David H. Bunnell (1947-2016)

October 19th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

David H. BunnellIn Memoriam: David H. Bunnell (1947-2016),
tech media pioneer, founder of PC World, PC Magazine, and Macworld

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[ Retro Scan ] Voice It VT-40 Digital Recorder

October 19th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Voice It VT-40 Flash Memory Digital Voice Recorder Discover Magazine advertisement scan - 1995A 40-second safe deposit box, mind you

In 1994 and 1995, several manufacturers released the first batch of solid state digital voice recorders. All of them used newly available flash memory chips to record audio notes digitally without the need for magnetic tape.

This VT-40 recorder from Voice It was among the first, launching around May 1995 in the US. It could record 40 seconds of audio in 10 audio clips — all that for a mere $69.99 MSRP. Unlike some competing units, the audio clips recorded by the VT-40 were stuck on the recording device and could not be digitally transferred to another medium or a computer. Around the same time, Voice It also launched a higher-capacity unit, the VT-75, which could record 75 seconds of audio.

Despite the convenience of having a small, thin audio recorder with no moving parts, the low capacity of these first generation flash recorders made them more of a novelty than anything else. I remember around 1996 when my dad brought home a keychain digital audio recorder that could record about 30 seconds of audio. It was fun to play with — and a marvel of technology at the time — but it didn't have enough capacity for useful note taking.

Of course, today we have endless solid state audio recording capacity through removable flash cards, etc., and digital note recorders are the mainstream (and have been for at least a decade). But it's neat to look back on how it all started.

[ From Discover Magazine, May 1995, p.91 ]

Discussion Topic: When was the first time you used a solid-state or digital audio recorder? Tell us about it.

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[ Retro Scan ] Pitfall in LIFE

October 10th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Activision Pitfall! for Atari 2600 LIFE Magazine scan - 1982Watch out for that jungle crude oil pit

As a kid, we had an Atari 2600, and before the NES era, Pitfall! was very popular in our household. Unlike most Atari VCS games, it felt like a real adventure, and it was thrilling to directly control a tiny jumping human on the screen while avoiding crazy jungle hazards like alligators and, well, huge pits that led to nowhere.

By the way, this is the largest single-page Retro Scan I've ever scanned — it comes from a large format LIFE magazine ad. I found the magazine in my grandparents' washhouse in Texas back in the 1990s and saved it because of this ad.

If you're curious, here is the full scan jumbo size at 600 dpi (it's a 5919 x 7761 pixel 38 MB JPEG, so watch out).

[ From LIFE magazine, November 1982, p.113 ]

Discussion Topic: Which is better: Pitfall! or Pitfall II: Lost Caverns?

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Ed Smith and the Imagination Machine

September 2nd, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Ed Smith and the Imagination Machine

Just today, FastCompany published my in-depth history of Ed Smith and APF Electronics.

APF was responsible for several video game consoles in the 1970s (like the MP1000) and a personal computer called The Imagination Machine. Ed Smith was the primary electronics designer for the MP1000, and he has quite a story to tell.

I think you guys will really enjoy the piece.

Thirty-seven years ago, New York-based APF Electronics, Inc. released The Imagination Machine, a hybrid video game console and personal computer designed to make a consumer's first experience with computing as painless and inexpensive as possible.

APF's playful computer (and its game console, the MP1000) never rivaled the impact of products from Apple or Atari, but they remain historically important because of the man who cocreated them: Ed Smith, one of the first African-American electronics engineers in the video game industry. During a time when black Americans struggled for social justice, Manhattan-based APF hired Smith to design the core element of its future electronics business.

What it took to get there, for both APF and Smith, is a story worth recounting—and one that, until now, has never been told in full.

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[ Retro Scan ] HP 95LX

August 30th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Hewlett-Packard HP 95LX HP-95LX Handheld Computer Pocket Computer Palmtop PC User's Guide Cover scan - 1991HP-95LX: Like a computer-shaped cookie that you can't eat

In case you didn't know, the HP 95LX is a small, portable IBM PC compatible machine running a full version of MS-DOS that ran off of two AA batteries. It marked the beginning of HP's palmtop computer line, which I wrote about recently in a slideshow for PCMag.com.

The HP 95LX is special to me in particular because I've had one for over 20 years now. My dad bought the machine slightly-used from a friend not long after it came out. After fiddling around with it for a while, he gave it to me, and by 1993, I had it in my collection.

Using an RS-232 serial cable my dad built for me, I managed to transfer some MS-DOS programs to it (a few text-mode games mostly, and a few HP 95LX apps I downloaded from CompuServe), that I remember taking to school and using once or twice just for kicks. I also used that serial cable to hook the 95LX to a modem so I could call BBSes with it.

The worst thing about the 95LX — aside from its 1/4 CGA screen that doesn't let you run many MS-DOS apps — is that if you don't have a plug-in memory card, you lose all your saved data on the RAM disk if it runs out of batteries. Sure, it has a backup coin cell battery (or maybe two), but if that runs out, you're out of luck. The PC Card-like memory cards cost a lot of money back in the 1990s, so I never had one until recently.

Still, it's an amazing little machine. Very capable — if you have the patience to use it. A few years later, HP got everything right with the 200LX, which is still a popular portable MS-DOS machine among certain diehards today.

[ From HP 95LX Users's Guide, 1991, cover ]

Discussion Topic: Did you own a palmtop PC in the 1990s? Tell us about it.

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VC&G Review: Areaware Windows Solitaire Cards

August 26th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Areaware Windows Solitaire Cards Jokers Photos by Benj Edwards

No, you're not seeing things. These are actual physical playing cards designed to look just like the classic Microsoft Solitaire card faces — the same faces Microsoft used for its Windows-based card games between 1990 and 2007.

