A Jedi Builds His Own Weapon

December 6th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Benj

I've been playing around with making my own custom joysticks recently. Just yesterday, I built this Atari VCS-compatible unit you see above using a Sanwa arcade joystick assembly and two Sanwa arcade buttons, both of which are available on Amazon.

I also used an old Bud project box from my late father's things for the housing, some screw-in rubber feet on the base, a cord from a non-working Atari CX40 joystick, and some scrap steel inside to give the stick more weight and heft.

I built it mostly so I could have a 4-way only joystick for maze games on the Atari 800. (The Sanwa joystick is switchable between 4-way and 8-way upon installation.) The result is absolutely incredible either handheld or set on a table, and my high score in Nibbler has gone through the roof.

On this joystick, both buttons do the same thing, although my next Atari model will probably have three buttons — one for fire, one for up, and one for down so I can play Asteroids on the 800 like a pro.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Benj's Apple II Notes

February 1st, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Benj Edwards Apple II+ AppleSoft BASIC handwritten programming notes scan - circa 1990 or 1991An authentic, Coke-stained programming reference

I'm sure I've told this story somewhere else — probably about five times at this point, but here it goes again. When I was maybe 9 or 10 (in 1990 or 1991), my dad bought me a nice Apple II+ setup from someone at the local hamfest for about $100.

(I recently found the original handwritten price tag for that machine, which you can see here. I said about $100 because haggling was common, and he may have actually paid $70 or $90 for it. It's worth noting that $100 was a lot of money for an old computer back then, and it commanded that price because it was perceived as still being useful at the time. Later, used Apple II prices sunk, then went back up again as they became collectible.)

As I learned to program BASIC on the machine using Apple's fairly well-written AppleSoft programming manuals, I began to make a list of frequently-used programming techniques that I could easily reference.

It was my dad's idea — and he was very big into making notes, dating papers, and documenting things. However, I found that handwriting cramped my hand because I didn't hold a pencil properly, so I absolutely hated it. And yes, that gave me trouble in school. But I can still remember my dad's words now. It was a familiar conversation:

"Write this down: Initialize prepares a new disk."

"Ok, dad."

"WRITE IT DOWN."

Obviously, I did as he instructed, then continued to add to the list over the following days. Not long after creating it, I taped the notes to my desk right beside my Apple II+. There they stayed for at least a few years as I continued to tinker with BASIC.

Eventually, that desk (made out of a hollow, uncut door laying across two shelf pillars) got so nasty with stickers and writing that it went to the dump. Just before it departed, I peeled my BASIC note off and stuck it in my files. There it stayed until I rediscovered it just last year in some old papers.

As dirty and Coke-stained as the note is today, I am glad I still have it. At the risk of stretching a metaphor, it's a little bit like rediscovering an old friend that helped me through a tricky period of my life. At the very least, I will always remember PR#6.

[ From Benj Edwards personal handwritten AppleSoft BASIC notes ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the first programming language you ever used? How old were you?

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Dad's Christmas Art

December 21st, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Benj's Dad homemade Christmas Xmas art drawing computer art KoalaPad KoalaPainter Atari 800 Polaroid print - 1985A Christmas Tree in the Window

Back in the day, my dad bought a KoalaPad drawing tablet for our Atari 800. Perhaps that very December — in 1984 or 1985, he drew this scene of the front of our house at Christmas time, complete with a view of our Christmas tree through our living room window. So proud was he of his creation that he snapped a photo of it with a Polaroid camera, and that's the print I am showing to you now.

Merry Christmas from Vintage Computing and Gaming!

[ From Personal Polaroid SX-70 print, ca.1985, front ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you draw any Christmas art on your computer when you were a kid? Tell us about it.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Dad's Halloween Card

October 26th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Personalized custom homemade Print Shop Halloween greeting card - circa 1984-85Happy Halloween from 1984

My family has this way of saving everything. Not through conscious, organized preservation, but by virtue of never throwing anything away.

In that vein, I was digging through some old papers at my mom's house after my father passed away in 2013, and I came across this homemade Halloween greeting card.

From the looks of it, my dad made the card for me and my brother using Broderbund's Print Shop on the family's Apple IIc. It is printed on a single sheet of 8.5″ x 11″ paper; one is supposed to fold it in half twice to achieve a gatefold design with a front, inside, and back. Click the image above to see the whole thing unfolded — the other side is blank.

As for who colored it with crayons, I'm guessing I did (perhaps my dad or brother did it neatly, then I gave it a once-over with a brown squiggly line). What a great momento from the home PC era. Happy Halloween!

[ From Personal scan of homemade Halloween card, ca.1984-85]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever made a personalized greeting card using your computer? Tell us about it.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] IBM PS/1 Imagination System

September 14th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

IBM PS/1 Imagination System Box Scan Photo - 1994IBM and Disney go together like peanut butter and petroleum jelly

Just before my brother left for college in the fall of 1994, my whole family went shopping for a new PC to send off to school with him. We made our way to an IBM PC factory outlet near Durham, NC. Upon walking in to the store, I remember being amazed by rows of 20-foot tall warehouse-style shelves, each one stacked with large boxes for IBM PC systems. A salesman met us at the door and apparently steered my father toward this: the IBM PS/1 Imagination system. I guess it was a good deal.

