ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

The Most Interesting Uninteresting Thing —

Imagine, if you will, a vast river.

It flows fast, so fast that when you look away and look back it’s in many ways an entirely different river, not just a slightly different one. It used to be blue with an occasional brown or black. Nowadays, it’s basically brown and black and a signficant amount of it lets off a slow-moving steam that you’re positive causes cancer in 99% of living things. You used to swim in this river, but now you generally don’t, and by “generally don’t” you mean “never”.

Instead your interactions are thus:

You have an occasional cinderblock you wouldn’t feel comfortable throwing in the tiny lagoon you mostly hang out in, or the notably smaller (and cleaner, and calmer) rivers you swim in these days.

So, you walk down to the bank of the river of lost dreams and sulfuric nightmares and throw that cinderblock as far as you can to see what sort of massive splash it causes, and what horrors lurking underneath its surface will temporarily breach to snap and bite and thrash until it goes back to a flowing, nauseating shit-river.

Anyway, that’s how I tweet.

I wrote up this massive framing entry to prepare to write a meaningful weblog entry about what we’re all calling AI but is just “throwing so many GPUs at the problem that our inherent need to find fellow souls in the darkness does the rest”. I call it “Algorithmic Intensity” and started the journey of writing a contextual entry to give my thoughts considering 40 plus years with computers, hype cycles and expectations of technology.

I ended up not doing it, primarily because a lot of the same effort that took writing weblog material and doing presentations is mostly taken up by The Podcast. The amount of paying subscribers has dwindled over the six (!) years it’s been recording, but those folks do help with my medical bills and other costs, so they’re kind of getting the best of me, and definitely the best of my efforts. I mean, don’t worry, I like you too, errant reader from beyond the screen – but those folks keep my office rented, my doctors’ visits stress-from-bills-free and allow me not play Old Yeller with my domains.

This balancing act, of doing free and by some definitions altruistic sharing of information with the nitty gritty costs of material goods and services and vendors is the absolute classic conundrum, and lies at the heart of many an Internet Presence. One of my credoes when I’m talking to people who want to do some sort of endeavor is that Every Person Is At Least Five People when it regards to ongoing concerns that produce work on a persistent basis. Someone blasting out an epic every half-decade or so aside, if you find a “person” doing “a lot”, the chances are that that person has other people, friends or collaborators or employees, who are doing some of the lifting. To consider those people lone wolves is usually a fallacy, and therefore there are somewhat-hidden costs or measures of contribution that are leading to the thing you just … get to have.

I’ll save some comments on AI for the end. Let’s get to why I’m writing this at all.

The cinderblock I threw into the Twitter crap-stream was a comment that Google had made yet another user interface/experience shift, and in my opinion, this took a number of skirmishes the company has been waging against the idea of the world wide web and moved, intentionally or not, into outright war.

The actual content of the thread is sort of irrelevant to me; but just to satisfy curiousity, I was essentially indicating this: Google forcing, by default, to a majority of users over time to see a generated summary of the output of the aggregate browsed sets of material out on the internet, especially at the low-quality they’re doing it, is a fundamental shift in the implied social contract that allowed search engines to gain the utility they have. I did it in a handful of crappy tweets and was literally in between some Gyoza and my Sushi lunch and when I noticed sometime later that I was getting tons of notifications (I don’t have twitter as a client on my phone anymore, so I didn’t get buzzing or beeps or anything) and when I ran the analytics that the account has, the numbers were fucking ridiculous:

“My child has been kidnapped; if you see a grey Toyota with red stripes, call the police” deserves those kinds of numbers. So does “I, person responsible for ten years for this beloved product or franchise, was just summarily fired for unknown reasons”.

“I think Google made a boo-boo” absolutely does not.

But justice doesn’t exist for this sort of lottery, and I watched the flaming pyre of attention gain millions of (partial) humans and tens of thousands of “Engagements”, and I have a general rule about all this.

All this to say that once we’re up to this level of froth, whatever’s coming out of it has the stretched-almost-transparent feel of an already flimsy nylon sock over a 55-gallon drum of toxic waste. Twitter used to be amusingly knockabout in the variance of Opinion Tourists who would stop by for a quick hit; now it’s just a series of either “didn’t read” or “I am stopping by because the only way I feel anymore is the resistance from sticking a blade against your rib cage”.

On my cold read of the actual responses with actual words, they are best summarized as:

  • You say AI-generated summaries are a step too far from Google. I do not like previous Google steps.
  • It’s actually all great and you are old. (Someone called me a Boomer, but heaven’s sakes, I’m Gen X)
  • Everything is terrible and this is terrible and you are terrible
  • Herp Derp Dorp Duh (Rough translation)

Let’s waste the time with what I was bringing up, in a slightly cogent fashion:

For sure, Google has both innovated some amazing accesses to realms of information (Maps) and often provided a (usually bought from someone else) product that many might find useful (Mail) and has done services which take advantage of their well-funded technology to provide a nominal benefit to the world (the DNS server). They’ve also, in their quest to make the web “better”, leveraged their near-monopoly on browser engines and search engines to create “programs” and “policies” that are little more than “make it better for Google” (AMP comes to mind, there’s many more).

Google’s constantly manipulation of web standards to suit their needs does not make them special; they’re just the assholes with a hand on the steering wheel for now. And like previous holders of this title, they’ve poisoned, cajoled, forced, ignored and ripped their way through standards, potential competitors and independent voices and figures along the way.

Picking out any specific sin (or “hustle”, as shallow techbros like to call it) is usually a Sisyphean task, but in the actual thing I was referring to in my tweet cinderblock, it was a program that Google implemented where an AI “summary” is showing up in a growing set of mobile and desktop instances (customers), completely choking off anything one might point to. I called this a declared war against the web. It is not the only war. It is not only warfare against the web. Picking it apart reveals chains linking to a thousand points of contention. I’d hoped to avoid AI discussion for some time but here we go.

I have lived through a variety of “revolutions” and hype cycles of said revolutions, and the fallout and resultant traces of same. I did a documentary about one. I enjoyed living through the others, although with time it’s been a case that I was often not old enough or given enough perspective to truly look down the sights of what was going on and derive a proper horror/entertainment from the various ups and downs.

And now, one version of a type of software that has been around for a long time is suddenly on everyone’s minds. It’s being used to make a variety of toys. A number of people are hooking those toys up to heart machines and bombs. And I’m fifty years old and I get to watch it all with a pleasant cola in my hand.

I’m profoundly cynical but I’m not generally apocalyptic. For me, what’s being called “Artificial Intelligence” and all the more reasonable non-anthropomorphizing terms is just a new nutty set of batch scripts, except this time folks are actually praying to them. That’s high comedy.

Also, my eyelids are growing heavy and I literally have to caffienate myself to keep talking about it. Fundamentally, there’s as much excitement for me in the “potential” of everything AI as there was for double-sided floppies, sub-$500 flatscreen televisions, console emulators, USB sticks, MiniDV cameras, and discount airflight. All of them enact change. All of them are logical innovation. All of them stayed, morphed, went. At no point in any of them did I have apoplexy or spiraling mental breakdowns. Life went on.

Regarding of “something should be done”, the point of my original planned weblog entry was to refer to the Aboveground as something some AI companies were doing – straddling that balance of “we are too new to be regulated or guided” and “it’s too late, we’re basically ungovernable”. My attitude is that Algorithmic Intensity should be punched in the crib, given a solid going over. I had a conversation with one AI person that “farm to table” tracing of the source material being trained on would be a must and that companies should be devising ways to provide that information. He said it was impossible. It is not impossible.

When I mess with this stuff (and I have accounts on a bunch of these services, that I mess around with), I have a fantastic time. I am doing all sorts of experiments and try-outs of the tech to see if it has uses for what I deal in, which is scads of information. My response continues to be, as it always has for something new, that setting the old stuff on fire to “force innovation” is a sign you are a world-class huckleberry. The main change in this particular round is I can’t remember a time we had so many people showing their whole and entire ass by saying “I can’t wait to fire ______ because this MAKESHITUP.BAT file is producing reasonably full sentences”. What a lovely tell. In my middle age, being able to have something go “beep” when a time-wasting numbnut has entered the chat is a golden algorithm, and the speed at which companies and individuals have been willing to throw everything out, reputation-wise, is a glorious moment.

Which brings me, again, to this specific Google situation.

