ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Digitize the Planet —

I know it’s been announcement city over here for the past week and a half. Here’s the last piece in the puzzle: trying to solve the biggest looming problem for online libraries and archives.

So, people get it: When items are online, they become infinitely more useful. They can transfer instantly, they can be viewed through a wide variety of means, and automatic scripts and robots can have their way with the data, producing all sorts of additional information by analyzing them. Digital is good. Digital is top-shelf fantastic, actually. Digital’s the way to go.


Once people realize that digital is the way to go, they assume institutions like the Internet Archive, with its massive scanning operations and other ingestion abilities, must be able to work like Doc Brown’s Mr. Fusion.



I mean, make no mistake, the Archive can digitize a hell of a lot, and there’s a pile of projects going on right now – they digitize a thousand books every single day, and they’re duping records, videocassettes and other media in at a fantastic rate. But as this happens, so does word that things are available, and then a grateful and well-meaning audience wants to send even more stuff into the machine to be processed.

And as people achieve enlightenment about the awesomeness of the archive, they start assuming that sending in 20-30 crates of “stuff” means that stuff will just slip into the stacks with no issues. And at some point, unless there’s funding attached, that’s just not going to be true. There’s a line at the door, trust me.

Meanwhile, the Archive’s machines and servers can provide instant, accessible homes to digital files almost instantly – if you upload an .ISO, or a PDF or a MP3 file, it knows just what to do. And when you add the metadata/information about that file, we end up with a nice little entry indeed. That is going incredibly well.

So here’s my solution, which I hope is obvious:

Teach everyone to digitize. 

Tell people what tools, practices, and methods they need to turn stuff in their house or place of business into digital files. Give them links to the software that will work on their platform of choice. Provide tips for getting the best capture. Inform them about the importance of descriptions and how that’s done. And for people who are with unusual formats or who don’t feel comfortable with the above, give them links to people and places who are comfortable and can work with them to make it work.

And tell them all the related stuff, too – how to digitize without destroying the originals, how to track down rare stuff or verify it’s not already online, and how to be hero of your particular culture or community in getting it stored away.

In doing this, a whole range of disparate, non-specific pages out there that cover this and that will be added into a central clearinghouse of CC0-licensed information that will spread far and wide.

It’s the next logical step.

So, it is with great pleasure I announce the DIGITIZE THE PLANET WIKI.


Naturally, as it has been up for about 3 hours, it’s very scant. A lot has to be added. But collaborating, and with clear goals in place, I expect to begin assembling a large amount of information in a short period of time. It’s all out there, after all.

The goal is that a person with neat “stuff”, or thousands of such people, can begin going after a whole range of materials and bring them online, for the world to share. Let’s turn this into a flood, a massive wave of items that had no advocate, who have no foundation to grant them immortality. I’d love to see placemats, training VHS tapes, old cassettes, and all the knowledge of the underground and overlands get into the Archive (and other repositories).

It’s the future. Building a library, together.

Let’s see how it goes.

In Realtime: Post-Mortem —

I’m just keeping the theme with the title. Future postings will be less obscure.


This is a wrap up and list of conclusions after this grand experiment.

And an announcement.

But first things first.

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In my inbox, going back over a year (and going back years in my mail archives) are people letting me know about Stuff Going Away. When you’re known as someone who rails against needless lost of information and history, it stands to reason that folks will come running with news of most anything shutting down anywhere.

That’s how I was told there was some place with manuals that was going out of business at some point. And that’s how I mailed them last year, and that’s how I was on the phone with Becky, first and last employee of the Maryland edition of Manuals Plus, on a Wednesday. By Friday, I was visiting the warehouse. And by Monday, it was me and dozens of people loading things into boxes.


I stress this because one needs to understand both the timeline and the swiftness of the operation that ensued, because a lot of criticisms or suggestions were simply not possible in the time given. That Said, I am happy to have them for the next time something like this crosses my life. It just wasn’t possible with such a small amount of warning.

Regarding warning: Yes, I was told that this place was closing, and in theory I could have cooked up some plans in the previous months, but the problem was the closing deadline kept shifting. Originally, there was talk of March 2015, and it wasn’t until August 2015 it was getting serious, like Becky calling me and telling me I better move on it immediately serious. It was easily possible that the owner might have decided to keep it. And this was not one of the major things on my radar my year – not even close. So that’s why it wasn’t until the Friday before that I found myself in the warehouse.

