A Rare Beast Captured: the JLPGA PowerBook 170

A new addition to the collection has recently arrived, one I’m quite excited about. Captured alive from the wilds of geekdom, the VMM is now the caretaker of an elusive JLPGA PowerBook 170 in all its multicolor glory.

JLPGA-PB170-Front-sm

In 1992 Apple manufactured approximately 500 multi-colored PowerBook 170 models to commemorate the Japanese Ladies Professional Golf Association (JLPGA) tournament. This was during the John Sculley era so co-marketing promotions were common at the company.

The PowerBook 170 was quite a machine for it’s day. This first generation PowerBook replaced the older Macintosh Portable with a much smaller, lighter design, 9.8-inch active matrix display, 25MHz 68030 processor, up to 8MB of RAM, 2.5″ SCSI HD and a built-in modem. It was a favorite for business and professional users, and the form factor lasted several generations.

Personally, I remember having my first case of PowerBook Envy lusting after a colleague’s 170…

The JLPGA PowerBook 170 has the same innards as a standard PB170, this wasn’t a high performance model. Rather its rarity derives from the color case and that fact that only 500 are known to have been made. Replacing the standard battleship grey components are a dark blue palmrest and screen bezel, white top and bottom panels, yellow hinges, red sliding panels and green rotating feet. It is similar to the multicolor Apple logo color scheme and is really quite striking in appearance.

JLPGA-PB170-Open-Side-sm JLPGA-PB170-Top-Side-sm

Also unique about this PowerBook is the mixed Japanese-English keyboard. This was a promo item for Japan so you don’t often see these kinds of keyboards outside that region. I’ll need to find a Japanese version of System 7.1 to run on this puppy for completeness.

JLPGA-PB170-Keyboard-sm

The hinged door panel which covers the rear cable ports (missing on my unit) is also red in color. However this panel is something which gets lost on nearly all 100 series Powerbooks, and with one exception every JLPGA PB170 I’ve seen listed on eBay is missing the red rear door. This frequently lost panel may literally be one of the most rare parts Apple has ever produced!

JLPGA-PB170-Rear-sm

Like most PowerBook 170 models the VMM JLPGA experiences the infamous tunnel vision screen effect: after warming up the screen corners turn black and the display tunnels down to an oval window. Sadly this is a common problem on the 170 and no permanent fix is known.

As with all things, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. MacWorld magazine definitely appreciated it:

If you ever set your hands upon this colorful machine, you’ll have yourself quite a prize… Apple must have had a field day picking the colors for this machine. It sports a mostly blue body with a white lid and base, red battery doors and contrast sliders, yellow hinge caps and trackball, and green elevating feet. Other than all that, it appears to be a relatively unassuming PowerBook 170.

However Fortune magazine disagrees, calling it one of the six ugliest Apple products ever:

More the product of a questionable color scheme than poor industrial design, this commemorative Mac is extremely rare. Some 500 were made in honor of the JLPGA golf tournament in Japan.

Beautiful or garish, the JLPGA PowerBook 170 is a rare beast in the Mac collecting world. I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to add this gem to my collection.

The Evolution of Computer User Interfaces

Over many decades the way we interact with computers has evolved from text based commands, to icons with point-and-click Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs), to todays touch and gesture based gadgets.

Computer-User-Interfaces-crop

The folks over at ATT Internet Service have created an interactive infographic to highlight how much has changed in the screens we look at – and interact with – every day. We’ve come a long way from Doug Englebart to the Apple watch!

Continue below for a single screen scrolling version.
(more…)

Classic Macintosh TV Commercials

The Vintage Mac Museum will be exhibiting again this year at the Vintage Computer Festival East, and I’m planning to bring my trusty Macintosh TV along to the show. As appropriate material to play I decided to put together a compilation of some of my favorite Macintosh TV Commercials from the 68k and PowerPC eras.

The spots included are:

• 1984 SuperBowl Commercial
• 1986 The Power to be Your Best
• 1991 Quadra Revolution
• 1995 Windows 95 Crowd Control
• 1997 Think Different “Here’s to the Crazy Ones”
• 1999 iMac G3 “Colors”
• 2003 iPod Silhouette Dancers
• 2003 PowerBook G4 Big Small
• 2002 Switch “Ellen Feiss”
• 2006 Get a Mac “Better Results”

Besides being enjoyable, the collection shows an interesting journey in advertising focus and style. After a dramatic introduction (1984), Apple focuses on enabling the individual ability to do more with new tools (Power to be Your Best, Quadra Revolution). The mid 1990s saw Apple taking potshots at Windows while marketshare shrank, then a dramatic call in 1997 to “Think Different” after Steve Jobs returned.

