Why did old PCs have a turbo button?

Why did old PCs have a turbo button?

Old PCs, especially PCs from the 1980s to the mid 1990s, have a button with the curious label “Turbo.” On some PCs, a number on the front changes when you push it. Why did old PCs have a turbo button?

Turbo buttons are a quirk of old PCs, kind of like their beige color that tends to turn yellow, but it served a functional purpose.

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Epyx Fast Load cartridge

Epyx Fast Load cartridge

The Epyx Fast Load cartridge, released in 1984, was the first commercially successful Commodore fast load product. Commodore’s 1541 disk drive was much slower than competing disk drives, so fast load cartridges became popular.

While the Epyx product was first, and was very popular, it didn’t have the market to itself for very long.

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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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Commodore hardware viruses–yes, they were possible

Commodore hardware viruses–yes, they were possible

The conventional wisdom is that computer viruses can wipe out your data, but they can’t do physical damage. The exception to that rule was, of course, Commodore, the king of cheap 1980s computers. Commodore’s earliest computer, the PET, had an infamous “poke of death” (POKE 59458,62) that would destroy its video display, but the Commodore 64’s sidekick, the 1541 disk drive, had a couple of little-known vulnerabilities as well. Read more

LOAD “*”,8,1 – what it means

The smartest guy in the room cited the Commodore command LOAD “*”,8,1 as something he used for years but never understood why it worked except it was the command he used to load games on his Commodore 64.

So I explained it. Now I can explain it to you too.  Read more

Ways to save money on your DVD player

If you’re the only person left in the United States without a DVD player, you might want some tips on how to buy them.
I know, I know, since this year was the year of the DVD player, this information would have been a lot more helpful a couple of months ago. I don’t always think of things as quickly as I should.

Believe it or not, your best bet for a DVD player is very likely the cheapest one on the shelf at your local store, the one that’s a brand you’ve never heard of and made in China.

The main reason most people want a cheap DVD player and don’t know it is old TVs. I’ve got a Magnavox console TV that looks like it should be sitting in a shag-carpeted living room with an Atari 2600 connected to it. DVD players have S-Video and composite outputs. The only words of that sentence my ancient TV understands are “have” and “and”.

There are two ways you can put composite inputs on an old TV like mine. You can connect an RF modulator to it–that’s an accessory you can buy at Radio Shack for $30 or most consumer electronics stores for $25 that plugs into your TV’s antenna jack and gives you composite and possibly S-Video inputs.

The second way to put composite inputs on an old TV is to connect a VCR to it. Chances are you already have a VCR. Every VCR I’ve ever seen has composite inputs, which are intended to allow you to chain two VCRs to a TV.

But most brand-name DVD players have copy protection circuitry that detects the presence of a VCR and degrades the picture to an unacceptable level. This is because Hollywood is convinced the only reason someone would connect a DVD player and a VCR in tandem is to make copies of DVDs. And since the lack of composite inputs on old TVs presents an opportunity to sell more stuff, and most big-name makers of DVD players also make stuff like TVs, they’re more than happy to comply.

The brands you’ve never heard of, however, really don’t give a rip. They care about making stuff cheap. And, well, extra circuitry means extra cost. So that’s one reason to leave it out. And China is notorious for thumbing its nose at Western copyright law anyway. (I find it really frightening that totalitarian China is more interested in my rights as a consumer than the supposed Republic of the United States, but that’s another topic.)

Connecting a VCR to a TV through its antenna doesn’t noticeably affect picture quality, because VHS’ picture quality is lower than that of broadcast TV. Connecting a DVD player through the antenna–whether through a VCR or an aftermarket RF modulator–does reduce picture quality. But the picture will still look better than VHS-quality.

Every time I’ve looked, I’ve been able to find no-name DVD players for $60-$65. Name-brand ones cost closer to $100. So a cheapie could potentially save you $70, if it saves you from having to buy an RF modulator.

But even if your TV has composite and/or S-Video inputs, you probably still want the ability to chain your DVD player through your VCR. Because chances are you still want to keep your VCR around for recording TV shows (don’t tell Hollywood) and watching all your old tapes that you don’t re-buy on DVD.

An awful lot of TVs that have those inputs have two sets of inputs, one on the front and one in the back. If you ever connect your camcorder to your TV, you want to save your front-mounted inputs for that, to save fumbling around. If you have a videogame console that you’re in the habit of disconnecting and reconnecting, you want your front inputs for that.

Having the ability to chain your new DVD player to your old VCR gives you more options in setting things up. Options are good.

If you just got a DVD player and you’re having problems with it, you might just want to exchange it for a no-name model.