Which brings me to:



Here’s Becky and I during the load. Becky and I had talked a couple times on the phone and multiple times on e-mail, but I could tell that with the owner, Nick, there needed to be a human being in the warehouse and not promises on the phone. I’m sure I’m not the only one with memories of someone talking grandiose schemes and solutions over the phone or in e-mail, building castles in the air. The problem is that it’s very easy for people to shoot out a bunch of promises, which are wishes instead of plans. I hopped into my car and drove 400 miles round trip for a one-hour conversation. That’s the big difference. Nick was affable in person, talked straight, and when I shared my ideas, he was all for it.

This was not a simple “whatever”, either. He was essentially saying “feel free to run wild in my storeroom I paid a lot of money for years earlier, and take whatever you want to”. That’s an enormous amount of trust to visit upon someone. And I think that showing I was willing to make that trip was what convinced him, as was my very long days being accessible and running things during the load-out week.

And that leads to the plan.



The shifting factor was the warehouse. The time constraint was the warehouse closing. Whatever could be done to stabilize those two situations was my priority.

Here, there could have been a wild amount of choices. If I’d had warning and could have talked to everyone I needed to at Internet Archive or another institution, I could have probably hired some tractor trailers, gotten some Gaylord containers (they’re huge, and forklift compatible), and just loaded the Gaylords up with documentation before sending it off to my institution’s warehouse.

Or I could have a pile of warehouses ready to go, along with people who loaned trucks, and we could have been in there with a fleet of trucks ready to go. That is, if we’d known it was going to happen when it did. But we didn’t.

It’s the speed that was the key factor. That’s why I went for a local storage facility, a local moving company, and bouncing between them as fast as possible – the storage facility was stable (and under contract, not favors), and I could keep renting more space as it became obvious we had a gross underestimation of how much there was.



The “25,000 manuals” came from an estimate of “21,000 manuals” that I thought was low. We are sure this is 50,000 manuals and it may be many more. And when it came to amount, we had bought a wildly-over-the-top 252 banker’s boxes until we found out that we really needed about 1,700. Nearly every estimate was low: the amount of stuff, the amount of boxes, how many people would be willing to show up, how many days we would have. This was all logistics 101, but that brings up the other positive:



Over the three days, we could stay late, we could pack more, we could move more and we could stop and go as we needed to. We weren’t locked into some hard dates and time, and Nick was very kind to keep extending us since we were essentially saving him recycling money by taking maximum amounts of stuff away.


We were so lucky. Having dozens of people, especially really intense personalities involved in something like this meant there was potential for a real world-class meltdown. Either an argument over how things were doing, a “I don’t like this person” tantrum, or just a general “could you please not <thing you actually kind of have to do>”. I’m not saying conflict didn’t happen – I’m sure some people avoided each other or someone decided they’d had enough and quietly left the proceedings. But we didn’t have a meltdown, and that is very, very appreciated.


When people came in, I offered for them to spend 5 minutes just taking the place in. It helps, if you’re going to volunteer and be doing a simple thing in the corner for an hour, to walk around and understand what you’re dealing with and why you want to do it. Some people got tours from me, others were happy to walk through themselves. Some looked, and immediately turned and said “WHAT DO I DO”, and, well, that’s cool too.



There were what I called “smart jobs” and “dumb jobs”, both of them vital. “Dumb jobs” didn’t require any particular training – things like “assemble these boxes out of cardboard” or “make sure there’s no empty boxes in the aisles”. The “Smart Jobs”, like “sort through these manuals to get the unique ones, including minor changes in revisions”, needed an eagle eye and endless concentration. Some people were up for that, others were not quite in the mood. There was also variant approaches, and some people took hours to do what others did in 15 minutes. That said, that was progress. By giving people lots of shelves to go over (there were over 300 shelves, after all), different approaches and skills with the sorting could co-exist. Also, people would go over other shelves that had been “done” and double check that was the case. It let us catch a lot.



We ordered pizza a lot. One volunteer brought in coolers and drinks. And if someone had to walk outside or smoke or just sit down, we let them. This wasn’t some insane army with punishments for walking off – this was a volunteer effort and it wasn’t right to call it anything else.



We did about 2+ months of work in 2 days. As I told each volunteer as they settled in, we were going to miss stuff, stuff was going to be destroyed, and yet every thing we picked out and put into a box would be, in some way, saved. If you launch into a project this large wanting the outcome to be 100% perfect, you’re going to have the aforementioned meltdown. You do your best – every move you take is improving the situation.

