ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Slide Reboot —

thl_doorIt’s been a nice bunch of years for presentations and talks I’ve been giving. I started getting on stage to make noise around 1999 (I’d been on stage before that, but for other things). From about 2002 onward, I added slides to the mix, and for most of the 2000s, every talk was usually different in some fundamental way.

slide37In 2009 and going forward, I started to talk about Archive Team, a lot, and so unfortunately my talks had a large amount of them repeating concepts and ideas. So, I would naturally re-use slides and phrases.

Nobody’s really complained, and nobody’s brought it up as a problem, but I definitely feel it. And when you start feeling you’re giving a rehearsed show, the audience feels it, internally, and your tone shifts. The problems I’m speaking about and the ideas I’m presenting need to be fresh, like fruit.

So as a few weeks ago, I’ve thrown out my slides.

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Obviously, they’re not DELETED… but they’re going into folders far away from where I’ll be assembling my talks from now on. I also intend to get some of those slide sets up somewhere, and also go over all the talks I’ve given in the last 5 years to make sure they’re either mirrored on archive.org or listed in my talks page.

Paid-for travel is mostly the benefit of talking so much – I spend so much time behind a computer or in my office doing things, that I take great delight and energy from visiting places I’ve not been (or wanted to go back to). I intend to take advantage of that forward, but if I don’t stay ahead of the quality of the talks, it becomes less and less likely that anyone would want to host me.

So out they go, and if you see a slide I’ve used before in a talk going forward, then I made a mistake. It’ll be nice to reconsider the graphic message and the ideas behind it, and to know I’m walking into rooms with 100% brand new material. A little scary, possibly, but better a little fear than a lot of deja vu.

See you on the planks.

EVERYTHING IS FINE - 17

 


A Stayed Hand —

Time was, I’d go after the writer of the letter below and woodland creatures halfway across the Earth would look up and then jump in the opposite direction from the blast.

Fact is, I have no time.

He’s wrong, of course, on a bunch of levels. Facts he claims I put in wrong, well, I kinda sat in the living room with the person who did it and asked them for the facts. Choices I made in editing, well, I made those choices with the available footage and according to factors I assure you were valid and my full intention. And regarding giving me “tips” on how to interview people, oh man… if only he’d been there to guide me, over 500 interviews ago. (The rough number is somewhere between 450-550, but give me the 500 number.) If I haven’t learned how to interview people after the first half-kilo, it’s probably not going to sink in. The question of if the writer of the letter has interacted with five hundred real-life people begins to float to the surface…

Oh, and the part where he plays this off as some sort of altruistic act to prevent some sort of terrible, 12 Monkeys future where I produce three shitty documentaries? Ego much? And this coming from a guy with a legendary ego.

 

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But, as you might guess, this entry really isn’t about the letter.

Time was, I’d spend a good half-day eviscerating this guy. That was a thing I’d do. I am sure there’s a percentage of my audience going “he’s just trying to heellllllp” but I assure you, this is the exact opposite of help. This personality needs and deserves to go face down in the pavement at the first opportunity, before they do real damage to someone who isn’t prepared for this onslaught. Someone who might actually take it seriously, and mess up their voice and their style because someone wakes up and goes “How can I make the work of others be more like the work I imagine I can do.”

But here’s the thing: No time, and too much stuff.

I am now so busy I can’t even write on this weblog regularly. I can’t even write about me on a regular schedule, and I love me! I want you to know all about me!

But with the days packed as hard as they are, I can’t spare a half-day. I answered 50 e-mails today, arranged 500gb of downloaded vintage software and started in on several major projects that will take weeks to sort out. Some guy thinks GET LAMP is not up to snuff? What was that? Too busy to stick around and show him what a manhole cover tastes like.

I know a certain percentage of my audience loves when I take someone out, but until the aforementioned three documentaries are done (and they really are likely to be my last full-length movies as a director), my time is spoken for to the minute. It’s just not going to happen.

And maybe that’s the best answer of all.

Just kidding – the best answer is to empty an entire mustard packet into his nose.

The letter in question, sans identifying information. (I have gone soft.)

Hi Jason,

Took an opportunity to watch your “Get lamp” documentary the other day
and decided to drop you a line. As a matter of fact, my brother
purchased a physical copy from you a few years ago (coin #3325, you
can look up the order), but somehow I never got round to it before.

