Visit our newest sister site!
Hundreds of free aircraft flight manuals
Civilian • Historical • Military • Declassified • FREE!


TUCoPS :: Cyber Culture :: speech.txt

Jason Scott on text files and the scene





 * Introduction, Who the Hell am I? and Welcome

   Hello, everyone. And thank you for attending.

   My name is Jason Scott, and I am the administrator of a site called 
   TEXTFILES.COM, which is dedicated, as the name suggests, to textfiles.
   Originally the site was concentrating on textfiles of the BBS world of
   the early to mid 1980's, but over the course of the last year the
   mission expanded and there's now text from the early 60's all the way
   up to earlier this year.
   
   In relation to what DEFCON is about, I am probably most known for being
   the original Sysop of The Works BBS in 914, NY, from 1986 through 1988,
   before handing it over to Dave Ferret, who ran it for a number of years
   afterwards. In both cases, the BBS was known for being dedicated to
   textfiles-only, and boasted, pretty inaccurately, as being the largest
   collection of textfiles in the country. At the very least, I'm pretty
   sure we were in the top 10.

   The purpose of my talk this morning is to cover a number of related subjects.

   I'd like to give an introduction to what I'm doing with the textfiles.com site, 
   to talk about what role textfiles have played in the last 20 to 30 years, and
   to wax nostalgic about 1980's BBS history, which I and at least some of you know
   pretty intimately, at least from how we experienced it. With some luck, it'll
   be cohesive and interesting, although I make no promises.

 * Who are All of You?

   So I can know more about who I'm speaking to, I'd like to ask a couple
   questions. 

   There's a big difference between a computer and a computer with a modem,
   so I'd like to call out some years starting back from 1995. If you had a 
   computer with a modem, raise your hands, and take them down when I go
   past the year you got the modem.

   And just for my own curiosity, I'll throw out a few machine names, and
   you can raise your hand if the computer you had with a modem was... an
   Apple II? TRS-80? Atari? Amiga? IBM PC?

   Thanks.
   
 * Why TEXTFILES.COM?

   TEXTFILES.COM is my primary project these days, and is taking an awful lot of
   time to compile. Like similar grandiose projects, I have plans for the site far
   beyond what it currently has, but I think it's coming along well, and it was
   important to me to open the site before I was done, so others could use it.

   The reason I started textfiles.com was that last year I suddenly wondered
   what had happened to some of the people I'd known in my youth, people who'd
   had a big influence on who I am today, but who in many cases I'd never actually
   met. They ran Bulletin Boards all over the country, or they'd posted messages
   and files to those BBSes, or they'd generally earned some sort of reputation that
   I got wind of.
   
   By this time I'd grown pretty accustomed to search engines, and if I could find
   it out there, ONE of the search engines would be able to help me. I figured that
   hey, this all happened at least 10 years ago, and was pretty amazing stuff, so
   someone must have had a site out there dedicated to it.
   
   So, imagine my horror when I started using Hotbot and Altavista and put in names,
   names that I personally consider major, major influences on my life, on me, and
   they're just.. not there. Not a mention, not a shout-out, not a word about these
   places. Sherwood Forest II. The 1985 BBS. The History of K-K00l D00ds. Phido
   Phreaks. Count Nibble and Countlegger. It was like this whole world I'd grown up
   in had not only disappeared, but disappeared without a trace. 
   
   That really bothered me. So I started assembling my own collection of 5 1/4"
   floppies, which I'd had in a box shoved into one of my closets, and began 
   re-assembling my textfile collection. Since then, the site now houses over 18,000
   textfiles spanning 30 years, and I've got something in the range of 40,000
   more textfiles to sort through and add. 

   So this brings up the question of my motivations for taking on such a mammoth
   project, especially one of such an obscure nature.

 * Why Do You Even Care?

   Some people might say "Why do you even care?" and that's a somewhat hard question
   to answer in the few short words they want you to answer in.  I could have seen
   that nothing showed up on Altavista, said "Gee, that sucks!" and gone on my 
   merry way. But instead I've put months of work into the site, and won't be
   slowing down anytime soon.

   So, I've given some thought to it and I think I care on three specific levels, 
   with some other reasons thrown in as well. 
   
   The first is that I'm trying to recapture my childhood. This is something a lot
   of people do, whether they buy a car they'd always dreamed of, or they travel
   back to the old neighborhood to see how things have changed (or they haven't).
   In my case I'm very lucky because so much of my childhood was spent online, I
   have access to logs and files and I can pull those up and be right back in my
   house, trying to post some inane thing so that my call-post ratio is where it
   has to be to download the next g-file someone wrote about trashing. 

