ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Last Century —

This past May, I found out about a horrible article about “philes” in the Fall 2006 issue of 2600. I wrote a weblog entry about this article, which was entitled “Where Have All the Philes Gone?” The upshot of my entry was that the original article wasn’t very good or accurate, and it was a shame 2600 printed it, especially considering how even basic efforts to fact-check it would have left it in the slushpile. On the urging of Flack O’Hara I sent in a version of my weblog entry to 2600 as a letter to the editor, so that it ended up somewhere.

They’ve printed it in the Fall 2007 issue. They even put a paragraph of response.

Here’s that response:

“While we understand your obvious passion for what you do, it is possible to convey knowledge of the information you provide without insulting us or our writers. People submit articles with the knowledge that they are aware of, others with additional knowledge add to this or correct the mistakes. It’s not about trying to fill pages or speaking out of ignorance. It’s a process that results in a dialog amidst the clearinghouse of information that passes through here. To us that dialog is as important as the conclusions since it gets people into a thinking mode. When you put people down for not having the same knowledge as you, then that dialog is poisoned and overshadowed by negativity. There’s already enough of that to go around, past and present.”

Ah yes. So here we go.

Make no mistake; I’ve been reading 2600 on and off for 23 years. Really. Since the beginning. I even got to go to one of the first 2600 meetings at the Citicorp center and even had the privilege of going to the aftermeeting that inevitably happens when you ditch the losers, a tradition that continues at many 2600 meetings to the present day. I consider Emmanuel/Eric a colleague if not a friend (we interact way too little for one to throw the term “friend” around). I have gone to a majority of the HOPE conferences. I’ve spoken at a few. I’m not the fuckin’ enemy.

I don’t know who writes the responses; I believe it’s a rotating set of editors but it could easily be Eric doing the whole thing, so I won’t assume either way. I will however, assume the response represents an accurate representation of the opinion of the 2600 staff.

Regarding being hostile, I can only say, “bite me in the ass”. Let’s move on.

The core of the response seems to be that 2600 magazine, to my honest surprise, does not function like a magazine, that is, a printed collection of researched articles and photographs overseen by an editorial staff and assisted by fact checkers, copywriters and researchers. Instead, apparently, it thinks of itself as a paper based forum, where each article is an entity unto itself with the responsibilities of accuracy and research incumbent upon each individual author. This is, of course, fine. But it’s not what I would have expected for a publication printed 4 times a year.

The idea that printing an entirely inaccurate article (and I must again stress, the core issue is that the article is entirely inaccurate) is a contribution to dialog… that, like lighter fluid, it functions merely to get things started and will then be improved by later interactions, is crap.

The definition of “thinking mode” surely can’t be “here is some paranoiac, historically false and chronically retarded writing…. GO”. I don’t know who or what would be inspired to go into a thoughtful contemplation upon being told that the world has closed up since the “good old days” and that you have much less access to information that you once had. This is so not true, on its face, I can barely contemplate it being something someone isn’t presenting cynically, as a talk show host drops a psychic bomb on their listeners to ensure reaction and continued audience/ratings. Simple as that; hence my reference to page-filling.

As often is the case, my own cantankerous personality is a contrast to the archives I make available, and I do my best to ensure the Fellow doesn’t affect the Files. If you don’t like me, you barely have to go by me to get to my stuff. “Negativity” is a general dismissal of efforts. There was no effort in this article. A magazine of any substance would have thanked the submitter for their contribution, smiled helpfully, and then fed it to a goat.

So while I’m here, I will say again what I hinted at in the previous entry: 2600 has made more and more effort to be utterly and completely irrelevant over time. What drives me and what surely must be a significant number of sometime-readers mad is how much potential it exudes while gleefully rejecting this potential at any turn.

In January of 2007, 2600 started an online forum. January. 2007. Yes, they had a BBS way back when, and in fact I may be one of the only sources of copies of some of the messages that ran on this BBS. It was called “The Private Sector” and wasn’t actually run by 2600, instead run by fans who 2600 lent their name to. The BBS was taken down in summer of 1985 and that’s been about it for 2600-based online discussion mediums until 2007. 22 years is a long time.

To read 2600 in PDF form, you must depend on crappily-scanned efforts, available on torrents or newsgroups. Text of old articles is not searchable; nothing is on the site to give you anything but a prideful collection of covers. 2600 certainly has a news section on its site, but it primarily informs you that a new radio show is available, a schedule that should be in its own separate location, providing it to people for whom a radio show is a preferred method of gaining new information. There is no “basics of 2600” or “basics of hacking” information on the 2600 site. There is a collection of payphones, however, although there is no information on the payphones beyond the basic information one would expect of any photo, or even Flickr. Flickr, by the way, has over 4,000 tagged photos of payphones as of this writing.

So yes, negativity, that is, pointing out something is lacking, is what I do.

Who do I think gets it right, does what I think 2600 should be doing, does it better than I could have ever dreamed? MAKE. Yes, Make, magazine of tinkering, electronics, building. Make, it of slick advertisements and owned by O’Reilly Media and published quarterly. This magazine gets it right, gets it proper, and if you blinked and missed it, has dumped more information of a quality nature in 12 issues and supplemental packages than almost all of 2600’s entire run.

