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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[ Retro Scan ] TRS-80 on Christmas Morning

December 5th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 1 Computer Christmas Family Christmas Morning Christmas Tree advertisement scan - 1978"Santa left us Trash for Christmas, and we like it!"

Radio Shack always knew how to market at Christmas (see links below). In the 1970s and '80s, the firm produced more Christmas-themed computer ads than any other company in the US.

Here's one of the earliest ones from 1978. It features the company's first personal computer, the TRS-80, which first launched in 1977. After other models of TRS-80 computer came out, Radio Shack began referring to it as the "Model I."

But that wasn't the only name this pioneering computer earned. The original TRS-80 was the first personal computer my dad ever bought, not long after it launched. He found it frustrating, sold it, and later bought an Atari 800 for my brother — then hand-built an Apple II clone for himself.

Thereafter, my dad always referred to that first TRS-80 as his "Trash-80," which was a common nickname for the computer. It could double as a derogatory play on words or a beloved pet name, depending on whom you asked. For my dad, I suspect it was more of the former than the latter.

[ From Popular Electronics, November 1978 ]

Discussion Topic: What's the worst present you've ever received for Christmas?


See Also:

A Very TRS-80 Christmas (RSOTW, 2006)
Hot CoCo (2) for Christmas (RSOTW, 2007)
Give The Gift of TRS (RSOTW, 2009)
Santa's TRS-80 CoCo (RSOTW, 2014)

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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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[ 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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    [ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Micron Millennia

    August 11th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

    Micron Electronics Micron Millennia P120 PC clone advertisement - 1995Ah, the beige box era.

    What could $6,410.55 buy you 19 years ago? (That's $4099 adjusted for inflation.) Well, if you picked a Micron Millennia, you could get a 120 MHz Pentium CPU, 32 MB of RAM, a 1.6 GB hard drive, a 17-inch monitor, a 4X CD-ROM Drive, a SoundBlaster 16 sound card, 2MB 2D graphics card, a minitower or desktop case, a Microsoft mouse and keyboard, Microsoft Office, and Windows 95.

    That's a lot of stuff. And yet most people's smartphones today pack far, far more power and functionality than that in a pocket form factor with a 10 hour battery life. It's all about integration, baby. More functions in fewer, smaller chips. I love it.

    [ From ComputerLife - October 1995, rear cover]

    Discussion Topic of the Week: Tell us about one of your beige box PCs from the 1990s. Who made it, and what did it have inside?

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    [ Retro Scan of the Week ] Tiger Barcodzz Handheld

    June 24th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

    Tiger Barcodzz Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Handheld Electronic Game Ad - 1993DUUUDDE, BAAR CODZZZZ, MAAN

    Never played it, never wanted it. Amusing idea though. See also: Barcode Battler

    [ From Electronic Gaming Monthly, November 1994, p.163 ]

    Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever used a barcode gaming device?

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    [ Retro Scan of the Week ] Electronics Boutique Flyer

    July 30th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

    Electronics Boutique Used Games Wanted Reward Flyer Flier - circa 1994Cartridges, cartridges, cartridges.

    I found this Electronics Boutique flyer in my old files recently. It measures about 5.5″ by 8.5″ in size. Sometimes I'm glad I save everything, and other times, well…ask my wife.

    [ From Electronics Boutique flyer, circa 1993, front ]

    Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the worst deal you've ever received when trading in used games?

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    [ Retro Scan of the Week ] Hot CoCo (2) for Christmas

    December 17th, 2007 by Benj Edwards

    TRS-80 Color Computer 2 Christmas Ad

    As a sequel to last year's "Very TRS-80 Christmas," we have this ad for the TRS-80 Color Computer 2. I'm not sure what makes this model "better" than the first Color Computer (CoCo), aside from obvious: different keyboard, ugly case-retooling, and perhaps more RAM.

    Unfortunately, this unit ages to a nasty brown and its rubber-dome keyboard isn't much of an improvement (I still like the CoCo 1′s keyboard better). But at least Tandy saw it fit to advertise the unit with a Christmas theme, which is quite relevant to the season at hand.

    [ From Computers and Electronics, December 1983 ]

    If you use this image on your site, please support "Retro Scan of the Week" by giving us obvious credit for the original scan and entry. Thanks.

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