Historically rebrewed

July 14th, 2011 12:59 PM
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Many computing publications have risen and fell with the computers they covered, their shining moments squelched and historical literature lost. But every now and then, one gets a second chance at live. This week, it's Historically Brewed, published 1993–1997 by David Greelish, host of the Retro Computing Roundtable podcast.

David's goal is ambitious: he wants to take the nine roughly annual issues that were published in HB's lifetime and reproduce them not in their original format, but as a paperback book. The final product, including David's computer-related autobiography, will be 195 pages, with "a detailed listing of contents [coming] soon.&quot.

It's an uncommon approach to revisiting a defunct hardcopy publication. The more popular alternative has been to scan or otherwise recreate the original issues digitally, as Mike Maginnis has done with Computist, Mike Harvey with his Nibble CD-ROMs, and, more recently, Dale Goodfellow and Simon Williams with 300 Baud. But I can empathize with David's love for print, seeing as how it's the same motivation that has kept Juiced.GS from going all-digital.

To accomplish his goal, David is using Kickstarter, a crowdsourcing alternative to fundraising that has been successfully used by other retrocomputing enthusiasts, such as Jason Scott and 8 Bit Weapon. David's fundraising page features a video that showcases some of the issues, where you can see some familiar bylines, such as Steve Weyhrich.

The self-published book will have an ISBN, meaning it will be obtainable (if not necessarily stocked) by major retailers such as Barnes & Noble. However, some distribution issues remain to be resolved, so the best way to guarantee your copy is by buying it directly from the publisher, done by pledging $25 or more. For $100, you'll even get a page dedicated to you in the book!

After just a few days, David has already reached more than half of his modest goal of $1,200. Pledges will continue to be accepted until August 15, meaning you can preorder the book even after the minimum fundraising goal is met.

Revisiting Nibble

August 23rd, 2010 1:09 PM
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At KansasFest 2010, Stavros was kind enough to make several issues of Nibble magazine available to any attendees who would give them a good home. Despite Nibble's founding editor having been the KansasFest 2007 keynote speaker, I'd never actually read the magazine myself. I'd been an Apple II user since the early Eighties, but did not join the community in earnest until 1992. With Nibble having published 1981–1995, my opportunities to enjoy the platform's heyday of offline support were few.

Nibble magazine I picked up the twenty-year-old Vol. 11, No. 6 (June 1990) and found the 96-page, full-color issue an absolute delight to read. It was like being transported back in time to when enjoying the Apple II put you in the majority, not the minority. In 1990 in particular, the possibilities seemed limitless, despite the writing being on the wall, as evidenced by Mike Harvey's editorial in which he pounds the pulpit for Apple Computer Inc. to pay more attention to the platform that made them famous. It was a melancholy experience to read that article, knowing how that story would end.

This issue included a 168-line Applesoft BASIC program called Whodunit, a murder-mystery game by Constance Fairbanks. Program listings for users to input were something I remembered well from academic textbooks and even Mad Magazine. I wonder how many budding programmers learned their craft by familiaring themselves with these commands en route to seeing the final product — or did they just enter the lines by rote, with no comprehension of their function, as my class was taught to do in school? Fortunately, Nibble appears to have encouraged the former, as the listing is prefaced by a section subtitled "How the program works", which breaks down the program's routines.

Due to its breadth, depth, and budget, a single issue of Nibble probably contains more content than I could ever hope to fit into a full year of Juiced.GS. Although humbled, I am also inspired by the giants upon whose shoulders today's Apple II print publication stands. I will likely revisit this issue and this publication for more ideas of articles and blog posts.

Oh, and the issue's original owner? According to its mailing label, that would be one Jim Maricondo. The all-star connections never end at KansasFest.

Reading at 300 Baud

July 19th, 2010 10:50 AM
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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.