The Brain Mutator For Higher Primates — A bOING bOING Retrospective

This article was originally written for and published at Neon Dystopia on June 13th, 2018 It has been posted here for safe keeping.

In 1988, Mark Frauenfelder and his wife Carla Sinclair started a small zine out of their apartment in Sherman Oaks, California. This wasn’t a full-time job for Frauenfelder, who studied mechanical engineering in school and worked professionally designing hard disk drives during the day. The drudgery of his work got to him, and he desperately needed a creative outlet, and that outlet would become bOING bOING.

Frauenfelder was fascinated by self-produced magazines of the time like Screamsheet and Reality Hackers, which in many ways acted as a precursor to amateur websites and blogs that permeate the Internet today. Zines were a bit different than the magazines you may pick up in a corporate bookstore. They were rough, uncensored, and often handmade by a group of amateurs having fun. Maybe you’d find some on a table at a trendy coffeehouse, or maybe the employee bathroom at work, but more often than not you would have to seek them out by mailing cash to the creators and hoping they sent something back. This wasn’t the first foray into publishing for Mark, who had created two issues of a mini-comic called Toilet Devil, and a one-issue zine titled Important Science Journal some time earlier. This new zine would be different. It would be for cool things, cyberpunk, wacky stuff, high weirdness, and anything downright crazy the husband and wife duo found interesting.

Carla Sinclair and Mark Frauenfelder.

Frauenfelder, an avid punk rock fan, enjoyed music by acts like The Ramones and The Clash throughout his youth. When asked what he liked about punk music during a 2011 interview, Mark responded, “It was the DIY aspect of the punk culture. You didn’t need to have expensive equipment or a record contract. I also liked the primitive sound. It’s hard to say, but as soon as I heard it, I loved it.” In many ways, the new zine would mirror punk culture and the DIY aesthetic: it wasn’t perfect, there wasn’t any backing or stability— it was raw and unfiltered and noisy and fun.

As a child, Frauenfelder was drawn to computers and comics, which eventually inspired his love of all things geeky and his fascination with alternative media. He first learned about zines from the Winter 1987 issue of Whole Earth Review titled “Signal” (co-edited by Kevin Kelly, who would later be among the founders of Wired magazine) in which an article explained the concept of zines and even mentioned a zine directory (which was actually a zine itself!) titled Factsheet Five. Frauenfelder ordered a copy and immediately sent away for as many zines as he could.

The first issue was layed out before the pair needed to move to Boulder, Colorado in 1989. Carla took on the role of editor, which she would retain for the run of the magazine, while Mark settled into the co-editor/publisher position. Packed full of cyberpunk sci-fi, underground comix, and mind-altering media, Carla xerox’d about 100 issues of the 36-page zine, and began to distribute it. The first issue was a trip: there was an interview with futurist Robert Anton Wilson, a comic about taking LSD, and a libertarian-cyberpunk manifesto titled “Crossbows to Cryptography: Techno-Thwarting the State!”, amongst others. bOING bOING, the World’s Greatest Neurozine, was born!

bOING bOING issue 1 (1989) cover. Read the whole issue here.

Stop right there. I can already see the candy-colored cogs in your brain cranking away trying to understand the text you just sucked off the page. bOING bOING… as in Boing Boing… as in boingboing.net, the popular group blog that arguably pioneered blogging as a concept in the early days of the Internet. Few people know that Boing Boing started its life as a humble zine, printed on dead-tree paper— not electronic bits ethereally whirling around the ‘net. Boing Boing may now be a staple of the Internet for those interested in science fiction, futurism, technology, and left-wing politics, but 30 years ago, it was a brand new zine called (and stylized as) bOING bOING.

