March 3rd, 2014 by Benj Edwards
Tags: Retro Scan, Visual, Visual 1050, terminal, IBM PC, MS-DOS, CP/M, Kaypro II, PC clones, Z80, advertisement, Personal Computing, 1983
"The complete professional solution at an unbeatable price."
I've never owned a Visual 1050 Personal Computer System (seen here), but I have an old Visual brand terminal that uses the same (or a very similar) keyboard. That's the first thing that comes to mind when I see this, because it's a distinctively wide, flat keyboard.
The 1050 sported a Z80 CPU and ran the CP/M operating system, the grandfather of MS-DOS. Curiously, even though CP/M was a popular platform for business computers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I only have a a handful of pure CP/M-based machines in my collection. (My favorite such machine is probably the Kaypro II.)
In regard to the chart in the advertisement above, it's interesting to note that it was pretty easy to undercut IBM, price-wise, not long after the IBM PC came out. Fast advances in IC design allowed computer makers to inexpensively cram more functions (think serial, parallel, game ports, disk controller, graphics card, etc.) directly onto motherboards instead of offloading them onto separate plug-in cards. While the 1050 was not an IBM PC clone, true PC clone makers took advantage of this effect to hollow out the inside of IBM's hold on the PC market from the bottom up.
[ From Personal Computing, November 1983, p.40-41]
Discussion Topic of the Week: Do you have a favorite machine that runs CP/M?
November 4th, 2013 by Benj Edwards
Tags: Retro Scan, IBM, PS/1, monitor, instructions, MS-DOS, disk drives, mold, 1994
Step 1: Plug the monitor into the computer.
This roughly 7″ x 10″ sheet came packed with my brother's 486SX 25MHz IBM PS/1 computer, which my dad bought him right before he started college. (Ah, the days when 486 was king.)
We were still installing programs off 5.25″ floppies then, and boy was that an adventure when the PS/1 insisted that its 3.5″ floppy drive was drive A:. Most programs assumed that drive A: in MS-DOS was always a 5.25″ drive (with the 3.5″ drive, if present, being drive B:), which screwed up many install scripts when you had to install off a set of 5.25″ disks.
What the sheet shows is almost mind-numbingly self-explanatory — how to hook the monitor up to the computer. It reminds me of these ridiculous USB plug-in instructions.
By the way, I left the authentic mold stains on the scan because I think they add character. The back of the sheet is blank.
[ From IBM PS/1 pack-in notes, circa 1994 ]
Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever owned an IBM brand computer when it was new?
May 8th, 2013 by Benj Edwards
Tags: Fuzzy Memory, ascii art, ascii banner, printout, memorial, help, IBM
Just today I received an email asking for help in producing an ASCII-art style printed banner for a memorial service that will take place this Saturday, May 11th, 2013. They will be honoring a lifetime IBM veteran who passed away recently at the age of 69.
I have a few ideas on how to do it, but I'm short on time this week, so I'm hoping someone out there can help her. Here is her email (posted with permission):
Hello. My uncle recently passed away quite unexpectedly at the age of 69. We are holding his memorial on Saturday, May 11th. I have been racking my brain on a way to honor him at his memorial. My uncle was a lifetime IBM employee and computer pioneer.
In 1979, when I was 9 years old, he gave me a banner for my birthday. It was from the old dot matrix printers. It had a silhouette of Snoopy on the top of his dog house and it said "Happy Birthday Chimene". I literally thought it was the coolest thing. This was before home computers and home printers for our family. The letters were made with x or o or maybe dashes. Because my brain had no conceptual framework for the world of computers, I literally wondered if it was created by magic.
I would like to have one of these made for my uncle for his memorial. Do you have any idea how I could go about getting this done? I am not tech savvy so I would love to find someone that can do this for me and do it quickly. I know that there would be no better way for me to honor my uncle and I am desperate to find a way to get this done. Any help you can provide would be so greatly appreciated.
Post your suggestions or offers to help in the comments, and Chimene will keep an eye on them. I'll pass along your email address (leave it in the comment form) if she wants to contact you further.