The colorful iMacs and musical iPod dancers showed how Apple was becoming friendlier, more than just a computer company. The word Computer was dropped from the corporate name. But the Mac was not (yet) forgotten: a humorous spot for the Big and Small PowerBook G4 computers shows the new laptop designs in a mobile computing market larger than the desktop space.

Following the Think Different campaign Apple ran several different series targeting Windows customers to move Mac: first the series of “Switch” ads (including cult favorite Ellen Feiss), followed by the “Get a Mac” spots with Justin Long and the wonderfully droll John Hodgman as the PC.

Some good stuff, in the days when Apple was still the underdog. And then the iPhone came…

The Miniature Mac Museum

As an active collector I suffer from the ailment which eventually affects most people who have this hobby: I am running out of space. Two bedrooms, half my living room (home office) and half the attic are taken up by Mac equipment, spare parts, memorabilia, etc.. I don’t want to move, but the collecting urge still burns hot, so I’ve started to downsize my Macs – literally! Welcome to the growing Miniature Mac Museum.

iMac Alarm Clocks

mini-imacs-smI was surprised to learn that many miniature Macs of different types and sizes exist. Some of the most popular seem to be iMac Alarm Clocks. Starting back in 1998, the iconic fruit-colored computers started the Mac’s resurgence under Steve Jobs. Apparently they also made good bedside accessories. Several vendors brought out combinations of alarm clocks, radios, calculators and probably a pencil sharpener or two for good measure. Quality varied and useability was mixed, but they are cute as can be. Safe to say these puppies were not sold as accessories in any actual Apple Stores.

timex-imac-1-smAmong the most accurate replicas were the Timex iMac alarm clocks made in 1999, which really do mirror the shape and colors of the second generation iMac DV slot loading models quite well. So well in fact that Apple forced Timex to stop production and had existing products pulled off the shelves (it must have been a massive midnight drugstore raid). Few units were sold, and as a consequence this little iClock has become one of the more rare Apple collectibles. Of course I now need to obtain all colors and styles of iMac alarm clocks available.

Strangely, flat panel iMacs never seem to have caught on among the underground replica alarm clock industry.

Doll House Computers

american-girl-performa-smAnother popular category of mini Macs are doll house computers. Back in 1996 the American Girl doll company brought out this miniature replica Macintosh Performa, available complete with computer desk and chair. The mouse and keyboard are clickable, and after inserting a battery you can cycle through various different screens. The details are pretty accurate on this model, down to the colored Apple logos, ventilation lines and included miniature mouse pad. American Girl dolls were popular for years, and these mini Performas are regularly available on eBay. Dolls not included.

Today 1/12 scale seems to be the format of choice for doll house replicas, at least those I found on eBay. imax-and-mbpro2-smHere’s another set of dollhouse computers, a tiny little aluminum iMac and a Retina MacBook Pro. These are simple flat plastic parts with decals, not nearly as detailed as the mini iMacs or Performa, but still quite cute in their own way. The Mavericks desktop graphics are accurate, and I love the fact that the product boxes were included. The larger box reads IMAX on the top instead of iMac (which is actually just a different company’s trademark infraction).

Jonathan Zufi’s great book Iconic serves as a fitting base for these rather iconic models.

Tiny Working Replicas

nanomac2-smMiniature Macs (or other Apple products) can also be actual tiny working computers. What I call my nanoMac is a 3D printed classic Mac from RetroConnector containing a dock and USB charging cable for the 6th generation (square) iPod nano. Slide in an iPod and pull up the clock app for a quick check of the time, or add a few photos of old Mac desktops for a realistic vintage look. This little replica has fooled several visitors to the Mac Museum while sitting on the computer speaker next to my iMac.

And last but not least, the PiXL is a working Lisa emulator. Co-created by Charles Mangin (of RetroConnector) and Adam Sommerfield as a way to keep the Macintosh XL (aka Lisa 2) computer alive for younger generations, this tiny gem contains a Raspberry Pi computer inside another 3D printed case (Lisa 1 or Lisa 2/Mac XL versions avaialble). After booting into Raspbian Linux the user can run either the Mini vMac or LisaEM emulators and experience early 1980s computing in all its glory. Even better, this miniature Lisa has more USB ports than most modern Macs!

pixl2-sm

My Steve Jobs bobblehead looks out over it all, sighing in shame at what his enterprise has become…

mini-mac-compilation

I Just Want To See It Go To a Good Home

In the Macintosh community, old Macs are special, personal. There was always something notable about being a Mac user, whether in the 68k Glory Days, the Beleaguered Apple Computer era, or early in the Second Jobs Dynasty. Our Macs weren’t just tools but visceral parts of our lives. Electronic friends. We sacrificed to afford them, and sacrificed to keep using them in the face of adversity. As such you don’t want to just dispose of your old computer, you want to see it to go to a good home.

Joe-Story-collection-smMac friend, I was just about to take a bunch of older Macs to the dumpster or to Goodwill. Are you interested in anything more for your museum? Thanks for what you’re doing to keep antique Macs alive.

