The Talk Show

284: ‘30 Years of TidBITS’ With Adam Engst


00:00:00   Adam Angst, welcome. This is the first time. I can't believe that. It's my fault, but welcome to the talk show.

00:00:05   [Adam laughs]

00:00:06   Hi, it's been way too long, and I'm looking forward to it.

00:00:11   So, speaking of too long...

00:00:13   [Adam laughs]

00:00:17   Yeah...

00:00:19   The motivating factor, the "Hey, let's make this happen" event that has gotten us here,

00:00:26   is that Tidbits just celebrated its 30th anniversary.

00:00:30   - Yes. - Which is crazy.

00:00:36   - I believe the word is inconceivable.

00:00:39   And yes, it does mean what you think it means.

00:00:43   - So in some ways, I mean, you know,

00:00:45   and it's like my mom always said,

00:00:46   my mom, I forget how old she is,

00:00:49   I guess I shouldn't even say it,

00:00:50   but she's not that old, but you know.

00:00:52   But she said this forever, like as she hit, you know,

00:00:55   big milestones like 50 and 60 and stuff like that,

00:00:59   that she's always had the mindset that,

00:01:01   look, you either hit these milestones or you don't,

00:01:04   and that means you're dead.

00:01:06   So it's only good news, right?

00:01:10   I mean, either tidbits eventually turned 30

00:01:13   or tidbits went away, and it's obviously, it's fantastic.

00:01:17   It is absolutely fantastic.

00:01:21   But it is, but what makes Tidbits different and unique is that by having been started

00:01:29   in 1990, it literally predates, it's an online only publication with 30 years of

00:01:36   continuous publication under its belt that predates the web.

00:01:41   Yes.

00:01:42   That newfangled web, I remember when that started.

00:01:47   I mean, I remember when we first got our, we got our first website in 1996, and it was

00:01:55   actually hosted for us at Dartmouth by a guy named Andy Affleck, who I'm still friends

00:02:02   with to this day.

00:02:05   So how, and you know, I bet there are a fair number of people listening who, if not going

00:02:12   back to the original, you know, issue one in 1990, at least remember those early 90s

00:02:18   pre-web times, but I'm sure that most people listening don't.

00:02:24   It's just the nature of it.

00:02:25   So how, let's just start there.

00:02:28   I mean, honestly, let's just start with the early days.

00:02:31   I mean, how did you publish an online publication before the web?

00:02:38   It's amazing to think about.

00:02:44   Keep in mind, the first 99 issues, 99 weeks, of tidbits were published in HyperCard.

00:02:51   It wasn't even text.

00:02:54   Every week, I imported what we wrote into HyperCard stack.

00:03:01   Then I had to stuff it, bin hex it, and then send it out on the internet.

00:03:07   Now what it's sending it out on the internet mean we had a initially the first couple of issues. We had a mailing list and

00:03:13   That crashed a Navy Vax in San Diego

00:03:19   Because get this I had put more than 256 one of those special computer numbers more than 256 addresses in the two-line

00:03:33   Cornell's mainframe operators were not tremendously impressed with me.

00:03:38   So one of the things about being a computer user back then was that even if you weren't a

00:03:46   programmer type, you became very familiar with those magic computer numbers. It didn't seem

00:03:54   random at all that when you had 255 people it was fine, and when you had 256 it broke. You were like,

00:04:01   "Oh, of course! They were putting those, they were counting them in a byte!"

00:04:05   There's a wonderful story, there's a fabulous book, I should go back and look at it at some

00:04:12   point, called The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder. And it's about, I think, a data general

00:04:18   minicomputer, and he tells a story like this, you know, where it's like, it fails in some way,

00:04:23   And it's like, oh, well just go change the number in the code

00:04:26   And but yes you stuff like that happened

00:04:32   so so yeah, so we we were we started a we had to move off of the

00:04:37   distributing via email for a while

00:04:40   and

00:04:42   but I I managed to make friends with

00:04:45   people that I called the time the net heavies and

00:04:51   They were just people at universities who

00:04:54   They were more important than other people and it wasn't quite clear why usually I mean they were CS professors or

00:05:03   Computer administrators or whatever, but they were the people who made things happen

00:05:07   and if they said you could do something you could do something and if they didn't want you to do it you didn't happen and

00:05:15   It was like and I said the neither to use the term net heavies because they weren't elected or anything like that

00:05:22   they just somehow ended up in that position and

00:05:25   so

00:05:27   Working with some of them. I managed to get

00:05:29   Be able to upload tidbits to the infomak digest our infomak archives and then it was it was shared out of the infomak digest

00:05:37   and

00:05:39   And also, I mean gosh this the neurons firing my head right now

00:05:44   We were uploading to various

00:05:46   bulletin boards and online services and things like that and it was all by hooker by crooks I couldn't pay for any of this many money

00:05:53   Um, so it was like I had to you know, but if you traded things

00:05:57   if you said oh, I'm gonna provide you with this content, you could often get free accounts or whatever and

00:06:03   So yeah for those first couple of years

00:06:05   there was a whole lot of you know,

00:06:09   Friends doing friends favors the infomak

00:06:13   archive / digest was for me the the Apple dinner well if not the Apple at

00:06:26   that time yeah I guess it predates the Newton actually but the Mac was Apple

00:06:31   was the Mac actually the Apple to still had its last legs in some ways I mean

00:06:39   But I don't think it was ever part of the Mac internet because you couldn't.

00:06:45   I say couldn't because, and I put that in quotes because I'm sure that there were some people,

00:06:51   because it was the time when people would figure out crazy stuff like how do you get an Apple 2GS

00:06:57   onto the internet even though there's no, you know, etc. So I'm not gonna say no.

00:07:02   And people did do that. But it was crazy. And it was a different subset. I mean,

00:07:06   I mean, they were completely different computers.

00:07:08   And the two worlds didn't mix much, from what I remember.

00:07:13   - We could get to the Macintosh Internet Starter Kit,

00:07:16   but there was no Apple II Internet Starter Kit.

00:07:19   - Hey, it was amazing enough

00:07:22   that we managed to get the Mac on the internet.

00:07:25   - But the InfoMac archive was like,

00:07:31   I never had all sorts of newsgroups on Usenet

00:07:34   that I followed religiously and stayed up to date.

00:07:39   But if you could only have one thing, it was InfoMac,

00:07:44   because if you had InfoMac, you got all,

00:07:48   if there was software being released as shareware

00:07:51   or freeware and you could download it from an FTP site

00:07:54   and there was a new version, if it wasn't on InfoMac,

00:07:58   it didn't exist. - It didn't exist, yeah.

00:08:00   - And you could either get it post by post,

00:08:03   depending on, you know, and I think whether you wanted it post by post sort of depended how you got it, you know,

00:08:08   Like if you got it by email, you probably didn't want it post by post

00:08:11   It was too many emails

00:08:13   But on usenet it wasn't fine because then it was all in one group and you could just go through

00:08:17   But the digest was like I forget was it a daily digest?

00:08:20   You know, I'm trying to remember but what was interesting about it was yes

00:08:27   I think how busy things were I think it was dial daily, but keep in mind it was also moderated

00:08:33   It wasn't a free-for-all.

00:08:35   And to be an InfoMac moderator was a big deal.

00:08:39   And there were also archivists, people who actually managed the file uploads

00:08:44   and made sure everything was named reasonably and organized well and things like that.

00:08:49   So, yeah, this was back in the days of the user groups being huge forces.

00:08:55   You know, when Bmugg had 50,000 users.

00:09:00   So there were people who would dedicate themselves to these tasks because they saw it as this incredible opportunity to provide something for a really pretty large and vibrant community who you saw and heard from.

00:09:15   Obviously there's many more users now, but somehow it's much more amorphous.

00:09:20   I remember my memory it's like 85% there and 15% not there. I don't remember the name of the Drexel user group.

00:09:30   I think it was... Damn, what was it? It was something...

00:09:34   Everybody was... Everything was something mug Macintosh user group.

00:09:38   And without the mug you wouldn't even know it was a Macintosh user group.

00:09:41   It might have been just Dmug or we were the Drexel dragons.

00:09:45   It might have been the... I forget.

00:09:47   But Drexel had a Macintosh user group, and my freshman year in 1991, I wandered in eventually.

00:09:55   And Drexel had a great—Drexel was, of this era, was absolutely fantastic as somebody who was a

00:10:01   budding Mac nerd, because Drexel was part of this pilot program in the late 80s where they worked

00:10:08   with Apple. The consortium? Yeah. Yeah, yeah, University Consortium. And they had a policy

00:10:14   that every-- you didn't have to own a Macintosh.

00:10:16   I mean, college, even in the early '90s,

00:10:19   was expensive enough.

00:10:20   But you had to have access to a Macintosh.

00:10:23   And that was simple enough, because even

00:10:26   if you didn't own one, they had a lab full of them

00:10:29   that had so plentiful with Macintoshes

00:10:32   that you could sit down in front of that it was never--

00:10:35   even at the end of semesters, when

00:10:38   you would think it might be the hardest time to get time on one,

00:10:41   there was always free ones available.

00:10:42   Well, and I think the reason why was that they had such an aggressive education pricing thing,

00:10:48   and they did kind of encourage freshmen. They delicately balanced, "You don't have to buy one,

00:10:56   but you really ought to buy your kid one." And so just about... My freshman year, I did not know

00:11:02   anybody who didn't buy one. Other... So you're a little younger than I am then,

00:11:08   because I graduated from Cornell in 89. And so Tonya and I were

00:11:13   in charge of public computer rooms at Cornell. And we

00:11:16   definitely had waiting lines and things like that. I mean, you

00:11:19   could you mean certainly you could buy them at the at the

00:11:22   university to know what the discount, but it wasn't common

00:11:25   enough yet. Well, so it sounds like it just in that, like, you

00:11:28   know, you know, couple of year periods when it when it

00:11:30   transitioned, the big weight, the big, you know, and anybody

00:11:33   else who was at Drexel at that time is gonna call me on it. The

00:11:36   The big weight was for the laser printers.

00:11:38   (laughing)

00:11:38   - Oh yeah, yeah.

00:11:39   - And that absolutely corresponded to the end of semesters

00:11:44   because of course that's when, you know,

00:11:47   there might, you know, you might have stuff

00:11:49   do all throughout the semester,

00:11:50   but everybody has stuff do at the end of the semester.

00:11:52   And anybody who had any two cents to rub together,

00:11:55   you know, like the deal I got as a freshman,

00:11:58   I got a Mac LC and it came with a freestyle writer, free.

00:12:02   It was just thrown in

00:12:03   and it was a great education discount price.

00:12:05   So why not take it?"

00:12:06   And the style writer wasn't bad, so I had to, you know, but it was kind of a waste because

00:12:12   every single freshman also got one.

00:12:14   So we had, like, two style writers in every dorm room, like, you know, like…

00:12:18   And you can still hear them now, "Nee, nee, nee."

00:12:23   But like, A, it was slow, and B, you know, it's, you know, it still was a janky early

00:12:28   days inkjet.

00:12:29   I mean, if you, I mean, I wanted laser.

00:12:32   I wasn't going to submit my papers without laser printed output.

00:12:35   But anyway, it was a great lab.

00:12:39   And they had site licenses for all the--

00:12:43   I don't even think it was branded Claris yet,

00:12:46   but MacWrite and MacDraw and MacPaint, everything like that.

00:12:51   All you needed was a blank floppy disk.

00:12:53   Come in, and then you could get them all totally legit,

00:12:57   straight up legal, site license for the whole university.

00:13:01   But there was already hundreds and hundreds and hundreds,

00:13:07   I guess thousands is a fair way of saying hundreds and hundreds

00:13:10   and hundreds of shareware titles, games, and utilities, and goofy stuff.

00:13:15   And when I wandered into the Macintosh users group

00:13:18   and found out that they had all of it, and all you had to do

00:13:23   is bring in fluppies, I was like, I'll be back.

00:13:29   And you bought those boxes of like 10 floppies at a time.

00:13:33   And it was just like, wow, I could put so much stuff on this.

00:13:36   It was all of my money, all of my money when I was in college.

00:13:40   All of it went to long distance phone calls

00:13:43   because Amy was in Pittsburgh and I was in Philadelphia.

00:13:47   And calling across the state of Pennsylvania

00:13:49   was like $10 a minute.

00:13:52   Long distance phone calls, compact discs, and floppy disks.

00:13:57   So it's all communications.