[Update - I helped Chimene construct a banner using "banner" for *nix systems and an old Snoopy ASCII art drawing. She later sent me a photo of the print-out, which she used at the service. ]
April 9th, 2013 by Benj Edwards
Tags: computer art, art, woman, IBM, AN-FSQ/7, SAGE, 1956, pin-up, scan, Lawrence Tipton
Back in January, I wrote an article about the world's earliest known figurative computer art for The Atlantic. It it is also likely the world's first digital computer artwork as well.
(Check out this timeline of computer art history to get an idea where this piece fits in.)
The only known physical record of this circa 1956-58 pin-up diagnostic, which ran on SAGE computer systems, comes from a Polaroid photograph snapped by U.S. airman Lawrence A. Tipton in early 1959. Tipton retains the original print, although it will likely go to a museum soon (more on that when it happens).
The digital image of the photo used in my Atlantic article was provided by Tipton to a SAGE historian over a decade ago. It was previously the highest-quality version of the photo I had access to, and that posed a few problems. Someone (likely Tipton himself) had hastily retouched the image, removing various scratches, and it was not presented in a high enough resolution to examine in detail.
To remedy that, Tipton was kind enough to make a high resolution scan of the original print and mail it to me on CD-ROM back in February. With his permission, I am providing the high-resolution scan of the pin-up console photo unretouched and unmodified below so that (a) others may learn from it and (b) to ensure that our only record of this important achievement in art is not lost.
[ Continue reading High-Res Scan of the World's First Digital Computer Art » ]
January 14th, 2013 by Benj Edwards
Tags: Retro Scan, Apple, MacCharlie, Macintosh, IBM PC, IBM, Dayna Communications, Mac accessories, system adapter, advertisement, Byte, 1985
I'd like to have heard Steve Jobs' reaction when he first saw this.
Long before Boot Camp and Parallels, if you wanted to run IBM PC compatible software on your Mac, you had to strap on this unholy contraption — the Dayna Communications MacCharlie.
If I recall correctly, the MacCharlie was essentially an IBM PC clone in a beige box that hooked to the Mac's serial port. As a result, the Mac merely served as a serial terminal for the MacCharlie via custom terminal software running on the Mac. That's not a particularly efficient setup, but the lack of expansion ports on the original Macintosh meant that there was no other reasonable point of entry.
Since it worked through the serial port, the MacCharlie could only run text-based MS-DOS applications. Conveniently, the MacCharlie shipped with a keyboard extender that added the IBM PC's special function keys and a numeric keypad to the Macintosh keyboard.
[ From Byte Magazine, April 1985, p.71-73 ]
Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever used a hardware system adapter (something that lets you use software from one platform on another through hardware, not software emulation) for any computer system?
January 11th, 2013 by Benj Edwards
Tags: Retro GIF, scanners, video capture, video digitizers, Jim Maxey, Event Horizons BBS, BBS, GIF, IBM PC, EGA, T-EGA, Videotex, NAPLPS, Videotex Systems, Bob Gillman
Click to see other views of this image: [ Original Size ] [ 2X Zoom ]
From 1983 to 1996, James "Jim" Maxey operated a very successful Oregon-based BBS called Event Horizons. Through that board's file section, Maxey made available thousands of GIF images in many categories, from landscapes to pornography, that he had created using a video digitizer board and conversion software called T-EGA.
Bob Talmadge wrote an excellent profile of Jim Maxey's BBS years for his site BBSDays.com. I recommend reading it if you're interested in learning more about Maxey's BBS. Also, Jack Rickard of BoardWatch magazine mentioned Maxey's early 1990s image-related BBS activities in an article he wrote for Wired issue 1.04 in 1993.
The early and pioneering nature of Maxey's color graphics files for IBM PC computers ensured that his digital pictures, which he called "MaxiPics," spread far and wide to other BBSes at the time. This is one such picture, and it depicts a house and yard in autumn. The 640 x 350 EGA format file dates from 1987 and was likely captured from a video source — more on that in a moment.
[ Continue reading [ Retro GIF of the Week ] Digitized Autumn Leaves » ]
December 25th, 2012 by Benj Edwards
Tags: Christmas, Prodigy, online service, modem, IBM PS/2, memories, IBM, Zoom, BBS, MadMaze
An angle-corrected close-up view of Prodigy's front page on Christmas 1992.
