Archive for May, 2011

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] A Packard Bell

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Packard Bell Legend 650 Plus in Sears Wish Book 1992It’s just, you know, one a them computers. One a them things. Don’t work.

[ From Sears Wish Book, 1992, p.728 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: In your words, what is a computer?

Head-Tripping 3D Art of the Early 1990s

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

Head-Tripping 3D Art of the Early 1990s on

Up now on PCMag is a slideshow I made showcasing freaky-weird 3D amateur computer art of the early 1990s. It’s composed mostly of GIF files from the BBS era that I’ve been collecting for some time now.

Here’s a snippet of the introduction:

Back in the early 1990s, when 3D computer-generated art was still a new thing, a brave new breed of amateur artists emerged. They took up early 3D CGI (computer generated imagery) tools and created graphical works that they then shared on dial-up BBSes and CompuServe.

Over the years, I’ve collected dozens of these now-vintage images, and I recently noticed that many of them are, well, more than a little bizarre.

When you’re done checking out the slideshow, feel free to post your fondest memories of vintage CGI graphics. And if you have any bizarre 3D CGI images of your own to share, please post a link.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Big Trak Keypad

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Milton-Bradley Big Trak Keypad - circa 1979Bloop bloop bleep bleep bloop bleep bloop

While cleaning out my garage the other day (as I do periodically to make room for new stuff), I came upon the family Big Trak, which my father bought for my brother and me at a flea market in the early 1980s.

In case you didn’t know, the Big Trak was an electronic toy tank that one could program to perform certain movements in a sequence. At its heart lay the famous Texas-Instruments TMS1000 microcontroller. While the user typed in commands on the keypad seen above, the Big Trak emitted an array of wonderful synthesized beeps and bloops that still give me warm and fuzzy feelings when I hear them today.

Like many of the flea market toys my brother and I received back then, our Big Trak arrived with a broken front axle and a missing battery door cover. My dad would purposely buy broken electronics for very cheap and fix them up for us. And so he did with the Big Trak. The gadget provided many hours of entertainment for us as it traversed our living room’s shag carpeting time and time again.

After about 10 years of rough play and 20 years of improper storage, my Big Trak was in pretty terrible shape when I came upon it recently. It was time to put the Big fella to rest, so I pulled out this keypad just before saying a final farewell to our old family friend.

[ From Milton-Bradley Big Trak keypad assembly, circa 1979 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What’s your favorite electronic (non video-game) toy of all time?

Apple Stores Turn 10

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

A Tale of Two Apple Stores on

Ten years ago today, the first two Apple retail stores opened to the public. As you might expect me to do, I wrote an article about it. You can see the result, “A Tale of Two Apple Stores (The First Two),” over at Macworld right now. It’s part of a larger series of articles about the Apple retail stores’ 10th anniversary. Hope you enjoy it.

When you’re done reading, tell us about your first visit to an Apple Store. What were your feelings and impressions? Did you buy anything?

The 11 Most Influential Online Worlds of All Time

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

The 11 Most Influential Virtual Worlds of All Time on

CYBERSPACE (echo, echo, echo…):

The future of mankind or an ingenious scheme to sell virtual furniture for real money?

It’s been a while since I’ve done a slideshow where I attempted to quantify the unquantifiable and rank a series of things in order from least to greatest. I’m typically not a fan of the format because the results are always subjective, but I still think it works because it stimulates public thought and gives me a good excuse to both entertain and educate on a subject I love.

The subject, in this case, is online worlds, where people gather together in virtual space to buy/sell mouse-crafted Furry outfits, chat about LARPing, and construct entire worlds filled with simulated genitalia.

So without further ado, I present to you “The 11 Most Influential Virtual Worlds of All Time” over at PC World. I hope you enjoy it.

When you’re done reading/pounding your fists, feel free to tell us about your favorite online worlds in the comments below.

[ Snapshots ] Dinner with the Atari 1040STF

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Dinner with the Atari 1040STF.California Games at the Kitchen Table (October 2010)

The Secret World of Alternative Operating Systems

Monday, May 16th, 2011

The Secret World of Alternative Operating Systems on

Think Windows, OS X, and Linux are the only modern desktop operating systems out there?


(OK, I know you’re smarter than that. But just for a moment, feign ignorance so my intro works.)

Think again! Up now on Technologizer is “The Secret World of Alternative Operating Systems” — a slideshow devoted to 12 little-known GUI-based operating systems. Many of them are free, all run on the x86 platform, and none are based on Linux. Even cooler, a handful of them descend from legacy OSes and GUI shells that once intended to compete with Microsoft Windows.

This particular slideshow is devoted to operating systems that run on the most common PC standard at the moment, so don’t get disappointed if you don’t see AmigaOS, RiscOS, or MiNT up there.

I hope you enjoy it.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Video Rack

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Video Rack Atari 2600 Controller Accessory Ad - Tammy Sue Distributing - 1983Oh Tammy Sue, How I Adore You

How do you make a handheld controller into a non-handheld controller? By strapping on a giant block of unwieldy plastic, of course.

The Stick Station (subject of a RSOTW in 2006) achieved the same feat by using a large poplar board. The result was far more stylish than the Video Rack, but equally useless.

While there may be a handful of games that benefit from an immovable joystick base (like an arcade machine), they’re in such a minority that they don’t warrant a special peripheral. I back up this observation by the fact that the Video Rack and Stick Station are exceedingly rare peripherals. If everybody had wanted one, they’d be common today.

There is one one notable case, however, where a joystick stabilizer really helps. Atari shipped a special dual-joystick mount with every copy of Robotron 2084 for the Atari 8-bit computer line. I have one, and it is awesome.

[ From Electronic Games, December 1983 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: In your opinion, what video games would benefit from using the Video Rack?

10 Unreleased Video Game Consoles

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

10 Unreleased Video Game Consoles on

Up now on PCMag is a slideshow I made showcasing 10 unreleased video game consoles. I hope you enjoy it.

Do you know of any cool unreleased game systems that I didn’t mention? Tell us about them in the comments below.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] AOL Titanium 5.0 CD

Monday, May 9th, 2011

America Online AOL Titanium 5.0 CD Mailer - 1999There are about 730 hours in a month.

You may remember getting one of these in the mail in the 1990s.

Ok, ok…you may remember getting dozens and dozens of these CDs in the mail. Some people used them as coasters, some as Frisbees. Some put them in the microwave to watch them sparkle. (To any kids reading: please don’t try this.) Me? I collected them.

I saved just about every CompuServe, Prodigy, and America Online floppy disk or CD I ever received back then, and I amassed quite a collection. Some day I plan to write about these promotional disks more, but for now you’ll have to be satisfied with this shiny blue AOL Titanium 5.0 CD from way back in ’99.

[ From AOL Titanium 5.0 CD Mailer, 1999 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What did you do with all the promotional CDs and floppy disks you received in the mail?