Hidden Advantage

Marko writes about the retirement of my old Sony Mavica FD. It really is an obsolete system, with its non-standard battery pack and a resolution bettered by most cell phones these days.

The Mavica FD had one thing going for it however, the reason I bought it back in late 2001: With its photos being stored on its built-in 3.5" floppy drive, its storage may have been limited, but spare disks could be acquire anywhere. Also, what other digicam could interface, dongle-free, with any desktop computer built since the late '80s?


Trash 80...

Back in the early '80s, I was involved in a gifted students' program sponsored by a major university. Basically, they let a whole bunch of 7th graders take the SAT with the intention of keeping up with the brainiacs. Those of us who did best on the standardized test were invited to the Big University campus to take part in an awards ceremony. There were fabulous prizes for those who did best on various parts of the SAT, and while I got a softcover copy of A Handbook to Literature, that's not the prize I wanted.

The prize I wanted was what they gave to the real mental giants among us: A Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100 portable computer. This computer was the granddaddy of both the Alphasmart (with which Marko's so happy,) as well as every laptop on the market today.

Sporting a 32K ROM, among the last pieces of software actually coded by young Bill Gates, the Model 100 was a fantastic laptop computer for its day. Totally silent in operation thanks to its firmware-based operation, it blinked into life immediately, had a built-in 300 baud modem, and could be hooked to a variety of peripherals. With its full-stroke keyboard that is tactilely superior to the Logitech 'board I'm typing this on, plus its 20+ hours of battery life on 4 AA cells, it's little wonder this machine was still popular among writers and journalists long after its day had passed.

When my friend Byron came up to VFTP Command Central this weekend, he brought a Model 100 that had been darkening his attic for the last dozen-and-a-half years or so.

Who knows? Maybe I'll use it to write the next great American novel.



Spent the day playing Galaga on the 7800. More later.


The bedroom iMac finds another use...

It's a stereo, too!

Rather than having to turn on one of the stereos in the next room or drift off to the crappy Sony clock radio, my bedroom DVD player/web browser is lulling me to sleep with Tangerine Dream's Atem.

This "living in the future" stuff is cool.


Random iMac thought...

You know, if this old iMac had a PCMCIA slot or two, it would be damn near perfect for its current use. (I have PCMCIA WiFi, Ethernet, and modem cards lying around, but I'll need to go buy a USB WiFi unit...)


Bill Cosby's computer.

I got lost in the wilds of cyberspace the other night and somehow stumbled across a TI-99 fanboy site. A TI-99/4A was the first computer I ever bought, at a garage sale back in '83, for the princely sum of $150. (My first car, bought only two years later, cost me $650.)

Anyhow, I had totally forgotten about the game "Microsurgeon" until I saw those screen shots. Oh, lordy, the hours I whiled away wandering through the circulatory system of mister digital patient, zapping blood clots and bacteria...


Fondly remembering when nostalgia was cool...

Actually, it seems like it's getting cool again.

I'm looking for a Mac RGB monitor (one of the little 12" units; my existing one is developing a weird "tick") to keep my LCII and IIsi running, and so I keep an eye on eBay.

Old Apple IIe and IIgs units, if running and with software, are just smoking Mac Quadras in the price department. There's a whole graphic design agency's worth of 040-powered Macs up for auction right now, five whole machines, that you can get cheaper than the going rate on a Apple II+ or IIe w/monitor.

It's been a long time since I played Choplifter or the original top-down Castle Wolfenstein on a greenscreen...


It's a baseball off day...

But across the room, the 1996 World Series is happening all over again on an old Sega Genesis playing in demo mode.

The newest generation of sports titles tend to feature eye-popping graphics that make it easy to forget that... well... real baseball on TV doesn't really have graphics that are all that eye-popping. There are no worm's-eye view, panning, Matrix-effect slo-mo jump shots of Jeter firing to first when you're watching the real thing; the cameras are all in the stands. From across the room on a Sylvania 19" tube, this archaic game looks pretty much exactly like I remember the '96 Series looking. From across the room. On a 19" tube.

Only better, because there are no commercials and the Braves are leading two games to one. :)


A package has arrived...

...full of fun and games and goodies. A Sega Master System and a Sega Genesis. An Atari 7800. A GameCube. (Although it's form factor appeals to me, it's not super fossil-y. Yet.)

I've managed to get an extra TeeWee for the museum. A space cleared off on a table to get stuff set up...

