Archive for the 'Hacks & Projects' Category

Reverse Engineering Prodigy, Part 1

Friday, January 15th, 2021

Prodigy Online Service Logo

[ Please welcome Phillip Heller, VC&G’s newest contributor, who is a member of the Prodigy Preservation Project. Phillip will post more updates on his progress here in the future. –Benj ]

Beginning in the mid 1980s, there were a number of online “walled gardens”. Among them were CompuServe, Genie, Delphi, Quantum Link (later PC-Link, AOL, etc), and Prodigy. The latter two were interesting in that they relied on specific client software to access the service.

Quantum Link was certainly novel for the fact that it furnished a graphical online experience for the Commodore 64, and Prodigy was novel for its use of the NAPLPS graphics standard, client-side P-Code virtual-machine, and hierarchical caching. In the early 2000s, some folks nostalgic for Q-Link set out to reverse engineer it, which was a success with Q-Link Reloaded launching sometime in 2005.

It’d be interesting to do a similar thing with Prodigy: To reverse engineer the client and rebuild a mock server with enough functionality to enable those interested to relive another one of the experiences of the early commercial online world. This is the first in a many part series about doing just that.

[ Continue reading Reverse Engineering Prodigy, Part 1 » ]

I’ve Been Building Joysticks

Monday, November 26th, 2018

Benj's Joysticks in Mid-September 2018

Since August 1st of this year, I’ve been building and selling custom joysticks through Twitter. This small venture has been an unexpected success.

People love them, and that makes me very happy. I’ve sold about 140 so far, and I’ve built and shipped about 100 all around the world.

The past few months have been a wild ride, and I’d like to tell you some about it.

The Highest Quality Parts

Benj Edwards BX Foundry JoysticksThe basic concept behind every joystick I’ve made so far is simple: bring the best quality arcade parts to home consoles and computers.

I’ve been using Japanese arcade joysticks and buttons from Sanwa Denshi, a firm that makes some of the best arcade assemblies in the world.

The results have been incredible. Games I thought previously unplayable are suddenly rendered fun, like lifting some kind of fog.

Mushy, worn out control pads have come between me and gaming for too long, and I had no idea. When you push a button or move the lever on one of my sticks, something happens. Every time. There is no blaming the controller for gaming failures.

That extra level of accuracy brings new life to older games. Especially on platforms that didn’t have great controllers to begin with. Figuring this out has made me want to share these joysticks with everybody. But let’s take a step back and see how this all got started.

[ Continue reading I’ve Been Building Joysticks » ]

More Macworld Mania

Friday, January 25th, 2013

Macworld Logo

Since my last update on the articles I’ve written for Macworld in November, I’ve written at least a handful more vintage-related stories for the publication that I haven’t mentioned on this blog. To remedy that, I thought I’d share them below in convenient digest form.

The Mac Plus Clock piece is particularly fun, and I think VC&G fans will really enjoy it.

Mangin’s MacinShelves

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

Charles Mangin MacinShelves

Hot on the heels of my recent post about the “Mac Pedestal” in which I suggested building shelves with compact Mac supports, VC&G Reader Charles Mangin informed me that he did just such a thing and wrote about it on his blog in 2007.

You can see the result above. Nice work, Charles. With all the Macs I have in my garage, maybe I should try this myself and redefine the meaning of “Mac Shelf.”

The Mac Pedestal Encounter

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

Mac Pedestal photo by Mike Melanson
Long-time VC&G reader Mike Melanson recently emailed me this photo of an interesting encounter he had with a stack of retired Apple Macintoshes. He writes:

Upon visiting my alma mater last week (University of Colorado @ Boulder), I snapped this picture of a stack of vintage PowerMacs topped with an old iMac that was rotating through some generic campus announcements.

Not a bad use for five Power Macs, I’d say. I could imagine an interesting table with Power Macs for its legs — or a bookshelf supported only by Mac Pluses at the ends. Any other ideas?

Have you seen any vintage computers in the wild recently?
If so, snap a photo and send it in.

Steve Wozniak Announces the 2 GHz Apple IIpc

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Apple IIpc LogoFor the last two years, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has toiled away in secrecy on a brand new computer system, which he announced today in a surprise press release. The machine, sure to stun the computer industry, carries the torch of the classic Apple II computer line and brings with it a massive installed user base. Wozniak calls his creation the Apple IIpc — a fitting name for a modern update of his venerable Apple II design that sports both a 2 GHz processor and full compatibility with all Apple II software and accessories.

In a special email to the vintage computing press, Wozniak laid out the details. “I’m emailing this to you frist [sic] because I know you’re the ones who supported me all these years,” he writes. “After all, I’m counting on you to make this new launch a success.”

