Handheld Gaming on a Snowy Day

The recent winter storm in the D.C. area left us snowed in for a couple of days last week, and when I wasn’t romping around in the white stuff with my daughter or otherwise enjoying the family, I spent some time gaming on the handhelds. I picked the Nintendo 3DS back up and started working through Ocarina of Time 3D not long ago, and I’ve been having fun with TxK on the Vita quite bit lately. Rory and I are playing through the beautiful Monument Valley on the iPad again, as well. With so many handhelds lying about, I decided to pull the rest out and take a photo of the lot.

You’re looking at the Atari Lynx, iCade Jr. (son of iCade, fit with an iPhone 4S), Nintendo DS Lite, Sony PS Vita, Nintendo 3DS, Sony PSP, a Tamogatchi (virtual pet), and a GamePark GP2X (Linux-based console). And that’s all of them.

I was happy to see my photo made Flickr’s Explore gallery just hours after I uploaded it. That’s a record!

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Fun with the Tandy CoCo 3

This past week was “Radio Shack Week” at /r/RetroBattlestations, what with the bankruptcy, store closings, etc. For my contribution, I pulled out the Tandy Color Computer 3 and did my thing in the NitrOS-9 shell. (It’s a little bit more fun than my Model 4.) Mission accomplished. But, really, it was more fun was playing around with the CoCo 3 given that it was all setup and running. (Sadly, I acquired the CoCo 3 (and a second CoCo 3 and a CoCo 2) after I ran out of space in the computer room, and so it sits on the shelf most of the time.) #sadface

I spent much of the weekend booting up both old favorites and games I’d never tried before. It was a lot of fun. And while I was at it, I took a few very rough videos that I’ve stitched together into what you see below. It’s crude, but I’ll bet there are a few games in there you’ve not seen before.

The CoCo is a great little machine. The Motorola 6809E is arguably the most powerful 8-bit architecture of them all. I really need more desk space to keep this system setup and ready to go. And maybe a Model I, as well…

And the games shown? In order: Flight Simulator II, Sierra Christmas Demo, The Black Cauldron, Super Pitfall, NitrOS-9, Donkey Kong, Silpheed, Pitfall II, Tut, Mega-Bug, Horace Goes Skiing, Pooyan, Time Bandit, Rubes Cubes, and Glove.

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Don’t Let the FCC Impose Dial-Up Access Charges!

Dial-up users, we have to unite! The FCC is attempting to impose access charges to interstate enhanced services, such as Sprint’s Telenet, that use local dial access. Or, they were…28 years ago…as can be seen in the above letter I received way back when as a user of PC Pursuit.

Telenet, which went online in 1974, was the first public packet-switching network. Telenet Inc., with Larry Roberts as President, was established to create a private sector version of ARPANET. PC Pursuit, for a flat monthly fee, let users dial into the Telenet in one city and then dial out through the modems in another city to bypass long-distance phone charges in accessing distant BBSs. It was a proposition that sounded better on paper than in practice, in my experience at any rate. I dialed in at a mere 1200 baud, but the effective data transfer speed was much slower than that. After a couple of months, I dropped the service.

I just ran across this letter Sprint sent out to customers back in 1987 in a box of items in my basement. I thought readers might enjoy the look back.

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New Blog Announcement: Nostalgic Virginian

This is not a vintage computing post, but it has to do with the vintage. Vintage memories. Of Virginia.

I’ve run this vintage computing blog for 11 years. Pouring out my own memories of thrilling geeky days gone by and sharing news of the retro new has been very fulfilling for me. Almost spiritual. And, as I’ve gotten older, my mind drifts back to the vintage more and more, but in realms beyond just computers and technology. My sense of nostalgia has grown in general, perhaps as a part of the normal aging process.

And, so, I here announce a new blog I have setup that will serve as an outlet for my reminiscence as a person who grew up in the Commonwealth of Virginia. I have spent my whole life living somewhere within what was one of the original 13 Colonies in the American Revolution. I even grew up in York County, near Yorktown proper, where Cornwallis surrendered.

The new blog is called Nostalgic Virginian…and that’s what I am. I look forward to sharing memories with other Virginians who call this place home, and perhaps a small few outside the state will find it interesting reading. Perhaps.