bOING bOING stayed in Colorado for several issues and were hitting their stride as distribution ramped up. They refined their manic, madcap, eclectic style to become the premier net rag, full of punk attitude and sassy style. While the first issue of the magazine featured content from a handful of technoid misfits, the contributions were soon creeping in from all over. Back before the Internet, zines had to rely on a combination of luck and word-of-mouth to be successful. You could distribute copies of your zine to your friends, send them to other zines you like in the hopes that they’d review it, or trade them with others to spread far and wide. If it was any good, you’d have insatiable, bug-eyed mutants clamoring for more. If it was bad, it would fizzle out, and be all but lost to time. Early contributors for bOING bOING included science fiction authors like Paul Di Filippo and Rudy Rucker, as well as cyberculture writers and zine editors like Going Gaga helm Gareth Branwyn and FringeWare Review wizards Paco Nathan and Jon Lebkowsky. Within the zine microcosm, bOING bOING was a hit!

Mark Frauenfelder pasting paper together to assemble copies of bOING bOING issue 2 (1990). Read the whole issue here.

It is important to understand just how much cyberpunk influence bOING bOING was amassing in this early period of publication. Just three years before bOING bOING’s first issue, Bruce Sterling edited the acclaimed Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology (1986), featuring short stories by prominent, front-wave authors in the cyberpunk subgenre. bOING bOING would go on to feature articles by authors from this anthology such as Rudy Rucker, Marc Laidlaw, Paul Di Filippo, John Shirley, and even Sterling himself. Others such as William Gibson and Lewis Shiner would ultimately be interviewed. Di Filippo in particular would even use bOING bOING Second issue as a launching point to share his ideas on a half-serious new subgenre he was developing called “ribofunk,” a blend of “ribosome” and “funk” (a direct response to “cyberpunk”), that acted as a prototype for what we would later come to call “biopunk.”

Around the time that Mirrorshades was hitting hardback, before bOING bOING launched, Mark and Carla would run into R.U. Sirius and Queen Mu selling the poster-sized second issue of their High Frontiers zine (a psychedelic counter-culture zine which would eventually morph into the cyberpunk Mondo 2000 a few years later) at a Timothy Leary show in San Francisco. Frauenfelder vividly describes the duo by stating “RU was this grinning hobbit-looking character with a floppy hat with a Andy Warhol button on it. Queen Mu was a very delicate blond woman with Stevie Nicks clothes and granny glasses and she [had] a permanent blissful smile and didn’t say much.” After buying a copy of their zine, Mark and Carla would attend High Frontiers Monthly Forum events in Berkeley thrown by R. U. and Mu, eventually meeting like-minded cyberpunks and tuned-on mutants such as author Rudy Rucker and future Mondo 2000 art director Bart Nagel. The friendship between the group grew, with both Rucker and Sirius eventually writing for bOING bOING.

R.U. Sirius and Timothy Leary.

bOING bOING covered culture in a no—holds-barred way. No topic seemed too taboo or salacious or untouchable. Drugs, kinky sex, and absurd humor littered the pages— sometimes comprising the entire issue. You could get the latest news about the ‘net, independant comics, goth culture, punk music reviews, and everything in between. You might see a cyberpunk short story sharing a spread with a Schwa alien cartoon or recruitment advertisement from Church of the SubGenius. bOING bOING dripped with Gen X culture, and as with Frauenfelder, appealed to those fed up churning in a stuffy office all day or burning out in their McJob. bOING bOING, like a lot of technology-soaked publications of the ’80s, followed a natural evolution with roots in the counter-culture movement of the 1960’s. Instead of the dirty, free-loving and peace-wheeling hippies, bOING bOING was more in tune with the punks of ’77 who scornfully rejected the old political idealism and subconscious with a rebellious, no-bullshit attitude. Music, culture, and technology were getting more personal; the milieu was different. The average bOING bOING reader was more likely reading Amok Dispatch (1986) rather than the Whole Earth Catalog (1969), and listening to Black Flag instead of the Grateful Dead. Kerouac made way for Coupland. This was something new— this was theirs.