Twenty years ago today, I awoke with anticipation and ran downstairs. It was Christmas morning, and I could hardly wait to open my presents.
One of those presents turned out to be a connection kit to Prodigy online service, which I had been begging my father to buy for most of the year. 1992 was the year I jumped head-first into computer telecommunications by calling local BBSes. I became fascinated with modems and wanted to explore their every possible application.
That Christmas morning, my dad was on hand to document my first experiences with Prodigy using the family Sony Camcorder. I have captured various stills from that video, and I am posting them here to share a small slice of the Prodigy experience in 1992.
Unfortunately, my computer at the time, the IBM PS/2 Model 25 (which my dad purchased new circa 1987 and later became a hand-me-down to me), came equipped with a monochrome monitor. So the glory of Prodigy Christmas 1992 in color is sadly now lost to history (well, unless someone else out there can find some color screenshots of Prodigy on Christmas 1992).
[ Continue reading Prodigy 20 Years Ago Today » ]
November 5th, 2012 by Benj Edwards
Tags: Retro Scan, Semidisk, SSD, IBM PC, S-100, Byte, 1985
This IS your daddy's SSD.
Back in January, I traced the evolution of the Solid State Drive from its 1978 origins to the present in a PC World slideshow. From that experience, I learned that SSDs, as a product class, were far older than most people realize.
Case in point: Seen here is an advertisement for a 1985-era SSD called the SemiDisk. The company behind this early SSD, SemiDisk Systems, sold a wide range of "disk emulators" (as they were called back then) for platforms like S-100 bus systems, the TRS-80 Model 2, and the IBM PC. All of them used solid-state RAM chips to achieve read and write speeds far beyond those of rotating platter drives at the time.
The 2 megabyte SemiDisk for the IBM PC retailed for $1,795 in 1985. That's about $3,860 today when adjusted for inflation. Amusingly, at that vintage price rate — about $1,930 per megabyte — a 256 GB SemiDisk SSD would cost over $494 million today. Yep, that's a 494 followed by six zeroes.
Of course, you can buy a 256GB flash-based SSD right now for under $180. Not bad.
[ From BYTE, September 1985, p.329 ]
Discussion Topic of the Week: When did you buy your first solid state PC drive? How big was it?
July 23rd, 2012 by Benj Edwards
Tags: Retro Scan, Canon, Canon AS-100, IBM PC, IBM, Intel, 8088, business machines, Popular Computing, 1983
The good, the bad, and the obscure.
There's a vast wilderness of little-known business micros that have long been overshadowed by the IBM PC and its brethren in the history books. Seen here is one such machine, the Canon AS-100, which sported an Intel 8088 CPU but was not an IBM PC clone (in other words, it could run MS-DOS, but was not hardware compatible with the PC).
Machines like this one tend to get overlooked historically because they were very expensive (this machine retailed for $3495 in 1983, or about $8,052 today) and they deviated from the emerging business standard of the IBM PC compatible. With those two elements combined, they sold relatively poorly — and, being business-oriented, they also never became notable gaming platforms (enthusiasm for retrogaming brings a lot of attention to certain classic PCs that otherwise might have been forgotten).
Speaking of gaming platforms, the color capabilities of this machine look amazing for 1983. I wonder if anyone ever did write a game for it that took advantage of those high-end graphical specs.
[ From Personal Computing, November 1983, p.36 ]
Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the most obscure computer model you've ever used? Something that you think no one has ever heard of.
July 16th, 2012 by Benj Edwards
Tags: Microsoft, IBM PC, Macintosh, hardware, freelance work, slideshow, PCMag
Microsoft's recent announcement of its Surface tablet line has brought a lot of attention to the history of Microsoft's hardware products. Unfortunately, most accounts of that history are sorely lacking, rarely going beyond Microsoft's involvement in PC peripherals like mice.
I thought I'd remedy that gap in history by digging back into the past and bringing to light a forgotten era of Microsoft hardware — all of which, it just so happens, launched in the 1980s.
The result, "The Secret History of Microsoft Hardware," is now live over at PCMag.com. I hope you enjoy it.