[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Disk Box Modern Art

October 20th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

From Fellows 3.5The beauty of silent instructions

[ From Fellows 3.5″ Softworks Instructions - 1994, back]

Discussion Topic of the Week: If you had to guess, how many floppy disks do you own?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Donkey Kong Puzzle

October 13th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

MB Puzzle Milton-Bradley 200 piece Donkey Kong Puzzle box cover art - circa 1983That is one dangerous and sexy construction site

When it comes to vintage 1980s puzzles, few can beat the sheer cultural nostalgia value of this 200-piece Milton-Bradley Donkey Kong puzzle, which comes straight from my childhood. This is a scan of the front of the box.

It's not often that I find a true surprise lurking in our old family toys, but I had completely forgotten about this puzzle until I ran across it in the back corner of my mom's attic a few months ago. Memories of poring over the lush, vibrant artwork on the box rushed back to me as I pulled it from where it had lay, dusty and neglected, for 25 years.

Look at the the highlights, the curves, the gradients. The richness.

Luckily for me, all the pieces were still in the box, so I have now re-assembled the puzzle and framed it. It will never be lost again.

The artwork for this puzzle no doubt echoes the side cabinet art of the Donkey Kong arcade machine, but with added detail and an airbrushed vividness. I think it would make an awesome poster — does anyone know who the artist was?

By the way — even though I find it insanely difficult at times, the original Donkey Kong is one of my favorite arcade games. It was also one of the first video games I ever played, courtesy of a port to the Atari 800.

P.S. Pauline is way hotter than Princess Peach.

[ From MB Donkey Kong 200 Piece Puzzle Box - circa 1982-1983, front]

Discussion Topic of the Week: In your opinion, which is better: Donkey Kong Jr. or Donkey Kong 3?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Epson QX-10

October 6th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Epson QX-10 Personal Computer Boss Secretary Pulling Tie CPM advertisement - 1983There's a madman at the computer!

A fellow donated an Epson QX-10 to my collection some years ago, but I have never run it because I lack the proper monitor cable. This fascinating machine ran the CP/M operating system and came with a full suite of office-centric software tools, called VALDOCS, wrapped in a semi-graphical user interface layer that ran on top of its host OS.

As far as I've noticed from my QX-10, one of the coolest things about it is that it has specially engineered low-profile 5.25″ floppy drives. That was a unique thing to have in 1983, and it made the QX-10′s case very dense and compact.

[ From Interface Age - May 1983, p.34]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What do you think the world world be like if CP/M, rather than MS DOS (PC DOS), shipped on the IBM PC in 1981?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Risk Bodily Harm with STD

September 29th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

STD Interact Handy Boy Attitude Push it to the Edge Wheelbarrow construction site advertisement - 1994Push your friends to the edge — literally.

There is a certain irony to this pair of products by STD: one of them, the Handy Gear, makes your portable game console more rugged and less likely to break. The other, the Handy Boy, makes your console less rugged and more likely to break.

And both of them make you want to kill your friends, as this ad shows.

But seriously. One of my friends as a kid (who is amazingly still living) owned the Handy Boy accessory that snapped onto and around your Game Boy. The controller extension part looked cool but was useless and made playing games more difficult. But the magnifying glass and light were genuinely useful (especially the light part), since the Game Boy was notoriously difficult to play in low light conditions — which meant just about anywhere indoors.

By the way, long, long, long time readers of VC&G might remember that I lampooned this ad eight years ago in a column for GameSetWatch. But I just realized that I never featured it as a proper Retro Scan, so here it is.

[ From Electronic Gaming Monthly - November 1994, p.87]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you (or do you) own any notable Game Boy or Game Gear accessories? Tell us about them.

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The Warning Signs of Computer Dad Syndrome

September 23rd, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Computer Dad SyndromeDuring the 1980s, a debilitating disease broke out among white middle-class nuclear families across the United States. Fathers everywhere were seen awkwardly encouraging their children during regular activities — often while playing video games or using personal computers.

Thirty years later, doctors have finally identified this malady as Computer Dad Syndrome (or "CDS" for short), which manifests itself in spontaneous episodes of uncomfortably becoming someone's dad for the duration of a photography shoot.

