Friday, August 22, 2008

Meet Jim Maxey

Back in the early days of computing, almost all work was done in "text" mode - screens of text characters, with maybe some line graphics or other ASCII art thrown in. Apps like games and pie charts used "Graphics mode," which was exciting and exotic. There were only a few colors at first - seven kind of blurry ones on the Apple II, four garish tasteless ones on the IBM PC, then just black and white when the Mac came out. In the dark ages we actually moved at first towards fewer colors, not more!

In 1983 a fellow named James Maxey started up a BBS called Event Horizons. He themed his board and its graphic images for download around an astronomy bent at first, but entrepreneur that he was, he soon realized he could get more callers (virtually all computer enthusiasts were male at this point) by offering digitized photographs of women. He was soon raking in over 3 million a year - his was the most lucrative BBS of all time. has a bio and list of his accomplishments.

This success was not lost on a certain men's magazine, which noted some of their images scanned into GIF files offered up on Mr. Maxey's system. Maxey claimed he could not be held responsible for what his users uploaded to his computer - he received massive amounts of files each day - but the fact that he tended to "sign" his images as "MaxiPics" and put his name and BBS phone number on them, rather put the kibosh on this defense. Maxey eventually settled with Playboy by simply writing a check for half a million dollars.

A similar situation occurred a few years later with a system known as "Rusty n Edie's." Having survived an FBI probe aimed at stopping piracy of commercial software offered online for free, Rusty's board apparently did not withstand its second challenge, this time from Playboy. It disappeared, Playboy started its own web enterprise, and the Web became (among other things, thankfully) a sort of global peepshow.

Below you can view some G-rated MaxiPics from the mid-1980s.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Demise of the Disc

Physical music formats have always seemed ultimately disposable. Buying a record, or 8-track, or cassette, you would too often find the rest of the songs were much worse than the one you'd heard on the radio, and probably only listen to your purchase a few times. Even if you did like it and give it repeat plays, you'd be required to purchase it again in the next format to come along, and let's face it, these things spend so much more time on the shelf than spinning in a player, it's like we never listen to most of them at all.

In today's greener world, people are liking the switch to digital. Digital music and other media don't need to be delivered in an exhaust-belching, gas gulping truck, they don't contain any petroleum based plastics, and they are as light and space-saving as the devices you put them on. As long as you don't accidentally delete your collection, you're good (but the industry will take a dim view of your backups, most likely - remember, these are the guys who fought against the VCR, media lending, and even the legality of purchasing used CDs.) The digital solution that will please the common music lover, golden-eared audio snobs, musicans, and the media cartels has yet to be found. But on their 26th birthday, CDs' days are numbered, and I won't miss them - I already own more than enough.

Wired: Happy birthday, Compact Disc. Now go away (also has interesting comments submitted by users, at bottom.)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Annual versity

A couple of anniversaries are happening this year. (Well that's silly. Of course all anniversaries happen every year. But still.) A few days ago CNet published a brief piece on the advent of the IBM PC. It's one of those "Don't you feel old now?" gags. But I don't feel old when I think about getting my PC... of course I feel nostalgic. I still remember the feel of the thick, slightly rough metal, the super-clicky keyboard, the way the two floppy drives popped open, the sweet tobacco smell of the room (technically it was my father's computer.) For days after it arrived I would once in a while just go look at it. There was so much I imagined I could do with it... and there was much that I did.

The IBM PC is 27 this year.

CNet: Do you remember where you were when this happened?

PS: Computer bulletin boards are 30.

PPS: Ralph Macchio turns 47 this year. Ok, now I feel old.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Goodbye old friend... the twilight of the music cassette

The New York Times has a good article on current sales of cassettes and their not-so-bright future. It mentions one of the classic uses for cassettes - making a mix tape for your girlfriend (who hasn't done that! Though these days I guess it's an mp3 playlist). Apparently, CDs will be next down the tubes. A good friend of mine who's been a live audio trader for years laments the stampede to MP3s. He fears "lossless" formats - the uncompressed files on CDs or carefully compressed digital files that use algorithms that don't throw away part of the audio information - will become a thing of the past. I tend to doubt that, although "Digital Rights Management" is a concern on both sides of its debate.

Mix tapes will always have a place in my heart. They were the first way we could customize and listen to our music the way we wanted.... and contrary to the industry's cries, home taping never did kill the music business....

See also the mix tape that changed my life.