ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

An Increasingly Misnamed But Still Interesting Site —

Some time after started to gain popularity, I found more and more examples of files that post-dated the BBS era, but which were pretty much in the same “spirit” as the files on the site. The problem with just dropping them into the mix was that I was encountering issues where files about “How to Hack AOL” were showing up next to 1983-era Apple II soft documentation. After a while, you wouldn’t be able to find what you might be looking for.

So, after agonizing over the issue, I created, which contains textfiles created in or after 1995. I started dumping hundreds of text files into that site, and luckily (or unluckily?) the number of people creating actual files using ASCII text and not HTML and derivatives is rather small.

Where did 1995 come from? Mostly a somewhat arbitrary decision that 1995 was when the Internet went from being a pretty neat communications medium to a must-have for the computer-oriented and then just the computer-owning. While there’s been a lot to dislike about the resultant entity, there has been a lot to like, too. That’s probably worth another entry some time. But regardless, 1995 has been a pretty good choice, looking at the content on the two sites. In some cases, I’ll see something so entirely historical or important to the BBS era that was written post-1995 and which shows up on the original site, but this is pretty rare. The new batch cares about AOL and getting free accounts on geocities and never ever ever using a mere 80 columns. Or, for that matter, line breaks.

The site has taken off nicely and has a few thousand files, now. When I find new ones, I throw them in handily, and I don’t worry about the original site becoming unnavigable.

The success of this site has encouraged me to create more. As a result, there have been a number of sub-sites, including (the mp3s and .wavs of history) and (the world’s largest BBS list).

So I suppose it was inevitable that as of last night I have loosed upon the world, which will include many files in the Portable Document Format created by Adobe. For better or worse, it is pretty soundly established as a de-facto standard for document layout and transfer, so there are some very fascinating and involved writings and posters coming out in it. Like any metalanguage that has descriptions of the things inside it, a lot of the quality of PDF comes as a direct result of the person creating it. If you just scan a bunch of documents as bitmaps into your PDF and send it out into the world, it’s going to be a horrible bloated mess. However, if you take a little time and knock together some of the standard methods of shrinking a PDF including the use of postscript and vector graphics, you end up with a small, slick, fast-moving document.

I must rush to state that Adobe has some aspects of being an evil company, specifically in the realm of the Dmitry Sklyarov case, which I won’t belabor here. To balance my seeming acceptance of their document standard with a need to sleep at night, I think we can see a number of anti-Adobe documents making an appearance on the new site. Think of the irony of having anti-Adobe creations in their own document format!

Additionally, a glance through the PDF site will reveal a lot of my personal interests and biases: refurbished Atari 2600 programming manuals, unusual academic papers on such subjects as the economies of online multi-player games, and infamous documents that have some amount of controversy associated with them. The two current examples are the paper on Microsoft’s effect on security in the industry that lead to Dan Geer’s dismissal, and the MIT Guide to Lockpicking, which MIT long ago disavowed and goes crazy when someone mentions them in association with it. It being “The MIT Guide to Lockpicking”. You know. MIT. Lockpicking.

As time permits, I will add additional files to the site, and you can see how fast I grab up everything everywhere. That’s what I’m into, bringing information into a central place, and just letting people have their fun. Eventually, I hope, historical context will come with the content, but that can’t happen if the content can’t be found.

And by the way, there’ll be an about a week after a pile of printouts falls over and crushes me.

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