There are things I liked and didn’t like about the film, and it’s this
what I’d like to relate to you.

It’s always good to capture videos of people notable for accomplishing
essential things which if not change our world to the better, than at
least don’t make it worse. It’s good to save them speak for history,
for generations of people who will admire their work decades and
centuries down the line.

Packaging quality is quite decent and I applaud you for the coin.
Excellent nod of respect to Infocom. I was all eyes and ears whenever
an Infocom person would show up. In particular, it was such a pleasure
to hear Mike Dornbrook tell the story of subverting Steve into IF. I
read it before in numerous interviews, but *seeing* this story told,
especially the way Mike did it, was a very cool surprize.

It’s funny you pasted a photo of TRS-80 Model 1 as Mike relates this
story, since in fact it was an Apple II as far as I know. It’s not the
only factual error I noticed, I think somewhere in the movie a
floating sign said Infocom made over two dozen games (or something
along these lines), whereas the real number runs over three dozens, of
course. I think there was something else, just can’t recall what it
was.

But apart from filming Infocommies, Scott Adams, Don Woods and others
who contributed so much to the art, many of your speaker choices left
me disappointed and wondering why you thought it was a good idea at
all.

See, being an avid IF author or gamer, even to the extent of
dedicating one’s life to the art, is hardly a reason to take space
speaking in a documentary like this. Having something interesting to
say matters much more, but it’s not exactly what counts.

What really matters is a combination of two things: a) having
something interesting to say, be it strong convictions/opinions, or
deep love of the subject, or how IF changed one’s life, you name it
and b) being a very engaging, captivating speaker so that what one
experienced a long time ago in life or feels deep inside is not lost
in communication.

Very few of the subjects you selected for film come close, but those
few who do really had me go through a number of emotions as I was
watching, reliving my own experiences from long ago.

A big part of it has to do with the interviewer, as for many people
it’s not natural to open up emotionally on their own. In particular, I
feel you could have done a much better job in this regard interviewing
Steve Meretzky. A personality with as rich inner world as his, which
shines through the games he wrote, I feel could have said a lot more
and in a much more engaging manner. Don’t take this particular point
as a reproach though, I can well be wrong.

Overall, I think there are better things to do than simply giving
people a stage to speak on general IF topics like puzzles etc.
Making-of’s, while of little value to newcomers and general audience,
are often interesting to watch for people who were deeply involved in
a game, and authors are often willing to relive the experience of game
making and provide details not known before. Well-posed questions are
a very good asset for any documentary; both blitz type and given in
advance, so interviewee can prepare and provide a better perspective
for the camera compared to unswering unprepared.

And as long as you set out to make a documentary about the genre in
general (or at least name it so as the film becomes available), how
come your scope is so narrowly focused to Infocom? Don’t get me wrong,
I do admire their work perhaps as much as you do; they simply played
in a league of their own. But with such a narrow focus, why not name
the film accordingly?

Another thing totally missing from your work is coverage of the
subject per se. No author’s narrative, very few documents, not even a
timeline with major milestones. You deal with a largely historical
topic, and while capturing notable people speak for camera is nice,
there’s so much more to making a documentary than mounting a camera on
a tripod and switching it on in someone’s house.

Not to end on a sour note, I hi-five you for the rap song, the editing
of it, and Steve’s appearance in it. Very cool job indeed!

Overall, much as I appreciate your approach to packaging, the film
left me rather disappointed, I was expecting more from “a documentary
that will tell the story of the creation of these incredible games” —
I’m quoting from getlamp.com/introduction.html.

The reason why I took time to write this down to you is not to vent my
frustration; as I said, several parts of the film made me laugh, while
a few others really made me feel a lump in my throat — and for all
this, for an opportunity to relive my own experiences from times long
forgotten I’m grateful to you.

The reason is, as I found out, you work currently on at least three
more documentaries: 6502, arcades, tape, and while none of the
subjects is not nearly as near and dear to my heart as text
adventures, which I was totally fascinated with*, I sincerely wish you
a better, more professional — and lasting! — job in these and future
endeavours of yours.

Best regards


An Invitation into the Stacks —

I’m conducting an experiment in volunteerism with the Internet Archive.

It’s unofficial and seriously an experiment. Let’s be clear about that.

We have a Slack server running, and so I’ve set up a channel, called “Stacks”, which people can be invited to and which they can sit in, discussing volunteering opportunities or ideas for projects that might improve the Archive.

