40 years ago today my Mom picked me up early from school (I was in first grade) and we went down to our local duplex theater to catch Return of the Jedi.
I was so excited, especially as the news that morning was showing previews. I remember seeing the speeder bike scene on Good Morning America or the Today show. I consumed every bit of info I could about the movie before it came out – Time Magazine had a great special issue all about it that I’m sure I have around somewhere.
I loved every minute of that movie and still do. It was awesome seeing it with a packed theater of folks also seeing it for the first time. There was so much energy in that theater and quite a reaction when Vader dispatched the emporer! When we left there was a line of teenagers all the way down Main Street waiting to get into the next showing. It was nuts.
Ever since then I’ve taken my Mom to each new Star Wars release to keep the tradition alive.
25 years ago I was just finishing up my senior year of college. I was just as much a nerd then as I am today so of course I had quite a bit of tech in my on-campus apartment. I recently found an old video from that time with some of the gear visible. Check it out:
The PC pictured began its journey as a Pentium 166, assembled with parts procured from local computer fairs. It was the first PC I built myself. By the time I graduated, the PC had undergone an upgrade to a Pentium 233 MMX that was just a simple CPU swap.
My PC was pretty decked out – it had a Creative Labs Voodoo2 GPU which was lightyears beyond what game consoles could do at the time. This is when the PC really started to prove itself as a gaming platform with Quake II and many other games really pushing the graphical hardware available at the time.
You’ll notice on the front of the case that I had both a 3.5″ floppy drive and an IDE Zip drive. Thanks to its IDE interface the Zip drive ran much faster than than the external parallel version that was more widely used at the time. I recall that this particular zip drive required a version of Windows 95 that was only sold with OEM computers which took a little bit of work to acquire!
The CD-ROM drive was actually one of the first DVD drives available for PCs also from Creative Labs. The drive came bundled with an interface card that included an MPEG 2 decoder for watching DVD movies. It also came with a custom version of Wing Commander IV which had DVD quality cut scenes that were a major step up from the regular DOS version.
My video also caught the computer’s screen running Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4 and Winamp that was playing some tunes while my girlfriend was reading her email.
Earlier that year I discovered the wonder of MP3s. The fact that such a small file could produce such high fidelity sound was nothing short of miraculous. Remember, this was a time when storing uncompressed CD wav files on a hard drive was an impractical endeavor due to file sizes and high storage costs. The advent of MP3s represented a significant leap in music technology, enabling us to enjoy our favorite tunes without worrying about running out of disk space.
That year my campus rolled out a residential ethernet network for all of the on-campus housing. That gave us a direct pipe into the University’s T1 line running at a whopping 1.5 megabits per second. It was a huge step up from the dialup modems we were using up until that point. Transitioning back to dialup after graduation was a major bummer – it would be another three years before DSL service was available at my house.
It was scary too because there were zero security safeguards with many student computers openly exposed to others on campus and the rest of the Internet for that matter. Personal firewalls were still a long ways off.
My Cell Phone
1998 was also the year that saw the introduction of digital cellular phones. I owned a Qualcomm QCP-820 phone that operated on Bell Atlantic’s CDMA network. Fun fact: Bell Atlantic later became Verizon. The QCP-820 was a dual band phone meaning it could operate in digital or analog mode. Digital coverage was few and far between when I first got the phone. But when I was lucky enough to find myself in a digital zone the quality of the call was substantially better.
Here’s another shot of the phone next to the iconic solo cup design of the late 90’s:
The Living Room
Despite the PC Powerhouse in my bedroom we still had a few game consoles on hand which were more fun for local multiplayer games. At this point in 1998 the Sony Playstation had become the dominant home video game console. You can see it sharing space with our VHS VCR that we used as our DVR to record our favorite shows when we were out and about and of course for Blockbuster rentals.
Also on hand, but sadly less frequently used, was my Sega Genesis (the very same one you’ll see on my YouTube set!) along with the Sega 32X attached. A year earlier the 32X add on was discontinued and liquidated so I picked it up for only about $30. The Genesis underneath was purchased in 1989 right when it came out and was almost 9 years old when this video was taken.
What’s remarkable is how many technologies came to be in the short span of time between my freshmen and senior year (1994-1998). Today’s technology is certainly better than it was back then but what we have today has mostly evolved from all of this 90’s innovation.
My latest review is of a device designed for a very specific niche called the TinyNES. On the surface this might look like yet another NES clone console but it merges original NES hardware with a modern, open source design.