Diagnosis of this condition is contingent upon the appearance of three or more of the following symptoms.

Clutching of the upper arm

Clutching of the upper arm

[ Continue reading The Warning Signs of Computer Dad Syndrome » ]

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Computer Shopper Debut

September 22nd, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Computer Shopper Magazine debut advertisement - 1979"The most divisive magazine in the USA."

Veterans of the computer scene will no doubt recall Computer Shopper, a massively large (11″ x 14″, later 10″ x 13″) and thick (usually around 1.25″) monthly publication that mostly ran classifieds and paid advertisements for PC vendors. The magazine ended its print run in 2009, 30 years after it launched.

I only know when it launched because of this advertisement for the launch of Computer Shopper that appeared in the November 1979 issue of Byte. It's interesting to see a legend at its birth.

I was never a huge fan of Computer Shopper, since it was essentially a month's worth of computer junk mail stuffed into an awkward and almost unreadibly-large magazine format. But I did respect it as a mainstay of the computer industry — as familiar as a phone book and as timely as a newspaper. May she rest in peace.

[ From Byte Magazine - November 1979, p.189]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you ever read (or more accurately, peruse) Computer Shopper? What are your memories of the publication?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Nintendo Smartwatch

September 15th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Nelsonic Nintendo Game Watches Zelda Watch Super Mario Bros. Watch Service Merchandise catalog advertisement - 1989Why not put LZDN1WBF and LSMN1WBF on your Xmas wishlist?

As you probably know, Apple recently introduced the Apple Watch. That got me thinking about other nerdy watches of yore, and I remembered something I recently found in my mom's attic.

Last month, my mother and I searched through boxes and boxes of my grandmother's old dishes to see what might be of use to me now. The dishes had been sitting in my parents' attic untouched for two decades. Many of them were padded with old newspaper from eastern Tennessee, which is where my grandmother lived until she died in 1992.

Among the usual black-ink-on-yellowing-paper fare, I found a handful of gloriously full-color advertisement circulars. A December 1989 mini-catalog for Service Merchandise caught my attention immediately because it featured a pair of Nelsonic Game Watches licensed by Nintendo. (That segment of the circular is what you see scanned above.)

Each of these two watches, which sold for ($19.97 a piece — or $38.37 today when adjusted for inflation) played a simplified prefab-LCD interpretation of its console namesake. If you remember Tiger's LCD handheld games, you're on the right track. In the Zelda watch game, you were forever trapped in a dungeon, and in Super Mario Bros. you forever hopped between platforms.

While these watch games were limited at the time, it was amazing to think you could fit a portable, battery-powered "video game" on your wrist and play it wherever you liked. I personally recall seeing more than one of these watches getting confiscated by teachers during my elementary school days.

That desire to carry functional video games with us has never abated. Heck, I bet that within days of the Apple Watch's release next year, someone will hack it to play emulated versions of Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda — allowing us to finally have the full NES experience on our wrists. It may be 25 years too late, but it will be amusing to see how things have come full circle.

[ From Service Merchandise Circular (IE499J), Dec 1989, p.11]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever owned a watch that played a game? Tell us about it.

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Macworld Magazine (1984-2014)

September 10th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

In Memoriam: Macworld Magazine, print edition (1984-2014)

Today I found out that Macworld will cease to be a print magazine and that many of my friends and colleagues have been laid off. Macworld.com will continue to exist, albeit with a relative skeleton crew.

It's very sad to see a day like this come (especially when I still look forward to a new issue of Macworld coming in the mail every month — one of the last print publications I read), but all things must come to an end. It is amazing, in retrospect, that Macworld magazine remained a constant, intelligent voice amid the chaos of a rapidly churning computer industry for thirty years.

Thirty years. Think of all the change that has happened in that time — the tech uphevals, the revolutions, the fall and rise of Apple, the Jobs-as-Phoenix, and rapid spread of the Internet — and through it all, Macworld has been there.

