33 Year Old Roll of Film Offers a Glimpse of My Vintage Computing Beginnings

film_roll_bwI got my first home computer on Christmas morning in 1982. It was a TI-99/4A with 16K of RAM. In the years that followed, I moved on fairly frequently to a new system, selling the old to fund it. I was doing basically the same, with less frequency, when I started building a vintage computer collection back in 1999. It was then that I began re-acquiring systems that I knew and loved from years past as well as certain systems that I badly wanted way back when but were much too expensive at the time.

Collecting configurations that I have previously owned gets me thinking and writing about those original systems. It’s this sort-of reliving of the experience of using those systems for the first time that is perhaps the most satisfying facet of this, my hobby. As such, I value any photographs that I have of those original setups. Sadly, I lack photos of most of them, having owned them in the days long before everyone started packing a pocket internet machine / GPS / camera. On visits to my parents’ houses I would spend considerable time poring over myriad boxes and binders of photos, looking for any undiscovered visual records of the systems of my past. I found a few, but not many. And in searching I found a number of rolls of undeveloped film.

I found a roll of 35mm film from the early 1990s and had it developed locally. The quality was weak after all those years, but it did give me a photo of my second Macintosh, the Mac LC. The rest of the undeveloped film that I found weren’t rolls but discs. Three rather older discs, holding unknown photos taken in the mid-1980s.

disc_4000Discs? In 1982 Kodak introduced a series of consumer-oriented cameras that used disc film which consisted of a disc of film offering 15 10x8mm exposures, contained within a squarish, plastic case. The film and the cameras that used them were thin and convenient for the day, but the image quality left much to be desired and ultimately it was not a highly successful format. I received a Kodak Disc 4000 camera (the mid-tier unit) for Christmas 1983 and used it for several years, taking photos of family, friends, and whatever else … including my computers.

Now, the disc film format died long ago and you can’t just walk into a CVS or even a Ritz Camera and get a disc developed. In fact, there are only one or two remaining places in the country that are equipped to develop disc film. One of them is the Rocky Mountain Film Lab in Colorado. Back in 2012 I sent two discs in to the lab for development and was told that they wait to accumulate a certain threshold of disc film development orders before running them through a development process that involves a special chemical mix geared towards getting the most out of very old film. A year passed with no news, but when I found a third undeveloped disc I sent it in to add to my order. There was no word from the lab for three years, despite a few inquiries, and I came to feel there was little hope of ever seeing what might be captured on those discs (not to mention development fees paid). On just arriving home from a week at the beach, however, I found a package containing three disc film negatives along with two CD-ROMs waiting for me.

With fingers crossed and in great suspense, I popped the CDs into my iMac.

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Posted in Apple II, Atari, Just Rambling, TI-99 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Showing Off the Atari SC1224 for “CRT Week” at r/Retrobattlestations

st_CRT

Earlier this month it was CRT Week at r/Retrobattlestations. There are many CRTs in my vintage computer collection, but for this contest I focused on the one that has the sharpest display of any 15kHz RGB monitor I’ve ever seen, the 12-inch Atari SC1224 made by JVC. Aside from its sharpness and clarity I love the industrial design of the unit, and it’s part of one of my favorite systems, the Atari 520ST.

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Gearing Up For Proper BBSing With the Raspberry Pi

modem_iconA few recent retro challenges I’ve undertaken had me wanting to spend a bit more time logged in to BBS’s strewn here and there about the web. I’ve spent an enormous amount of time on BBS’s over the years, nearly all of it long ago on systems that we today consider to be vintage. As such, I wanted to use just such systems to explore BBS’s that are online today, and that means telnet access. Unfortunately, my normal approach to setting this up, using my iMac to bridge an older system to the internet via serial connection, is presently broken. Apple completely redid the USB stack in OS X El Capitan and in so-doing broke the drivers for all of the various USB-to-serial adapters I have on hand. I needed to find another approach, and so I looked to the Raspberry Pi.