What it uses from the original NES are the CPU and PPU (graphics processor) chips. Although the NES uses a 6502 processor, the CPU chip used on the original NES and Famicom had its sound hardware also on the CPU die.
The TinyNES can be ordered with genuine chips but is also compatible with clone processors as the originals are no longer being manufactured. It’s not clear whether the genuine chips in this particular unit were pulled from dead consoles or leftover unused parts. The CPU and PPU chips on the TinyNES are socketed and can be swapped out easily.
The rest of the components are new and modern resulting in cleaner video and audio output. But nothing is added here – the console only outputs composite (not RGB component) and has no HDMI option. The design is open source so it’s conceivable somebody could add this functionality in later.
Part of the reason behind a lack of modern video options is that the original NES PPU output its video signal on a single pin as a composite of red, green and blue. Later revisions of the PPU did offer RGB output options but most NES and Famicom systems had the single pin output.
The TinyNES main board does support the RGB variants of the PPU but they are apparently much harder to find. There will be a solderless RGB add-on module available in the future for those lucky enough to have one of the RGB PPU chips.
So with no modern video outputs why does this thing exist when a real NES can be acquired for less money? Viewer Destructodisk has a good summation:
Now obviously this is a very niche device for an audience that wants something very specific… but there is a point and reasoning to it. Much that same as some people don’t like emulators because it isn’t as close to how real hardware plays. Some people aren’t satisfied with FPGAs. And then there’s the extreme that aren’t satisfied with the quirks a video signal add on brings. Its great everyone seems to have a perfect device being built for them.
The fact that the makers of the TinyNES found enough people willing to fund its production is proof enough that there’s a market for it. Not a large one, but a market nonetheless.
A big thank you to viewer Handheld Obsession for letting us borrow his unit for the review!
Computer Bulletin Board Systems, aka BBS’s, were how many of us “went online” back in the days before the commercial Internet. Thousands of systems were set up all over the world and many were even connected to one another in massive hobbyist networks like FidoNet. I covered the basics of the BBS world in this video from seven years ago.
Muffinterm is a free telnet client that runs across the Mac, iPad and iPhone designed specifically to connect to retro BBS systems complete with full ANSI and IBM PC graphics support. It also supports Commodore PETSCII systems (something I never experienced back in the day). Some other formats will be added to it in the near future.
The BBS system I profiled in the piece is called “Captain’s Quarters II” which is run on the more modern Mystic BBS platform. It’s a great example of what a good BBS looked like back in the day: an active community with a great file section and a fun assortment of games.
BBS systems largely died out in popularity in the mid 90’s when the Internet made the entire world accessible without long distance telephone charges. It was pretty crazy how fast everyone pulled up stakes and went on the ‘Net. If you missed this era of computing I do suggest to check out Jason Scott’s excellent documentary on YouTube. It not only covers the history of computer bulletin boards but also has interviews with some of the people that made it all work.
MuffinTerm is available in the Mac and iPhone/iPad app stores. For PC and Linux users Syncterm is great client. A browser based alternative called fTelnet is another good solution. And if you’re looking for a BBS to connect to the Telnet BBS Guide maintains a list of active bulletin board systems that can be filtered down by BBS software. You’ll even find bulletin boards running on original retro hardware!
I have never been much of a Christmas ornament guy (my wife has more of them than we have trees for) but the other day I found one that I just couldn’t pass up. My friend Smokemonster let us all know on Twitter that Hallmark’s Sega Genesis ornament was marked down to just under $6 from its initial $30 price tag:
The ornament arrived yesterday and it’s glorious. They based it off the American version of the version 1 console, the one I got in 1989 that has been the centerpiece of my YouTube set since I got into this business. Unlike the original it includes two controllers but of course in this implementation they are not functional.
But what is functional is the little power switch that works just like the original. When the included batteries are inserted, flicking the power switch lights up its red power indicator and it then plays some digitized sounds from the original Sonic the Hedgehog game including the iconic “SEGGGAAAA” and a minute or two of music from the game.
Xbox consoles, even some of the older ones, make great emulation devices. In the past getting emulators onto a game console would require circumventing DRM controls but lately things have become a bit easier.
The Xbox Series consoles have pretty powerful CPUs that can handle emulation of nearly every supported core that Retroarch offers. That includes even more complex consoles like the Playstation 2 and Gamecube/Wii. You can even load the games up on a USB flash drive which is detailed in the tutorials linked above.
