Archive for the 'Recent Finds' Category

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 » ]

Eric’s Collecting Adventures: Multilevel Shareware eBay Haul

Tuesday, August 1st, 2006

Eric's Shareware Haul[ Eric Lambert is the owner of an impressively large collection of PC software. I’m happy to welcome him to VC&G with his first contribution. — RW ]

Imagine my delight this week when a job lot of vintage games I won on eBay came with seven — count ’em, s-e-v-e-n — Softkey Titanium Seal shareware games still in their original packaging. Such forgettable classics as VGA Slots and Stellar Defense II and… hold on a sec, what’s this? Wolfenstein 3-D? The great-granddaddy of the FPS? Sure enough, my eyes did not deceive me, Wolfenstein 3D Shareware, complete with the laughably generic subtitle “Escape from Multilevel Castle Maze.” Reading the description on the back of the package, I try to remember that when this was hanging on a hook at Babbage’s, people probably had no idea what to expect from it. The genre was, for the most part, still in its infancy, and the technology was cutting-edge. The warning at the end is classic: “This game is not for the faint of heart.” I wonder if the guy who wrote that copy ever went on to play Carmageddon, Postal, or GTA 3.

Eric's Shareware HaulNow look at all the hit games also available from Titanium Seal. There’s…um…I guess Duke Nukem II kind of led into Duke Nukem 3D and the whole Quake revolution in shooters, but really, Wolfenstein was the big hit of the bunch, propelling id Software into its Doom phase. How many of the folks at SoftKey do you suppose gave Wolfenstein a second glance at the time? How many people involved in its publication had any idea of the impact it would have on gaming? How many careers do you think that one title launched? More than enough to make up for all the lost bets on the other titles? I remember playing some of them, and they were great games, but they never took off like Wolfenstein did. This Multilevel Castle Maze did what nobody really could have predicted — it revolutionized not only the way we play games, but the industry as a whole. It opened up new technologies, new styles of play, and a whole new level of marketing, an influence we can see in the online distribution models (like Steam) that are currently increasing in popularity.

And all for $5.99 (US). What a bargain!

The Official Golf Ball of Ultima III: Exodus

Saturday, April 8th, 2006
Official Ultima III Golf Ball

Here it is: the Official Golf Ball of Ultima III: Exodus. Back in 1983, if you found this ultra-rare object included in your Ultima III game box, you won an all-expenses paid trip to Lord British’s backyard swimming pool.

Ok, so I made that up. I actually found this golf ball in my back yard recently and thought it mildly amusing. The ball’s shape looks warped purely because my flatbed scanner wasn’t designed to scan 3D spherical objects. I wonder if Richard Garriott uses this brand when he hits the green.

Why American NES Controllers Can Kill You & Other Famicom Thoughts

Sunday, February 26th, 2006

Famicom ThoughtsAfter playing my new AV Famicom and the 18 games that came with it for a few days, I have a few things to report. The first of which is that yes, I still love it. But if that were all I had to say, then this would be a boring article. Luckily, the other things are more interesting. For example, I am quickly falling for the Nintendo “dogbone” controller. It’s strange really; I’ve had one for years but never really gave it a good chance. I was biased immediately by the slanted A-B button arrangement, which I definitely do not like for playing Super Mario Bros. games (because I constantly hold down B with the tip of my thumb and use the ball of it to hit A and jump — the upward-slanted button line makes this play style awkward). But for every other game, it’s really comfortable. I now highly recommend getting one and giving it a chance if you haven’t already. My old US dogbone needs a good scrubbing and some new conductive rubber pads (I might have some left from an old controller repair kit somewhere) before it will be completely up to par. But once it is, I think it just might become my new favorite NES controller. I noticed something funny when comparing the Japanese dogbone and the US dogbone side to side. The Japanese dogbones have three foot controller cords, which is a pathetically short length by US standards. But it’s no big surprise; after all (or so I hear repeatedly) Japanese people all live in tiny apartments the size of my kitchen, so they’re never more than three feet away from their TV — even when taking a shower. Anything longer than three feet and the annual choking and tripping deaths in Japan would skyrocket. But hey, that’s Japan. In the US, we’re proud of tripping over our cords; it’s a matter of national pride. So how’s this for comparison: the cord on the US dogbone controller is eight feet long. No, not your standard six feet. Eight. Because of the three foot Japanese cord length, I think Nintendo of America decided to tack on another couple feet just out of spite. Either that, or Nintendo has a death wish for Americans.