Mac users go out of their way, often at their own expense, to help make this happen. Old technology does not necessarily mean obsolete. The Vintage Mac Museum tends to get several emails per month from people with old Macs looking for new homes.

I have been a devoted Mac user since 1988 and have every piece of Mac hardware that I have ever purchased. I detest the thought of discarding this wonderful (but vintage) hardware in the recycle bin. If you have a need for [any of this] I would be willing to give them away.

Do you know of a good home for this printer? I have the original box and packaging. I will donate it as I don’t think it would be worth a whole lot of money. I just put a new cartridge in it back in the winter. The things we Mac people will do… :)

By definition museums have an interest in giving good homes to old things, and I’ve probably acquired more than half of my collection in this fashion. This week I received a large donation of items from someone not wanting to see their historical importance nor his collecting efforts go to waste.

Joe Story started as a Mac user back in the late 1980s with a Macintosh Plus. The Plus was perhaps the truest incarnation of the original Macintosh design, utilizing the iconic compact form factor and breakthrough graphical interface but finally having enough RAM (1MB) and disk storage capability (via SCSI hard drives) to make the thing actually useful.

Over time Joe’s appreciation of the significance of the original Macintosh increased, along with related hardware and software of the period. He began to collect Apple items from the mid 1980s, a piece here and there. Eventually his collection included a Lisa, 128k and 512k Macs, rare early hard drives, vintage software, and a wealth of books detailing how to use and repair these old systems.

Lisa-and-Macs

And after a while – like most collectors – he found he didn’t have enough room for everything. Much of it wound up packed in boxes or kept in storage rooms. Yup, been there, done that!

A few weeks ago Joe learned that he had pancreatic cancer. It’s incurable, and he doesn’t have long to live. Understandably, this brings focus and clarity to one’s efforts. Along with attending to personal matters Joe felt it was important that his archive of vintage Apple items go to a place where they could be appreciated and enjoyed, rather than recycled or otherwise disposed of.

Boxed-and-Wrapped-smSerendipitously Joe and I live in the same area, and he knew about my collecting efforts. After a brief discussion we arranged to meet, and with his wife’s help emptied out a few storage bins. Most of the items were boxed or wrapped, so we opened many of them up before loading into the car in order that Joe could experience everything again. Along the way we had a good chat reminiscing about computing days past and old Apple things.

Since my house is already overflowing with vintage Apple items, I try not to accumulate too much additional stuff. But this was a special case. My cat Fudge reluctantly gave his approval as I hauled everything inside.

The photo at the top of this post shows many of the items after unpacking. This is a serious collection of gear, which includes the following:

• a Lisa 2 with two ProFile disk drives, original Lisa mouse, Lisa Office System 7/7 and all manuals
• a Macintosh 128k with Tecmar serial hard drive, and a Mac 512k with HD20 floppy-based hard drive
• two Macintosh Plus models with numerous keyboards, mice, numeric keypad, etc.
• the original packing box for a 128k Mac, with all inner sleeves and numeric keypad box
• vintage boxed software from Apple, Microsoft, Lotus and other notable period vendors
• multiple boxes of books on using and repairing old Macs; 1983 Byte magazine introducing the Lisa
Approaching-Macintosh-smplus: a Mac training book with Bloom County artwork on the cover!

I am honored to take possession of these items, and be able to help under the circumstances. Some things will go into the Vintage Mac Museum, others will be passed along to others who can make use of or appreciate them. Apple geeks like myself will help propagate the lineage, and ensure that this gear does indeed go to good homes.

So thank you very much Joe, for your contributions to the collection. And all the best to you and yours. We wish you well.

Remembering the Lisa with a PiXL

PiXL-with-Apple-smOne quick way to any collector’s heart is to create miniature models of their objects of affection. Even better if the miniature reproductions work. And if the items happen to be seminal pieces of Apple computing history, just tell me where to sign up!

Introducing the PiXL. This miniature marvel is an homage to the Apple Lisa and its later variant, the Macintosh XL. A 3D printed case houses a Raspberry Pi 2 and small LCD screen, and utilizes an external USB keyboard and mouse. Running Raspbian – a variant of Linux optimized for the little piece of silicon fruit – both Macintosh and Lisa emulators are available to run on the system. What a geek’s dream!

Naturally I had to have one. To learn more about the story behind this effort I contacted the creator of the PiXL, Adam Sommerfield. We corresponded via email from his home in the UK:

“I’d had a curiosity about Apple and Macintosh since when I was young. The thing was, back in the day the Macintosh compared to say a Commodore 64 was very expensive – certainly outside the budget of someone growing up in Sutton, Nottinghamshire in the 80s! It was after searching around for pictures of various models that I spotted something called a Macintosh XL.”