The MiSTer is still my go-to retro device but for certain things like more recent game consoles and Sega Super Scaler arcade titles Retroarch on the Xbox is a great combination. It was awesome playing Afterburner 2 on my 65″ OLED with its awesome soundtrack pumping through my home theater audio. And although I will probably re-map some of the controls the general experience I found to be excellent insofar as compatibility, gameplay and performance are concerned.
I begin the video with an overview of the great Atari 50th Celebration compilation (affiliate link). The compilation is a virtual museum of all things Atari including their arcade games, computer systems and all of their consoles (including the Lynx & Jaguar!). There are dozens of playable games on the compilation but many of my favorites didn’t make the cut primarily due to licensing issues.
There are lots of great videos on the Atari 2600 on YouTube so I focused on a few favorites from my childhood collection in the second part of my video. Most of the games featured are my original 2600 cartridges! Surprisingly they all booted right up.
For the games I couldn’t find cartridges for I was able to play them using a flash cart called the Harmony Cartridge. The Harmony cart can play just about every game ever released for the 2600 including some titles that make use of special chips like Pitfall 2. One of the things that I love about living in the future is that we have great new hardware for legacy systems!
The Atari 2600 era was a time of great experimentation where every idea was made into a game. Many of these experiments fell flat but many others became timeless classics that influence modern game mechanics.
In a comment, viewer Yuan Chang best summed up the 2600 : “Gaming distilled down to its purest elemental form and even in that form, it provided countless hours of fun.”
I stumbled across a game I used to play in 1992 as a teenager called “Night Raid” the other day. You can find it on the Internet Archive and play it right in your browser!
Night Raid was a take on an old Apple II game called “Sabotage.” The premise of both games is that you’re a lone anti-aircraft gunner fighting off wave up after wave of paratroopers trying to take you out. You earn points with each aircraft and paratrooper hit and lose a point every time the gun is fired.
I hadn’t given the game much thought over the years (I even forgot its name) but the other day something about it popped in my head that sent me down a Google rabbit hole. A few minutes of searching brought me to the Internet Archive and I immediately was back in the 90’s playing a cool shareware game in my browser! I’ve since added it to the DosBox-X instance I run on my Macbook Air.
One of the fun parts about Night Raid was the heavy promotion of the Software Creations Bulletin Board System (BBS) that hosted its download files. During the Intermission scenes a little airplane flies overhead with the phone number for the BBS and the end screen of the game also encourages people to dial in and experience the board’s 50 lines and 6 gigabytes of storage space!
Software Creations was located in Massachusetts and was one of the larger BBS systems at the time. When a hot new shareware game came out you’d hear about it on FidoNet message boards on your local BBS but you’d have to dial out long distance to pick up the files at Software Creations. This was also where I picked up Doom in 1993 right when it was released to the public.
As you can imagine I racked up some major phone bills dialing into that BBS. Night Raid’s zip file came in at around half a megabyte which took roughly 33 minutes to download on the 2400 baud modem I used at the time.
When Doom came out the following year it was a whopping 2 megabytes and took over two hours to download. Unfortunately for me there wasn’t an active shareware gaming user base in my local calling area beyond my buddies and me so long distance was the only way to get at the latest goods.
When I finally had the cash to buy a 14,400 baud modem that same Doom download could be done in 20 minutes. With long distance rates running about 10-15 cents per minute that faster modem offered a huge return on investment!
BBS systems are still out there but are mostly available on the Internet these days via telnet. I did a video on the topic a few years ago if you’d like to get a feel for what it was like on one of those systems.
The whole scene died out pretty quickly once dialup Internet service became available in the mid 90’s. But it’s great to see so many people working to keep not only BBS’ing alive but also some of the networks that connected them together like FidoNet.
The Software Creations BBS was acquired by the “Total Entertainment Network” in 1995 right as BBS’ing gave way to web surfing. Apparently TEN cut their losses as the BBS’ing collapsed and shut the system down only a year or so after the acquisition according to Apogee Software’s Joe Siegler in a 2002 message board post:
It was even more of a surprise to us – as we had our files there. They essentially closed down overnight – we had no warning that it was going to happen.
It would be super cool if one of the Sysops (short for System Operator) had a backup of the BBS somewhere. How awesome would it be to have a time capsule like this accessible via Telnet to experience what the PC gaming scene was like back then.
In this first video we look at W1AW, also known as the Hiram Percy Maxim Memorial Station. Maxim was the co-founder of the ARRL and an early pioneer of radio technology. You’ll see one of Maxim’s radios towards the end of the video. It still works but it’s rather dangerous to use around modern electronics due to the electrostatic fields it generates.