Tetris 2+BomblissSo what else is new? A few things. First of all, you must drop everything and play Tetris 2 + Bombliss. This cart contains my new official favorite version of Tetris, and it comes with a bonus Tetris-like game called Bombliss. This particular version of Tetris was never released in the US, so not many American gamers probably know of it (and no, it’s not Tengen’s Tetris). And for some reason, despite the number “2” in the title, it seems to be the same ‘ole Tetris that we know and love. This version was developed by Bulletproof Software, has great graphics, smooth gameplay and controls, and relatively relaxing music (instead of relentless, frantic Russian marches that typically make me want to jump off a bridge when under level-11 duress). Bombliss, also included, is a game played with Tetris-like pieces, except that some of the pieces contain — surprise — bombs. Every time you complete a horizontal line, all the bombs in the line explode. Your goal is to blow up everything on the play field (normal blocks included) by tactical bomb placement. Bombliss also has a puzzle mode, which is really addicting and worth playing. The game even lets you put in your initials and saves all your high scores to SRAM. All in all, I think Tetris 2 + Bombliss is a must-have for your Famicom collection. How do you get it? Well either track down an original copy of the cart (worth having), or perhaps find it through other means.

MashouThe last thing I have to report is a follow up on the couple Deadly Towers articles we had on here. It turns out that one of the 18 used games that came with my AV Famicom was none other than the Japanese version of Deadly Towers, known as Mashou (“Evil Bells”) over there. The only thing I really have to say is that I played it for a while, and it appears to be exactly the same as the US version, which is to say that it sucks just as bad. I’m exaggerating a bit, because I really like the charm of it, but of course, it’s no Zelda. Overall, the coolest thing about owning Mashou in cartridge form is that the cart has a nifty red LED built into it that lights up when you turn the system on (see white cart in picture above). For that reason alone, you must own it now. Run, don’t walk, to your nearest…Japan. Try not to trip on the way.

Tetris 2 (J)

The Tetris part of the sublime Tetris 2 + Bombliss.
Bombliss (J)

The Bombliss part of Tetris 2 + Bombliss.

Gotta Love That Fresh “AV Famicom Smell”

Thursday, February 23rd, 2006

David the postman woke me up at the crack of dawn this morning (…11:00 AM…) with a special package delivery, shipped express from Japan. I quickly signed for it and dove into the box with earnest. Out popped a like-new condition AV Family Computer (Famicom) console with two “dog bone” control pads, one A/V cable, an AC Adapter, and 18 games! Yes; I was quite excited. But of course, people don’t just randomly ship like-new AV Famicoms to your doorstep. Nope — it takes some form of coercion (hopefully peaceful, like money) to get that to happen. I’ll admit: I bought it off of eBay, and perhaps paid a tad too much for it, but I am very happy with my purchase. During the whole Generation NEX fiasco, many VC&G readers were talking about how much the AV Famicom rocks. And after playing with it some today, I would have to second that emotion.

What rocks about it? Well, call me a weirdo, but I really love the fact that it has a standard Nintendo multi-AV socket on the back (hence the “AV” in “AV Famicom”). For your info, the cable that plugs into this type of socket is pictured on the left. There’s no RF-out here (the top-loading American NES has RF-out only) — just pure composite goodness. Yeah; I am quite aware (and happy) that the original NES has RCA audio and video outputs, but the standard AV jack on the AV Famicom means that I can have all four generations of Nintendo console units (Famicom, SNES, N64, and GC) sitting next to each other, and if I get tired of playing one console, I can simply unplug the AV cable from the unit and plug it into the back of another. Also, there’s the obvious reason that the video quality from a composite video output is superior to RF any day of the week. So that’s the video part. What else? Well, it plays Famicom games, and it plays them very well. It came with an AC adapter that works in US power outlets. And it has…get this…detachable controllers.

The original Famicom had built-in controllers. What’s more, the AV Famicom uses US NES-style controller ports, so you can use all your favorite NES control pads with the unit. I’m not sure if the light gun would work in port #2 though: the original Famicom’s light gun plugged into a special DB-15 accessory port on the front of the unit, and the AV Famicom replicates this port on the right-hand side, so I’m not sure if the AV’s port #2 wired to work properly with a US light gun. But I can’t talk about AV Famicom controller ports without mentioning the SNES pad-influenced “dog bone” controllers, which people either really love or…don’t really care. I’m a big fan of the original rectangular NES pads and don’t find them uncomfortable, so the dog bones tend to say in the closet. However, the AV Famicom iteself will be spared from the closet and instead will hold a special place in my entertainment center for years to come. If you have the cash and are serious about playing Famicom games on the real hardware, there’s no doubt about it: you should get an AV Famicom.

Shortcut to Booting MS-DOS on the Compaq IA-1

Tuesday, January 10th, 2006

IA-1Ah…more on my continuing adventures with the not-so-vintage, but very much obsolete Compaq IA-1. I got Midori Linux running long ago, but I’ve since longed to turn this thing into an MS-DOS machine, maybe to play some old shareware games with. The hardest part of booting MS-DOS on the Compaq IA-1 is making a bootable partition on a compact flash card. The IA-1 treats its compact flash slot it has like a regular ole IDE hard drive connection, as compact flash cards have a native mode that emulates IDE hard drive behavior (and therefore, the compact flash, when in use, is not hot-swappable). The problem arises when you try to format a compact flash card using a common USB compact flash adapter: Windows treats the card as a removable drive, and thus, no low-level formatting options (like making it bootable with system files on it) are available.