The Internet Archive’s future depends on community engagement – the more we’re able to have people involved in capacities other than just “upload stuff” or “download stuff” is a step in a great direction.

Specifically, I know there are people who are interested in helping, but they might feel it’s about code or programming, and I know there’s so much more to the place like that. Librarians, writers, artists… stop in!

Anyway, consider this my invitation to you.

E-mail slack@textfiles.com with your interest in the Archive, and I’ll see about getting you in.


MAME and the New Emulation Reality —

I’m sorry all my weblog entries seem to be variations of emulation, Internet Archive, Archive Team and Vintage Computing, but that’s kind of all my life is right now anyway. (I’m also editing documentaries, but that’s even less informative. HEY UPDATE FOLKS I AM EDITING DOCUMENTARIES.)

Time to talk about MAME.

logo-mameLike surfing, ventriloquism, or tractor pulls, MAME is one of those subjects that doesn’t invade many minds except in a very specific, very regimented set of pre-thoughts that make up the entire story as far as folks are concerned.

MAME (have you heard of MAME?) is a thing that plays Games.

“Games” in this context means arcade games, but folks just call all software or electronic based entertainment “Games”, and when they talk about MAME, the story gets to be pretty straightforward. MAME is a thing that you install on your system (with many values for “system”) and then you “play games”. It will take you a while to “find ROMs” and make MAME “play games”. As a second layer, some people will work hard (or pay people to work hard) and build an arcade cabinet that has MAME in it and this MAME Cabinet will play games.

End of story.

But like surfing, ventriloquism, or tractor pulls, this reductionism cleaves away a pile of information about MAME and its related projects, as well as a history that itself has rivaled those of the machines and products that MAME seeks to present. In just a couple more years, MAME as a project will be 20 years old. It’s probably time to talk about it for what it is: a lot more than games.

mame
Emulation, like friendship, is Magic.

Depending on how much of a piece of you you’ve invested in these machines, these quarter-sucking demons that lurk in neon-lit rooms, seeing an arcade machine work again in a small screen under your control is an emotional high. Like the first time you’re alone in a city at night or the first time you drive a car without someone in the passenger seat, the feeling is both intense and fleeting, gone into distant memory within a couple weeks. But every person I’ve made an effort to go over it with, especially people who date to a time when the Arcade was a physical place in every town, has that same moment. I know this. This is me.

Arcade games were designed, from the moment they were scribbles in an engineer’s notebook, to when they went through endless revisions of cabinet art and hardware construction, to get your attention. They were made to light up their local space, to beckon you, and to literally attract you like bright shiny metal or a siren’s song. It’s not coincidence – it’s jammed sideways into the machine’s DNA. To make that beloved thing live again, to give you even a fleeting sense of what it once was, is wizardry of the highest order.

mame_logoCalling MAME an Arcade Emulator, at this present day, is like calling the Hoover Dam a bridge.

Buried in the code, code refined over years and by many hands, are the descriptions of machines to emulate, There’s documentation about individual chips, and there’s descriptions of how different pieces go together, handed from developer to developer as needed. Machines in MAME, in other words, are collections of smaller discrete parts. The sound chip that 20 machines share is emulated once and brought in to work as needed. The CPU, the video rendering, the keyboard controls… are are modules and the modules themselves are shared, as well as sets of modules. It’s in some ways ridiculously complicated, but utterly sensible. Some of the MAME developers have spent years doing enormous re-factoring of the code to make it more modular, although some parts continue to be vaguely odd or in non-intuitive places. It is better than it was and worse than it will be.

And it’s flexible. Due to a recent merging with its sister project MESS, MAME doesn’t just emulate arcade machines. It emulates home console systems, home computers, mainframes and minis, and even speech synthesizers and keyboards. Even hard-wired electronic games are making an appearance. The parts of pinball machines that rely on a CPU are being emulated by the dozens – they exist only as squares of outputted LED displays, waiting for bumpers and spinners that usually do not come. In theory, MAME could emulate anything that has a CPU or discrete electronics; a microwave oven, Steve Wozniak’s CL9 remote control, even (in theory) a Raspberry Pi, which itself is known to run MAME.

MAME, then, is so much more than the ability to play Ms. Pac-Man on your tablet. MAME is the conduit by which hardware can become software. It is, ultimately, a saint in C++.

