VC&G Anthology Interview: Ed Smith, Black Video Game and Computer Pioneer

February 22nd, 2017 by Benj Edwards

Ed Smith, Black Video Game Pioneer of APF ElectronicsIn 1978, APF Electronics introduced the MP1000, an early cartridge-based video game system. It wasn't a smash hit like offerings from Atari, but it carried within its faux woodgrain housing a hidden kernel of cultural brilliance: The console would not have existed without the work of an African-American electronics engineer named Edward Lee Smith (b. Nov 4 1954).

I first learned about Ed Smith while researching Jerry Lawson, one of the first known African-Americans in the video game industry. Not long after Lawson did his pioneering design work on the Fairchild Channel F in Silicon Valley, Smith began a similar task on the opposite side of the country, crafting his on his own contributions to the industry while at APF in New York City.

VC&G Anthology BadgeAs part of a small engineering team, Smith helped design the MP1000 and its plug-in computer expansion module, the Imagination Machine. That work got him noticed by Black Enterprise magazine, and in 1982, Smith and Lawson were both interviewed for a feature written by S. Lee Hilliard about the roles African-Americans had played in the video game revolution, which was a hot business topic at the time.

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David H. Bunnell (1947-2016)

October 19th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

David H. BunnellIn Memoriam: David H. Bunnell (1947-2016),
tech media pioneer, founder of PC World, PC Magazine, and Macworld

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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 Review: Areaware Windows Solitaire Cards

August 26th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Areaware Windows Solitaire Cards Jokers Photos by Benj Edwards

No, you're not seeing things. These are actual physical playing cards designed to look just like the classic Microsoft Solitaire card faces — the same faces Microsoft used for its Windows-based card games between 1990 and 2007.

Just this month, home decor vendor Areaware began selling the cards, which were produced with the help of the cards' original graphic designer, Susan Kare (and with the blessings/license of Microsoft).

Kare is best known as the designer of the original Macintosh fonts, icons, and interface elements. She also created most of the icons for Windows 3.0, which was the first version of Windows to ship with Microsoft Solitaire. Along the way, she ended up designing the Solitaire cards too.

Excited as I always am for computer nostalgia, I eagerly bought a pack of these new cards as soon as they became available, and I put them through the ultimate test: a game of real desktop Klondike solitaire.

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[ Newsbits ] June 29, 2016

June 29th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

VC&G Newsbits Newspaper Logo

VC&G Newsbits Logo

Vintage computing and retrogaming news small enough to eat.

I've recently received a big influx of news, announcements, and press releases, so I thought I'd bring Newsbits out of cold storage and use it to share everything all at once.

Recent News

  • Producer of The Oregon Trail Donates Collection to The Strong

    It's wonderful to see this stuff preserved, as always

    A group of former employees from the Minnesota Educational Computing Corporation (MECC) recently donated an extensive collection of materials to The Strong museum documenting the history of the pioneering company from 1973 to 1996. The collection includes hundreds of pieces of software, internal documents, and press clippings.
  • EveryMac.com Turning 20 Years Old

    Brock Kyle recently let me know that his essential Apple info site is turning 20 this Saturday. Quite an accomplistment!

    Established in 1996, EveryMac.com is the complete guide to every Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPad and Mac clone in the world, with technical specs, configuration details, system identifiers, performance benchmarks, and global pricing info.
  • Atari Video Documentary Project Needs Support

    They've assembled some incredible footage so far; would be a shame to see this disappear

    This 100 minutes long documentary about the Atari story will feature a list of unreleased interviews with the key people of these events, including a very rare one with Warner VP Manny Gerard and a unique one with Atari CEO Ray Kassar, the man held responsible for Atari success and the video game industry crash at the same time, who never appeared in a documentary before.
  • YouTube Gamer on a Quest to Play 1001 Games Hits 100th Episode

    Quite a project

    My name is Gaming Jay. I'm a retro gamer who started a challenge this past year to play through a book called '1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die.' Each week I’ve been playing 2 games and recording my gaming sessions and uploading them to YouTube. I have also recently developed a new website to document my journey with written summaries to supplement my YouTube videos.
  • iOS Camera App with Retro Filters Released

