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I cannot believe I've never seen that before. But... I've never seen that before!
Doonesbury's Personal Digital Assistant plot line started with the August 23, 1993 comic. The "Egg freckles?" gag was August 27, 1993. Was Mike actually using a Newton? It looks more like a Palm Pilot.

This would have been shortly after the Newton was first released, and Newton OS 1.0's handwriting recognition deserves the criticism. In 1996 Newton OS 2.0 had a new recognizer, which was much better.

The easter egg is in Newton OS 2.0:
  1. Write Egg Freckles in the Notepad app.
  2. Select it the text.
  3. Tap the Assist icon.
  4. The comic panel will appear.
Assist was Newton's version of Siri AI. It could act on a selection to do something smart. For example, if you wrote "Have lunch with Bob on Friday at noon" and tapped Assist, it would schedule a meeting with Bob on Friday at 12 PM.
 


Doonesbury's Personal Digital Assistant plot line started with the August 23, 1993 comic. The "Egg freckles?" gag was August 27, 1993. Was Mike actually using a Newton? It looks more like a Palm Pilot.
Very cool Easter egg. I will have to find a Newton somewhere and try that out.

But it must have been a Newton that Trudeau drew (albeit simplified). The USRobotics ('member them?) Palm handheld was introduced in early 1996. I remember, because I was waiting in line at CompUSA ('member them?) in April of 1996 while they unloaded the truck containing their delivery of Pilots for that month. Loved that thing. Can still write in Graffiti....
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
... Loved that thing. Can still write in Graffiti...
I also bought the Palm, which was a more practical, affordable, and compact alternative to the Newton that actually worked. I also liked it a lot and learned Graffiti quickly, but the hardware failed after a while for me (not being abused, either), which was a disappointment after investing time entering data (mostly contacts - it made a great address book).
 


Newton OS 2.0 was a major upgrade but not easy to get. The $125 upgrade required shipping the MessagePad to Apple. I think they replaced the ROM.

I keep my MessagePad plugged in all the time. What would happen if I didn't? There are four AA batteries and a button cell. If it completely loses power, would it lose everything in the internal storage?

I really should sell it...
 


I never purchased a Newton (no cash), but I did use an eMate 300 frequently at work. It had a DIN-8 serial port and, with an adapter cable, could be used to talk to servers, of which we had quite a few. Since my employer was friendly towards local school systems, I was allowed to use it to take notes at the fortnightly meetings of my sons' elementary school IT advisory committee (cleverly designed by the brilliant and dedicated principal to draft people into stringing cables, adding memory to machines in the computer lab, and so on). The teachers, all Mac lovers, swooned at the sight of the little green thing.

I must have tried the handwriting recognition at some point and found it neither so good as to keep using it nor so bad as to laugh at it. But I just don't remember.

A year or two later, I was issued a Palm III, which was handy for retaining contact info, if not all that easy to enter those data. I also recall that backup software for the Mac was undependable. But the ubiquity of Palm devices in that environment made meetings much easier to live through: Buzzword Bingo was the killer app for the device.
 


I keep my MessagePad plugged in all the time. What would happen if I didn't? There are four AA batteries and a button cell. If it completely loses power, would it lose everything in the internal storage?
You should be able to replace the button cell in a pre-MessagePad 2x000 without much trouble, and that would allow at least a little bit of a cushion for the device if the AA batteries are fully drained and it is not plugged in to a power outlet. It was ok to leave it plugged in while replacing the button battery (Apple's repair manual even recommended it), though who knows how robust the electronics are all these years later.
 


... I keep my MessagePad plugged in all the time. What would happen if I didn't? There are four AA batteries and a button cell. If it completely loses power, would it lose everything in the internal storage?
No. My personal Newtons from the 1990s are still part of my "old computers" collection, and I only put batteries in them when I'm showing them or playing with them. They've all retained their internal data on flash memory; considering their age, it's likely SLC flash, too, which is the most reliable type.
 


I have both both generations – MessagePad 100 and MessagePad 2100 – about somewhere. I still wish the iPad Pro had some handwriting -> text conversion like the MessagePad (apps like Noteability not withstanding), as I could use it sometimes. Being an old school note taker, I still find it easier to jot handwritten notes and diagrams then formalize a write-up later (if I ever did) than to attempt to listen and type at the same time.

