Vintage Computing and Gaming Turns 15

November 2nd, 2020 by Benj Edwards

Vintage Computing and Gaming LogoGreetings, fellow retro tech fans. 15 years ago today, I launched Vintage Computing and Gaming. The origins of the site have been well-covered elsewhere, so I’ll spare you the rehash.

While I haven’t updated the site all that much over the past five years (since our big 10th anniversary celebration back in 2015), I still thought it would be nice to mention this anniversary. As you can see, VC&G is still online, and we still gets lot of legacy traffic from our old posts. In particular, I feel that this site’s archive of comments are a priceless historical record of people’s memories of the past. The server still costs money to keep running, and generous folks on Patreon make that possible without advertisements.

And even though I only post on VC&G a few times a year these days, the site is still not dead. Our patron saint Steve Wozniak recently posted on the site, marking a sort of full-circle fulfillment of how much my career has changed since I started the site 15 years ago. Back then, I had no idea I’d still be talking and writing about vintage computers and retrogaming 15 years later, or that it would became a career path. It’s mind-boggling to think of all the historical tech achievements that have taken place in the past 15 years, and now this site itself is vintage.

Benj Edwards in 2006So what’s next for VC&G? I’m not quite sure yet. I plan to keep it up as long as I can, and I’ll post on it when I have something to share that I can’t post anywhere else. For example, I’ve recently been experimenting with setting up the TTL RGB input on one of my old monitors. I might put some of that info on here at some point so it doesn’t get lost. And my wife wants me to try doing some YouTube some day. Not sure when I’ll ever do it (and the topic is so well-covered by others), but if I do, you’ll hear about it on this site.

Other than that, it seems retrogaming and vintage computing are both covered very well all over the Internet now (on YouTube, Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, Discord, and more), unlike back in 2005, so I don’t feel like the world needs VC&G as much as it did then. But this site has served its purpose, and the old posts and scans still continue to serve as a valuable historical resource for people. I don’t know why but I almost felt a tear well up inside this old vintage head of mine.

Anyway, if anyone is still out there and still reading this site, thanks for sticking with VC&G for so long. I’m grateful to have had you along on this 15-year journey. If you have the time, I’d love to hear some of your memories about your favorite VC&G posts of the past in the comments. Happy Birthday, Vintage Computing and Gaming!

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Why the Apple II Didn’t Support Lowercase Letters

September 8th, 2020 by Steve Wozniak

1977 Apple II Advertisement

[Editor’s Note: I recently asked Steve Wozniak via email about why the original Apple II did not support lowercase letters. I could have guessed the answer, but it’s always good to hear the reason straight from the source. Woz’s response was so long and detailed that I asked him if I could publish the whole thing on VC&G. He said yes, so here we are. –Benj]

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In the early 1970s, I was very poor, living paycheck to paycheck. While I worked at HP, any spare change went into my digital projects that I did on my own in my apartment. I was an excellent typist. I was proficient at typing by touch using keypunches with unusual and awkward special characters — even though some used two fingers of one hand.

Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs with an Apple II saw a friend typing on a teletype to the six computers on the early ARPAnet. I had to have this power over distant computers too. After building many arcade games on computers, how to build it was obvious to me instantly. I’d create a video generator (as with the arcade games) and display text using a character generator chip. But I needed a keyboard.

I’d show up at HP every morning around 6 AM to peruse engineering magazines and journals to see what new chips and products were coming. I found an offer for a $60 keyboard modeled after the upper-case-only ASR-33 teletype.

That $60 for the keyboard is probably like $500 today [About $333 adjusted for inflation — Benj]. This $60 was the single biggest price obstacle in the entire development of the early Apple computers. I had to gulp just to come up with $60, and I think my apartment rental check bounced that month — they put me on cash payment from then on. Other keyboards you could buy back then cost around $200, which might be $1000 or more now. There just wasn’t any mass manufacturing of digital keyboards in 1974.

So my TV Terminal, for accessing the ARPAnet, was uppercase only.

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Apple I Owned By Steve Jobs Auction ImageThe idea for my own computer came into my head the first day of the Homebrew Computer Club.

Maybe a year prior, I had looked at the 4-bit Intel 4004 microprocessor and determined that it could never be used to build the computer I wanted for myself — based on all the minicomputers that I’d designed on paper and desired since 1968-1970. But at the Homebrew Computer Club, they were talking about the 8008 and 8080 microprocessors, which I had not kept up with after my 4004 disappointment. I took home a data sheet for the 8008, based on a version of it from a Canadian company. That night, I discovered that this entire processor was capable of being a computer.