In the very rare cases where miscommunication meant someone had not pulled all the right things, it was trivial to have another person go through the shelf again. The attitude to take is that the second person wasn’t “fixing” the efforts of the first person – they were partners.





People kept coming back because the goal was obvious, the environment was self-directed, and people could talk and share stories. This happened a lot – I walked into lots of geeky and informed conversations from people who were just thrown together. We had families come, and everyone was shown a good time. And where possible, I tried to be funny, except where I was annoying the hell out of people. Well, maybe I kept trying, anyway.


It’s an easy narrative/headline to say “Jason Scott saved this.” no, no way. If this had been just me, it’d be a tiny fraction of what got out. No, people worked their asses off, much harder than me, and it was because of these selfless people that we ended up with the collection we did.




The hundreds of people who sent in money to make it feasible to do all this.

Tim Skoczen, Reverend Ragnarok, Tom Miller, Darrell Kindred, Matthias Lee, Andrew Peterson, Mark Gifford, Rob “Deker” Dekelbaum, Rich Kulawiec, Anne N., Douglas Taylor, Effrem Norwood, Joe Hourcle, Brent Greissle, J. Alexander Jacocks, Jonathan Sturges, Pete Morici


One of the volunteers involved in the project, Daniel Siders, suggested that the goodwill and the interest in these types of project shouldn’t fade away with the completion of the main part of the Manuals Plus project. He instead proposed that there be something like Archive Team for physical rescues. Naturally, there’s a lot to learn in that space, but with a level of speed and radical approaches that worked for Archive Team, maybe something good will come of it.

Therefore, in one line, I announce: ArchiveCorps.

A Small Dark Detour —

As the story of the saved manuals gained steam, a greater audience of people began to be aware of it.


Once you get past a few thousand, people start showing up who…. don’t forward the conversation. I just wanted to talk a little bit about that situation of the modern era, since I consider it one of my areas of study. As always, it’s good to have two different things going on at any time, so besides the manual recovery project was a study in how the internet at large responds to it, especially when there’s no particular “group” to go ad hominem on. (Sadly, a rarer sight in the present day.)

Let’s set aside the people who were positive (and they were the VAST MAJORITY), neutral, or didn’t comment.

Negative comments came in several forms.

First, the general opinion of the exact value of the manuals themselves and whether it was worth this much effort to take them elsewhere. Some people questioned the use and utility, while others (I assume) wished there was a way to wave a magic wand that had an LED display on the side showing the value.

Next, there were deep concerns about the process of how this was being done, with a lot of informed opinion coming from viewing the photos. One particular winning comment mentioned the volunteers should “stop wasting time reading” because they saw a photo of the volunteers looking at manual revisions. Others dreamed up grandiose saving schemes that assumed, fundamentally, that money and labor would be there, a non-guaranteed situation at best.

Finally, there was a range of commentary about the Manuals Plus company itself, with judgments all along the line of their business sense, approach to this dissemination, and, in one case, yes, a veiled physical threat.


Obviously, considering how south things can go online, these are pretty minor disagreements. But they were strongly stated, intense, and reflective of how the medium seems to promote taking extreme stands. Subtlety isn’t welcome. Grace takes a back seat.

As someone who has grown up from the early days of consumer-grade online telecommunications to the present day, I don’t want to believe the patient is terminal. I want to hope that in the same way we no longer generally mess around with DNS settings like we used to and we no longer live under a financially ruinous telephone billing scheme, I’d hoped we’d start to have real, honest solutions to endless bad commentary issues other than “let the mob vote” and “hooray, we shut off comments, we are heroes”.

But more notable is that sense that people, faced with a situation going on, feel compelled to think they are a required part of the process, even if they contribute nothing more than literally noise. Paul Ford captured a lot of this in this essay in which he reveals that sense of “Why Wasn’t I Consulted” being a core value of the Internet as it is – that sense you’re a part of things that you are seriously not a part of.

The problem might be fundamentally human. Maybe there is no solution.

This was all a minor note, playing helplessly in the background, as a symphony of goodwill swelled around the world for this project. But it tells me there’s so much more to learn about this network we’ve built.

I’ll think about it, sleeping on this pile of manuals.

In Realtime: It Is Done —

When I can feel my face again, and after I finish cleaning up my untouched-for-a-week life up in New York, I will sit down and write a proper Post-mortem of everything, but here’s the high level news.



The goal, as you might recall, was to go into a closing warehouse of manuals, take as much as we could, and store it somewhere so that it could be properly “dealt with”, with the rest ending up in the trash.