00:14:01   Just you know, you know, asynchronous and synchronous.

00:14:04   And the pack rat in me didn't want to overwrite floppies.

00:14:11   You know, there were some things that you knew you could just overwrite.

00:14:14   Like if you just wanted to print out a thing, well then you'd bring it back.

00:14:17   But it's like, well, I don't want to get rid of this weird version of Tetris.

00:14:20   I want to, I need a new floppy disk.

00:14:24   Well, so again, being just a little bit earlier, Cornell, you had a couple of floppies. Because

00:14:32   you could put the system, as we used right now for a word processor, that was our site

00:14:37   licensed one, great little word processor, and you could put your system and your application

00:14:42   and your documents on a single floppy, 800K floppy. And so you'd have a couple of floppies

00:14:47   that you'd just carry around with you at all times, because then you could stop in a computer

00:14:50   room and work on your file, print if you needed to, that kind of stuff. And I still have,

00:14:56   Tanya and I had a pair of floppies, which are still called Ziggy, I sat on my table

00:15:02   here, they're called Ziggy and Stardust. So, very much the time. But your comment about

00:15:09   the names of the Mac user groups reminded me, there were some pretty good ones. And

00:15:14   Ithaca's group was called Mugwump, which was indeed an acronym for the

00:15:20   Macintosh User Group for Writers and Users of Macintosh Programs, which is

00:15:25   pretty good. And then Seattle's was debug for Downtown Business Users Group.

00:15:31   So, you know, so we're a few that managed to break the trend. And there's been a

00:15:35   few others. Rochester had Apple Cider, and I don't know what that was.

00:15:39   I remember that. I don't know how that expanded. Yeah, that was a big one. But, yeah.

00:15:43   Yeah, it was such a change.

00:15:45   I mean, from now, there's user groups hanging on, and I love them dearly.

00:15:51   I go visit periodically at various ones, but it's a different scene.

00:15:55   Yeah, because it's like voluntary.

00:15:59   It's purely social, whereas back then, you could be totally, I don't want to say anti-social,

00:16:05   but you could have no interest in any kind of camaraderie with others, but you'd want to be an active member

00:16:10   because otherwise you wouldn't find out what the hell was going on.

00:16:13   Well, and companies like WordPerfect and Microsoft would come to Cornell to speak

00:16:19   to this group of 30 or 40 people. I mean, like, the biggest companies in the world

00:16:23   would show up to demo, and I still remember that WordPerfect guy throwing

00:16:26   little bags of M&Ms during his demo to keep people awake, because you wanted

00:16:31   the M&Ms, and, you know, and he was a pretty good presenter, too, but nonetheless.

00:16:36   Yeah, so very different years.

00:16:39   InfoMac, the InfoMac archives moderated, it was essential. So it was zero noise. I mean,

00:16:45   it might be, you know, it might be an update to a utility that you didn't care about,

00:16:48   but you didn't feel like, oh, that shouldn't be here. I mean, I don't think there was ever

00:16:52   once anything that got posted to InfoMac that made it through the moderation that you, you know,

00:16:56   felt like.

00:16:58   Virus checking, everything. It was all good. And yeah, yeah, it was, I mean, I'm still

00:17:05   remembering there was a guy named Bill Lippa and actually John Pugh who I'm still in touch with,

00:17:10   he was one of the monitors for a while. So yeah, but I have to go back and back into the depths of

00:17:15   my email, although I honestly don't have a lot of email from the early 90s. My email archives start

00:17:21   a little bit later than that. It's, well, so how big were the hypercard issues? I mean, because

00:17:30   It is not very yeah, that was think they had to be smaller because you had to get stuff

00:17:35   Well, actually take that back I don't remember how large the files were

00:17:41   I do remember that once we switched to text because we had the structure enhanced text format that we came out with issue 100

00:17:47   That that that was you know

00:17:49   Sort of where you took some of that stuff and when you were working on markdown and got to a very similar kind of stuff

00:17:54   We'll get to that

00:17:55   But but once we went to text all the issues had to be under 30k

00:18:00   Because there were internet gateways that freaked out at of course 32k, but you couldn't ever guarantee

00:18:07   There was really gonna be 32. So you always want I always went to 30 and so yeah

00:18:13   They are the the thing that was interesting about the hypercard archives though

00:18:16   Her card stacks was they could archive themselves into a single stack

00:18:22   So you'd get a new one you download a new one each week and then you click a button in it

00:18:26   I was so proud of this click a button in it and it would archive itself into the stack that you selected

00:18:31   So you'd have this single uber archive of every tidbits issue that was fully searchable and all that

00:18:38   It was a big switch going from hyper card to plain text and that's what the C. Yeah, how do you pronounce?

00:18:45   I always pronounce it C text C text. Yeah. All right. Yeah, it is C text

00:18:49   There's a remarkable word in my history that I took a guess how to pronounce it was right.

00:18:54   In this case it was specific because the guy who came up with most of us,

00:19:02   a guy named Ian Feldman, who has disappeared entirely, I mean he disappeared quickly,

00:19:06   like I never heard from him, I don't know, more than a year or so after that,

00:19:09   but he was very particular about things like pronunciation and he said "it's C-text."

00:19:15   I'm like, "okay, we're going with that."

00:19:17   [LAUGHTER]

00:19:18   The big difference is--

00:19:20   so I'm going to-- even if you don't remember HyperCard,

00:19:24   everybody kind of knows it was a very early hypertext system,

00:19:28   graphical.

00:19:30   It was sort of a combination of an early predecessor

00:19:32   to the web in terms of being hypertext and hyperconnected,

00:19:37   and also a very early sort of easy-to-use programming

00:19:45   environment.

00:19:46   Yes, yes, Software Erector Set was the term.

00:19:51   You know, and with a programming language that really only could be compared to AppleScript,

00:19:59   you know, that HyperTalk was very, you know, it was at a time when everybody, not everybody maybe,

00:20:06   but a lot of people thought that was the key to making programming more accessible to more people,

00:20:10   was to make it, the syntax look like English syntax.

00:20:14   But people were incredibly productive in it.

00:20:18   There were people who were non-programmers who wrote amazing things in HyperCard

00:20:22   that honestly, and I don't want to make this whole episode about HyperCard,

00:20:27   but to this day, I don't think that there's a replacement that is as neat and as accessible to more people as HyperCard.

00:20:38   It was also very, very Macintosh-y in terms of the spirit of Macintosh, you know, which

00:20:46   was only—the whole platform was only six years old in 1990.

00:20:50   It was still relatively new.

00:20:52   It was way newer than even—it was like about the age then of Apple Watch.

00:20:57   Now Apple Watch just turned five.

00:20:59   So think about how new Apple Watch is now.

00:21:01   That's how new the Mac is.

00:21:03   And HyperCard was also developed by Bill Atkinson, who was like one of the key Macintosh developers.

00:21:10   So like this was his vision of what the Mac could be.

00:21:15   And you know, I have to say, we compare it to AppleScript, HyperTalk to AppleScript, there's

00:21:21   no comparison.

00:21:22   HyperTalk was way easier, way more understandable for people who didn't have a programming background.

00:21:29   And the things that people made with it were astonishing.

00:21:33   Yeah, it really was.

00:21:35   And nothing has ever, ever come to that level ever again.

00:21:39   And there's great stuff like SuperCard and Livecode now and whatnot that are kind of

00:21:44   similar, but they've never quite gotten to that level of elegant simplicity.

00:21:52   Just to name one example, I remember I had a calculus teacher at Drexel who—I mean,

00:21:56   Number one, he was a very smart guy.

00:21:58   He was one of the heads of the Department of Mathematics at Drexel.

00:22:03   So he was obviously not a dummy.

00:22:05   But he was a mathematician, not a programmer or computer scientist.

00:22:09   He had, for his freshman level calculus courses,

00:22:14   hypercard stacks that he himself had written.

00:22:17   And they were extremely graphical.

00:22:19   And I remember, A, I was pretty good at math going into college.

00:22:25   but really ran up against it even my freshman year.

00:22:30   So it was the calculus itself was like,

00:22:32   man, I gotta get out of this.

00:22:34   I gotta take as little of this as possible.

00:22:37   But the Mac nerd in me was blown away by,

00:22:41   I was like, this guy is not even a programmer.

00:22:44   Like this is amazing.

00:22:45   They were very graphical and they did,

00:22:47   and they were animated.

00:22:48   The aspects of calculus, like the way curves

00:22:52   approach a limit. It was like the approaching the limit was

00:22:55   animated. This guy's not a programmer. He didn't like have

00:22:59   a grad student from the computer science department build these

00:23:02   for him. He just did this on his own in the way that college

00:23:06   professors spend time on course materials. He built software

00:23:10   that was incredibly cool. And it really was useful. It was not

00:23:16   like a gimmick like, oh, the guy was also a hobbyist on the Mac

00:23:19   and wasted time on this.

00:23:21   It really did help illustrate the material.

00:23:24   It was good stuff.

00:23:25   And I don't know how he would do it without HyperCard.

00:23:27   There was no way he was going to do it.

00:23:29   He wasn't going to drop into Pascal or C

00:23:31   and write real applications to do it.

00:23:33   It required a level of expertise that you couldn't

00:23:35   expect from a math professor.

00:23:38   And afterwards, after HyperCard faded away,

00:23:41   nothing really took that spot.

00:23:44   So my point, though, is that going from 0 to 99,

00:23:48   Tidbits as a hypercard stack was extremely Macintosh-y.

00:23:51   The fact that you could get a new issue

00:23:53   and have it within your instance of hypercard on your Mac

00:23:57   collapse into the same stack

00:23:59   and you'd collect the issues there,

00:24:01   a super Macintosh-y like idea, right?

00:24:03   Like part of what it meant to be Macintosh,

00:24:08   Mac-like back then was elegance, elegance in computing.

00:24:12   Not to go, any one of these

00:24:15   could be a two-hour rant on their own,

00:24:16   but the fact that Mac files, you just, you had,

00:24:19   in hindsight, it's another one of those numbers.

00:24:22   You had 31 characters, so you were up to 32.

00:24:25   32's one of those magic numbers.

00:24:27   But you could use any characters you wanted.

00:24:29   You could put spaces in your file names.

00:24:31   Nobody used file name extensions except for files

00:24:35   you'd share over the internet, like a stuff it archive.

00:24:38   And then only, it was, because you were leaving

00:24:41   the Macintosh universe and putting it somewhere

00:24:44   where it needed that.

00:24:46   Going to plain text with C text was sort of a,

00:24:54   I get why you did it, I think it was probably the right way

00:24:56   because it was more, you know,

00:24:58   plain text is the universal format.

00:25:00   Still is to this day in 2020.

00:25:02   But it was sort of a concession to the practicality

00:25:08   of plain text versus the magical elegance

00:25:13   of something like HyperCard.

00:25:15   - Yeah, indeed.

00:25:17   And I think what I ran into,

00:25:20   and I honestly don't remember the thinking

00:25:24   behind the Switch all that well.

00:25:26   I mean, this was 1992.

00:25:28   But I think, well, I had made one mistake

00:25:34   in the HyperCard stack,

00:25:35   which caused it to grow larger than it needed to

00:25:39   on each import.

00:25:41   And there was no way to back patch that for various reasons.

00:25:45   And so that was one thing that was bothering me

00:25:47   about the stack.

00:25:48   But I think what it came down to was,

00:25:51   it felt like I could just reach so many more people

00:25:56   because there were a lot of Mac users

00:26:01   whose Macs couldn't connect to the internet

00:26:04   in any way, shape or form.

00:26:06   That they could read email at work

00:26:09   or they could telnet into,

00:26:11   reuse Elm or Pine or whatever,

00:26:14   but there was just no way they could get a hypercard stack

00:26:17   from that point onto their Mac.

00:26:20   - Yeah.

00:26:21   - 'Cause again, this really is 1991, 1992,

00:26:24   and it's not easy to get on the internet

00:26:27   in any way, shape or form.

00:26:29   And so, that's why, again,

00:26:31   we distributed to Apple Link and Bix and CompuServe

00:26:35   and Delphi and Genie and,

00:26:38   did I get them in alphabetical order?

00:26:40   Woo.

00:26:40   So, you know, basically every imaginable online service

00:26:45   because that was in many ways an easier way

00:26:48   to get files than the internet.

00:26:51   - And there is something, and it's to this day,

00:26:56   literally as we speak,

00:26:57   there's like this really nice resurgence

00:27:00   in email newsletters.

00:27:03   - Yes.