There’s just no way the high-fructose syrup of the kind of answers these “smart agent” responses are giving in search engines will last. A number of people on Twitter told me that if a site could be summarized in 200 characters by this, they never deserved to exist anyway. Problem is, the 200 characters are NOT summarizing the site. It’s not even often good! It might get “better” but ultimately companies like this do not have the ability or skill to generate new creations or do helpful works – they can only remix and re-offer, buying out the same collections or licensing access. And if those terms are not good, they’re going to lose a lot of money buying back trust.

I don’t like writing about non-timeless things, but we are in a phase right now and that phase is both fleeting and extraordinarily entertaining to me. As I said to a friend recently,

“We get to be 50 and watching this all go down! Front row seats!”

How this all shakes out, what parts stick around and what snaps in half, is for luck and spite and challenge and response to decide. If the best people always won, our world would look and feel a lot different. But while the fireworks and trumpet blasts echo through the landscape, I’ll save a seat for you.

A Never-Ending Block Party —

Kerfuffles are Kerfuffles. Causing one recently, with its particularly low-stakes aspects (what’s done is done, no actions appear to be planned, I’m already doing things differently, etc.) allowed me to at least re-visit a policy I’ve been somewhat silently instituting for years.

I block. I block frequently, quickly, and across every single medium that consitutes “communication” in the contemporary era.

I’ve been doing it for well over a decade, but somewhere after my heart attack I upped the frequency and dropped the level at which the “block” action gets enacted. It is very, very easy to find yourself unable to directly communicate with me via the method I blocked you.

Why anyone would possibly care that I do this (beyond the people I block) is not entirely my responsibility, but I think there’s a point, so let’s keep going.

First, I’m rather easy to find and communicate with. I have many channels of ingress, from phone numbers and e-mails to social media and streaming. I do this mostly because I’m trying to be there when people have materials to donate to Internet Archive, or if they’re in distress and need to reach out to someone. Both these situations happen more than one might think. I appreciate both when they do, and do my best under the circumstances.

But the downside is that people can reach me very easily and all your instincts that there are spectacular counts of truly damaged individuals who have effortlessly acquired internet access and spray their damage around the world like some urine-filled lawn sprinker are, as I can personally attest, correct.

At some point, depending on how far back you have persisted online, there was this unspoken contract that you gave someone multiple bites of the apple to show how awful they were, under the theory that the first interaction was an inadvertently bad impression. That contract is no longer in effect. That’s a large contingency of folks gone; the masters of showing up in the middle of a conversation or communication, unbidden and unwanted, and dropping absolute bile into the stream. One strike and they’re out.

Occasionally, I even pre-block. I block people who, when I see them interacting with others, I have no overly powerful urge to envision ever being a part of their online lives. I suppose there’s some fundamental Fear of Missing Out that could be ginned up regarding them, that they might end up saying or doing something that I should know about, but I’ll let others tell me. There are a non-zero amount of times I’ve seen people say “Foobatz69 has a point” and I go look them up and I’ve blocked Foobatz69. Maybe I’ll peek in. I probably won’t.

Less obviously, it goes the other way too. In a notable amount of situations, I’ve blocked people because I recognize that I’m going to be the problem, that what I do and how I approach things are exactly the sort of activity that makes a given person or account go ballistic or switch to attack mode, so I save us both the trouble. I occasionally hear they’re confused. I do not seek to explain why. They continue to live a normal and happy life, and I continue along with mine.

So, why bring this all up?

Well, first, occasional this-and-that publicity has provided me with the ability to see discussions about myself in which a small number of blocked folks commiserated about the whole “Jason blocked me” situation and of course many have taken the Imagination Express to Injustice Town to describe a situation where I could possibly have come to the decision to block, and the general consensus will be some variation of a degredation of my mental health.

It’s quite the opposite. My mental health has never been better.

Outside of absolute buzzbomb cornhusks dropping corossive misery at every opportunity, there were a range of folks who I truly admired and respected who, upon my looking back retrospectively at our interactions across years, totally lacked warmth and friendliness from their position. Literally every response a vicious insult and somehow, I’d considered this a pleasant and comfortable dish to be served down the front of my tuxedo on common occasions. Their blockage is literally medication, a salve, an ointment. I’m free of my delusion that they are friends.

And again, there are folks who, I find, are going to be nothing but negative energy in my life, at a time when I am growing older and don’t see much need to throw my body and life into a deep dark well of irrelevant free-floating rage, never to be recovered or rewarded.

And you know? On at least a half-dozen occasions, which is more than any reasonable person should experience, I’ve had individuals who, upon being blocked and clearly indicated their presence and communication were unwelcome, proceed to track down and find every single communication channel still open to them and begin upping the energetic demands I explain myself. I’m talking chat systems, phone calls, e-mails from various addresses, and asking friends of mine who might still have contact with me to “put in a word” to “set the record straight”. In other words, I have entirely too many examples where people I had a bad feeling about have gone absolute full stalker mode, in a way that they would never imagine themselves as such, but absolutely are. On two of those six occasions, it happened physically.

None of those half-dozen are being unblocked. That was not the solution to the percieved issue.

I’m sharing this not for some sort of support plea, or to indicate I have a hard life. I have the mathematical opposite of a hard life.

I’m sharing it on the off-chance that someone reads this, realizes their relationship with someone or someones online is actually a massive negative energy drain, or rife with abuse, or simply a case of not realizing you’ve left a pathway to lightweight harassment that can do nothing but increase. If that’s the case, trust me. Block, block, block. Report and block. Mute and block. You will feel parts of your soul unclench that you didn’t previously understand were balled into tights fist of stress and simmering disaster. I’m involved in dozens, sometimes hundreds of interactions in a given week, and I do it. You should consider this your license to do it as well.

If this helps two people, it was worth it to discuss. And it’s already helped one, and that one is me.

I Continue To No Longer Attend Vintage Computer Festivals —

As should be expected, a number of individuals have come forward with responses to the initial blog post. While I do not expect everyone to take even a passing interest in the rabbit-hole of the situation or the context, I figured it was worth writing a few quick addendums.

Naturally, as is the case when you post anything anywhere in public, I am called a liar. I’ll simply say that everything I describe in the blog entry happened. I contacted a VCF administrator and was told it was all disposed of, and that they kept the bins. I am fine with people claiming that disposal was not what happened, but this is what I was told, directly, in human words. The fact that I am seeing contradictory and confusing descriptions of what happened is not a checkmark destined for the Win column.

A few people have rushed to indicate that I need to be more careful describing “which” VCF entity is at fault. I am sad to report to them all that the Byzantine VCF structure of name licensing, geographic branding, and internal corporate entity is meaningless to anyone six inches away. You all know each other and you all interchangeably use nomenclature. If you are part of an organization that calls itself some form of “VCF” and need an opportunity to write a statement about how your organization in a solitary/separate entity and should be considered more worthy or ethical than others, feel absolutely free.

A small sliver of people were concerned I was saying that I was never going to go to any computer history conference or event again. I am a free person with the freedom to attend whatever is open to the public. As it stood, however, VCF East was the easiest event for me to attend, so it was where I saw people the most. A minor point is that I considered attendance a form of endorsement, but that is my own personal choice. The chances of me attending other events is, like death by cow, low but never zero.

The rest of the discussions I have seen from the blog entry, raging in the usual stages of social media and posting forums, have failed to require any further response or thought from me personally.

Finally, this is all relatively minor in terms of the work I do and projects I focus on, an event that brought me some fury but which has mostly played the part of filed under “life lessons”. I just got tired of having quiet inward emotion when I was reminded of the event, specifically when VCF announcements would pass by my screen, followed by nice folks asking if they would be seeing me at the event. Now I have made a statement, and rather than the beginning of a saga, I consider it the end of one. My conversations with people and organizations I shift materials to are much longer, much more involved, and with much more contingencies as a result of this event, and things are better for it.

I Am No Longer Attending Vintage Computer Festivals —

I spent some time trying to figure out when to make this announcement in a way that didn’t seem like direct sabotage; the day before the VCF East event seems about right.

Years ago, clearing out the Information Cube, I donated its contents to roughly 10 organizations, carefully splitting things up for the best home, as I’d been entrusted with these materials by many great folks who believed I’d make the right choices. Videogames went to the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment, books and many printed materials to the Internet Archive, piles of game-related magazines went to the Strong Museum of Play, multiple sets of Wired magazine went to a scanning group, and so on. This was a shipping container worth of material, so we are talking dozens and dozens of crates, received by trustworthy and great folks across the entire country.

Among these donations were a set of publications, mostly IEEE-related but with a few other sets of titles, to the Vintage Computer Federation, based in New Jersey. The donation was roughly this:

To make this donation, I paid for the containers, filled them, put many issues in bags, and then rented a truck to drive them the roughly 70 miles to the VCF headquarters in Wall, NJ. There I dropped them off and went home. This was roughly 2017.