For issue eight, their first with full color, Frauenfelder and Sinclair moved back to California. They didn’t stick around in one place for too long, pin-balling from Hollywood to Los Angeles to San Francisco, and eventually back to L.A. throughout the remaining years of the zine. bOING bOING was booming throughout this period, and benefited from an influx of cash attributed to Mark being employed to design Billy Idol’s Cyberpunk (1993) album. While in Los Angeles (the first time), Frauenfelder was offered a job as a writer at a small magazine startup, also run by a husband and wife team, called Wired. “They saw Boing Boing and they really liked it,” Mark has said previously, “so they called me up and asked if I could come work for them as an editor and inject some of Boing Boing’s sensibility into the magazine.” The couple relocated to San Francisco, and set up bOING bOING on the first floor of the Wired building, then located at 544 2nd Street.

Wiley Wiggins who you may remember as Mitch Kramer in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993) was also actively involved in early ’90s cyberculture. He wrote for bOING bOING as well as Mondo 2000 and FringeWare Review.

Wired released its first issue in 1993, but before that, it was just a group of writers and publishers trying to throw together a new concept for a generation of MTV-watching punks, immersed in the fresh world of cyber-culture. Publisher and co-founder of Wired, Louis Rossetto, pitched his magazine concept by saying, “We’re trying to make a magazine that feels as if it has been mailed back from the future.” This fit in nicely with Frauenfelder’s style. The Wired building was truly a melting pot of San Francisco culture in the early ’90s. Wired had recently moved from the first floor, a large, open, warehouse-like space, to the second floor when it needed something roomier. bOING bOING moved into Wired’s old digs in the corner of the gigantic room, which was already buzzing with activity from other independent zine makers in the Bay Area. Other publications sharing the space included Dave Egger’s Might (a magazine aimed at Generation X), Just Go! (a travel magazine), Hum (a magazine for young South Asians), CUPS (a more eclectic culture zine), and Star Wars Universe (I think you can figure this one out). Mark continued to work on bOING bOING while also netting income from the burgeoning Wired, though Carla took over most of the production at this time. Issue 9 of bOING bOING would become notable with such content as an interview with Bruce Sterling about his new book The Hacker Crackdown (1993), a regular music column by Richard Kadrey, and a 7-page pastiche of Mondo 2000 (starting on the back cover, so it actually looks like a Mondo 2000 issue when upside down) featuring articles with titles like “I’m Gonna Morph You Up,” and “Virtual Neural Jacks.”

Cover and first page of the mONDO mONDO parody in bOING bOING issue 9 (1992). Read the whole issue here.

By this time, issues began to feel more and more refined— both in content and physical appearance. Once printed on cheap paper, the zine now had dazzling, glossy covers, and was filled with content from a loyal band of the fringe-elite. bOING bOING never seemed to lose its quirky, geeky, out-there edge that had been so crucial in cultivating the zine’s culture and feel. At its peak, bOING bOING reached a circulation of 17,500 issues. Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever.

By 1995, bOING bOING would release what many might consider its last “regular” issue, though the year also marks what many would say is a much more crucial event for bOING bOING: the launch of its website, which we can still visit some 23 years later. Behind the scenes, the independent printing industry was changing for the worst. In 1994, shortly before this penultimate issue of bOING bOING was released, the two largest independent magazine distributors in the country went bankrupt. bOING bOING ended up losing about $30,000 because of this, causing delays in the production of another issue. While the launch of boingboing.net may be seen as a deathblow to the zine, it might have actually been the only thing that saved it. It was clear that publishing on paper was not going to be a long term solution. Publishing on the ‘net could be done for free.

The print zine may have been fading, but that doesn’t mean the culture built around it was left to decay. 1995 became a year of handbooks. Aligning with The Real Cyberpunk Fakebook, a satirical cyberpunk handbook written by select Mondo 2000 staff, Frauenfelder, Sinclair, and bOING bOING regular Gareth Brawnwyn collaborated on the 205-page Happy Mutant Handbook, a guide to offbeat pop culture. Sinclair would also release her first book, Net Chick: A Smart-Girl Guide to the Wired World, an optimistic yet sassy guide for women carving out their place in the early days of the web. Further, Frauenfelder was continuing to work for Wired where he would attain the position of editor. bOING bOING ultimately released its final print issue, #15, in 1997 after a two year hiatus. Unlike previous issues, this one more closely resembled a book, with more standard binding and a squarish appearance; the contents however were the same weird and wacky that bOING bOING was known for.

