ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

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
  • 1986: December
  • 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.

How I Do It, Buffered By Cries I Am Doing It Wrong —

The last entry garnered an awful lot of attention. While I would normally write in such a way as to move around between unrelated subjects, sometimes I’m backed into a corner to do a follow-up or second part; the amount of people who have wandered into my field of vision to ask me for deep details of what they variously call my toolchain, setup, or approach has now overflowed my life’s efficiency.

Here is a quick time-saving suggestion: Skip everything I’m writing down to the nice picture of the videotapes. Then read what’s after that and don’t comment.

Still here? Let’s go.

There are many things which set me off, but few have been as consistent as Nerd Bullying, especially where people who consider themselves kings of very tiny kingdoms take their knowledge and smoosh it in a bowl with their social awkwardness and lack of cue-observing and come out of the gate with a way-too-overtuned neg-throwing style and tone criticism.

By all rights, this should be a minor, almost rounding error of an experience, but part of what I do on the daily is often a process or procedure and Nerd Bullies looooove these linear steps because it’s one dimension away from a flowchart and they feel they need to add one more dimension, one more fix, before it’s either better, or perfect.

Now, of course they have no idea what minefield they’re wandering into with me, or the disproportionate response it often garners when they’re “just helping”, but that’s also because I’m translating their words on the fly:

  • “Not sure if you’re aware” – Salutations, Dilettante Moron
  • “Pro Tip” – I think my opinion matters so much it should be canon
  • “Curious ______” – Everything after the word “curious” is always awful
  • “Why are you choosing to _____” – Everything after the words “choosing to” is similarly awful

And so on.

Their weirdly-framed criticisms or “Not a question, more of a comment” ends up doing nothing to move my needle, and in a few cases, gets a profanity-laden rant they are completely unsure how they signed up for.

Therefore, when people ask/demand how I “do” things, I tend to hesitate, because instead of providing Education, I feel I am providing Ammunition.

This is all, however, my problem, not anyone else’s. Of course people stumble through life, confused and various levels of paranoid, unsure if they’re doing the right thing or oblivious to the fact they aren’t. They found solace in the churning sea of life’s short run on a floating plank of easy-to-master geekery and in their minds it becomes an island from which to send up signals of their prowess before their bad diets send them into the darkness at shockingly high numbers and shockingly low ages.

And, of course, marbled like fine steak among this crowd are some truly generous and thoughtful folks, who honestly do want your opinion on what you do, realizing that someone else’s decisions aren’t edicts or judgements on their lives and choices. They benefit hearing the footsteps of another soul’s journey and taking warmth or warning from what they observe.

It’s to these folks I am now speaking.

Let’s get something out of the way: Depending on how you count it, I have, in my inbox, roughly 100,000 videotapes to process.

With numbers like that, choices are going to be made. Choices of whether to do anything much with it, how far I’ll get along in the expanse and functional reality of time, and what exactly a by-tape approach will take. I’ve spent a lot of time and a lot of consultation to come up with what’s going on currently, and the journey is not over.

Also, the choices are going to shift over time, as new opportunities present themselves, costs or income interfere, and long-term trends with the equipment and materials come to light.

At this point, I’ve digitized roughly 2,000 tapes. Last week I digitized 60. Who knows what next month will bring. My process is a snapshot, not an immutable declaration.

What I Do And How I Do It

One of the most variant choices to make are what Codecs your final video files are going to be in.

For the tapes of value or uniqueness, I am doing Lagarith, a chonky little codec which is lossless, and then compressed. It works out to anywhere between 25-50gb an hour. It is memorably huge. It has been around a long time, and it can be converted into a mass of lossy compression schemes down the line. It leaves the most options open in that direction. It is a pain in the ass to transfer, taking hours to upload and download. I keep them interlaced, again to provide the most options later.

For tapes where I will be dealing with many thousands (think, someone has recorded years of news programs), I use various types of MPEG-4, which is lossy (drops bits in the name of saving space) but gets the information across effectively, and the notably reduced disk space usage means that having a half-million hours of programs will be within the realm of cost availability. Should a tape go by that is so incredible it will need to be ripped via Lagarith, that command will arrive someday and it will be dealt with.

I do not throw out any tapes. They are all stored after digitization.

Currently I use an analog to digital device/card called a BlackMagic Intensity Pro 4k Card, which is about $240 and which does the job very well. It is compatible with a wide range of software, does not get flustered easily, and is not a massive mystery as to how it exactly works. It can work with HDMI, Component, and S-VIDEO cables, and I use the latter two. I currently have five of these cards in use.