00:27:04   - And what makes them resurgent today

00:27:08   is what made them nice in 1992 also,

00:27:12   where even if you could get the bin hex stuff it file

00:27:17   of the stack to your Mac fairly easily,

00:27:22   nothing beat there it is in your email tidbits issue one

00:27:27   and 10 and you click it and there you are in your reading

00:27:32   and now you're just space bar, space bar, space bar,

00:27:34   space bar and you go down, it's right there, right?

00:27:36   The fact that it's right there, here it is.

00:27:39   And truth be told, part of the essence of tidbits

00:27:44   from the get-go has been the writing.

00:27:47   It is. - Yes.

00:27:49   We had no graphics for many, many years.

00:27:52   I was actually trying to think about that.

00:27:52   I was like, I don't remember when we first started

00:27:54   putting graphics in.

00:27:55   We started linking to them before we could put them in,

00:27:58   of course.

00:27:59   I mean, we'd have like literally a URL

00:28:00   so you could click to go see the graphic.

00:28:02   - I sympathize.

00:28:06   So yeah.

00:28:08   - You can't beat that convenience

00:28:11   or maybe you read in the Usenet,

00:28:15   and the Usenet experience was very much like,

00:28:18   if you were going in through a Telnet,

00:28:21   it was purposefully very similar to using Elm or Pine

00:28:25   or whatever your email client was.

00:28:26   There was only arrows to go up and down

00:28:29   to select groups or mailboxes.

00:28:30   You go in, there's a message,

00:28:32   and then you read the message and there it is.

00:28:33   And if tidbits could be right there, there you are.

00:28:36   reading it. Spacebar, spacebar, go down. The 32k thing though is fascinating.

00:28:41   We also didn't have the, there was a switch away from the Macintosh-y-ness of HyperCard,

00:28:50   but we didn't lose all of that. And that was thanks to an application called EasyView.

00:28:56   Oh, I remember that!

00:28:56   Which was a C-text viewer written by a guy named Akif Eiler, who was Turkish. And he's still around.

00:29:04   I heard from him just a few months ago.

00:29:07   And he, I forget how we met,

00:29:11   but I think he was starting in on this,

00:29:14   on a text file viewer.

00:29:17   And I said, "Hey, would you like to support C text?"

00:29:21   And he's like, "Oh, that's so cool.

00:29:22   Can you give me the spec and so we share?"

00:29:24   And he did.

00:29:25   And so it was great because you could get right back

00:29:29   to that elegance of everything in your EasyView archive.

00:29:34   - Right.

00:29:35   - And, but he also built in support for other formats too,

00:29:39   so you could have other easy view documents

00:29:42   that would, you know, like index,

00:29:43   infomac archives in fact.

00:29:44   - Right.

00:29:45   - Because those were mbox formats.

00:29:46   - Right.

00:29:47   - And so, but that gave us all of that

00:29:51   kind of browsability and archivingness.

00:29:54   Keep in mind, my mother was Cornell University archivist

00:29:56   for many years, so archives are in my blood.

00:29:59   (laughs)

00:30:00   And, but at the same time, as you say,

00:30:02   the ease of its email, you just look at it

00:30:05   and you can read right then and there.

00:30:08   - Yeah, I do remember EasyView and I remember using it.

00:30:11   I think what I used to do as the sort of borderline

00:30:16   obsessive compulsive pack rat was I would read

00:30:20   a new issue of tidbits however I first saw it,

00:30:23   whether it was email or Usenet and I would like

00:30:27   look both places so I could read it right away.

00:30:30   But then eventually I would download it

00:30:31   so that I'd keep every issue archived in Easyview.

00:30:34   - Well, one of the things that I remember from those days,

00:30:39   also, I'd be curious, again, I have to go back and look,

00:30:41   see how long I kept this up,

00:30:43   but keep in mind, the magazines were a big deal,

00:30:47   MacWorld, MacUser, MacWeek, and they had reviews,

00:30:51   but there was no index.

00:30:54   And so every issue of tidbits,

00:30:57   I would actually have a quote unquote article

00:31:02   that was a list of the products that were reviewed

00:31:05   in the magazines that I'd received.

00:31:07   So if you wanted to know what, you know,

00:31:10   where there was a review of Microsoft Word 6 or 5 or 5.1,

00:31:14   whatever version it was at that point,

00:31:16   if you searched in your archive,

00:31:18   you would actually find out that, you know,

00:31:19   Mac user of January of 1992 had that review in it as well.

00:31:25   you could actually like probably go to a library or maybe you got it on your shelf you had

00:31:29   on your shelf but you could never find it in there. So that was another kind of you

00:31:34   know thing we did to bridge the the digital analog gap.

00:31:38   I've told this story before but I wanted a subscription to Mac Week so bad but the idea

00:31:46   was and like if you're young enough this is gonna seem crazy but there were like two types

00:31:52   of print periodicals of the time.

00:31:55   The monthly magazines were just regular magazines,

00:31:58   and the two big ones here in the US

00:32:00   were MacWorld and MacUser.

00:32:01   And you could either subscribe,

00:32:04   like you could subscribe to any magazine today,

00:32:06   or get 'em on the newsstand, and that was that,

00:32:08   and you just bought them.

00:32:09   MacWeek was a trade publication,

00:32:12   and trade publications were not sold on newsstands.

00:32:16   And you couldn't, no matter what,

00:32:19   You couldn't just say, "Well, here's – take my money.

00:32:22   Here's my credit card.

00:32:23   Send me a subscription."

00:32:24   You had to like apply and give them your credentials for how you were in the trade, you know.

00:32:31   And so if you work –

00:32:32   Steven: And do you remember the size of those application forms?

00:32:35   Because they were tabloids.

00:32:36   And it was a full page of really tiny little boxes.

00:32:39   You had to fill them all in.

00:32:40   And you had to lie through your teeth, of course.

00:32:43   Michael O'Brien I remember – to my utmost shame, I remember

00:32:47   because I applied several times and I even thought maybe they're keeping track of my

00:32:51   name. I tried like under a fake name and I never heard back from them. So for years,

00:33:02   I had to read. I like to think of myself as a talented liar so that's why I'm ashamed

00:33:11   of it. I mean I made up job titles. I said that I worked. I like looked up real businesses

00:33:16   But like the problem was, the problem always was that like I could, I could figure out a way that would make it look like my, I had a job or worked at a company or whatever.

00:33:27   But like, how do you fake a mailing address? Like I still needed it mailed to me. Like, it's pretty obvious why the ones I had sent to dorms at Drexel didn't work.

00:33:38   getting it sent to my parents home was no good because I didn't go home often enough, you know,

00:33:43   I mean, what good would it have been? I don't know that that would have worked anyway, but what good

00:33:46   is it getting 20 issues of Mac Week at Thanksgiving, you know, like that's not good. So that was always

00:33:53   and you know, apartments were never, I think it was always the mailing address that gave gave me

00:33:58   away. Interesting. So that was the only reason I ever went to the Drexel library ever. I don't

00:34:03   Remember ever going for classwork. I just but they had a Mac week subscription

00:34:07   And so once a week I would go into the library at Drexel and and read read Mac week. I

00:34:13   Don't remember. I don't remember an issue with the addresses, but it may just have worked out for me

00:34:20   but but you know worked at Cornell as a student and

00:34:23   in the CIT with computer computing information technology Cornell information technology

00:34:29   And so, yeah, you would lie on the application form,

00:34:32   like pretending you were Cornell, right?

00:34:35   'Cause I was in charge of hundreds of Macs,

00:34:37   if you counted all the public rooms

00:34:39   that I was in charge of.

00:34:40   And so I got Mac Week and InfoWorld and PC Week,

00:34:45   because, you know, those were,

00:34:48   and they were big.

00:34:50   They were like, you know,

00:34:52   they could be 40 or 50 pages a week.

00:34:55   And they were fabulous,

00:34:58   'Cause this is also the time when you wanted to read the ads.

00:35:01   - Yeah, yeah, definitely.

00:35:02   - The ads were partly why you got it.

00:35:04   So, and I did remember when I finally,

00:35:10   you know, a couple of years later,

00:35:11   when I started meeting the people

00:35:12   who actually worked at Mac Week,

00:35:14   and hearing their stories,

00:35:17   and what they said was is that

00:35:19   they basically just worked harder

00:35:22   than all of the PC publications.

00:35:26   And that was, 'cause they had no resources,

00:35:29   and et cetera, et cetera,

00:35:30   but they all loved what they were doing,

00:35:32   and just did more, and that was,

00:35:36   'cause Mac Week was always a step above

00:35:39   InfoWorld and PC Week.

00:35:41   - Yeah, yeah, that's it too. - They were really corporate.

00:35:43   And so Mac Week did have to appeal

00:35:47   to what they called the volume buyers,

00:35:49   all the people they were giving it to,

00:35:51   so they could get the ads.

00:35:54   And I remain fascinated by the fact that huge publications,

00:35:59   there was a massive advertising market,

00:36:02   despite the fact that there was far less money

00:36:05   in the ecosystem.

00:36:05   - Right.

00:36:06   - And I've never figured out how that has,

00:36:10   we've got so much more money in the ecosystem

00:36:14   and advertising is so much less of a part of it now.

00:36:17   - I don't know either.

00:36:18   I can only guess that part of it,

00:36:20   and whenever there's, every periodically,

00:36:22   somebody will stumble upon their stash of old Mac weeks or Mac users or any, you know,

00:36:27   PC publications in their closet or their basement and scan a few ads. And the one thing that

00:36:32   jumps out to you is how much more expensive everything was. You know, it would, you know,

00:36:36   somebody had like a thing where they were just linking to all of the various C compilers

00:36:42   for PCs in like the late 80s. And, you know, number one, nobody pays for C compilers anymore

00:36:47   at all. Like it seems crazy. But back then it was a huge thing and they were all, you know, hundreds of dollars.

00:36:54   (laughs)

00:36:55   Yeah. Well, and you bought one app that was, you know, and you researched it.

00:37:00   Right.

00:37:01   And you're like, "This is going to be the word processor that I use."

00:37:04   And you paid your couple of hundred bucks.

00:37:07   Yep.

00:37:08   And because, in part, you put in the research and you paid the money, you were loyal.

00:37:14   Yeah.

00:37:15   That was your tool and you got good at whatever your tool was.

00:37:21   So, I mean, those of us who were in the industry and got review copies were really unusual

00:37:27   because we had used multiple different things and could compare them.

00:37:30   That's why the comparison articles were so popular, because you really wanted to know which one were you going to pick.

00:37:35   Once you paid your money, it was not a good thing to have to switch off.

00:37:39   Right, it was. The comparison articles were essential to both the magazines and the weeklies.

00:37:46   And they're still useful even today because a good comparison article just takes time to do.

00:37:53   But at that time, it was like almost nobody would have the access to do. How do you review

00:38:01   three different $500 word processors or whatever they cost?

00:38:04   Yeah, you had to be associated with MacWorld or MacUser. And it was interesting for me,

00:38:09   actually, I remember the first app or first product that I was ever given for review was now utilities 2.0

00:38:16   oh, man, what a great what a great and

00:38:19   fabulous fabulous app fabulous collection of apps obviously wonderful utilities and I reviewed the hell out of that thing I

00:38:28   Wrote so much because I couldn't believe they'd given me this free software

00:38:35   You know, and before that, I mean, like, you saved your money to buy stuff like Quick Keys and Suitcase, and, you know,

00:38:41   you really agonized over the fact that you could spend $50 on this app.

00:38:46   And, you know, and when you got it, you were just like, "Oh, this is the best thing ever!"

00:38:51   And so, yeah, so, and it was always terrible when you had the best thing ever, and then someone came out with a new one.

00:38:57   And you had to decide whether or not you could justify

00:39:02   Switching to this new app that was the same as yours but better because it was newer in these ways

00:39:08   Yeah, the compression Wars that was the other big thing that was going on back then

00:39:13   Alright, let's let's pick it up at the computer wars

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00:41:52   them out that storage war are the the compression Wars compact Pro versus

00:41:57   stuff it and then disc doubler doubler and oh gosh there was there was a

00:42:07   company Ali says yeah oh they had slightly dodgy software because I mean

00:42:14   this is compression so you'd care do they were touching every freaking file

00:42:18   on your hard disk. So this, my story on this, I was a disk doubler person. Yes, disk doubler was great.