How do I make such a bold statement? Well, Make is the work of, among other people, Dale Dougherty and Mark Frauenfelder, two people who know how to put a goddamned endeavor together. The magazine’s website and projects reek of endless meetings attempting to not just “get it”, but “improve it”. All issues available in PDF form for subscribers (with no limits on the PDF). RSS feeds everywhere. A weblog to accompany the magazine to get on-the-spot information to you. Forums. Accompanying books that cover the basics of electronics and building, which is vital for not repeating mistakes.

The choices of stories range wildly, from how to make simple projects a dog with a screwdriver could accomplish up through to injection molding in your kitchen or a profile of a vodka-maker and the process by which he does so.

But what of the hacking, right?

Well, the thing is that Make exudes hacking, drips from every page the excitement of creating, of assembling, of testing, and even of breaking or unexpected dead ends. The ethics and internal “heart” of hacking, instead of being constantly referred to in each article in 2600, is simply the resonance that each article provides in its writing. This comes, of course, from articles being edited, fact-checked, quality-compared, and so on. And the articles are, to some extent, timeless. News-related information is disposable as expected, but the lessons learned in how to ‘do’ stuff build on each other, such that assembling all the current issues of MAKE has inherent value, the value of a combined set of processes that give you tools.

2600’s portrayal as a martyr, distrusted by the bulk of the world and in a constant locked-horned battle with the forces of censorship and fuddy-duddies is a tired song, long bereft of its melody, an attractive glitter to children but not reflecting of a world where the wires are rapidly disappearing and a year of music fits in your pocket.

It is last century.

I am enjoying this one.

I will continue to.

I just wish 2600 was along for the ride.

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  1. Michael Kohne says:

    I think the thing about Make is that it’s less pretentious – they are just building cool stuff, while the 2600 guys are being cool, and building less.

    Today was the first day in a long while that I didn’t buy the new issue of 2600 at the bookstore. After skipping fully half the articles in the last 3 or 4 issues, I just couldn’t bring myself to spend the money.

    Perhaps I’m just getting old? Perhaps. Or perhaps I’m less tolerant of the writing they print, the errors, the bald-faced lies. I don’t know. But I do know that I didn’t buy it today, because it didn’t speak to me anymore.

  2. fucking thank you, Jason! I think you’ve summed up in one blog the disdain I have felt for most of the crap published in 2600 over the past 5 years (at least, i never read frequently enough before that).

  3. Joseph Bender says:


    It’s about fucking time. I’ve never been able to articulate why I stopped buying 2600 past the age of, oh, 19 or so. It’s not worth the money to me, and you illustrated why.

  4. openfly says:

    Jason Scott, aside from his awesome taste in fabulous silk shirts, has never been a close friend of mine. In fact he was a running joke for several years between me and several friends. To this day his infatuation with cows perturbs me. But, he is dead on with his assessment of 2600 and of Make. Emmanuel should have sold 2600 years ago, or stepped down. He’s not able to run the Magazine and without isaac it’s just him tearing down every attempt to breathe new life into it. I hope he realizes this before it’s too late to save 2600… but I fear that time has long since passed.

  5. Vitriola says:

    Aww, come on! ‘Truth unencumbered by facts’ is the current zeitgeist. Live and (don’t) learn!

  6. quantifier says:

    The funny thing is, at its least cool, 2600 is 1000 times as cool as you, you talentless turd. P.S. the best thing about that article? It didn’t mention this shitty site.

  7. w00t, look at me, virtual pot stirrer!

    So did 2600 honestly just defend that article by saying, “we know that article sucked but shame on you for saying so. Oh, and we run articles full of inaccuracies because it stumulates conversation.”

    Um, where? In their letters to the editor? Nothing like waiting three months between interactions in your conversation. Kind of makes 300 baud seem tasty again.

    Keep fighting the good fight, you talentless turd you.

  8. Jason Scott says:

    I wonder what 1000x cool as me is, actually. It’s either Jack Nicholson or waking up and finding you were given a tropical island populated by vintage pinball machines.

  9. You are likely to have located a clue. says:

    No, populated by vintage pinball machines and a team of pinball repair technicians that consists of a dozen or so tasty babes dripping with hotness and eager to “fix your pins” (when you’re not too busy playing pinball).

  10. Julien McArdle says:

    After being in university for a number of years, I’ve grown tired of the students that thoughtlessly protest whatever decision is made by “the establisment.” Emmanuel and 2600 are just as bad. They are blinded by their own self-beleived altruism. This makes their rants, and replies, a painful read at best.

    I don’t think that anyone would argue that the articles published in 2600 are for the most part of underhwelming quality. Their only saving grace is the niche they cover, but that’s an advantage that won’t last much longer thanks to truly superior magazines such as Hackin9.

    And you’re right: for an organization that purports to be at the techbological avant-guarde, why are they so resilient to make the leap onto the digital band wagon with their zine?

  11. Chris says:

    I’ll say it again: Emmanuel and crew are spending way too much time trying to become the next Che Guevaras and Abbie Hoffmans of the world. OK, I get it, George W. Bush == BAD. Republicans == BAD. Capitalism == BAD. You’ve only said it about a million times now, Eric, and I think we all “get” the fact that you won’t be voting for Fred Thompson in 2008. Tell me what your left-wing personal politics has to do with hacking hardware or code? Produce something that will stimulate my technological curiousity, instead of parroting Air America rants and Keith Olbermann’s talking points. Oh, and don’t get me started on your years-long fetishization of Kevin Mitnick and his myriad legal problems…