Reading at 300 Baud


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1 comment.

As a member of the magazine industry, I've watched many storied print publications diminish in size and circulation until they disappear altogether, which bodes ill for nascent ones. Publishing veterans tell me it'd be madness to pitch a new print magazine in a day when everything is going digital.

Yet magazines serve many audiences, and when a niche goes unserved, an enterprising and passionate team can't help but hope the market will support its vision. I was encouraged to see this had happened to the retrocomputing community when I learned of the existence of 300 Baud, a new publication aimed at the growing number retrocomputing enthusiasts.

I discovered 300 Baud too late to partake of the limited run of its first issue; PDFs may be available eventually, but for now, the print edition is a rare commodity. I instead ordered the second issue (no multi-issue subscription plan is currently offered) for $6, which includes shipping within North America ($8 elsewhere). The Web site states that orders may take 4–6 weeks to be delivered. My order was placed on June 15, mailed on June 28, and delivered on July 6 — a pretty efficient turnaround, given the expectation.

300 Baud envelope

Even the envelope was rockin' the retro font. Click for actual size.

The magazine's first two qualities to surprise me were in its actual format. First, it is about the size of an instruction manual, measuring roughly 5.75" wide and 9.5" tall. It makes for a compact travelling companion but also decreases the number of words per page, resulting in more flipping among its 40 unnumbered pages. Second, the issue appears to be printed fully in color. Although most images appear in black and white, color appears either as the occasional splash or as a full-page image. I imagine this decision must've raised production costs immensely, making $6 for the issue a bargain.

300 Baud bills itself as "a periodical journal of retrocomputing"; as such, the second issue's eight articles aim at a broad readership of indeterminate platform preference. The content can be broadly broken down into three categories: telecommunications, programming, and hardware.

True to the magazine's title, the first article looks at the early era of telecommunications, with a focus on CompuServe and BBSs. The article is written with a mix of factual history and personal anecdotes, offering a more relatable perspective than the by-the-numbers history of online services I researched last summer. A later piece on the rise, fall, and longevity of the gopher protocol is fun, detailing the needs it addressed and the support it has to this day, while a third article relates the experience of a former dial-up bulletin board denizen discovering the survival of the BBS as a telnet service.

300 Baud #2In the programming category is an overview of how graphics are handled from BASIC on the Apple, Atari, and IBM, with a brief mention of Commodore and Tandy models. It's an interesting survey that doesn't go into the depth of a how-to. Similarly, "Hack the Mac" is an introduction to the programming languages available for classic Macs and how they compare in requirements and difficulty, but not necessarily robustness. Retro Mac fans should appreciate this piece more than I did, as the oldest Mac I've ever used was from 1997. I thought an article on something called OS-9 might be closer to my era, yet it is not the Mac's Classic environment, but an operating system for Tandy's CoCo computer.

Likewise, not being a hardware hacker, I skipped the article on hardware hacking and interfacing. An article on "pen computing" puts the recent launch of the iPad in a historical perspective, casting Apple's revolutionary device as the latest in a long line of mobile computers with touch displays.

Though lacking a table of contents, the issue is easy to read. The text is presented in typical blog format, with double carriage returns between paragraph breaks and no indentation. Although I'm still not accustomed to this style in print, it's more a matter of personal taste that doesn't affect readability.

Most of the issue's images are used for visual variety and not do demonstrate concepts or principles found in the text. Unfortunately, I could find no credits for any of the art or images in the issue. Some of them are positively retro, which makes me wonder who holds the copyright. When I sought the rights for a similar picture for my own use, I found permission was easily obtained from the Computer History Museum, but I saw no such disclaimer in 300 Baud.

In addition to a diverse stable of writers, the magazine has an impressive pedigree: its editor is William Dale Goodfellow, and layout, printing, and shipping is handled by Simon Williams, whose Web server is an Apple II and who brings us the annual Retro Challenge. I didn't recognize any of this issue's other contributors, though that speaks more of my own lack of awareness of the retrocomputing scene outside my own Apple II community.

Given the economics of today's print industry, 300 Baud is wise to appeal to as broad a potential reader base as possible. At the same time, not every article will appeal to every reader. I confess to not having dove into each one, and I'll accept if that makes me unqualified to offer an informed review. It all depends on how narrow your interests are and how willing you are to broaden them.

Whatever your retrocomputing area of expertise, 300 Baud is a rare and bold effort to speak to us esoteric hobbyists, and it deserves the support it needs to warrant the future issues I intend to buy.

  1. Hi Ken, just heard about your article / review here on the RetroMacCast. I wrote the article "A Short History of Pen Computing." I'm glad that you enjoyed my article and the issue; I think it was overall pretty good too. I'm looking forward to checking out your magazine soon too. Best, David