I enjoyed whipping out my MessagePad 2100 on flights, typing reports (I had a keyboard, too) and doing other stuff whilst my seatmates had dead laptops. And I could browse the web, on it after it was killed, as well using an AppleTalk-Ethernet gateway or by simply sharing my connection at work. I did have a modem card and was looking into an Ethernet card when I gave it up.
 


I used an eMate all through college for note-taking. Being an art/theatre major, being able to draw right on the screen and have it converted to accurate graphics was amazingly handy. The handwriting recognition was very good for me, but my typing speed was/is better, so I rarely used it.

After college I loaned the eMate to a friend and bought a 2100 instead. Carried it for several years as my basic portable. I had a 20MB linear flash card, an ethernet card and the Newton serial keyboard for when I needed to type. Everything lived in a black leather, Newton-branded briefcase. I kept a library of ebooks, some games, and loads of drawings and notes on it. Even did email and web browsing whenever I was near an RJ45 jack. I used that little green bugger for loads of stuff. What didn't get done on it got done on my Wallstreet PowerBook. I still have the Wallstreet and the 2100, but I haven't booted either in years. I expect they're both DOA now.

I never did get the eMate back. My buddy's place got broken into, and it was stolen along with everything else. I still kind of miss it, but I don't know what I'd really do with one now except reminisce. I do think the iPhone could have been a killer productivity device from day one if they'd incorporated some of the Newton's really advanced features, though. But I guess a lot of it couldn't be done on a more secure OS. Things like data detectors and the soup store require the entire machine to have a basic level of trust among all programs. You just can't do that today.
 



You'd be surprised what old tech stuff is collectable. I've been unloading old gear on eBay, including a Zip drive, a Mac version of the Hitchhiker's Guide text game, and an audiotape Guided Tour to MacWrite and MacPaint that came with my 512K Mac.
 


You'd be surprised what old tech stuff is collectable. I've been unloading old gear on eBay, including a Zip drive, a Mac version of the Hitchhiker's Guide text game, and an audiotape Guided Tour to MacWrite and MacPaint that came with my 512K Mac.
One of the best sets of games I had on my Newtons was a Z-Machine emulator that let me run things like Planetfall, ZORK!, and HHGG. Man, those were some fun games.
 


I had one of the second-generation Newtons (I think it was called the 130) for a while. The handwriting recognitino worked well enough, but overall the Newton experience didn't quite "take" for me. Left the Newton for the Palm III, then used the Palm V for a good long while (still think that's the gold standard of PDA design in many ways), then a Sony-branded Palm OS machine until the iPhone came along.

Got really good at Graffiti (I almost wish someone would bring it to the iPhone). But for those occasions requiring a keyboard, I used the Psion 5 (then 5mx) for a really long time. The keyboard was pretty good, and ran for ever on 2 AAs. (I am, therefore, curious about the Gemini device.)
 


Got really good at Graffiti (I almost wish someone would bring it to the iPhone).
I've never achieved the speed and accuracy I had with Graffiti using any other hand-writing recognition app on any device. I frankly was more satisfied with my Palm and Razr than I am with my iPhone SE.
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
Via TidBITS, I expect some folks here might find this interesting, as I certainly did:

The Museum of Printing is dedicated to preserving the rich history of the graphic arts, printing and typesetting technology, and printing craftsmanship.
In addition to many special collections and small exhibits, the Museum contains hundreds of antique printing, typesetting, and bindery machines, as well as a library of books and printing-related documents.
 


One of the best sets of games I had on my Newtons was a Z-Machine emulator that let me run things like Planetfall, ZORK!, and HHGG. Man, those were some fun games.
Had the same! For what it is worth, if you have the game files, then they're still playable using a Z-Machine emulator on current platforms. On iOS, that's Frotz. On macOS, there are several to choose from, including Gargoyle.

The whole collection was actually available as a reasonably priced App Store app from Activision (who own the titles now), but sadly it was never ported to 64-bit. If you don't have the game files, some judicious searching will usually turn them up, and there are a ton of fan-community created games on ifarchive.org.
 


