Hey Look, It’s ‘Flappy Bird’ for the TI-99/4A!

You’ve probably heard of the game Flappy Bird, which has had a controversial life in the iOS App Store. Well, here it is ported to the TI-99/4A, my very first computer. (Pardon the video quality; I had a camera in one hand and a space bar in the other.)

This simple, high-profile title has actually been ported to many retro computing platforms. But, the TI will always have a special place for me.

(And a special thanks to @VintageVolts for sending me the physical media, along with some helpful utils that have really opened up my TI-99/4A.)

Posted in TI-99 | 1 Comment

The Lisa 2 Took to the Stage For “Motorola 68000 Week”

The latest contest over at /r/RetroBattlestations was “Motorola 68000 Week.” To participate, contestants had to post a photo or video to the subreddit of a Motorola 680×0-based machine with a short greeting displayed onscreen (or written on paper and taped to the screen in the case of a broken machine). Five winners were chosen to win the standard prize of two retro computing stickers.

There were lots of submissions—43 in all—ranging from Macs to Amigas to calculators to arcade boards. As I saw the entries file in, I began to consider which of my machines containing a member of the 68K family to tap for the task (I believe I have twelve).

Lisa 2/10

One of the rarest 68K-based units I’ve got down in my “Byte Cellar” is the Apple Lisa 2/10. The Lisa family were the first computers with a graphical user interface to arrive in the consumer market. And what’s more (and I thought this was a pretty neat detail), it utilizes one of—if not the—slowest implementations of the Motorola 68K series ever released; it sports a 5MHz 68000. (For comparison, the 68000 in the original Macintosh is 7.8MHz, the Amiga 500/1000 is 7.14MHz, and the Atari 520ST is 8MHz.) And so, Lisa it was.

My Lisa 2/10 is in great shape and boots right up but, unfortunately, I found the vertical hold a bit out of range when I fired it up for the competition. I had to go in and adjust one of the CRT control pots inside the case to get things back to stable. (Happily, replacement pots can easily be sourced and soldered in if the situation worsens.) Of course, I filmed the whole adventure.

So, there you have it, my Motorola 68000 Week submission. And I was a winner! (My Apple ][ and TI logo stickers are sitting on my desk, waiting for me to pick the right spot on the wall.) Oh, I also made a bit of a goofy, secondary contest submission as well. The 486-class DOS PC I recently put together contains an advanced SCSI controller (the DPT-PM2021), which is powered by a 10MHz on-board 68000, and so I submitted it for laughs. But, I’m pretty sure it’s the Lisa that got me the stickers.

Reddit’s /r/RetroBattlestations is a good bit of fun.

My previous contest efforts:

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MacDouble D-D: Two Internal Floppies for the Original Macintosh

I was just flipping through an A+ magazine (looking for a particular Apple ad that I recall) when I stumbled across a writeup detailing an unusual aftermarket modification to the original Macintosh. I recall, upon first seeing the article and photo decades ago, finding it at the same time practical and somewhat bizarre.

The modification in question is known as the MacDouble D-D and was offered by the Custom Computer Company of Irvine, CA. You shipped your Mac to C.C.C. and in two days they would mount what appears to be a standard Apple external 400K floppy drive into the right side of the computer — faceplate and all. The company also offered two different internal cooling methods to help keep the internal temperature down, what with the unconventional, additional hardware.

The text of the write-up, which appeared in the July 1986 issue of A+ magazine [see the scanned page], follows.


Custom Computer Company (C.C.C.) is now offering an alteration service—MacDouble D-D—that converts a standard single-drive Macintosh computer into a single unit with two internal disk drives. The company performs the alteration on the user’s computer in two days.

C.C.C. can also install Mac Clean Air, a cooling system that pulls cool air through a dust filter, distributing it over the power-supply board. The system uses a low-speed, low-noise fan built into the top of the computer. Available as an alternative to this cooling system is Mac Hummingbird, a piezoelectric air mover that reinforces the computer’s convection cooling and counteracts the buildup of hot spots. Both these products are also available as do-it-yourself kits. (List Price: disk-drive installation, $189.95; Mac Clean Air, $129.95 installed, $89.95 kit; Mac Hummingbird, $99.95 installed, $59.95 kit; complete MacDouble D-D system including computer, two disk drives, and filter, $1995)

Requires: Macintosh
Custom Computer Company
3601 Parkview Lane
Suite 1-C
Irvine, CA 92715
(714) 786-3418

The MacDouble D-D seems an interesting mod, and I’d love to see a clear photo of a Mac so altered. I’ve never run across one on eBay, and Google searches are coming up empty. Has anyone encountered one of these dual-internal drive Macs in the wild? Did C.C.C. actually get started with these mods? I’d love to hear more.