MAMEEngineering in a war zone is one of the most stressful activities a person can take on. When doing so out in the world today, engineers choosing this situation are well compensated, heavily protected, and are informed of both the risks and the length of their duty, not to mention the borders of their requirements.

MAME developers have had nearly none of that.

It takes a certain kind of personality and skill to negotiate a chip or schematic for the operational aspects that need emulation. It is involved work, prone to error and frequent re-checking, and always dealing with the inherent lies or hasty mistakes of companies long gone and buried. It is not pleasant work, and you don’t take it on unless you’re a strong-willed personality who is dedicated to The Mission, where The Mission for you is one form or another of rescuing historic technology and software from certain, utter oblivion.

It is not a personality that enjoys hardline management, or rapid shifts in paradigm, or chasing down the latest fads of development, losing precious worktime to politics or disagreements. The Mission is the dependable, straightforward constant in the code. Is the emulation more accurate? Is the code more efficient, as long as it doesn’t sacrifice the hard-won accuracy? Is the code more simple, except where it’s become inefficient, and maybe also lost the accuracy? It’s a loop, a goddamned loop that never ends.

And it’s a project that never ends; it is said that filmmakers do not finish films; they abandon them. And so it is with MAME developers who, as the years go by, hit a point either internal or external that says that tomorrow will not be more productive than yesterday, and another round of butted heads and arguing positions will not beat the secondary or tertiary projects waiting downstairs. So they fade away, although often not so far they can’t hear the cacophony rage in a variety of web and mailing list locations.

It is, all told, a most unpleasant road to travel, but like many such roads, the rewards are subtle but sublime.

mame-arcade-marquee-stickerNow comes JSMESS, an attempt to port MAME and MESS into a language it was never designed to go, in a way to shove it into browsers in a way it’s not optimized for, and utilizing technologies with paint so wet it smears when you tip the board. It is, in other words, an utter abomination.

It comes from an honest place, of course, or I wouldn’t have spent years cheerleading it. The many fine folks who have dedicated hundreds of hours to making JSMESS (and JSMAME) a reality have been coming from an honest place as well. Some are MAME developers already, and others have schooled themselves in the environment because of an itch to scratch. It is not often enjoyable work.

But the payoff, at least to the JSMESS team, has been incredible – not, as much as it’s been fun, to provide free arcade games to masses via yet another conduit, but to give instantaneous booting of obscure and lost computer software. To bring long-dead and almost-forgotten game consoles a new experience for research and reference, with a single click. And to allow for the shared cultural aspects of technology to live as easily as does movies, music, writing and art.

This situation has not made everyone happy, but it has gotten an awful lot of attention. And it continues to be my strongest belief that in the universal timeline, in the great wash of progress, this aberrant branch of the MAME project has done some good – perhaps a lot of good.

fmIBFrOUp to this point, if you are a bystander who does not code or develop, there’s going to be little else of interest to you in this entry. Please enjoy MAME and respect the effort behind it and the intense love of history the team has shown over the years. Pay them homage when you can, and be sure to write them if MAME has brightened your life or the lives of those you share life with.

If you are a developer or coder, you are either involved with the MAME project and related endeavors, or you are not involved at all.

If you’re involved with the project already, Thank You. I know you don’t do it for glory or fame, and I know that it’s about The Mission and doing right by it. But I realize, even among the team members that question my motives or my approaches, that criticism and skepticism comes from protecting this all-important project that you have given so many years of your life to. I respect this. I appreciate it. I am not doing my part in it all to diminish or demean your work. I’ve been following MAME since 1998. It has always left me in awe. You have too.

And if you’re not involved at all…

retro_mame_marquee_by_mrcwatson-d4vxksmYou’ve traveled a long way through a lot of text to get down here. You’re the kind of intense personality that the MAME project needs. Maybe you didn’t learn anything new, but maybe you’ve also had some rough idea about what the MAME project is and what it entails. I’d like to inform you about several recent developments that make working in MAME different than it has ever been.

First, MAME has moved development to github. This is huge, huge news. Github has so many features aimed for collaboration, verification and contribution. A lot of people have tools and code for working in a Github environment. It’s a big step in a very good direction.

