Archive for the 'Collecting' Category

Welcome to the Family, Whiz-Kid

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

VTech Talking Whiz-Kid and VTL Computron

Yesterday afternoon, I made a trip to some local thrift stores that I hadn’t visited in eight years. I left with a 24-game N64 cartridge drawer, some books, an unopened copy of Bill Gates’ The Road Ahead on audio cassette, some neat board games, and the two devices you see above. It’s more junk, but it’s good junk.

The VTech Talking Whiz-Kid (1987, right) came with the box, manual, and cards. This educational toy reads paper “program cards” as you insert them into an optical reader slot. The cards don’t contain any software, but instead bear a simple bar code that tells the Whiz-Kid which built-in program to start. Highlights include Hangman, word scramble, and an extremely limited calculator.

I remember seeing the VTL Computron (1980, left) in J.C. Penney catalogs as a kid. It works too, although it’s missing the battery door. The LED-based Computron plays matching games based on which letter you select. Most of the games obviously went along with a printed guidebook that I don’t have.

Neither device does BASIC like the VTech Pre-Computer 1000, but they’re both highly collectible microprocessor-powered toys. Total cost for both? $10 (US).

Anybody else have one of these? Feel free to share your memories with us.

Shining a Rotten Apple

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

What is Nasty?

Nasty Apple II Plus Keyboard

Nasty is the keyboard of my well-loved 29 year-old Apple II Plus.

It’s always a bad sign when a keyboard that’s been sitting untouched for ten years in climate-controlled storage is wet beneath the keys, coated with a glistening, gooey gunk of unknown origin. Mix in two decades of fuzzy dust and moldy cat hairs, and you have yourself a potent cocktail of pure, unadulterated Nasty.

[ Continue reading Shining a Rotten Apple » ]

Steve Jobs Signed My Macintosh

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

Steve Jobs Signature on Inside of Mac Plus Case

Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, Inc., signed my Macintosh. And if you’re the owner of a Mac 128k, 512k, or Plus, he signed yours too. In fact, so did Woz.

Macintosh Case SignaturesIn crafting the original Macintosh, Steve Jobs viewed himself and his team as artists. As such, it was only fitting for the renegade band of Apple developers to sign their work. At the urging of Jobs, the Mac design group held a small party on February 10th, 1982, during which they ate cake, drank champagne, and took turns signing their names onto a large piece of paper (see image, right). Soon afterward, Jobs had the signatures engraved into the Macintosh case mold, with an obvious result: Apple permanently impressed the team’s autographs into the plastic case of every Mac that rolled off the production line.

You might notice that some of the signatures present on the original signing sheet are missing on the Plus. But fear not; no one was slighted. All the names originally graced the interior of the first Macintosh release (128k), but according to Andy Hertzfeld, some names were lost over time due to revisions of the case design on subsequent models. For example, compare the Mac Plus interior with this picture of the original 1984 Macintosh case.

I recall seeing signatures in the cases of later Macs by the teams that designed them. But I can’t remember if the later compact Macs contain the original names seen here, or simply others that worked on those particular projects.

Channel Your Inner Jobs

Mac Plus Case Open and Closed

To locate these hallowed names within your own Mac case, simply take your machine apart and peer inside the rear half of its chassis. They might be hard to see at first, but they’re there, hiding in the back. Keep in mind that the presence of signatures on your case doesn’t make your Mac any more or less valuable than it would be otherwise — every early Mac has them, without exception. But at least now you can impress your friends with a formidable piece of Mac trivia.

Shortly after the launch of the Macintosh in 1984, most of its original development team parted company. But in a poetic way, they will always be united inside your Macintosh. It’s a fitting, populist monument to an extraordinary chapter in computer history.

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

Monday, December 17th, 2007

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.

An Apple IIe in Every Kitchen by 2008

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

An Apple IIe system in Benj's Kitchen

Last month I received the spiffy Apple IIe system you see above as part of a sizable donation to my computer collection (thanks Tom!). This particular IIe configuration hails from a high school in Ohio where it was used primarily as an AppleWorks machine in the mid-late 1980s.

After carefully peeling away decades of nasty, nasty sticky dirt and grime from the hardware, I naturally set it all up on my kitchen table (hence the ceramic duck, a must in every modern kitchen). Instead of splitting up the set for parts, I decided that it would be fun to keep it all together and preserve it as it was used in the school.

