An archivist argues for archiving software, with a shout-out to George R.R. Martin

Researchers in April recovered Earthrise images from a 1966 Lunar Orbiter, after nearly 50 years in dormant tape storage.

Two days later, Carnegie Mellon researchers identified and retrieved graphics created by Andy Warhol on an Amiga 1000 PC in 1985. The “group forensically imaged floppy diskettes at the Andy Warhol Museum. After some elaborate intermediary steps, including reverse engineering the proprietary format in which the files were originally created and stored, the previously unseen images were released to the public.”

Archivists often talk about the need for preserving old applications, so that old documents can be read. But Matthew Kirschenbaum goes further, saying the software should be preserved for its own sake.


Consider the case of George R.R. Martin and WordStar. A month after the Earthrise/Warhol recoveries, Martin told Conan O’Brien that he writes on WordStar on MS-DOS using a machine that isn’t connected to the Internet.

Martin dubbed this his “secret weapon” and suggested the lack of distraction (and isolation from the threat of computer viruses, which he apparently regards as more rapacious than any dragon’s fire) accounts for his long-running productivity.

WordStar has an honorable hostiry:

Writers who cut their teeth on it include names as diverse as Michael Chabon, Ralph Ellison, William F. Buckley, and Anne Rice (who also equipped her vampire Lestat with the software when it came time for him to write his own eldritch memoirs). WordStar was justifiably advertised as early as 1978 as a What You See Is What You Get word processor, a marketing claim that would be echoed by Microsoft when Word was launched in 1983. WordStar’s real virtues, though, are not captured by its feature list alone. As Ralph Ellison scholar Adam Bradley observes in his work on Ellison’s use of the program, “WordStar’s interface is modelled on the longhand method of composition rather than on the typewriter.” A power user like Ellison or George R.R. Martin who has internalized the keyboard commands would navigate and edit a document as seamlessly as picking up a pencil to mark any part of the page.

And yet people branded Martin as a Luddite on social media.

Kirschenbaum writes that it’s “fascinating” that people view WordStar 4.0 as a key to its user’s personality — in this case, Martin’s.

The software, in other words, becomes an indexical measure of the famous author, the old-school command-line intricacy of its interface somehow in keeping with Martin’s quirky public image, part paternalistic grandfather and part Dr. Who character. We know, that is most of us of a certain age remember, just enough about WordStar to make Martin’s mention of it compelling and captivating.

Software, It’s a Thing

Documentarian Chad Nelson is looking to re-create 1970s La Mesa, California

I saw this leaflet stapled to a utility pole when walking Minnie this morning.


Here’s Chad, apparently.

Minnie has decided a leash is mighty delicious

We watch TV and read on the sofa in the evenings, and Minnie joins us, either lying between us or on the floor. It’s all very domestic and cozy.

She loves to work on an antler or Nylabone, or shred a big knot of rope (they call it a “monkeyfist” — great name).

Minnie has got a hell of a set of jaws on her. I often watch the muscles of her jaws when she works. She could shred a Sherman tank.

Krypto1st“. Via Wikipedia.

One of the things she loves to chew on is the end of her leash. We keep her leashed in the living room to limit her ability to chase after the cats or otherwise get into mischief. We keep a leash attached to the big, heavy coffee table. And she chewed through that leash. It took her a while, but she finally finished the job on Friday. So we dug out one of our other leashes, one that none of us likes for walking her, and we attached that to the coffee table.

That leash proved pretty puny. She made it through that in less than a night.

Sunday I made an emergency Petco run, and bought her another leash. This was a big-ass sturdy thing that looked like you could use it to restrain an angry rhino. Minnie managed to get halfway through that in a single night.

I ordered another leash from Amazon. It’s basically a 6′ length of steel cable with a hook on one end and a handle on the other. It’s due to arrive Wednesday. I hope the current leash hangs on until then. And that Minnie isn’t, in fact, Superdog and able to chew through a steel cable.

Fortunately, Minnie has not gone to work on the main leash I use to walk her. The only time I use that leash is when we’re out and about. She mostly keeps her teeth off that — although she does have the occasional bad habit of trying to play tug-of-war with it, which we discourage.

Confessions of a ghostwriter

Not that kind of ghost

Often, battles over the money pale into insignificance next to the titanic clash of egos involved in taking on another’s voice and character.Some ghosts, who generally speak on conditions of anonymity, report that the subject they approach with utter dread is the fragile personality with pretensions to authorship.

Who, after all, is not vulnerable to the tug of amour-propre? The ghost, who starts out as a hybrid of therapist, muse and friend, enters a psychological minefield. Accordingly, the ghost is advised never to forget that, at the end of the day, he or she ranks somewhere between a valet and a cleaner.