I don’t care about brands of cables.

I use whatever cable is generally thought of as the “best” connection between the videotape deck and the outgoing signal. In order, that’s generally HDMI -> S-VIDEO -> Component -> Composite for me. Since none of the decks I work with have HDMI conversion (nor do I want it), they almost all are S-VIDEO right now.

The cables from the BlackMagic Intensity are going either into the deck, or through a “Time Base Corrector” which is located inside of a Panasonic DMR-ES10 DVD Recorder. The cable going into the DMR is either an S-VIDEO or a Component cable, but right now it’s always an S-VIDEO going into the card because why not.

I did not always use Time-Base Correction at the beginning of my process, but I use it all the time now. When you’re dealing with terrible, terrible, terrible tapes, you want to run them through this device, which helps with the signal to make it synchronize with the sound and not drop frames in a way that the result is a broken, fuzzy, off-kilter mess. If I don’t use it, it’s simply because I am dealing with the best of the best tapes, or I recently got a deck and I haven’t purchased one. In general, I use them all the time.

Finally (on the hardware side), I use a variety of VHS and UMATIC decks, and will be adding BETAMAX and BETACAM decks as well in the future. In general, I go for brands that are either well-regarded, or passable with my being given them for free playing a part.

Right now, the weirdest decks I use are SONY SVO-9500MD decks, which normally go inside MRI machines. They have very, very, very capability and they’re built like tanks. Someone who donated one to me had gotten it, and his insight caused me to love this model type very much.

I also use some variation of JVC S9600U SsVHS machines, because they have a lot of circuitry inside to take absolutely terrible tapes and make them look better. When I was dealing with bootleg rock tapes that are on their 3rd-5th generation, this makes a difference.

For the UMATIC tapes, I’m currently working with a SONY VP-5000 machine. This machine is hell on earth to work with, but when it all comes together, the image and output is very nice. The JVC and 9500MD decks put out SVIDEO, while this VP-5000 puts out a BNC connection I convert to component into the Time-Base Corrector.

Now you know the “Hardware Chain”.

For software, I am currently using Virtualdub, which is a rather old piece of video processing software, but which works very well for the straightforward “take in what’s coming on the BlackMagic card, and turn it into a file”. I can run two of it on a single Windows machine, with two BlackMagic cards in it. When I’m done with the files, I can use a third instance of Virtualdub to crop either side of the recording so I don’t have minutes (or hours) of blank space being stored in the file. So, in this way, Virtualdub is both a capture, and a finisher.

I do not process the files further. I do not de-interlace. I do not convert them to another codec beyond Lagarith. I put them on USB drives and I upload them as is, with the filenames as the metadata that was written on the tapes, if any.

Again, for the more “Tape to File” mindsets:

  • VHS or UMATIC Tape
  • Sony SVO-9500MD or JVC S9600U SVHS, or SONY VP-5000 UMATIC
  • Connected via SVIDEO or Component Cable to Time Base Corrector
  • Panasonic DMR-ES10 DVD Recorder being used as a pass-through Time Base Corrector
  • S-VIDEO and the Audio Cables into a BlackMagic Intensity Pro 4k Card for each Deck
  • Capturing video via Virtualdub for each card, running in Windows 10 or 11
  • Lagarith Codec, Nothing Special Added,
  • Cropped via Virtualdub and uploaded with Filename as Metadata

This is how I do, and this is how I do it.


Come back in a year, and I may have changed any part of this – this is not a final decision with no negotiation, although I have talked to more people than most might expect, and the choices here come from a real place and aren’t random.

The tapes are not thrown out, and can be revisited. I do not let myself worry that I get one shot with the tapes – in almost all cases, I’m going after tapes that would never have seen any treatment at all, so what I’m doing in the aggregate is already better than expected.

This is all very hard on the decks. I expect to go through many along the way. I do not throw them out when they break, yet, and will see what goes on.

My experience is USB digitizers (you plug the video into a little device, and the little device goes into a USB port) are not dependable.

Everything I digitize, I share immediately. People find errors and I have fixed them.

I am focused on doing the same thing decently enough 100,000 times, not doing a tiny handful of things perfectly. If you have 20 tapes to work with, no doubt you’ll be different. You may be different all the way down, in fact. Have a ball. Don’t tell me.

See you on the stream.

