My retrocomputing wishlist

The following list contains the five retrocomputing devices at the top of my wishlist right now. I’m guessing you haven’t heard of most of them, unless you’re a retroenthusiast yourself. No Wikipedia links below, either; they all lead to intrinsically interesting pages.

  1. Jupiter ACE: The only boot-to-FORTH, not boot-to-BASIC, 1980s microcomputer. Released almost exclusively in the UK. Scarce in the US but commanding a high price even in the UK now, as hobbyists finally realize how cool it is. I’ve tried a number of emulators and enjoyed them, but I’d like the real device to work with. I think I’ll have better luck waiting for Briel to release a replica kit.
  2. Cambridge Z88: A rugged, intrepid “true portable“. More or less the British equivalent of the TRS-80 Model 100. Same “Dynabook” form factor.  Douglas Adams took one to Zaire to write about the vanishing white rhinoceros, and wrote much of the rest of Last Chance to See on it as well. You can still buy “new old stock” from some UK companies — “new” meaning “not used” and “old” meaning “built back in the day”. I have used a Z88 emulator, but not very successfully; the screen dimensions are weird.
  3. Curta Calculator: A rugged, purely mechanical arithmetic calculator that looks like a cross between a Rubik’s cube and a hand grenade. I’ve lusted after them since William Gibson fetishized them in Pattern Recognition in the early 00s. I have used simulated Curtas on the Web, but this is a device whose tactility is most of the experience.
  4. Model M USB keyboard: Unicomp makes this modern version of the original, “buckling spring”, clicky-clacky, ruggedly poundable original IBM PC keyboard. I have a friend who collects the old ones, but I don’t need to connect an old PC keyboard to my netbook — a brand-new USB version would do fine and probably improve my computing experience all over the house. At <$100, this is the only item so far really within reach for me at the moment. Also, did I tell you it’s rugged? Of course, I’ll probably break it anyway.
  5. Amiga 500: I have an Amiga 1200 in the basement but have never bothered to hook it up. I hear the less-powerful 500 is the one to get, as most demos from the Amiga’s heyday require pecularities of the 500’s hardware.

The Amiga 500 is substituting for Retr0bright in the #5 slot of my original list. I learned recently that Retr0bright only works on the surface of your computer, and only for a short time. Free bromine radicals quickly migrate back to the surface, and soon your ‘puter is baby-poop yellow once again. I don’t want to have to bathe my Tandy 102 in caustic hydrogen peroxide gel and ultraviolet light every time I take it out in public, like buffing an old car for an auto show. Thus, Retr0bright no longer holds any interest for me.

Runner-up is a plain Commodore 64, the most popular single computer ever manufactured, and still up for plenty of old and new fun such as 10 PRINT, about which more here soon.

Retrorock of Ages

Someone posted this from my Facebook account at 4:00 this morning. I can’t remember whether it was me.


When I first got my Tandy 102, I thought that UV had aged the ABS plastic of the case from a nice creamy 1986 beige to a 2013 puke yellow. “I haven’t seen that color since I pooped it into my diaper,” said my friend John Braley, rather crassly I thought, when he first glimpsed the device. (Note: John does not currently wear a diaper, and I do not expect this to change in the near future. Nor am I attempting to damn him by mere mention of a diaper. But could someone really remember that far? I guess what I’m saying is, forget the diaper image. I’m sorry I brought it up.)

I was distraught. I was going to attempt daubing on the 21st-century miracle product Retr0bright to return the 102 to its rightful beige, but it’s risky, it’s risky — and in the right light, I can now see that that poop yellow could be called a period-authentic Harvest Gold. So who am I to meddle with the quasi-divine forces of time, nature, free bromine radicals, and my own tendency to let things slide, by stripping that gorgeous patina (a crime for which aspirants are routinely gelded on Antiques Roadshow, gelded I say) and thereby depriving future generations (probably my nephews, but possibly the Living Computer Museum of Seattle, a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a Heaven for) of an authentic retrocomputing experience?

I will not deprive anyone of the right to use or merely caress reverently the last computer on which the pre-beatification-and-upload Bill Gates ever personally hacked code, and when those pilgrims come — and they will come — they can gaze upon a machine caked thickly in the colors with which God Himself chose to adorn it.

Or I might try to mix up some Retr0bright. It doesn’t look that hard. Talk to me when I’ve had some sleep.

Shake the radioactive dust of Posterous from your feet

Welcome to WordPress. Fifteen million Posterous users have had to find a new home after Twitter nuked their old one. I am a wanderer myself, but I have alighted for now, and all my Posterous posts have come with me in my bindle.

Perhaps I should have gone with Google in the first place, like Contrary (David) Brin, but it seems there’s hardly a more stable blogspot on the Web than WordPress — after all, Google shuts down its projects with regularity. We’ll see.