A number of years later, I contacted the Vintage Computer Federation to ask how the magazines were doing, if they were part of a project, or if I needed to transfer them elsewhere.

I was told they tossed them out. Every one.

However, I was told, they had decided to keep the plastic boxes, and were making use of them.

As a result, I’ll state clearly: I have no intention of attending the Vintage Computer Festival or doing any sort of interaction with the VCF team again.

I’m mentioning this because I went to so many of the festivals, I know people would be expecting me to go, and I get mail every year looking forward to my attendance. I have indicated I would not be there, but not totally explained why. Now I have. I consider attendance to be an endorsement of this action, and I am fundamentally uninterested in whatever clumped-together set of words they might consider an apology. The concern is dead to me.

I also want to take this moment to clearly state that Evan Koblentz, the director of the Vintage Computer Federation for many years, who took the original donation, had absolutely no say or part in this pulping of historical magazines, having been driven out of the organization years before. Evan has always been a steel beam of dependable honesty and directness in all the years I’ve known him, which is bordering on decades at this point.

There’s not much else to say. Go if you want, but I won’t be there. Hopefully I will see some of the nice folks I know from the event in other contexts. Otherwise, it has been quite real, and they’re memories I won’t trash for their containers.

In Realtime: Digital Heaven (And a Call for Donations) —

Imagine an epic of nine years having a happy ending.

I’ve written so much about what is now called the Manuals Plus Collection. Let’s go find those:

If you don’t want to walk those, I’ll make it simple: I got word in 2015 of a collection of manuals inside a business that was getting out of the business, and while a lot of well-meaning people talked a good game, they wanted to cherry-pick (people getting rid of stuff hate cherry-pickers), and I drove down to show I was serious, and after a week of work with MANY volunteers and contributors, we ended up with pallets of documentation inside boxes, numbering something like 50,000-60,000 manuals. (A rough estimate.)

Then they were stored in a storage unit. Then they were stored in a closed coffee house. Then they were transported to California. Then they were stored until last year, 2023.

Last year, a group called DLARC, doing digitizing and indexing projects around ham radio and radio technology, worked with me and the archive to sort out a few pallets of the manuals for products related to the history of radio/network technology, and off they went overseas to be scanned. And as of this month, the evaluated, professionally-scanned and available-to-the-world manuals are beginning to show up in this collection:

The Manuals Plus Collection

Like, it’s happening! It’s happening. It’s happening!

Like anything else open at Internet Archive, you can search the text contents (which are being automatically OCR-ed). You can download the original unformatted jp2 files in a zip. You can download a PDF generated from the jp2 files. You can read it online.

Either this is the first time you’ve heard of all this going on, or you’ve known about it and wondered whatever happened to that mass of manuals.

They’ve been kept in safekeeping, awaiting their moment. We reboxed them, and in fact, transporting them from MD to CA was the last major project I did before my heart attack. It might have been the last thing I ever did for the Archive! That would have been a pretty good way to go out.

But here, in 2024, the final stretch is going on.

And now, the pitch.

The group doing the digitizing does lots of digitizing for the Internet Archive. They are well-paid and legitimate professional contractors who are sent the items, and who do careful scanning to the best of the materials’ ability to provide access to the information, and then do quality checks, and then upload them. When they’re humming, they’re processing a pallet every couple of weeks (with lots of mitigating factors). They’re going to get through the four pallets sent to them from the DLARC sorting very quickly, in other words.

I’ve negotiated a situation where, if money is sent in, the remaining pallets that should be scanned can just be sent along without sorting them for DLARC funds, DLARC will fund any that happen to overlap with their mission, and the rest will just be done.

That’s if money is sent in.

How much money? We’re still working that number out. It’s going to be somewhere in the range of tens of thousands of dollars. So I’m looking for both big-ticket supporters (who can mail me at or individuals. In all cases, you’re just going to donate to the Internet Archive itself, which is at and your donations are tax-deductible. Telling them you’re donating to support this project will help keep the project funded. (There’s a way to leave a comment, and if not, send me a note you did it and how much).

We’ve already sorted these things into pallets, and we know a subset of these (HP and Tektronix) are scanned elsewhere and don’t need to be specifically done this way. This leaves just the historically vital and informationally wonderful manuals dating from the 1940s through the 2000s. As they’re popping up, each one is a gift.

If we make less than we need to scan them all, then we’ll only scan up to where it’s paid for. I believe we can close it out, but if the interest/money isn’t there, then it isn’t there – fair enough. Browse the collection as it grows into thousands of manuals as it is and consider if you want to be part of all that. That’s definitely happening.

But what a happy ending it would be to push all these manuals through the process, and close it up. That’s why I’m popping up to talk about it, and why I hope you would consider contributing towards it, for a non-profit that deserves your support generally.

Meanwhile: It’s happening! It’s happening. It’s happening!!

Preparing for the Incoming Computer Shopper Tsunami —

There’s no way for me to know where your awareness starts with all this, so let’s just start at the beginning.

Computer Shopper was a hell of a magazine. I wrote a whole essay about it, which can be summarized as “this magazine got to be very large, very extensive, and probably served as the unofficial ‘bible’ of the state of hardware and software to the general public throughout the 1980s and 1990s.” While it was just a pleasant little computer tabloid when it started in 1979, it quickly grew to a page count that most reasonable people would define as “intimidating”.

In a world that saw hundreds of magazines and thousands of newsletters come and go about technology and computer-related subjects, Computer Shopper was its own thing entirely. Not only thick as a brick, but clearly opened to anyone who waved cash and covering vendors who were selling computer components down to the individual part level. You might have a good set of ads in PC Magazine but to browse over price lists of capacitors, power supplies and wiring, the massive monthly Computer Shopper issue was going to be your go-to.

There were two other aspects to Computer Shopper that has given it a halo of intrigue and positive memory: First, the paper was incredibly cheap, newspaper tabloid level by some eyes. This seeming disposability infers a weird sort of honesty about the advertising contents – it is what it is, it represents what the actual pricing is, and what’s actually available. The lack of pure slickness in the printing process was a baggage of “look, I’m lucky if we survive another month and this is the straight up price we’re offering” across the many hundreds of ads in a given issue.

But second, was the full-bore willingness to seemingly absorb anything computer adjacent into its pages. Pre-fab computers and commercially available software was listed inside, sure. But if you were selling tech clothing, clips, floppies, tapes, plugs, paper, switches and accessories… you had a home there as well. It gave a truly manic and freewheeling melee to the affair, and for those of us who wanted to know more than the standard 20-30 software packages everyone was buying, or to think about smacking together a bunch of parts to get a mutant-powerful system up and running, this was the place.

To a smaller set of us, the BBS Listings in the back were also a very notable aspect. BBS operators across all the spectrum of cliques and locations thought of Computer Shopper as the BBS yellow pages, the phone book of the online, for almost its entire run. You flipped to the back, found your area code or state, and downright eye-watering levels of BBS listings were waiting for you. Inaccurate? Sometimes. But a truly unique assemblage of what was.

That catches us all up to what Computer Shopper was. Like many print-based computer magazines, Computer Shopper grew in size into the many of hundreds of pages, some greater than 800. It thrived in the world before the World Wide Web took hold, and once you could do daily updates of parts and prices at various websites, the months-lag in printing schedule and the lack of responsiveness compared to websites made it lose curry, favor, and eventually pages. It died a quiet death in 2009, becoming a barely interesting site and then an uninteresting zombie.

Still, it was a heck of a run.

People often ask me the same basic questions regarding old computer history and access to it. One of them is to discuss potential holy grails, possibilities of where some effort might be afforded to acquire potentially lost information or artifacts before they’re gone.

A common go-to for me was Computer Shopper, because it’s a perfect storm of absolute fascination and completely intolerable amounts of barriers towards digitizing it into something readable online.

  • It’s fantastically huge. If you scan in an issue, however you do it, you’re talking hundreds of pages for that month, all of them requiring babysitting to ensure they got through.
  • The cheap, cheap paper is a nightmare to run through a scanner – either a flatbed-based misery or a sheet-fed scanner that’s one molecule of damage away from crunching pages up.
  • The gutters (space between the spine and the information on the page) is offensively small – millimeters where there should be a half-inch. Especially towards the 1990s era, the instructions to advertisers about layout clearly didn’t make many bones about informing folks about margins. This means the books have to be split apart, a despicable sin that strikes against the heart of the pure.
  • These myriad, no-gutter, cheaply-printed pages are both tabloid size and never considered text too small to allow. This means that not only is the page size not going to fit in 95% of the consumer scanners out there, but they’re going to need to be scanned at the highest level you can, to not miss anything. The page size, digitized, is going to be offensively huge.

