Archive for the 'Collecting' Category

The Basement Mac Museum

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

The Classic II Mac BarDeep in the heart of Missouri lies a secret underground bunker full of Apple Macintosh computers. Within its stark white walls, you’ll find the computer collection of Jeremy Mehrle, a professional graphic designer with a decided preference for Apple hardware.

Actually, Mehrle’s presentation more closely resembles a swank nightclub than a bunker. The monochromatic color design and minimalistic furniture arrangement compliment the Mac collection perfectly, while adding an incredible touch of class to the makeshift museum. Dozens of compact Macs (mostly Classic IIs), which automatically run screen savers when turned on, engulf a tall bar area in one corner of the basement. In other section, there’s an eye-catching wall full of candy-colored iMacs. And don’t forget to take a stroll down the row of various all-in-one Mac models that includes the rare Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh. Eat your heart out, “Mac Shelf.”

Mac LineupMerhle, who also goes by the handle “soyburger,” posted some pictures of his basement Mac collection on Flickr in August of last year, and links to the gallery have been virally spreading around the web ever since. I just recently ran across the photos myself and was so impressed with the aesthetically adept setup that I decided to contact Merhle and conduct a short email interview, which you can read below. There’s a lot more to see of Mehrle’s basement than the pictures here, so don’t forget to check out the full gallery as well, on Flickr.

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StarTTY: Turn Your Vintage Computer Into an Information Appliance

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

StarTTY ServiceInstead of simply letting their classic machines collect dust on a shelf as display pieces, vintage computing enthusiasts regularly struggle to find modern uses for their equipment that also double as good excuses to keep them “around” and active. I know this because I’ve been looking for novel ways to use my obsolete computers since I started collecting them. Thankfully, a new Internet service just popped up that will give us all a reason to pull that old terminal out of the closet again. It’s called StarTTY.

StarTTY, created by Dorian Garson, is an information “push” service designed for old serial terminals and computers than can run terminal emulators. It turns your old computer or terminal into an “information kiosk” by displaying live, up-to-the-minute weather, news, date/time, and other features directly on your terminal’s screen. It accomplishes this feat through the ancient-but-perennially-useful protocol known as telnet, which is commonly used for remote server administration, MUDs, and Internet BBSes these days.

StarTTY Screenshot 1 StarTTY Screenshot 2

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Retro Scan of the Week: And Now…The Atari Calculator

Monday, January 15th, 2007
Atari Calculator

In the heart of every Atari, whether it be a computer or a game system, is nothing more than a glorified calculator. But chances are that it doesn’t have a durable folding case or “32 step auto recall.”

I bought this Atari calculator a few years ago as a curiosity. I always wanted one back when I was an Atari freak in the early ’90s. It remains as you see it, within its creased blister pack. It’s so much more fun to look at than to use, especially since a dead llama could cough up the equivalent in terms of capability these days. And unfortunately, the only game you could play on this Atari is typing in “1134” and turning it upside down for a laugh.

Anybody else have an Atari calculator out there? Tell us about it!

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!

Why Super Nintendos Lose Their Color: Plastic Discoloration in Classic Machines

Friday, January 12th, 2007

Discolored SNES

Sure, consoles age and get dirty. Heck, I remember a suspicious incident involving my Super Nintendo (SNES) console and a can of Coca-Cola in the early ’90s that left my SNES looking more like a moldy loaf of bread than a video game system. But around five years ago, I noticed that my SNES console was aging particularly badly. I cleaned off all the remnants of fossilized Coke residue from the chassis with a wet washcloth, but the “moldy bread” look still remained. The top half of the console’s plastic body retained a uniformly nasty yellow-brown hue, while the bottom half flaunted its showroom shine — that native SNES gray that we all know and love. I soon realized that a much deeper mechanism was responsible for the aesthetic disfigurement of my beloved SNES than mere dirt and sugar.

To further complicate matters, I have another SNES unit that was obviously produced more recently than my original one, and that console shows no sign of aging whatsoever. Comparing the units and the way different parts of them had discolored led me to believe that there is something different about the two batches of plastics — the one for the top half of the SNES chassis and the one for the bottom, or the plastic for the old unit and plastic for the new — that made them age differently over time.

Immediately below are two photos I took of my actual SNES units. Notice the difference between the colors of the top and bottom halves of the plastic chassis on the older unit, and also how the newer unit shows no sign of discoloration at all.

Discolored SNESMy first SNES console (right) exhibits discoloration on the top half only.
The newer unit on the left, however, looks as good as new.

Discolored SNESThe top half and bottom half of my first SNES console, disassembled.
Notice that the underside is yellowed with the same uniformity as the top.

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Retro Scan of the Week: A Very TRS-80 Christmas

Monday, December 25th, 2006

TRS-80 Color Computer Christmas Advertisement

The TRS-80 Color Computer (CoCo), as seen in this 1982 ad, has a special place in my heart because it was one of the first old computers I obtained when I started collecting them thirteen years ago. A family friend heard about my new hobby and donated the machine to me, complete with a disk drive and some cartridges. I had lots of fun learning the machine’s particular brand of BASIC (I still maintain that the BASIC manual for the TRS-80 CoCo 1 is one of the best computer manuals ever created).

I also had a blast playing with the CoCo’s Audio Spectrum Analyzer cartridge, which lets you graphically view an audio frequency spectrum through input from the machine’s cassette jack. It had a really neat kaleidescope mode that was a lot like “visualizers” on MP3 player software these days. I spent hours MUSHing (not on the CoCo, of course, but on a PC) while listening to classic rock on the radio, all while the kaleidescope effects from the music played out on a RGB monitor beside me. Good times.