A Modern Marvel

Apple IIpcPowered by a new 2.0 GHz 6502-compatible chip from WDC, the IIpc will retain full backward-compatibility with both Apple II and Apple IIgs software. In a further nod to the past, the computer will ship with three Apple II slots (in addition to the three PCI-X slots on the board) and will include user ports for Apple II keyboards, mice, paddles, and numeric keypads. The IIpc will support memory up to four gigabytes, although Wozniak plans on shipping the first model with only 1GB of RAM.

Perhaps the biggest bombshell in this announcement deals with the IIpc’s new 64-bit CPU. WDC, suppliers of processors for the Apple IIc and IIgs in the past, developed a special chip specifically for this project called the W65T64 Terbium Pro. Long thought to be vaporware by the computer press since it had no known application, the Terbium Pro has finally materialized, although it’s still in the late prototype stages.

“I’m extremely pleased with WDC on this project,” Wozniak writes. “Unlike modern emulation methods, the W65T64 runs Apple II code natively at 2.0GHz, along with more advanced software.”

The IIpc was initially designed as a drop-in replacement for the Apple IIe motherboard, but Wozniak soon realized that the antique IIe case and power supply would severly limit his design’s capabilities. He has commissioned a completely new all-in-one case from Jerry Manock specifically for the Apple IIpc. Manock, an Apple veteran, previously designed the Apple II, Apple III, and Macintosh cases. “Jerry and I work together like magic,” writes Wozniak, “and he’s got an incredible design for a new case that we’ll be testing soon.”

Apple’s Take

Apple Computer LogoSo what does Apple, Inc. and Steve Jobs think of all this? “Every time I talk to Steve, he tells me they still receive over 5,000 calls a day at Apple asking for an upgrade to the Apple IIe,” Wozniak writes, “So he’s happy that I’ll be getting them off his back.”

In exchange for permission to use Apple’s trademarks for a limited-run, limited distribution project, Wozniak had to sign a contract saying that he would handle any and all support issues that might arise. Apple even issued him his own support number, 1-866-866-8668, which satisfies his love for phone numbers with repeating digits.

Regrading trademarks, Wozniak felt it was important to stick to his roots. “I thought I’d stay with ‘Apple II’ as a basis for the name, because my machine is the next step in this long family of computers,” says Wozniak. And what about the model name’s two-letter addition? Wozniak explains: “The ‘PC’ modifier stands for ‘private computer,’ since it’s designed to be used by one person at a time, in other words, by yourself.” He continues,”I though about calling it the “Apple IIrf” — for ‘really fast’ — but I figured people wouldn’t take it seriously.”

Release Plans

Steve WozniakAccording to Wozniak, The Apple IIpc will be available for sale on his website by “fourth quarter 2008” and will retail for $1666.66. But there might be delays. “Aside from the case we’re working on, the W65T64 is really the bottleneck in terms of getting this thing off the ground,” Wozniak writes. “The chip is going into production in June, so until then, I can’t launch.”

Wozniak and Manock formed a new corporation to distribute the Apple IIpc called Wozniock Computers. According to Manock, Wozniak has been waiting years for the opportunity to design something new that people will enjoy. “This is the project that Woz would have worked on at Apple if he hadn’t left the company in 1985,” says Manock. “I really hope people love using it as much as he did making it.”

[ Happy April Fools’ Day — This is not real. ]

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 » ]

Vintage Apple Computer Web Servers

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

Apple Macintosh Mac SE Web ServerThere exist, in various pockets of the World Wide Web, dark corners in which vintage machines are tucked, quietly whirring away as they make occasional contact with the outside world. This loose confederation of devices constitutes a New Old Web, composed of computers previously considered useless or obsolete.

Serving HTTP from vintage computers is nothing new — it’s been link fodder since the dawn of the public Internet — but I’d like to highlight a wonderful website that maintains a directory of vintage Apple computers functioning as working web servers.

[ Continue reading Vintage Apple Computer Web Servers » ]

Tales From the Benjside: BABY DRAGON IS SLEPT

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

Tales from the Benjside

[ ‘Tales From the Benjside’ is a column where Benj writes silly things about computers, video games, and tangentially-related stuff in a blog-like fashion. ]

It’s Christmas time once again in the Land of Benj, and you know what that means: more presents! So get out your stockings and you elf caps and follow me once again into another…

What? It’s March, you say? Egads, man! Seems that I’m a bit late on the festivities (or early?). But then again, the Land of Benj does not observe normal rules of space and time. Only the Rules of Christmas. And the Rules of Christmas clearly spell out (Section 8c, Paragraph 4, Line 3) that it’s time for another Tales From the Benjside. Let it commence.

[ Continue reading Tales From the Benjside: BABY DRAGON IS SLEPT » ]

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

[ Continue reading StarTTY: Turn Your Vintage Computer Into an Information Appliance » ]