   The second is that the width and breadth of these files from all sorts of places
   means that I can piece together a pretty solid view of a very specific and
   fascinating culture, the BBS scene of the 1980's. A lot of subcultures aren't
   readily able to be studied or collected because they didn't leave behind a lot
   in the way of writings or pictures or other collectable artifacts, and they
   certainly didn't leave them in a handy digital format. The opportunity to
   present a really cohesive view of this culture, especially one I was part of,
   gets me through some of the more discouraging times.

   The third is that I love to read, and I derive a lot of entertainment out of
   reading different styles of writing, especially when it's all got a central
   theme to it. By working on the site, I'm reading many thousands of files written
   across lots of time and space, and the cross-currents and ideas presented 
   make it more alive and engaging to me that a single work of fiction or 
   some novel I picked up at the bookstore.

   So between these different levels, facing the thousands of files I have to sift
   through in a day's work on the site, I find a lot of energy to draw from.
   I think what I'm doing is really worthwhile, and renewed inspirations keep
   appearing every time I sift through a new directory.

 * The Minefield of History

   So with all that in mind, I'd like to travel back to the age of the 1980's,
   which to some was a golden age and to others a complete hell. Slow modems,
   40 column versus 80 column computers, unbelievable expensive machines, but
   in all of that, looking back, a unique sense of exploring, of doing something
   new, that just hooking a modem up to a phone brought you into a whole new
   world. 

   One Caveat: When I talk about history, especially living history, history 
   that many of you experienced, I'm entering a minefield. And I understand
   that going in. But I do want to stress that this is MY history, how >I<
   experienced the 1980's, and it would be both presumptuous and stupid on 
   my part to think that every story I heard was true, that every event 
   as I percieved it is what actually went down. We're talking about text
   here, and text can be modified or faked. But on the whole, I think I got
   a pretty good sense of what went on. I expect corrections to happen. That's
   the nature of learning.
 
 * What Are Textfiles?

   Since the word "textfiles" is a little general, perhaps I should talk
   about what I mean when I use the term. Obviously, any file written in ASCII
   could be considered a "textfile", whether it be source code, or message logs,
   or data files. I mean, basically, if it uses ASCII, it's a textfile, right?

   But in the purest sense, I'm talking about those files that were companion pieces
   to BBS messages. You created a textfile if you had an idea or concept that was so
   important, so needful of nationwide distribution, that instead of just posting
   it on a specific sub-board on a specific BBS, where it might be recycled out or
   never read by your full potential audience, you uploaded it to the file section.
   There, it'd have a title applied to it that indicated what you could read about
   in the file, and it would be downloaded by people who could upload it to other
   BBSes, and then the information would spread everywhere.

   As the number of these important files increased, more and more BBSes would
   have special textfile sections, and you could be reasonably assured that if
   the BBS you were checking out mentioned its "G-file" section, you could find
   probably one or two dozen interesting textfiles, usually the same you'd find
   on a lot of other BBSes.

   Textfiles were often called "G-philes", with a ph instead of a f, which appears
   to date back to GBBS software for the Apple II, which had an information
   section where SysOps were supposed to have system statistics or BBS news or the
   like. The software called them 'General Files'. I think this is the root of the
   term G-philes, unless someone has another story.

   With room for only a few G-files on your BBS, Sysops would tend to go for the
   greatest hits, the files that told you right away the cool way to get around
   something, or which came with some sort of impressive pedigree, that promised
   elite and impressive knowledge in just a few paragraphs.

   While I'd like to claim that my BBS was one of the first to concentrate soley
   on textfiles, I know that this wasn't the case. A lot of BBSes had really 
   incredible textfile collections, with separations by topic or writer or group,
   and they made these dozens of files available to anyone who connected to the
   BBS. 

   Over time, the nature of textfiles has changed in one major way:

   People determined that the textfiles they were writing would have a 
   greater chance of not being lost or corrupted or forgotten if they banded 
   together and put together a lot of files as a "zine". I'm thinking of 
   PHRACK, LOD Technical Journal, and the eventual dozens and dozens of 
   electronic magazines, or e-zines, that you can find in a wide variety of 
   sources, including my site. Along this same way of thinking you saw the rise
   of textfile-writing groups, such as Cult of the Dead Cow, Milk, UxU, and
   even more dozens that I'd run out of time talking about if I'd list them all.