Second, MAME is now working towards being uniformly open-licensed throughout its codebase. This is not just big news, it’s a massive undertaking. Developers who have been gone a decade or more are being contacted to sign off on this move. Even the original developer of MAME, Nicola Salmoria, stepped up to make the change. Developers are currently being given a chance to choose one of several open licenses that are inter-compatible. The previous license, called simply the “MAME License“, was a reaction to a situation where MAME was being repackaged and sold. In attempting to curtail this, the license turned into a somewhat strange fork of a previous license, and has not been updated to keep up with a world of mobile platforms, libraries and references. This new move, while utterly painful and controversial, is going to be a great thing for the project.

Third, Emulation is a thing now. Not just a thing for making a home entertainment system incrementally more entertaining, but a recognized vital part of maintaining computer and software history. Museums get it. Archives and Libraries get it. They get how MAME has been not just making Street Fighter work on a desktop, but has been laying down a vital foundation, one might say the vital foundation, for how the future will reference the past. If you apply your skills to this project, you are doing good for culture, you are doing good for history. Bet on it.

mame_chart_0128There are, ultimately, a rare few of you who will both step forward and have the skills and personality to work on a project of MAME’s intensity. It is not for everyone. It is attempting something very large, and is doing so after living in strange shadows for many years. But this is the time – MAME is as strong as it has ever been, with people in it who are among the most brilliant of their generation. They are tough, they are perfectionists, and they are absolutely dedicated to what they are doing. My hope is that a handful of you out there, reading this, will realize what a rewarding thing it is to be a part of all this, and jump in. I’d write this entry a hundred times over if I thought it would help.

Please get involved.

 

 


The Backing Up of the Internet Archive Continues: Hop In —

A little over a month ago, I cooked up a grandiose plan with the Archive Team to back up the Internet Archive, and discussed what that might entail and how one might approach it.

How’s that thing going, anyway?

iabakRemarkably Well would be the best description.

The working group (and let’s be clear – I’m doing the least amount of “working” in the Working Group) has cooked up a bunch of language, procedures, and taken on volunteers at a great clip.

Currently, the system can allow additional clients (volunteers) to join up and be fed the most-needed shards (data sets) and then check on these clients, alerting them after a couple weeks they haven’t checked in, and expiring them out after a month of not checking in, backfilling the lost client’s dataset.

We’ve intentionally and unintentionally punched clients in the gut and watched the system recover. We’ve also added a leaderboard, as well as feedback of what clients tend to have what.

Currently, the IA.BAK system stands at 27 terabytes backed up. To some, this might sound like a drop compared to the vast stores of the Archive, but that’s because they’re looking at it a different way than has emerged during the project’s research efforts.

For example:

  • The IA.BAK project is housed on zero Internet Archive infrastructure.
  • Only data and collections accessible to the public are backed up.
  • Each item is backed up to three separate locations other than the Archive.
  • Collections of items are hand-chosen for historical value/rareness on the net.

The result of many discoveries along the way, these sorts of choices came from discussion, testing, and some very smart volunteers throwing ideas back and forth at each other.

Obviously, having the whole thing not depend on Internet Archive at all quickly became the goal – even the website explaining how it all works isn’t hosted there. As for the public-only, it was important that the project not depend on having some insider access or knowledge (after all, this might be a useful thing for other major data stores). And that three-other-locations thing is murder – we’re already up to almost 60 terabytes of volunteered, shared space.

Finally, the hand-chosen aspect has been particularly enlightening – given this approach to backing things away, what collections would the world truly be poorer for not having? As we walk through the various piles of history on the Archive, the team of IA.BAK volunteers are finding some really wonderful sets, items which could use a little spotlight for the world to check out again anew. This is, after all, both an expedition and an experiment.

The client suite for becoming one of our volunteer storage spaces is now many times easier to use, and a lot of error correction has been built in. We’re not quite to the “space on your laptop or desktop” E-Z install phase yet – it’d be good if your disks were connected to the internet constantly, and if you had, say, more than 500gb free disk space lying around.

The system is built so you can choose to remove a collection you don’t want to back up (and it won’t return) and for you to be able to start using some of that provided disk space for your own uses, just leaving whatever gigabytes you have left for the project. In other words, you can make the same use of disk space that isn’t doing anything like you can use CPU time that wasn’t doing anything for SETI@HOME. We have people contributing half a terabyte drive they aren’t using, while others are going for the gusto and offering tens of terabytes.

So, if this intrigues you, please come visit the IA.BAK homepage, see how we’re doing (after just a month!) and learn how you might help.