Via TidBITS, I expect some folks here might find this interesting, as I certainly did:
Gosh, that takes us back. Little did we know, in the early 1970s, my wife (then girlfriend) and I, both full-time students, would work at the local print shop. I was self-taught, operating a couple of offset-litho machines (Rotaprint SRA3 and Gestetner A4. I recall). My wife typeset and pasted-up using an IBM golfball machine and rubber cement.

Then 20 years later would find us as designers, after we chucked in our careers on the strength of Apple Macintosh II's, LaserWriters, PageMaker and QuarkXPress - along with some funny graphics packages that became Freehand and Photoshop, Suitcase for font handling, and early adoption of electronic file distribution. We built up a pukka group of international clients, and we are still doing the occasional job despite retiring 7 years ago.
 


Via TidBITS, I expect some folks here might find this interesting, as I certainly did:
The Museum of Printing is dedicated to preserving the rich history of the graphic arts, printing and typesetting technology, and printing craftsmanship.
In addition to many special collections and small exhibits, the Museum contains hundreds of antique printing, typesetting, and bindery machines, as well as a library of books and printing-related documents.
For those folks on the west coast, it may be worth checking with the International Printing Museum in Carson, CA. The curator, Mark Barbour, is a really nice guy. I don't know if they focus on things as late as DTP, but they certainly have some phototypesetting equipment and the like.
 


Had the same! For what it is worth, if you have the game files, then they're still playable using a Z-Machine emulator on current platforms. On iOS, that's Frotz. On macOS, there are several to choose from, including Gargoyle. The whole collection was actually available as a reasonably priced App Store app from Activision (who own the titles now), but sadly it was never ported to 64-bit. If you don't have the game files, some judicious searching will usually turn them up, and there are a ton of fan-community created games on ifarchive.org.
I'm certain I have them somewhere. If nothing else, on the linear flash card in my 2100. Those flash chips were damned near indestructable, so it should still read fine. I'll have to dig out the Newton and find out.
 


I used a Newton with a keyboard during my medical residency to help generate notes that I could print out (and were therefore more legible than my handwriting).

Some parts of the notes could be automatically formed with scripts, I had prompts set up so I didn't forget any material, and I could print them on the units and put them in patient charts, which in those days were all paper. It was also useful for tracking pending test results without losing track of them.

Everyone thought that was pretty interesting and appreciated the legibility and completeness. It was also far faster for me than handwriting everything, which was the biggest up side for me.

I could connect it to the internet (such as it was in those days) both via analog phone line, and to the hospital's digital phone system (with an adapter I think I still have gathering dust in a drawer somewhere deep in the back of my desk).

Even with its limitations, the Newton was a really useful, powerful, tool, even if it was a bit before its time.

I carried it in a shoulder holster until someone asked me if I carried a gun at work. Whoops.
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
When analog systems were preferred to digital...
Ars Technica said:
Gears of war: When mechanical analog computers ruled the waves
... So why did the Navy never follow through with digitizing the battleship’s big guns? I asked retired Navy Captain David Boslaugh, former director of the Navy Tactical Embedded Computer Program Office, that question. And if anyone would know, it's Boslaugh. He played a role in the development of the Navy Tactical Data System—the forerunner to today’s Aegis systems, the mother of all digital sensor and fire control systems.

“At one time, my office was asked to do a study regarding upgrading the Iowa-class battleship fire control systems from analog to digital computers,” Boslaugh replied. “We found that digitizing the computer would improve neither the reliability nor the accuracy of the system and recommended, ‘Don't bother.’” Even without digital computers, the Iowa could fire 2,700-pound “dumb” shells nearly 30 miles inland with deadly accuracy, within a circle of probable error of around 80 meters. Some of its shells had circles of destruction larger than that.

Just how can a box of gears, cams, racks, and pins handle ballistics calculations based on differential equations with dozens of variables in real time? How does it manage to put a hunk of metal weighing as much as a Volkswagen Beetle on top of a target over the horizon in the first place? And how did this metal and grease out-calculate digital systems for so long? Let's start with a little bit of a history on battleship ballistics—complete with vintage Navy training films to show precisely how mechanical analog computing works.
 


