Archive for the 'Technology Commentary' Category

Fix the DMCA to Preseve our Cultural Heritage

Friday, March 15th, 2013

Mickey Mouse Copyright Blur

Just up on The is an op-ed I wrote that argues for repealing the anti-circumvention section of the DMCA because it threatens the preservation of our cultural heritage.

Perhaps by now you’ve heard about the campaign to repeal the anti-circumvention section (1201) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This most recent challenge to the DMCA arose from a recent decision by the Librarian of Congress to discontinue a three-year exemption that made cell phone unlocking legal.

Opponents of the DMCA anti-circumvention provision claim that the law threatens consumer control over the electronic devices we buy, and they’re right. But the stakes are much higher than that. Our cultural history is in jeopardy. If the DMCA remains unaltered, cultural scholarship will soon be conducted only at the behest of corporations, and public libraries may disappear entirely.

That’s because the DMCA attacks one of the of the fundamental pillars of human civilization: the sharing of knowledge and culture between generations. Under the DMCA, manmade mechanisms that prevent the sharing of information are backed with the force of law. And sharing is vital for the survival of information. Take that away, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Share my article. Spread the word. It’s time to fix the DMCA.

“DRM is a problem like mold is a problem, like fire is a problem. What distinguishes it, of course, is that it’s a man-made construct, which makes it seem really sad.” – Jason Scott, Archivist at The Internet Archive

Virtual Console Makes Nintendo Look Incompetent

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Wii U Virual Console

In light of the news that Virtual Console games on the Wii U won’t be able to use save files from the Wii’s Virtual Console, I would like to point something out.

Just today, I found a NES save file for The Legend of Zelda dated May 28th, 1998 (created by legendary NES emulator Nesticle) and continued that saved game in Nestopia in the year 2013.

I did it to spite Nintendo, because this is ridiculous.

That emulator save file originated on a PC I owned 15 years ago, and it resided on a long-since-decommissioned hard drive. Now it’s saved to a SSD in a computer a bajillion times more powerful, with a different emulator, and it still works.

[ Continue reading Virtual Console Makes Nintendo Look Incompetent » ]

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Quick, Illegal, and Wrong

Monday, December 10th, 2012

ADAPSO Anti-Piracy Advertisement - 1985Piracy is as easy as hitting the Enter key on your numeric keypad.

27 years ago, the industry group Association of Data Processing Service Organizations (ADAPSO) created this public service ad warning of the evils of software piracy. I’ve transcribed its text below — just so you don’t miss it.

It’s easy to make a copy.
It’s quick.
It’s illegal.
It’s wrong.

It’s hard to believe.

People who wouldn’t think of shoplifting a software product on their lunch hour don’t think twice about going back to the office and making several illegal copies of the same software.

Making unauthorized copies of software is a violation of U.S. Copyright Law. Yet, the problem has reached epidemic proportions because many people are unaware, or simply choose to ignore the law. The software industry is urging decision-makers and software users to take steps to stop software piracy in their organizations. In the meantime, the industry has been forced to prosecute willful copyright violators.

There are legal, moral and economic imperatives forbidding theft of copyrighted software.

There is a free pamphlet on the subject. Call or write for a copy. A copy. A copy. A copy for everyone you know.
Please ask for Priscilla.

1300 North Seventeenth Street
Arlington, Virginia 22209
(703) 522-5055

“A copy. A copy. A copy. A copy.”

It really says that. I think it’s supposed to be a joke, albeit a very bad one.

ADAPSO changed its name to Information Technology Association Of America (ITAA) in 1991, although its supposedly current website is now owned by the International Trial Attorneys Association, so who knows if it even exists today.

[ From Compute!, November 1985, p.67 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the first piece of software you ever copied (or received a copy of) illegally?

See Also: Why History Needs Software Piracy (2012)
See Also: [ Retro Scan of the Week] Software Piracy (2009)
See Also: [ Retro Scan of the Week ] “What’s Wrong With Copying Software?” (2008)
See Also: Old-School PC Copy Protection Schemes (2006)
See Also: EGM Advertisement: Sell Famiclones, Go to Prison (2006)

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] A 1985 Solid State Drive

Monday, November 5th, 2012

SemiDisk Solid State Disk SSD Disk Drive Emulator Ad - 1985This IS your daddy’s SSD.

Back in January, I traced the evolution of the Solid State Drive from its 1978 origins to the present in a PC World slideshow. From that experience, I learned that SSDs, as a product class, were far older than most people realize.

Case in point: Seen here is an advertisement for a 1985-era SSD called the SemiDisk. The company behind this early SSD, SemiDisk Systems, sold a wide range of “disk emulators” (as they were called back then) for platforms like S-100 bus systems, the TRS-80 Model 2, and the IBM PC. All of them used solid-state RAM chips to achieve read and write speeds far beyond those of rotating platter drives at the time.

