Today, PCWorld published the inaugural entry of my new column, This Old Tech. In the column, I will be writing about vintage gadgets, games, and computers — pretty much the same stuff I talk about on Vintage Computing and Gaming. So far, the plan is to publish a new piece every Friday.
For the first column, I talk about the first MS-DOS computer I ever learned to use, the Toshiba T1000 laptop. I still have the same machine from all those years ago, so aside from just waxing nostalgic, I also attempt to get it working again.
So spread the word — I am looking forward to exploring my personal tech history in this new column. I hope you enjoy it.
10 DAYS OF VINTAGE: Day 4
In early 2009, I undertook my most ambitious slideshow up to that point: The Ten Greatest PC Games of All Time for PCWorld.com.
After playing dozens of games, reading opinions on forums and blogs across the Internet, and consulting every previously published list of greatest PC games I could find, I made a rough list of about 50 games. Then I stuck them in a spreadsheet and rated them based on various criteria.
During the process, I also surveyed several well-known PC game developers (and Dan Bricklin) for their nominations of Greatest PC Games. I did the best I could, and of course, the result reflected one man's opinion. Here's what I came up with:
#10: TradeWars 2002
#8: The Sims
#6: Rogue: The Adventure Game
#3: Sid Meier's Civilization
#1: World of Warcraft
It pissed everybody off, of course.
(Well, just about everybody. Fellow journalist Jenn Frank and her mom liked it. But that was about it.)
Editors who had not been consulted were livid that I was apparently speaking on behalf of PC World with such an important-sounding list (not my intention), and people all around the U.S. were upset that I didn't include Half-Life or X-Com: UFO Defense.
Meanwhile, readers in the UK cried for blood and shouted, "Where is Tomb Raider??!!" I just scratched my head on that one — apparently it's a national classic over there.
It didn't help that my editor had changed the title to "The 10 Best PC Games Ever." After about two dozen angry comments, I got my editor to change it back to "greatest" — the difference being that I was going after influential and culturally important games — not necessarily the "best" games to play today. (I also regretted not making a title slide for that slideshow for the first time, so it always says "best" on there.)
The piece got syndicated on MSN and everywhere else, so the title change didn't propagate there. Hate seethed at me from all corners of the globe. I honestly don't enjoy making people upset, but man, it was fun to watch people go apeshit over a slideshow.
[ 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.
10 DAYS OF VINTAGE: Day 1
It's amazing to think back to a time when the now-common mouse scroll wheel was billed as a labor saving device.
But that is exactly what's going on in this early ad for Microsoft's Intellimouse and Intellimouse TrackBall. The Intellimouse series, first introduced in 1996, popularized the scroll wheel.
(By the way, the first mouse with a scroll wheel was actually the Mouse Systems ProAgio in 1995 — see this timeline I created in 2008 for more neat mouse history.)
A long time ago, people thought modernization and labor saving devices would lead to shorter workdays and work weeks. As someone once said somewhere (fuzzy attribution, I know), it turns out that productivity enhancements cease to be productivity enhancements as soon as they are ubiquitous. We just acclimate to them and expect more output for the same amount of work time.
Oh well. Keep on scrollin'.
Discussion Topic of the Week: When did you first get a mouse with a scroll wheel on it? How did you feel about it at the time?
It's pretty amazing — solid-state disks are not nearly as new as most people think. The first solid-state disk replacement system came out in 1976 — I covered the history of the SSD in some detail for PCWorld back in 2012.
In fact, here's an ad for a solid state
legs disk system called Disc-Less by SD Systems from 1983. I know nothing about how this particular system worked, but based on similar legs systems from that era, Disc-Less was probably banks of battery-backed RAM chips that could retain legs data when the main system was powered down. It also probably cost a ton of money.
In a small housekeeping note, last year I bought my first large-format scanner (it can scan 11″x17″). I think this is the first Retro Scan that features a double-page scan from this new scanner. (Prior to this, I digitally re-assembled by hand every double page scan.) It's also my first scan to prominently feature
legs the color pink.
Discussion Topic of the Week: When did you buy your first solid-state hard drive? What capacity was it?
Today, PC World published my latest slideshow, The Top 1000 Video Games of All Time.
The in-depth piece — split into 1000 separate slides, each with its own paragraph of text — took over two years to create.