When analog systems were preferred to digital...
When I worked at GE in the 1980's, we used an analog computer called Transient Network Analyzer to simulate transmission lines and other kinds of power lines and connections. For example, if you wanted to know what the inrush current on a 300-mile 500 kV transmission line circuit breaker would be, you could make the measurements. The analog computer had all kinds of items for building the model. On a plywood board there would be inductors, capacitors, and resistors to model a section of transmission line. The Bonneville Power Administration was working on a digital program named EMTP for making such calculations and more. The analog computer worked just fine for such calculations.
 


When analog systems were preferred to digital...
The Norden bomb sight was an analog computer in US bombers like the B-17, B-24 and B-29. The B-29 also had analog computers for defensive machine guns, which were remotely controlled except for the tail guns.

The B-29s over Japan had a problem with the bomb sight not working when the airplane went into the jet stream. The bomb sight was not made for a bomber going 500 miles an hour or more ground speed. The jet stream was unknown to the Americans until the B-29 operation. The Japanese did know about it, and a Japanese scientist wrote a paper about it before World War II. The paper was written in Esperanto, rather than Japanese, so that more people could read it.
 



Ric Ford

MacInTouch
Would analog computers be immune from EMP?
Maybe not...
Quora said:
Do any modern aircrafts use vacuum tubes? - Quora
Vacuum tubed early radar systems were replaced by electronic versions in the mid-1990's. While it is true, early generation vacuum tubes can survive an EMP, in 99% of the tests the Russian's carried out, the electronic board the vacuum tubes were attached were fused (short circuited) and severely damaged. The only way to increase the odds of its survival is to turn off any device during the EMP event (and it is not guaranteed to work), which means its weapons sensors are turned off, something pilots are not going to do and how would they know when to turn it off. EMP effects occur 1/1,000,000th of a second after they occur.
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
Another interesting old system, AT&T "Long Lines":
Garrett Fuller said:
AT&T Long Lines – A Forgotten System
The era spawning from the 1950s throughout the 1980s can be considered the golden era of telecommunication. While computers were expanding from items consuming entire rooms to something that could fit on a person’s desk, so was the way we communicate. Televisions went from being a luxury item to being in every home. Telephone systems were not only used for voice, but to transfer data from one location to another almost instantaneously. The inventions and innovations from this period have led to technologies we rely on every day: the internet, satellite television, fiber-optics, cell phones, and et cetera. But it’s often forgotten how we’ve arrived where we are.

The AT&T Long Lines system is one of the systems that transformed communication systems but is nearly forgotten about. Without relying on vulnerable, expensive, and high-maintenance wired systems in a time where satellite communications and fiber optics did not exist, the Long Lines system allowed people to connect from all over the country.
 


Another interesting old system, AT&T "Long Lines":
Although the Long Lines service was abandoned a long time ago, the use of microwave transmission for situations where wires or optical fibers are not appropriate is still quite alive and well.

I do have a few nits to pick about the article itself, though.

The article says that the advantage of fiber optics is speed, but that's not really correct. While optical signals travel at the "speed of light" by definition, that speed, when carried through an optical fiber is a lot slower than the speed of light through air or a vacuum - about 30% less. Electrical signals through a wire may propagate slower or faster than optical signals through a fiber, but they are generally comparable. See Wikipedia's velocity factor table for some examples.

The big advantage of fiber over copper (or radio) is bandwidth and signal clarity over distance. A fiber can support orders of magnitude more bandwidth - that is, bits per second throughput - even though each bit takes approximately the same amount of time to travel a particular distance. The other advantage is that optical communication (when the right kind of fiber and laser are used) can carry signals over far greater distances before needing to pass through a repeater or amplifier, so the cost of long-haul transmission is much less.

The other annoying nit is that the article repeats the myth that the AT&T breakup was because they had a monopoly over phone service. They did have a monopoly, but that's not what concerned government regulators. The government's concern was over the fact that AT&T both manufactured phone hardware (via Western Electric) and provided phone service. They wanted AT&T to divest the hardware division from the services. AT&T considered that unacceptable and made a counter-offer to keep Western Electric but divest local phone services. The government was surprised but accepted the offer.

The ironic part is that several years later, AT&T ended up divesting the hardware division anyway, spinning it off as Lucent.
 


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