   But at the heart of this change was the same idea. Have a concept or piece
   of information you wanted to spread to the world, write a textfile about it,
   start uploading it as fast as you could to as many BBSes as you had access
   to. 
 
 * The "Classic" Textfile

   Let's say you'd logged into the DEFCON BBS, running on an Apple II with 64k
   of memory, and, because they always want to be cutting edge, they'd paid the
   $600-$800 for a 9600 baud modem. So these guys were elite, you knew that
   the minute you logged on and saw that massive application for access. You
   filled it out, the sysop validated you online because he was watching 
   Wargames on his VCR and saw you logged in.

   So of course you completely ignore the message base, and go right to the file
   section, and started reading textfiles. What was the classic kind of textfile
   you'd see?
 
   I have no hard evidence about where the "classic" style of textfile started,
   although I'm entertaining a few theories. But I think a lot of people besides
   myself would recognize the classic, typical textfile. The style, for better
   or worse, has really stood the test of time. It might just be people referencing
   files that came before them, but 17 years of a similar style is pretty 
   impressive no matter how you look at it.

      The classic textfile usually has a box made up on equal signs or another
      set of characters, with the title of the textfile and the pseudonym of the
      author inside. The title box might also have any other introductions, 
      thank yous, or ads for the BBS that the author was affiliated with, or
      wanted to be affiliated with.

      If the file talks about or encourages any sort of illegal or questionable
      act, you're treated to a hasilty-written or oddly constructive disclaimer
      about how the author will not be held responsible for whatever henious
      amount of damage you do to yourself or people around you. I don't know of
      any case where the legality of this disclaimer had to hold up in court,
      but on the other hand if there wasn't a court case that I can recall, it
      might be some sort of lucky charm that wards off the police, so in it went.
      Eventually, people started parodying this disclaimer, so you have disclaimers
      that say the author takes full responsibility, or that the author is going
      to be severely disappointed in you when you hurt yourself.

      The actual textfile ranged from a hasilty written, uppercase only
      sketch of some project or idea or computer system you should explore, with
      the author either having done this project themselves or taking a wild
      assed guess as to if it was useful, to a cleverly written, well-spelled and
      thought out, tutorial where you felt like you were reading a textbook or
      professionally-written manual. Obviously, the content could be most anything,
      and so thousands of these textfiles have appeared over the years.

      When the textfile concluded, you often had the author thank people who'd
      helped him write the file, or ads to call all the bulletin boards the 
      author frequented, and an invitation to send the file to as many places
      as you could, assuming you didn't change the file. People would often
      tack on ads for their BBS before sending it along, so some of the more
      distributed files got pretty chain-letter-like after a while.

   That was the template for the vast majority of "classic" textfiles, although
   there have been some really crazy variations, with some files being captured BBS
   messages that were so important that people sent them along with no embellishment
   at all, and other files which were these out-of-control ASCII Art Masterpieces
   that made you wonder how they accomplished it.

 * Gotta Start Somewhere 

   So where do all these textfiles start? One rule I adhere to when I look into the
   accepted historical account of how something came to be, is that you can always
   find an earlier case to draw from. So let me take a stab at that contest.

 * The "Original" Textfile

   To me, the original textfile is this, Abbie Hoffman's "Steal This Book".
   When I leaf through this book, which was printed in 1970, I get a very very
   strong sense that I get reading a classic textfile.

   Abbie's book is chapter after chapter on how to get free medical help,
   free food, and how to rip off the phone company, supermarkets.. basically,
   it's a how-to manual on fighting and using the system on your way to revolution.
   Abbie presents his ideas in a witty style, with lots of examples, lots of
   encouragement, and from a position where he encourages the whole thing as a
   big game and the Right Thing to do. 

   And when you look over a lot of textfiles that were written, a lot of them
   take that tack: here's some information I've gotten, it's given me lots of
   fun, I've benefited from it, and I want you to benefit too. How-to's written
   by computer telling you how to get by in the world, occasionally at someone
   else's expense.

   It's probably worth noting that Abbie Hoffman started a small magazine, 
   dedicated to ripping off the phone company and the gas company and whoever
   you could use to get your message across and get your piece of the system,
   and that 4-page newsletter was called YIPL, the Youth International Party
   Line. And when Al Bell, the editor of YIPL, found himself diverging
   with Abbie, he changed that newsletter to TAP, for the Technological Assistance
   Party. And from TAP, a massive wealth of textfiles came into the world, many
   of the articles being copied and posted on BBSes for people to read. So, under
   this theory, you have Abbie Hoffman as the father of the textfile. Maybe I'll
   develop that theory more in the future. It's an interesting one.