Benj's Apple IIe Kitchen MouseMuch to the mixed delight/chagrin of my wife, I doodled on Deluxe Paint with the mouse and tried various games on disk every day for about three weeks while eating breakfast. Alas, after about a month in the culinary limelight, the Kitchen IIe’s novelty has finally begun to wear thin. It will soon move on to another table, but I plan to keep this “school system” together with all its original parts so it will remain a functional example of 1980s educational computing.

Yikes. $9000 Video Game Collection

Friday, November 9th, 2007

If one guy can get $9000 for this on eBay…

$9000 Video Game Collection

…what do you think I could get for this? Not to mention the bajillions of games, controllers, and accessories not on that list. I just want to know what to put on my insurance claim form if my house burns down.

[Special thanks to Chris for sending this my way.]

Keep or Toss? Radius 21″ Greyscale Mac Monitor

Thursday, November 8th, 2007

I need to clean out my garage. That’s where I keep most of my computer collection. In order to have space for new and exciting things, some of the older, less exciting, and bulkier items must go.

Radius TPD/21E 21\" Greyscale Macintosh Monitor

Up on the block today is this nifty Radius TDP/21E 21″ greyscale monitor. It’s a unique piece of Macintosh history, but it’s huge. It has the peculiar resolution of 1152 x 870, doesn’t support color, and requires a unique NuBus controller card to work (which, incidentally, I have). Honestly, if I had a warehouse to store these things in, I’d definitely keep it. But I recently received it as a donation, and I don’t really have the room for it.

So I thought I’d let you guys decide for me. Is it worth saving, even if it takes up tons of space and I’ll never really use it? On the other hand, I could always toss out something else to make room for it. I’m having trouble deciding, so help me out.

TV/GAME Switch Overload

Monday, October 8th, 2007

It happens to the best of us.

TV Game Switches on eBay

How many of these puppies do you have sitting around? A fellow on eBay is selling a lot of 36. I’ll have to admit: I have a box of a few dozen myself.

TV Game SwitchThe object in question, of course, is the once-essential manual RF switch, commonly known as a “TV/GAME” switch. Such switches were used to alternate between RF video/audio input from a video game system or home computer and a broadcast (or cable) TV antenna signal. They went the way of the dodo in the mid-1980s — first in Japan with the introduction of Nintendo’s innovative automatic RF switch box (it came packaged with every Famicom produced from 1983-1993), and then in the US around 1985 with the introduction of the NES (which included an automatic switch box with every unit sold). Later, RF switches in general became endangered once nearly all consumer TV sets started shipping with separate A/V jacks for composite video and stereo audio. The choice was natural, as video quality through an RF antenna input is inferior to a composite video connection.

Atari 2600Even among collectors, manual TV/GAME switches are mostly useless these days because most of us try to make at least composite (or better) video connections to our TVs, either via special cables or modifications to the systems themselves. Still, if you want to play classic machines like the Atari VCS without video hacks, you’ll probably need to use one.

Does anybody out there collect these things? We’d love to hear from you.

Name That Stuff: Benj’s Computer Room in 1996

Friday, September 14th, 2007

Benj Edwards' Computer Room Floor in 1996Yep. Some things never change.

Rising like a phoenix from the ashes of my heretofore mostly forgotten digital archives comes this rare look into my collecting past. I shot this with a video camera and a Snappy Video Snapshot, which was an early still-frame video capture device that attached to a PC’s parallel port. Behold the floor of my computer room circa November 1996, as it lay covered with a diverse mixture of vintage computer and video game equipment.

Pop quiz! Study the picture. How many items and accessories can you name by manufaturer or model? Bonus points to anyone who manages to name the early XT clone on the left.

Best Week Ever for Vintage Computers on the News Wires

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

Sellam and Merhle, Buddies ForeverThe two most popular news agencies have published no less than two articles in the last two days about vintage computers. Are the planets in alignment, or does there now exist a vast conspiracy (the conspiracy of “twos” perhaps?) to cover vintage computers in the national media? Either way, it’s been a great week for our hobby.

The first article (Reuters via Yahoo) focuses on the ever-popular Sellam Ismail, organizer of the Vintage Computer Festival, and his lovable buddies (Bruce Damer, Evan Koblentz) from the festival scene. Poor Sellam has been covered so many times that he’s probably getting tired of it by now. The second article (AP via Yahoo) “unearths” a relative newcomer to media publicity, Jeremy Mehrle, whose Basement Mac Museum I covered back in February (along with a short interview with the Mehrleman himself). It’s true that many news outlets get some of their news by culling blogs these days. But with cool topics like these, can you blame them? And obviously, the door swings both ways.