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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The IBM PC Turns 35

August 12th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Benj's IBM PC 5150

35 years ago today, IBM launched the IBM Personal Computer — the first-ever IBM PC. While it was simply called the "IBM Personal Computer" back then, we now know it more commonly by its model number, 5150.

PCWorld recently asked me to do something to celebrate this anniversary, so just a few days ago, I took apart my personal IBM PC 5150 and documented the process on my workbench. And back in 2011, I wrote some other articles about the IBM PC on the occasion of the machine's 30th anniversary.

In fact, I've done a lot of coverage of the IBM PC over the years, so I thought you guys might enjoy seeing a collection of all of them in one place. Here we go.

Features

IBM PC Retro Scans of the Week

IBM PC-Related VC&G Posts

There may be more lurking out there, but that's quite a bit of reading if you're interested in the IBM PC.

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] NandO.net - My First ISP

January 18th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Raleigh News and Observer Nando Nando.net Newspaper Advertisement ISP Internet - 1994The only time I have ever read the term "MUSH" in print.

You are looking at a scan of the actual newspaper ad that got me on the Internet with a commercial ISP for the first time. (Prior to that, I got online through a free dial-up university dataswitch.) It's an ad for NandO.net, a 1990s-era Raleigh, NC-based ISP originally owned and operated by our flagship newspaper, The News and Observer.

As you can see by the handwritten notes on the ad, my dad used this actual piece of paper to sign us up for an account on the service (I modified the credit card number digitally, in case anyone is wondering). I found this rare artifact in my old computer papers recently while researching my early web history for a FastCompany piece I wrote last year. In that article, I explored what it was like to build a website in 1995. Here's what I wrote about NandO:

As the Internet became more than just a way to access MUDs or look up the occasional novelty on text-based Gophers or web browsers, both of us sought a more robust way of accessing it. One of the first ISPs in our city was called NandO.net. Our local newspaper, the News and Observer, ran it as an extension of its efforts to pioneer online newsmaking processes.

On some day in late 1994, my father signed my family up for NandO.net. What we got in exchange for about $20 a month was an account on an Internet-enabled BBS, which had its own local message board and games, but would allow us to use text-only Internet email, web browsing, FTP, and Gopher. My dad paid extra for a "shell account" so I could log in and get a Unix command prompt. From there I could upload and download files from a terminal program, telnet to other servers, and push stuff from my shell account to remote machines via FTP.

What heady days those were. Incredible to think that I was just dipping my toes into what would eventually become a life-changing deluge — not just for me, but for all of humanity itself.

[ From The News and Observer, December 13, 1994, p.9A ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the name of your first ISP? What year did you first use it?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] WorldsAway

December 14th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Fujitsu Cultural Technologies WorldAway Graphical Multiuser Online Chat World on CompuServe First Advertisement - 1996"There's More to Life On-Line"

Just a few months ago, the 20th anniversary of the launch of WorldsAway, a pioneering graphical online world, came and went without any major notice (it launched in September 1995). But I remembered the milestone, and I wrote a recent This Old Tech column over on PCWorld.com about my memories of the service, which I stuck with in some form or another until 2001.

WorldsAway was simply magical when it launched. It promised to put you, as a user, into a graphical world that you could share with other online users (the term "Avatar" as an online representation of your physical self came from the creators of this lineage of online worlds). It delivered on that goal with a charming atmosphere — where you could change between whimsical heads with ease — and a vibrant community that I still look back on fondly to this day.

Honestly, I miss being part of that WorldsAway community. My involvement there came at a time when I was fairly lonely and isolated with my hobbies — my high school years — during a time when few "average" people used any online service whatsoever. Don't get me wrong; I did fairly well at school, and I wasn't a freak with no friends — but the real-life friends I did have did not share my love for the online world. Online, of course, I could find others like me, and on WorldsAway, we all celebrated that commonality together in a vibrant, playful world.

Did anybody else use WorldsAway in the 1990s? I'd love to hear from you.

P.S. I was an avid reader and subscriber of CompuServe Magazine in the 1990s, which is where I found and drooled over this ad back in the day.

[ From CompuServe Magazine, March 1996, p.4 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you use any graphical online chat worlds in the 1990s? Tell us about it.

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The VC&G Christmas Collection (2015 Edition)

December 8th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Vintage Computing and Gaming Christmas Xmas Megapost

It's that time of year again: the Yuletide. Over the past few years, I've been posting an annual collection of all the Christmas-related tech material I've written (both for this site and for others) into one place for easy reading. Below, you'll find list of off-site Christmas slideshows, other features, and of course, plenty of Retro Scans of the Week.

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.