00:42:26   I had, I told you I had a Mac LC, came with a 40 megabyte hard disk, and I had no money to buy

00:42:36   an external hard drive, which were exorbitantly expensive at the time. So like I told you earlier,

00:42:42   I spent a lot of money on floppies. So anything I really wanted backed up would be backed up to

00:42:47   But if you have a 40 megabyte hard drive and your floppies are 1.4, you know, in the 90s

00:42:54   we were up to the double density floppies, so they were all 1.4 megabytes.

00:42:59   Remember how you could buy a single density one and then use a hole punch?

00:43:02   Yes, yes.

00:43:03   You click and punch the other side of it.

00:43:05   So number one.

00:43:06   How's…

00:43:07   I mean, I don't know.

00:43:10   I never had one go bad, but it does seem really loose and loosey-goosey with your data integrity

00:43:16   that you just took took a floppy that was certified as

00:43:19   800 kilobytes used a hole punch to punch a hole through the plastic because that's how the disk drive mechanisms

00:43:26   They just shown a light through the you know, does the light go through? Yes. Okay high density

00:43:31   And it worked

00:43:34   But anyway, I can assume is it was one of those things. It wasn't worth making the drug the quality worse

00:43:39   You know like you work up your manufacturing line. Why would you make it worse?

00:43:45   I never had troubles either.

00:43:48   So I'm going to crack up so many times telling this story, and people who are young enough not to remember this are going to think it's not true.

00:43:55   But Disc Doubler was a commercial utility, sold for a reasonable amount of money because it was consumer, not sold just to businesses.

00:44:04   It was advertised the heck out of Mac user and Mac world.

00:44:09   You know, I don't know 50 bucks. Maybe let's say 50 bucks

00:44:12   you'd buy a copy of disc doubler and then when you installed it, it would

00:44:16   it would install a system extension on your Mac and then it would automatically compress your entire disc and

00:44:25   Promised roughly to double that's the name disc doubler

00:44:30   So with 50% you know compression it would double you know, if you had a 40 megabyte disc you'd effectively have an 80 megabyte disc and

00:44:39   And then this is the part, number one,

00:44:42   already sounds a little too good to be true.

00:44:44   And number two, they said it hardly noticeable

00:44:48   performance-wise.

00:44:49   Like they, you know, and you can't say

00:44:51   it's not noticeable at all, but they, you know,

00:44:53   they had numbers in their ads and they'd say

00:44:54   it's only like 5% or something like that.

00:44:57   So for like a five to 10% trade-off on disk performance,

00:45:01   you could double the space of your drive.

00:45:03   So it sounds way too good to be true,

00:45:06   But I remember reading reviews and reviewers

00:45:09   at Trusted Magazine said it actually works.

00:45:12   Everything they say is actually true.

00:45:14   And I was like, hmm, 'cause I could really use this

00:45:16   because every week I keep putting stuff

00:45:19   from my drive onto floppies.

00:45:21   And I was running that 40 megabyte drive

00:45:24   at about 37 megabytes all the time.

00:45:28   And then you get closer to 40

00:45:30   and then you find some empty floppy disks,

00:45:34   and move some stuff off onto floppies so you could keep going.

00:45:37   That sounds good.

00:45:38   But the thing is, here's the really scary part.

00:45:41   You'd install it if you didn't have, and I didn't,

00:45:44   like a 40 megabyte drive to copy your current drive onto

00:45:48   just in case it was, you're on the trapeze with no net.

00:45:53   Right?

00:45:56   Like if I had installed, if I had tried disk doubler

00:45:59   and it had just corrupted my drive in the way

00:46:01   that I kind of thought there must be a very high chance that it would.

00:46:05   I just lost everything that wasn't already on a floppy disk.

00:46:09   And if I had to restore it, it would be like, you know,

00:46:12   one megabyte from this disc, one megabyte from that disc. But anyway,

00:46:16   long story short, it, it frigging worked.

00:46:18   That software was just amazing. I mean, the, the,

00:46:25   the thrill of seeing it

00:46:30   work because it was truly magic to have your drive suddenly have twice as much space.

00:46:37   And you know, I can't remember the amount of performance hits as you say, but I do remember

00:46:43   there was, you only saw it when you opened and closed stuff. Like because it had to expand into

00:46:48   memory and then recompress. And you know, but that's not a time when you're really all that

00:46:53   stressed, right? You were working at full speed. It was just, you know, opening and closing was

00:46:58   was a little slower.

00:46:59   - And disk IO, even on a hard disk,

00:47:01   was so slow at the time.

00:47:03   I think that's the layman's explanation

00:47:08   for how could it possibly be true

00:47:10   is that the compression algorithm

00:47:15   that ran on your CPU as it read the bytes off your drive

00:47:20   was fast enough and efficient enough,

00:47:23   and the drive was so slow,

00:47:26   Even if you weren't compressing everything,

00:47:28   that it could be made to work.

00:47:30   It was, and that's the secret,

00:47:32   is that even if you weren't using disk doubler,

00:47:34   reading a file off your hard drive was incredibly slow.

00:47:37   You just knew, oh, you know, wait for this.

00:47:40   Here's the watch cursor.

00:47:41   - And yeah, you'd wait for stuff,

00:47:43   but also things were just smaller too.

00:47:45   - Yeah.

00:47:46   - So, you know, I mean,

00:47:47   I've been doing a lot of disk testing recently

00:47:50   due to a failed SSD in my iMac.

00:47:53   And I'm kind of dealing with this performance issue.

00:47:56   And I was like, boy, I just don't remember

00:47:59   Max being slow in the past.

00:48:02   But that's partly because we moved so much less data around.

00:48:08   And they could be pretty quick for what the user saw,

00:48:14   even if the actual throughput was just insanely bad.

00:48:21   - Yeah, well, I mean, at that time,

00:48:23   like, you know, by the early '90s,

00:48:25   everybody's, you know, it's like,

00:48:26   you had like a 20 or 40 megabyte hard disk in your Mac

00:48:30   when you got a new one, but they were still,

00:48:32   the ecosystem was still there from the era

00:48:35   before hard drives. - Yep.

00:48:37   - And so the assumption was that you might just be running

00:48:40   your app off a floppy disk, and so the app

00:48:43   and all of its documents needed to be on a floppy disk,

00:48:48   Which in practice was, I've always thought it harkened back,

00:48:53   or harks back quite a bit now to the way iOS works

00:48:59   where you don't really have files in a file system

00:49:04   and when you delete the app, you delete its data

00:49:08   and it's all just there.

00:49:09   Like the idea that your word processor

00:49:12   and all of your word processing documents

00:49:14   were on one floppy disk was--

00:49:16   - Yes.

00:49:17   sort of conceptually similar.

00:49:19   - No, you had a word processing disk.

00:49:22   - Yeah.

00:49:23   - That's absolutely true.

00:49:24   And yes, you had a spreadsheet disk

00:49:25   and you had a database disk and you didn't mix them.

00:49:29   Partly 'cause you only had one disk drive, right?

00:49:31   Most of the time.

00:49:32   So yeah, no, I think that is conceptually fair.

00:49:38   But I have to say the one thing

00:49:42   that was even more magical than DiskTubler,

00:49:46   And I remember when this came out at Macworld and covering it in tidbits, was Connectix's RAM doubler.

00:49:52   The first virtual memory system.

00:49:55   And again, it was the same thing, right? They were just compressing RAM.

00:50:00   And moving some stuff off to disk and all the little virtual memory tricks that are kind of standard now we didn't even think about.

00:50:09   But that was back when memory was so mind-bogglingly expensive,

00:50:15   hundreds of dollars per megabyte.

00:50:17   All right, however expensive I was thinking and just complaining that hard drives were,

00:50:22   RAM was way more.

00:50:25   RAM was like getting the uranium in Back to the Future.

00:50:30   It was like, forget about it. You had to know somebody.

00:50:34   And so, yeah, doubling your RAM through virtual memory.

00:50:38   But the crazy part of that is you think like well virtual memory. We're all used to it, you know, so

00:50:44   Sure, I can believe it the crazy part compared to today was that it came from a third party

00:50:51   It wasn't like yes Apple has enabled this feature called RAM doubler and you could turn it on and double your RAM

00:50:57   It was a utility you bought from a company

00:51:00   That modified Mac OS to have virtual memory and it it was an operating system that didn't have virtual memory

00:51:08   Like, that's crazy today.

00:51:11   (laughing)

00:51:12   - And my understanding, and I was not a computer person,

00:51:15   a computer science person.

00:51:17   So my understanding though,

00:51:19   is that the concept of virtual memory

00:51:21   was pretty well known at that point in time.

00:51:24   In the Unix world, this was not an astonishing revelation

00:51:28   that Connectix came up with.

00:51:30   It was more that Apple didn't do it.

00:51:33   And so Connectix did.

00:51:35   And that's just fascinating.

00:51:37   you know, that doesn't happen anymore. No one can get into the operating system to that level.

00:51:42   Right. And, you know, and I think that it comes down to the fact that just by the nature of the

00:51:49   machines, everything, even the Mac, which was conceptually in terms of when you turned it on,

00:51:55   presented itself in a way that abstracted the computer, you know, like, it was a big deal that

00:52:01   the 1984 Mac, when you turned it on, what was the first thing you saw when the screen went on? You

00:52:06   You saw a smiling Mac logo.

00:52:08   You didn't see some kind of fixed width,

00:52:12   mono spaced font telling you, you know,

00:52:14   initialize and dot dot dot,

00:52:16   and then a couple of things stream by,

00:52:17   and then the graphics kick in.

00:52:19   It was completely encapsulated in a graphical interface.

00:52:24   But still, the truth is,

00:52:28   it ran very low to the metal by today's standards.

00:52:32   And there just, it just wasn't that much there.

00:52:35   So a very clever, talented team of third-party developers

00:52:39   from outside the company could just sort of dissect it,

00:52:43   figure out how the whole thing worked,

00:52:46   and figure out, well, if we just patch right here,

00:52:49   we can control the system's memory.

00:52:54   - Now, did you ever go to MacHack?

00:52:57   - No, I never went to MacHack.

00:53:00   - So I knew about MacHack for many years.

00:53:04   I'd write about it in tidbits because there was always the hack contest, the MacHacks contest,

00:53:09   which was different, spelled different, slightly differently. There were issues with that.

00:53:12   And then at one year, someone said, you know, like, "Oh, are you going to MacHack?" I was like,

00:53:17   "No, I'm not a programmer." And I was like, "Oh, really? I thought you were there last year."

00:53:21   And I'm like, "Okay, if people are assuming that I should be going," and I was there,

00:53:25   and they just missed me. So I went and I had more fun than could possibly be imagined.

00:53:31   But what was most amazing about it was the level of creativity that came out of the best programmers

00:53:42   in the Macintosh world sitting in a hotel lobby for 72 hours drinking Jolt Cola. And programming

00:53:50   non-stop. So for people who don't remember, just give the high-level overview of what MacHack was.

00:53:57   So MacHack, it was a programmer's conference, and so only for developers, and it dates way back.

00:54:04   I don't actually quite remember when the first ones were, probably in the 80s, late 80s if not

00:54:08   before. And it happened in Dearborn, Michigan in a holiday inn? I think it was a holiday inn.

00:54:17   I just love it.

00:54:17   And, well, but the point was that there was nothing else to do.

00:54:23   Right.

00:54:24   Right you went to this holiday and it had a great lobby and then everyone would sit around the entire time

00:54:30   in this big lobby and at tables with lots of power bricks and everything and and

00:54:36   you know chatting and

00:54:38   Discussing about the best ways to do things and hack this and you know what you could do to get into the system this way

00:54:44   and that and everyone was developing the

00:54:47   hacks

00:54:49   which

00:54:50   Were just to demonstrate

00:54:52   interesting facts or techniques or something that this programmer knew and

00:54:57   They weren't meant to be useful

00:54:59   And in fact when you demoed it if it was useful the audience would derisively yell useful at you

00:55:05   If you and if you talked it up too much then they would yell marketing at you

00:55:10   Marketing was a dirty word

00:55:12   and

00:55:14   And this but it was it was just completely

00:55:20   Developer centric and of its era. I mean the keynote on the first day started at midnight

00:55:25   And

00:55:28   People literally didn't sleep the entire time

00:55:31   so I guess the idea the idea was everybody would fly into Michigan and

00:55:36   During the day then you'd go there dump your stuff. I don't even know did people even get hotel rooms, I guess

00:55:43   Oh, it was everyone stayed in the hotel, right?

00:55:46   You never left the hotel.