So, the prospect this would ever happen was basically zero. You needed someone who had the time, inclination, and support to do what was going to be one of the more painful scanning projects extant.

It turned out to be me.

So, there I was whining online about how it was 2023 and nobody seemed to be scanning in Computer Shopper and we were going to be running into greater and greater difficulty to acquire and process them meaningfully, and I finally, stupidly said that if we happened on a somewhat-complete collection, I’d figure out how to do it.

And then an ebay auction came up that seemed to fit the bill.

Out in Ohio, someone decided to sell nearly 200 issues of Computer Shopper for a few thousand bucks.

It’s important to understand the usual per-issue prices for Computer Shopper, and that usual per-issue price can get as high as $50 an issue. Obviously, at some large scale, this becomes an untenably large price. But in this case, they were being sold for about $13 an issue, which is not zero, but somewhere in the realm of manageable: About $3,000 for the lot.

Now, I’m not going to have $3,000 to throw around like that. So I put the challenge out there: If people get together and give me $3,000, I’ll buy this lot and scan it it.

It hit goal in about 3 hours.

As you might have figured out, delivery/mail was not an option. To make that happen, I reached out for a volunteer, and a few people came forward, including Wes Kennedy, who made this his main project for a few days. He’d left one job and was starting another a week later, and “picking up all the issues, packaging them carefully, and putting them in the mail to Jason” became his fun-cation. He deserves all the kudos for this.

When 14 large boxes arrived, they included all the issues, put inside large paper envelopes and wrapped in blue plastic that definitely didn’t look like cocaine to the storage unit guys I cruised past.

So all of the issues were now safely within my control.

One might be inclined to say “Well, that’s only half the problem.” and you’d be off, because it’s actually less than a quarter of the problem. Acquisition, after all, was just money – buying issues in bulk and ending up with a good amount of them was just a case of assembling some cash.

No, it was definitely the scanning that was going to be the big …. issue.

If not obvious, the pages of this tabloid-sized periodical are not just big, they’re over the bounds of pretty much every scanner out there, at least in the consumer space. (There’s plenty of large-format scanners past the $5,000 range, and they’re also gargantuan affairs, meant to handle blueprints and posters.)

But I did find one commercial scanner that could do the work: A Fujitsu fi-7480 wide-size sheet-feed scanner, which tops out at about $3,500. I’ll simply say a kind anonymous donor bought it outright so I wouldn’t have to crowdfund for it, and for that I’m eternally grateful.

Here’s what dealing with that process looks like, with the scanner software (Vuescan) set carefully to neutral and pulling in the massive pages through the fi-7480:

…which brings up the situation involving the pages.

Now, about 12 years ago, I really raked someone over the coals for destroying copies of BYTE magazine to scan them. He was not happy about this at all, and there’s a chance he may have stopped his project just not wanting to deal with such criticism. I hope not, but I do stand by the fact that he indicated he was immediately disposing of the pages after scanning them, which meant any mistakes or oversights were permanent. (At one point, he mentioned having to fish a page out of the trash when he discovered he’d skipped it.)

At that point, I made a declaration of my standards for debinding/pulling apart a magazine to scan it:

“IF I have a document or paper set that requires some level of destruction to scan properly AND IF I have three copies of it AND IF there is no currently-available digital version of the document AND IF there is a call or clamor for this document set THEN AND ONLY THEN I will split the binding and scan at a very high resolution and additionally apply OCR and other modern-day miracles to the resulting document so that the resulting item is, if not greater than the original, more useful to the world.”

…I should have added an OR.

“…OR if there’s very little chance of anyone ever being able to assemble issues to scan in the foreseeable future.”

Because that’s rapidly what was happening with the Computer Shoppers.

$13 an issue is perhaps quite a bit, but people want even more for individual issues and it will be a bit of a stretch to actually acquire them all. So, even though I don’t own 3 copies personally, I also know the other two potential copies are passing among collectors at this point, so they’re being held, in some way, in trust. It’s my hope that I’ll eventually have a chance to do this work for all the issues, but until then, I work with what I got.

Debinding, the taking apart of a bound issue of a magazine to turn it into a stack of papers to scan in, turns out to be a process. A painful, time consuming, involved process. One which I knew would be involved but not as involved as it has definitely turned out to be.

Luckily, people have come before me. There is a rather beautiful documentation out there, about the best practices in debinding magazines, from Retromags. They walk through the pros and cons, the potential issues, the considerations while doing it, and the most common pitfalls that will befell your project if you don’t stay on top of them. I read this like the Book of Life before setting off on dealing with Computer Shoppers, because their “how to ski” primer was going to be critical as I skied backwards down a double-black-diamond slope of these bible-sized monsters.

In this case, I have to use a heat gun, aiming them at the glued issues of Computer Shopper, warming them up until the glue starts to become slightly liquid and then carefully pulling the pages apart from each other, placing them on a large table I’m working on. If the glue comes too close to the pages after I pull them apart, it actually sticks them back again. It’s a huge mess, and with hundreds of pages in a typical issue, hours of work.

There are banger groups out there working tirelessly to debind magazines, scan them in carefully, fix any issues with the looks, and upload them to various locations. One of them is Gaming Alexandria and it’s been a pleasure to fall in with them and discuss the nitty-gritty of this process. They’re scanning in obscure periodicals at scale and they know what they’re up to.

In fact, we’ve made a deal, where I’m just focusing on the “Raw Scans”, and these raws will go to them for post-processing, creating a more readable or functional set of final readable versions of Computer Shopper for people to appreciate. The Raws will always be available, of course – 600dpi TIFF files scanned neutrally of the original pages, placed together in mothra-sized .ZIP files that number up into the many gigabytes, for people to pull down when needed.

A scanned page of a typical issue looks like this (with a little size reduction for this essay):

You can see immediately the difficulties and intricacies of this project.

Like I indicated, there was very little care for margins, and none for minimum size of text. Computer Shopper advertisers did whatever they wanted, however they wanted, and into newsprint, which further made things whacky because bleed is a major issue, pulling the other side’s ink into the current one. And all of this on a massive piece of paper – so in total, the original TIFF file of this image is a full-on 20 megabytes – and this issue has over 400 pages.

And before I forget to mention… I did a test scan with an issue that I had two copies of, to work out any major bugs and problems. And one major problem was that there was a roller at the top of the feed scanner meant to separate a stack of pages into single ones and feed them in properly. Well, that roller grips the page so tightly, it started to pick up ink and put it on later pages, leaving streaks on the page. A quick browse through the service manual, and I had to remove that roller entirely. This means that I have to feed the pages in, one by one, since otherwise it’ll stick them together and jam.

Through all of this, we’re talking hours of work to do a single issue, and I have to do it a couple hundred times at least. This is going to be quite an epic task… which is, again, why we’re down to me doing it because the combination of cost, time and effort leaves almost nobody else who’d be in a position to be able to do, much less want to.

We did one issue, February 1986, “all the way through”. I debinded it, cropped it, scanned it, handed it to Gaming Alexandria to process, got it processed, and then put it on Internet Archive, resulting in three sets of images: The Raw Scans, a “Readable” version and an “Aesthetic” version.

The “Readable” version has been heavily processed and contrasted. It makes it very easy to read a page because it has a really nice dependable color setup for it:

Contrasted with the “Aesthetic” version, that looks more like you would expect the newsprint and bleed-through original to look:

I personally prefer the “Aesthetic” – it brings me back to the way things were when I would buy Computer Shoppers at the local Microcenter and scour them for information and inspiration. But a researcher, and more importantly an Optical Character Recognizer prepping things for searches by researchers, will much prefer working with the Readable version.

Now, Here Comes The Pitch.

So, I live here now.

For the next however-long-it-takes, I’ll be debinding issues, doing careful scans of them, then putting the resulting piles of pages into baggies and sending them into cold storage for permanent holding, awaiting the next time they might have use, or to redo a problematic scan. That’s happening. I’m just going to be on this all year, when I can.

But this effort of mine is rather meaningless unless there are real humans and smart scripts going over what’s being produced.

By a back of the napkin calculation, there will be at least 100,000 and more likely 150,000+ pages of Computer Shopper issues scanned during this project. There’s going to be a lot of them, and they’re going to be jammed full of information, imagery, embarrassment and glory.