Archiving in the Time of Streaming —

Few things are harder to start than a narrative of the thing you “do” and what all the ramifications of it are. For people who don’t make it the center of their lives, your thing is already hopelessly complicated and gaining enough of a foothold to feign interest is olympic-level effort. For people who do make it the center, your description fills them with a never-abating dread that you’re going to get the explanation “wrong”, or that you’re going to give the Outsiders a bad impression.

So let’s begin at the beginning, again.

My parents’ divorce, taking place in the realm of the beginning of the 1980s, was not in any way friendly and in fact rather contentious. I wasn’t yet a teenager, and I was the oldest, and most notable for the purposes of this story, my mother gathered up her children and scooted off to first a hotel and then a location with family, without telling my father where she had taken us. In modern parlance, the term is “child abduction”, although I’m sure my mother didn’t think that’s what she was doing. Ultimately, connections were made, a nasty divorce proceeding happened, nobody was shot, stabbed, restrained, or attacked.

But in many presentations I’ve given, I mark the moment of being scuttled out of the family home into the great unknown of Outside The Neighborhood as being when my focus and awareness of the world fundamentally changed, because as she put things into the station wagon and tearfully told her kids to get ready to go, she also asked us to take what we needed. Which is a difficult question for someone in the realm of ten years old.

I needed a blanket and my dog.

Woven into the simple declaration take what you need are a host of world and perspective-changing understandings of what you and need are. Let’s not overplay the trauma aspect of it all, and focus on the concepts being dropped on me and my siblings, which first and foremost is a crumbling of rock-solid foundations. Foundations of family, to be sure, but also possession, consistency and location. Home was no longer an immutable realm, but split into multiple locations, one inevitably a favorite, with the other a shadow of the concept of home. Possessions stopped becoming things you could walk out of sight from and be a hundred percent sure (maybe 90-95 percent sure) they’d be there when you came back. And most effective on me was the idea that lack of effort to maintain the talismans and protocols of representation would result in a void. Put more simply: You’re the keeper of yourself and of what matters. There is no consistency that will protect you.

Like a lot of knowledge, this came at some level of heavy price, although I again stress the price is one many others pay at much greater cost. The fact remains that both my parents bent over backwards to provide opportunities, to ensure comfort and food and connection as best they could, and while I can sit back in my fifties and leave notes as to my parents’ actions in their thirties, my own thirties were spent in hacker conventions, shooting films and stumbling through my own home life, so I’m quite the unqualified judge.

This is all to say that when Chris Boufford showed me an acoustic modem in his grandparents’ spare room and how, by calling another number in Mount Kisco and putting the receiver of the phone into a cradle you’d suddenly get words on the screen, I had lived a life up to that point where two thoughts came almost simultaneously:

This is amazing.

I need to save this before it inevitably disappears.

I couldn’t have known that in the years afterwards, I would in fact collect so many artifacts from this thing, this concept of the Bulletin Board System, that I’d meet many of the people responsible for it existing, that this pile of artifacts would get a name and a branding, and that I’d collect it all so hard that I’d end up being associated with the concept of it for a lifetime. But I definitely understood, taught as I was during that painful childhood lesson, that inaction would be tantamount to approving its destruction and disappearance.

Calling as I did to many BBSes in my teen years, I’d focus on the textfiles, the message bases, the downloadable files, because they felt, I think, like special missives from beyond my little life and easily kept on floppy disks. When disks were the main way to store computer data for home users, you would encounter two kinds of people: folks who kept a small, special set of floppies representing what they needed, and others who had vast, terrifyingly large collections representing not what they needed but what they thought should be held in trust. I’ve gone through a lot of these collections over the years, and have seen rooms full of these things, hundreds and sometimes thousands, representing homemade bunkers of data. I had my own bunker, and while it was only a few dozen, the relative smallness of textfiles meant that each disk could hold many, many examples of these artifacts I thought deserved whatever long life I could provide.

At what point does a hoarder of data, driven by a sense of loss and of fear of same, turn from a mere accumulation of piles and end up with something resembling an archive?

I can point to various choices I was making in my teenage years with textfiles as the whole endeavor being more than just a private copy of things I liked: creating capsule descriptions of the textfiles for my own BBS, giving them unique extensions (HUM, PHK, HAC, PRO) to classify them in general genre headers, and attempting to keep the authorship and context of the files in the form of “buffers”, just saving all the output of a BBS to keep a record of where the files came from. I can find in my stacks actual essays I’d written about what these files were, and throwing my own writings in amongst everyone else’s so my own works wouldn’t be lost.