At any rate, it’s been fun over the past two months and I just wanted to spread the news, here on my better known blog.

Come have a look. Or don’t.

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Whither Radio Shack [Updated]

As everyone reading this is surely aware, Radio Shack has very recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and is in the process of closing 1784 of their stores. And there can be no doubt that everyone reading this saw the writing on the wall years ago. And that’s where I will leave the matter of their decline, as the purpose of this post is not to malign the once mighty, fallen. The purpose of this post is to share my memories of the Radio Shack that once was. Here we go.

The first memory I have, connected with Radio Shack, is the crystal radio kit my father gave me when I was about seven years old. (A crystal radio is a passive receiver that requires no external power source. I recall finding that pretty amazing.) The next memory I have is of the first time I recall being inside a Radio Shack store. I was with my mom and dad in a shopping mall in Harrisonburg, VA, wanting some toy from a toy store there. My dad told me to come with him, as there was something I’d probably like better than the toy. He took me to a Radio Shack a few stores down the way and bought me a portable AM transistor radio (this model but black, not red). He was right about the toy, by the way.

I grew up along the York River in York County, VA and, living on the water in that region, hurricanes were something we had to watch out for. I recall getting front-line weather news way back when via our Realistic Weatheradio, perched atop the kitchen fridge. (It was a hurricane that, ultimately, destroyed the house I grew up in.)

Dad was a NASA engineer and, unsurprisingly, enjoyed poking around the local Radio Shacks (in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia) with some frequency. I was often there with him or in a store on my own while my mother shopped down at the mall. The things I was most interested in, of course, were the computers.

I started taking an interest in the computer displays around 1981, as I recall. I would spend a lot of time on the TRS-80 Color Computer, playing whatever cartridges were laying out. I used to love playing the CoCo version of Mega-Bug with its nifty little magnifying glass effect — it was always a treat to find that running in the store. (Weak joysticks, though.) The more business-oriented machines were intriguing to me, as well. The TRS-80 Model II with its 8-inch floppy drives looked, to me, like an intimidatingly powerful computer. The Model III had my attention, also. I would sit down in front of those all-in-one systems and type things into their TRS-DOS command lines…but I didn’t know any of the commands.

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Bmp2DHR: The Best Apple II Graphics You’ll See This Week

I brought home my first Apple IIgs in the fall of 1987. That was year that CompuServe released the initial GIF specification (along with clarification that the “G” is soft). Up until then, the graphics files worth looking at existed mostly in Amiga IFF/ILBM, Atari ST Neochrome and DEGAS, and Apple MacPaint image formats. At the time, getting images of these  platform-specific formats loaded on different systems was not easily done. The purpose of GIF, the “Graphics Interchange Format,” was to solve this problem by giving developers a standard format to target that could properly encode graphics generated by most of the systems of the day.

Once GIF caught on, and it did so quickly, GIF viewers (or “converters”) appeared on most modern platforms — systems with “high” resolution displays and thousands (or hundreds) of colors in their palettes — right away. For older systems with relatively meager graphics and CPU capabilities, on which crunching on a modern graphics file was somewhat Herculean, the arrival of GIF converters took longer.

The 8-bit Apple II series was one such platform. With a 1.02MHz 6502 CPU, 64K of RAM, and just six colors in its 280×192 pixel High Res graphics mode (the enhanced IIe and //c brought twice the RAM and a 16-color Double-High Res graphics mode), it wasn’t a graphics powerhouse. Despite this, developer Jason Harper was right out of the gate in 1988 with ][GIF, an 8-bit program that could convert and display GIFs in the Apple II’s various graphics modes. The results were definitley crude but the Apple II could now view images created on other, modern platforms. And, that was pretty great. Jason went on to write SHRConvert (later to become SuperConvert) for the much more graphically advanced 16-bit Apple IIgs that took advantage of its improved capabilities in conveting GIFs as well as as native images from other platforms.

Original ][GIF to DHGR mode
Super Conv to DHGR mode Bmp2DHR to DHGR mode

Flash forward 26 years to 2014 and hobbyist programmer Bill Buckels releases Bmp2DHR, a utility for converting BMP images (which support 24- and 32-bit truecolor, beyond GIF’s 256-color limitation) to various Apple II image formats. As Buckels describes it,
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The iOS Family Pile (2015)

iOS Family Pile 2015

It may be that I need help. Here’s the breakdown:

iOS photo legend

Earlier piles: 2012, 2010

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Look What Came in the Mail Today!

