Dad’s Books

One of the things about Twitter is every now and then you accidentally brush up against people in a way you never would in the blog world. I made a comment about reading books I give to Dad before I fork them over, with regard to Nixonland by Rick Perlstein.

A Quarter-Century of Online Media

New Year’s Eve 1995 was the turning point in my career in multimedia.

I’d been working in the relatively-new digital prepress field for four years when I quit my job at Exact Imaging and went out on my own as a freelance print production and graphics specialist with a sideline as a multimedia development instructor.

In a previous job (out of the six prepress jobs I held between mid-1991 and mid-1995) I’d picked up an unopened copy of Macromedia Director second-hand from a car dealership in Florida somehow. It was a couple of books and a bunch of diskettes. I had a fair amount of experience with everything from page layout applications to image editing to vector artwork tools, as well as some programming experience that was long in the tooth even then. I’d tried to break into the local CD-ROM development scene without any success and hung on the edges by editing the newsletter for the Portland chapter of the International Interactive Communication Society (of which I would eventually serve as the last vice-president, along with my current boss, Brad Smith as president(, even running an ad for a digital portfolio production service (which never got a single client) in an issue of Step-by-Step Graphics magazine (I had written an article on a graphic artist named Steve Cowden that ran in the same issue). The service never got any clients.

At a meeting of the IICS that summer, being in the right place at the right time landed me a shot at a somewhat steady stream of income to anchor my freelance business. Dr. Brad Hansen at the Portland State University School of Extended Studies announced he was looking for someone to teach Director as part of the school’s Professional Development Program. I dropped my name in the hat, and within a few weeks I was off to San Francisco to take the class I would be teaching from ex-Macromedia instructor Ken Durso. That got me the all-essential certification I needed to become a Macromedia-certified instructor and classes started up that fall.

This was still the early days of the public internet. Netscape Navigator was still the Web browser. Animated GIFs and the <blink> tag were the cornerstones of online animation; JavaScript was in its infancy and Java applets were the crème de la crème for interactive experiences but, y’know, Java. I managed to get down to the Macromedia User Conference at the end of October, where the buzz was about something new called Shockwave.

It was my first time at a UCON, so I didn’t know anyone or what all I was supposed to see, but if I remember correctly, the previews of Shockwave were held in smaller sessions, with an air of intrigue. The stuff we were shown was simply amazing, given the state of the Web art the time, which was largely static text and images, with hyperlinks.

Shockwave! book cover, Korean edition

My own focus had been on print, but the people managing operations at Exact Imaging—Sherwood Herben and Rick Hawley—had made an early move into network operations for transferring design files and previews of high-resolution scans back and forth between the shop and our clients, most of whom were in the high-tech industry. So I’d worked on the company web site. Then one of the projects I got tmy first summer from Dale Ott—my one big client when I got started and the guy I rented a cubicle space from—was the annual report for Sequent Computers, on which I did print prep and conversion to PDFs for online distribution, which was kind of a new thing. So I watched the presentation at Macromedia with some interest.

The whole thing about Director was its portability (more or less) between the Mac and Windows worlds. You could take most simple Director movie files from a Windows machine runnning a copy of Director and transfer them to a Mac running Director, open up the file, and then play it. Unfortunately, there were times when new tools on one platform lagged behind, and that first month or two after the public demos of Shockwave, you could make Shockwave movies (using a special compression tool called Afterburner) on either platform, but the playback engine—the browser plugin—only existed on Windows. And coming from the print industry—which was almost exclusively Mac—I did not have a Windows machine.

As soon as I was able to get onto the Shockwave beta—early December, I think—I made a Shockwave movie. But to see it, I ended up heading 30 miles out of town to Scappoose to Waldo Thompson’s house to see it because he would let me install the Shockwave plugin on his computer. I bought an Acer desktop and crammed it in my tiny workspace at Dale’s.

No idea at the time how to make money with the Shockwave. Meanwhile, the news on Shockwave dribbled out. There wasn’t even an official email list server for keeping the general public informed (there may have been for the private beta). To keep up on things, you had to visit what was essentially a blog page comment section (before there were blogs), which you had to manually reload.

That was the situation for me on New Year’s Eve, 1995. I was in the office late, doing some last-minute bookkeeping, and I checked the Shockwave page. There at the end was a note from someone who said they were a computer book literary agent who needed someone to write a book on Shockwave, and they needed them fast.

There were a couple of strikes against me on this. 1) I had never written anything as long as a book, in fact, I’d been telling people for several years that I thought that my undergraduate English thesis at Reed College was probably one of the shortest on record (I have no actual evidence that is true, but hey, 25 pages). And that took me months. Sure, I had to read a lot of research and Shakespeare, but I was going to have to do that for the book because 2) I hadn’t actually done anything professionally in Director—much less Shockwave—and as far as Macromedia knew, I did not exist. No inside information, no contacts, no expertise to make up for that. Bit I sent an email to David Rogelberg anyway.