00:55:48   And then by the time you'd like unpack and, you know,

00:55:51   then the conference just started that night.

00:55:54   There you go.

00:55:54   Yep, conference started and you would program straight

00:55:57   for 72 hours and then it culminated

00:56:00   with the presentation of the hacks.

00:56:02   And Scott Boyd and some of the other Blue Meanies from Apple

00:56:06   or the people who ran the Mac Hacks contest,

00:56:10   and they would come up with these wonderful prizes.

00:56:14   and the best one was a Victor A-Trap mousetrap,

00:56:19   because A-traps were something in programming.

00:56:23   I don't even remember if I knew that.

00:56:26   And so it was, if you won the Victor A-Trap,

00:56:29   that was a badge of honor,

00:56:32   and showed that you were the best of the best.

00:56:37   But the things that came out of that,

00:56:39   we had the Energizer Bunny,

00:56:42   where someone actually programmed something to jump.

00:56:45   It was a little, the Energizer Bunny beating his little drum,

00:56:48   walking from Macintosh to Macintosh over the network.

00:56:51   (laughing)

00:56:54   You know, that's where Oscar the Grouch came from.

00:56:55   When you threw something away in the trash,

00:56:57   the Grouch came out.

00:56:58   - Was that really a Mac hack?

00:56:59   I didn't know that.

00:57:00   I've talked about the Grouch extension many,

00:57:02   I probably was.

00:57:03   - Pretty sure it was, Eric Shapiro, yeah.

00:57:05   - Yeah, it probably was.

00:57:06   - And let's see, then, oh, John Gatto,

00:57:09   who still does default folder 10.

00:57:12   still around, still programming great stuff. He broke his Powerbook screen on the way to

00:57:18   the conference one year, but didn't completely break it. So it was like just the upper triangle

00:57:24   out of the upper corner broke, and he somehow rewrote the video driver to map out those

00:57:30   pixels. So it was a fully functional screen with just like a chunk taken out of it, but

00:57:36   he didn't miss anything behind there because he didn't know those pixels existed anymore.

00:57:40   someone figured out how to do a FireWire virus where all you had to do was plug into FireWire

00:57:46   and you would be infected. Stuart Cheshire did the first Wi-Fi scanner. So he actually pulls up

00:57:57   his app in the demonstration, you know, in the program. We got Wi-Fi at this point,

00:58:01   this is a little later. And he pulls it up and it starts showing on screen all the images from

00:58:07   from the web pages, people in the audience started loading. Because it was unprotected

00:58:13   WAP at the time. So as it just amazing stuff, and a lot of it really was proof of concept

00:58:18   of we think this is a problem. I've got 72 hours to explore. And I've got people who

00:58:23   know more about this, including the developers of the operating system. A lot of the times

00:58:28   a lot of Apple people went.

00:58:29   Stuart Sesser, among other things, invented Bonjour networking, which we still we don't

00:58:34   even really talk about it anymore. But it's still

00:58:36   - Yeah, it's just there.

00:58:38   (laughing)

00:58:39   Just works.

00:58:40   So right, so you had access to the smartest people

00:58:43   in the community, and you'd have an idea,

00:58:45   and you'd know you could go over and talk to this person

00:58:48   or that person if you got stuck.

00:58:51   And everyone just helped everyone else, you know?

00:58:54   And so, and you know, half the stuff barely worked.

00:58:57   I mean, you just had to get it working enough to demo it.

00:59:00   It was never meant to be a product.

00:59:02   Almost nothing ever shipped out of MacHack.

00:59:04   That wasn't the point.

00:59:05   the point was just to, this was your time to experiment

00:59:09   and to explore.

00:59:10   And as a writer, it was the ultimate time

00:59:15   because you could talk to everybody.

00:59:19   You could just sit and hang out in these conversations

00:59:22   and learn more about what was going on

00:59:26   in the Macintosh world than any other way.

00:59:29   It was incredible.

00:59:30   - Well, I always wanted to go.

00:59:32   it was always sort of out of my budget, slash too young,

00:59:37   and just never got around.

00:59:39   But I remember when you started going,

00:59:42   and I remember you sort of, you know,

00:59:44   putting it the same way you just did here,

00:59:47   where it was like, you always thought it was

00:59:48   for programmers, and they're like, no, you should come.

00:59:50   And then you started writing about it.

00:59:53   And it suddenly became, and it wasn't like

00:59:55   it was a secret thing, it wasn't that nobody,

00:59:58   it wasn't that it hadn't been documented

01:00:01   Because it wasn't it was secret. It's just that there wasn't a writer who went and you know

01:00:06   You weren't going to patch any a-traps. So you wrote about it and I just remember loving that

01:00:11   I just remember appreciating it like I'd heard of Mac hack kind of knew the gist of it

01:00:16   But then once you started writing about it, it was like, you know

01:00:20   All of a sudden you are there like any you know, good journalist. Yeah

01:00:25   Yeah, and it was it was so

01:00:29   Wonderful also to really meet the people because we had email back then

01:00:34   but it really was email and private mailing lists and things like that and

01:00:39   You know, you didn't have the immediacy of social media of Twitter or Facebook of even chat

01:00:44   people did IRC a little bit but not so much and

01:00:48   That wasn't where the good stuff happened

01:00:50   And so you'd know these people

01:00:52   But you really didn't get a chance to meet them a lot of the time until you went to something like Mac hack or Mac world

01:00:58   I mean, yeah, that's kind of where I've met, you know, a lot of the people who I've become friends with subsequently

01:01:03   and

01:01:05   You know you just you you could actually spend real time with them

01:01:10   Yeah, you know, it wasn't even jelly Mac world was great. But mac world was more like meet-and-greet

01:01:14   Mac hack it was sit down and you know talk for an hour. Yeah

01:01:19   Alright, let me take a break here. Thank our second sponsor. It's our good friends. It feels fe a

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01:03:00   All right, let's go back to tidbits.

01:03:02   But I, you know, we've set the stage.

01:03:05   You know, it's the early go-go years,

01:03:06   the 90s of the internet.

01:03:08   One of the things I have, I always found interesting

01:03:13   right away. I mean, tidbits grab my attention.

01:03:17   And truly, I mean, I don't even know what else, you know, the only other thing I could really think of as an inspiration before Daring Fireball

01:03:25   would be Matt Dethridge's MDJ.

01:03:30   MDJ, MWJ.

01:03:32   As online publications that weren't like...

01:03:40   And I'm not putting down the idea of blogging.

01:03:43   Certainly there were hundreds and hundreds of good blogs

01:03:46   before Daring Fireball started in 2002.

01:03:51   But there weren't any that seemed like this

01:03:54   is what somebody wants-- this is meant

01:03:58   to stand toe to toe with any publication in terms

01:04:01   of its editorial merit, integrity, usefulness,

01:04:06   any good adjectives you can throw at it.

01:04:08   And the thing about Tidbits that was just like a thunderbolt to me as a college student

01:04:13   in the early 90s was this is 100% serious.

01:04:17   And it wasn't pretentious.

01:04:18   It was always, you know, the writing style, the editorial voice is consistent through

01:04:24   to today.

01:04:25   It was from the user's perspective, right?

01:04:27   It was very much always, you know, we're all in this together.

01:04:31   We're like you.

01:04:32   We're just writing this.

01:04:34   But it never felt like, oh, Tidbits is just Adam and Tanya Anx trying to get jobs at Macworld,

01:04:41   you know, and then they'll go to Macworld and Tidbits will go away.

01:04:46   Yeah, it's an interesting realization.

01:04:50   I sometimes consider this in terms of, you know, like, Tanya and I are very much Gen

01:04:57   X. And we're kind of the bottom of the population curve, and we got out of college at a time

01:05:04   when the economy wasn't doing so well. And I think there's a little bit of, I don't know,

01:05:10   inferiority complex isn't quite the right term, but we felt we needed to seem professional.

01:05:16   We knew we were faking it, right? I mean, you know, I started tidbits when I was what, 23.

01:05:23   So, you know, I was faking it like crazy. But it was definitely one of those things where you tried

01:05:33   as hard as you could to emulate the big boys, you know, the Macworlds, the Macweeks, whatnot.

01:05:39   And it turned out you could do that. That was merely work. I mean, you could learn how to

01:05:47   write well and, you know, and do those things. I'm like, I don't have a degree in journalism.

01:05:52   I didn't have any training in this. My degree's in hypertextual fiction and classics, for goodness

01:05:56   sake. So it was a learning curve, I think, but one where we knew what we were going for.

01:06:04   But it was clearly aimed to be at the standards of the big boys, but it in no way emulated the

01:06:16   format. It wasn't monthly, it was weekly. And then there was Mac Week, which was weekly,

01:06:24   but was very much in and of the trade industry and and tidbits was very much not you know it was

01:06:30   clearly meant it was egalitarian and meant for everybody i mean i i joked about how hard it was

01:06:36   to read uh mac week but it really was and whereas you guys you just said like part of the reason you

01:06:43   switched from hypertext to the plaintext ctex was to get make it as easy as possible literally like

01:06:48   You went you you did everything you possibly could to make it as easy as possible for anybody

01:06:54   Who might want tidbits to get it and read it and who might want it but has never heard of it to discover it

01:07:01   And that was the same reason why we uploaded to all the commercial services

01:07:06   You know and and encourage people to spread it further, you know in terms of bulletin boards or whatever, you know

01:07:12   Tibbets has always been free and as always we've always really wanted people to read

01:07:18   You know, that's what it's about

01:07:20   and so, you know and not about trying to

01:07:23   To to narrow it down or have a paywall or make portions of it available anything like that

01:07:28   and

01:07:30   And I really liked that that aspect of it the the one thing that I do remember

01:07:36   getting criticized for this was actually more with the internet starter kit, um than tidbit specifically, but

01:07:41   We wrote from the first person and we wrote active voice

01:07:47   And that was actually pretty unusual at the time. That tech writing was often third-person,

01:07:55   passive voice back then, but of course it's horrible to read. And not having a journalism

01:08:02   degree or not having any background in this, I wrote what I knew. And what I knew was in my

01:08:08   voice. So I think that people identified with that, that you could easily put yourself into that eye.

01:08:15   Yeah, and it came and that's what always made it so compelling to me and again, there's a place

01:08:22   For the other styles and of course, you know

01:08:26   Mac world was always a little bit more

01:08:30   buttoned up and Mac user a little bit more buttoned down and I think that you know as somebody who was a

01:08:37   voracious reader of both I

01:08:41   Feel like the people I know who were involved in them

01:08:44   I saw that a little bit more closely than those of us on the outside even though I'm a very I was a very close

01:08:50   Reader of both but the people who were in the game at the time

01:08:54   Really saw that you know that the yes world saw themselves as more serious like the New Yorker of the monthly Mac magazines and

01:09:02   Mac user was a little more people magazine

01:09:05   and eventually then we got Mac addict which took it even further right right now into the

01:09:11   Gonzo journalism so to speak right and you know and I think as the years went on it blurred because people jump ship and I

01:09:17   Know I think I at least I think I know that

01:09:19   Jason Snell started at Mac user and then wound up running Mac world and Mac user went away and it blurred

01:09:25   But but like at the time

01:09:27   Like and I can't think of anything that better

01:09:30   exemplified it than the fact that Andy and at goes column was in Mac user and and it was

01:09:38   You know andy style just

01:09:40   Andy couldn't have been Andy in Mac world. It just wouldn't you know, well

01:09:44   and in fact the I remember in

01:09:47   1992 was the I first was asked to write for one of the magazines and I got a column

01:09:53   I had a column was actually only very short-lived unfortunately not doing my fault fault of mine

01:09:58   I was told but it was called beating the system. Hmm. It was all about ways to kind of hack the system and

01:10:05   with utilities and whatnot stuff that would go under the hood and

01:10:09   and I and it was Mac user and they

01:10:12   For whatever reason they sort of reorganized the book and and and canceled that column as part of it

01:10:18   But I was mostly happy because I got the t-shirt

01:10:22   As having written that are up two or three of them I had before they it was only a few months

01:10:28   And I got the t-shirt and I love that I still have it somewhere

01:10:32   But again, that was what you did back then today. You got the t-shirt and you were good.

01:10:40   I've told this story before. I should have Andy on the show and do his show with Andy,

01:10:46   but I'll tell it here. But the first time my name ever appeared in a Macintosh magazine was Andy.

01:10:55   I think Andy was co-rope, co-bylined the column

01:10:59   with Bob Levitas.