   Of course, like a lot of the files on my site, the exact information in Steal
   this Book, who to contact for information, put this slug in this phone, is out of date. 
   It isn't even a place to start to accomplish the same goals put 
   forth when they were first written. But when you read the book, you come 
   away with something different than what was intended when it was created. 
   You get a feel for the turbulent times that it was written in, and if you lived 
   through it, it brings back a flood of memories.

   So let me share some of my memories with you, going over some of the textfiles
   of the past, and the BBSes that I got them from.
 
 * Cold Hardwood Floor

   It's the case for me, and I'm sure for a lot of you, that if you sit back and
   start to browse through the past, through these textfiles, that some very solid
   sensory memories come flooding back. In my case, my early BBS memories bring 
   back three magic words:
 
   Cold. Hardwood. Floor.

   I spent so many nights curled up in some blankets in the dining room of my
   Dad's house, on this hardwood floor that was meant for a dining room table
   not a computer system. And all I was doing, early into the morning, was 
   connecting to BBS after BBS, keeping all my printouts with lists of other
   BBSes to call, just collecting all the g-philes I could. If a place hinted
   that it might have some new ones, I would go right there, trying over and
   over to get through the busy signals, begging for access in the sysop comments
   file, just to get access to those files.   

   I couldn't tell you when I finally settled on wanting textfiles and textfiles 
   exclusively. I think a lot of it might have been that I didn't have my own 
   Apple II, and a lot of the places that traded games did so for the Apple. 
   However, textfiles I could download with no trouble. It didn't matter if the 
   board was on a C-64, Apple, PC or some obscure UNIX box; if I could find a 
   text section, I could take everything there and know I could at least
   read it, even if it didn't have relevance to anything else.

   As time went on, my collection grew to the point of needing multiple
   floppies, and eventually a couple dozen of them. By the time I was 13,
   I knew I was going to run a BBS, and that it would be dedicated to textfiles.
   I was going to call it "The Works", named after a Computer Graphics Project at
   NYU I'd heard about. I started labelling all my textfile floppies "The Works",
   and would list out what files were on them. 

   I think during that initial burst of collection, I amassed something like 4
   megabytes of textfiles, BBS message captures, chat captures, the usual.

   I'm an incredible packrat; I still have my original computer, a Commodore Pet,
   in my basement. So when I collected all these files, I've kept the floppies
   and printouts for what's now over a decade. When it came time to create my
   own BBS, I called it The Works, ran it on my dad's IBM PC XT with 10 megabytes
   of disk space split across two 5 megabyte drives, and brought back all those
   files I'd saved.

   But this gets away from why I was looking for those files in the first place.
   I rarely used the information in them, and I only seldom traded, because other
   people I hung out with didn't care as much about textfiles as I did.

   But here's a theory I have based on something that happened a few months ago.

 * (> The Hunt is On.
  
   I'm one of those people who get distracted by some fascinating
   aspect of something I'm studying and suddenly I'm dropping everything to find
   out everything about this aspect. It's one of the reasons I keep referring to
   my notes, since I have a real tendency to stray.

   Recently, I was working on the Apple II directory on textfiles.com, sorting 
   through the couple dozen Apple II-related files I'd collected, when I 
   decided I really wanted to know more about the Novation Apple Cat Modem.
   It's an amazing modem, I just can't get enough information on it and I hope
   to own one some day, but the point is, I just dropped my work on textfiles
   that night and I had to know about the Novation Apple Cat, and that was that.

   Well, through this search engine and that link, and using dejanews and 
   other tools, I stumbled upon Celestial Haven, Chaven.com, who had shown up
   on a couple Apple searches I'd done. They mentioned they'd once run on an
   Apple II, and I figured that was the link.  But on a lark, I looked through
   their FTP site. And to my absolute delight, buried in one of Chaven's directories
   was an absolutely MASSIVE Apple II Soft Docs archive. Soft Docs are essentially
   transcribed manuals of pirated games, although of course you get a lot of extra
   information bunched in there as well. Which groups were active, what they called
   BBSes, what they thought of the games. You might expect a collection of a dozen
   or so files, but Chaven had over FIVE HUNDRED!

   It was then that I felt "it" again. "It" was that rush that had 
   hit me so many times when I was a 13-year-old kid peering at some AE line
   at 2am, and finding directory after directory of textfiles. It was that feeling
   that you'd stumbled upon an absolute gold mine, that it was your big chance,
   that they'd left you with the keys to the store and you had an hour before 
   they were going to come back and somehow realize their mistake. 