Strangely enough, the distinctive chiclet keyboard on the CoCo 1 never bothered me at all — it is probably the most usable and comfortable chiclet keyboard out there. And knowing chiclet keyboards, that’s saying a lot. All in all, the CoCo was a great little machine. Did anybody else out there have one?

Oh, and Merry Christmas!

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.

The Apple Lisa: My Holy Grail, Attained

Thursday, November 16th, 2006

RedWolf's New Apple Lisa 2I’ve wanted an Apple Lisa since I first set eyes on one around 1994 in my middle school library. I was studying there with a class when I spotted an exotic-looking Apple machine sitting on a cart across the room. After puzzling for a bit, I realized that it must be an Apple Lisa, an almost mythical machine that I had read about in The Journey is the Reward, but I had never even seen a picture of until then.

Location of RedWolf's First Lisa SightingI had already been collecting computers for at least two years when I saw the machine, and I was always on the lookout for more additions to my collection. I had heard of a little-known machine called the “Lisa” that Apple released somewhere between the Apple III and the Macintosh, but I had never seen or used one. So when I spotted the Lisa in the library that day, it was an epiphany to me — the Apple story was vividly coming together in my brain. Knowing that the Lisa (a Lisa 2, as it turned out) in the school library was obsolete, I feared that the librarians wouldn’t know what to do with it and would throw it away. I had to take action, but I was painfully shy, and I was only about thirteen or fourteen years old. I was afraid to ask them about the computer because I figured they wouldn’t take me seriously. So I convinced my mother (the best mom ever) to drive back to the library after school and ask the librarians if we could buy the Lisa from them. The librarians had to decline the offer, since it had been donated to the library and was property of the county school system. Sadly, I fear that the Lisa in the library probably met a nasty fate not too long after that incident — a victim of short-sighted middle school bureaucracy.

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Going to California — and the Vintage Computer Festival

Friday, November 3rd, 2006

VCF GuyI’m leaving for California today to attend VCF 9.0, or more properly, the ninth iteration of the Vintage Computer Festival. It’s taking place at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California (home of Google and other cool tech companies). As a result of my trip, regular posts will be thin in the coming week or so, but I hope to be reporting on the going-ons at the festival if I get a chance. If nothing else, I should be able to post a full write-up of my Silicon Valley adventure when I get back.

Maybe I’ll see you there. If you spot a weird, squirrelly-looking guy with a handlebar mustache, neon-pink jumpsuit, and a gigantic sombrero swaggering around, you’ll know it’s me.

Inside a Hamfest: An Annotated Slideshow, Part III

Friday, October 13th, 2006

RedWolf's 2006 Hamfest AdventureIn Part I of “Inside a Hamfest: An Annotated Slideshow,” I gave you an introduction to hamfests. In Part II, I told you about guys who try to sell utterly useless crap for too much money, but I also found some choice non-crap to purchase for very little money. We also met a Simpsons-like supernerd with a passion for redheads (himself) and video games. Below, in the concluding part of the series, we pick up exactly where we left off in Part II.

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Inside a Hamfest: An Annotated Slideshow, Part II

Tuesday, October 10th, 2006

RedWolf's 2006 Hamfest AdventureIn Part I of “Inside a Hamfest: An Annotated Slideshow,” I went through an introduction about amateur radio enthusiasts (hams), hamfests in general, and a bit about hams’ hacker-like ethos. Then, during the slideshow, I arrived at the hamfest, surveyed the scene, and made at least one major find. Below, in Part II of the series, we pick up exactly where we left off in Part I.

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Inside a Hamfest: An Annotated Slideshow, Part I

Saturday, October 7th, 2006

RedWolf's 2006 Hamfest AdventureThose of you who have been reading VC&G for some time have probably encountered the occasional mention of “hamfests” in accounts of my collecting adventures. Contrary to what you might think, hamfests have little to do with pork (we here in NC call that a pig pickin’), but a lot to do with amateur radio. For almost a century, amateur radio operators have been called “hams.” The exact origin of this term is lost to history; there literally dozens of stories that speculate on the reasons behind its genesis. So if you take “ham” and combine it with “fest,” as in festival, then you get “hamfest,” which is, essentially, a flea market or swap meet for items that hams find interesting.

Brad Dye Building a RadioHams were the first electronics hackers, having to make do with whatever parts they could find to build their own rigs long before commercial products for their hobby were available. So when the first personal computers came along — usually in kit form or requiring lots of work on the user’s part to get them running — it was a perfectly logical extension to their hobby. Thanks to their experience with amateur radio, the tinkering required for properly utilizing early, primitive home computers was like second nature to them. In no time, amateur radio enthusiasts had adapted personal computers for tasks like encoding and decoding typed text into CW (Morse code), or using them for RTTY or packet radio communications. Their hacker ethos extended through the decades all the way to the present, naturally making hams interested in all manner of technical devices and knick-knacks, and making hamfests a great place to find such items.

Thanks to my father’s long-standing interest (and profession) in both electronics and amateur radio, I have been attending hamfests since I was a child. The local hamfest that I have frequented most, and that you are about to witness, is an annual event run by the Raleigh Amateur Radio Society (RARS), and is thus properly known as “RARSFest.” This particular RARSFest occurred on April 23rd, 2006, and due to reasons such as getting married and moving shortly afterward, I haven’t had the time to show you these pictures until now. So here we go…

[ Continue reading Inside a Hamfest: An Annotated Slideshow, Part I » ]