01:11:01   It was like the Mac help column.

01:11:02   And they would answer your questions.

01:11:05   You'd answer, you'd write in like,

01:11:07   "Hey, I'm running out of space on my hard disk.

01:11:09   "What do I do?"

01:11:10   And it was always very,

01:11:12   I don't know how the heck it worked

01:11:14   'cause the lead time on magazines

01:11:15   was like four or five months back then.

01:11:17   And so like, even if like you wrote your letter

01:11:20   and it got to them and they read it right away

01:11:23   and thought, "This is a great question."

01:11:25   and they answered it right away

01:11:26   for their next upcoming column,

01:11:28   it was still gonna,

01:11:30   like the answer was gonna show up like months later.

01:11:32   Like if it happened as fast as possible.

01:11:35   And you know, and Bob and Andy were good together,

01:11:39   but you know, Andy's style appealed to me more.

01:11:42   I mean, 'cause he was just so, just odd, you know,

01:11:46   just crazy.

01:11:48   And so I wrote a letter, (laughs)

01:11:51   I wrote a letter,

01:11:53   And it had nothing to do with Macintosh.

01:11:57   I just wrote, "Who would win in a fight?

01:11:59   "The Millennium Falcon or the Starship Enterprise?"

01:12:02   (laughing)

01:12:05   John Gruber of Philadelphia.

01:12:06   And my honest expectation was that maybe Andy would see it.

01:12:10   I didn't know him, but I was just a fan.

01:12:12   I thought, "Maybe he'll see it and it'll crack a smile.

01:12:14   "I hope it cracks a smile."

01:12:16   I might even have had a PS, I love your column.

01:12:19   And then like five months later, I'm reading MacUser,

01:12:22   there it is. I had no idea they never called to confirm or anything like that. I'd actually

01:12:27   forgotten that I sent it in. I think I actually sent like a paper letter to do it. I'm just

01:12:32   flipping through Mac user and there's my question and Andy went into D. I actually don't remember

01:12:37   the answer. So anybody out there who has a stash of old Mac users, take a look. If you can find it,

01:12:42   I'll give you, I don't know what I'll give you, but I'll give you something. But he took it

01:12:46   seriously and just, and it's just in the middle of like, you know, recommending now utilities to

01:12:51   solve this and, you know, telling you how to set up style sheets and, you know, page maker to get

01:12:57   around that and, you know, all of these actual answers to actual questions. And in the middle of

01:13:03   the column was Andy going off about a Star Wars spaceship versus a Star Trek spaceship and who

01:13:08   would win. And I loved it. Which he must have just enjoyed so much. I don't know. It was knowing Andy.

01:13:15   It was crazy. And I gotta say, like, the dope, even though it was just, and it might, my question

01:13:20   was like eight words long, but seeing my name in MacUser was such a dopamine hit. I was like, "Ooh."

01:13:25   But you know what? So one of the other things that was so striking? You say you,

01:13:32   like at Cornell, you majored in the classics. So one of my favorite bylines in tidbits was Matt

01:13:39   Newberg. Oh, who was my professor. Right, of the classics. He was actually my Greek professor.

01:13:46   I mean literally Greek, ancient Greek. Not the easy Greek like going to Greece now. We're talking

01:13:53   Plato and Socrates and Archimedes and old school. But also perhaps better known if you don't know

01:14:07   his byline from tidbits, but you might as a listener of this show remember that he's written

01:14:12   fantastic he's one of the greatest pro eat I not degress my favorite

01:14:17   programming books ever written are Matt's he wrote the Apple script

01:14:21   definitive guide which if you want to do anything even to this day if you want to

01:14:26   do anything in Apple script you if you don't it if you don't own that book I

01:14:30   don't know how you do it because Apple script is such a bizarro weird language

01:14:34   with edges that can be bitten and Matt somehow figured it all out all sorts of

01:14:40   other books over the years, but—

01:14:42   Well, in fact, it's actually—it plays into his strengths because he really—he is a

01:14:48   classist. So, Greek, Latin, you know, other languages as well. And to give you an idea,

01:14:55   when I took a class with him, the class I took was Greek composition. And so we were

01:15:00   translating English—25 sentences of English into Greek every week. But this was a class

01:15:06   for two people.

01:15:07   [laughter]

01:15:08   Me and another guy. And Matt wrote a textbook for us because he wasn't happy

01:15:15   with all of the other ones out there. So you can see where he goes, he takes that

01:15:21   and then he moves it into other languages like AppleScript and now his

01:15:25   iOS programming books. I mean, and Swift and whatnot. So it's actually in some

01:15:30   ways a really understandable path, but you wouldn't have expected it at the

01:15:35   time. And you know and and he would have you know well that was also one of the

01:15:41   things I mean just tidbits was a magnet for really good writers I mean that's

01:15:45   where I got introduced to Glenn Fleishman and just there's a tidbit

01:15:50   style and the writers who were drawn to it were you know drawn to that sort of

01:15:57   mindset but their individual voices always shown through and and one of the

01:16:03   things that we tried to do that, again, may not be obvious in today's world, is that magazines

01:16:13   had hard word limits. If you had a 600-word article, you wrote 600 words. Or if you wrote

01:16:22   more, they just cut them because they didn't have any more space. It was physical space

01:16:27   limitations. And so one of the things that was interesting about tidbits is we did, for

01:16:33   a while have that 30k limit. But we could just put out another issue if we needed to. I mean,

01:16:38   we weren't constrained in any real way. And so, one thing that I always told people was is,

01:16:45   you write what you need to write to explain the subject. And I don't care how long it is.

01:16:52   Nowadays, I try to rein people in a little bit because sometimes I feel like people can just

01:16:57   keep going on and on and on. But overall, the concept of being able to write to the

01:17:06   comfortable length or the length of the subject needed was actually really unusual. And so

01:17:14   yeah, there were people like Matt and Glenn and Lex Friedman wrote for us for a while.

01:17:24   a while, I mean we were obviously been friends with Jason forever, and to an extent Tibbits

01:17:29   was seen as a farm team. You know, that someone would write for us and then I'd get email

01:17:34   from Jason saying, you know, "Hey, so and so has pitched an article" or "I'm looking

01:17:38   for someone, do you know someone?" And I'd say, "Well, here you go, Tibbits can't pay

01:17:44   them, but you can, so please do." You know, at the time we had no money, so we couldn't

01:17:49   pay people but you know everyone was happy to write for free and sometimes it

01:17:54   turned into serious careers for these people yeah definitely I mean you know

01:17:58   and some of them are still you know as much in the game as as ever you know

01:18:04   yeah yeah I mean you know Glenn obviously going strong and you know and

01:18:08   obviously we were at some point we managed to get our finances changed

01:18:13   around so that we could pay people because of course you want to be able to

01:18:16   do that. And I don't actually don't think it changed that much. It was more that we

01:18:22   had the same people writing, but now we could pay them as opposed to feeling badly that

01:18:27   we weren't.

01:18:28   Yeah. One of the things that a lot of... Matt, we just said, has a bunch of great programming

01:18:39   books under his belt, you wrote The Internet Starter Kit, which was a sensation in the 90s.

01:18:51   I mean, we really have to talk about it. I know it's 30 years of tidbits, but The Internet Starter

01:18:56   Kit, it's hard to fathom how important a book could be. And it was more than a book because it

01:19:02   came with a CD, so it would have, you know... And first one was the floppy disk.

01:19:07   floppy disk because you didn't have cd-roms. We weren't even up to CDs.

01:19:11   But that floppy disk was actually the key to the whole thing. And the reason for that was that in

01:19:23   1993, when this book comes out, there was a small amount of graphical internet software.

01:19:31   And so, before this, you know, internet, getting on the internet was a command line thing.

01:19:36   You'd do it via a terminal of some sort. And that was about the only thing. You could download stuff.

01:19:42   We had file transfer programs and whatnot, but not much more than that. And the graphical stuff

01:19:48   required a TCP stack, Transmission Control Protocol, one of the core protocols of the internet.

01:19:55   and it came from Apple. Only Apple could make it, but it cost $60. And you couldn't just go to an

01:20:03   Apple store to buy it because there were no Apple stores. So, and Apple didn't make it available via

01:20:09   Mac Connection and Mac Warehouse and all of the mail order stores. This was really hard stuff to

01:20:14   get, and it was $60. So, I'm working on my book, and my acquisition is that there's a woman named

01:20:20   Karen Whitehouse at Hayden. Karen was amazing. She's one of those women who just doesn't

01:20:26   take no for an answer, which is kind of how I ended up writing the book. I didn't say

01:20:31   no, but I didn't say yes instantly when she asked if I'd write the book. So she asked

01:20:37   what I wanted on the disk, and I was like, "Well, you know, it'd be great if you could

01:20:40   get me Mac TCP, something called Mac slip from Intercon software." That was the thing

01:20:49   that that dialed your modem and would get needed but it would instead of just giving

01:20:53   you a terminal connection Mac slip would give you an IP address and your Mac was on it as

01:20:59   that was the IP part of TCP IP so you needed those two things and and then I was like oh

01:21:05   and Eudora and fetch and I can't even remember if there was anything else in that first one

01:21:11   so stuff it stuff it expand right you need to add head of stuff because you couldn't

01:21:15   - You couldn't, otherwise you couldn't.

01:21:16   - You couldn't expand any of the activity.

01:21:18   So, and so MacT, so I totally didn't expect Karen

01:21:22   to be able to get MacTCP,

01:21:24   'cause it was commercial, serious commercial software.

01:21:26   And the rest of the other stuff was either shareware

01:21:28   or free software or otherwise.

01:21:31   And she somehow talked Apple into licensing MacTCP

01:21:35   for $5,000, which was a ton of money at the time.

01:21:40   But Hayden was in a funny situation.

01:21:42   They were a new imprint of, oh gosh, Prentice Hall and MacNellen, one of the larger companies

01:21:48   at the time, I can't remember.

01:21:50   And they were just told to get market share so they could spend money.

01:21:55   And so, Karen goes and gets Mac TCP and we put it on the disk.

01:21:59   That makes it a complete system with one more thing, which was that, I was like, "Oh, who

01:22:05   are you going to call?"

01:22:06   And not Ghostbusters, but you needed an ISP.

01:22:11   And there weren't just ISPs at that point in time.

01:22:15   There was one in every city, maybe, if it was a big enough city.

01:22:19   Seattle had one.

01:22:21   And the Seattle ISP was a company called Northwest Nexus, and I'd been working with them since

01:22:25   I moved to Seattle in 1991.

01:22:27   So I'd actually connected with another group that they'd merged with for when you just

01:22:33   shared internet connections.

01:22:35   And so I went to see them and I said, "Hey, I'm looking for an ISP to do this.

01:22:40   Do you know of anyone?"

01:22:41   assumed they wouldn't want to do it because this was going to be a national book if not an

01:22:44   international book. And the guy Ed Morin said, "That's a problem we'd like to have." I'm like,

01:22:50   "Oh, okay." And so we ended up having all the software and a flat rate internet account,

01:22:59   which was the first one. So before that you paid by the minute.

01:23:04   So the longer you stayed online, you could see that racking up. So you talk about 10 bucks an

01:23:10   hour to call Amy in Pittsburgh? Well, that was the same thing with your internet connection.

01:23:15   Plus, I mean, actually it was worse than that because it was long distance phone call,

01:23:20   possibly, and the internet, the cost of the internet connection. So this was so popular,

01:23:26   we actually had people calling internationally from Japan to Seattle because it was cheaper

01:23:32   than getting internet access in Japan. It was 30 bucks a month. And so, yeah, so that book, I mean,

01:23:40   Obviously, you do the best work you can.

01:23:43   I had never written a book before.

01:23:46   I was giving people everyone-- giving everyone

01:23:49   everything I knew.

01:23:50   And at that time, it literally was everything

01:23:53   there was to know about the internet and the Macintosh.

01:23:56   And I'm pretty confident of that,

01:23:57   because we actually held the book for another week or two

01:24:01   so I could get stuff about the first web browser,

01:24:04   Mac W, W, W, W in it, and stuff like that.

01:24:08   So that was just happening.

01:24:10   So we were the fifth book about the internet

01:24:11   rather than the fourth because of holding it

01:24:13   for an extra couple of weeks so I could cover the web.

01:24:17   - I remember reading it and I remember that I was

01:24:21   a voracious enough Mac nerd on the internet at the time

01:24:27   that I knew just about all of it.