A Piece of Apple II History Cracks Open —

The world of Apple II “cracking” has always held an interesting fascination for me – the thinking involved, the magic of tracing programs, and of course the “crack screens” that pirates would add to declare their victory. (Here’s a massive gallery of them that I collected.) I interviewed long-retired Apple II crackers for the BBS documentary, discussing everything from methods to the historical context in which they did this.

If this is your first time hearing “cracking” in this context, I’ll very quickly explain.

A program would come on a floppy disk, and the program, ostensibly, would fill that entire disk. It would also have “copy protection” threaded in the code – routines that would be resistant to copies being made, or even modify how the floppy drive would function to prevent copying. It was quite an art.

It was also an art to go through this code, examine how this programming worked, and modify the whole shebang enough to allow easy copying. In an ideal world, the program would also be modified from an entire floppy disk (I mean, 140k, come on, who has time for that) into a single small file.

Along the way, pride would ensue, with “crack screens” consisting of who cracked the program added to the front. The ballast of inconvenient parts would also be discarded, with title screens, program functionality, and even entire program assets thrown over the wall.

That’s cracking, as it was.

4am is an individual cracking as it is now, and it’s most interesting indeed.

What 4AM has been doing for the past year or so is re-cracking long-dormant Apple II programs with a new goal – to educate and to preserve. This has produced hundreds of new insights into Apple II history, some of which are seeing the light of day for the first time.

This weekend, I’ve now made the vast majority of 4am’s cracked programs playable at the Internet Archive. Some of these disks have never, as far as can be determined, been imaged or copied before in any meaningful way. (Primarily educational programs.) They are rare specimens. They were rare specimens.

In some cases, these programs were out there in the wild, but the “cracked” versions, missing images and pieces of code, were all there were. Now they’re basically complete.

And these are what are called “silent” cracks – they’re cracked so they are more simply copied, not modified with brags and added graphics. It’s as if you’re trying them out the day they hit your Apple II, 30 years ago.

I saved the best for last, for the kind of person who sees the real value in this.

Not content to crack the disks, and modifying the programs in a way that they live as they once lived, 4am meticulously and carefully walks through the entire process of cracking each program. The code, the tracing of boot flow, the missteps, and even the internal thought processes that lead to the solved mystery. They’re magical. And every 4AM item has one.

(Just click on the “Text” file of any item’s file list to read these breakdowns. Here’s one, and here’s another one.)

Some of the common complaint that comes in with the software collections I’ve been helping herd onto the Internet Archive is that the “cracked” version is what’s up – but in some cases, that’s all we’ve got left of the programs. Now, thanks to people like 4AM, we have something more.

Long may they crack.

Some of the items in the collection are not playable in the browser – this is a limitation from the Internet Archive’s Emularity system and not the floppy disk images – they boot fine, just not online yet.

All of the screenshots in this entry link to playable versions of those programs.

 


Yes, I Want Your Goddamn AOL CDs —

Yes, yes I do.

AOL

As you might expect, someone who does a lot of something (collecting) like I do, in a pretty public fashion, tends to get some pretty shiny-polished chestnuts tossed over the fence. The two winners, by a landslide, are:

“_______ 8″ floppies” (a whole variety of statements, from people having them to people wondering if they’re possible to save, the answer of which is yes)

“Hey, are you going to collect AOL CD-ROMs too?”

The answer, also, is yes.

Time to send me your AOL CD-ROMs. If you want to save me some time, image them into ISOs and scan the envelope you got them in and the front of the CD-ROM. But if not, send them to me.

Jason Scott, c/o Internet Archive AOL CDs, 300 Funston Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94118.

medium_aol-cd1

I think the big question back is why wouldn’t I try to image and archive all these CD-ROMs that came out of America Online? After all, for some time, half of all CDs manufactured in the world had an AOL logo on them. Like it or not, folks – those things are payloads of history.

You see, there wasn’t “a” AOL CD that went out. There were so many variations, containing so many different add-ons and wrap-ins, that they became time capsules in themselves. So yeah. I want them.

I also want all the CD-ROMs made by Walnut Creek CD-ROM. I want every shovelware disc that came out in the entire breadth of the CD-ROM era. I want every shareware floppy, while we’re talking. I want it all.

The CD-ROM era is basically finite at this point. It’s over. The time when we’re going to use physical media as the primary transport for most data is done done done. Sure, there’s going to be distributions and use of CD-ROMs for some time to come, but the time when it all came that way and when it was in most cases the only method of distribution… in the history books, now.