My college years were where all of it could easily have come to naught. New city, new goals, explorations and discovering my new set of interests could have led to my younger days and their collections being scattered to the wind. In a series of lucky maneuvers and chances across that period, I did not lose my textfiles and floppies and printouts, and they persisted for about 8 years in my hands and in the hands of a friend, David Weinstock, who kept things I was “done with” and critically asked me if I wanted them back. And by the time he asked, I did want them back. My own collection and archive, itself, came at the same risk of entropy and disappearance but the spinning wheel fell on “save” and I had them all again.

In my twenties is when I start creating The Warrens.

I don’t have a lot of handy photos of all the Warrens, and maybe that’s a compilation I need to add back here as I find them again. But over and over again, I turn wherever I’m living, or a single room within it, into a cramped, filled-to-the-brim, often deeply concerning space of materials. These will be favorite books, personal collections of memories, computer hardware and software, and an ever-growing set of amusements and pieces into my own functioning workspace. “Work”, in many cases, being the day-to-day activities of a geek browsing online things or playing with some sort of toy or tool, but surrounded by all the possibilities and options at arm’s length should my shifting focus switch to a new attraction.

I create Warrens a lot. Casting my net backwards, I count six of them, and each one a tiring memory to me, as I consider how much effort it took to build them up, and then inevitably pull them apart.

While it’s fundamentally silly to think each Warren was going to be the absolute last, there was definitely an approach and plan with each one to improve what came before. Bins instead of piles, thematic groupings instead of simple shelves of one kind of medium, and so on. Ultimately, though, they all have had flaws and they’ve all had a lifespan. My life changes and the Warrens soon collapse like a circus tent and travel to the next stop.

The site called TEXTFILES.COM caused me to regard not only my collection but the contributions of others, and the resulting documentary that I shot about bulletin board systems put me in a lot of homes with a lot of similar Warrens, and somewhere along that continuum, I found myself constructing an awareness of the types of items being collected by me and others, and giving them classifications. In more and more cases, I started to take on others’ collections as well, which forced me to think about it even harder.

Here’s what a few decades of this cobbled together in my mind:

When we end up with our physical and digital piles of material, there’s a couple grand classifications that help parse what we’ve got, and for some folks, they need this to process the next steps to take, especially if they’re overwhelmed. And those classifications are things that are you, things held in trust, and things held in indifference.

Things that are you tends to be stuff that you’ve created, be it writings, photos or saved data that represents projects or memories, and which is relevant as your trail of effect through your lived life. E-mails you’ve written, images you’ve made, and the inevitable works we consciously or unconsciously create as people. These items are not necessarily precious, but they are often rare – you have the only copy or item, only you maintain it. And in fact, only you may see any value in it or understand what it is.

Things held in trust are items that may or may not have deep meaning or relevance to you, but which you acquired from without – the downloaded programs, or bought books, or a six-foot statue you won an auction for years ago. You didn’t make these things, and there may be many copies of them, or you again might have the only one: but if they’re not part of your functioning life, then I consider them “held in trust”, as a caretaker keeps maintaining a garden or structure, towards some future.

Things held in indifference are all those pieces of life that acquire around a certain personality – ranging from discarded envelopes from packages you got, to motherboards and loose screws from machines long gone and pamphlets from trips and travel that you shoved into a suitcase and then forgot about. Some personality types (say, someone who remembers that time long ago he had to give up everything to take what he needed) might impulsively acquire things and then forget about them almost immediately. These collections can overlap with the items held in trust or the things that are the person’s own creations, as well.

When I give advice to people on what to do when they wake up one day and realize they have 2,000 CD-ROMs or piles of magazines they’ll never read, or stacks of VHS tapes of shows they bought 20 years ago and now will never watch, is help them reach the “end of the story”. People want a story, and they want the story to have a happy ending. I advise them on how to frame that story:

..but then, after asking a number of message boards and confidantes about what to do about this multi-gigabyte zip of Wojacks, the collector uploaded them to a website, finally resting knowing this long-gathered precious trust of meme juice would survive another generation. The End.

..but in a shocking twist, it turned out there was a weirdo working for an Archive of the Internet who wanted these stacks of CD-ROMs and floppies, and they offered a home which immediately cleared up that part of the garage, allowing the lawnmower to finally be stored inside, The End.