Now to set the dial on the Wayback Machine to 1986, when Kurt Cobain was just barely old enough to buy a shotgun, Def Leppard were still employed, and 256 was a lot of colors.


Mortal Kombat!!!1!!!one!

Just found the Mortal Kombat II cartridge for my Sega Game Gear in the bottom of a box full of old software docs while cleaning up around the crib.

There goes my productivity for the day.


Mock the toilet seat styling if you wish...

...but the old first-generation iBooks had some good stuff goin' on. I love the built-in carry handle, the ports are recessed enough to protect them from dingage without having to resort to flimsy crack-and-fall-off hinged plastic covers, and the unit itself is flat-out the most rugged laptop Apple's ever made. So it's not the most expandable machine in the world. Big deal. Expandability's not something I really look for in laptops, anyway, since I'm not buying a laptop for power gaming.

For what I actually use a laptop for (transporting files, mobile surfing, or writing on the go,) I could be doing a lot worse than that old iBook FireWire/SE.

I wish it had better sound, though. Especially when playing Fallout or watching a movie. All the monkeying around I've done with Wall Streets and Blackbirds lately has me spoiled for the stereo.


One thing that's really changed for the better over the years.

The 19" ViewSonic on my main desktop crapped out last year and, being lazy, rather than go out and buy a new monitor, I just pirated the 17" Mitsubishi from my backup machine. After getting used to the 19-incher, going back to a 17" monitor was like staring into a postage stamp.

This makes the whiff of nostalgia from playing Master of Orion II on my Mac Performa 636CD even stronger; I remember when the Apple MultiScan 14" display was, if not high-end, at least an average monitor. Now it makes the 17" Mitsubishi look like a drive-in theater screen by comparison. And were all monitors so curved back then? This thing's like looking at a fisheye lens. I'm spoiled by flat screens. Oddly the effect is nowhere near as bad on older all-in-one Macs; you expect to be staring at a bitty screen with those, and the effect is kind of twee.


What do you need a computer to do?

How many people out there use a computer for one simple task?

Let's say, just writing and printing documents in a word processing program. You can go out and pay a hojillion dollars for a dual core Xeon loaded with Windows Vista and a gig of RAM and only ever use it for word processing, but is that really efficient?

One guy took a stopwatch to a 3 GHz P4 and a couple of "obsolete" machines. He put MS Word in the startup files of each and held the stopwatch while booting the machines.

The results may surprise you.


Trivial Pursuit:

The original SimCity, one of the seminal computer games of the late '80s and the Sim that launched Maxis, will fit over 1200 times onto the 2 CD's that SimCity 4 takes up.

If you're an original SimCity fan, by the way, you don't need a whole computer to play it anymore; it's available for the Palm OS.


As appropriate a place to start as any...

...I suppose.

I'm sitting on the porch.

I'm not typing on my oldest laptop, but it's not my newest, either. It's an old PowerBook G3. A "Wall Street". A laptop computer that could reasonably be picked up for $100 on ebay. Another couple of bucks for a PCMCIA WiFi card, and I'm in business.

In its day, the Wall Street was top of the line. A racehorse, available with a huge active matrix display, a big, comfortable, full-function keyboard, and unbelievable battery life, even if you didn't yank your CD ROM drive and replace it with a second battery. You know what? It still has all that.

What do you need a computer to do?

Watch DVD movies?

Play massively-multiplayer online shoot-em-ups?

Run a gargantuan, bloated, OS full of tons of crap you'll likely never use?

Then an old machine is probably not the answer for you.

On the other hand, if (like most people) all you need is a machine that will allow you to surf your favorite message boards, blog, write, email, and even play the games you loved five, ten, or fifteen years ago, then there are literally thousands upon thousands of computers out there just waiting to be saved from the landfill. Desktops and laptops waiting to be bought for $100, $50, or just taken off someone's hands. Computers that will do everything you need them to do.

The same thing can be said about so many other things in the planned-obsolescence world of consumer electronics. Tetris on a black & white Gameboy or Space Invaders on an Atari 2600 are just as fun now as they were the first time you played them. Heck, a couple of weeks ago, I saw kids lining up at an arcade to put quarters into a Pac Man machine, anxious to play a game that was "old" before they were born...

This is going to be a blog about archaeology, about paleontology, about fossils. Digital fossils. But like some Jurassic Park dream come true, these fossils can be brought back to life.

I hope you enjoy the ride. :)