We hit that goal. In total, the number of boxes is something between 1,600 and 1,700. These are boxes that each contain from a half-dozen to dozens of manuals, shop notes, catalogs and other related documents, mostly for testing equipment and electronics tools.

A few of us tried to do a very roughvery hand-wavy job of determining what the total number of manuals was, because it sure as hell wasn’t 25,000. At the end we decided that it is definitely over 50,000 and it is probably as high as 75,000. So we rescued twice as many items as I was told the room contained. That’s fantastic.


The amount of people who had walked in through the front door to volunteer help, some of them knowing nothing other than an address and that a friend had said “You must go there”, numbered at least 60. In some cases, entire families came – Mom, Dad, Daughter, Grandkids all being put to work to find duplicate manuals. Finding what a volunteer can best be used for is a bit of an art and not a science, but I did my best – some people were a little too roughed up to be lifters, and others were handed a task and went at it for 5 hours without a complaint or a break, building up a ruinous sweat.

I didn’t get a photo of everyone and it is going to be a crapshoot to get all the names up there, so when I do the postmortem and thanks, I expect to be modifying that posting for weeks.

My job was mostly to keep a lid on knowing how it was all going to pan out and to make sure our two main outside vendors, the moving company and the storage facility, didn’t give us any surprises.

Neither did.


To make things easier, I’d rented two, and then three spaces at a storage company a mile from the warehouse. It wasn’t one of the free ones people generously offered (and which were all between 30 and 60 miles away), but instead was a very quick staging and timeout location for getting things out of immediate danger. I’ll just repeat that, here: this is not the final home, just an easy place to start to look at the collection intelligently and carefully. In an ideal world, I’d have been let into the warehouse in January and would slowly have cataloged and worked through the whole place, and then began organizing the moves and future homes. But this went down in less than a week, and here we are.

There were a lot of great ideas that volunteers and collaborators came up with, on the spot, looking over the whole thing. Systems and procedures and what-ifs and what-abouts abounded. Generally, I took the word of someone standing right there over someone on a forum bloviating about the One True And Right Way. From these volunteers came ideas like how to approach some sorting, methods to mark off completion, potential organizations that might be interested, and so on.

But one volunteer had, by far, the most immediate major influence.

Floating in the back of our minds was how we were going to get all these boxes over to the storage. Even with a mere mile distance, it would be a soul-killing convoy of cars and trucks putting items into the storage units. It could have gone into Thursday. Thoughts of grabbing day laborers were floated, along with who knew what friend who could bring “a truck”.

But this volunteer suggested we hire movers, and also suggested who he had heard were great local movers. They ended up being Budget Movers of Westminster. A quote and a price later, and there they were at 9am the next morning. The next morning.


Like it often is with professionals, they didn’t whine, grate, or sniff when faced with a room of boxes – they just got to it.



Having wrangled volunteers for three days at that point, it was great to just have the ability to hire a firm to get the last tedious and dangerously physical portion done. “Please take this mass of boxes and get them to this other box.” was worth paying the money for, money which people all over the world sent me.

I rush to say that we definitely did have a couple other trucks and cars in the mix – we did four major loads of boxes from the warehouse to the units, and along the way, four car/truckloads of boxes went through volunteers, just to get that last little bit into the units before it got to be too dark.

At the end, we had all the boxes into the units (with some space left over), and for various values, the manuals and materials were “safe”.



When we were done with the storage, we went back through the warehouse, cleaning up some messes, tidying the place, and giving the shelves one last review.



One volunteer didn’t want to go. He kept sorting, kept going through, kept finding what he thought was one last unique manual. He went from shelf to shelf, just checking, just wanting to be 100% sure we’re captured one unique copy of every single manual in there. He’d gotten a ride from a friend up from Virginia, and then just stayed. He did not have a clear plan for how to get back, but figured it would work out, just like I’d written a post on here the previous Friday, in what was just a little less than a week ago, announcing this impossible task.

But he just wouldn’t let it finish.

We ended up shutting the lights off on him.


There’s a lot left to write, and I’ll get that going immediately in a post-mortem, along with ideas for the future. But at this moment. I am totally at peace with how things have gone. I’m in the manual world now, and I love the people it has brought into my life.

More coming soon. Thank you, everyone.


In Realtime: Day 2 Felt Like Week 4 —

This time, I’m sitting in my car, & I don’t feel broken, simply renewed.

It’s ten o’clock, and we probably have a couple more hours to go. What we are trying to do is ensure that everything is in a box that is going out. Then, tomorrow can consist of two things: moving items to the storage units, and quality wrap-up.