…having discovered that there are plenty of National Geographic issues to go around and there was no need to keep them around, our hero contacted a local old folks’ home and donated them to the residents’ library, where they were happily passed around and enjoyed for years to come. The End.

What is now past a decade working for the Internet Archive has meant that I’m working in both physical and digital concerns, and each one has challenges and its own peculiar qualities. Millions of items are being shipped to large warehouses controlled by Internet Archive, and millions of files and “items” are being added to the online presence. In some cases, they live in both places, existing in boxes in pallets in shipping containers in rooms in a building, and also inside a .zip file inside an identifier inside a search result on a website.

I’ve concocted ideas, then, on Archiving.

It’s probably as good a time as now to say that I am not universally beloved as a figure or authority. I am not a professionally trained archivist, but I’ve spent my entire life somewhere in the discipline, and it is not hard, if you seek them out, to find people who consider my very existence in the field to be a cavalcade of gaps in judgement by the world and by, perhaps, destiny itself. Why, in a world overflowing with top-notch expertise by individuals educated by some of the finest academic programs and concerns, would this street-wise dandy be considered the one to listen to?

Well, for one thing, I’m fuckin’ hilarious. But I also think it’s because I come to a lot of my conclusions and efforts from the point of view of ad-hoc need and not because I read somewhere that it’s where I should be putting my resources towards. I made a documentary about bulletin boards because I was concerned many of these people would die and there’d be no record of them and their perspective; and I was right. Doing this work put me in touch with lives and people who had collections that lacked a specific interest by established institutions, and so I was the one who helped keep them around, or even take them personally. And when the time came for me to join forces with Internet Archive, I was already strongly my own thing and it was a partnership, not a subsumption.

And so from this situation comes a pile of general credos and rules of thumb I’ve picked up in my travels:

Where possible, save the original. Where possible, digitize the original or maintain a digital copy. Ephemera and transient content is just as important to maintain as products and projects. Digitize at the highest resolution and fidelity possible, but realize you’re never going to get it perfect and keep the originals around, if you can. Make digital copies as widely available as possible, all the time, so it finds its value to people seeking it.

It seems pretty basic stuff, but some of it is hotly contested and virtual ink spilled by the gallon about process, style and considerations along the way. It’s what works for me, and on the whole, it’s been a succcess.

In this world-view, one of the critical parts of the whole aspect of “archiving” is making that digital copy of something physical or analog, using tools and equipment to do so. Naturally, “Born Digital” items merely need to be kept around and maintained, but items that are sitting in another medium or container need to make the leap over the Air Gap into virtual/digital reality and that’s where it gets complicated.

I’ve been asked, in all manner of ways, what the most difficult part of the process is – is it tracking down items to work on, or finding the right order, or devising which video container codec is best for a ripping of a VHS tape, the DPI of a paper scan, or which equipment stack is best for the job?

No, none of that.

It’s the crushing loneliness.

It’s the functional experience of facing down a pile of things that are in one format, and doing whatever steps are taken, over and over, to convert them into another form: the loading of the papers into the feed reader, the stacking of CD-ROMs into a ripping device, the constant movements of putting tapes into tape players and turning the capturing software on and off, typing in the filenames with metadata information as it’s done. Doing it endlessly, facing down hundreds and sometimes thousands of components in a single “collection” with lots of potential for mistakes, do-overs, unexpected failures, and all the bumps in the road for what seems like a very straightforward task.

It’s slowly grinding through a backlog of promises and easily-said agreements to turn This into That, and then finding hours, days, and weeks of your life drained out of you, resulting in barely enough data to fill a percentage of a modern hard drive.

The secret-not-so-secret is a lot of this work falls under “it should be paid for”, because it requires just enough mental capacity as to not be automation-ready, but the minute-to-minute joy of it is absolutely minimal, repetitive, and only enjoyable in the rear view mirror looking back at all the stuff you did. The occasional bright gem of something truly interesting and weird won’t make up for the hundreds of times you’ll be getting a necessary but basic item hoisted into digital, and after enough time, you just wear out.

When I started digitizing VHS tapes en masse, I did a bunch of research and asking a number of people how they approached the task, and an interesting theme of conclusions came out: Most were working with a specific set of items, and most of them burnt out after 20 to 50 tapes. Almost nobody went past that amount, even when they had many more to do.

My solution, then, was to Stream.

For the years I’ve been doing the fundamentally boring VHS and U-Matic tape ripping as part of my projects, I’ve almost always had a stream going on Twitch. It’s at and it has ranged from a non-camera showing of what was being digitized to a full-on just-short-of-a-televised-show experience, while I move through piles of cassettes stacked to the ceiling from donated sets.

