Jason Scott writes: "Years after Joshua Schachter's call to arms about the poor thinking and dim future of general-purpose URL shorteners, the Archive Team offshoot URLteam has issued their first release of URL shortener mappings as a torrent. (Direct downloadable versions are located at The Internet Archive as well.) Sadly, the 301works plan of voluntary contribution of mappings to a central repository to ensure access for years to come has not quite worked out, so URLteam is going ahead and getting the job done."
Jason Scott writes: "The still-growing Nerdcore music scene nearly suffered a Buddy Holly-like tragedy this Tuesday when a van containing MC Frontalot, MC Lars, YT Cracker and their crew skidded out of control and smashed against a guard rail, destroying the trailer containing their gear and merchandise. The photos from the accident are terrifying. In true nerd fashion, YT Cracker turned on his cameraphone and recorded his immediate reactions for Youtube (language NSFW). MC Lars has put the photos up on his Myspace page. The tour is continuing, but minus the tour's keyboardist, who immediately quit. All this as headliner MC Frontalot has released his third album to great acclaim. The tour is continuing on as best it can, but if you've ever been a fan, consider getting to the shows or purchasing some albums for these independent artists to help what will likely be a very expensive recovery."
Jason Scott writes: "In just a couple weeks, the American demoparty Blockparty is making its second appearance, hosting hundreds of guests and presenting competitions for coders and creatives of all kinds. The guest speakers this year include George "The Fat Man" Sanger, creator of music for decades of videogames from Wing Commander and Loom to Maniac Mansion; and Jake "virt" Kaufman, one of the newest generation of 8-bit music artists. We've also got Jeri Ellsworth (creator of the DTV "Commodore 64 in a Joystick") and a couple dozen others. The whole event is being held in conjunction with Notacon, the art and technology conference now in its 5th year. The vast majority of demoparties are held overseas, so this is a great chance to be a part of a rare stateside one."
Jason Scott writes: "While working on my documentary on text adventure games, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dennis Jerz, who has dedicated part of his scholarly studies to Colossal Cave/ADVENT, the original text adventure. This game is based on an actual cave system in Kentucky (part of the Mammoth Cave system) and Jerz actually traveled to this cave, took photos, and worked on a great paper discussing not only the similarities of the cave system, but the differences in approach to the game between the original creator of Adventure (Will Crowther) who was a caver, and Don Woods, who was not. The paper just got published online and is a great read. It turns out you can't just "xyzzy" your way in..."
Jason Scott writes: "Four years ago, the crew at Hornet put out a collection of PC demos spanning 10 years on a DVD, and called it "Mindcandy". Everyone asked when they'd come out with a DVD of demos for other platforms, and just four short years later, they've announced MindCandy 2: Amiga Demos. It's got 30 Amiga demos rendered on the original hardware, a documentary about how a demoparty is run, and even 5.1 surround remixes of all the music. Additionally, they're sponsoring a rare US demoparty this April called Blockparty. It's a great year for demos!"
Jason Scott writes: "As someone who is bathed in Bulletin Board System (BBS) history nearly every waking hour, I can sometimes feel like I'm the only one going completely out of his way to find narratives. It's easy enough to copy together a bunch of floppy disks or scan a bunch of printouts but that's not really the glue of what put the online world together and why it still holds a strong meaning for people who were there. As a result, I'm always seeking out people to tell their stories from a personal perspective, or at least take a good shot at putting together the human side of the whole BBS era for the sake of those who missed it. If I'm lucky, I stumble upon a few sites where people do a great job of cobbling together what they didn't throw out from their teenage years. I might even find an extended story out on a website, spanning multiple pages.
But with Rob O'Hara's book Commodork: Sordid Tales from a BBS Junkie, I believe we have the world's first BBS Memoir.
Weighing in at around 160 pages, O'Hara covers his life from 1977 through to 2002, tracing the effect that Bulletin Boards, videogames, and computers have had on his life. Just 33 years old, it might seem strange for someone to write an autobiographical narrative so soon, but like a lot of youth who've grown up in the age of the home computer, O'Hara's gotten a lot of living done in that short time.
