ASCII by Jason Scott

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Diskmags —

As I’m preparing to head out to the Blockparty @ Notacon event, I try to clear out my e-mail, because I’ll be away from my home office and working on stuff on a stunted pace. It’s always a kind of grab-bag situation, finally giving an e-mail that’s been tenaciously sitting around waiting for me to act on it, sometimes for months. In this case, I’m caught up to March, so things aren’t too bad.

One nice one that came in recently was a bloke from Australia who sent along a collection of diskmags. He was wondering where I’d find a place for them, and as it turns out, I already have a place with disk magazines in artscene.textfiles.com, in a directory called emags. Notably, it was a crappily-put-together, completely ignored directory… but it was a directory!

I’ve since run a few of my scripts in it, and while it’s still not in great shape, it’s in a lot better shape than it was. The year that this Australian diskmag came out, 1996, looks good and is properly formatted and described. Others not so much.

The zine in question, SHADE, is mostly a textfile zine that happened to come wrapped inside a executable. It was described to me as an “Anarchist” zine, which means that each “issue” was a single textfile talking about how to commit destruction in some fashion, headed up with a massive disclaimer that you should never do anything with it and don’t come after the author and so on. The first few files are written or spelled well at all, but the later ones have nice ANSI color and proper layout; I can’t verify from here if they’re lifted from other sources or all written “in-house”, as it were. I was told there were 19 issues completed, with a 20th one on the drawing board but never quite put out. The lifespan is basically the end of 1995 to the beginning of 1997, not a bad run.

With it just being an “executable text file”, an enterprising young lad could probably extract the ANSI text inside and not really ruin/mess up the full experience of SHADE. I like to maintain the ZIP files, though, because they have both dates of creation (important in determining history, though not 100% dependable) and ancillary files added by various BBSes over the years to say “Hey, now that you’re done reading that, come check out our board!!!”. Here’s the one included with SHADE Issue #2:

This file was uploaded on the 12-09-1996 at 11:27pm to node 1 of...
________________   ___________     ___ _____________/\_______
À  \_   ____  ¬/ ¬/___\_  ____/ ¬\  _/ ¬/\_   ____  ¬/__¬\    ¬/    ¿
::     /    \_/   _   /   __/__   \/   /  \_ /    \_/ _/  \__ /_  :::
:::   ____   /    /  /____    /        \_  /____   /__\    /    \_ ::
::::     \  /____/  /     \  /    \/__  / /    \  /    \  / ___  / ::
::::::..  \/   /___/       \/   __/     \/      \/      \/   \  / :::
::::::           .:. Chemical Genocide Australia .:.          \/ ::::
::::: _________________________________________ _______________ :::::
::::  ¬ _____\_ ¬_________ ¬\_  _¬\_   ____  ¬/ \_  _¬\_  ____   ::::
:: _/  /   \_/   __/__   /   /  /  /  /    \_/ \_/  / /   __/__    ::
.   _____   /____    /__/   /_____/  ____   /\  /____/____   ¬/     .
! «¸«¸«¸\  /«¸«¸«\  /¸«/   /¸«¸«¸«¸«¸«¸«\  /¸/ /«¸«¸«¸«¸«¸\«¸«¸«¸«¸«¸
¬        \/       \/  /___/              \/  \/            \/
))\   __/\__                                       __/\__   /((  !
! (O o)  \ oO /     ¸ running ami/x ¸ oblivion/2 ¸    \ Oo /  (O o)
( ^ )  / \/ \              zyz's ¸ pulse            / \/ \  ( ^ ) .
. ~^~^~~ ~~\/~~     messiah.kickass.obv/2.setup.dude  ~~\/~~ ~~^~^~
.               running on an p100 with 32 gig of spam ¬            .
­           ¸ 25oo ounces on-line ¸ flower sniff'n power ¸          ­
¦ .            running at 288oo hydroponically grown bps          . ¦
?     reality check network dist site - shade & nfc member board    ?
\/

I could probably draw an entire discussion out of the combination of drug references, braggable system information, modem speed, pirate groups (NFC and SHADE) and so on. In trying to get some credentials and name for their board, these sysops unwittingly left a little postcard to the future, and 11 years on we get to peek in.

The problem with these executables, of course, is that very attribute: they’re programs. And programs start to lose relevance a lot quicker than text, and as the world becomes more and more paranoid about executing transferred programs, they become treated like contraband a little more as well.

I’m delighted to play a little part in bringing this stuff back; there’s so much still floating out there on hard drives and floppies, and once in a while a little time machine shows up.

This whole new collection of SHADE, some group of kids’ hard work from a decade ago, was a mere 700k e-mail attachment, transferred to me in seconds from across the world. Who knows what tomorrow’s e-mail will bring.


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4 Comments

  1. Chris Barts says:

    Just in case anyone doesn’t know, there are ways to run DOS executables under modern OSes both safely and in a manner very true to their original environment. DOSBox is a program that creates a whole emulated computer complete with a DOS installation that can only affect the directories you explicitly show it. It is compatible to the point of being able to run a good deal of DOS games, programs no Windows DOS box has ever been able to run. DOSBox runs under Windows, Linux, BSD, and even Mac OS X (presumably Intel-only, but I’m not sure).

  2. Jaddle says:

    DOSBox actually emulates the CPU as well. This means it’ll run on essentially any hardware, but it’s really slow – a fast modern machine has no trouble running 80′s era games, but later ones start getting iffy. For the most part though, games were written for windows starting around the point where modern machines running dosbox have trouble with them, so it’s not a huge problem.

  3. I’ve taken this a step further; I keep a VMWare machine around for just this purpose. DOSBox runs a lot of stuff, but not everything. Another cool thing about a virtual machine is that the hard drive of the virtual machine can’t affect your real hard drive. That’s nice when you discover old disk mags that are riddled with viruses …

  4. pulse says:

    I love this site. I completely forgot about the Shade mags that were sent. I didn’t even consider the content of the zip files.

    The BBS ad shown above was .. err .. my BBS :) I have a lot of very fond memories of running it over several years. Eventually it, like almost all others, gave way to the internet, and the rest is history.

    I can confirm that the Shade diskmag was 100% produced ‘in house’ as it were, by the group writers. I wrote 2 issues (4 and .. maybe 19, I can’t remember off the top of my head). I also released about 7 of them myself, and created the latter file_id.diz file used (IMO the best looking one, but I’m not biased).

    I love the old BBS scene. It’s truly a shame that it, and the mentality of sharing it brought, is pretty much gone. It’s awesome that these days sites like textfiles.com are keeping the old BBS spirit, and many of its memories, alive.