Remembering Ralph Baer (1922-2014)

December 8th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Ralph Baer, inventor of TV video gamesIn Memoriam: Ralph Baer (1922-2014),
co-inventor of TV video games and the home video game console

Our dear Ralph. What a man. 92 years old. A life full of technology, audacity, and gumption (with equal measures wise prudence). He died on December 6, 2014 at his home in Manchester, New Hampshire. May he rest in peace.

Just summarizing Baer's biography with keywords sounds impressive: Germany, Nazis, Kristalnacht, WWII Service, small arms expert, Lee De Forest, TV technician, Sanders, engineering, Apollo, inventor of TV video games, game console, Odyssey, cable TV, patents, Simon, toy inventor. The list could go on and on. He achieved quite a bit and lived a very full, very fulfilling long life.

Ralph Baer at Sanders, Circa late 1960sOf course, he is most well known for inventing the concept of television video games and co-inventing, with William Rusch and William Harrison, the world's first video game console during his time at Sanders in the mid-late 1960s. The prototype console that the trio finished in 1968 later became the Magnavox Odyssey (1972), the world's first commercial video game console.

But there was much more to the man, and I count myself lucky to have known him.

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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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Andrew Kay (1919-2014)

September 4th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Andrew Kay, founder of KayProIn Memoriam: Andrew Kay (1919-2014), founder of KayPro
and inventor of the digital voltmeter

The Kaypro II (1982), sold by Andrew Kay's company, was one of the earliest vintage computers I added to my collection (and my first CP/M machine) way back in the early 1990s. Its high-quality components, including its sturdy metal case, its integrated serial and parallel ports, its full-sized keyboard, and its sharp 9-inch green-screen monitor made it a joy to use. And man, it had an 80-column display, which made it a competent word processing machine even in 1994.

With everything integrated, the Kaypro II was a truly plug-and-play machine at a time when other systems required hooking up chains of various peripherals to get things done. With the KayPro II, you folded down the keyboard, plugged it into an outlet, inserted a disk, and flipped it on. It was an island oasis in a sea of endless computer cords.

Andrew Kay's achievements were great (among his other works, he invented the digital voltmeter in 1952). He will be missed.

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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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Douglas C. Engelbart (1925-2013)

July 3rd, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Doug Engelbart RIPIn Memoriam: Douglas C. Engelbart (1925-2013)
Inventor of the Computer Mouse, Computer Pioneer

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MadMaze-II Now Hosted on Vintagecomputing.com

February 19th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

MadMaze-II Title Image

In 2006, I wrote about a version of the classic Prodigy game MadMaze that had been adapted for the web by Russell D. Brown, an electronics engineer based in Rome, New York.

Just today, a commenter on that original post (thanks Joshua) let me know that Russell Brown passed away last year on July 1st. That means his implementation of MadMaze-II is now offline.

(Please note that the original author of MadMaze, Greg Costikyan, is still alive and kicking as far as I know.)

Luckily for all of us, I asked Russel Brown back in 2011 to share his MadMaze-II code with me in case his version of the game ever went down. He complied, and I have just now set up a fresh copy of his adaptation on this web server at the following address: http://www.vintagecomputing.com/madmaze/.

The game still requires Internet Explorer 5 or up, and it seems to work in IE 9 for me. Brown programmed the game in such a way that obfuscated its function to prevent cheating (he even incorporated a copy protection scheme), so at the moment I have no idea how to successfully modify it if players find any bugs. But if you encounter any problems, please feel free to let me know, and I'll have a look.

Have fun in the maze. And may Russell Brown rest in peace.

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Aaron Swartz (1986-2013)

January 14th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Aaron Swartz RIPIn Memoriam: Aaron Swartz (1986-2013)
Software developer, Internet activist
(Photo: Daniel J. Sieradski)

Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. (source)

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Jerry Lawson (1940-2011)

April 11th, 2011 by Benj Edwards

Jerry Lawson creator of Fairchild Channel F and Black Video Game PioneerIn Memoriam: Gerald A. Lawson (1940-2011), black video game pioneer.

I am very saddened to announce the passing of a truly important figure in the history of video games. Jerry Lawson died Saturday morning, April 9th, 2011, at the age of 70.

Lawson was notable not only for being a rare African American electronic engineer in Silicon Valley, but also for leading the team that created the world's first ROM cartridge-based video game console. I speak, of course, of the Fairchild Channel F, which hit the market in August 1976.

Lawson did an interview for this site in 2009, and I am proud to say that the feature brought this amazing man some long overdue recognition. The IGDA honored Lawson's contributions to the industry during an informal session at this year's Game Developer's Conference on March 4th, 2011.

I heard the news of Lawson's death only this afternoon from David Erhart, a personal friend of Lawson. Erhart tells me that he and Lawson were planning to go to a ham radio swap meet Saturday morning, but he received a call from Jerry's wife on Friday night telling him that Lawson was in the ICU. The next morning, his wife phoned Erhart again to say that Lawson had died.

The cause of death is unknown to me at the moment, but I do know that Lawson struggled with severe diabetes for years. An obituary for Jerry is in the works, and I will post an update whenever I receive it (or a link to it).

Rest in peace, Jerry. Thank you for all you've done for us. History will not forget your name.

[Update (04/14/2011) - David Erhart was told by Lawson's family that Lawson died of a heart attack. "He was feeling bad Wednesday afternoon/night as was taken to the hospital," Erhart wrote in an email. "He then died at 6:15am Saturday morning." This New York Times obituary quotes Lawson's wife as saying that Lawson died from "complications of diabetes."]

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