   And that night, a decade and a half later, there I am, happily going through
   hundreds of files about games I'd never played, absolutely estatic that I'd
   saved all that history, that I was going to put it somewhere and all those
   people who'd had Apple IIs and couldn't remember the name of a game they'd
   loved to play, or who were looking for documentation for some program they
   were screwing with on their resurrected Apple II system they'd rescued from
   their parent's attic, were going to find it, quickly, and easily, on
   textfiles.com. I was up WAY too late that night, but I finished describing
   all those files, and when I stumbled home, I felt like I could do this
   forever.

   THAT's just the greatest feeling for me. I think that's what pushed me to 
   collect file after file; I was saving everything, I was becoming their
   owner and caretaker, I was building a body of work composed of the work of
   others, but with my own spin on it. 

   So let me talk about some of the places I visited while collecting these
   files.
         
 * Some BBSes I've Known and the Textfiles They Had

   Through the hundreds of bulletin boards I got the chance to travel through
   during my teenage years, there were a lot that were just places for me to grab 
   files, and a lot of places that were probably very nice in themselves, but
   which I was unable to dedicate the time to really get to know.

   A few of the BBSes really touched me, and I bring my memories of them with 
   me today. In all cases, they had textfiles, so I'm not straying too far away, here.

 * The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

   You never forget the first BBS you were a Co-Sysop on, and I had the privilege
   of being one of several Co-Sysops of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe,
   which was run by a fellow who called himself Mister I/O. It was on an Apple II
   and we had a great time, although the place was a little small, running on two
   floppy drives, for a grand total of about 300k of space. It was located in New
   Jersey, and a couple of times, I came down by Train from New York to meet
   the Sysop.

   A few months into running the place, I got an excited call from Mister I/O, who
   told me he was going to be purchasing a 10 meg hard drive! We talked about all
   the space we'd have for more message boards, for secret user areas, and for
   a big file section. He renamed the board Outland, and he called himself The
   Outland, and for quite a while there we had one kicking BBS going on.

   The Outland was a member of the Neon Knights, which were a subset of Metal 
   Communications. I met two of the other Neon Knights at one of the Outland parties,
   name of The Blade and Metal Communications. At the time, it made no sense to me;
   two clear metalheads, the whole deal, metal band T-shirts and ripped jeans, jean
   jackets, and there they were clamoring to get onto the computer and write some
   rebuttal to some particularly stupid posting. Mister Outland was also a little
   hard to get a grasp on, this completely clean-cut, quiet guy who absolutely loved
   nihilistic punk music. 

   And what was really something, was how this quiet-reserved guy would write some
   of the most violent textfiles you could imagine. I'm thinking of his "Kill them
   Dead!" series, where he wrote such classics as "How to Kill Santa Claus...DEAD!"
   or "How to Kill the Easter Bunny... DEAD!" And I still remember how one of his
   files suggested that you should ring on someone's doorbell, ask to use a phone
   book, and while they fetched it, you would whip out a golf club and tee off
   in the living room. 

   One day, the Outland called me and told me he was taking his BBS down. I asked 
   him why, what was causing him to do this, whether he'd been busted or got in
   trouble with his parents, or something. But he said he'd looked at the BBS, 
   realized it was popular and thriving and had been that way for a couple years,
   and that if he took it down before it inevitably started to die off and go
   downhill, it'd always have been at the top. What do you say to that? That's
   exactly what he did. He hung out on my BBS for a while afterwards, and then
   he just stopped being a part of any of it. He'd finished. 

 * Utopia BBS

   Utopia BBS was one of those places that I had called looking for textfiles and
   stuck around for a few months simply because they'd charmed me so much. It was
   one of three or four affiliated Chicago-Based BBSes that ran off what used to
   be GBBS: The Glue Ball, the Greek Inn, the Output and the South Pole. I say
   it "used to" be GBBS because they'd modified the source of the programs so much
   that it was barely recognizable as being the same framework of other, similar
   boards. When you called one of these boards, you had absolutely NO idea what
   was going to happen the minute you got the CONNECT message. Some days, I'd get
   a long rambling story, and other days I'd get the entire text of a newsweek 
   article on hackers. It'd ask me for my password, then ignore me and keep giving
   me text. There were times I'd log on three times in a week and get what seemed
   to be three different BBSes.

   You see something of this spirit with Web pages that use scripts to change around
   the look of the pages every time you reload, but at 300 baud, 40 columns, all
   uppercase, it was something to behold.
 