In this way, I’ve digitized (at this juncture) over two thousand videotapes, with many more to come.

The initial work was being done out of my actual apartment, which made sense until it really, really didn’t.

The nature of this sort of project is spare parts, awaiting cardboard boxes, and a mildew smell that starts to hit you when you walk in. At some phase of life, this is tolerable, but just like separating things that are you from things held in trust, it’s better to have a dedicated workshop away from a living space.

So, I started renting an office.

It’s in one of those facilities where they have dozens of rental rooms and has a set of group amenities like a kitchen, copy room, and even meeting rooms. Obviously, it cost more than just stuffing everything into my home, but the separation has turned out to be particularly healthy, both in terms of knowing what lying around is my own stuff, and what is destined for long-term storage after being digitized.

After consulting with my friend Kyle, I re-imagined the entire “streaming” approach to be focused on the image, and having it both look good, and look informative. The result is striking:

People have asked what the huge monitor is, behind me. I’ll answer that one straight off – it’s a cheap LCD TV, purchased for my apartment and long-since superseded by others but still working enough to look fine on a camera. The lighting is from two $25 LED lights designed for the purpose, along with a webcam aimed down the maw of the U-Matic tape device, since I have to keep the top off anyway (constant cleaning). The camera recording me is a mirrorless DSLR (a few hundred dollars) in constant monitor mode, and sending it all to a HDMI-to-USB Camlink.

Some time in the future, let me go into further detail of The Setup and the Toolchain, which a certain segment of audience can’t get enough of, and another can’t stand a smidgen of.

Instead, let me say that what’s obvious, looking in the context of my full life with this endeavor, is that I’ve built yet another Warren.

Cameras and framing are very deceiving. The room is tiny, barely 70 square feet. The day I toured the facility and was sent the stack of paper I needed to sign up for a year of long-term residence, they included a “typical” picture, which is either my office or the one next to it, and the difference is striking:

Because of the equipment, it runs very hot in there. Because I’ve got all the projects going on from so many sources, it’s also a bit noisy. Filters on my studio microphone prevent my audience from hearing the never-ending humming.

Composing the dull, generic room that I was given into the cyber-scape of fluorescent dreams that now appears on the Twitch stream has been a multi-year project. Tapes and other products move in, get processed, boxed up, shipped out. Streams have been a few minutes or many hours, depending on what I’m focused on and what time permits. And because I have a dedicated space, I can be very loud, very intense, and be able to speak freely on subjects without worrying I’m ruining anyone’s living conditions or sleep. It has worked spectacularly.

But again, the real purpose of this Warren is to share – to share with people online (thousands of them, over the years) with what I’m up to, to have conversations or debates through chat and phones, and to be able to conduct myself in a way that doesn’t feel like a prison sentence, even if the space I’m functioning in resembles a jail cell a little too much.

I know this set of decisions and designs is not for everyone. Not everyone wants to yammer constantly while doing their job to a shifting, weird audience of onlookers. Not everyone feels they need multi-colored lights and a massive background video to conduct themselves, but not everyone is processing thousands of videotapes all their waking hours, with a dreary consistency that would have long-ago wrenched all joy and delight from the occasional discoveries. Even with my motivations to archive and share being life-long, and my individual cramped spaces being laboratories that I use to experiment and improve my processes, it turns out that isolation didn’t give me focus – audiences do.

Here, in the contemporary time of my archiving life, really an archiving lifetime, is me now trying to turn the promise of endless stacks of media and materials into digital form, to make them reachable to the world, before something, and there’s more than a few somethings up to the task, takes me out of the game. It’s a life born of a tragedy, but that tragedy caused perspective, and that perspective has given me an awareness of how much has been done and how much is left to do.

From my cramped Warren launches hundreds of recorded moments, and maybe, with the help of a kind set of eyes, I’ll get a lot more of the work ahead done.

The twitch stream is at See you there.

Infinite Inboxes of Infinity —

Carcinization is the tendency of reality to keep making things into Crabs or Crab-like creatures. (De-Carcinization is when it goes the other way, and in fact there’s evidence of oscillation between the two states.) It’s the sort of thing that sounds fantastically interesting, the shallow end of the thinking pool, but then leaves you confused as to what to do with that information – you can’t fully stop it, and there’s no reason you might specifically want to. And whatever crab-making is happening now doesn’t really affect you in the short or even long-term – it’s just happening.

