ASCII by Jason Scott

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Five Things Worth Looking Into —

Instead of filling up this bar with some very long, very intensive descriptions of events and things that not everyone would have an interest in, let me quickly give you a handful of informational tokens, flush with links and left as an exercise to learn about if it interests you.

PLATO. It doesn’t stand for anything, although they tried to back-tack some acronyms on it. To some, it’s the first BBS. At the very least, it’s an impressive technological feat, allowing a thousand users to connect to the same computer space, starting back in the late 1960’s. You can trace Lotus Notes, Castle Wolfenstein, Tradewars, Hack, and a bunch of other concepts to this system. Brian Dear has absolutely, unequivocably risen as the Mack Daddy of PLATO knowledge, and is working on what will probably be the best book that will ever be written on the subject. Update: Brian Dear wrote in that in fact it has always stood for “Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations” and did from the very beginning. The “Tacked-on” myth is just that. Schooled!

Infocom. From its inception to well into its existence, Infocom was the best game company in all of history. They produced a world-class product from day one, ensured it could be released instantaneously on over a dozen platforms (with no change in the quality of the experience), and brought to the world a cascade of worlds and memories that are still shared by many, many thousands. If Floyd still makes you cry and darkness makes you think of Grues, you’re in the club. If not, it’s pretty easy to join.

New Old School Hackery. It’s understandable if there’s a lot of interest in the video game systems of yore, and that the original games might find themselves copied from cartridges to transferrable images, but when you first find out that people are absolutely knocking themselves silly shoehorning games into these very old platforms, you just have to marvel. People have ripped the technical specifications as far as they can possibly go and that doesn’t slow them a bit. Right now, you can buy new Atari 2600 game cartridges. How cool is that?

The Technological Assistance Party (TAP). Before 2600 Magazine and definitely before Phrack magazine, TAP magazine rose from the Youth International Party and for well over a decade gave you some of the most subversive, strange, and hackerish information around. Maybe it all seems quaint now or maybe even irrelevant, but that magazine had everything going for it before the editor’s apartment was firebombed. To be honest, a good solid website will accomplish the same goals of the original magazine, but if you don’t learn how it was done back then it’s much harder to avoid the same mistakes now. And wave to Abbie Hoffman as you go by.

Steven K. Roberts, The All-Time Classic Journeyman Hacker. So let’s get this straight. Steven Roberts sold all his stuff, built a recumbent bicycle loaded over with the best gear he could get at the time, went out on the road, and started to send out missive after missive to Compuserve from all over the country. He travelled thousands of miles, wrote about all his experiences as they happened, and lived a dream that many have had, and lived it well. Yes, he’s real. Yes, it happened, and he wrote a book about it, a book floating around the top space in my collection. Steven K. Roberts, I hope everyone learns your story.

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