The 2 megabyte SemiDisk for the IBM PC retailed for $1,795 in 1985. That’s about $3,860 today when adjusted for inflation. Amusingly, at that vintage price rate — about $1,930 per megabyte — a 256 GB SemiDisk SSD would cost over $494 million today. Yep, that’s a 494 followed by six zeroes.

Of course, you can buy a 256GB flash-based SSD right now for under $180. Not bad.

[ From BYTE, September 1985, p.329 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: When did you buy your first solid state PC drive? How big was it?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Osborne 1

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Osborne 1 Portable Computer ad -  1982Two out of three doctors recommend Osborne 1 for muscle fatigue.

We’ve come a long way from what many consider to be the first commercial portable PC, the Osborne 1 (seen here), and the recently announced Microsoft Surface tablet.

Here’s a brain twister for you. If you packed a case the size of the Osborne 1 (think small suitcase) with Surface-sized portable tech, how powerful would the machine be?

[ From BYTE Magazine, February 1982, p.31 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was your first portable computer? When did you get it?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The iPad of the 1980s

Monday, March 12th, 2012

1980s iPad - TRS-80 Model 100 Catalog Page - 1984It’s the MICRO EXECUTIVE WORKSTATION, people!

iPad, schmyepad. In the 1980s, we had hair on our chests, far fewer seat belts, and we walked backwards downhill halfway from school every day in the monsoon season. AND WE LIKED IT. We also used the TRS-80 Model 100 — a sleek 3.9-pound, 2-inch thick machine that could run 20 hours on a single set of four AA batteries — for all of our mobile computing needs.

Imagine 8 kilobytes of RAM. Imagine a full travel keyboard and a 240×64 display that could fit in your lap. Imagine downloading stock prices at $12/hour from CompuServe at 300 bits per second over two acoustic couplers. It’s not a fantasy — it’s life in 1983.

Below, I present for your perusal a stat-by-stat comparison between the mighty Radio Shack wonder and today’s iPad, then I ask you: which is truly superior?

[ Continue reading [ Retro Scan of the Week ] The iPad of the 1980s » ]

Ancient Computers in Use Today

Monday, February 20th, 2012

Ancient Computers In Use Today - Kevin Huffman's Apple IIeKevin Huffman and his trusty Apple IIe.

The unrelenting pace of computer technology boggles the mind. For some individuals, businesses, and governments, it boggles the wallet as well. That’s one of the reasons a surprising number of organizations refuse to continuously upgrade their computer systems — even though every salesman in the industry tells them it’s the right thing to do.

I have often wondered how many of these vintage machines are still in use around the world. In the course of crafting history pieces for various publications, I encounter some entertaining stories of digital dinosaurs here and there (and I ask for them), but they are mostly light fare about a cousin who uses a Pentium I for word processing or a hacker buddy who won’t let go of his VT100 terminal.

I decided to dig a little deeper and found some individuals and organizations that truly depend on vintage computers, day in and day out, and I compiled the resulting stories into a new piece just published over at PC

You’ll read about one video game programmer’s reliance on a Tandy Color Computer 3, a company that uses a circa-1948 IBM machine for accounting, an Apple IIe that organizes a warehouse, and an entire national military/industrial complex so dependent on 1970s DEC minicomputers that it will still be using them halfway through the 21st century.

Read “Ancient Computers in Use Today” at PC

[ Continue reading Ancient Computers in Use Today » ]

Benj Talks Piracy and History on Public Radio

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Why History Needs Software PiracyYesterday I made a live appearance on Word of Mouth, a show on New Hampshire Public Radio, talking about my recent piece, “Why History Needs Software Piracy.” You can listen to the audio of the interview online. The interview appeared at the top of the show and lasted about 9 minutes.

It was my first live radio interview, so I’m not sure if I made any sense. Even if I didn’t, you can check out the dulcet tones of my telephone speaking voice.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The CD-ROM Caddy

Monday, January 30th, 2012

CD-ROM CaddyCompact Disc Protection

Here’s a computer artifact you don’t see very often these days: a CD caddy. Many early CD-ROM drives (released roughly 1985 – 1993) required the use of CD caddies, which were designed to protect CD-ROM discs from dust and rough handling. With a CD inside, they look a lot like a bigger version of a 3.5″ floppy disk, albeit with a clear window on one side.

When I ran across this caddy in my collection recently, it made me think a little deeper about why engineers invented them in the first place. Why were CD caddies so common at one point, I wondered, and why are they virtually extinct today?

I have decided that it all boils down to the price and preciousness of commercial CD-ROM discs.

[ Continue reading [ Retro Scan of the Week ] The CD-ROM Caddy » ]

Why History Needs Software Piracy

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Why History Needs Software PiracyOver at Technologizer, I’ve written an opinion piece that argues why history needs software piracy.

I had the idea for this piece a few years ago, so it’s nice to finally put my thoughts into written form — especially at a time when public debate over digital piracy’s role has reached a new high.

I don’t claim to be laying down the final word on the subject; instead, I view my piece as the beginning of a broader discussion about piracy’s role in the study of history. I hope you enjoy it.