01:24:29   I definitely learned Eudora stuff from you.

01:24:31   I mean, how could you not?

01:24:33   I mean, nobody, only Steve Dorner knew more

01:24:36   about Eudora than you.

01:24:38   So I definitely did learn stuff,

01:24:40   or relearn stuff that I had forgotten.

01:24:44   But I just enjoyed reading it as the,

01:24:47   it was like a reinforcement of encyclopedic knowledge.

01:24:51   I can completely confirm that it felt to me

01:24:55   like this is everything you could possibly know

01:24:58   about getting a Macintosh onto the internet.

01:25:00   I think the thing that's so crazy in hindsight,

01:25:03   it's so hard to remember, and you think like,

01:25:06   well, how the hell could Mac TCP be something Apple tried to sell for $60?

01:25:12   And it wasn't, I don't think, so much a proprietary money grab,

01:25:17   but just the way the industry had just grown up around--

01:25:21   like in the way--

01:25:22   It was cluelessness.

01:25:23   Yeah.

01:25:24   --that PC floppies and Mac floppies were different file formats,

01:25:27   so you couldn't put one-- even you just couldn't put one into the other.

01:25:30   Well, there were also different networking protocols.

01:25:32   And you might have a Novell network if you had a bunch of PCs,

01:25:36   you had a local talk network, if you had a bunch of Macs.

01:25:39   And there were just other proprietary things

01:25:43   like token ring.

01:25:44   I never saw one, but I remember reading about it,

01:25:49   and it was very expensive.

01:25:51   But networking was just one of these things

01:25:54   where you'd have to make an investment.

01:25:56   Or file formats, you know what I mean?

01:25:58   You'd have MacWrite, and somebody else had Word,

01:26:01   and somebody else had Nisus, and none of the files

01:26:04   could be interchanged.

01:26:05   And that was that.

01:26:06   And networking was like that.

01:26:09   And even at first, TCP networking was just sort of seen as another one.

01:26:13   OK, nobody owns it.

01:26:15   It's out there.

01:26:16   It's open source.

01:26:17   Or we didn't even call it open source at the time.

01:26:19   But it was just seen as an alternative.

01:26:22   And so the stacks from Microsoft were just commercial products,

01:26:27   like everything else.

01:26:29   Well, they were and they weren't, actually.

01:26:31   At that point in time, TCP/IP was mostly an academic thing.

01:26:36   And so, in fact, Apple mostly site licensed it.

01:26:43   So if you were Cornell, you got a site license to Mac TCP

01:26:47   and just gave it out to everybody.

01:26:48   And so that was what was kind of tricky about it,

01:26:50   was is for most people, you didn't even think

01:26:53   about buying it because you just got it at work

01:26:57   if you were at the appropriate place.

01:26:59   And that's why it was so weird that they sold it for $60

01:27:03   because no one could possibly need it

01:27:07   if you weren't at a university or possibly a big business,

01:27:10   but most corporations really weren't doing this

01:27:12   at this point.

01:27:13   So it was this really weird outlier product.

01:27:16   The funny thing that happens is the book comes out

01:27:20   in September of 1993 and I go to Macworld in,

01:27:25   actually before this happened, before I go to Macworld,

01:27:28   In late December, I get a cease and desist letter from Apple.

01:27:33   And I'm freaking out.

01:27:34   This is Apple Legal.

01:27:35   I mean, Apple Legal, who is known to be like,

01:27:38   you throw raw meat to the lawyers in the pit kind

01:27:41   of Apple Legal.

01:27:42   And so I am scared witless by this.

01:27:46   And they send it to me, which is worse.

01:27:48   If they sent it to the publisher and I'd heard about it,

01:27:51   that would have been bad enough.

01:27:52   But they sent it to me.

01:27:53   And I'm like, on the phone immediately.

01:27:57   And so, you know, and they publish this,

01:28:00   you know, talks me down,

01:28:00   it's like, we'll deal with this, don't worry.

01:28:02   But they basically said that

01:28:03   we had the wrong sort of license.

01:28:06   They didn't mean to, they didn't, you know,

01:28:08   the Karens somehow sweet-talked them

01:28:09   into something they didn't mean.

01:28:11   And so I'm stressing about this for weeks

01:28:15   over Christmas and everything.

01:28:16   And then we go to Macworld early January,

01:28:18   and I meet up with a guy named Gary Hornbuckle,

01:28:20   who was the product manager

01:28:22   for that entire division at Apple.

01:28:25   And I met him, just actually on the floor,

01:28:28   literally just ran into him.

01:28:29   He's like, oh, Adam, so nice to meet you.

01:28:31   And I'm all worried, right, because we

01:28:33   threatened to be sued.

01:28:35   And he's like, don't worry about the lawyers.

01:28:40   I will deal with them.

01:28:42   You have sold more copies of Mac TCP in three months

01:28:46   than we have ever sold.

01:28:48   Because we've sold like 20,000 copies of the book

01:28:50   in that first three months.

01:28:52   So from I mean like from his perspective I was a gift like I had made his product popular

01:28:59   Right like in a certain sense as the product manager and and clearly, you know, there were people

01:29:05   It wasn't company-wide. It was like it was like a

01:29:09   Slice of apple that got the internet right away and you know clearly the team doing max TCP was that group

01:29:17   They just wanted max to be on the internet

01:29:21   Yeah, yeah, I mean because that was back in the days when ftp.apple.com was a 2CI sitting under Mark Johnson's desk.

01:29:28   [laughter]

01:29:30   So yeah, I mean and he was in DTS, he was in developer technical support. He wasn't even in the networking division.

01:29:38   You know, I mean that was and he ran Apple's FTP server.

01:29:43   So, right, so I mean the internet was wasn't even on the radar of these companies.

01:29:50   I mean, it's fascinating because the guy who introduced the Internet to Microsoft, Steve

01:29:56   Sinofsky, he was actually Tanya's RA at Cornell, resident advisor.

01:30:01   I did not know that.

01:30:04   Yes, yes, we've known Steve Sinofsky since 1985.

01:30:10   But he goes back to Cornell.

01:30:12   He's working as Bill Gates' personal assistant.

01:30:15   He goes back to Cornell and sees what Cornell is doing with TCP/IP networking, including

01:30:22   at that point CUCME, which is the first video conferencing.

01:30:26   I remember that.

01:30:27   A postage stamp size.

01:30:28   Postage stamps.

01:30:30   And he writes the memo to Bill that starts Microsoft down the path of the internet.

01:30:37   I've actually got a copy.

01:30:38   I had never seen it until quite recently, in fact.

01:30:39   I've got a copy of it.

01:30:41   And it's just fascinating because I can see him walking around campus, talking to these

01:30:46   different peoples like, "Oh my gosh, oh my gosh."

01:30:49   Because when he left, he was obviously older, he was on his RA, so he must have left in

01:30:53   like '86 or '87.

01:30:56   It was before that stuff had really hit.

01:30:59   So it wasn't until he comes back, I think it was on a recruiting trip, and he sees what

01:31:04   has happened at Cornell and he's like, "Microsoft has to go here."

01:31:08   and, and, and, and, yeah.

01:31:10   - Eventually ran up, ran up,

01:31:12   running all of Windows for Microsoft.

01:31:14   - Yeah, right. (laughs)

01:31:17   Yeah, that got him somewhere, I guess.

01:31:18   So, so yeah, so it's been a, it's, it's,

01:31:21   it's really hard to remember just how difficult it was

01:31:25   for people to, to wrap their heads around this stuff.

01:31:29   - Yeah, it really, it really was.

01:31:31   (laughs)

01:31:34   All right, let me take a break here.

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01:33:44   this podcast. All right somehow we've got to cover like 20 years of tidbits history in the last

01:33:54   It is daunting sometimes when I think back about just how long I've been doing this because I never

01:33:59   started with this intent. It wasn't like, "Oh, this is gonna be my career." It was just this thing,

01:34:05   which I did. What's the point? Here's my question. What's the point where it... Was there a point,

01:34:10   or in hindsight, does it seem like there's a point? What's the point where it felt like,

01:34:14   "Hey, this is here to stay"? Well,

01:34:20   probably in some sense it it

01:34:23   Became real to me. In fact when we moved to seattle, so in

01:34:29   um in 1991

01:34:32   Tanya got a job at microsoft supporting microsoft word

01:34:36   and

01:34:39   The so we moved from ithaca to seattle and I had been doing apple consulting back consulting say apple now

01:34:46   But it was all mac. There was nothing else

01:34:48   doing Mac consulting in Ithaca, and suddenly I knew no one. It was a completely different area,

01:34:54   and there's probably a lot more business there if I had the context, but I was completely

01:34:58   at sea. And so I basically just kind of doubled down on Tibbits, and that was what I did. And so

01:35:06   that was when we started our sponsorship program. And in fact, that was the first advertising on the

01:35:14   internet. And I don't know, Google has yet to say thank you, so...

01:35:18   >> Well, let me say thank you. I thank you.

01:35:21   >> I'm glad you can earn a living now that we have advertising on the internet. But yeah,

01:35:27   back in 1991, 1982, that era, we had the acceptable use policy, because we're still

01:35:34   moving kind of off of the ARPANET and who National Science Foundation was sort of in

01:35:40   charge of stuff, and this National Science Foundation acceptable use policy said you

01:35:44   can't do commerce on the internet. And it wasn't really quite clear what that meant.

01:35:50   There was actually another guy who's still around, Brad Templeton, had done actually

01:35:56   a commercial service called Clarinet that had syndicated content like Dave Barry columns

01:36:01   and stuff. He had to pay for that. That was on Usenet. But Tidbits was the absolute first

01:36:06   advertising on the internet. And I think that was when it, I don't want to say sunk in that it was

01:36:12   real, but when I was like, okay, now I have to do this. This is how I earn a living. And that really,

01:36:24   that made the difference. And keep in mind, it's not all that much longer that I write

01:36:30   Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh, which sold some insane number, I don't know, five,

01:36:34   600,000 copies over three or four years.

01:36:38   So that changed things in many ways even more.

01:36:42   But I was always really clear about how tidbits

01:36:46   had to keep going because tidbits was the only reason

01:36:49   why I got to do the internet starter kit.

01:36:52   And fast forwarding a bunch of years,

01:36:54   tidbits is the only reason why our take control book series

01:36:56   was successful.

01:36:58   So I've always kept tidbits as like, this is my foundation,

01:37:04   this is what I work from.

01:37:06   And it's not conceivable,

01:37:11   I don't know what life would be like

01:37:14   if I didn't have a Monday deadline to put up an issue.

01:37:17   I've done it 1510 weeks now or something like that.

01:37:20   So it's just who I am.

01:37:25   - Well, that gets to the sort of,

01:37:28   to me, the defining transition is

01:37:34   to a website.

01:37:35   And I got hung up on this for many years.

01:37:43   Well, defined many at this point.

01:37:44   But like I always say, I was at Drexel from '91 to '96.

01:37:50   And the defining thing for me was my participation

01:37:56   at the student newspaper, where I went from a columnist

01:37:59   to an editor and learned QuarkXPress and graphic design

01:38:02   just really so that I could make my own columns look better and then wound up being the editor-in-chief

01:38:08   of the whole paper. And we had a great little team at a school that had no journalism program

01:38:12   at all. Everybody was from mechanical engineering and, but we, you know, just absolutely terrific

01:38:18   and people who went on to careers at, you know, real publications like the Wall Street

01:38:23   Journal and the Associated Press and photographers who got on to win awards at newspapers. It

01:38:28   It was a really neat little team.

01:38:32   But I got out of there in '96, and I knew I wanted to do stuff on the internet and wanted

01:38:36   to make my own stuff, but I couldn't figure out the format.

01:38:39   And I was too hung up on the idea of issues.

01:38:45   And it took a while for the just let go of it.

01:38:49   Somehow it took me six years to get to there in Fireball.

01:38:53   It's like, you know what?

01:38:54   Just publish stuff when you come and think of it.

01:38:56   And Tidbits does that.

01:38:57   like you have to wait a week and only new stuff shows up at tidbits.com on Mondays.

01:39:03   So I'm curious how you made that transition because the early ones were definitely issues.

01:39:09   You know, the hypercard stacks, the weekly C text ones. It was once a week, here it is,

01:39:15   30 kilobytes and there's your issue and then you'd wait for the next issue to get more.

01:39:23   Yeah, it's an interesting question and it's an evolutionary process.

01:39:31   So, I would say that it, gosh, I can't even say when it happened exactly, because first we had the website that Andy Affleck made for us at Dartmouth.