You may be asking yourself how one person could create such an epic work. Well, I got a little help from custom algorithms I programmed partially in Haskell — and partially in Minecraft's redstone circuitry using Boolean algebra.
But I didn't just rely on computer wizardry. Much self-deliberation went into choosing the order of the items on the list. I argued with myself for hours while sitting on the bench at a local park, on the bus, and in the North Regional Branch of the Wake County Public Library. After being arrested 13 times (twice in the nude), I decided to perform future deliberations in the privacy of my own bathroom. I feel that it made the results more pure.
Here's a sneak peek at the bottom 11:
1000. Halo (Xbox)
999. Silpheed (IBM PC)
998. Sewermania (TI-99/4A)
997. Quadrapong (Arcade)
996. Section Z (NES)
995. Pooyan (Arcade)
994. New Super Mario Bros. (DS)
993. Popeye: Beach Volleyball (Game Gear)
992. Lloyd the Squirrel (???)
991. Snafu (Aquarius)
990. Descent (PC)
And here's a selection from somewhere near the middle:
555. Superman (2600)
554. Bioshock Infinite (PC)
553. Slipnosis (iOS)
552. Star Trek: Phaser Strike (Microvision)
551. Farmville (Flash)
550. Deadly Towers (NES)
As for the top 10, you may be in for a surprise. My Haskell program determined with scientific precision that the 10 greatest video games of all time are, in fact, different versions of Ms. Pac-Man:
10. Ms. Pac-Man (Apple iPod)
9. Ms. Pac-Man (Atari 2600)
8. Ms. Pac-Man (TI-99/4A)
7. Ms. Pac-Man (ColecoVision)
6. Ms. Pac-Man (Atari 5200)
5. Ms. Pac-Man (Atari 800)
4. Ms. Pac-Man (IBM PC)
3. Ms. Pac-Man (Intellivision)
2. Ms. Pac-Man (Arcade)
1. Ms. Pac-Man (Atari 7800)
Oddly, my redstone program placed Super Mario Bros. 3 in the top 10 seven times — that's how good it is. But I can't do the same game on the same platform in multiple spots, so I compromised. To see the full, final list, you'll have to check out the slideshow yourself. I hope you enjoy it.
And remember: unlike most of my previous ranked lists, I used computer algorithms to ensure its accuracy, so don't get mad if you disagree with the list. You're completely wrong.
Discussion Topic: What are your top 1000 video games of all time?
It's that time of year again: the Yuletide. In celebration, I thought I'd dredge through the VC&G archives for Christmas material and collect it all in one place. (I also did this last year, but I have updated the list of links with new material for 2012.)
Below you will find a list of everything Yule-flavored from this site and my offsite freelance work. There are a couple slideshow gems in there that you don't want to miss, so check those out if you haven't already.
I have a soft spot for Christmas, having been raised with the tradition, so this list is for me as much as it is for everyone else. After going through these things again, it's amazing to see how much Christmas stuff I've posted over the years. I hope you enjoy it.
Thirty years ago, Commodore Business Machines released the Commodore 64, an 8-bit home computer that served up early computer experiences for millions of users around the world. By some estimates, the little brown wonder sold as many as 17 million units during its 12 year lifespan, which means there are a lot of C64 fans out there.
In honor of both the machine and its fans, I recently locked myself in a room with the vintage machine for a week to put it through its paces and see if I could use it as a work machine. In the process, I tested it as a word processor, game console, and even used it to send a few tweets. I did it all with vintage hardware and software, so you'll find no Ethernet adapters or SD card drives here.
If, while reading, you feel anything is missing, that's because my article got quite a chopping — I did so much in my week with the C64 that the full report on my activities was way too long for publication. For example, sections on GEOS, my pirated disk collection, and more were dropped. Perhaps those will show up somewhere else in the future.
Still, the result should be quite a fun read for any vintage computing fan. I hope you enjoy it.
25 years ago, IBM introduced the Personal System/2 (PS/2), a computer series that brought VGA, PS/2 ports, 3.5″ floppy drives, and more to the world of PC compatibles.
In honor of this anniversary, I wrote an article about the first set of PS/2 computers (released April 1987) for PCWorld.com.
One of my first PCs was an IBM PS/2 Model 25 — the famous all-in-one IBM PC that found its way into many homes and schools due to its relatively low price. The Model 25 is not mentioned in the article, however, because it was not a member of the original April 1987 lineup (I believe it launched later that year).
I hope you enjoy the piece.