What I discovered, this late in life, is I turn everything into an inbox. Again, I’m not sure this is going to change your existence or opinion in any way, but here we are.

In the dim mists of decades ago, I appear to have launched into a serialization of projects that I’ve never recovered from, making piles of to-dos and tasks and then attacking them, often at the expense of all else, for hours and hours. The earliest efforts of what became TEXTFILES.COM was me gathering textfiles from all sorts of bulletin board systems, logging in to grab copies and take text-based snapshots of what was there, then dragging it home into piles of floppy disks, with the goal of…. well, something. I started calling the disks “The Works, Disk _____” as I visualized, at 13, that I would one day have a BBS called The Works and these disks would be the starting seed vault that it would grow from. The fact this happened is quite remarkable to me, but it happened. The Works BBS under Jason became the Works BBS under David and then Matt and then Others, and I then took the textfiles of The Works BBS and it became a site, itself a collection of descriptions that came because I created a second Inbox, one of describing roughly 50,000 files by myself.

That all seems like a rather straightforward observation, except it turns out that nearly everything I am doing, in all situations, has become an inbox, a collection of waiting piles of transferred or fetched tasks that require some sort of response, acknowledgement, or process as a result.

All this to say, that’s why this weblog hasn’t seen a real update in years.

The dark side of a Life of Inbox is that if some inboxes are more pressing or easier to process, other inboxes fall by the wayside, because they either require Deep Thought or otherwise need my full attention, and my full attention has become a rare commodity indeed.

I started this site for, essentially, Essays. Thoughts that would be best explained in detail, and then referenced over time, where people could pick them apart or talk about them, or be able to explain my motivations or efforts in a laid-back, slow-cooked, contemplative fashion instead of the hottest bon mot to fly out of my keyboard. And for years, it was definitely that.

Two things took that away.

First, the Podcast turned into a receptacle for both my essays, and presentations I might give; 12-20 minute compositions about subjects I thought needed covering, offered in a way that both reached people, and allowed, through a Patreon, to help cover my debts and money issues over the years. For both those situations, it has been a runaway success – my debts are basically paid (although I do get costs like medical that crop up, and taxes still continue to be a bother), and I’m happy with the subjects I’ve dove into across over 200 episodes, which is a lot of episodes to be sure.

Second, social media is a very nice way to construct a simple outlook, a shallow formed snowball from some half-cooked ideals, and throw them into the public sphere. And that’s been fascinating in its own right, and led to crushing lows and exhilarating highs. I’ve been lambasted, treated like royalty, and made amazing connections via the various to-the-minute inboxes they represent.

But with the very real, very actual spiral of Twitter, one of my inboxes has cleared up with a puff of poorly-administrated smoke. Because of architectural changes, I’m no longer getting what the folks call “engagement” in a meaningful way, and Mastodon, where I find myself living as well, does not encourage the multiple-dives-a-day energy of Twitter (for the better of all, to be honest).

So, back comes this weblog, with the 2020s in full swing and the world grinding along, and it’s nice to be back. I try not to cover old ground unless it’s needed, so the Rule of Essays continues.

Let’s go.

The Full BBS Documentary Interviews are Going Online —

This year, the full 250 hours of interviews I conducted for the BBS Documentary are going online at the Internet Archive.

There’s already a collection of them up, from when I first set out to do this. Called “The BBS Documentary Archive“, it’s currently 32 items from various interviews, including a few clip farms and full interviews of a bunch of people who sat with me back in the years of 2002-2004 to talk about all matter of technology and bulletin board history.

That collection, as it currently stands, is a bit of an incomplete mess. Over the course of this project, it will become a lot less so. I’ll be adding every minute of tape I can recover from my storage, as well as fixing up metadata where possible. Naturally you will be asked to help as well.

A bit of background for people coming into this cold: I shot a movie called “BBS: The Documentary” which ended up being an eight episode mini-series. It tried to be the first and ultimately the last large documentary about bulletin board systems, those machines hooked up to phone lines that lived far and wide from roughly 1978-2000s. They were brilliant and weird and they’re one of the major examples of life going online. They laid the foundation for a population that used the Internet and the Web, and I think they’re terribly interesting.