So thank you, Macworld, for serving the Mac community so well. And thanks to its staff in particular. I'd especially like to express my gratitude to Roman Loyola, Jason Snell, Dan Moren, Dan Frakes, Dan Miller, and Philip Michaels (among many others) for their wonderful work on the publication, and their genuine humanity, decency, patience, and fairness (sometimes rare qualities in an editor) through the years.

Roman Loyola, in particular, has been my go-to guy to get my — nay, our — particular brand of Apple history work pushed out to the world, and I am immensely grateful to have worked with him.

The talent pool of editorial labor laid off from Macworld today is immense, and other publications would be fools not to snatch them up as quickly as they can.

As for me, I've been contributing to the publication since 2008. As long as Macworld.com is still around, I might still write things for it. (Completely gutting a publication of its beloved veteran staff doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the future, however.) Time will tell. Until then, it's been a great ride.

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] iMac G4 Memories

September 8th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Apple iMac G4 debut advertisement - 2002White on white. Amazing that it shows up.

On the eve of a potentially large and impactful reveal of new Apple products, I thought it an opportune time to take a look back at this now-12-year-old debut advertisement for the iMac G4. And to wax nostalgic about Apple product events.

The ad itself is clean, white, minimalistic, and so modern-feeling that I think it would work very well, unchanged, as a print advertisement today.

As for Apple product launches, I've been closely following them since the debut of the original iMac in 1998. (As an aside, I remember telling my dad to buy Apple's stock when it was $14 a share in late 1997 — not long after Steve Jobs had returned to the company — and he scoffed at me.)

For the next five years after that first iMac launch, the excitement of unexpected new Apple products seemed to build relentlessly, each one seemingly trumping the last. There was the Power Mac G3 (blue and white), the iBook, the Power Mac G4 Cube, then, of course, the iPod (although nobody really knew what a big deal the iPod was at the time).

Then came the iMac G4, and I had to have one. Prior to that, I had last used a new Mac in 1987-88 with the Macintosh SE, but our family had been Windows-centric since then (today I use OS X, Windows, and Linux almost equally). After much pestering, I convinced my dad to loan me the cash to buy the high-end iMac G4 model with the 800 MHz CPU and the DVD-burning SuperDrive.

Unlike any machine before or since, it felt like I was buying a complete computing experience. Coupled with a newly revised version of OS X (10.1, I believe), it felt like a new era of computing was upon us. Keep in mind I was coming from the "must reinstall every year, crashes every 10 minutes" world of Windows 98.

The iMac G4 design turned heads; its release was truly a watershed event in Mac history that brought a lot of "switchers" from the Windows world. I showed that thing off to everyone, taking it into my dad's office to demonstrate it to folks there, and I even invited my mailman (a confessed Mac fan, as I had learned from prior conversations) to come inside one day while he was dropping off a package to try it out.

I used that iMac daily for email, iChat, photo management, and web browsing until around 2006 when the already overtaxed machine couldn't keep up with modern websites. Today, it sits proudly on a desk in my office, ready to be called to duty for whatever PowerPC-era Mac task I might throw at it.

By the way, if you're interested in learning more about the iMac G4, I wrote an article about the machine — one of my personal favorites — for Macworld back in 2012.

[ From Esquire - June 2002, rear cover]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What new Apple product were you most excited about when you first heard of it?

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Andrew Kay (1919-2014)

September 4th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Andrew Kay, founder of KayProIn Memoriam: Andrew Kay (1919-2014), founder of KayPro
and inventor of the digital voltmeter

The Kaypro II (1982), sold by Andrew Kay's company, was one of the earliest vintage computers I added to my collection (and my first CP/M machine) way back in the early 1990s. Its high-quality components, including its sturdy metal case, its integrated serial and parallel ports, its full-sized keyboard, and its sharp 9-inch green-screen monitor made it a joy to use. And man, it had an 80-column display, which made it a competent word processing machine even in 1994.

With everything integrated, the Kaypro II was a truly plug-and-play machine at a time when other systems required hooking up chains of various peripherals to get things done. With the KayPro II, you folded down the keyboard, plugged it into an outlet, inserted a disk, and flipped it on. It was an island oasis in a sea of endless computer cords.

Andrew Kay's achievements were great (among his other works, he invented the digital voltmeter in 1952). He will be missed.

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