I really hope that a group of people, together or separately, start using this bounty to rip out BBS listings, find trends in pricing and nomenclature, in tracking down humble beginnings and finding other amazing tidbits throughout computing history.

It’s nice to drop 400-800 pages at once into an item, but unless I get some of those nerds out there scouring the pages for interesting things, it’s just me scanning into a void.

If you know people will be interested, help them become aware. And if you see something interesting, bring it out and make it part of sharing, wherever you want to.

This will be an incredible amount of work. Folks threw thousands of dollars into acquisitions of hardware and paper and I’m going to blast a lot of my personal time into scanning these.

Make it worth it.


This entry got a lot of attention. Two questions arose, and I’ll answer them both here:

Are There Missing Issues?

Yes, there are. Here’s the list. If people want to donate or buy good quality copies for me, mail me at Here’s the missing issues as far as I can tell:

  • Everything before November 1983
  • 1984: January, October, November
  • 1985: October
  • 1988: June, November
  • 1989: April
  • 1994: April, May, August, November
  • 1995: February, March
  • 1996: April, May, June
  • 1997: July, September
  • 1998: January, May
  • 1999: April, July, August

If people send them to me, I’ll take them off this list. So if this list is here, I’m still missing them.

Can I Help Support You?

Just enjoy the Podcast. I spend a lot of time on it.

The Great Aboveground Empire —

I’m about to write an essay that will lead to mass misinterpretation or out of context quoting, and before I get into that situation (intentionally), I have to create this entire sidebar to talk about a social construct I’ve observed over the years. I’ve spoken elsewhere about the Inside Out, but this is a different online (and offline) situation to that. Very quickly: The “Inside Out” is my belief that there are people who believe they are in private spaces online that are in fact not private at all but they’re absolutely convinced of it and the resulting friction is nearly blinding when it comes to a head.

What I’m talking about is something else entirely.

It’s a situation where people want all the cachet of being outside the boundaries, in lawless territories where you survive on the wit and bravery (or brutality) of Taking The Initiative and damn the costs and risks, but also want to be protected and safe with all the constructs we in Civilization provide so you don’t wake up with your throat slit and your pockets turned out.

They want a fictional in-between place that doesn’t bend to the “inconvenient” rules and yet lets you summon them in a moment’s (or hour’s) notice when the game doesn’t go your way and you need to get the DM to re-roll for a Natural 20.

I have my own term for this phenomenon: The Aboveground, a mystical (and profitable) land where people want to believe they’re under the radar, being all subtle and hidden, when they’re actually functioning in plain sight.

(This is very different, I should note, from people who are functioning in an underground manner in plain sight with knowing intention of being watched and findable, just doing so in a double-switchback situation that means they function in that environment. Most people don’t actually want to take on the burden of this, but some do.)

I’ll give a hypothetical that I’ve used before trying to explain my thinking.

The Underground wants to do sketchy shit, so by word of mouth, everyone knows to meet over at Ken’s house, and Ken has a separate basement door entrance, so you know to park down the street and go to Ken’s house and let yourself in the gate and knock on Ken’s basement door and Ken lets you in because other people said you were cool. Once you’re all in there, drinking beers, everyone gathers up the stuff you’re going to do sketchy shit with and you head out into the woods and do sketchy shit.

The Aboveground wants to do all the woods stuff, except you meet at Starbucks and post it on multiple forums and tweet about it using some stupid codeword and also you want a sign at Starbucks telling people the Sketchy Shit Club meets around 6pm every Friday.

The simple fact is, we’ve been spending so many Herculean efforts to bring every single aspect of life online and make communication by massive observed networks and corporate-owned byways and highways that many people don’t even see these worlds as anything other than “the world”. From that lack of perception comes the continued desire to stay out of the eye of the public, or at least out of the eye of authority, to do neat or weird stuff that others might not approve of.

And yet, the fact is (or should be) that doing risky things entails risks. Playfully pop out of the window of your pal’s car to get on the roof to goof around, and you might injure yourself and die. Modify electronics or equipment to do something neat, and you might cross a wire and bust it up permanently, or (again) injure yourself. Take stupid chances, win stupid prizes, right?

But the growing denizens of the Aboveground don’t entirely like that. They’ve either internalized or integrated into their worldview that somewhere, out beyond the bounds of sight, they will always have a safety net, a ramp or an apparatus, that will ultimately provide comfort and rescue to pull them back from the abyss.

And to be clear: It’s an awesome deal if you can get it.

I, myself, have absolutely benefitted from taking wild swings at the fences and going out into the darkness with a flashlight and a prayer, emerging messy, sweaty, with a few cuts and a recurring nightmare about what almost happened there that one time. In my mind, the idea that ultimately, whoever or whatever found us would first try and get the injuries handled at a hospital, or would probably toss us at the edge of the border with an admonishment to not come back, was always humming along in the background, warm and safe. I’ve certainly walked in the Aboveground and fooled myself with the illusion that I wasn’t.

But that’s the point: The Aboveground is the Aboveground but it’s also the Illusion of the Underground cooked into it.

Perhaps that’s where I started to sour on it all, and recognize it for what it was: Cosplay for Hardship; a Kabuki Theater of acting out the long-worn tropes of the outlaw you once were, wearing the new business suit of what you actually are.

The Aboveground is a template that fits in hundreds of situations.

The reason I bring up this thought experiment and sidebar is related to the two most frequent times I see it in use, personally.

First, it’s what I started to see over the years as I would attend a lot of “hacking” conventions, where it was clear that the realms of curiosity and risk were being traded for 401(k)s, contract-driven shrunk horizons, and the safety and dependability for family. No shame in that. But yet, as that morphing and breaking out of the rebellious chrysalis happened, there was an insistence, or, more a demand that the strange, confused, brilliant and deranged hacking mentality be worn as a faded t-shirt or jacket throughout the process.

Hacking conferences are, in the present sense, overly Aboveground – they have to be. There are contracts signed, real names writing real checks with conference centers and multinationals that price out damage and vandalism, along with an at-call internal and external security force primarily focused on Stopping Crimes…. and yet people either still do the crimes, or they pretend that in some way, some squint-and-you-can-see-it version of being an outsider still persists with your name on the room and a credit card for the flight that brought you here. It’s endemic, marbled into the aging steak of these events, and it’s why, with very very little exception, I only attend ones I both like and which I can drive home from the same day.

And then there’s the other situation.

The entire technical industry and infrastructure space, especially the really “disruptive” ones, has progressively built itself not only on the idea that you should ignore the rules until someone actively stops you or you can get bought out, it nearly depends on it.

Fat with venture capital, bloated with many levels of management and oversight, and exhibiting absolutely no understanding of what represents long-long-term integration into the operations of humanity, good and bad, they instead chose the Aboveground lifestyle.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s hard for someone with a family or maybe even harder when they don’t have one, to turn down gargantuan once-the-province-of-kings level of wealth in doing whatever it is this company does and leaving the hard part, the question of what the ramifications are, to others. In fact, the whole idea of the Aboveground company is to let others deal with the ramifications. Find a weakness, a difficult thing to pull off in the realm of humanity, poke untold wealth into its eye and make the other eye think it’s seeing you, a fake thing, as a real one. Do this so much, you convince yourself there was no other way. Composed, as you are, of people with no allegiance and no cohesion except “we’re all in this together and the train’s left anyway”, the skies are literally the limit.

But in slow motion, and now fast motion, we are seeing the consequences. We see innovation corralled for its thrust potential instead of its energy and focus. We watch good minds convinced that their mundane-as-dishwater job is that of a scallywag aboard a Pirate Ship with a Heart of Gold.

And most notably, when the ship runs up on inevitable rocks, we watch as these Aboveground rebels slip back into the darkness, forgetting the mess they made, and ready for the next “no other way” disruptive orgy to commence.

Consider me old or throw your names at me as I strike a little close to your home. But that’s what happens when you’re Aboveground: Your voice carries very well and very far. Because you’re not in hiding and there’s no blowback for your senseless, consequence-free experiments of “what if I fuck with it”.

So, when you see me lob a few more words in the general direction of a cool, awesome group of rule-breaking rebels, this little declaration should be harmonizing my writing in your mind:

You’re Aboveground. You’ve forgotten what Underground even is.


When I speak about a truly Underground situation, I also want to recognize that along with risks and danger come the fundamentally unjust, heartbreaking, exclusionary and despicable environment that this situation often brings. While the tales of incoherent mayhem and hilarious anarchy might represent entertaining memories, more often than not you have participants who remember those tales as simply traumatic. Underground does not mean inherently mean “good”, “good old” or “original good” in any way. We move beyond this situation for a reason.

