C64 vs. Apple II

C64 vs. Apple II

The C64 vs. Apple II was perhaps the most epic battle of the 8-bit era. Both companies sold millions of machines, yet both nearly went out of business in the process.

Comparing the two machines with the largest software libraries of the 8-bit era is a bit difficult, but that’s what makes it fun. The two machines are similar enough that some people ask if the Commodore 64 was an Apple product. The answer is no.

As a weird aside, it was possible, with a Mimic Systems Spartan, to turn a C-64 into an Apple II. Not many did, but the reason why is another story.

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Why Bowman sold out to Topps, or how Topps bought Bowman

Why Bowman sold out to Topps, or how Topps bought Bowman

Virtually every schoolboy who is interested in baseball cards knows the story of how Topps bought Bowman. After World War II, Bowman was the leading brand of baseball card, or, at least from 1948 until 1951. Then, in 1952, Topps released its landmark 1952 set. Bowman and Topps battled for baseball fans’ nickels and pennies until 1955. Then, in early 1956, Topps bought Bowman, and that was the end of Bowman until the late 1980s, when Topps dusted off the brand name and started issuing Bowman cards again. And Topps faced precious little competition in the baseball card field until 1981, when Fleer and Donruss won the right to produce cards.

That’s the story as I knew it. But there’s a lot more to the story, starting with the details of the purchase. In January 1956, Topps bought its once mighty rival for a mere $200,000. Normally a company sells for 10 times its annual revenue, and Bowman had sold $600,000 worth of baseball cards alone just two years before. The purchase price makes no sense, until you dig a bit deeper.

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Ex-Commodore Prez Mehdi Ali proves you can spin anything

I found the thumbnail biography of one Mehdi Ali recently. It reads, in part:

“His prior experience includes serving as the President of Commodore International, where he accomplished a major operational turnaround.”

I don’t think he and I share the same definition of “major operational turnaround.”

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Looking for a career change? Consider web app pentesting

IT jobs aren’t as easy to come by as they were 20 years ago, but web app pentesting is one subset of the field that I don’t see slowing down any time soon. Unfortunately it’s a poorly understood one.

But if you spent any significant time in the 1980s or early 1990s abusing commercial software, especially Commodore and Apple and Atari and Radio Shack software, I’m looking at you. Even if you don’t know it, you’re uniquely qualified to be a web app pentester.

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The State Department is just one of many examples of IT gone rogue

Much has been made of Hillary Clinton’s use of her own mail server, running out of her home. It didn’t change my opinion of her, and I don’t think it changed anyone else’s either–it just reinforces what everyone has thought of her since the early 1990s. Then, Ars Technica came forward with the bizarre case of Scott Gration, an ambassador who ran his own shadow IT shop out of a bathroom stall in Nairobi.

The money quote from Ars: “In other words, Gration was the end user from hell for an understaffed IT team.” And it concluded with, “[A]s with Clinton, Gration was the boss—and the boss got what the boss wanted.”

Indeed. And it doesn’t just happen in the government.

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My second 1935 Goudey: Grimes, Klein, and Cuyler

My second 1935 Goudey: Grimes, Klein, and Cuyler

Sometime around the sixth grade I realized that prices on modern cards were very volatile. If a star player had a bad month, his card prices were likely to suffer, while a good month or good season could send prices skyward. I have few regrets in life, but I do wish I’d sold or traded off my Jose Canseco rookie cards when their book value was $300. I could buy several today for $5 or $6 if I wanted more. (I’ll pass.)

That’s about what I paid for my second 1935 Goudey card, which featured not one but three Hall of Famers in Chicago Cubs uniforms: Burleigh Grimes, Chuck Klein, and Kiki Cuyler, along with Woody English. And when I bought that card in the late 1980s, I knew none of them were going to have a bad year the next year.

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Phil Kerpen, net neutrality, and socialism: A post-mortem

I learned the hard way a few weeks ago how net neutrality can be equated with socialism, an argument that puzzles people who work on computer networks for a living and see networking as a big flow of electrons. I think it’s very important that we understand how this happens.

Here’s the tactic: Find a socialist who supports net neutrality. Anoint him the leader of the movement. Bingo, anyone who supports net neutrality follows him, and therefore is a communist.

Political lobbyist and Fox News contributor Phil Kerpen told me Robert W. McChesney was the leader of the net neutrality movement, and he sent me a quote in the form of a meme longer than the Third Epistle of St. John. Yet in a Google search for the key words from that quote, “net neutrality bring down media power structure,” I can’t find him. So then I tried Bing, where I found him quoted on a web site called sodahead.com, but I couldn’t find the primary source.

For the leader of a movement the size of net neutrality, he sure keeps a low profile. Google and Netflix are two multi-billion-dollar companies that support net neutrality. I’m sure it’s news to them that they’re taking orders from Robert W. McChesney. Read more

Hacker chasing, circa 1987

I’m catching up on reading. Next on my reading list is The Cuckoo’s Egg, (Amazon link), Clifford Stoll’s memoir of chasing down a computer hacker in the late 1980s. In it, he describes a very different world, ruled by mainframes and minicomputers, where Unix was something special, IBM still made PCs, but desktop PCs and Macintoshes only received occasional mention, and academia and the military owned the Internet, almost literally. And, oh, by the way, the Cold War was still raging.

The remarkable thing about this book is that it’s an approachable spy thriller, written in 1989, that explains computer security to an audience that had never seen or heard of the Internet. You don’t have to be a security professional to appreciate it, though it’s a classic in the computer security world–many people read it in the late 1980s and early 1990s and decided to get into the field. Read more

Windows NT turns 20

The first version of Windows NT, version 3.1 (to coincide with the then-current 16-bit version of Windows) was released 20 years ago today. It was an insanely ambitious effort for Microsoft that took a while to pay off, though it eventually did in spades. Windows NT was what killed off Novell and OS/2 and turned the proprietary operating system market into a duopoly. Although a user running it wouldn’t see much difference between Windows NT and regular Windows except that it didn’t crash nearly as much, it was the first version of Windows that qualifies as a modern operating system, with pre-emptive multitasking and protected memory.

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Lionel in the non-hobby media

Cnet took a field trip to the official Lionel repair facility and wrote a feature story about it. It’s nice to see the attention outside of the hobby press, since it’s frequently news to people that Lionel is still around in any form. Read more