Ah yes, the Macintosh XL. For those not familiar, this model started life as the Lisa 2, the second version of the Lisa containing a 3.5-inch floppy disk instead of dual 5.25-inch Twiggy drives. When sales of the Lisa slowed after the Mac launched, Apple tweaked the ROM and installed Mac System Software in an environment called MacWorks. The Macintosh XL was functionally equivalent to a Mac Plus but with a larger screen. It was beguiling to Sommerfield:

“I absolutely loved the design! It seems to just exude everything about the early computers with the beige colour, grill lines on the front, sides and back, built in monitor and perched on its stands. The more I read about it the more I got sucked into the whole story of the product, the original Apple Lisa version, the team that built it, the similarities but also conflict with Macintosh and that team.”

apple-lisa-logo

These days obtaining a Lisa or Macintosh XL is not easy or cheap – non-working units sell for several hundred dollars, working models in the thousands. The large size and weight is also an issue. Sommerfield thought it would be nice if other people could enjoy the Mac XL experience at a low cost, and his solution was to utilize a Raspberry Pi 2 with emulation software, housed in a small case that resembled the original.

And thus the name: PiXL

Now if anybody knows how to build working miniature computer replicas, it’s Charles Mangin. His online store RetroConnector is a veritable wonderland of tiny retro Apple gear (Macs, Apple II, disk drives, mice) all made with custom 3D printed cases. Sommerfield found out about Mangin’s efforts and they started working together. Mangin picks up the story:

“Adam initiated the whole thing by asking if I could model a miniature Lisa similar to the other Apples I’ve been selling on my Etsy store for a while now. Since I don’t own a Lisa, I created the models from photos and scanned reference materials on the Internet. [Adam] knew it was going to require a Pi 2 to run the emulator Ray had ported, so I built the model around that, and found a compatible display the right size to include.”

PiXL-sm

Using the 3D printed cases, the PiXL is available in both Lisa 1 and Lisa 2/Mac XL configurations. The reproduced detail is fantastic, right down to the logos, lights and disk drive recesses. An SD card containing the software gets inserted and ejected via the (lower) floppy drive slot, and power comes via an attached USB cable. On the right side of the case are an ethernet port and 4 USB ports.

You know, this little Lisa replica has more ports than most modern Apple products! That’s just not right…

Once booted two emulation environments are available to run: miniVmac for the Macintosh XL experience, or (in a more limited form) LisaEm to run the Lisa Office System. Sommerfield has been working with Ray Arachelian, the creator of LisaEm, to get the emulator ported across to Raspbian (versions exist for many operating systems). This must now be the tiniest Lisa emulator in existence.

Sommerfield summed up the final result in a fittingly British way: absolutely brilliant!

But beyond the cool factor, why all this effort? Sommerfield:

“Looking around the web there are a few sites that have Lisa content, but most of them appear a little basic. My plan is to put a site together that focuses 100% on the Lisa, its successes and positive points, along with anecdotal content around the team that built it. You can read a lot on the Macintosh team but there isn’t much on the Lisa team (though I appreciate there was some crossover). I’m determined to set up an Apple Lisa homage website and the PiXL will be available through [the site]. This will enable me to work on other content that helps raise the profile of the Lisa product and the story around it.”

The process of getting my PiXL up and running was actually a bit like getting my actual Lisa working – slow progress with long gaps. This isn’t a device for the impatient or technically faint of heart. It took over a month from the initial order date to a shipping unit as the 3D printed cases are custom made for each one. I had ordered a Lisa 1 version with a copy of LisaEm, and that software took several more weeks to create and ship from the UK. Upon receipt the internal LCD screen wasn’t recognized. Fixing this required use of an external monitor, installing additional device drivers, plus various and sundry command line troubleshooting.

PiXL-at-VMM-sm

Right now miniVmac runs well on the small screen, but LisaEm doesn’t scale correctly. It’s clear we’re in prototype territory, but overall the process was pretty fun, and both Sommerfield and Mangin note that delivery times and setup procedures will improve as additional units are made. Meanwhile a steady supply of Rum & Coke helps with any technical difficulties!

Sommerfield has been in touch with several members of the original Lisa team, including Rich Page and John Couch, and they are very excited and interested in his work:

“I almost feel I’m on a mission to raise peoples awareness of the Lisa and its role in the evolution of Apple computer products (and computers in general). Can’t really explain fully why, it just seems like a gross unfairness. Put it this way, i’ve been into computers since the early 80’s and I had no idea that the Lisa even existed until four months ago! Typical write-ups tend to give the Lisa a paragraph (barely) pointing out the commercial failure then move onto the Macintosh.”

You can support Adam’s efforts and purchase a PiXL via RetroConnector for $225 in kit form (supply your own Raspberry Pi 2) or $275 completely assembled. Remember the Lisa!

lisa-graphic