Finally, if you’re into foreign films and want to import DVDs to get movies you can’t get in the United States yet (if ever), you’re much more likely to be able to disable region codes on a no-name cheapie than you are on a big name brand.

What about reliability? Yes, a $60 no-name model is probably more likely to break than a $100 brand-name one. How much more likely? It’s hard to say. Is it worth the risk? Absolutely. In all likelihood, by the time your cheapie breaks, you’ll be able to buy a replacement cheapie for 40 bucks. Or, since many cheapies use a plain old IDE DVD-ROM drive like your PC, and that drive is the only mechanical part in a DVD player, you stand an awfully good chance of being able to fix the thing yourself. It’s pretty easy to find an IDE DVD drive for $50 or less right now. Within 18 months, I expect them to be selling for $20. If not sooner.

Finally, a tip: If your TV has S-Video inputs, use them. Using S-Video instead of the more conventional composite gives you a sharper picture and better color accuracy. With VHS, this doesn’t make a lot of difference because the format is really low-quality to begin with, and tapes wear out and reduce it even more. There are a lot of things that can go wrong before the signal even starts to travel down that set of cables.

Since DVD has much higher resolution and doesn’t wear out, you’ll notice the difference.

Wrapping up a week…

Someone at Google has a sense of humor. See (or should I say 533?) for yourself.
Dan Bowman sent me the link. My response?

+#4+ !$ $0 k3wl! +#4nk$!

Desktop video. I still can’t get my Pinnacle DV500’s composite inputs to work right. The rest of the card seems to function just fine. As a workaround, I tried connecting a DVD-ROM drive and ripping the source video digitally, straight off the DVD. I was able to get decoded .VOB files to the drive, but the utilities to convert them into usable AVI files (Premiere won’t work with VOBs) all had an annoying tendency to crash. At one point I suspected I had a binary compiled for Intel systems, and obviously my AMD CPU won’t like those SSE instructions. So I copied a single 1-gig VOB file over to a P3-based laptop. The utility got a little further, but it still crashed.

And yes, incidentally, I did secure permission from the copyright holders to use their video. As for the legality of what I did in the DMCA era, one of the utilities looked at the DVD and said it was unprotected. It’d be hard to prosecute me for circumventing copy protection when none existed in the first place.

I was going to say we’ve come a long way since Amigas and Video Toasters, but I’m not going to say that. Amigas and Video Toasters actually worked.

Tribute. How’d I forget this? The Silent Beatle died Thursday. Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you already knew that.

The radio station I listen to most often, which can’t decide whether it wants to be a retro station, a New Wave station, a hair band station, or an Adult Alternative station, stepped way outside its format and did a nice Beatles tribute Friday at lunch, playing an hour’s worth of tunes, ending with “The Long and Winding Road,” which seemed eerily appropriate.

I remember when the Beatles boxed set came out a few years ago. I was still in college, and my next-door neighbor, Chip, got it the first day. He and I watched the corresponding TV special, and I remember someone walking in and saying he didn’t know any Beatles songs. I told him he was crazy. The Beatles are so pervasive, I said, that they’re not even just part of our culture anymore. They’re part of our DNA.

So Chip reached over and turned on his CD player and flipped through a few selections. A look of recognition came over his face to most of them. Yeah, he knew some Beatles songs. He’d just never recognized them as Beatles songs. Even young whippersnappers like us knew them and loved them.

The Beatles were history years before I was born, and for that matter, by the time I was born in 1974, even their record label, Apple Records, was in shambles. I have no recollection of the day John Lennon was murdered. The earliest Beatles memory I had growing up was hearing George Harrison’s “I’ve Got My Mind Set on You” on the radio and seeing the video on TV, in 1986. It was a good tune. Not as good as the best stuff he wrote, and it’s largely forgotten today, but what other songs from 1986 do people remember today? Bon Jovi? Puh-lease. It was such a bad year for music that The Police were able to remake their 1981 hit, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” and score a minor hit with it. Compared to the other choices we had that year, George Harrison scratching his nails down a blackboard for three minutes would have been cooler, just because it was George Harrison.

And he and the rest of his bandmates knew that. That was cool, because it freed them to experiment. So they had that stack of bubblegum pop hits in the early 60s that everyone remembers today, but in addition to that, they had their psychedelic period and by 1968 they had dabbled in everything else imaginable. Heavy metal? They did some of that. Industrial rock? They even did some of that. When it came to rock’n’roll, The Beatles tried everything. Everything that’s happened since has just been further exploration of territory they already covered.

George Harrison’s last few years weren’t pleasant ones, due to his battles with cancer and with deranged fans. I hope he’s happier now. I can’t imagine him doing anything else but sitting somewhere, making music with John Lennon, waiting for Paul and Ringo to show up.

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