The machine itself came equipped with a 25 MHz 486-SX CPU, 4 MB of RAM, a 2400 BPS modem, and a Disney Sound Source (a sort of primitive SoundBlaster that plugged into the parallel port). Unlike earlier PS/1 models, this one shipped with MS-DOS 6 and Windows 3.1. It also came with a suite of pre-installed Disney software that my brother promptly deleted.

My dad also bought an unusual IBM-brand external ISA CD-ROM drive that required its own peripheral card. There wasn't enough room in the PS/1 case for a CD-ROM drive and a 5.25″ floppy.

After college, my brother took this machine to work with him as a programmer, and he used it there until it was long outdated — probably until 1999 or so. It now rests safely in my collection, although the hard drive is now shot, and I think the power supply is fried too. Almost a decade ago, its rubber feet chemically decomposed into the most abysmally black and sticky tar that you can imagine. I need to restore the machine.

Just recently, I found the rather large shipping box for this computer sitting in my mom's attic. Today, it holds miscellaneous housewares. This "scan" is actually a perspective-corrected photo of the side of that box (here is the original photo).

[ From IBM PS/1 Imagination System Box, ca. 1993]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What computer did you take with you to college?

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The NES Zapper Diagram

January 5th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Nintendo NES Zapper diagram from Super Mario Bros. Duck Hunt Instruction Manual - circa 1988Plug it in, plug it in. (click for full image)

I love retro line art diagrams; this one has to be one of the best.

These two pages from the US Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt instruction manual (you can see both pages if you click on the image above — the small two dots in the middle are holes for a staple) illustrate the proper way to plug the Zapper light gun into your "Nintendo Entertainment System Control Deck."

Much fun can be had from doing that, of course — although I spent many hours in my youth cursing the laughing dog. My dad was first in our family to try to shoot the canine as he giggled at our Duck Hunting failure. Sadly, you can't.

NES Action Set Release Date

By the way, I've seen some sources say that the NES Action set, which first debuted the combo SMB/Duck Hunt cartridge, saw its first US release in November 1988. That is definitely not true, because my brother first got an Action Set for his birthday in June 1988.

Seeking to clarify this, I just did a newspaper archive search and found mention of the "Just Arrived" NES Action set in the April 14, 1988 edition of the Ukiah Daily Journal (from Ukiah, CA, of all places). That means the Action Set was available as early as April 1988.

So take dates you see on the Internet with a grain of salt unless they are coupled with a strong source (or better yet, collection of sources) behind them.

[ From Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt manual, 1988, p.23-24]

Discussion Topic of the Week: In your opinion, what's the best Zapper game for the NES?


See Also:
Disk Box Modern Art (RSOTW, 2014)
Simple IBM Instructions (RSOTW, 2013)
USB Instructions (RSOTW, 2013)
Game Boy is Twenty (RSOTW, 2009)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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, Kristallnacht, 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.

[ Continue reading Remembering Ralph Baer (1922-2014) » ]

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Warning Signs of Computer Dad Syndrome

September 23rd, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Computer Dad SyndromeDuring the 1980s, a debilitating disease broke out among white middle-class nuclear families across the United States. Fathers everywhere were seen awkwardly encouraging their children during regular activities — often while playing video games or using personal computers.

Thirty years later, doctors have finally identified this malady as Computer Dad Syndrome (or "CDS" for short), which manifests itself in spontaneous episodes of uncomfortably becoming someone's dad for the duration of a photography shoot.

Diagnosis of this condition is contingent upon the appearance of three or more of the following symptoms.

Clutching of the upper arm

Clutching of the upper arm

[ Continue reading The Warning Signs of Computer Dad Syndrome » ]

Tags: , , , , , , ,

[ 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?

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] My CompuServe Password

June 17th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Benj's CompuServe Password - 1993I still love my dad's handwriting.

Here it is, folks: My CompuServe Information Service password that I used from 1993 until the late 1990s: "Needy-Sacred".

Feel free to log in as me the next time you get a chance. (I kid.)

"Needy-Sacred" is an almost magical combination of words for me — probably because it bounced around my mind so often in the 1990s. It has a tension to it; a phrase at odds with itself.

I didn't make it up, though. CompuServe assigned random combinations of two words (with a dash in the middle) as user passwords, and this is the hand I was dealt.

Well, "we were dealt" would be more accurate. This is the original note paper my dad used on February 21st, 1993 to write down the password to our new CompuServe account, which he set up for use with his business.

Heavily into BBSes at the time, I became the primary user of the account (surprise surprise). Soon his company often asked me — even as a young teenager — to relay international emails to and from Germany for them since I knew how to use it. Ah, those were the days.

The Encounters Forum was my favorite place to hang out. That, and the Atari Forum. GO ATARI.

[ From Personal note from Benj Edwards' collection dated 2/21/1993]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Tell us your best CompuServe stories.

Tags: , , , , , ,