Archive for September, 2011

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Asimov’s Pocket Computer

Monday, September 26th, 2011

Isaac Asimov promotes the TRS-80 Pocket Computer - Magazine Ad - 1982“It’s so small I nearly swallowed it.”

The TRS-80 Pocket Computer was an amazing little gadget. This 1980 calculator-sized computer packed a full QWERTY keyboard and the BASIC programming language built in. The ability to program BASIC on such a tiny pocket machine was incredible in an age when few calculators were programmable at all, and the ones that were required arcane rituals to program.

I used this exact model myself in high school on some math tests to perform some trigonometry equations in a BASIC program I wrote. Even though that was in the mid-late 1990s, the Pocket Computer seemed so futuristic that the teacher had no idea it was possible. Even today, the Pocket Computer remains incredibly useful for certain tasks. That’s an amazing thing to say about a device released in 1980.

[ From Byte, February 1982, back cover ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What’s the smallest computing device you owned prior to the year 2000?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Tecmo Leads The Way

Monday, September 19th, 2011

Tecmo NES Games Advertisement - Tecmo Bowl - Tecmo Baseball - Dragon Ninja - Mighty Bomb Jack - Rygar - Solomon's Key - Star Force - 1988Tecmo Games for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

Now that it’s football season, Tecmo Bowl fans out there may appreciate this 1988 group advertisement for Tecmo brand NES games. Tecmo published quite a few high quality titles for Nintendo’s 8-bit console, some of which are seen here. Three of my personal favorite Tecmo titles are Rygar, Mighty Bomb Jack, and Ninja Gaiden II.

I was always impressed with Tecmo’s box art illustrations and logo designs as a kid — they really jumped out at me when browsing NES games at a local rental store. You can see examples of Tecmo’s eye-catching cover designs near the bottom of the ad.

It’s interesting to note the presence of “Dragon Ninja (Tentative Title)” in this ad. From what I can tell, it appears to be an early version of Ninja Gaiden.

[ From Nintendo Fun Club News, April/May 1988, p.21 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What are your favorite Tecmo NES games?

[ Snapshots ] Workbench Apple IIgs

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

An Apple IIgs Workbench Computer - Photo by Benj EdwardsAn Apple IIgs on Benj’s garage workbench (May 2010)

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] My Robot Watch

Monday, September 12th, 2011

Benj's Dirty Transforming Takara Kronoform Robot Watch - circa early 1980sIt’s like a Transformer on your wrist.

I don’t remember where this watch came from. Maybe my parents bought it for my brother before me. Maybe I begged for it when I saw it at a local Revco drug store (as I did with many toys back then). What I do know is that I played with it as a three-year-old kid, and I was completely distraught when I lost part of it in my back yard.

You see, this digital watch isn’t just a watch — it’s a transforming humanoid robot. The center piece detaches from the wrist strap and unfolds into a tiny robot man. It was first sold in 1984 by Takara, the company responsible for originating the popular Transformers toy line in Japan. At some point I lost the robot part of my watch, and I figured I would never see it again.

A few years later, my mom stepped in from the back yard and presented a dirty piece of plastic in her soil-stained hands. Joy swelled in my heart as I recognized what she had found while digging in her garden bed: my missing robot watch.

It was dirty, of course, and the clock portion no longer worked due to years of weather exposure, but I was still ecstatic. If you ever lost a favorite toy as a child, you know how painful it is. Rarely does one ever find such a missing toy again. This was the one that came back, the one small victory for lost toys everywhere. That tiny hole in my heart, the one left vacant by my missing robot buddy, had been filled.

Ironically, I probably just put the watch in a box and forgot about it. Decades passed. While looking through some childhood knickknacks recently, I found it again and thought you might enjoy the story. It still feels good to know, as I hold this toy watch in my hands, that not all things we lose are gone forever.

Discussion Topic of the Week: What’s the coolest digital watch you’ve ever owned? Did you ever own a robot or game watch?

Yahoo News Screenshots from 9/11

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

Benj Edwards - World Trade Center September 11th 2001 Yahoo News ScreenshotThe Full Coverage page of Yahoo News on 9/11/2001 at 2:03 PM EDT.

Benj Edwards - World Trade Center September 11th 2001 Yahoo News ScreenshotA special terrorism page of Yahoo news on 9/11/2001 at 2:03 PM EDT.

I took these screenshots of the Yahoo News website ten years ago today — on the afternoon of September 11th, 2001. I had recently driven home from the campus of NC State University, which I attended at the time, and checked online for more details about the attacks.

The headlines seen here, with their blunt assessment of the dramatic and unprecedented events that unfolded earlier that morning, were very hard to mentally grasp. I felt like I was witnessing a scene from a Hollywood disaster movie made horribly real.

That’s why I took these screenshots. I thought I’d never believe myself, in recounting the events of that day, if I didn’t grab some evidence of what it was like to witness it at the time. I’m glad I did. I also filled four VHS tapes with TV news coverage of the event so I could show my future children what it was like. I’m not sure I will be able to summon the courage to watch them for quite some time.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Flight Simulator 9/11

Monday, September 5th, 2011

Creepy September 11th Microsoft Flight Simulator 5.1 Advertisement in ComputerLife - 1995“Safety is a pilot’s first and foremost concern.”

The most defining cultural, political, and national moment of my generation happened ten years ago next Sunday. You know what it is. The pain from that day is still fresh enough in my mind that I barely want to talk about it.

I recently ran across this advertisement for Microsoft Flight Simulator 5.1 in a 1995 issue of ComputerLife magazine. It gave me chills when I first saw it — as almost anything involving airplanes and the World Trade Center does for most Americans. The ad encourages the reader to fly safely when navigating close to the Twin Towers.

The fact that Microsoft designed an ad like this means nothing, of course — I’m not implying any kind of supernatural foresight embedded into a 1995 computer game advertisement. It’s just creepy in retrospect. The World Trade Center’s stature as one of the world’s tallest and most famous landmark buildings inevitably teased human minds to make dramatic juxtapositions like this — sometimes harmlessly, and sometimes — one time — with devastating results.

[ From ComputerLife, October 1995, p.5 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Where were you when you first heard about the September 11th, 2001 attacks? Did they change your computer or video game habits in any way?

Ultima IV Now Free on

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

Ultima IV Box Cover

As a commercial game download service, Good Old Games (GOG) has been bringing classic PC titles back to life for a few years now. Just today, GOG announced that the IBM PC version of Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar is now available as a free download over at their site.

Ultima IV has been available on the ‘Net as an authorized free download off and on over the years, but it’s always nice to have a trustworthy place to get it.

While you’re over at GOG, check out the site’s other offerings. I personally love GOG because they distribute original, full games without DRM. That is very important.