The Happy Mutant Handbook (1995) was actually designed by Georgia Rucker, author Rudy Rucker’s daughter! Read the whole book here.

Frauenfelder would eventually leave Wired in 1998, following his tenure there with a stint as the “Living Online” columnist for Playboy from 1998 to 2002, a job he was recommended for by Playboy editor and former zinester Chip Rowe (who had published Chip’s Closet Cleaner in the early ’90s). Later, Frauenfelder would become editor-in-chief for Make: magazine, a DIY/hobbyist bimonthly, while also producing a few books before settling into a role at the Institute for the Future as a research director. He also serves as Editor-in-Chief and podcast co-host with Kevin Kelly (again, of Wired and Whole Earth Review fame) at Cool Tools, a site about the tried-and-test tools and gadgets. Sinclair would later publish a technothriller, Signal to Noise (1997), and become editor-in-chief of a Make: spin-off magazine titled Craft: which ran from 2006 to 2009. Frauenfelder still maintains top position on the boingboing.net masthead, along with bOING bOING zine regular David Pescovitz. Carla has contributed to the site as recently as 2016, but additional writing is currently provided by Cory Doctorow, Xeni Jardin, and Rob Beschizza.

In May 2011, Frauenfelder would publish a bOING bOING anthology of favorite interviews from the zine era in a free, online-only PDF file. “The first few issues of Boing Boing had print runs in the low hundreds, and the biggest was 17,500 copies. Today, the blog easily gets that many page views in an hour,” Frauenfelder states in the the article announcing the anthology. The zine may be gone, but its legacy lives on through boingboing.net. “I think I’ll always be involved in some media. Who knows what Boing Boing will evolve into. But, I kind of imagine that it might not be too different than it is now,” Frauenfelder says in a 2012 interview, “I see myself continuing to make Boing Boing into an even better experience for its audience.”

For me, it can’t get much better than a three-color zine made by a husband and wife team exploring the weird and wonderful world. I only became aware of bOING bOING a few years back when I was searching for issues of Mondo 2000, and stumbled upon it quite accidentally. Before long, I was able to track down almost every issue and began to scan them, page by page, in an attempt to save them for future generations. I never did find the first two issues for purchase, but luckily I uncovered some PDFs of them online that were scanned at some point by Frauenfelder himself many years ago! After my scanning was complete, I uploaded each issue to the Internet Archive where you can download or browse them today, completely free. I’ve been lucky enough to have a few interactions with Mark Frauenfelder online after this, and he’s always been quick to answer my obscure questions about the old days and provide new insights. bOING bOING, the zine, remains a point of pride for him and he seems to love sharing it. It was and is something he loved, and he was there to see it mutate, evolve, and grow over time, while he did the same.

The print is dead, but the brain jack is warm. You can always go online.


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On Wetware and Cybersmut — A Future Sex Retrospective

This article was originally written for and published at Neon Dystopia on January 9th, 2018 It has been posted here for safe keeping.

Of all the cyberpunk magazines I’ve ever come across, Future Sex is definitely the strangest. From the cover of the first issue, you know immediately that you haven’t seen anything quite like this before. A naked brunette with headlines screaming “Electronic Masturbation,” and “3D Digital Orgasms: Virtual Reality Sex,” all imposed over a candy-colored gradient background. Make no mistake, when you peel open the pages of this magazine, you’re going to get porn. Lot’s of porn— with several photo spreads and articles featuring not-so-modest coeds in each issue. But in the sea of smut, phone sex hotline advertisements, and good old-fashioned sex on CD-ROM lies a stockpile of futurist, sex-positive cyberpunk journalism. With articles on teledildonics and smart aphrodisiacs, Future Sex was covering subjects formerly delegated to the dark corners of the ‘net. Now, you could buy it all for $4.95 off of the newsstand.