    Neat iOS camera app that simulates vintage graphics

    I created Famicam64, an 8bit RetroGaming style Camera app. Famicam64 lets you take photos with 40+ real-time filters that emulate the nostalgic look of retro computers (and games) of the 80s and 90s. CGA, EGA, VGA, Hercules and old PC graphic modes are all there, as well as style emulating home computers and handheld consoles (C64, Spectrum or Gameboy etc. etc.).
  • Secret History of Mac Gaming Book Seeks Funding

    It's a niche subject, but a story worth telling

    The Secret History of Mac Gaming is the story of those communities and the game developers who survived and thrived in an ecosystem that was serially ignored by the outside world. The work draws on archive materials as well as 60+ new interviews with key figures from Mac gaming's past.
  • Cool Links

  • Circuit Classics Boards Re-Create Classic Forrest Mims Designs

    Very, very creative electronics project from Star Simpson

    Forrest M. Mims III is a trusted name in the electronics world for good reason: his charming and engaging texts have drawn millions of people into the world of electronics for the first time. I am bringing some of those hand-drawn circuits projects to life by creating an exquisitely designed series of finely crafted and highly detailed boards. These are the Circuit Classics.
  • NES Coffee Table on Etsy

    VC&G reader Ben Winchester built a NES-shaped coffee table; it's up for sale on Etsy.com

    I wanted to show this to you because I feel this piece is truly unique and original to me. I got my start by replicating your NES DVD player and then moving on to putting my own twist on the NES coffee table, and now I think I have created an original design.
  • Artist Re-Creates Classic Byte Cover in Photo

    Bob Alexander turns Tinney's train illustration into a photo composition

    I've just completed an art project that was inspired by Robert Tinney's painting "Computer Engineering" for Byte magazine. That's the one with a train chugging around a printed circuit board. I made a printed circuit board that resembled the one in the painting, photographed it, and Photoshopped a picture of an HO scale model train onto it.
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    The Strangest Classic Mac Peripherals I Have Ever Seen

    November 3rd, 2015 by Benj Edwards

    10 DAYS OF VINTAGE: Day 2

    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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    [ Retro Scan of the Week ] APF Imagination Machine

    July 13th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

    APF Imagination Machine APF-M1000 computer advertisement - 1980I'm not sure I'm ready to take such a big step, APF.

    I once did a slideshow of game console-to-computer upgrades, and the APF Imagination Machine figured prominently in the list. That's because it was a combination of the APF-M1000 home video game system and the "IM-1," which was a large keyboard/speaker dock with a built-in cassette tape player (for program storage and retrieval).

    What an odd machine. To my knowledge, the M1000 was the only video game system based on the Motorola 6800 CPU, which is one of the grand-daddies in the microprocessor world (first released in 1974).

    While neither the console nor the computer fared well commercially, this distinctive advertisement leaves a positive impression. It was brilliantly playful and colorful for a computer ad of the time (1979; this particular scan of the ad comes from 1980).

    [ From BYTE Magazine, July 1980, p.43]

    Discussion Topic of the Week: Best console add-on of all time?

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    [ Retro Scan of the Week ] Connectix VideoPhone

    December 29th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

    Connectix VideoPhone video chat software QuickCam advertisement - 1996Even black and white was amazing once

    Once upon a time, companies tried to achieve video phone calls using non-networked, proprietary point-to-point devices such as the AT&T VideoPhone 2500 (RSOTW, 2010) — almost all of which utilized traditional telephone lines or ISDN.

    Then the Internet came along and blew the field wide open. Suddenly, video chat could happen over any data transfer medium that supported TCP/IP, and it could be routed around the world to any node on the Internet. Connectix's VideoPhone software (circa 1995) was one of the first consumer video chat products to take advantage of the Internet. Using the software and the company's QuickCam digital camera (arguably the world's first webcam), folks could video conference all over the world — albeit in black and white.

    For more on the history of video phones and video chat, check out this piece I created for Technologizer back in 2010.

    [ From Internet World - February 1996, inside front cover]

    Discussion Topic of the Week: When was the first time you ever made a video call or did video chat?