An iconic holiday greeting from San Francisco (the town and the font). It’s good to be on Susan’s “nice” list at Christmas!

Have a look at my related post about Susan Kare and the 2013 holiday, “A Few Words About a Kare Package I Received Last Christmas.”

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Have a Helping of 8-bit Holiday Cheer! (2014 Edition)

I’ve been a computer guy for a long time now, but I’ve been enjoying Christmas even longer.

I got my first computer, a TI-99/4A, on Christmas morning, 1982. I was 10 years old, and from that Christmas on, it was games and hardware I wanted Santa to leave me under the tree. On through my teenage years, part of my ritual for getting into the Christmas spirit and enjoying the holidays was downloading and watching Christmas demos on whatever system I had at the time (and every platform out there had a few of them).

Enjoying these demos is a personal tradition that I had, sadly, long left behind until last Christmas when I was inspired to seek out one of the demos I remember best, Audio Light’s 1985 musical slideshow for the Atari ST. With the help of an emulator, I captured it to share online with readers.

Here, a year later, I recently brought it up and watched it run through it’s pixellated images and 3-voice musical holiday greeting. As I watched, it occurred to me that it might be nice to gather a few of the other demos I remember from those good ole’ days and present them here, in order to perhaps share some of the holiday cheer that they used to inspire within me.

The following list of demos ranges across a number of platforms of olde. I’ll start with the Atari ST demo I presented last year. Happy holidays, and I hope you enjoy the shows!

Atari ST: Audio Light Christmas demo (1985)

C64: Seasons Greetings from Commodore (1982)

DOS PC: Sierra On-Line’s A Computer Christmas (1986)

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An Apple II Anecdote: Fun with the AST RamStakPlus

Here’s a quick little little anecdote from my Apple II past that I thought I would share.

I was trying to mentally sort a bit of the computer chronology of my past in the shower this morning (no waterproof serial terminal in there to check The List) and I got to thinking about the Apple IIgs. It’s one of the two systems I had the most fun with way back when (the other is the Amiga 2000).

While I attended the Apple IIgs launch event in the fall of ’86 at the local Chaney Computer / Connecting Point in Newport News, VA (it took place at dealers all over the place), I didn’t get my first GS system until a year later. Over the next few years I loaded it up with hardware. I added an MDIdeas SuperSonic stereo card, a Central Point Software / VTech Universal Disk Controller, a Prometheus ProModem 1200A internal modem, an AST Vision Plus, a ThunderScan — I even threw in an Alaska (copy) Card, but it wasn’t GS-friendly, as it turned out.

Of course, the first peripheral to go in was a memory card, which I purchased along with the GS and monitor from a pleasant fellow named Dennis Long at local dealer Next Generation Computers (Williamsburg, VA). I had, of course, researched what was out there in the way of memory cards and the one that stood out to me was the AST RamStakPlus. The RamStakPlus would accept up to 1MB of RAM via standard 16-pin DIPs, but it had a rather unique feature. It sported four 28-pin EPROM / EEPROM sockets, allowing the user to setup a ROM disk. I chose the AST card for this reason and ended up eventually populating it with EEPROMS, which could be programmed right on the board (while EPROMS had to be programmed externally with a burner). The maximum EEPROM capacity was a whopping 32K, while EPROMS could take you to 64K of ROM storage. I filled that capacious 32K with a few crucial utils, such as CTYPE. The standard GS RAM disk was Slot 7, Drive 1. I think the ROM disk was at Slot 7, Drive 2—but it’s a little hazy after all these years.

I never had a hard drive on that first GS I owned and the little ROM disk pocket of utils did make things a bit easier. I will say, however, that even back in 1987/88, 32K felt pretty small.

So, there you have it. I’ve never burned an EPROM in all my years of computing, and so there’s a badge of geek cred I may never wear. I did, however, load up a few EEPROMs and put them to good use once. The Apple IIgs was (and is) a fun system to tinker with.

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