   In fact, I derived such entertainment from the constantly changing welcome messages
   from Utopia, that I buffered a collection of them, which are on TEXTFILES.COM and
   which I count among my top 100 files.

   The art of constantly adding to your BBS program was called "adding mods", and
   for a nice golden time there, you had BBSes that were trying to attract people
   by saying they had the latest and greatest Mods, like spinning cursors or 
   weird control characters you could imbed in messages. After a while, this
   disappeared, especially as BBS programs arrived written in something other
   than BASIC.

 * Sherwood Forest II

   The BBS that made me really feel like I was part of something great and
   wonderful was Sherwood Forest II, located in NY. It was run on an Apple II
   of some sort, and was an extremely active phreak board. It put me in contact
   with a lot of names that I later saw in the news or in textfiles. It was
   also the home of Bioc Agent 003, who I consider to be one of the top-flight
   textfile writers of his time. Again, there are people who might disagree with me,
   but an awful lot of people who downloaded his Basic Telecommunications
   Series came away impressed with the quality of his information, the
   excellence of his spelling and grammar, and his attention to details like
   citing his sources. BIOC was always adding interesting and unique files
   to Sherwood Forest II besides his telecommunications series, and I have a lot
   of them on textfiles.com today. Several are in my top 100.

   Sherwood Forest had several levels. There was, as I recall, level I, II, and
   III, access, which gave you different amounts of daily login time, and access
   to different message boards and file areas. Now, I knew that in level III there
   were textfiles that I just had to get, so I sent in the $10, and a week later, I
   got an e-mail message that announced I'd achieved level III! I immediately latched
   onto their textfile section, and took every one.

   Now, this may or may not be true, but I was told by someone who knew the Sysops 
   that I was the only person who didn't use bravura or bluffing and who actually
   sent in the money for the textfiles.

   When Sherwood Forest II finally went down, and not of its own choice as I heard,
   it left this very large gap in my BBS list, one which really didn't get filled
   by anywhere but OSUNY, who, while just as great a place to visit, just didn't
   have the same feel. It says something that 14 years after I'd last called the
   place, I could just pull the number out of my head while preparing this speech.
   914-359-1517. 

 * The Dark Side of the Moon

   To this day, I have trouble trying to tell people what attracted me to the
   Dark Side of the Moon so much. They had a unique sense of humor, and they
   always backed up this humor with technical mastery, programming in great
   features that made the place a joy and a surprise to use. On top of that,
   they'd had such an interesting community of San Jose teenagers who were
   contributing files and messages, so every time you called, even daily,
   there were dozens of new things to read about. It was great.

   When I first got onto the Dark Side of the Moon, and I don't know how I found out about
   the place (it was probably from a textfile), I knew something weird was up. On the
   face of it, it appeared to be an ASCII Express Line, except they'd modified
   the code to act slightly different. What I found out later was that they'd
   rewritten the ASCII Express interface from scratch, so you were actually in
   their own creation, completely. Because of that, there were all sorts of weird
   commands you could enter, and a lot more flexibility in downloading files,
   and other cool features.

   When the Dark Side announced that they were going to switch to a BBS, I was
   really, honestly heartbroken. I thought that this precious community, this
   group of people who could only express themselves through the most basic
   of file uploading/downloading, were going to be ruined by the addition of all
   the cruft that a BBS adds to the experience.

   I shouldn't have worried, because the software they wrote, Waffle, was just
   as fun and expandable and powerful as the work they'd done on the rewritten AE
   line. Now you had whole message bases of neat things going on, and all the same
   with the AE workalike, which became the file system.

   I'll give you a quick example of the idiosyncratic humor the place had that
   attracted me to it. Due to a dead battery in the Apple's clock card, the
   Dark Side's clock was perennially stuck at 6:29pm. Every message posted, every
   login and logoff, everything happened at 6:29pm. After a while, you got used
   to it. You had no idea how many people logged in in a day because everyone came
   and went in the same 1 minute period. Well, eventually this got fixed, and 
   people started to complain; they'd gotten USED to the 6:29pm time, and some even
   speculated that 6:30pm was the end of the world, and the Dark Side had saved them.
   So the sysops quickly added in the BATMAN command, which, when you typed it in,
   responded "Batman!" and set all the messages and logins back to 6:29pm, where they
   belonged.

   The Dark Side was also home to Anarchy Incorporated, one of the more 
   prolific textfile-writing groups of the time, many of whose files were dedicated
   the the torture, harassment, and assault of one Matt Ackerett, who probably
   didn't really exist. Possibly. Maybe.