I ran a quick search and found that Keyspan USB-to-serial adapters work under Linux with the proper firmware. I downloaded the firmware and installed them on my Pi Model B laptop, which is equipped with WiFi. I dug out a serial cable, several gender changers, a DB9-to-DB25 converter, and a particularly hard to track down null-modem converter, I wired the lot together, and fired up my Amiga 1000. After getting getty properly configured on the Pi (with some help from @pdweinstein, whose Apple //c serial terminal adventure inspired me to start turning everything I owned into a serial terminal), I loaded up NComm on the Amiga and … voila, the Amiga became a serial terminal to the Raspberry Pi. A few keystrokes later, I was logged into @FozzTexx‘s Level 29 BBS, bbs.fozztexx.com.

As you can see from the short video of the adventure I put together, the Pi laptop easily sits on top of the Amiga’s monitor. Previously I had been running a long serial cable from my iMac on one side of the room to whichever system I wanted to use as a serial terminal. With this Pi laptop so configured, I can just walk it over to whatever vintage machine strikes me at a given moment, attach the Pi, and get onto the BBS’s in the appropriate fashion. My laptop Raspberry Pi has found its role and it’s nice to have easy access to BBS’s on proper hardware once again.

Posted in Amiga, Multi-Platform | 2 Comments

A Look Back at Three Decades of Word Processors

A few days ago I was running through twitter when I saw Peter Cohen (@flargh) link to a blog post he had written about distraction free writing and the focused simplicity of a 30 year old word processor. Reading the article, I began to reflect upon the word processors I have used over the past 35 years and it inspired me to write a little about a few of those that stand-out in my mind. (I should underscore the fact that this post is not meant to be a look at the overall evolution of the word processor, but a look back at my own experiences over the years.)

TIwriter1

TI Writer on the TI-99/4A (1983) — My first computer, the TI-99/4A, was nice for games and educational programs, but wasn’t the ideal word processing platform. Wanting to start using a word processor for my school reports (6th grade), I made the obvious choice to go with TI Writer, a combination cartridge and disk program that output to a printer tied to the RS-232 interface card (if you had one). The TI could only generate a 40-column display, but TI Writer delivered a virtual 80-column page that could be viewed using a left, middle, and right panning window — a bit cumbersome, indeed. I had a Smith-Corona TP-1 daisywheel printer hanging off of that board’s parallel port and became one of the very first kids in my class to hand work in done on a home computer. (Screenshot shows the first 1/3 of the 80-column sample document I created for this post.)
word processing icon
Apple Writer II

Apple Writer II on the Apple //c (1984) — My next computer was the Apple //c which I got right after it launched in early 1984. And it had 80 column text! The go-to word processor at that time was Apple Writer II, which was simple but functional — a dream compared to TI Writer! I had an Apple ImageWriter printer for output. (Screenshot shows a document I recently found on my 32-year-old Apple Writer II data disk.)
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Posted in Multi-Platform | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Remembering the Opening of the First Apple Store, 15 Years Later

Tysons Corner Apple Store OpeningYesterday marked the 15th anniversary of the opening of the first Apple retail stores, one at Tysons Corner Center in McLean, Virginia and one at the Glendale Galleria in Glendale, California. Together the stores saw nearly 8,000 people and $600,000 in sales during their opening weekend.

The Tysons Corner store was the first to open (VA is three hours ahead of CA), and my wife and I attended the event. With my trusty Apple QuickTake 200 digital camera in hand, I waited in line for an hour and fifteen, captured a gallery of (low resolution) photos of the opening, purchased a semi-translucent blue and white Epson printer (which nicely matched my G3), and headed home to write up the event for MacRumors.com.

My write up is still online at MacRumors (here), but is more readable as captured by Internet Archive (here), with the full post “Read More…” (here).