Cover for the first issue of Future Sex. Read the whole issue here.

I bought my first issue of Future Sex in 2013 or 2014, decades after the magazine folded. It was most likely on eBay, though I have no idea how I was originally made aware of its existence. Shortly after receiving the issue in the mail, I made a quick scan of it and uploaded it to the Internet Archive before sharing a link online. At this point, I only had the fifth issue of the magazine but found the premise of it utterly fascinating. I couldn’t believe that something like this existed, and part of me still can’t.

Over the next few years, I collected a few more issues piece by piece but never thought much of it until I was contacted by Kyle Machulis, aka qDot, in 2016. For those who don’t know (much like me at the time), Kyle Machulis is something of a celebrity in the world of DIY sex toys and sex technology, running projects like Metafetish (formerly Slashdong) and buttplug.io. We became friendly over the topic of Future Sex and embarked on a project where we would track down every issue of the magazine to then scan and upload to the Internet Archive for everyone to read. With both of us getting magazine shipments and rapidly performing scans, we quickly completed the project after a few months and received coverage from VICE Media’s MOTHERBOARD and SexTechGuide. Speaking with Machulis about how he first found out about Future Sex, he revealed a much longer relationship with the publication:

I remembered seeing ads for it in the back of magazines (like Mondo 2000 and others) I was reading around the time it was published. I was at the horribly impressionable age of 13-14, so of course it stuck.

Some of the images from it, especially the Virtual Sex hardware layout, kept coming up over and over again, in articles about the future of tech, memes, things like that. That’s what got me thinking about it again 20-some years later. Since I’d gone from being confused-and-online teen to confused-and-online-and-sex-tech-website-running adult, it seemed relevant to dig it up again.

As great as it was to achieve a complete archive of Future Sex, there is still a lot unknown about it. The magazine was relegated to the dustbin of history, and many stories of its short life went with it. At the beginning of the 1990s, San Francisco was a hotspot for technology, as well as sex. It was where you went if you were weird and had off-beat interests— or kinks. “The early ’90s were a formative time for the Internet we know today, and I wanted to help in making sure that history was archived properly,” Machulis reflects, “While Future Sex would look fairly mild compared to the range of content available today, there was certainly some groundbreaking stuff in it at the time.”

R U into cybersex? Image from Future Sex issue 2.

Future Sex was started in 1992 and driven by Lisa Palac, a former film student, and senior editor at On Our Backs (1985) lesbian magazine, helmed by Susie Bright. Palac wasn’t always into such suggestive work. She was originally an anti-porn activist, though she ultimately changed her views as she began to question her Catholic upbringing and investigate the various taboos around sex and sexuality. While in school, Palac would go on to create erotic films, and even publish her own sex-themed pornographic zine before entering the literary world. As the cyber ethos spread through the Bay Area, it eventually hit Palac in a world-changing way.

Clip from the Virtual Reality episode of Futurequest, featuring Palac discussing “telesex” in 1994 (No, that’s not her in the thumbnail).

Journalist Jack Boulware, founder of satirical magazine The Nose (1988), shared an office with Future Sex in the early ’90s. Boulware claims that Future Sex was originally helmed by novelist, and godfather of cyberpunk, John Shirley before he was replaced with Palac by Kundalini Publishing after the first issue. While the masthead of the premier issue lists Shirley as a contributing editor, Palac receives top billing as Editor, and her words are the first you read as you are introduced to the publication. The staff of this issue reads like a list of guests you might find milling about a Mondo 2000 party at 3AM: Gracie, Richard Kadrey, St. Jude Milhon, and Bart Nagel to name a few. The familiar names make for a comfortable first issue of any publication— as long as your level of comfort was smart drugs and anarcho-leaning techno-counterculture.