Last moment, we had to go out and buy even more boxes. There are 1,500 boxes in the collection now. I probably would have started making hard choices, but so many people have donated time and money to making this a reality, I didn’t want to let people down. As a result, we have erred slightly in favor of taking stuff then leaving stuff, and the 1500 boxes probably contain some amount of dupes.


Individuals have come running from all directions. Some drove hours to get here, some are families whose parents wanted to help and the kids ended up helping too.







Naturally, the wider exposure about this operation has led to a raft of expert opinions, wrapped in a tiny little bow and perfectly executed like a Metropolitan Opera premiere. I am sure this could have been done a hundred different ways, some with pros and cons. We worked with what we have. On Friday at noon, I had no idea that we only would have till Wednesday to get things out. We went for banker boxes, volunteer labor, and ultimately professional movers to move things to storage units that were a mile away.

I have been more willing to listen to suggestions given to me by sweaty, overworked volunteers who drove in and walked through the alleys with me to give advice and pointers from learned experience. One suggested a way to sort boxes quicker. Another one called out to his friends and family and they came running, while yet another point it out the bankers boxes could be bought at a nearby wholesale club without any red tape or waiting.

By the end of tomorrow, volunteers willing and depending on what other factors we haven’t figured it out, there will be multiple storage units a mile away that have these boxes. I will do a further breakdown and analysis of the whole thing, and as many thank you’s as I can possibly track down, but for now, I have to go back into the building. There’s work to be done and no amount of blogging is going to make it go away.





For those who have made it to the end:

If you are in the area and can come by tomorrow, your help can be used. The owner has let me know that if people come on site, they can take as many manuals as they want. Otherwise, they are all absolutely going into a dumpster.

I don’t think Wednesday is going to be as difficult, but you never know. So if you have time during the day or afternoon, it would be very, very, welcome.

I won’t be forgetting any of this anytime soon.

In Realtime: We are barely halfway done —

I’m kind of broken.


It has been a very productive day. I have been here since 8 in the morning. We have boxed over 400 boxes of material. There have been about a dozen and a half of volunteers working like mad to put this together.

It seems to have adequately impressed the owner. He has been basically giving us free reign to do all this work. He does not however, he does not complain. He’s allowing the manuals to be saved.


I am writing this from the car, sitting in the passenger seat with my shoes off. I have been standing for 12 hours. I’ve been giving introductions and tours and explanations and theories and everything else that comes when you put a bunch of strangers together with a single-minded purpose.

They have been too good. Way better than anybody deserves in the way of volunteers. They have been helpful, kind, inquisitive, dedicated. They have come from miles around.






Sometime around 11 a.m., it became very obvious that the 252 banker boxes we have bought or a laughable underestimation. We were going to need more. We are going to need much more, and we were going to need it now.

I made a call to the Uline Company, and asked for the impossible: I wanted 8 pallets of boxes, delivered within the day. And within four hours, they arrived.





To deliver 1052 banker boxes within 4 hours, combined with the cost of the boxes themselves, was $4000.

I made another call out to social media, and the payPal has helped eat most of that  (paypal is

We had a lot of people come through, and we have made enormous strides.

I rented 2 large storage units nearby. I don’t think it’s enough.

We have a scattering of people who will come tomorrow to help us try to rescue what’s remaining. I’m not sure if that’s enough.

If you know somebody who can come tomorrow, especially during the day, it would be heavily appreciated.

This is very hard work. So hard, but we are saving hundreds of thousands of pages in tens of thousands of documents. I’m not sure the 25000 manual feature number is accurate. It’s very hard to tell what numbers are real and what are the anymore. All I know is that I can’t really feel my feet or legs, & I am sitting in my car telling you all this.


If we were to drive away with what we got now, it would be an amazing feat. It would be a huge amount of history, pulled from many many different decades, with information and aspects of all sorts of electronics companies.

But before they start throwing things out tomorrow, & I have been told that is likely to be the case, I want us to get as much as humanly possible. I want to have rescued all of these wonderous works as best we can.

I’m calling out again for anybody who can come to 2002 Bethel Road, from 8:30 a.m. well into the evening, and help us save this history.

I want to sleep a week.

In Realtime: Prepping for the Transfer of 25,000 Manuals —

A day after my previous post, and things have been happening.



First, I asked for people to send money if they couldn’t help any other way, and people have. This took away any concern on my part that 1. The materials are not recognized for their value, 2. I would blow out my savings trying to make this all happen. This has allowed me to take all the other steps I’ve taken with no problems.