[ Continue reading The VC&G Christmas Collection (2015 Edition) » ]

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VC&G Anthology Interview: Trip Hawkins on 30 Years of Electronic Arts (2012)

November 9th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Trip Hawkins Interview on EDGE-online.com
10 DAYS OF VINTAGE: Day 8

[ This interview I conducted was originally published on Edge.com in June 2012 to roughly coincide with Electronic Arts' 30th Anniversary. Since then, the interview has disappeared from the web. A few people have asked me to make it available again, and since I retained the rights to the interview, I am free to publish it on VC&G for everyone to enjoy. ]

Originally Published on Edge.com in June 2012:

VC&G Anthology BadgeElectronic Arts is 30 years old, and there is no denying that the behemoth game publisher casts a long shadow of influence over the entire industry. The company, founded in May 1982, pioneered a business model that treated game designers like rock stars and software publishers like record labels. It pushed the use of big names and big licenses in sports (think Madden, NFL) and soon grew to gobble up many renowned development studios to become a massive entertainment conglomerate.

These days, that conglomerate catches lots of flack from gamers on various issues including employee treatment, content milking, premature server termination, and more. Whether or not those criticisms have any merit, there is no denying that Electronic Arts was once revered as a top corporate impresario for identifying and cultivating the world's best game design talent (although one would have to admit that time was very long ago).

The man behind the early, creatively-rich image of EA is Trip Hawkins, an Apple veteran who founded the company with a simple dream: to bring his sports simulations to life. Hawkins, now 58, left EA in 1991 to start The 3DO Company, which folded in 2003. He then launched mobile game developer Digital Chocolate that same year. Just recently, Hawkins announced he was stepping down as CEO of Digital Chocolate to face an as-yet unrevealed future.

In late May of this year [2012 — Ed.], on the occasion of EA's 30th anniversary, I spoke with Hawkins over the telephone and via email about the creation of Electronic Arts, the design of its early games, and at some length about the negative criticism the company tends to attract today. Along the way, we touched on the personal source of his creative spirit and about heady days as a close friend of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

[ Continue reading VC&G Anthology Interview: Trip Hawkins on 30 Years of Electronic Arts (2012) » ]

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[ VC&G Anthology ] A Detailed Timeline of Compact Disc Technology (2012)

November 8th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

The First CD-Player - Sony CDP-101
10 DAYS OF VINTAGE: Day 7

When I write articles about the history of technology — which, I'll admit, is fairly often — a few readers will sometimes say, "The author is obviously too young to remember X or Y," or "He forgot to include X." Sure, I don't know everything. But most of the time, if there is ever an omission of something notable in one of my articles, a) I know about it, and b) it was done for a good reason.

(That reason, by the way, is usually brevity — editors almost always trim things out to make the article shorter. The second most common reason is that the omitted info, while generally understood to be true, is actually false.)

VC&G Anthology BadgeWhen the occasion warrants it, and if time allows, I do the most exhaustive research I can manage on a topic. While browsing through my old writing files recently, I came across a fairly vivid illustration of this: a very detailed timeline of CD technology that I created while writing an feature about the 30th anniversary of the CD Player for TechHive back in 2012.

During that process, I set out to understand the history of the CD Player and the Compact Disc medium as much as possible so I could explain it with confidence. One of the best ways to do that — to cover 30+ years of history and get it all straight — is to make a timeline. So that's what I did.

The published article on TechHive includes key selections from this timeline at the bottom, but not everything. With the hope that my more detailed CD timeline might some day help future researchers, I am publishing it below, complete with sources when available.

This kind of thing makes me wonder how many other man-hours of journalistic research lay just out of reach because there is no proper context in which to share it. In this case, I'm lucky to have the VC&G Anthology series.

[ Continue reading [ VC&G Anthology ] A Detailed Timeline of Compact Disc Technology (2012) » ]

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Benj's 'This Old Tech' Column Debuts on PCWorld.com

November 6th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

This Old Tech Column on Toshiba T1000

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.

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[ VC&G Anthology ] Developers Cite The Greatest PC Games of All Time (2009)

November 5th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

10 Greatest PC Games of All Time
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
#9: Myst
#8: The Sims
#7: StarCraft
#6: Rogue: The Adventure Game
#5: M.U.L.E.
#4: SimCity
#3: Sid Meier's Civilization
#2: Doom
#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.)

VC&G Anthology BadgeEditors 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.

[ Continue reading [ VC&G Anthology ] Developers Cite The Greatest PC Games of All Time (2009) » ]

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VC&G Interview: Benj Edwards, Creator of Vintage Computing and Gaming

November 2nd, 2015 by Harry McCracken

Benj Edwards with a Commodore 64[ 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.

–Harry McCracken

10 DAYS OF VINTAGE: Day 1

[ Continue reading VC&G Interview: Benj Edwards, Creator of Vintage Computing and Gaming » ]

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