Posted in Macintosh | Leave a comment

A Song for Steve Jobs: “Vision in Black” by Nathan J. and The NeXTsteps

At the risk of making this seem like the Blog of Amusing Computing Promos of Yesteryear, what with my recent posts, I wanted to share something I ran across the other day.

That crazy HP Series 700 promo video I posted a few weeks back actually inspired me to get my HP 712/60 PA-RISC workstation back up and running. (I even upgraded it to a 712/100, but that’s for another post.) Since it is up and running, I’ve been downloading and installing “Green” / “Gecko” NEXTSTEP apps and having fun with a rather unique (and fast) NEXTSTEP platform.

One of the sources of these apps I’ve come upon is the Nebula Quad-FAT two-CD set (NEXTSTEP apps that run on all four platforms: NeXT, Intel, PA-RISC, Sun). There are lots of interesting apps of all sorts contained within, as well as a variety of documents and media. It’s one of the media items that I’m posting about, today.

Buried in a sounds directory on one of the CDs is a NeXT .snd file recording of the 20+ year old song “Vision in Black” by Nathan Janette & the NeXTsteps (from the album The NeXT Wave…). It’s a rather heartfelt number that laments the prospect of NeXT getting out of the hardware business (which they did, back in 1993) and makes a plea to Steve: “…please, don’t kill the cube!”

I’ve converted the .snd file to an MP3 and have posted the accompanying lyrics .rtf document so you can sing along with poor Nathan as he croons his tale of woe.

Related Links:

Posted in NeXT | 3 Comments

SGI Gets…Err…Got Medieval on Microsoft, HP, and Sun

Just a quick one here, folks. Last week I posted about the crazy HP Series 700 marketing video from 1995, thinking it might be the enduring lord of all crazy tech marketing videos. And, it may be — but this morning I ran across a marketing video from SGI that gives HP a true run for its money.

This video is set in ye olde medieval days and promotes the SGI Indy personal workstation. It is set in Silicon Forest and features such characters as Prince William of Gates, Sir Hewlett of Packard, the Sheriff of McNealy [Sun founder], and hero SGI employee Thomas of Furlong (aka Thomas Hood). It seems the evil Prince holdeth down the people by preventing them from having access to the SGI Indy, a tool of legendary productivity. Enjoy.

“With WebForce, thou mayest publish a document and verily put it directly on the web!”

SGI takes themselves a little less seriously in this video than does HP in theirs, and so I think the HP video remains the Lord of the WTF Tech Marketing Video. They’re both pretty amazing, though.

Posted in Multi-Platform | Leave a comment

HP Rap: “A Brand New Era We’ve Unfurled…”

Over the years, as computing headed towards the mainstream and the industry struggled to figure out how to connect with the general public, there were some pretty bizarre marketing approaches the computer makers of the time ran up the flagpole. If you’re a regular reader, you’ve probably seen a few examples of what I’m talking about linked here on my blog over the years.

There’s the chilling and surreal 1985 Amiga 1000 TV advert from Commodore. There’s Honeywell’s “Email” print ad from way back when. Apple had some strange ones. Sega stayed classy, here. Sir Clive leaped for his Sinclair QL. SGI distributed an Octane promotional (music) CD. There was the Adam Creative Computer ad. And, who can forget Don’t Copy That Floppy (or its sequel)? There are fan support vids, as well: Apple II Forever, Only Amiga (I made a post about this one, recently), and, of course, I Think We’re A Clone Now.

Those are some strange message mediums, but I might have to set them all aside and call it on this early ’90s Hewlett Packard video advertisement for their HP-9000 Series 700 workstations. First off, let’s note that this is HP we’re talking about — 20 years ago, back when they made high end UNIX workstations and the RISC CPUs that powered them, and not just commodity Windows PCs. The Series 700 units were priced in the ballpark of $3,000 – $9,000 and were used mainly in science and engineering.

And this is the marketing video they put together…

I ran across this tonight after chatting with @FozzTexx about our own HP-9000 workstations. I have a model 712/60 running NEXTSTEP (read about it) that I haven’t booted up in a few years, and I started looking around the web to see what others were doing with their Series 700s. That’s when I ran across this video.

And it blew my mind.

So, there it is — HP marketing getting the message out about their new UNIX workstations 20 years ago. I never knew they had it in them.

UPDATE 5/27/2014: I ended up spending much of the weekend getting my Gecko back up to speed, on the ‘net, and loaded with a few apps. What a zippy little NEXTSTEP machine — with its 60MHz PA-RISC CPU it runs rings around my NeXTStation Turbo Color (25MHz 68040).