Luckily, with a tip from the I-Appliance BBS (an incredible resource, by the way), I found a freely-distributable program from HP that they made to format their Disk-On-Key USB JumpDrives (or whatever they call them newfangled things these days) to make them bootable. And guess what– it seems to work with all removable drives! It’s an incredibly nifty little program; there’s even a DOS version. So how do you get it? Relax, I’ve done all the work for you (impatient people who don’t actually read what I write will no doubt be struggling to find the link — buried in the text!). Here, in this file, is a perfect little Compaq IA-1 MS-DOS kit. Included in the zip file is the aforementioned program installer (for Windows, also includes DOS version), and a directory containing a modified version of MS-DOS that came with Windows 98 (some wise-guy Windows-hata changed all the files to say “MS-DOS 7.10” instead of “Windows 98” when you boot, etc., but it works great). All you have to do is install the program, set up your compact flash adapter, insert a card, run the HP program, and format it to include system files. When it asks which files to include, simply point it to the “MS-DOS 7” directory that is included in the ZIP. There you go.

After that, you’re on your own. I’ve played a few games of Scorched Earth and ZZT on it so far, but it’s a tad bit lacking without any sort of PC speaker sounds. Also, I have absolutely no DOS drivers for any of the IA-1’s built-in hardware, so unless you find them or write your own, you’re stuck to only the most rudimentary of programs. But still, MS-DOS on the IA-1 is a wonderful starting point to bigger and better things. Windows 98 on a microdrive anyone?

Another IA-1 update: I bought a used NetGear MA111 wireless 802.11b wireless network adapter because its chipset is supposedly supported by the drivers built-into the Midori Linux distro I’m using. So far, no luck getting it working, but I haven’t tried everything yet. I’ll mess with it some more later.

Also, here’s a cool PC World article on why Internet Appliances never took off. Tomorrow’s computer collectibles…today! Get ’em before they hit the dump.

Midori Linux on the Compaq IA-1 (Update)

Tuesday, December 20th, 2005

IA-1I had no trouble putting Midori Linux (best package found here) on the IA-1 last night after following these instructions (and using a program called WinImage instead of Dskprobe in Win2k). For anyone taking notes, make sure you use the El Torito image first before attempting to install/boot Midori, as listed in the instructions above.

This thing is cool. I never expected to have so much fun with it. The particular Midori distribution I used has been tailored specifically to the unit, so everything works instantly — LCD, keyboard, sound card, modem, USB ethernet, and USB wlan drivers are included. It’s got an XFree86 GUI with the Ice window manager (looks nice) and some apps like Opera, an email client, and an MP3 player, which are useful. It’s amazing they squeezed all that stuff into 16 megs of space. Once I get a USB ethernet NIC, I’m thinking about putting it in the living room, hooking it to the stereo, and using it as a streaming MP3 client (The XMMS MP3-player built into the Midori package supports this). You could do a lot of neat stuff with this machine. Maybe I’ll put MS-DOS on it and run a BBS. Or perhaps it should be my dedicated Klondike solitaire machine. 🙂 Either way, this thing is neat. If you can find one for under $30 and are comfortable with doing some simple modifications, get it.

(Update: 01/28/2013 – Since most of the Compaq IA-1 pages out there are dead now, I’ve decided to host a version of the Midori Linux image for the Compaq IA-1. You can download it here. It also includes the El Torito boot image and instructions on how to use it in a text file.)

Latest Crush: The Compaq IA-1 Internet Appliance

Monday, December 19th, 2005

IA-1I got my Compaq IA-1 today. It’s a spiffy little Internet machine from the peak of dot-com optimism (read: circa 2000). Unfortunately, it only runs a dumbed down version of Windows CE, was designed to use only Microsoft’s MSN ISP service, doesn’t have an Ethernet card built-in, and won’t do anything unless you’re connected to the Internet. So why get it? Because it was absurdly cheap and really neat-looking — and you can put Linux on it! That’s right, folks…these days, someone could find a way to put Linux on my toilet if they tried hard enough, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there is already a guide somewhere out there to do just that.

Some of the unit’s virtues are thus: a 266MHz AMD K6 CPU, 32MB SDRam, internal 16MB Flash RAM, integrated 800×600 color LCD display, four USB ports, a 56K modem, built-in microphone and speaker, a compact flash slot, wireless IR keyboard, and it’s tiny! Supposedly, the best form of Linux for the IA-1 is a variant called Midori, so I’ll try that out and let you know how it goes. With any luck, I’ll have an underpowered web-browsin’ machine in a few days. What’s the point? I have no idea. It’s the hack that counts.