By the end of 2001, Apple opened 25 more stores within the U.S., and here 15 years later, there are presently 478 retail stores worldwide, across 17 countries (268 of them are within the U.S.). Apple Stores are a huge success and contributed in no small part to moving Apple from “beleaguered” to “most valuable company on earth.” On the opening day, however, there were plenty of doubters.

Bloomberg ran a piece on May 21, 2001, entitled Commentary: Sorry, Steve: Here’s Why Apple Stores Won’t Work. Within, various sources prognosticated failure and doom for Apple’s excursion into retail.

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Posted in Apple, Just Rambling, News | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

The ‘Real Genius’-Inspired BBS Challenge

Regular readers will have noticed that I have frequently joined in on the fun of r/Retrobattlestations‘ weekly and monthly retro challenges. I’ve done so with such frequency that I recently had to create an r/Retrobattlestations post category on this blog. These competitions, setup by /u/FozzTexx, generally involve firing up various types of retro computing hardware for a photo or maybe completing a programming challenge, the winners receiving a set of retro computing stickers and sometimes Reddit gold.

WarGames_RealGenius_stickers

Recently, things have gotten even more interesting. Back in March there was a challenge that involved dialing into a BBS using an actual telephone modem. The prize was an amazing looking WarGames multi-layer vinyl sticker crafted by Chris Osborn (@FozzTexx) himself. More recently there was a challenge that required a bit of sleuthing, in which Chris posted a video, inspired by the film Real Genius, containing a certain clue that led to a series of actions that may or may not have resulted in your correctly reporting the number of Frito Lay entries Lazlo Hollyfeld submitted to win the grand prize collection. I jumped down the rabbit hole on this one and made it through to the other side. I got the sticker, and the above photo shows the outside door to my basement “Byte Cellar” decorated with FozzTexx’s lovely multi-layer vinyl stickers.

I’d encourage anyone reading this post to come by r/Retrobattlestations and see what’s going on. It’s a rather fun little, nicely dusty, corner of the ‘net.

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KFest Funk Gonna Give It To Ya!

I get closer and closer to attending KansasFest every year. All the after-reports I hear on the various retrocomputing podcasts I listen to confirm it’s the ultimate blast for a hardcore Apple II fan.

I was talking about it with my wife the other night, when my 10 year old daughter asked me what it was like. She asked if the people there are the same “old men that just like to talk about old computers all the time, like you,” that read this blog. This comment made me wonder whether or not she had a handle on just how cool an event KansasFest is and, by extension, those in attendance. So, I did a quick YouTube search to try and find some footage that would set her straight. Right away I found just the thing.

As soon as it began, she seemed to be utterly in awe. During the entire video she was uttering “Oh my god. Dad! Oh my god!” Overwhelmed, just two thirds of the way into it she powered the iPad off. After a moment, I asked her if she now understood that KansasFest is the coolest of gatherings. She just looked at me, apparently unable to express the strong degree to which she indeed understood.

We haven’t talked more about it as yet, but if I do attend for the first time next year, I think I know someone who’s going to be begging her dad to bring her along!

Relevant Link:

Posted in Apple II, Just Rambling | 3 Comments

Computers Are Funny (Or Were…)

I have started a new photo microblog of sorts over at Tumblr, and if you’re reading this site, you may find it of interest. It’s called Computers Are Funny, and I thought I would give readers a quick heads-up. From the new site:

During the ’70s and ’80s computers were new and novel. This prompted many computer magazines of the day to include a comic here and there in their issues to poke fun at / help diffuse the cryptic, even daunting, nature of early computers. This site is an effort to get those little (sometimes painful) gems in front of eyes that may have missed them the first time around.

I have so many different periodicals of that era sitting on my shelves that I thought it would be a fun and perhaps worthwhile effort to snap a few photos as I’m leafing through them, to share with the internet.

compsrfun

(Bonus points if you can tell me who the cartoon avatar is, at the top of the page!)