Posted in Other Platform | 5 Comments

My Raspberry Pi-Turned-Laptop

I am surprised to find, in looking back, that I apparently never made a post about becoming an owner of the credit card-sized, ARM-based Raspberry Pi computer. As such, belated newsflash: in the summer of 2012, I acquired an early-revision, $35 Raspberry Pi Model B. Now, the Raspberry Pi, made in the spirit of the Acorn BBC Micro, is a story in and of itself, but both of this blog’s readers have certainly heard of the machine, so I won’t go into heavy details here. For anyone unfamiliar, I point you to Wikipedia.

When I got the Pi, I attached it to a 20-inch 1080p display and a Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite 2 at my main workstation desk (which are shared by my PowerPC-based Sam440ep-Flex AmigaOS 4.x machine). I’ve enjoyed using the Pi for the last year and a half: chatting over IRC, exploring the Pi Store, scripting Minecraft with Python, trying out RiscOS, etc. However, being down in the basement, it wasn’t easily accessible for fiddling around with while sitting in the den with the family at night. I find the Pi a very interesting platform and I wanted to make it more accessible in order to spend more time with it.

So, I decided to turn it into a laptop.

I recalled seeing a few tweets and blogs posts about users taking a a laptop-looking mobile phone dock and rigging it up to work with the Pi, so I began investigating. It turns out the device in question is the Motorola Laptop Dock for the Atrix 4G mobile, which is no longer produced. It’s basically a laptop without the brains; it has a rechargeable battery, a decent LED screen with (micro) HDMI-in as well as (micro) USB-in to connect to a keyboard, trackpad, and the integrated 2-port USB hub. The Atrix phone is meant to dock into a cradle at the back of the unit, but with some creative cabling (very creative, in my case), the Raspberry Pi can connect quite nicely.

(Here’s a video guide from Adafruit that gets the job done with a bit of soldering. (I’m happy to solder when it’s necessary, but as I expected, I was able to get this done with the right parts and no soldering.))

I found a Motorola Laptop Dock on eBay for a fairly decent price and then set out ordering the closest-match cables I could find, and then adapter after adapter to tie them all together. (Two, I had to source from overseas.) It took some time, but with all parts finally in hand, it was as snap to get the Pi talking to the Lapdock. I used a few strips of velcro to temporarily attach the enclosed Pi to the back of the screen, wired it all together, added a WiFi dongle, and I was in business. The whole arrangement is a little “cabley,” but it works great.

I do get strange looks in the Starbucks, however…

Posted in Other Platform | 2 Comments

Behold: The 5×86 System Build Is Complete!

Back in November I became inspired by the knowledge that my favorite old school DOS MODplayer had “recently” received an update, and expressed my intention to more-or-less recreate the 486-class DOS PC upon which I enjoyed many, many hours of MOD music, scenedemos and games back in 1996 or so.

Well, it was a long road getting everything together, but a few weeks ago I finally completed the build. I took a detour or two from the original plan but, for the most part, the PC is the same machine I was using nearly 20 years ago:

  • AMD 5×86 133 (overclocked to 160MHz, making for a 40MHz bus)
  • ASUS PVI-486SP3 motherboard (VLB, PCI, ISA slots) w/ 256K L2 cache, 32MB RAM
  • Cardex Tseng ET4000/W32p-based VLB video card w/ 2MB DRAM
  • Adaptec 1542 SCSI controller
    • Seagate Hawk 1GB SCSI HD
    • Toshiba 32x SCSI CD-ROM drive
  • Gravis Ultrasound (“Classic”) w/ 1MB sample DRAM
  • 3Com EtherLink III Ethernet adapter
  • The same Focus FK-2001 mechanical keyboard and Logitech serial mouse from my original, 1996 PC
  • MS-DOS v6.22, Windows 98 OSR2.5, Norton System Commander 7

Some of the more interesting drills were trying to get a SCSI drive to work with my original DPT SCSI card (I ended up jumping over to a more widely supported, if less mighty, Adaptec card), sourcing SRAM chips to upgrade the motherboard cache as well as the oddball 24-pin DRAM chips needed to upgrade the video card to 2MB RAM, getting Ethernet networking running under DOS (with mTCP), and fixing the CMOS battery well after I snapped part of it off…

A number of twitter pals urged me to film the build, so I did, but it’s a pretty rough production, I must confess. Still, those wanting to see this system come together, here it is.

I’ve actually had more fun with the completed system than I imagined I would. I’ve got it loaded with demos and games and MOD/S3M/XMs. It’s been great fun seeing what more or less the highest spec “486″ system you can build is capable of. In fact…I’ve had so much fun with scenedemos in particular that I have decided to build a second PC designed to chase down the next era of productions, the ~1997-2001 DOS demos that run in high res, high color VESA framebuffers. Socket A Athlon Thunderbird 1400C, here I come! (And, of course, I’ll bring a full report as that project unfolds.)

