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.


9 thoughts on “My retrocomputing wishlist

  1. Hey, Ron…hope all is well!

    Can thoroughly recommend the Model M, as I’m writing this on a 1990-vintage specimen. (It was subbed in for my previous 1993 version following The Incident with a cat and a three-quarter glass of Victory Golden Monkey). Its only flaws are (1) not enough buckybits and (2) a lack of n-key rollover.

    As near as I can tell by talking to people who have purchased them, the Unicomp models have one-piece keys (as opposed to the underkey-keycap model used in actual Ms), and use a somewhat less-substantial grade of plastic. It might be worth it for the additional keys in the 104-key versions (or even 122-key, which while lacking convenient Winkey-positioned SUPER candidates but have a nice array on the left which would be good for workspace management), but for the moment my original is working a treat.

    Those Curtas are SWEET.

    Don’t knock the A1200. It has AGA support and is much more extensible than the A500 (unless you have severe floppy-nostalgia). I’d say it’s hands-down-best all-rounder, and I’d definitely like to pick one up at some point to supplement my original A1000.


    • Hey Paul, nice to hear from you! How are the Hyperspacelanders treating you?

      Thanks for the info about Model Ms. I really need to talk to my Mode’M-collecting friend; he seems to have several and may even have a Unicomp model for me to compare to his old-school ones so I can tell whether the newer ones are sufficiently robust.

      About the A1200, again, thanks for the tip. It says here it was an all-in-one machine of a sort, so all I may need to get it going is a power cord, a video cable, and a Kickstarter disk. I need to drag it out and see whether it needs 3.0 or 3.1.

      Such fun. As well, my Tandy 102 is finally stable and useful for real work. Meanwhile, I need to reinstall RaspBMC and order a wireless keyboard so the dogs don’t keep knocking the Pi, which is rubberbanded to a deck of cards, across the living room. The Raspberry Pi isn’t technically retro but it sure has a retro gestalt.


      • Cheers, Ron. I’m mostly living in dynamic graph topologies at the moment, but hope to escape soon….

        If you go for a PC122-format Unicomp, be sure you research the models carefully. If you plan to use one with Linux, some of the models have the F13-F24 keys just send keycodes for F1-F12 with a modifier…somewhat defeating the purpose. Microswitches can be just fine for typing, but the buckling springs have their reputation for a reason.

        Good luck with the A1200…I’ve read a lot of articles about mods or extensions people have made to it over the years, and I think it’s probably going to be a really nice choice for just about whatever you want to do with it.

        I have a Pi reserved from a batch bought by a fellow LUGger for an upcoming installfest…I am itching to get my hands on it. It’s quite appropriate that you have yours attached to a deck of cards, I have to say.

        Oh, and here’s my own list for outdated gadget that need to enter my life… I’m in the final throes of the Ph.D., but perhaps I’ll be trying to slip in a blog entry occasionally.


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  3. Maybe APL is due for another revival the way LISP has made a comeback since 2000 or so.

    Also, many of the cool Amiga games and demos were done in PAL only. I’m assuming based on your location that you have an NTSC Amiga, so you’ll probably need an emulator if you want to try them.


  4. Indeed. One of my Facebook friends says at the top of his retrocomputing wishlist is an IBM 2741 Selectronic terminal with APL typeball, — pretty sweet.

    You’re right; most of the demos I want to watch seem to have come out of the European scene. But wouldn’t a PAL adapter serve me at least as well as an emulator? Or are demos programmed for PAL simply not going to work on an NTSC Amiga?


    • Once you get that Model M, you can pick up a set of APL keycaps for it! They used to be available through Unicomp, though I don’t see them listed on their website right now.


  5. I always thought the computer in _A Wrinkle in Time_ or one of its sequels was probably an APL terminal. In one of the books, a couple of the kids go into their father’s laboratory and see a computer whose keyboard has extra keys, displaying the Roman alphabet, Greek letters, and many symbols they don’t even recognize.


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