Between the high-tech sex talk and multiple photo spreads, the sex-positive, feminist ideals of Palac are at the forefront. This isn’t your normal porno rag aimed at men, nor is it entirely aimed at women; it hits a more general group of sexual beings, poised to look towards the future of sexuality and new ways to get off. Palac is blunt, sarcastic, and snarky, but she’s honest about what she wants and where she sees things going in the world of sex. The next few issues showed refinements in layout and design as the magazine hit its stride. Content boomed with articles on cybersex, teledildonics, high-tech sex toys, and everything in between. Interviews with cyberculture personalities like William Gibson and R.U. Sirius lined the pages, along with discussions of the latest BBS or Usenet group to check out and meet like-minded individuals.

William Gibson gets in on the fun in Future Sex issue 4. Read the whole issue here.

In a lot of Future Sex articles, the technology seems alien. We bounce back and forth between industrial-looking equipment that would feel familiar in a 1970’s wood-paneled den, as well as more Cronenberg-esque devices like the CyberSM, which, well… you just sort of have to see for yourself. The virtual sex and teledildonic wet dreams of Ted Nelson and Howard Rhinegold never seemed more real. With models clad in leather, latex, steel, and chrome, we received a salty taste of what the next frontier in sex could offer us in the not-so-distant future.

Photos like this are some of those most memorable from Future Sex. Originally from Future Sex issue 2, this scan was actually taken from a 1993 issue of Australian games magazine named Hyper where the images were reused.

With page upon page of advertisements for sex software, expensive bulletin board access, and phone hotlines, you never forgot you were reading a pornographic magazine. Even Future Sex itself advertised all of the different credit cards it could accept for subscription via a full-color banner in the first issue. Though Future Sex had seemed to target all genders and sexual orientations, the advertisements felt old-fashioned and predictable, almost exclusively aimed at heterosexual males.

Future Sex wasn’t seen as a success by everyone. Carla Sinclair, then-editor of bOING bOING, critiqued the first issue, wishing that the publication would do a better job of melding sex and future tech together. While we do get a dose of sex technology in many articles, there are still articles that are clearly about sex or future tech, but not with one another. Sinclair further pondered if there was enough material to squeeze out of high technology being infused with the primitive, basic act of sex, something she saw as two opposites. While issues regularly featured high-tech sex articles, they came out in less and less of a trickle, eventually getting more flaccid over the life of the publication.

Lisa Palac once interviewed Mike Saenz, author of the first erotic software title for the Macintosh, MacPlaymate. Image of the software in action from wowbobwow of reddit.com/r/retrobattlestations.

By the end of the magazine’s run, articles seemed to focus less on our cyber-future and more on the general, alternative-sex scene. Future Sex ended its run in 1994 with a mere seven issues. Issue 7 makes no mention of being the last, which undoubtedly left readers wondering what had happened when nothing arrived in their mailboxes. Internally, Palac was cutting her ties from the magazine, being replaced by writer Lily Burana. While Burana began work on an eighth issue, it was ultimately never released before the magazine shuddered.

Though Future Sex was no more, Palac’s career was still on its way up. While at Future Sex, Palac was constantly bombarded for interviews or photoshoots about the hot new topic of cybersex. Between 1991 and 1993, she worked with Ron Gompertz to produce two Cyborgasm albums that used binaural audio technology in conjunction with erotic stories (Palac actually met Gompertz at Mondo 2000 party, and the two would later become briefly engaged). After Future Sex, Palac continued a career in journalism, and ultimately published a memoir The Edge of the Bed: How Dirty Pictures Changed My Life in 1997. Later, she would go into television, producing episodes of HBO’s Taxicab Confessions from 1999 – 2001. She currently works as a therapist in Los Angeles, California. Other Future Sex alumni such as Richard Kadrey and Jack Boulware have continued to write for various publications, and also release their own books.

While Future Sex has long been out of print, it certainly hasn’t aged gracefully. “I feel like the magazine is very much of its time, so a lot of the topics covered would really be seen as anachronistic today,” Machulis suggests when asked if Future Sex is still relevant. “That said, a lot of internet users these days are stuck in between extremely dated views of sexuality and an online society constantly shoving the newest, latest thing at them. The best I hope for with the archive work done is to establish maybe a history that can be referenced for trying to bring people up to date.”