01:39:43   And then at some point we brought that "in house" and in fact it was hosted at Glenn Fleischman's Point of Presence company.

01:39:51   He was running an internet provider at the time, and on Webstar.

01:39:59   But it was still, that wasn't the source, right?

01:40:03   That was just where the issues went after I finished them.

01:40:09   And then the next step actually was Jeff Duncan, who was working with us for many years, was

01:40:17   fiddling around with FileMaker and utilities that allowed you to link FileMaker to a web

01:40:28   server.

01:40:29   I remember that. I don't remember what they were called either, but I remember doing it

01:40:32   at Drexel. It was one of the first ways I made money in life.

01:40:40   So he said, "Oh, this is interesting. I can..." He at some point sort of pops up and is like,

01:40:44   Let me show you something.

01:40:46   And it actually pops up.

01:40:48   We talked on the phone every day because I have never

01:40:51   had an office.

01:40:52   It's always been run out of my house.

01:40:54   And Jeff was working at home too.

01:40:56   And so we would spend just hours on the phone.

01:41:01   But he's like, I'm going to show you something.

01:41:03   And so he went and showed me a website

01:41:04   that he had built that was a live searchable archive

01:41:09   of everything we'd done, which he

01:41:11   had imported into FileMaker.

01:41:13   And so, but at that point, it was still

01:41:17   just importing the issues.

01:41:19   I mean, so we sort of backed into this concept of a website.

01:41:22   And so only at some point, quite a bit later,

01:41:25   and I really can't remember what,

01:41:27   I have to go back and look,

01:41:28   did we come up with the idea that we had a website

01:41:31   and we could post articles throughout the week

01:41:34   and then collect them into an issue.

01:41:36   And that's been our process for many, many years now.

01:41:41   And that, I'm trying to think,

01:41:43   At some point, Glenn Fleischmann wrote

01:41:45   our content management system,

01:41:46   it's called the Tibbits Publishing System, in Perl.

01:41:49   And it was wonderful, it did exactly what we wanted,

01:41:52   but it was also very brittle,

01:41:53   because it did exactly what we wanted and nothing else.

01:41:55   But that was one of the concepts we had,

01:41:59   which was that you could publish and edit everything live,

01:42:04   but at some point you push a button

01:42:06   and it collects all the stuff

01:42:07   that hasn't yet been published,

01:42:10   and builds this email issue,

01:42:12   And it spit it out in different formats and things like that so we could post in different

01:42:16   places.

01:42:18   So we really did sort of feel our way into what we have now.

01:42:23   Yeah, and every publication that continues to have issues still does that.

01:42:31   You can still, believe it or not, you can go buy a printed copy of the New York Times

01:42:35   every day.

01:42:36   Yes!

01:42:37   and my parents are unhappy about not getting

01:42:39   the Sunday Times right now.

01:42:41   - Howard Stern had a funny bit where his parents

01:42:46   are obviously a bit older and his dad is reading

01:42:50   the New York Times and Howard Stern is a famous germaphobe.

01:42:53   He wants him to read it with gloves on.

01:42:56   He's like, "God damn it, Howard, I'm not reading

01:42:58   "the New York Times with gloves on."

01:43:00   I've always, my favorites are instant total aside

01:43:05   but I will never not tell this story,

01:43:08   is I was at Starbucks at this point,

01:43:11   I think I first told it on the show with Glenn,

01:43:13   and Glenn, of course, when you get to the punchline,

01:43:15   will love it, but probably about four or five years ago

01:43:18   at this point, not too long ago, but four or five years,

01:43:20   I'm at Starbucks, I'm waiting for my drink,

01:43:22   and you order and then you go over to the place

01:43:25   where you wait, and there's two young women,

01:43:28   I would guess, late college, 21-ish, two of them,

01:43:34   And it was a Sunday and there was one of them

01:43:39   at Bert bought the New York Times at the Starbucks

01:43:42   and she was explaining it to the other girl.

01:43:46   And the other young woman had obviously

01:43:48   really wasn't familiar with the printed newspapers.

01:43:50   And she was like, wait, they do this every day?

01:43:55   And then she goes, well, the Sunday one is thicker,

01:43:57   but yes, every single day.

01:43:59   And then the other young woman said,

01:44:01   why would they do that?

01:44:03   And I was just so blown away.

01:44:07   I was like, "You know what?

01:44:08   When you really think about it and you think about how much goes into it, it is an insane

01:44:13   amount of work."

01:44:14   And it's kind of crazy.

01:44:19   Why would you put all that work into having to make all your text and graphics fit into

01:44:23   print when you can just have it on the web where it doesn't matter?

01:44:26   As successful as the Times in particular, you know, a couple of the newspapers have done a

01:44:32   terrific job and they're, I wouldn't say anybody's thriving in today's, literally today's media

01:44:38   landscape with the quarantine and all the stuff that's going on. But in general, at the start of

01:44:43   2020, the New York Times and Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, which 25, 50 years ago,

01:44:49   were very well regarded, successful newspapers continued to thrive in the internet age, but they

01:44:53   They all had rocky transitions from the "today's paper" to the "hey, wait, we have an article

01:45:00   at four in the afternoon and it's ready to go and it's big news, what do we do?"

01:45:07   You hold it for tomorrow.

01:45:09   So I'm always interested in how something like tidbits, which had that weekly mindset,

01:45:14   made the transition.

01:45:16   And to this day, it's a little awkward.

01:45:19   So whenever Apple announces something on a Monday,

01:45:23   drives me up the wall.

01:45:25   Because I feel like it has to be in the issue,

01:45:28   'cause otherwise it'll be on the website, no question,

01:45:31   but it'll wait a week.

01:45:33   And to get back to what we were talking about earlier

01:45:36   with the email newsletters,

01:45:38   I mean, we have about 24,000 subscribers now,

01:45:42   and I think the majority of them

01:45:47   Really see tidbits as a weekly newsletter. Hmm

01:45:52   That's that's how they see it. They do not see it as a website and and

01:45:57   You know

01:45:59   Honestly, they've been with us for a long time. I mean we have people who've literally been subscribing for

01:46:05   20 25 30 years

01:46:07   I mean the bulk of our subscribers actually came because of the internet starter kit in 1993 and 94

01:46:12   so so there's

01:46:15   That sense that yeah, we're still a little weird and old in that regard

01:46:21   But it's also where my core is. Yeah

01:46:24   And and I'm not gonna I'm not gonna disappoint them

01:46:28   You know that that these are people who that they figured out how they want to read

01:46:34   information and

01:46:37   Email newsletters are hard to beat they've come around on the guitar, but it's you know for these people

01:46:43   that's just the way it's always been. And I mean, we've actually had features on our website

01:46:48   at various times over history that would allow you to get a back issue via email.

01:46:57   You could email it to yourself because people wanted it in their email.

01:47:00   I remember when IMDb was email. You would send IMDb an email with something like a query in

01:47:13   in the subject and then they would email you back with the information from the movies that the query

01:47:19   and their subject had done and it was really useful. I remember taking film classes in college

01:47:24   and it was really useful because it was like you didn't really have to keep notes on like the,

01:47:29   you know, some old, you know, like rear window Alfred Hitchcock, you know, 1956 or whatever year

01:47:33   it was. Well, it was like that you didn't have to keep notes. You had it. It was right there in your

01:47:37   email, you know, there it is. Yeah, there was, I mean, that was in fact how our sponsorship stuff

01:47:43   started. It was email autoresponders. You could send email to a particular address at tidbits.com

01:47:49   and you would get, you know, whatever you wanted back from that. And needless to say,

01:47:55   this was before spam. I mean, literally before spam. Before a day of our...

01:48:02   Let me say this to wrap up and and this is a dangerous question as a wrap-up question

01:48:09   But if we can do it concisely i'm curious as to your thoughts and and it's this what why apple?

01:48:17   Why why the focus on apple?

01:48:22   So

01:48:30   in

01:48:32   1990 when we started this

01:48:34   Tanya and I had been using max for a couple years at an SE 30. I had built my own hard drive

01:48:42   It's an SE 30. So I had an I had a

01:48:45   13 inch Apple color display as a second monitor. I've had something second displays since the very beginning

01:48:51   It was

01:48:56   The right topic

01:49:01   That had a void that needed filling

01:49:04   And let me see if I can explain that

01:49:07   Things happened on the internet back in those days

01:49:12   because

01:49:15   they needed to because they because there was a solution that did not yet exist and

01:49:21   If you saw one of those and you could fill it you did

01:49:26   and

01:49:30   And what I, you know, I have this degree in hypertextual fiction and ancient Greek and

01:49:37   whatnot from Cornell, and I loved it, but it was academic.

01:49:42   You know, it was fun.

01:49:45   I was under no, I mean, professor wanted me to apply for a Mellon fellowship and go to

01:49:49   grad school and I was like, you know, I love this, but it's not a career.

01:49:53   You have to wait for people to die to get a job in this field.

01:49:58   And what I loved doing was playing around with the computer and not playing games on

01:50:05   the computer, but playing around with the computer and, I mean, res-edit and f-edit

01:50:11   and figuring out how things worked.

01:50:16   You talked about laser writers.

01:50:17   I mean, laser writers could be controlled programmatically with PostScript.

01:50:22   It was a language.

01:50:25   And it was this incredible real-world colossal cave where all of these twisty little passages

01:50:34   were just there to be explored.

01:50:37   And what I wanted to do was explore them and share that.

01:50:44   And it was, I mean, Apple was just, it was, I don't think I actually knew that much about

01:50:51   the company at this point.

01:50:53   It was just this Mac that was in front of me that I could get into in so many ways and

01:51:00   share what I could find.

01:51:03   And so that's, I think, why.

01:51:05   I mean, that's sort of the longer, more abstract answer.

01:51:11   The really short answer is that it was Tanya's idea.

01:51:15   She was working at Microcomputers and Office Systems at Cornell, the group that sold computers.

01:51:21   But this was also the group that sold copiers and fax machines, and so her coworkers were

01:51:26   not computer people. They really had very little idea how to sell computers. And her

01:51:31   position was new technologies consultant. And so she sold Macs and Next machines and

01:51:37   things like that. And she was frustrated that her coworkers didn't really know very much

01:51:42   about what was going on in the industry. And so she decided that she was going to use her

01:51:45   page maker skills, left over from being in the Mac user group and being the newsletter

01:51:49   at her to do a little newsletter for her coworkers about what was going on in the industry. And

01:51:55   so she comes home one day and tells me that she's had this idea and I was like, "That's

01:51:58   a great idea! I'll help you do it." Again, void to be filled. But I want to put it in

01:52:03   HyperCard because HyperCard was the coolest thing ever at that point in time and I just

01:52:09   loved trying to figure out how to do stuff in it. And the PageMaker print version lasted

01:52:16   two weeks

01:52:18   Um before I don't even remember why it was it just was deemed too much work or they didn't appreciate it or whatever

01:52:24   um, and the rest is history, but

01:52:27   It was it was just what we want to do and and I and I mean maybe you've had this too

01:52:33   But it was something we could do together

01:52:35   I mean like this was this is very much a joint effort

01:52:40   um, I mean tanya

01:52:42   doesn't deal with the day-to-day of tidbits anymore, except on the financial aspect of

01:52:48   things, but she certainly knows what's going on. I can talk to her about any article or any topic

01:52:55   at any moment, and she knows exactly what I'm talking about. Just the ability to share that

01:53:03   with someone, be able to share that experience with someone, was unbeatable. I guess unusual.

01:53:11   I didn't know what was at the time because I was young it was all I knew but you know, we we were just

01:53:16   You know in it together the whole way

01:53:20   Well, that's a good answer

01:53:23   Let's end it right there. That's fantastic. I thank you so much for your time. Here's the 30 more years. No pressure

01:53:29   People have said that I'm like, I'll be 82. Yeah, that's good. Like I really don't know about 82

01:53:35   Although I have to say we have a tidbit reader who's a hundred and two now

01:53:38   So 82 sounds like kind of easy

01:53:41   my thanks to our sponsors Squarespace Linode and feels and

01:53:46   My thanks to Adam angst tidbits calm and of course on Twitter. What's your Twitter handle?

01:53:53   At Adam angst. All right. I'm Adam angst just about everywhere. There's only one more of me on the internet

01:53:58   Well, my thanks to you. I gotta go

01:54:01   Thanks, Adam. It's been wonderful anytime

01:54:04   time.