The Aboveground, however, will have a tendency to bring along those very same traumas and miseries as being flavoring, spice of the experience of being as cool and awesome as the Underground must be, and meet the same resistance that any reasonable person might respond with when faced with them. The annoyance, the infuriating aspect of it, is that the cries of “we’ve lost something” accompany the protests the Aboveground meets. It’s literally the worst of both worlds; the other choices must be better.

Discord, or the Death of Lore —

I chose the life, it didn’t choose me. I could have walked away from it a long time ago, and I’ve certainly shifted my focus over the years. But I still hold the heft and halter, the one standing at the death of all things, and while it means a lot of moments of rescue and recovery, it also means knowing, looking across at that which thrives and bustles, the desiccation and destruction to come. The only part of the fog of the future that’s guaranteed is the moment it switches from theory to a wall of iron and then darkness.

All this to say: Discord.

Twitter, in its own death throes, its own misery, will always stand in its later years as a fantastic tool for raining down misery and pain on others with a simple “quote tweet”, and I’ve been guilty of such on the absolute regular. Few of my tweets maneuvered past 100,000 “impressions”, but this one most definitely did:

The last I checked, that tweet got the attention of over a quarter-million individuals and/or machines, and the next two follow-ups got a smaller amount, but are still worth noting:

There is absolutely nothing new about Discord, say people with experience of IRC. Of course, they’re wrong: Discord has speed, ease of use, and (at this point in time) general societal acceptance far beyond IRC. IRC is a bouncer looking you up and down and asking you to do a small dance of proof of worth before entering a text-only cave of obscurity; Discord added skylights, pretty lights, cross-platform access and verification, and centralization, not all of them great additions but very welcome for their intended audience…. who is now everyone.

I’ve been on well over 100 discords, and I’ve run or in some way moderated a half-dozen. They’re good for fast spinning-up of projects, to glom a bunch of humans into a channel system, and not have to deal with Slack’s oddities, or the ridiculous on-ramp for IRC. At one point I asked for people to send me invites to the weirdest Discords they were members of, and I can assure you, there’s weird ones indeed. And the capacity is notable – walking through the halls of particularly “hot” Discords with literally hundreds of thousands of members, especially when active, is to walk through a space station hosting an all-star concert as it blasts through the darkness.

I have no disputes as the popularity of the places, the things that happen there, and the unquestioned vivaciousness of being the party that never seems to end and everyone wants to join.

I just happen to be the sort of person who notices there’s no decent fire exits and most of the structure is wood and there’s an… awful lot of pyrotechnics being set off.

Discord’s official birthday is 2012, but it’s really 2009, when OpenFeint was created.

OpenFeint is the pile of bones worn into the foundation of Discord telling us it was built on land that will very occasionally flood to great catastrophe. It was founded in 2009, was given a huge ecosystem of plugins and support, gained ten million followers, took in roughly $12 million of known VC investment, was sold to a Japanese company in 2011 for $104 million, and was fucking dead in the ground by 2012. By the flickering light of its Viking funeral, Discord was founded and the cycle began anew.

Spare me the “they learned their lesson speech”, and please store it in this garbage can I’ve already stuffed with the “it won’t happen again” and “you don’t know what you’re talking about” bags I tend to get. It will happen again; it’s just a matter of when.

The main considerations I have are what will be lost.

When the free image-hosting site ImageShack made the realization that they were losing buckets of money hosting images for free, and shifted over to a subscription model that also cut off legacy accounts, deleting them in fact, the question was who would care. Perhaps the original uploaders of the images, too cheap to pay the additional fees of a few bucks per month, or maybe someone who took amusement from this image or that, but probably had downloaded it anyway?

No, what this did was decimate warehouses of lore.

It turns out, in the breadth of time, ImageShack was the unofficial official clearinghouse of diagrams and illustrations of web discussion boards that had limits (or difficulties) hosting images. Sure, most of the boards had software that allowed you to upload to them, but ImageShack was very easy to host with, and the results were fast and simple and could be rather large when needed. This was very helpful for technical diagrams and explanations that would cover (at the time) larger resolutions of graphic information.

So, when ImageShack killed what had been 13 years of these illustrations, they definitely probably saved the business, and they ensured everyone who was hosting with them was truly engaged, but they also lobotomized hundreds, possibly thousands of forums and discussion groups and absolutely wiped an entire collection of reference documents from the web at the same time. Walking through some of them (before they, themselves, died) was walking through a bombed city, its institutional and cultural memory pockmarked with “pay us to see this stuff” placeholders.

Documents are documents. Books are books, recordings are recordings, and so on. As time has gone on, though, I’ve observed the probably obvious-to-others fact that Lore is the grease between the concrete blocks of knowledge, the carved step in an otherwise impossible-to-scale mountain, the small bit of powder sprinkled through a workspace to ensure sparks don’t fly and things don’t burn. Inconceivably odd to the outsider, but vital to the dedicated or intense practice of the craft.

Certainly, the ideal situation is lore is inlaid into a framework of knowledge. As the joke goes, there’s no real conflict between herbs and medicine – we took herbs and the ones that worked became medicine. In the same way, the lore of knots became the rules of the sea and the lore of practiced building that was vital to share across long distances of time and space became engineering. This is an overly simplistic view, but it holds true that “lore” joins “knowledge” in a very haphazard fashion, usually relying on someone so driven to push the process that they create a 400 page behemoth of writing that is gleaned by social calls and favors into the story of How It Has Been Done.

The danger in this process, the potential lost ballast in the rise to the skies, is that the lore-to-knowledge transfer is lossy, messy, and arbitrary. Maybe those in the know want to keep the information to themselves, so it won’t be given to whoever the person or persons are who are laying down the written form. Maybe the chronicler of information has blind spots they don’t know about and not enough people to correct them. Or, more likely, you have to set the “noise filter” of the information to not go down the rabbit and rat holes of contingencies that maybe a dozen or two people will even want to know about, to the favor of that which everyone will need. The outcome is always the same: Lore loses in the long run.

I’ll take a quick diversion to say that we do see attempts to whip lore into shape on a shared basis, be it Quora, Yahoo! Answers, Reddit and Stack Overflow – all of them centralized entities, some of them better than others, and all of them fundamentally unstructured compared to a “book” form factor but infinitely searchable and fungible to the needs of whoever is wandering in, even if they must know three-quarters of the solution to get the actual final part.

Discord, in the decade and change it has lived, and especially once it took off beyond its initial social and classification groups, has exploded exponentially in all the parts it plays on the remnants of the Web. Time and again, we see a Discord rise that represents a subject general or specific, a grouping of dozens or hundreds of folks interested or entangled in the subject, and then a massive growth of channels and direct messages rising from that clumped “community”. Some of the results are droll mostly-silent channels with occasional flares of conversations, while others are waterfalls of discussion and write-once read-never rants and dumb questions, punctuated with someone asking a question for the hundredth time and someone answering a different way.

There are more Discords than you realize, and more lore pouring into them than anyone can truly comprehend. They are not the exclusive spigots of lore but they’re a major pipeline, a notable artery on Knowledge’s Heart that we would definitely notice if, for whatever reason, it was clogged with Mission Shift or New Opportunities cutting it off.

The two-line discussion at the center of my first public lambasting of Discord’s nature is telling, not because of the individual who responded as they did, but the situation they were unintentionally highlighting:

EmoSaru is not evil or a paragon of Knowledge’s Destruction; they’re a shopkeeper noticing that fresh tomatoes aren’t selling as well as ketchup and ketchup is cheaper to keep on the shelves and lasts longer, and everyone who might come along and complain about losing fresh tomatoes aren’t buying said beloved tomatoes. They’re following the wind. Only fools stay in the field when the herd has gone in from the rain. I highlighted them just because the exchange was, as they say, el perfecto.

My grandmother would always scold me, lightly of course, about my cartoons I’d draw on paper because I wouldn’t use both sides of the page; my personal belief that it would bleed into each other wasn’t part of the argument, just that she had long memories of doing without and making do with little and she wanted me to not waste the (temporary) bounty before the next (inevitable) hardship.

To that end, I am, again, the angel-winged herald of the Death of Discord and I only wish to highlight what might blunt the pain of the inevitable decay and destruction of what it is.