By January 17th, 1996 I had a contract in hand to produce a Shockwave book full of tutorials for Ventana Press in 10 weeks for $15,000, a sum I was kind of agog at. If I could get the book done in 8 weeks, I’d get another $5,000. I never got up the gumption to ask what had happened. Books are typically put on publishing schedules months in advance, and as I got into the process of submitting content, I came to realize that this one had a lot of gears already in motion. For instance, the cover artwork—a hideous orange and green Frankenstein theme (on the US edition, the Korean cover above is more…subtle)—that carried through to the interface design for the accompanying CD-ROM (skillfully technically executed by Eric Coker). My suspicion was that the original authors assigned to the book got reassigned to a hotter project and they were in a bind, which is how they ended up with me.

I missed the 8-week deadline, but made the 10-week. Basically, the book was written with me looking through each of the specific capabilities of the commands in the NetLingo library, which were still only partially-documented in some cases. Figure out the variations. Figure out what they did. Figure out what they were used for (there weren’t examples for everything yet). Write tests to make sure I was right about how they worked. Then write up a tutorial about how to use it.

The book ended up at about 270 pages, mostly tutorials I’d devised by going through each of the (then) limited Lingo language commands for Director. I tried to figure out how each command was constructed (the documentation was still fairly sketchy) and then tried to figure out what it would be used for. I didn’t try to teach anyone how to use Director—that was a far larger project and way out of scope of what I could do in 8–10 weeks—but I think I did a decent job of conveying the basics. Even though I hadn’t actually created any of the DISKfolios apart from some demos, the fact that I had some expertise at crunching graphics down to their bare minimums to fit on a diskette came in handy, since everyone had been spreading out to fill up CD-ROMs.

I pressed local sound guru David Duddleston into service for the chapter on audio and inveigled my friend Jeff “Punk Rock” Martin to let me use a track from his band The Surf Trio for some audio. The book came in about 270 pages, with another 70 pages of references to projects by people like Dave Yang and Gary Rosenzweig (whose Director book came out from Ventana at about the same time as my Shockwave book did), some reference Appendices and an index.

And that was the only time I ever made money writing a book. Have a great 2021!

Alan Levine found my book very useful!

And When Did He Know It

Personally, I think Bob Woodward has a lot to answer for here. —DP

DAILY SHOW Bob Woodward interview 9/23
from closed caption at 3:10

TREVOR NOAH: You caught a lot of flack from people who said: “Bob Woodward, you sat on this for seven months, and you didn’t tell us that Trump knew how bad this was.” You saw him in the news at rallies saying that coronavirus is a hoax and people shouldn’t worry and it’s gonna disappear, but you knew that he knew how severe it was. Why didn’t you come out and say something?

BOB WOODWARD: It’s a fair question.

NOAH: How do you…yeah.

WOODWARD: Um, when he told me about this on February 7, I knew and thought for sure he was talking about China, because everything was China in January, in February. And if it had dawned on me that he was talking about the United States, of course I would have gone to The Washington Post and said: “We’ve got to run this story.” But it was may when I learned that what Trump was talking about was this critical, central…

NOAH: Ah…

WOODWARD: …January 28, uh, meeting when it was laid out to him. When I finally figured it out, frankly, uh, the world knew that, uh, the virus was a pandemic. The world and the people in this country knew it was airborne. They knew that it was deadly. They knew that if you had some sort of…if you didn’t have symptoms, you could still spread it.

NOAH: Right, right, right.

WOODWARD: So this is what Trump knew, and we knew we could put the…the book out before the election—that’s the demarcation line, so people can either accept it or reject it.

Hypercard Dreams

In response to my post about a thread containing lots of yummy pre-Web hyper content, Alan Levine responds:

Back at the house in Arizona I have a virgin set of Hypercard 1.1 floppies circa 1987. To use them you will need a Mac Plus, SE, or Mac II, and at least 1 MB of RAM. Make sure you are running System 3.2 or later.

30th Disunion

Greetings to all my classmates from Reed College Class of 1990 who are celebrating our 30th Disunion today!

It was 30 years ago today that I graduated from Reed College, and it was also the last time I had to—and hopefully the last time I will ever have to—move. (That’s the first digitized photo I have of the house, it looks more or less like it did when we bought it, though it’s from ten years later.)