W1AW is where the ARRL transmits their morse code trainings and digital bulletins and is known throughout the world as an important entry to get into contact amateur logbooks.
W1AW is open to licensed amateurs and the public to operate from too which is what we’ll do in part of the series!
The iPhone started shipping on June 29, 2007. I can’t believe it’s been that long. Incidentally I also got married that year so it’s easy to remember how many years I’ve been married based on the age of the iPhone :).
I posted this video on the extra’s channel the other day in recognition of the iPhone’s 15th birthday. It’s kind of a re-run as I made this short on the main channel a little while back.
Those of us suckers who bought an iPhone on release day also got a cool shopping bag to take it home in that you’ll see in the video. I called it the “mug me” bag as it clearly gave away its contents as you left the store. My original receipt was still in there too:
My then fiancé was on a trip with her family and I was bored. So I drove up to the Apple store and bought the phone. There were no lines and they had plenty of stock. Of course that would soon change in future iterations. AT&T’s activation servers that were set up specifically for the iPhone were so overloaded I couldn’t actually use the phone until the next day.
Back then it only worked on AT&T’s network and I had to switch from Verizon. What a mistake that was – the phone part of the iPhone didn’t work anywhere in my house! I had to get a “Femtocell” in order to receive phone calls which barely worked. As soon as Verizon got the iPhone on its network I switched back.
The phone had pretty slow data speeds.. 3G networks were prevalent at the time but the iPhone only supported “Edge” which was about a 135k bits per second – not much faster than a dialup connection. There was no front facing camera and the rear camera was pretty lousy.
I think I traded in my old iPhone at one point to save money on a new one. I regret that now. It sure would look nice on my gadget shelf!
What do I mean by everything? It’s pretty much the kitchen sink here with emulation for 8 floppy drives, a modem (connects via Telnet), a printer (writes out PDFs), realtime clock, a cassette deck for cassette based software, and a network adapter that connects via Wifi. Even crazier is that it allows for mounting disk images remotely over the Internet! It’s not all that expensive either at around $80 or so.
The Atari 800 has an innovative serial bus that in some ways works like USB where a whole chain of devices can be attached to a single cable with each uniquely addressable by the system. The creator of this hardware went on to work on the USB standard.
I have an Atari 800 in the basement here. My father-in-law purchased one back in the 80’s for use as a family PC but it hasn’t been booted up in decades. If you’re interested I might do a video or a stream where we power it up to see if there’s any life left in it!
The 800 is of course also faithfully recreated on the MiSTer.
Per WCNews.com a group called CD1188 Entertainment is working on upscaling the now super low resolution video from 1994’s Wing Commander 3. You can see it on their YouTube channel, it’s looking pretty good given the source footage they are working with!
Wing Commander is one of my favorite games of all time. Wing Commander 3 really pushed the envelope back in its day. It required a pretty fast 486 or Pentium, double speed or better CD-ROM, and a whopping 8 megabytes of RAM at a minimum.
The Wing Commander series was know for being a great space shooter but it also had equally good story elements. In the first two games they consisted of animated cut scenes with a few minutes of voice acting. For the third game Chris Roberts went all out with professional actors (including Mark Hamill, Malcom McDowell and John Rhys-Davies to name a few).
I was playing the “Halley Project” – a game that taught the basics of space navigation. It involved using an included paper star map to find planets that you needed to navigate to. I was very proud of myself for reaching whatever planet I landed on and took a picture (with film!) to mark the achievement.
The Halley Project also had about 20-30 seconds of full speech when the game first booted up! A rarity for sure on the Apple II.
I love the Apple TV+ show For All Mankind. It’s an alternative history sci-fi drama where the Soviets landed on the moon ahead of the United States. There’s something for everyone with this show which is helmed by Ronald Moore who previously worked on Deep Space Nine and Battlestar Galactica.
Season 3, which just launched this week, takes place during an alternative 90’s where the Soviets and Americans are racing to get to Mars. And being an Apple show they are of course using Newtons as their personal digital assistants!
Unfortunately the Newton’s screen never looked this good. The best they could do was a green “indiglo” that was popular on some watches back in the day.
Perhaps all of the space age tech that developed out of the alternative space race in For All Mankind made for better displays!
I have always been a gadget nerd and when I first heard of the Apple Newton I wanted one.
At the time it was a totally new and different product category – “the personal digital assistant.” The device fit in the hand, was operated with only a pen, and had the ability to work with PCMCIA modems just like a laptop for sending faxes and email to online services available at the time.