I was worried that we were going to never get The Documentary On BBSes and so I ended up making it. It’s already 10 years and change since the movie came out, and there’s not been another BBS Documentary, so I guess this is it. My movie was very North American-centric and didn’t go into blistering detail about Your Local BBS Scene, and some people resented that, but I stand by both decisions; just getting the whole thing done required a level of effort and energy I’m sure I’m not capable of any more.

Anyway, I’m very proud of that movie.

I’m also proud of the breadth of interviews – people who pioneered BBSes in the 1970s, folks who played around in scenes both infamous and obscure, and experts in areas of this story that would never, ever have been interviewed by any other production. This movie has everything: Vinton Cerf (co-creator of the Internet) along with legends of Fidonet like Tom Jennings and Ken Kaplan and even John Madill, who drew the FidoNet dog logo. We’ve got ANSI kids and Apple II crackers and writers of a mass of the most popular BBS software packages. The creator of .QWK packets and multiple members of the Cult of the Dead Cow. There’s so much covered here that I just think would never, ever be immortalized otherwise.

And the movie came out, and it sold really well, and I open licensed it, and people discover it every day and play it on YouTube or pull out the package and play the original DVDs. It’s a part of culture, and I’m just so darn proud of it.

Part of the reason the movie is watchable is because I took the 250 hours of footage and made it 7.5 hours in total. Otherwise… well….

…unless, of course, you’re a maniac, and you want to watch me talking with people about subjects decades in the past and either having it go really well or fall completely apart. The shortest interview is 8 minutes. The longest is five hours. There’s legions of knowledge touched on in these conversations, stuff that can be a starting port for a bunch of research that would otherwise be out of options to even find what the words are.

Now, a little word about self-doubt.

When I first starting uploading hours of footage of BBS Documentary interviews to the Internet Archive, I was doing it from my old job, and I had a lot going on. I’d not done much direct work with Internet Archive and didn’t know anything going on behind the scenes or how things worked or frankly much about the organization in any meaningful amount. I just did it, and sent along something like 20 hours of footage. Things were looking good.

Then, reviews.

Some people started writing a few scathing responses to the uploads, pointing out how rough they were, my speech patterns, the interview style, and so on. Somehow, I let that get into my head, and so, with so much else to do, I basically walked away from it.

12 years later (12 years!) I’m back, and circumstances have changed.

I work for the Archive, I’ve uploaded hundreds of terabytes of stuff, and the BBS documentary rests easily on its laurels of being a worthwhile production. Comments by randos about how they wish I’d done some prettify-ing of the documentary “raw” footage don’t even register. I’ve had to swim upstream through a cascade of poor responses to things I’ve done in public since then – they don’t get at me. It took some time to get to this place of comfort, which is why I bring it up. For people who think of me as some bulletproof soul, let it be known that “even I” had to work up to that level, even when sitting on something like BBS Documentary and years of accomplishment. And those randos? Never heard from them again.

The interview style I used in the documentary raw footage should be noted because it’s deliberate: they’re conversations. I sometimes talk as much as the subjects. It quickly became obvious that people in this situation of describing BBS history would have aspects that were crystal clear, but would also have a thousand little aspects lost in fuzzy clouds of memory. As I’d been studying BBSes intensely for years at this point, it would often take me telling them some story (and often the same stories) to trigger a long-dormant tale that they would fly with. In many cases, you can see me shut up the second people talk, because that was why I was talking in the first place. I should have known people might not get that, and I shouldn’t have listened to them so long ago.

And from these conversations come stories and insights that are priceless. Folks who lived this life in their distant youth have all sorts of perspectives on this odd computer world and it’s just amazing that I have this place and collection to give them back to you.

But it will still need your help.

Here’s the request.

I lived this stupid thing; I really, really want to focus on putting a whole bunch of commitments to bed. Running the MiniDV recorder is not too hard for me, and neither is the basic uploading process, which I’ve refined over the years. But having to listen to myself for hundreds of hours using whatever time I have on earth left… it doesn’t appeal to me at all.

And what I really don’t want to do, beyond listening to myself, is enter the endless amount of potential metadata, especially about content. I might be inspired to here and there, especially with old friends or interviews I find joyful every time I see them again. But I can’t see myself doing this for everything and I think metadata on a “subjects covered” and “when was this all held” is vital for the collection having use. So I need volunteers to help me. I run a Discord server that communicates with people collaborating with me and I have a bunch of other ways to be reached. I’m asking for help here – turning this all into something useful beyond just existing is a vital step that I think everyone can contribute to.

If you think you can help with that, please step forward.

Otherwise… step back – a lot of BBS history is about to go online.