I recall, some years ago, a female pop star attending a book trade prize-giving for which her ghosted bestselling memoir had been shortlisted. Before this honour, she boasted she hadn’t even opened, still less actually read, the book that bore her name. When she duly won, she left her ghost at the table and graciously collected her prize, all smiles, modesty and gratitude, the model author. When she returned to her publisher’s table, the woman who had actually written the book reached out, instinctively, to touch the trophy. Bad move. The star snatched it back, clouting her ghost across the cheek to remind her who was boss. When you pay the piper, you call the tune.

Bestselling ghostwriter reveals the secret world of the author for hire

Notwithstanding the preceding anecdote, ghostwriting sounds like a great gig.

Facebook is getting privacy religion

I’m skeptical.

The Max Planck Institute has a working holodeck

It’s a big room fitted with sensors. The user wears a head-mounted display which projects a virtual reality image. Sensors in the room tracks the user’s location in 3D space, while showing the user a realtime image of a virtual-reality landscape that the user can move through.

The simulation uses a kind of trompe-l’œil trick to make the space seem larger than the room itself. (You might say the holodeck is bigger on the inside, if you want to mix your Star Trek with Doctor Who.) The simulation might show a street with a very slight curve in it, imperceptible to the user, who thinks he’s walking in a very long straight line.

Via New World Notes — thanks, James!

What your workout says about your social class

How the other half lifts

The upper classes in America choose endurance training: Running, cycling, swimming, etc. Lower class men lift weights and bulk up.

Don’t let me get this men’s trench coat from Lands’ End for $229!

$229 really isn’t a lot of money here in 2014.

On the other hand, I already have a perfectly good raincoat. It’s nondescript, but who cares? I’ll just get a scarf to wear with it. I paid $30 for it at a secondhand men’s store.

I only need a warm coat on occasional trips to the East Coast in winter, one to three times a year for a couple of days at a time. Some years I don’t go back east in winter at all and then I don’t need a raincoat. I have a rain-jacket I wear when it’s raining here in San Diego.

The feeling of coolness I get from wearing a trench coat is an illusion. A trench coat makes me feel cool, like Humphrey Bogart, but really I just look like a million salarimen riding the PATH train to work in New York.

On the other hand, a trench coat is cool. Humphrey Bogart wore a trench coat. John Constantine and Rorschach wear trench coats. And it’s only $229.

Men's Trench Coat from Lands' End

Men’s Trench Coat from Lands’ End.

Julie just came into my office and I told her I was struggling to not buy the trench coat. She scowled and said, “Let me help you! We’ll probably need a new dishwasher! The wood around the front door gate is rotting and we need to get that fixed! And … and … and… well, it really is a nice coat and it’s only $229.” Not helping, Julie.

Maybe I’ll get a Doctor Who-style scarf. Only, you know, shorter. And it’ll be like a visual secret handshake for fans, but for regular people it’ll just be an unusual scarf. And I can wear it with the raincoat I already have and I won’t be spending that money.

Entrepreneurs say they embrace failure, but if you really want to fail, be a writer

July 8, in case you happened to miss it, was Fitz-Greene Halleck Day, a chance to remember the most intensely forgotten writer in American history. “No name in the American poetical world is more firmly established than that of Fitz-Greene Halleck,” Edgar Allan Poe wrote in 1843. And yet, despite a Central Park statue that still stands in his honor, Fitz-Greene Halleck may now be the most famous man ever to achieve total obscurity.

Failure Is Our Muse.

Via John Scalzi, who says:

My path to defying failure: Tech journalism is satisfying, and pays the mortgage. And the creative writing has become its own reward. I’d like to get published, find readers, make money, get fabulously wealthy and famous, and sit in first class on airplanes. But for now the writing itself is enough.

Same thing for my blogging here. I like doing it. I get a few comments from friends. That’s enougn.

By the way, Scalzi is in fact flying first class today, and is tweeting about it entertainingly. He does not appear to have come into Rowlingesque bucks; he just seems to be enjoying a random upgrade or he cashed in some miles or something ordinary like that.

The story behind the story of “Babylon 5″

The Strange, Secret Evolution of Babylon 5.

We’re currently re-watching a couple of science fiction shows we used to love — Stargate SG-1 and the 21st Century Doctor Who. We tried rewatching Babylon 5, but we bounced off it after two or three episodes.

This article makes me want to give it another try, particularly to see the evolution of Londo Molari and G’kar.

J. Michael Straczynski was as far as I know the first TV show creator to actively engage fans online. Now that’s standard for producers, writers, and actors, but then it was novel.

Tweets from Comic-Con #SDCC


Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, and devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad.

Hiro used to feel this way, too, but then he ran into Raven. In a way, this was liberating. He no longer has to worry about being the baddest motherfucker in the world. The position is taken.

Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson

How about I de-de-board instead?

That moment

How to survive air travel

I arrive about 90 minutes before domestic flights. Now that airports have WiFi, I can make airport time productive or fun, whichever I’m in the mood for.

I don’t know if I’m ready to wear a surgical mask. And an eyemask makes me paranoid — who’s going to sneak up on me? That’s not rational and I’m not proud of it.

Let’s fly — Medium.