In many ways it was ahead of its time and struggled almost from the get-go. The biggest problem beyond its $700 price tag (the equivalent of $1,400 today) was that the handwriting recognition wasn’t good enough for the average consumer. When it worked it was great but when it didn’t this digital device was far less efficient vs. a pad and paper. It was famously lampooned in the Doonesbury comic strip but also had mixed reviews in the press.
Apple actually released two Newtons – one was an Apple device, the other came from Sharp. But both were effectively the same device inside. Neither was very successful out of the gate.
Apple retooled and released an updated “Newton 110” the following year. That was the device I bought back in the spring of 1994. It had an updated operating system vs. the original device and worked a little better, but still wasn’t up to where consumers wanted the device to be.
It went through a number of iterations over the next four years culminating with the Newton MP2100 in 1997. But by then cheaper and smaller Palm Pilots took over the marketplace while Newtons got larger and more expensive.
Apple of course got the last laugh with their insanely profitable iPhone and iPad lines. They certainly learned from their mistakes.
I own a few Newtons in my retro collection. Here’s a video I did last year looking at how Apple’s iPad borrows a lot from the Newton’s approach to pen interfaces.
Unfortunately to get the TV component to work you needed to hook up this walkman size contraption that contained the tuner. But the watch itself was running with a liquid crystal display.
There was even this Casio watch that in the 1980s which not only had a touch screen but could recognize numbers drawn on its face for the calculator function.
This kind of tech was so magical to me as a kid and there never seemed to be an end to all of the cool new innovations coming out of Japan. My Dad traveled to Asia frequently and would always come back with stories of all of the cool tech he saw in the shops.
Last week I told you about the impulse buy I made from a local estate auction website called AuctionNinja. I learned of the site from a funeral director friend of mine who often has to help families liquidate collections of the deceased.
I picked up a lot that consisted of a Gameboy with its original box, a half dozen games, a bunch of NES game manuals along with (oddly) a NES RF adapter and a four way multiplayer device. They didn’t pair the manuals up with the games which were all sold in separate lots.
As it turns out the condition of everything (except the Gameboy) is great – especially the original gameboy box. I couldn’t believe how pristine it was. Yes it’s just a box but it’s one of those things that takes you back to being a kid excited to get the latest game console. The condition of it is far better than anything I’ve seen for sale at game stores and conventions.
The Gameboy itself has seen better days. The adhesive for the screen window came off so I’ll need to reattach it. I am also going to need to take a soldering iron to the screen connection to get rid of the vertical lines that appear on screen (a very common problem with the original gameboy). It looks like a fairly easy fix.
Stay tuned for a Gameboy repair livestream! If I can’t fix the display I’ll replace it with a modern IPS one.
But unfortunately this video isn’t doing very well and that makes me sad :(.
It’s funny sometimes these throwback videos do really poorly at first and then at some point the algorithm tests it with a wider audience and it takes off. This one I did about a demo disc on the 3DO had a similar starting point but later took off an accumulated almost 65,000 views:
Many old computers have batteries that power volatile RAM for keeping time, saving system settings, etc. Over time those batteries tend to explode and leak their contents which often results in damage to the computer’s motherboard.
I was afraid of what I might find in my Apple IIgs when I cracked it open today. Thankfully my battery was a newer version that was more robust than some of the earlier IIgs batteries. But I snipped it out anyhow for good measure. My system won’t retain any settings until I come up with a replacement strategy but it is no longer at risk.
My IIgs is currently out of operation because of another widespread issue – exploding RIFA capacitors! Mine blew out when I was recording a video about my IIgs back in 2016. One of these days I’ll get it repaired and make another video about this beloved classic computer.
The game play is similar to the Atari 2600 and Intellivision classic where your snow speeder is up against wave after wave of imperial walkers. This one adds AT-ST’s to the mix along with a level progression system that was lacking from the original. The graphics look great! Here’s some footage of the game courtesy of YouTuber C64.
This will run on original hardware along with emulators and the MiSTer core. They made the game available in a few different formats including cassette tape!
There is A LOT going on with MiSTer these days – so much so that I hope to do an update video about some of the things that I’m most excited about soon. A Sega 32X core has been added, a Playstation 1 core is close to completion, and the holy grail (for me) – the Apple IIgs – is in the works too!
RetroRGB is a great source for following the progress of the project. A contributor to the site, Lu’s Retro Source, is posting regular update videos of all that’s new and exciting in the MiSTer project. You can find Lu’s channel here.