   So for me, by saving the textfiles from all these BBSes, I was doing a part
   to save these stories, and I think the story of these BBSes is one that 
   should be told. Another project. Speaking of projects...

 * 100 Textfiles

   I soon discovered when I got up past 10,000 textfiles on the site that
   nobody knew what files were worth looking at and which ones were just there
   for me to be complete. So I started assembling a top 100 section, where
   people could quickly see what I was talking about.

   That of course led to the question "What ARE the canonical textfiles?" and
   again, choosing that, especially when you're one guy, is just asking for it.
   As it were, I choose files that either everyone had, or files which I thought
   best represented a certain genre. Not everyone will agree with me, but it
   was tough enough to come up with a solid 100, and I think it was OK. 
   
  * It's Just Getting Better

   So where do I go from here?

   What I think that I'm looking for, realistic or not, is some sort of curtain
   call, some sort of forum where one by one, these heroes and influences of my
   teenage years step out, say "Hello, I was Rabid Rasta, I wrote the Real Pirate's
   Guide, thank you." and then I'd get a chance to ask and know all the things I
   just have to guess at right now. I'd know who they were, what they were
   up to, what was going on when they wrote it.
   
   By putting textfiles.com up, with a nice clear name and a solid mission, I'm
   hoping to be a lightning rod for people who were a part of that time to weigh in
   with what they were going through back then, to tell the other story, the story
   I have to guess at.

   That's already happening, which makes me really delighted. Just recently, I
   got letters from The Reflex, who provided me with his entire output, and the
   same from Thomas Covenant of the Phido Phreaks. They described their files as 
   they saw them, and I know that they've created web pages where they talk about
   the past, and how they felt as they lived through that time. 

   Nothing makes me happier than when people write in, who were there, people
   who I only knew because of their name on this file or that, who have found the
   site and are deriving so much joy from seeing their work available to everyone
   again.

   But let me clear up one misconception. People have sometimes gotten the 
   impression that being as interested as I am in the past, that I think the present
   sucks. 

   In fact, I get a lot of mail about that subject. People tell me how great things
   were back then and now they're nothing like that. How we've lost the sense of
   community, how we've lost all the innocence and love that we had back then.

   Well, I just don't agree.

   Subcultures interest me; and when I go out onto the Net these days I see neat
   subcultures popping up left and right. Let me list a few quick ones.

   Overclockers, who take CPUs, throw way too much juice into them, attach insane
   cooling systems to them, and get performance the CPUs were never meant to 
   achieve.

   Arcade Emulation, which went from one or two neat programs to being a small
   cottage industry these days, with the attention of the big boys, and many,
   many web pages and people dedicated to all level of interest about recreating
   or reviving the arcade games of the last 20 years.

   Even 3-D multiplayer games have become a formidable community, with the revival
   of the classic "finger" command to let all the different companies let people
   know what they're up to, what's on their minds, and a large infrastructure of
   web pages to discuss all aspects of the games, along with programming additions
   created by people completely unaffiliated with the game companies. 

   These "scenes" are thriving, active communities with producers, complainers,
   authorities, and hangouts spread across different web pages. I consider them
   just as vibrant as what I remember BBSes to be back when I was trying over
   and over to log on through a busy signal that didn't go away until late at
   night. The main difference is speed and graphics. Before you had to tell people
   in text what you were up to, now you can take a picture and show them. Maybe
   it's a little less literary, but now you know what people are talking about.
   
   Another thing that makes it all wonderful for me is how much technology has
   grown from that time. It took me years and years to collect my textfiles
   for the site; now people can download the entire site in the matter of an 
   afternoon. When my energy level's low, I just do a tail -f on the textfiles
   web site log; there, constantly, 24 hours a day, I can see people grabbing
   file after files.

   In fact, I have another demonstration of the greatness of the present right
   here. I've taken the 100 top textfiles, compressed them onto a .zip archive,
   and thrown them onto these floppies. Every person I give a simple floppy
   to gets the cream of the textfiles.com crop, along with my review of the 
   files and the original text of this speech. How can you beat that? I'll give
   these disks away to whoever wants them at the end of my talk.

   Speaking of which, I'd like to wrap up, then open the floor for any questions
   or comments you all might have. But let me speak of one more important thing.