And there were a specific amount of CD-ROMs made. There are directories and listings of many that were manufactured. I want to find those. I want to image them, and I want to put them up.

I’m looking for stacks of CD-ROMs now. Stacks and stacks. AOL CDs and driver CDs and Shareware CDs and even hand-burned CDs of stuff you downloaded way back when. This is the time to strike.

CDs are still thought of as garbage, as refuse along the lines of thrown-out scrap metal or broken radios. People are chewing them up to make art:

cd-rom-art

All well and good – that’s the nature of entropy. But let it be known – if you’re one of “those people” who has a crate full of CD-ROMs, it’s time to pack them up and get them to a good home. My good home. We’re going to get everything from the CD-ROM era up and we’re going to make them playable and that’s going to be quite something.

So yeah, AOL CDs? Want them.

Because I want everything.

 


I Helped Make a Shirt! —

No project is complete without a shirt, and I helped design one for all the emulation going on at the Internet Archive. (My co-worker Jeff Kaplan did the actual mouse-to-screen effort after I sketched out what I was looking for and pointed to the right fonts to use.)

Entitled GAME NOT OVER!, these shirts are now for sale at the Internet Archive Store.

IAtshirt-gamenotover-f-400IAtshirt-gamenotover-f-detail-400IAtshirt-gamenotover-b-detail-400I wanted a simple design to be the case for this – it’s not just about arcade games, console games, or computer programs – it’s a general sense of all the different software we’re bringing back to life. An 8-bit-ish Internet Archive logo on the front draws attention, and the font on the back calls a whole other set of elements from videogaming past.

All the proceeds from these shirts go to the Internet Archive. And of course, when you wear this, you are the coolest thing for fifteen miles.

Here’s that order page again.


My Smarty-Smart Boss, 23 Years Ago —

One of the most inquisitive and detail-oriented members of Archive Team, godane, asked after a file he’d found on the Internet Archive that had been uploaded by my boss, Brewster Kahle, in 2005. Simply called “untitled”, with a collection of seemingly-randomized metadata, this 4 gigabyte video file had been viewed a handful of times (which might not actually mean it was viewed at all) and had sat, unloved and forgotten, for a decade.

I cleaned up and generated web-browsable versions of the video, and here, embedded, is the resulting video file.

(You can also go right to the page for it and look at it that way.)

The interview is a videotaped session conducted in 1992 with Brewster a few months after the creation of WAIS, Incorporated. At the time of the interview, I am a few blocks away from him, living in my Harvard Square apartment. (Neither of us knew this at the time.) Runtime is roughly 2 hours.

Topics covered include:

  • History of WAIS
  • Definition of Wide Area Information Server (WAIS) Technology
  • Early experiments of WAIS-like services; what went right and wrong
  • Working at Thinking Machines Corporation
  • Devising Search Algorithms
  • Early advancements in search (and the roots of search)
  • Relevance feedback
  • The excitement and personal aspects of search
  • Deep overview of the functionality and system of WAIS
  • The issues and technical considerations of transmitting video via network
  • The model of providing services for free to attract users
  • Effects and use of Internet in Politics and Privacy Issues
  • The Markets that Thinking Machines tried to create and open
  • Brewster’s Goals with WAIS (“The Wise Man on the Hill”)
  • Concerns about proprietary protocols versus open
  • Early interactions with Perot Systems and the Ross Perot Presidential Campaign
  • WAIS, Inc. Corporate and Company Structure
  • WAIS, Inc. Personnel and Positions
  • WAIS, Inc. Philosophy
  • Thoughts on the Electronic Publishing Revolution
  • Effects of Electronic Publishing on Traditional Publishing
  • Thoughts on business models and transfer mechanisms in publishing
  • Thoughts on computers and computing technology in the home and home publishing
  • The role of advertising in electronic publishing
  • Concerns with working with government institutions
  • Considering the issues of Privacy in an electronic age
  • The future of WAIS, Inc. (Growing, Earning, Business Model)

Some numbers mentioned in the interview:

  • A “large” government database that was 15 gigabytes, with estimates of searching this database from 24 hours down the Thinking Machines’ 3 minutes.
  • Dow Jones’ Database is 77gb at this time.
  • Dialog’s Database is “close to a terabyte”.
  • The top-end network connection mentioned is a T3, 42 mbits/sec.
  • 56kbits/sec (ISDN) is an “acceptable” connection for interacting with WAIS.
  • WAIS, Inc. has 3 full-time employees at the time of the interview.