As technology has grown and changed over the years, we see advancements in how it can impact and augment sex. Sex toys and related technologies like virtual reality have only become more sophisticated, and future of sex tech is continuing strongly. With pioneers like Machulis out there, it will likely continue to do so. When asked about the future of sex tech, Machulis has thoughts on that as well: “People are now getting so used to connected technology that the idea of remotely connected toys is becoming feasible to the mainstream, versus being the fever dream of tech nerds . . . we’ll start seeing some really interesting things happen. The thing I’ve learned is that I can’t predict what those things are, though. I was around through the Future Sex days and wouldn’t really have considered the rise of social media and the sociological trends it has kicked off. The future of the early ’90s underground tech magazines is the future I wanted and believed in, but certainly not the one we got wholesale.”

 

Hallucinations For Accelerated Mutants — A Mondo 2000 Retrospective

This article was originally written for and published at Neon Dystopia on August 28th, 2017. It has been posted here for safe keeping.

It’s difficult to explain Mondo 2000 to someone who hasn’t experienced it before. That’s really what I would call it at the end of the day: an experience. Like a hallucinogenic trip, or a roller coaster ride, or that tingle that you get after a first kiss — it’s something you just don’t really get by having it described to you.

I first became aware of Mondo 2000, the glossy cyberculture magazine which ran from 1989 to 1998, in the much more recent year of 2012. Late to the party, I admit, but sometimes you just can’t get there on time. In 2012, I began to research hacking magazines as I was getting worried that some of them would soon disappear from the world without a trace. Somewhere out there sat old, possibly moldy magazines full of articles and stories that once appealed to the hacking subculture. Nobody was saving them, so I decided to start. I began patrolling. Amazon, eBay, and basic HTML sites that haven’t been updated since the early days of the web became my usual haunts. Between monitoring auctions and mailing old email addresses,  I was able to begin buying these publications. The ones I could find, I would wrap in archival-grade plastic and scan into my computer when I had the time; a slight pit stop before pushing them to the Internet Archive. Now, five years later, I agonize over the magazines that I haven’t even heard of yet. I learned a lot about the technological landscape of the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, but I didn’t have anything really resonate with my until I came across Mondo 2000. Sitting right on the border between the then-bleeding-edge and the surrealistic not-so-distant future, Mondo fostered a generation of tuned-in misfits who were making their way through hyperculture. This could have been me in a different time, but all I can do now is read the back-issues while wearing a bootleg Mondo t-shirt. Looking back, it feels like some sort of technophilic fever dream for kids with psychedelics and a ‘net connection. Drugs, sex, and the digital revolution dripped from the warm, colorful pages. Would you want to wake up?

Mondo 2000 issue 15 cover.

For many, Mondo 2000 was seen as just the thing a sharp-tongued, budding cyberculture needed. Others saw it as pseudo-intellectual nonsense, fabricated garbage that didn’t really mean anything. To the Mondoids, the dedicated followers, it didn’t matter if the normies didn’t understand. Mondo 2000 was playful, eccentric, irreverent, and brash — it worked on its own terms and it worked well. Yet, Mondo 2000 did always have a built-in expiration date. With a name like that, it could never go on forever. After 14 issues, Mondo ceased publication. The print was dead, but the ideas would live on — the infection would keep spreading. While Mondo hit the scene at an interesting time in the advancement of technology, it has a much more ludicrous origin story. Author Jack Boulware once reported in a famous 1995 postmortem, “Mondo’s history reads as if fabricated on another planet, spewed forth by a sweaty cyberpunk novelist tripping on nasal-ingested DMT.”

He isn’t wrong.