Posted in DOS / Win PC | 9 Comments

Computer Users’ Groups of My Past

I’ve spent the past couple of months procuring parts and assembling a 486-class DOS PC that is more or less a replica of the 486 PC I had back in college, in 1994. That’s the machine that first delivered the Internet to my home (by way of dial-up 28.8Kbps PPP). Prior to that it was all BBSs and FidoNet relays. Once I had the Internet on my desk, the Usenet, or “news groups,” was my arena. It’s still around, but it doesn’t have the same feel, to me, that it once did. There, I’ve long been a stranger.

With this “new” DOS PC I built, I’ve been thinking a lot about things that were and are no longer. Another item on that list, for me, is the local computer users’ group.

Back in the day, young readers, every system had its own ecosystem. This was before the Mac / Windows domination. That being the case, and given the lack of widespread, online communication, users’ groups were an important way for devotees of a particular system to share tips, techniques, and general knowledge.

I was a member of several users’ groups in my youth in the Hampton Roads area of southern Virginia (USA), and I wanted to list them here, along with the names of a few group members that I can recall, in hopes that this post might find them out there (please comment, old friends).

Tidewater 99/4 User Group ( ~1982 )

  • Judy North
  • Barry Ensley

[ An Apple II user group the name of which I cannot recall ] ( ~1984, ~1988 )

  • Dennis Bartlett (Hampton, VA)
  • Doug Lamb (Newport News, VA)

P.A.C.E. (Peninsula Atari Computer Enthusiasts) ( ~1987 )

  • Joe East (Hampton, VA)
  • David Koster (Hampton, VA)
  • Maria Campbell (Newport News, VA)
  • Chris Tanner (Hampton, VA)
  • Jeff Cleveland (Hampton, VA)
  • Joe Cullen (Hampton, VA)

A.L.F.A. (Amigoid Life Form Association) ( ~1989 )

  • Patrick Birkmeyer (Hampton, VA)
  • Norman Goswick (Hampton, VA)
  • Myron Sothcott (Newport News, VA)
  • Shawn Liptack (Hampton, VA)

For a fledgling geek, users’ groups were wonderful. My parents divorced in the mid-’80s and my father would drive me to the various group meetings around town, over the years, usually held in a local high school or community college. We saw great new hardware and software demonstrated, and generally had a splendid time as a like-minded group. I wish I still had just one of the membership cards from the groups of my past to share, but it seems that all have disappeared.

It’s worth nothing that users’ groups still exist. I have considered, on several occasions, attending a somewhat local Amiga group and an Apple Newton group in Maryland, but I’ve not yet taken the time, sadly. Currently, Twitter serves as my sort-of users’ group surrogate. But, it’s nicer to gather in person.

Are you or were you part of a users’ group? Please share your memories.

[ Photo of the Amarillo 99/4A Users Group (1988) courtesy of 99er.net ]

Posted in Just Rambling | 7 Comments

Steve Jobs: American Cool

Living just out outside of D.C., my wife and I often find ourselves in the district on the weekends, taking our daughter whatever museum is at the top of her list at the given moment. Today we visited the National Building Museum followed by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. While in the latter, we stumbled upon a limited time exhibit called American Cool (which runs through September 7th). It is a photo account of a great many cool characters through recent American history, including Madonna, David Byrne, Sam Shepherd, Tom Waits, Paul Newman, Jimi Hendrix…and Steve Jobs.

The Steve Jobs display took me somewhat by surprise. I mean, in my world he was beyond cool, but his presence in the exhibit was a surprise. It was good to see, though. And it makes sense, really.

I wanted to share the photograph and accompanying text for the vast majority of readers who won’t be attending the exhibit.

Steve Jobs 1955 – 2011

“Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” — the concluding thought in The Whole Earth Catalog — served as Steve Job’s unofficial motto. Drawing inspiration from that bible of the counterculture, Jobs recast how people think about and use technology. As the cofounder of Apple, he worked in the shadow of such behemoths as IBM and Microsoft. Yet, with great nimbleness and much brashness he led an upstart company that transformed the consumer electronics industry with revolutionary products such as the Apple II and Macintosh computers, iPod, iPhone, and the iPad. Jobs was always the face of Apple, and his much-publicized ambition to create more elegant and “user-friendly” devices made him part of a national tradition of inventor-heros dating back to to Thomas Edison. “Think Different,” Apple’s highly successful advertising campaign introduced in 1997, was not only a shrewd marketing slogan but also exemplified Jobs’ relationship with the larger industry. Channeling his inner Steve McQueen, the jeans-wearing executive often raced his motorcycle between meetings during Apple’s early years.

Charles O’Rear (born 1941)
Reproduction print from 1981 original
National Geographic Image Collection, Washington, D.C.

For anyone living in the D.C. area, the American Cool exhibit is definitely worth a look.

Posted in Just Rambling | 7 Comments