McCracken (who now works at FastCompany) asked me if I wanted to bring my long-running Oddities series out of retirement. In short, I said "heck yes," and the result can be seen over on the FastCompany website.

This latest entry marks a change in format for the series: it is the first that is not a page-by-page slideshow. I made a bajillion slideshows between 2007 and 2012, and while they were fun to make, I am thankful that I have moved on.

So if you're a fan of the PlayStation, click through and check out some weird variations, accessories, and tributes to one of the most successful game consoles of all time.

All Entries in Benj's Oddities Series:

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[ Newsbits ] May 1, 2014

May 1st, 2014 by Benj Edwards

VC&G Newsbits Newspaper Logo

VC&G Newsbits Logo

Vintage computing and retrogaming news small enough to eat.

Recent News

  • See Atari's Buried Treasure: E.T. Among 30 Retro Games Unearthed In The Desert
    I never thought I'd live to see the day

    "The legend was true, but that's not all. Atari buried a lot of stuff back in 1983–and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

  • Andy Warhol's Amiga Computer Art Found 30 Years Later
    Always felt Amiga + Warhol was one of the more bizarre partnerships in computer history

    "The Andy Warhol Museum has recovered a set of images, doodles, and photos created by the seminal pop artist on a Commodore Amiga home computer. The artworks, made by Warhol as part of a collaboration with Commodore Amiga, had been stranded on Amiga floppy disks for almost twenty years after the artist saved them in the mid-1980s.

  • ICHEG Preserves Atari Coin-Op Divisions Collection
    It gives me great mental relief to know someone is doing this so well and so thoroughly

    "ICHEG has acquired a massive collection of materials chronicling the history of Atari's pioneering video arcade and pinball machine divisions from 1972 to 1999. The collection represents the largest and most comprehensive assemblage of archival records and other documentary items related to Atari's coin-operated games anywhere in the world.

  • Bob Hoskins, Actor Who Played Mario, Dead at 71
    Now both live-action Marios are gone

    "Bob Hoskins, the pugnacious British actor known for playing gangsters, tough guys and working-class gentlemen in such films as 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit,' 'The Long Good Friday' and 'Mermaids,' has died, publicist Clair Dobbs said Wednesday.

  • Fifty Years of BASIC, the Programming Language That Made Computers Personal
    Harry McCracken's epic study of BASIC on its 50th

    "Once upon a time, knowing how to use a computer was virtually synonymous with knowing how to program one. And the thing that made it possible was a programming language called BASIC.

  • A Short History of BASIC, as Told in Animated GIFs
    An animated supplement to McCracken's BASIC story above

    "I used a neat program called Camtasia and some post-processing in Photoshop to create animated GIFs capturing what I saw as I loaded some significant BASIC programs, listed the code and then ran it.

  • Sony Quietly Removes Ability to Download PSP/PS One Games Unlocked a Few Days Ago on PS Vita
    An update to last week's Vita story

    "A few days ago we reported about Sony suddenly unlocking a large amount of PSP games and PlayStation Classics for download and play on the PS Vita. Unfortunately its time to mourn, as that ability was quietly removed this morning. None of those games is available for download anymore.

  • Atari Landfill Tweet from Scott Weinberg

    "My generation buried those E.T. Atari cartridges for a reason. You're awakening something not even Lovecraft could imagine.

Cool Links

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If you want me to include something on a future Newsbits column, send me an email with "[Newsbits]" in the subject line.

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[ Newsbits ] April 17, 2014

April 17th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

VC&G Newsbits Newspaper Logo

VC&G Newsbits Logo

Vintage computing and retrogaming news small enough to eat.

Recent News

  • The New Age: Leaving Behind Everything, Or Nothing At All
    A piece about digital legacies from NPR

    "Perhaps in your attic or basement there is a box of papers — letters, photographs, cards, maybe even journals — inherited from a grandparent or other relative who's passed on. But what if that box isn't a box at all? What if it's an ancient laptop? And if we are starting to leave behind an increasingly digital inheritance, will it die as soon as the hard drive does?

  • Nintendo Embraces NES History in its Twitter Marketing
    I like this trend

    "Its time for #SpringCleaning! Did you find any forgotten gems while organizing your Nintendo gaming collection?

  • This 1981 Computer Magazine Cover Explains Why Were So Bad at Tech Predictions
    This piece from Harry McCracken at TIME gives a hat tip to the greatest magazine illustrator of all time

    "If you were passionate about personal computers between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s, the odds were high that you were a reader of Byte magazine. And if you read Byte, you were surely a fan of Robert Tinney, the artist whose cover paintings were one of the magazine’s signature features for years.

  • Solid Snake Pixel Art Graffiti
    Whoever did this is free to vandalize my office wall

    "Solid snake graff piece. I like the dude in the box. Nice touch…

  • Make Your Very Own "Game Boy Macro"
    Got a broken DS lying around? Chop off the top and you'll have a new system.

    "i personally first saw it on kotaku made by Maarten, from the Bureau voor Gamers. so i decided i would make a couple of my own because i had some brokens DS's laying around. decided to go with Macro, since its like a GB micro but huge.

  • Five Unemulated Computer Experiences
    Jason Scott makes a point about emulation nitpickers

    "While I and many others work to turn the experience of emulation into one as smooth and ubiquitous as possible, inevitably the corners and back alleys of discussions about this process present people claiming that there are unemulated aspects and therefore the entire project is doomed. I thought I would stoke that sad little fire by giving you five examples of entirely unemulated but perfectly valid vintage computer experiences.

Cool Links

  • The Lost Ancestors of ASCII Art
    Awesome piece I missed from January — by Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic

    "The history of ASCII art goes deeper, and much of it is told only in Geocities blog postings, abandoned websites, Google Books, and scattered PDFs across the web This post traces a fascinating and mostly lost strand of that history: The way thousands and thousands of people made typewriter art, from amateurs to avant gardists.

  • PabloDraw: A Modern ANSI Art Editor
    We don't need no steenkin' TheDraw. (link via @blakespot)

    "PabloDraw is an Ansi/Ascii text and RIPscrip vector graphic art editor/viewer with multi-user capabilities.

  • An Early English-Language Image Diplay from a Computer, 1957
    Dynamic text display on a CRT in 1957? Not bad.

    "The screen of the picture tube shown will present as many as 10,000 characters per second. Each character is formed by an array of bright spots, a selection from a rectangular array of a total of 35 spots, five wide and seven deep. For a capital letter T, for example, the selection is five spots across the top and six more spots down through the middle…

  • Pinterest Gallery of Ugly Computers
    One of Blake Patterson's amazing Pinterest boards

Submit News

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