 * The Hammer

   In trying to build textfiles.com, I'm attempting to build a site that will have
   files from the BBS world of the 1980's, along with historical essays written
   by people who were there, as well as what I call "guided tours", where you can
   read about some interesting facet of that time, such as cracking games or
   trashing or the rise of different textfile groups, and then get links to file
   that demonstrate the points being made in the tour. It's very ambitious, and
   as I said, I'm spending a lot of time on this project, many hours, and the
   success even so far has been wonderful. Thousands of people connect to the site
   a day now, and my mailbox is filled with accolades and thank yous.

   But even in the short period of time I've had the site up, I'm already
   starting to come into contact with forces that I'd long forgotten about, which
   scared me when I knew them as a teenager, and which still, to a greater
   degree, scare me now, because I have much more to lose now.

   For the sake of brevity, I call these forces "The Hammer".

   The hammer, to me, is the power of popular opinion and the government, when it's
   faced with something that has been characterized as different, or dangerous, or
   otherwise something that should be "dealt with". Anyone who has seen these forces
   in action over the past few decades knows how arbitrary and how destructive
   they can be. People you might have heard about or even know personally have their
   lives ripped up or ruined for years on end, while others who are standing right
   next to them just get a spectacular show and little else.

   The shadow of the hammer shows up when you hear the press talk about someone or
   something being dangerous, or unsafe, or about to ruin the social order, or whatever
   clever turns of phrase they can come up with. The hammer rises when popular 
   opinion, whether it actually exists or if it's been reported as such, says that
   "SOMETHING MUST BE DONE", and the hammer comes down when those in power step in
   to crush whatever they consider a part of the disease that's caused this dangerous
   thing to happen.

   Textfiles.com chronicles the thousands of textfiles written during the 1980's,
   textfiles that weren't held back by what people consider the usual standards of
   propriety, correctness, or other limits. This is a generation saying what they
   want, about who or what they want, and saying it in whatever fashion they thought
   they needed to to get the message across.

   The side-effect of this is that textfiles.com contains not only inspiring stories
   of technical marvels and some truly wonderful examples of writers reaching out 
   to a new audience, but also calls for revolution, destruction, racism, and 
   revenge that in many cases even the original writers wish to distance themselves
   from. This is the nature of being a library or an archive; if you start trying
   to decide what in history should be saved and what should be hidden forever,
   you put yourself in the role of censor, and that role is abhorrent to me.

   It is way too easy for the population at large to look at files on my site out
   of context and decide that these are my opinions and that these are files I want
   people to implement or experiment with. And I want to state that this is not the
   case. I am in the role of librarian; I am saving a large body of texts that I
   think are a vital link in understanding the roles that computers have taken in
   our lives.

   Already, there is a near constant call to regulate content on the Internet, and
   I've seen laws go by that would make the housing of content such as that found on
   textfiles.com to be a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison. People have
   gone to court and jail over some of these textfiles. And yes, that scares me,
   because it means that I could feel the shadow of the hammer any day now.

   So, thanks to the donations of space and effort by some wonderful people, 
   textfiles.com is now mirrored nationwide, and I hope to add even more mirrors in
   the coming months. I believe in what I'm doing, and I get mail all the time
   from people who believe in what I'm doing as well.

   But my warnings aren't just for me.
   
   Every few years, it becomes fashionable to attack and go after the youth who
   show up to something like Defcon, and in the process, a lot of people are hurt.
   The hammer comes crashing down, satisfying the calls to "do something, do anything"
   and a lot of unnecessary heartbreak and terror follows. If you look back over
   the years, it's an almost rhythmic pattern, and who knows when it will happen again.
   But it will happen again, and I want everyone listening to me who is currently
   wrapped up in the details of one-upmanship or trying to find some way, any way
   to get noticed by the world, to step back every once in a while, look at the big
   picture, and keep backups of the things that mean something to you, including
   your plans for the future. There is an awful lot of animosity between people who
   would otherwise be kindred spirits. The more energy and time you waste acting
   like nothing will ever happen to you and your reputation and how well you can put down
   people, people who are you are lucky to have met because they see the world in that
   special way that you do... that's just more and more opportunity for people who
   don't understand to gang up on us and destroy everything we care about.  

   In the textfiles I've collected, I've seen heartbreak, I've seen bravery, I've seen
   every bit of the human spirit that you find in literature, and I'm proud to be 
   one of the people working to bring these files back to everyone, to show them that
   everything we did back then meant something. And I honestly believe, that what
   we're doing now means just as much, and more.

 * Thank You and I Throw Out the Floor

   My name is Jason Scott, and I deeply thank you for listening to me.


TUCoPS is optimized to look best in Firefox® on a widescreen monitor (1440x900 or better).
Site design & layout copyright © 1986-2014 AOH