Discussion Topic of the Week: Other than Civilization, what is the best MicroProse title of the 1980s and 1990s?
From the land of exotic Apple II accessories comes the Information Appliance SwyftCard, a plug-in peripheral card that gave the Apple IIe a built-in suite of ROM-based productivity tools, all unified around a novel scroll-based [PDF] user environment called SWYFT.
SWYFT was the brainchild of former Apple employee Jef Raskin, who originally spearheaded the Macintosh project. After disagreements with Steve Jobs over the direction of that project, Raskin left Apple and founded Information Appliance, Inc. (consequently, Jobs took the Mac project in a completely new direction).
The SwyftCard originated as an Apple IIe-based prototype for a dedicated machine centered around Raskin's SWYFT environment, but it proved so effective and compelling that it became its own product. The dedicated concept would later emerge as the Canon Cat in 1987.
SwyftCards are very rare (I've never seen one in person over 20 years of collecting Apple II hardware), so Apple enthusiast Mike Willegal has provided instructions for building your own. Pretty neat!
P.S. I emailed this ad to Steve Wozniak (who is featured in the ad) and he said, "Cool reminder!"
Discussion Topic of the Week: Jef Raskin vs. Steve Jobs: Who do you identify with the most?
Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite static-screen graphical adventure game of all time?
Discussion Topic of the Week: Total up all your personal computer storage you have in use, right now, in gigabytes (local site only, not cloud). How much data storage do you currently use at home?
Ah, the good ole days when you had to pay $535 (that's $1,744 in today's dollars) for the privilege of merely being able to hook a printer to your home computer. What can I say — it was a useful feature.
My first computer, an Apple II+, came equipped with a Grappler+ printer card (from the previous owner), although I can't recall ever using it. Instead, I printed school reports by that time from whichever family MS-DOS machines we had at the time, each of which included a built-in parallel port for printer use.
What a great day it was when I switched from a noisy dot matrix printer to the that awesome Canon Bubblejet we had. Silent printing! And the day we got our first full-color photo capable HP inkjet printer around 1996. It was pretty low resolution, but still amazing.
Today, I don't print much. I have a color laser copier in service to reproduce scanned documents (in lieu of a copy machine) in case I need a hard copy of something — usually a form or contract — to mail.
Discussion Topic of the Week: Do you regularly print anything from your computer these days? What do you print?
Mega Man 8 remains notable in my mind for its resistance to polygonal 3D graphics at a time when the media perceived that as a requirement for sales success (in the PlayStation-dominated console era). I remember renting it and being impressed by its fluidity and gameplay, although it was too difficult and frustrating for me to play for more than ten minutes in a sitting.
But then again, all the side-scrolling Mega Man games have been that way for me. I'm still partial to Mega Man 2, 3, and X, though.
Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite entry in the main-line Mega Man (1-10) series?
Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you use a TRS-80 or Tandy computer of any kind back in the day? Tell us about it.
In September 1990, Kodak announced a brand new system for storing and viewing photographs: Photo CD. At a time when Compact Discs represented the vanguard of consumer electronics technology, Kodak capitalized on the excitement by blending digitized photos with a custom CD format.
Kodak designed that format for viewing through special a Kodak CD Player device (think DVD player for still photos) that hooked to a standard TV set. Using such a player, one could view the digitized photos via a virtual slideshow.
With a base image resolution of 512 x 768, Photo CD was far from an archival medium. It tried to offer convenience, but instead ended up adding needless cost and encumbrance to the photo viewing process. In an era before most people were equipped to view, edit, or print digital photos from a PC, the fact that the photos came in an electronic format did not add anything notable to the experience. Predictably, adoption of the Photo CD system never gained much steam. (Wikipedia's article on Photo CD has some pretty good additional analysis of why Photo CD never took off.)
I personally remember encountering a Kodak Photo CD player in either a photography store or a Radio Shack as a kid. I thought it was amazing — your own photos on a TV set! But my dad, an experienced photographer, never bought into the system.
P.S. For more CD history, check out my Compact Disc 30th Anniversary article that I wrote back in 2012.
Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you ever use the Kodak Photo CD service or own a Photo CD player?
The Super NES / Genesis era coincided with a second golden age of third-party video game controllers and peripherals (the first golden age being the Atari 2600 era). If you browse through the Retro Scan archives, I'm sure you'll see quite a few.
One of the stand-out gimmicks of this era arrived courtesy of Triax Technologies: the Turbo Touch 360. Representing a series of controllers for various platforms (SNES, Genesis, and NES with IBM planned, but I'm uncertain if it launched), the Turbo Touch line relied on a touch-sensitive pad in lieu of a traditional D-pad.
Using the touch pad, you didn't have to physically push down on the D-pad to register movements; instead, you lightly slid your finger over the cross-shaped touch pad, sort of like a laptop touch pad. Ideally, this should result in quicker movements, but it could also result in more errors.
There was another supposed benefit to the touch pad technology as well. This 1993 Chicago Tribune article positions the Turbo Touch as a cure for game-induced thumb blisters (at the suggestion of Triax's marketing staff, as the article suggests).
I've heard a lot about people getting thumb blisters over the years while playing video games, but I've never actually seen it happen. That's because I've only heard about it through game peripheral advertisements. Such blisters are plausible, of course, but you'd have to push down on the D-pad very hard and rub it around over a long period of time. Maybe my thumb skin is just tough or something, but it's never been a problem for me.
(Full disclosure: I did get a blister in the middle palm of my hand by rapidly rotating a Suncom Slik Stick over and over for about an hour while playing Decathlon for the Atari 2600 in the early 1990s)
I'm not saying that no one ever got a thumb blister from playing a video game, of course (do a Google search) — just that it wasn't the epidemic that companies like Triax have led us to believe.
Call me skeptical, but I wouldn't be surprised if the the video game thumb blister meme originated as a marketing angle in an era that aimed to be loud, raw, and edgy (think "Play it Loud", Sega scream, etc.). What could be edgier than actually getting physically injured while playing video games? That's intense!
I actually own a Turbo Touch 360 pad for the Genesis that I never got around to trying for some reason (I bought it at a thrift store when my Genesis was packed away). Right now I have no idea where it is. Perhaps I should dig it out and put the promise of touch-fueled gameplay to the test.
Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever gotten a blister from playing video games? Tell us how it happened.
Plenty of companies experimented with pocket and handheld computers in the early 1980s. Among them we must count HP, which introduced its HP-75C in 1982.
I peronally own an HP-75D (the successor model of this machine) that allows use of a bar code wand. I bought it on eBay around 2000, messed around with it a few times, and I think it's been sitting in a box or a closet since. I couldn't get into it, for some reason, like I could my TRS-80 Pocket Computer. Perhaps it's time to revisit the 75D and try again — if it still works.
Discussion Topic of the Week: Are you a fan of HP calculators? Which model is your favorite?