A storage unit has been rented, about a mile from the warehouse. I’ll be pre-paying for a few months, and if needed, rent a couple. That will fix the immediate “no place to go / have to make some poor guy lose access to his basement out of the goodness of his heart” problem. Plus, the close distance means people can be sent on packing runs very quickly, and be back in almost no time.

About a dozen people have said they will try to be there. I think it needs to be more. Many people will be coming in the later half of the day, when energy will probably be flagging for the ones who come in the morning, but I can really use more people coming in the morning. Hit me up at if you want to volunteer to be there, morning or evening.

So, in the very short term, looks like at least some amount of the manuals are going to be saved. Obviously there’s no guarantee it will be comprehensive, but we will be doing our best to get as much as possible. Since I’m driving down tonight and staying in a hotel nearby, I will be answering mails and comments as I can, but tomorrow is going to likely be occasional tweets of the action and a whole lot of moving paper.


The first post made it to Hackernews, HackaDay and a lot of tweets. Naturally, since I’d written the post in haste (this is all, after all, real time), gaps were happily filled by people and a lot of suggestions were made and questions were asked. So let’s hit those off.

Hey, you should work with the Internet Archive. Way ahead of you. I work at the Internet Archive. Whether they’re going to take up piles of paper is another issue, but the scanning and hosting of said scans would definitely happen – maybe I’ll do a crowd-funding or action for it. But yeah.

Hey, go ask Google. I think people don’t understand what Google is and how much it particularly cares about doing “The Right Thing” (not much), and the next person to mention the Linear Book Scanner (a prototype that destroys books), well, they’re going to get a hug and my distracting words of love.

You should go ask this library or that archive or that whatever. I agree that is a possibility, but none of these institutions, none of them, can work within a 48 hour turnaround. So I’m doing it. The goal is to pay for at least 3 months of storage and maybe more, until the right thing is done with these manuals.

Why are these even worth anything or worth keeping, tidy your life, lighten up, etc. Either you really understand why 80 years of manuals, instructions and engineering notes related to 20th century electronics are of value both historically, aesthetically and culturally, or you don’t. To try to make the case would be a waste of time for both of us.

This is impossible. Nothing is impossible.

Update later!




In Realtime: Saving 25,000 Manuals —

Earlier this year, a number of kind folks told me that an esteemed seller of manuals was going to be getting out of the business. I lamented but didn’t give it much thought.

As the months went on, I eventually got into contact with them, and they with me, and we discussed a possible contingency where, just before they were to throw them out, I might find a way to at least save some of them.

This week, that time arrived. In fact, it’s late Friday and I have to start taking them out of the place on Monday.

Let me mention a few details and how I’m doing this.

First, after a conversation with the folks at the warehouse, I immediately decided to drive 230 miles to the location, to show several things: that I was serious, that I wanted details, and to make arrangements.

This is quite a collection of manuals.


It has been explained to me that they intend to throw them out next week. It’s a whole complicated story why, but it stems from the loss of the lease for the building and not enough of a business case to move it and set up another long-term storage.

But they’re being kind enough to allow me to try and take what I can, so that’s what I agreed to and what they’re up to.

We walked the place and discussed history, logistics, and paper quality.


These are very nice manuals, some dating back to the thirties. Many are of impeccable quality.


To give you an idea of how close we’re cutting this… as we go through the shelves and take a unique copy (sometimes there are a dozen or more copies in a shelf), the non-unique copies are going right into a dumpster. They will likely be helping us as they go, doing the pulling out of one or two unique manuals and then having the rest disappear.

It is 2am as I write this – I hope I don’t have to explain the inherent meaningfulness, usefulness, and importance of saving as many unique manuals from this collection as I can.


The plan is to arrive Monday morning, along with $900 of bankers boxes an anonymous donor paid for, and start putting these manuals into boxes. I am then going to rent a nearby (1 mile away) Storage Unit, using a rented truck from a nearby Truck Rental place (2 miles).

The warehouse is located in Finksburg, MD, about 30 miles northwest of Baltimore.

The more people who I can get to show up to the place during the day or early evening, the better. The more people who throw money at me via paypal (jason at textfiles dot com) so I can pay the $250/month storage unit fee until the end of the year (so this can get an appropriate home), the better.

This is a lot to take on. But when history’s at stake, it’s what has to be done.

Full photos from today’s shoot are here.



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.


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 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.



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.



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

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

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

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