Just this month, home decor vendor Areaware began selling the cards, which were produced with the help of the cards' original graphic designer, Susan Kare (and with the blessings/license of Microsoft).

Kare is best known as the designer of the original Macintosh fonts, icons, and interface elements. She also created most of the icons for Windows 3.0, which was the first version of Windows to ship with Microsoft Solitaire. Along the way, she ended up designing the Solitaire cards too.

Excited as I always am for computer nostalgia, I eagerly bought a pack of these new cards as soon as they became available, and I put them through the ultimate test: a game of real desktop Klondike solitaire.

[ Continue reading VC&G Review: Areaware Windows Solitaire Cards » ]

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[ Retro Scan ] Mindscape NES Games

August 25th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Mindscape NES Games Flier scan - 1990ULAF SAY, "MIND SCRAPE"

I believe this Mindscape flier came packed with Days of Thunder for the NES. I am not a huge fan of the games depicted here aside from 720 and Gauntlet II, both of which are pretty good Atari Games arcade ports.

And while M.U.L.E. is a favorite of mine on the Atari 800, I am not a big fan of the NES version. It's nice that it uses the Four Score / Satellite four player adapter though (Gauntlet II does as well).

[ From Mindscape Flier MIN-NES-US, 1990 ]

Discussion Topic: What's the best four-player game for the NES?

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Analogue Launches 'Nt Mini' Modernized NES Console

August 22nd, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Analogue Nt Mini

The upcoming NES Classic has its first high-end competitor.

Just today, Seattle-based Analogue is announcing the Analogue Nt Mini, a miniaturized version of its videophile-grade NES-compatible console that debuted earlier this year. The intention, according to Analogue founder Christopher Taber, is to go head-to-head with the NES Classic console from Nintendo that ships in November.

It will not be undercutting the NES Classic in price, however. This little beauty will cost you $449.

Unlike the earlier Analogue Nt, which was partially made out of recycled parts from authentic Nintendo Famicom circuit boards, the Nt Mini utilizes FPGA technology to simulate the authentic NES chips in a smaller package.

The Mini also includes RGB+HDMI output by default (HDMI was an upgrade option for the original, limited-edition Analogue console) and an 8Bitdo wireless NES controller and Retro Receiver for wireless play. It plays games off of original NES and Famicom cartridges.

Despite its attention to built quality, the Analogue Nt Mini is a very expensive proposition — especially when you can buy a working original NES on eBay for anywhere from $40-$100, and Nintendo's own HD NES Classic will retail for $59.99 (of course, that model will only play 30 built-in games).

And if you think $449 is expensive, keep in mind that this is the same company sold a 24K gold version of the first Analogue Nt for $5000. So much like buying a $200 bottle of wine, cultural cachet is a big part of Analogue's marketing angle.

I will try to get my hands on an Analogue Nt mini for a review and see if that price can possibly be justified. Until then, Analogue is opening up its site for Nt Mini pre-orders today if you'd like to dive into boutique NES waters head first.

It's amazing to me that it's 2016 and the the NES console market is heating up in ways I never thought possible. (We've come a long way from the Generation NEX, which inspired me to launch this site back in 2005.) Between this new unit from Analogue, Nintendo's NES classic, and RetroUSB's AVS — a $180 HD NES remake which I intend to review soon — I can see that I am going to have a fun and busy fall.

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[ Retro Scan ] My First Website Setup Email

August 16th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Benj's first website setup email scan - 1995"Don't give your password out." Oops!

21 years ago today, I received this email from Mike Leber of Hurricane Electric, a company that rented out web hosting space, among other services (in fact, they're still in business).

Since it was a setup email describing how to utilize my first-ever website space, it was important enough for me to print out on my nifty Canon BubbleJet printer. That's what you see scanned here. I probably have the original email too in electronic form sitting around somewhere.

You'll also notice that I wrote down a convoluted URL (in which I wrote a strange "(e)" after the ".com" — perhaps I was confused), which turns out to have one pointed to a ghost hunting website. I was big into that stuff back then (I was 14 at the time, if that explains anything). The Purdue email address scrawled in pencil probably has something to do with that as well.

Reading through this old email is fun today. System resources were relatively scarce back then, so the rules about what you could do with your minuscule web space were pretty strict. I particularly enjoy the "MUDS will not be tolerated" line. And the thing about calculating the mass of an electron.

Late last year, I wrote a big article about the process of creating this website (which I called "The Schmeli Caborgan") for FastCompany. I also wrote about my first ISP, Nando.Net, in a Retro Scan post earlier this year.

[ From Benj Edwards personal email printout, August 16, 1995 ]

Discussion Topic: When did you set up your first website?

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The IBM PC Turns 35

August 12th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Benj's IBM PC 5150

35 years ago today, IBM launched the IBM Personal Computer — the first-ever IBM PC. While it was simply called the "IBM Personal Computer" back then, we now know it more commonly by its model number, 5150.

PCWorld recently asked me to do something to celebrate this anniversary, so just a few days ago, I took apart my personal IBM PC 5150 and documented the process on my workbench. And back in 2011, I wrote some other articles about the IBM PC on the occasion of the machine's 30th anniversary.

In fact, I've done a lot of coverage of the IBM PC over the years, so I thought you guys might enjoy seeing a collection of all of them in one place. Here we go.


IBM PC Retro Scans of the Week

IBM PC-Related VC&G Posts

There may be more lurking out there, but that's quite a bit of reading if you're interested in the IBM PC.

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