I already had my input and output, my TV Terminal. With that terminal, I’d type to a computer in Boston, for example, and that far-away computer, on the ARPAnet, would type back to my TV. I now saw that all I had to do was connect the microprocessor, with 4K of RAM (I’d built my tiny computer with the capability of the Altair, 5 years prior, in 1970, with my own TTL chips as the processor). 4K was the amount of RAM allowing you to type in a program on a human keyboard and run it.

My computer wasn’t designed from the ground up. I just added the 6502 microprocessor and 4K DRAMS (introduced that summer of 1975 and far less costly than Intel static RAMs) to have a complete computer with input and output.

So the uppercase keyboard was not designed as part of a computer. It already existed as my TV Terminal.

Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs with an Apple III truly would have wanted lower case on a keyboard, but I was still totally cash strapped, with no spare money. After already starting a BASIC interpreter for my computer, I would have had to re-assemble all my code. But here again, I did not have the money to have an account on a timeshare service for a 6502 interpreter. The BASIC was handwritten and hand-assembled. I’d write the source code and then write the binary that an interpreter would have turned my code into. To implement a major change like lower case (keeping 6 bits per character in my syntax table instead of 5 bits) would have been a horrendous and risky job to do by hand. If I’d had a time-share assembler, it would have been quick and easy. Hence, the Apple I wound up with uppercase only.

I discussed the alternatives with Steve Jobs. I was for lower case, but not for money (cost). Steve had little computer experience, and he said that uppercase was just fine. We both had our own reasons for not changing it before the computers were out. Even with the later Apple II (as with the Apple I), the code was again hand-written and hand-interpreted because I had no money. All 8 kB of code in the Apple II was only written by my own hand, including the binary object code. That made it impossible to add lower case into it easily.

So, in the end, the basic reason for no lowercase on the Apple I and Apple II was my own lack of money. Zero checking. Zero savings.

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More How-To Geek History Articles from Benj

August 14th, 2020 by Benj Edwards

Three "Ancient Files" disks

As I mentioned back in April, I joined up with How-To Geek in February, and I’ve been regularly writing tech history-related features in addition to my usual how-to pieces.

Since that first post, I’ve written many more pieces that may be of interest to VC&G readers. Here’s a list:

Some of my favorites include the Turbo Button piece, in which I discovered the first PC to ever use a turbo button, the Noisy Modem piece, in which I identified the man who invented the onboard modem speaker, and my look at Gopher, wherein I talked to the lead creator of the Gopher protocol. My ode to Windows 2000 is fun too. But heck, they’re all fun reads.

Hope you enjoy reading them! Keep an eye on my How-To Geek author page for more in the future.

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Benj Writes History at How-To Geek

April 15th, 2020 by Benj Edwards

Back in February, I landed a full-time job at How-To Geek as a Staff Writer. It’s been a great gig, and I am enjoying helping people with tricky (and sometimes very simple) tech problems.

I’ve written a lot about iPhone, iPad, Mac, Windows 10, and the Nintendo Switch so far, but HTG also lets me do a history feature about once a week. That way I can keep flexing my tech nostalgia muscles. Here are the history pieces I’ve done so far:

Expect much more where that came from, so keep an eye on my How-To Geek page, and you’ll see new ones pop up from time to time.

I hope everybody out there is doing well.  This blog isn’t dead yet — I still plan to post some more Retro Scans some day.

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Life in the Age of COVID-19

April 7th, 2020 by Benj Edwards


How is everyone doing out there? We’re living through historic times, with most of the world on lockdown due to COVID-19 (AKA novel coronavirus).

My family and I have been staying at home since early March. We stocked up on supplies in February when it seemed things were getting really bad in China, so we’ve been ok regarding food. We’ve also received some supplemental grocery deliveries every few weeks. We typically buy non-perishables and let them sit for a few days before touching them, then wash them off before using. Any perishables get a scrub down immediately then sit quarantined in a bag in the fridge. Checking the mail involves surgical gloves and a multi-day quarantine in a safe spot before opening.

We’re fortunate enough to have a large enough house and a big enough yard that we don’t get cabin fever too badly. The weather has been nice in general, so me and the kids have spent a lot of our free time outside catching toads, gardening, and repeatedly washing the pollen off of everything.

And every night since it came out, I’ve been playing a little bit of Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the Switch. It’s a fun diversion.

Since February 10th, I’ve worked for How-To Geek as a Staff Writer. It’s a work from home job, so not much has changed there — I work 8 hours a day Monday-Friday. The kids have mostly left me alone, but it can be stressful. Luckily, my wife has kept them busy. They just recently started doing online schoolwork, and that has been a stressful adventure unto itself. But I think they will soon get into the rhythm of it.