In the unlikely event that Discord sits across from me at a table and asks What Exactly Do You Want To Leave Us Alone, my list of demands is both logical and impossible:

  • Right now every channel is meant to be both transient and permanent. I know that’ll never change, so create a new “Lore” or “Archive” channel where the moderators tap on wisdom and preserve-forever statements or threads, and they get added over there. Think of it as “Pinning” but they’re pinned forever and there’s a bunch of them.
  • Make it possible to export this Lore/Archive channel to a reasonable file, like JSON or any other text format. Hell, make it a feature for “Discord Nitro“, which is obviously a part of the “oh crap, we need to prove we can make money with this thing” phase of the cycle you’re now entering.
  • At the very least, consider some sort of “FAQ” feature/contingency that does a similar function to the old-style FAQs, so people can contribute sets of knowledge in a structured manual instead of an endless search for terms from everyone who ever touched a server.

The unlikely event of them sitting with me across a table is doubly joined by the unlikely event they would implement anything like I’m asking for.

Consider this me walking through and pointing out the wood structure and lack of fire exits, and if someone did the work, even if it cost a little extra, a lot of people will be a little less sad down the line.

And when the inevitable does its inevitable thing, maybe we can all sit down and talk about what could have been.

…just not on Discord.

The Grind a Day —

4am doesn’t suffer fools, or repetition. Or mysteries. Focused out of nowhere on tinkering with an Apple II a number of years back, they re-learned the whole of how the unique floppy disk system worked, how it could be manipulated, and then, ultimately, how legions of companies and individuals used those manipulations to “protect” commercial software.

Left to just that level of knowledge, this would store 4am in the cattle car of all the people I know of and deal with on a frequent basis. They’re the reason so many people know the penguin gets fat on the second run-through of Mario 64, or that what a fast-load cartridge actually does for a Commodore 64. Maybe not enough, probably too much.

But 4am is an engineer, and also a documentation writer, and also the aforementioned resister of dumb and deja vu, so not only did we end up with examples of crack writeups that rival a 1930s pulp story for adventures and twists, but also a series of increasingly complex and intense tools for the simple goal of removing the protection from Apple II software.

Somewhere in the middle of this journey, now well into the realm of a decade, came John Keoni Morris and Applesauce, itself an overengineered-for-the-purpose multi-tool that started with doing flux readings of Apple-only floppies and then expanded out into masses of other related systems and setups, and all allowing us to be broken free from chains.

To my great delight, the two creators of these projects don’t entirely hate each other, and share very similar goals, and listen to each other within reason.

The result is that years in, there are literally thousands of floppy disks that are definitively captured digitally, remixed or presented as packs of files, and offered without crushing pre-requisites or unseen gatekeeping. It’s all just… happening. If you’ve not paid attention (and you are quite welcome to not have been doing so) let me assure you that Apple II disk preservation has been flying at a speed and quality that almost no other platform enjoys, except Commodore 64, and C64’s surpassing comprehensiveness has come at great unpleasant costs.

As collections and piles of floppies have turned up, an amateur army of Applesauce owners (including 4am) have absorbed these plastic squares and turned them into files, literally rescuing them from oblivion. The to-be-expected reserves have been exhausted years ago, and we’re in the realm of the rare, the newly discovered, and the open hailing frequencies letting previously-unaware people know there’s a home for their boxes of floppies to be turned digital from the merely magnetic.

This all to say, the result of this set of happy accidents and personalities combined with the strange alure of this commercial computer platform and the relative sturdiness of the engineering has resulted in a renaissance of access to the old software. My small contribution has been to ensure that the old software has a permanent-as-possible home.

4am, however, rises to the top again and again.

Sitting at the Internet Archive, is the 4AM Collection, an Apple II collection of cracked software (cracked “silently”, meaning no title screens or destruction of function in the name of getting it out the doors), that numbers past 3,000 individual titles. And because we have an emulation system in place, you can click on almost all of them and begin interacting with them immediately, often instantly.

The pure existence of this collection, that it actually works and is available all the time and people use it by the thousands, also stands as a perfect example of what I’ve come to realize: Accomplishments fade, to the accomplished. People who are in the business of getting things done take very little time to wander out to the veranda to look down among their completed tasks and not move, quietly jiggling a beverage. They’re back inside working on the next thing, or trying to shore up a devastating (to them) flaw in their work they glanced at the last time they ever looked back at it.

Meanwhile, this collection (still growing) represents a foundational location to some audience, the size of which I can’t easily discern, who are just living in a world where thousands of Apple II software packages are ready to go at the slightest itch to make it happen.

The use of Passport and Applesauce means that when 4am gets new floppies, either by purchase or donation, they enter a well-oiled machine and process, which reads the disks, cracks them (or asks for help cracking them, before they are then cracked and everything else like them will be cracked in the future), and uploads the new ones to the Archive. There’s a lot less time to get bored, find it repetitive, and get a hold of the inevitable excuses to do anything else.

There’s lessons in all this but I’m not convinced they’ll reach the right people.

Speaking of lessons, the point of all this congratulatory fog of words is to bring out a hard lesson I learned due to a secondary 4am project: WOZ A DAY.

Applesauce pushes out three general types of disk images in its work. Fluxes, which are to-the-bit accurate portrayals of the magnetic flux of the floppy disks. Files that are just the data inside the floppies, and a third type, WOZ format.

Flux reads are huge, owing to how they’re being done, and can be 20 megabytes for a single floppy which would normally be 144 kilobytes. The files of JUST the data are usually the exact same, that is, 144 kilobyes.

But WOZ files are another beast all together. They shift; they are different sizes for the different unique aspects of that floppy disk images. WOZ, in other words, is a standard disk image but with an entire additional layer of information about the layout of the floppies and additional data shoved into them for the purposes of copy projection.

In the context of the end user, a WOZ file, booting inside a WOZ-enabled emulator, will boot with not a single solitary byte changed in the name of preservation, or a single solitary microsecond mistimed in execution and speed from the original hardware booking the original magnetic black square.

If you start up Choplifter! as a WOZ, you will experience Choplifter! exactly as you’d have booting something you picked up at the local computer store. For people who might have only played cracked versions, modified towards being copyable and easily transferred over modems, it might sometimes come off as the program being “wrong”. But no, it is you who is at fault; you remember something else, a simulacrum of what Choplifter was at the time.

The aforementioned process and automation on the part of 4am has resulted in WOZ-A-DAY holding over 1,500 individual commercially released programs in its collection. This number is astounding; for most individuals with a glancing and maybe even deep knowledge of Apple II software lore, they will be very hard pressed indeed to recall any program they bought in a store (or wished they had), or to find any commercial product advertised inside a magazine, and not bump into it among the hundreds contained here.

It is among the high crimes within my personal penal code when someone hears tangentially of a major project like this, spanning years, and coming back with “Well, call me when they have ______” without even checking, thinking they’ve added anything of value to the discussion. What they generally have done is withdraw another 15-45 seconds of my life to tell them that yes, this collection has Prince of Persia, Apple Galaxian, or Copy II Plus among its stacks. It has so many more, not just games but utilities, applications, educational and genres yet undefined.

Walking these exhibits myself, as I’ve done over the years, it feels like we’re looking at both a memorial and a testimony condensed into an object. After all, to know how amazing a game like Dung Beetles is, and being able to point to that specific URL to instantly play it, seems like a high watermark. It shouldn’t just be a simple case of the name and year of the program and then you play it – surely we can do more.

Already, WOZ A DAY and the other 4am collections stand as the kind of puffery discussed at a game convention or around a table on the second day of a tech meet, a wishful thinking of “someday” that could exist. I’ve sat in on those conversations, and yet here, absolutely, is the real thing.

But it’s thin. You are told a game exists here, you can click on it and play it. You do not get context, documentation, links to magazine articles and ads and all the other pieces of a program’s life that came through the world as it was sold.

Worst of all, the Internet Archive is absolutely brimming with the information I’m talking about – digitized magazines, flyers, books and recordings discussing these very items.

So, at one point, I decided it was time to do something about it.

It failed and I wanted to talk about why.

To understand what I was going for, I put in the time for Hard Hat Mack, a pretty straightforward platformer game from 1983, which has gotten the WOZ A DAY treatment. I spent time and tried to pull up everything about this game – write-ups, interviews, reviews, announcements, alternate versions and trivia. I created an item that would reveal Hard Hat Mack’s full spectrum of information and allow someone who played the game to also enjoy the world it was part of. Or, conversely, for a student or researcher to grab footholds in the history of the game.

If this sub-project started and ended with a handful of items, it’d be a success.

But there’s a lot of items.

After spending some weeks rounding up people to contribute entries in the same style of depth, tracking contributions and sharing the duties, only a handful ever got the treatment. I have mostly shut the whole thing down at this point.

So, what exactly happened?