Besides the brains showed in the actual discussions, the whole idea of sitting down and conducting the interview is fantastic. Brewster had started this new company, he’s got all sorts of ideas about what search and ‘online publishing’ (what becomes the web) will do to the world, and what part computers will play. By capturing him and his thoughts at the moment, you get a lot of great historical context and thoughts from someone who ended up making millions from selling this and other companies and then using those millions to start the Internet Archive, which is ‘online publishing’ on a scale that would have been hard to imagine in 1992 (but maybe he did).

Not everyone wants to sit down and hear someone be smart on video for two hours, but considering I work for this guy, it was a really nice experience. If you have the time and inclination, check it out. And hooray for people like godane looking through the Archive’s digital stacks.


That Time Archive Team Decided to Back Up The Internet Archive —

iabakIt’s inevitable that Archive Team would try to archive the hand that archives it.

We dump a lot of data into the Internet Archive – hundreds of gigabytes a day. And the Archive itself has a goodly amount of petabytes in its stacks. Thanks to a series of articles and appearances, the Archive’s getting some pretty good general attention. Lots of it. People are amazed, filled with wonder, impressed.

They also tend to ask the same set of questions. Some of them tend to deal with the archive’s “backup plan” or various off-the-cuff engineering questions. It’s natural, I suppose. The Internet Archive definitely has engineering and backup plans; let’s get that straight.

But the idea intrigued me, just because I like the idea of there being data that people recognize is precious (“digital heritage” is still a new and not universal concept) and the inherent power that people felt with the Archive Team downloading projects being applied to storing away additional copies of collections on archive.org, not bound by geography, politics or censorship.

So, I kind of launched into the idea of an experiment to back up the Internet Archive. Here’s the initial essay and random thoughts about it. (It’s not required reading.)

What followed then was a miniature storm, with a bunch of people weighing in about how such a thing “should” be done, how impossible it was, good people will die on the beach, etc.

But after a couple weeks of poking at the project with a stick, a working prototype came into being. We’ve been working on it, here and there, ever since, and right now, roughly 10 terabytes of Internet Archive materials are now backed up in at least three geographically separated areas around the world.

More thoughts after the short list of relevant information I wanted you to have.

  • Again, it must be stressed, this is not an Internet Archive Project. Engineers and admins at Internet Archive work all day to make the site resilient. This is 100% separate.
  • We have 47 people/clients helping at the moment. We’re ready to take on many, many more.
  • Here is a page showing the current status of the project. You can see how we add more data, and how we have people worldwide contributing.
  • As the project absorbs and verifies the 3 additional copies of the collections, additional collections are being added. So the more people, the better.
  • If you’re packing a few hundred gigabytes of disk space (or more!) connected to the Internet, and are mounting it using a Unix/Linux variant, read up here.
  • The disk space you contribute need not be permanent – if you need it back, you can delete data in stages and the system will deal with it. We just want to use space you weren’t using anyway.

Again, the startup document for getting git-annex going on your system is located here.

Some thoughts.

First, the resistance and anger from some quarters when I brought this up was unexpected, although looking back, I guess it was inevitable. The idea that it might be done “wrong” in some way, that some attempt to back up the data in an errored approach would be worse than remaining at the status quo, seems to be endemic. Regardless, I strongly believe you need something done to be able to improve it, so we’re pushing on.

Next, the way to back up the Internet Archive is not to back up the entire Internet Archive – it’s to move forward, incrementally, playing the game of “what is in here that’s almost nowhere else and the world would be rather poor for it being going”. In that way, we go for more of the “historical usenet” and “old time radio recordings” than, say, a random 1990s dance music collection. That said, as things go on, and if this experiment is successful, the dance music will get gathered up as well.

Finally, what I like about this experiment is the amount of learning that goes into it. I like being on the ground, asking the questions that need to be asked – how big exactly is the whole thing? What sort of problems occur when you’re tracking petabytes of data to back up? How how disk space is floating out there, unused, looking for a purpose, even if only temporary? What constitutes vital digital heritage? Finding out answers to those questions, getting the answers down, talking about what the whole thing means – that’s where learning comes from.

IA.BAK – it’s the best thing you could be doing with unused disk space.