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    Macworld Magazine (1984-2014)

    September 10th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

    In Memoriam: Macworld Magazine, print edition (1984-2014)

    Today I found out that Macworld will cease to be a print magazine and that many of my friends and colleagues have been laid off. Macworld.com will continue to exist, albeit with a relative skeleton crew.

    It's very sad to see a day like this come (especially when I still look forward to a new issue of Macworld coming in the mail every month — one of the last print publications I read), but all things must come to an end. It is amazing, in retrospect, that Macworld magazine remained a constant, intelligent voice amid the chaos of a rapidly churning computer industry for thirty years.

    Thirty years. Think of all the change that has happened in that time — the tech uphevals, the revolutions, the fall and rise of Apple, the Jobs-as-Phoenix, and rapid spread of the Internet — and through it all, Macworld has been there.

    So thank you, Macworld, for serving the Mac community so well. And thanks to its staff in particular. I'd especially like to express my gratitude to Roman Loyola, Jason Snell, Dan Moren, Dan Frakes, Dan Miller, and Philip Michaels (among many others) for their wonderful work on the publication, and their genuine humanity, decency, patience, and fairness (sometimes rare qualities in an editor) through the years.

    Roman Loyola, in particular, has been my go-to guy to get my — nay, our — particular brand of Apple history work pushed out to the world, and I am immensely grateful to have worked with him.

    The talent pool of editorial labor laid off from Macworld today is immense, and other publications would be fools not to snatch them up as quickly as they can.

    As for me, I've been contributing to the publication since 2008. As long as Macworld.com is still around, I might still write things for it. (Completely gutting a publication of its beloved veteran staff doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the future, however.) Time will tell. Until then, it's been a great ride.

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    [ Retro Scan of the Week ] iMac G4 Memories

    September 8th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

    Apple iMac G4 debut advertisement - 2002White on white. Amazing that it shows up.

    On the eve of a potentially large and impactful reveal of new Apple products, I thought it an opportune time to take a look back at this now-12-year-old debut advertisement for the iMac G4. And to wax nostalgic about Apple product events.

    The ad itself is clean, white, minimalistic, and so modern-feeling that I think it would work very well, unchanged, as a print advertisement today.

    As for Apple product launches, I've been closely following them since the debut of the original iMac in 1998. (As an aside, I remember telling my dad to buy Apple's stock when it was $14 a share in late 1997 — not long after Steve Jobs had returned to the company — and he scoffed at me.)

    For the next five years after that first iMac launch, the excitement of unexpected new Apple products seemed to build relentlessly, each one seemingly trumping the last. There was the Power Mac G3 (blue and white), the iBook, the Power Mac G4 Cube, then, of course, the iPod (although nobody really knew what a big deal the iPod was at the time).

    Then came the iMac G4, and I had to have one. Prior to that, I had last used a new Mac in 1987-88 with the Macintosh SE, but our family had been Windows-centric since then (today I use OS X, Windows, and Linux almost equally). After much pestering, I convinced my dad to loan me the cash to buy the high-end iMac G4 model with the 800 MHz CPU and the DVD-burning SuperDrive.

    Unlike any machine before or since, it felt like I was buying a complete computing experience. Coupled with a newly revised version of OS X (10.1, I believe), it felt like a new era of computing was upon us. Keep in mind I was coming from the "must reinstall every year, crashes every 10 minutes" world of Windows 98.

    The iMac G4 design turned heads; its release was truly a watershed event in Mac history that brought a lot of "switchers" from the Windows world. I showed that thing off to everyone, taking it into my dad's office to demonstrate it to folks there, and I even invited my mailman (a confessed Mac fan, as I had learned from prior conversations) to come inside one day while he was dropping off a package to try it out.

    I used that iMac daily for email, iChat, photo management, and web browsing until around 2006 when the already overtaxed machine couldn't keep up with modern websites. Today, it sits proudly on a desk in my office, ready to be called to duty for whatever PowerPC-era Mac task I might throw at it.

    By the way, if you're interested in learning more about the iMac G4, I wrote an article about the machine — one of my personal favorites — for Macworld back in 2012.

    [ From Esquire - June 2002, rear cover]

    Discussion Topic of the Week: What new Apple product were you most excited about when you first heard of it?

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