Well, it comes down to a rather tricky situation – there are jobs/tasks that will only bring in fanatics if by fanatics you mean people being paid for their time. And those jobs/tasks will likely never get any sort of funding to do so.

They’re the worst of both worlds – profoundly boring, utterly necessary. No amount of rah-rah work, no reframing of the whole thing as a competition, “do it for the good of it” situation will obscure the fact that it is very difficult effort that should be compensated.

4am happened upon the secret – write code to do the boring parts, then make more and more parts boring; figure them out utterly, until there were no choices to make, and then code that followed those no-choice journeys thousands of times. But rich, interesting descriptions and lists of tangents are not the province of automation, yet, and so the WOZ A DAY remains as, simply, a spectacular selection of Apple II software, much of it rare as can be in the form it exists.

I could cook up some other schemes to get an army of people to do this work – fundraisers, “hackathons” and livestreams come to mind. But at the moment, things are stable, and I tried to do the experiment and have a lot of data about what worked and didn’t work in the process. We got a handful of nice items updated with their history, and I learned a lesson.

Maybe, sometimes, we take the lesson, and move on.

Priority and Process —

The reason I’m doing a bunch of entries around the theme of “A couple people asked, so here’s a long and drawn-out answer that touches on a host of considerations” is because the era of “I am on multiple platforms that harvest my low-level brainwaves and let me make two-sentence jabs masquerading as insight” is coming to a close. In its dimming light, I can make out the glow of people wanting to know some of the opaque processes I engage in, either as inspiration or a warning.

That approach (one focus drains, another rises) is the core of how I do everything, so let me answer the curiosity of a few people who wondered why I choose what I do and how I do it.

The usual caveats: One person’s approach to life, especially as described by themselves, is an observed artwork, not a curated manual. Priorities shift and opportunities flicker and fade, and it’s not a good idea to have made your priorities or opportunities the defining (or worse, only) aspects of your life. In a year I could read all this and laugh at that deluded bastard, unaware of the Coming Thing that will make any of it irrelevant. Consider this all a gentle introspective song played in words and not a thundering drumbeat demanding you march in lock step.

I am also focusing on my Internet Archive era, not how I approached things back when I was a systems administrator and doing documentaries on the side, that is, a documentary filmmaker who administered systems to pay his travel and camera equipment costs. I’m talking about 2011 to the present.

With all that out of the way.

On a personal level, I’ve been speedrunning a game called “Die With The Least Amount Of Confusion About What To Do With Your Remaining Stuff”, and professionally, I’ve been running a project called “Die With Maximum Finished Projects Lacking Interest By Co-Workers And Reasonable Public Levels of Awareness Of My Efforts”. Both are going quite swimmingly.

It’s bright-line obvious and easy to cleave my Internet Archive era into before and after my 2017 heart attack.

I’ve described the situation at length before, even doing so onstage, and I’ve touched on the themes and lessons that came from the event. But functionally, the result was my realization of how entirely arbitrary existence is. Reality provides the experience of going from Zero to Dead with alarming frequency; but even more troubling for me was the inaccurate signaling my body provided that anything was wrong.

You would think 99% blockage of a major artery on the heart would be really really intense, a thunderstruck pain shifting all priority, but it was mostly an annoyance until it was a misery. But even the misery was just that – an ache one might get from sleeping poorly, or having eaten an undercooked potato, which I’ve done once or twice. Only with a number of experts and authorities showing me exactly how dangerously close I came to ceasing and exactly how that happened, am I even able to articulate what went on. No sense of conclusion had come to me beforehand, no overriding awareness of a chapter and possibly the entire book closing.

It was Luck, but also a Lesson. Things will shift in an instant, and I am likely to have little warning beforehand. One moment delicious meal, next moment oblivion. And with that outlook, a lot of stuff came into pretty sharp focus and a pretty deliberate roadmap came into being.

Building on what I said a couple entries ago, cleaving my possessions into items held for myself and items held in trust for others betrayed a ridiculous ratio, something on the order of 99 to 1. For every memento of a person or experience that I was keeping close, I had dozens and dozens of magazines, floppies and pieces of equipment I took on just because I was worried nobody else would make the effort. This outlook had resulted in a shipping container of materials, and when I finally put together the process of transferring most of them away, the resulting movement of material was, frankly, shocking.

Thousands of magazines went to organizations and tens of thousands of items went into the Internet Archive’s physical archives. Monitors went to museums and individuals, and gaming systems went to yet more locations. By the end of it all, I had divested so much material to more permanent homes, that it would be assumed I’d had absolutely nothing left.

And, comparatively, absolutely. It was less than a couple storage units worth, a sliver of what it was, and that description is where it remains today. In a recent consolidation effort, with a number of volunteers, a single truckload was able to take the contents of all the remaining units and put them into one, and while the view of the remaining storage unit could seem dire on first view, it is not:

A heartening sign is that a notable percentage is furniture and vintage equipment, particularly nice pieces that are not compatible with my current living situation. A good amount are books I’m either going to donate, or which I’m going to bring back to a bookshelf in my home.

And then, in an amount I will be able to better quantify soon, are the Things Held in Trust; floppy disks, cassette tapes and typewriters, materials meant to have something “done” to them, after which they will go into some manner of permanent storage away from me. This is probably the majority of non-furniture and technical object items.

The remainder are a set of what would be called my Personal Effects – papers, drawings, pamphlets, mementos and a handful of artifacts from old jobs, old experiences, mostly meant as talismans for me, personally, to be able to recall people and events that otherwise I might have a harder time to remember. How many of THOSE could stand to be just digital and then stored away with a marking to toss them if people want, is part of the near future task set.

Now, for a moment, let’s veer into Everything Else.

Sitting in three physical locations around the country are collections of what a classifier might deem “Touched by Jason Scott”, that is, I am the instigator that caused the Internet Archive to acquire materials, with an eventual goal that either the organization at large, or myself, “do something” with them.

This is a lot of material. It’s books, software, papers, videotapes, and a smidgen here and there of the kind of weird gathered up miscellany that comes when you absorb the world by the truckload. I can’t estimate how much this is. It’s probably many tons.

This is waiting for me. If I work on it alone, and single-stream, it will never be done before I am 100 years old. It’s that’s much.

Luckily, I’m not working alone. There are collections that have a general mandate to be digitized over time, and I am but one of many potential parties who may do that work. There are others that will get pulled into other larger digitization and archiving endeavors that will come along in the future, during that madness when an entity comes along saying “We want to put this truckload of cash into a digitizing effort; what do you have available to work on as a set?”

Then there’s some sets that are definitely “mine”, in terms of I advocated for them, we’re holding them, and in the expanse of time I’m the top candidate to step in and start getting them pulled into an online form. I’ll resist distraction listing their classifications and stories, but just be aware they are in big pallets in a very large set of rooms and the second I address them is the second they ultimately get addressed.

Which, ultimately, brings me back to being in my hot little rented office, digitizing whatever materials with whatever equipment is working, as fast as I can, for as many hours as I can.

Permit me to join the legions of people for whom the Pandemic was and continues to be disruptive. Besides health issues, I did not visit the Internet Archive Headquarters and most of the physical archives for years. It put a pause on my digitization and classification efforts, while no pause was put on acquisition. (The Archive actually took in dozens of entire libraries of institutions shutting down during the pandemic, literal millions of books and items.) For a lot of 2020-2022, significant portions of my pipeline and priorities went out the window. I wouldn’t call everything “normal” now, but I am proceeding with my scanning/digitizing efforts full apace now, and doing activities of assessment and interaction that would have normally been done multiple years before they actually are happening.

Here, in the present day, things have gotten understandable and quantifiable enough for me to be able to finally address piles of to-dos that are within 10 minutes of my rented office, easy to pull in, do work on, and then mail away or store locally in a “just in case” contingency. I expect by the end of this year, I will have a reasonable understanding of where things are and where they will be going.

From then, it’s rinse, repeat. Take in each new block of promises and intentions, do the work, often on a stream, and go forward until I run out of materials, time, energy or health.

That’s the priority list: Do the media and materials I have machinery for, acquire machinery to do materials that I currently can’t, exhaust my local collections, then acquire the larger to-dos from Internet Archive stores and begin doing those to the best of my abilities.

Simultaneously, be aware of the fact that since I was unable to detect life-threatening health issues until it was past too late, it’s always possible that happens again, and I leave everything in a grinding halt, halfway through a project, with all my machines humming until they crash.

At that point, I hope that that what I’ve left behind is inherently obvious, in good hands, and understandable in case someone else wants to race the doomsday clock and make more items see a digital future.

If not… well, buy a Ouija board.