I hope everyone out there stays healthy and safe during these strange times. They’re not permanent; We will get through this, and I hope we will all be wiser and kinder for having lived through the experience.

Discussion Topic: How are you and your family coping during these times? Have you played any games or used any old computers to keep yourself busy?

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Larry Tesler (1945-2020)

February 19th, 2020 by Benj Edwards

Larry TeslerIn Memoriam: Lawrence G. “Larry” Tesler (1945-2020),
inventor of Copy/Paste at Xerox PARC, member of Apple Lisa team,
human-computer interaction expert

Tesler was a giant in the field of human-computer interaction, having pioneered modeless interfaces at Xerox PARC and carried those over to Apple as part of the Lisa team. While at PARC, he and Timothy Mott created a text editor called Gypsy that included the first implementation of the now-common Copy and Paste features for moving blocks of information easily within a document. According to Robert Scoble, Tesler was also on the committee at Apple that decided to re-hire Steve Jobs in the mid-1990s. He will be missed.

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Atari 800 Turns 40

December 23rd, 2019 by Benj Edwards

Atari 800 FastCompany Article by Benj Edwards

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Atari 400 and Atari 800 home computers — Atari released them in the fall of 1979.

(Many sources say November 1979, but I found some newspaper references to retailers having them in stock in October 1979.)

To celebrate the birthday of my favorite computer and game machine, I investigated the story behind its creation for FastCompany. I threw in some personal nostalgia and vintage photos of my older brother using an Atari for good measure.

Forty years ago, Atari released its first personal computers: the Atari 400 and 800. They arrived in the fall of 1979 after a prerelease marketing campaign that had begun the previous January when the company unveiled the machines at what was then called the Winter Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Then as now, “Atari” was synonymous with “video game,” and the new machines packed more technological potential than any game console at the time, with custom graphics and sound chips, support for four joysticks or eight paddles, and the ability to play games on cartridge, cassette, or disk. At launch, one of the machines’ first games, Star Raiders, defined cutting-edge home entertainment.

To research the piece, I spoke in depth with former Atari engineer Joe Decuir and former Atari software evangelist Chris Crawford (also a game designer best known for Eastern Front: 1941 and Balance of Power). Crawford is a fascinating guy, and I should probably publish my full interview with him at some point.

I’ve been meaning to write a piece like this about the Atari 800 since 2009 when the console turned 30. (Read more about that on this post about my 30th anniversary teardown.) What can I say — I play the long game.

I hope you enjoy it — and Merry Christmas!

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[ VC&G Anthology ] The Ghosts of Christmas Games Past

December 17th, 2019 by Benj Edwards

The Ghosts of Christmas Games Past by Benj Edwards Title Image

The Christmas Games of Yesteryear

Of the tens of thousands of video and computer games released since the 1970s, few have featured Christmas themes. That’s surprising considering that the holiday is an insanely popular topic in other forms of media (especially movies–the number of Christmas-themed films could probably fill the Grand Canyon).

Here are twelve video and computer games, all released more than ten years ago, that dared to buck the trend. Some failed, some succeeded, but all tried to deliver holiday cheer with Santa, sleighs, elves, evil snowmen, flying turkey helicopters, and other beloved symbols of Christmas.

Many were released on more than one platform; whenever possible, I’ve included the cover art for all of the versions. Some of the games are still available, and I’ve given links to the ones you can download online. Our list of Christmas games is not exhaustive, though, so if you have a favorite that we left out, please share it in the comments.

[ Continue reading [ VC&G Anthology ] The Ghosts of Christmas Games Past » ]

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The VC&G Christmas Collection (2019 Edition)

December 9th, 2019 by Benj Edwards

Vintage Computing and Gaming Christmas Xmas Megapost

It’s that time of year again: the Yuletide. Over the past eight 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.

This year, I updated the PC World/MacWorld/Techhive links to Archive.org WayBack Machine links. The images on all of my old PCWorld features are now sadly broken.

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 (2019 Edition) » ]

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[ VC&G Anthology ] The Evolution of Computer Displays

September 17th, 2019 by Benj Edwards

Evolution of Computer Displays by Benj Edwards Title Image

Take a good look at this sentence. You’re reading it thanks to the magic of a computer display — whether it be LCD, CRT, or even printed out on paper. Since the beginning of the digital era, users have needed a way to view the results of programs run on a computer — but the manner in which computers have spit out data has changed considerably over the last 70 years. Let’s take a tour.

[ Continue reading [ VC&G Anthology ] The Evolution of Computer Displays » ]

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