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The French Touch Releases “Pure Noise” Music Disk for Apple IIe + Mockingboard

The French Touch is at it again. Grouik of The French Touch has just contacted me to let me know about the Apple II demo / hacking group’s latest production, Pure Noise, a music disk for the 128K Apple IIe. It requires a Mockingboard sound card and takes full advantage of all 6 channels across its pair of AY-3-8910 sound chips. The disk boots into a colorful graphical player complete with channel and spectrum bars that dance to the stereo playback the included tracks.

I can confirm that the Pure Noise sounds even better on an actual Apple IIe with Mockingboard than in the sample video, below. It’s a most impressive feat for a 1MHz 8-bit computer.

Last year the group wowed retro computing fans with their chiptune music disk, (NOT SO) Cheap Tunes, which I covered back in September. It had been decades since we last saw any program set Sweet Micro System’s Mockingboard to singing, when The French Touch released a disk of Atari ST chiptunes along with a player that played those 3-voice tracks in stereo on the Mockingboard. (The Atari ST, which has mono sound output, features a single 3-voice Yamaha YM2149F, a variant of the AY-3-8910 that was used in many home computers and consoles during the ’80s and ’90s, Mockingboardas well as in the Mockingboard; it has two of them.) Grouik informs me that the tracks included with Pure Noise take full advantage of the Mockingboard hardware, using its 6 audio channels to playback distinct sounds, beyond what was achieved in the earlier music disk.

Over the past few years The French Touch has released a number of Apple II scenedemos, utilities, game patches, and the like. Among the more popular computer systems of the early ’80s, the 8-bit Apple II has probably been the single most neglected in terms of demos coded for it. As someone who is a huge fan of the demoscene, it’s been great finally seeing the 8-bit II really show its stuff in this area. And all of the group’s releases since that first music disk — Plasmagoria, Raster Bars, and Crazy Cycles 2 — have featured excellent audio played through the Mockingboard.

Disk images for all of The French Touch’s releases, along with more information on each, can be found here (English (Google) translation).

Hats off, guys. Please keep the demos coming!

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As My Daughter Turns Ten, A Look at the Technology Then and Now

Rory_chromebookOn May 3rd, my daughter turned 10 years old. This is something that is nearly impossible for me to actually believe, given how rapidly the decade has flown by. It really does feel like she was born yesterday. (Or last week, anyway.) I could ramble long on this feeling, but it would be difficult for readers to endure, I think. At any rate, at this milestone I am feeling very proud of the person that she has become, while also feeling fairly old. And reflective.

In reflecting upon these past ten years, I thought back to where I was in the world at the age of 10, and the retrocomputing geek within me began to compare the present day to day routine of my daughter, Rory, to my own routine 24 years ago, with an eye towards the state of technology. So, I thought I’d write a little about it, in an admittedly not-so-focused fashion.

When I turned 10 in May 1982 I was just finishing the fourth grade (as she is). School days involved textbooks, worksheets, notebooks (picking the right Trapper Keeper was crucial), and pencils (we weren’t allowed to use pens yet). There was a big black slate chalk board at the front of the room and occasionally the cherished TV cart would be wheeled in so that we could watch an educational videotape. Classwork and homework were done in our notebooks, worksheets filed away in the side pockets. After getting home from school I TV cartwould sit down on the living room floor, in front of our aged 20-inch color TV, and play a few rounds of PAC-MAN, Demon Attack, and Pitfall on my Atari VCS. I might ride my bike along the gravel lane where we lived and maybe play on our beach or out on the pier.

I was, then, seven months away from owning my first home computer, a Christmas gift, which would turn out to be a 3MHz TI-99/4A featuring a 256×192-pixel display with 16 colors onscreen and 16K (Kilobytes) of RAM, which cost $300 (it was over $1,000 when it originally launched). The only storage available to me was by way of cassette tape.

Seeing any sort of computer anywhere around town at that time was a rare thing and an occurrence of which I always took particular note.

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Posted in Just Rambling, Other Platform, TI-99 | 6 Comments