This is a self-published book, or more accurately, an author-controlled book. It is currently distributed by Lulu.com, an on-demand printer that provides you with a very "book"-looking book that you would be hard-pressed to think didn't come right off the shelves of the local chain bookstore. The only difference is there's no professional editor jamming through the work before it gets to you. It's easy to find flaws in a lack of slickness and flow in a self-published book, but also no real filtering out of "the good stuff", either. So I think of this book as a real sweet homebrew creation, rough-hewn but full of heart, not unlike the boards it talks about.
Because of this, the first few dozen pages are choppy. O'Hara works his way around his memories to find his voice: He tries to explain what it is that drives a person to still keep a pile of Commodore 64s in his garage, or build a 20-machine arcade in his back yard (the author includes a picture of this great-looking playroom), or even to want to talk about this history in the first place. He covers it from different angles: the urge to be a collector, the nostalgic dad remembering his carefree days, and the computer guy with the cred built up from now-decades of experience with the machines. He also struggles, initially, with who the book is for: folks completely unaware of the history of the BBS and home computers of the 1980s, or other 30 and up computer geeks who want to take a joyride through a shared childhood? In doing so, he actually touches on some great thoughts on what attracts people to old pieces of plastic and microchips, and why things were so dfferent for him.
A sixth of the way in, O'Hara dispenses with the helping hand, cracks his knuckles, and goes in whole hog. Instead of asking if anyone gets it, he assumes you've gotten this far because you want to know it, jams the wayback machine into full throttle, and plunges into the world of BBSing for a teenager in Oklahoma.
Except, of course, it's really every BBS kid's childhood: The little bargains, the quiet victories, the betrayals, the triumphs.
The heart and soul of the book, actually, are warez. Warez in the old sense, of newly-acquired one-off floppies of games, painstaking bargained for, traded, and spread out to gain fame and reputation. Throughout the book, it comes back to the warez, and O'Hara does an absolutely fantastic job of caputuring the sense of power and expression that engulfs a teenager who has been able to use his skills or his patience to get his hand on a program that nobody else has and then turn around and use that slight lead to his advantage. The methods he uses are laid out in brilliant detail; one involves registering with bulletin boards in a city his family will be vacationing in shortly, allowing his far away "exotic" location to be verified by the system operator, and then travelling to that city and leeching them dry for a free local call.
O'Hara never lets it get dry and technical; it's about people he met while trading software, the kind of people who he partied with, got into fights with, or loved. He's not always nice and he's not always the hero; what really rings true is how none of it feels pumped up or faked, dressed up as some inherently soul-searching activity where every moment in bristling with poignant meaning. That said, some of it rings very close to the heart indeed.
In fact, this book's greatest effect may be the touchstone it provides for one's own experiences. Even as Rob's younger self is getting drunk at a BBS party and stumbling in panic from a percieved bust into the flatbed of a parked truck to sleep it off,
I'm harkening back in my own mind to events that accompanied my BBSing that I'd forgotten wholly and totally. But I was there again, saving my own warez for the right moment, meeting my own soon-to-be-lifelong friends, making my own grevious mistakes. Anyone who used BBSes for any period of time will want to run to their keyboards and tell their own story; I see a lot of long e-mails in Mr. O'Hara's future.
One small disclaimer: On page 14 of the edition of the book I have, Rob mentions my BBS Documentary, but just to say
it's not what he was aiming for with his book. And he's right; we don't step in each other's territory and his book
does what my film couldn't; go front to end on one boy's story to turning into a man online. And for
that, I thank him, and I think a lot of others will too.
Is it for everyone? No way, but a book that takes on its subject so intensely shouldn't be. If you or an older sibling or
parent touched a plastic-and-metal home computer, sipped your bandwidth through a modem, or held a 5 1/4" floppy disk in your
bag to give to someone else, this book is your book. It might even be your memories, too.