My wife, Elizabeth, was cleaning out one of our file cabinets the other day and ran across a bunch of my old computer stuff. I usually dispose of outdated hardware and software after a few years, so I was surprised to see these things lying around. Just last year, I threw out the Indus GT drive I had for my Atari 400 and 800 computers. That was a sweet drive, and I was sad to see it go.

In the photo below, you can see some old Commodore paddle controllers. I've often wondered why we don't see paddle controllers anymore. There were a lot of "twitch" games (like Kaboom on the Atari 2600) that just can't be played without this kind of controller. Perhaps its limited freedom of motion is too restrictive for today's gamers. Who knows?

The blue device is pretty interesting. Believe it or not, early modems weren't able to detect that the phone line was ringing, so if you wanted to have your modem answer the phone, you had to tell it to answer the line manually (no, I'm not kidding). In my many years, I've written and run a number of bulletin board systems on various computers, including the Commodore 64 and Atari 800. A BBS was a pre-Internet way of communicating and sharing files that could typically accommodate only one caller at a time (more sophisticated systems in later years could handle multiple simultaneous incoming phone lines). Since the modem never knew when an incoming caller was attempting to connect, this device would plug into the phone line, detect the ring signal on the wire, and "fire" the joystick button on the computer. The BBS software would sit around and wait for the joystick button to "fire." When this happened, it knew that the phone line was ringing, and it would issue the command to pick up the phone and communicate with the caller's modem. Although this might sound silly and convoluted, it worked great, and my BBS used it successfully for over a year. But I'm surprised I've kept it this long.

The slender red rod is a light pen, a device that has a phototransistor in its tip that responds to light emitted by a monitor or television screen. It works by detecting the beam from the electron gun and sending a signal to the joystick port. When signaled, it is a relatively simple matter for the computer to determine where it is currently painting the image on the screen. I mostly used it with simple paint programs. I remember that it didn't work as well on low-contrast images...probably because there wasn't enough change in light intensity when the electron beam passed.

The last device should be more familiar. It's a trackball controller made by Wico. If memory serves, the Wico Command Control was considered the cream of the crop for trackball controllers, and I was fortunate to have it. I'm impressed at its build's a bit heavier than I remembered.

The photos below are from an old file containing artifacts from two products made by Anyware Software, a software company that I started when I was in high school. My first commercial product was called Entree, a menuing system for DOS computers (yes, I'm depressed that Entree didn't make the list). It would automatically start when the computer booted (via AUTOEXEC.BAT) and present the user with a list of applications installed on the system. Administrators could optionally create users, assign permissions to run certain programs, and audit their use. It would generate a number of useful reports, and it contained a very handy file management tool...very similar to XTree. I was most impressed with its software detection capabilities. During installation, it would optionally scan all hard drives for programs it recognized and automatically add them to the default menu. I frequently had people call and send me mail (not e-mail, mind you) to help me detect new software applications. By version 2.0, I think it would detect in the neighborhood of 1,200 unique applications. I sold the first version in 1988 for $29.95 USD.

The other photo is Uninstall, an application I wrote to help me remove software from computer systems. As a consultant, I would often install software on customer machines for evaluation. This is before the days of 120-day evaluation copies...these were full, live copies that were sanctioned by the manufacturer. Well, it became a pain to remember which files, registry keys, CONFIG.SYS entries, etc. I needed to remove for each installation, so I wrote a utility to help. I planned to commercialize the tool, but about a month before completion, Bill Machrone wrote a column in PC Magazine lamenting software that would help him remove applications from computers. I was both excited that the need was recognized and afraid that Bill had given the idea to everyone else! So, I worked non-stop the following weekend to finish the program, and I FedEx'd it to him next-day air.

I received a call from him after a few days, and about three months later, his column (titled Shareware to the Rescue) appeared in PC Magazine and talked about Uninstall by Anyware Software. Fortunately, he included my phone number, and this small mention unleashed an onslaught of orders. Who would have guessed that such a small mention would have resulted in so many interested customers? It was a good time.

Has anyone out there used Entree or Uninstall? Or any of my other products from the same era (WinClock, PowerSchedule, Fire!)? Leave a comment or send me e-mail. I'd love to hear from you.

Comments (6)

  1. Funny you mention the demise of the paddle. I just bought the latest incarnation of the paddle: <a href="; target="_blank">Griffin Technology’s PowerMate</a>. It’s a paddle control that you can contextually configure–in iTunes it’s a volume control, in Illustrator it’s a zoom control, and in GarageBand it races through the timeline. The product description on Griffin’s site never mentions the word "paddle"–must be too archaic of a word to sound impressive. I’m still figuring out how useful it really is…for now, though, it looks great on my desk 😉

  2. I bought the Griffin PowerMate for my wife about a year ago. She uses it to control the volume on her Windows Media Player. It definitely has a great look and feel…very much like an older, heavy, high-quality volume control from an audio component. And the glowing blue is extra cool.

  3. Dithermaster says:

    I have a PowerMate too, and wrote support for it in our applications for stepping and shuttling though video.

    I’m commenting today because I have one of those Wico Command Control trackballs, but it’s been modified (via a replacement of an internal socketed chip with a wired header) to plug into a vintage Macintosh 9-pin mouse port.

    My wife can’t believe I still have all this old stuff, either. <g>


  4. Jerry Kurtz says:

    Hey, don’t throw that old stuff away. Sell it on eBay. There are a ton of collectors out there looking for this kind of stuff, me included. Infact, I am looking for an Indus GT drive for my Commodore collection — and that is how I found your blog.

  5. I am frequently asked about the interview process at Microsoft, and although I’m usually more than happy

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