The spring of 1990 had been hectic, with Barbara and myself frantically searching for a house in a market that was beginning to heat up after the late-80s recession. The rental house we were living in behind the Standard Battery on 38th & SE Belmont Street had been up for sale twice before with no success—the landlord had even offered it to Barbara at one point with nothing more than a piece of furniture as a down payment but it was too small with literally no outside space—but the third time was generating a lot of interest. I’d been working on my undergraduate thesis most of the winter with the possibility that we might have to move (on top of working at Powell’s full-time and taking classes) at any time.

I’ve written before about finding the newspaper listing that led to us buying this house, after several others were snatched out fron under our noses by more-qualified buyers with better realtors (we found out years later she was a classmate of Barbara’s from St. Mary’s, too). Suffice it to say that if it hadn’t been for Barbara’s acumen and enormous aid in fixing stuff on the house from my folks to get an FHA loan, the whole thing wouldn’t have happened. I found the ad in March, and we started getting packed. whle I put the finishing touches on my thesis and prepared to defend what I am reasonably certain is the shortest critical English Literature thesis on record at Reed.

As it so happened, the rental house sold. We were able to move most of our stuff to the new house, but Frieda Rasmussen, who’d lived here for 48 years, couldn’t move until she got the money from closing, which wouldn’t be until early June, so Barbara, her sister Lori (who paid for part of the down payment) and I and our menagerie of cats and dogs couldn’t move in until June.

The day we had to be out of the rental was Sunday, May 20th. Yes, the same day as graduation.

My father’s step-father had been in the hospital and very ill. He passed away on the 14th, and we attended his funeral amid the roundelay of work, packing, and moving.

Graduation was held outside on the lawn in front of Elliot Hall, with then-Director of the Oregon Symphony James DePriest as the commencement speaker. The weather was much as it is today, heavy gray clouds with torrential rain both before, after, and during the ceremony, with proceedings punctuated by some poor souls getting drenched by an orgasmic release of rain that had collected on the tents.

The plan was to meet at the flagpole in front of Elliot, but my family went straight to the tents near the student union where all the food was (there wasn’t much of anything left by the time Barbara and I finally got there).

We were rather hungry by the time the festivities were over and my immediate family headed to Tom’s for what I remember as an unsatisfying breakfast. I don’t know if it was me just being cranky about standing in the rain near the flapole while most everyone I’d invited wolfed down appetizers or if it was the restaurant—where I’d eaten may times before—itself.

After Tom’s, it was back to the rental for the last trips—only three blocks—to the house. Then cleaning, although there was only so much that could be done. The rug wasn’t good before Barbara and Lori had moved in. There was a bunch of slumped plaster in the kitchen from water that had spilled at some point from the bathroom. There hadn’t been a lot of maintenance for a long time.

The same could be said for the new place, but it was ours. Barbara and I replaced the roof ourselves the next year, stripping off five layers of crumbling asphalt and wood shingles, putting up plywood sheathing, adding real gutters. Since then we’ve uncovered the original wood siding, and ripped most of the interior down to the frame (again, with an awful lot of help from my parents). We’ve been here long enough that the roof we put on has had to be replaced (not by us that time).

I’ve lived here more than half of my entire life.

Twenty Five Years and a Day

Yes, it was just over a quarter-century ago—mere months after the last issue of Plant’s Review of Books hit the streets in the winter of 1994—that I started trying to put it online.

I’d set up a web server on a Mac desktop model hooked up to a dedicated phone line using WEBStar. PRoB had been created with the then-industry standard publication software Quark XPress and I was working in the prepress business producing film for catalog printing, cadging high-quality color scans of the artwork (mostly by Eric Rewitzer) for the covers and center spread.

That was the summer I went out on my own as a freelance print and multimedia production person, then I started teaching Macromedia Director at Portland State University and picked up a book contract at the end of the year. Stuff snowballed, and by the time I circled back to the project to do the last three issues, my archives were in disarray.

When I’d worked on the magazine, removable Syquest drives were state-of-the-art and I had a mixture of 44MB and 135MB cartridges, but the readers themselves were tempermental and mine had died. I had transferred most of the content to digital audio tapes (DAT), and I was able to recover the Quark layout files but a bunch of the high-resolution scans and graphic were missing (probably because one issue wouldn’t fit on a single Syquest. Time went on and I thought I’d do a more thorough search, I transferred the archives once again to CD-ROM storage before the DAT drive (even less trustworthy than the Syquests) died, but never found the rest of the art.

Now, of course, I can’t even open the XPress files. The format’s so old that I don’t think even the current version of Quark (it’s still out there somewhere but it long ago lost the war with Adobe InDesign) will open them, so even the low-resolution previews are out of my reach.

Thanks to Chris Lydgate, my classmate at Reed and the publisher/editor of more successful periodicals for prompting this reverie.