The Edge Of A High Frontier

Mondo 2000 didn’t just pop up one morning out of nowhere. The roots of Mondo go all the way back to 1984. Ken Goffman published the first issue of High Frontiers, your source for “Psychedelics, Science, Human Potential, Irreverence & Modern Art,” in a small run of 1,500 copies. The first issue embraced mind expansion with interviews featuring Terrence Mckenna, Bruce Eisner, Timothy Leary, and even Albert Hoffman, the father of LSD. Goffman, an ex-yippie, former New York musician who had since moved to California, had already adopted his dadaist R . U. Sirius persona when he decided to embark on a publication that combined psychedelic exploration, science, and high technology. The premier issue, published in a newspaper format, featured his moniker on the cover alongside co-conspirator “Somerset MauMau.” The innards were packed with walls of text and tongue-in-cheek photographs that looked like cut-outs from Life magazine. The next issue would need to keep up the energy, and the fun.

R. U. Sirius.

Sirius’ life would change one night as he was distributing the first issue of High Frontiers at a birthday party: he would meet Alison Kennedy. Kennedy, the wife of a UC Berkeley professor and daughter of a wealthy California family, captivated Goffman. Soon, Kennedy would come to join the band of “Marin Mutants” (named for High Frontier’s Marin, California headquarters) that worked on the publication, sporting names like “Lord Nose” or “Amalgum X.” Meeting in a local pizza parlor with oddly-abysmal foot traffic, the High Frontiers staff would plot out their next articles. The second issue of High Frontiers, published a year after the first, would go on to include interviews with physicists, research on hallucinogens, and reviews of art and literature. By issue three, science and technology had become more of a main focus with articles on memory enhancement, psychoactive software, and quantum physics. Of course, drugs were still held in high regard with articles like “MDMA: Safe As Ice Cream,” and Kennedy’s own gonzo-anthropological “Tarantella And The Modern Day Rock Musician,” about hallucinogenic tarantula venom. Kennedy would soon go on to adopt a new persona of her own: Queen Mu, Domineditrix. After issue four of High Frontiers, Sirius and Mu would change the name of the magazine to Reality Hackers, which better represented the mix of articles on mind-expanding drugs and computer-based technology. As the magazine mutated, so did the staff. New additions included anarchist hacker Jude Milhon (who would become known as St. Jude) and the in-your-face Michael Synergy (real name unknown), a cyberpunk keen on toppling all of the powers that be.

High Frontiers issue 1. Read through all of the issues here!

With operations now moved to a large wooden house in the Berkeley Hills, Reality Hackers became a lightning rod for new, more diverse happenings of the psycho-technical fringe. There were articles on smart drugs, virtual reality, chaos theory, and isolation tanks, some featuring leading experts in these new and/or obscure fields.

Distributors, however, had no idea what to do with Reality Hackers and thought it was a magazine about literally hacking people to bits. Sirius would eventually be approached by Kevin Kelly of Whole Earth Review, the magazine spawning from Stewart Brand’s seminal Whole Earth Catalog, to work on a new digital culture magazine called Signal. Sirius ultimately declined in order to pursue a new mutation of Reality Hackers, honing-in on the young cyberpunk movement. Sirius and Mu would soon change the name of the magazine again to Mondo 2000 after publishing only two issues under the Reality Hackers name.

Reality Hackers. Issue numbering takes place where High Frontiers leaves off. Read all of the issues here!

At first, Mondo 2000 still resembled Reality Hackers between the cover art and black-and-white interior. After Bart Nagel was brought on as Mondo’s art director, things took a turn as he completely reworked the design of the magazine. Featuring colorful layouts, expert photography, full-page illustrations, and surreal covers, the new magazine was as stylish and beautiful as it was informative. New content went hand-in-hand with the new design; there were articles on cyberspace, computer viruses, and conspiracy theories. Authors that would grace the first issue include Bruce Sterling, William Gibson, and John Shirley, each notable for their work in the cyberpunk sub-genre. Gibson, an ex-hippie who had published the ground-breaking Neuromancer in 1984 (the same year the first issue of High Frontiers premiered), particularly resonated with the Mondo style. While Gibson would write about fictional high-tech outsiders who took smart drugs and jacked into cyberspace, the Mondoids were living it.

Mondo 2000 issue 6, featuring cover art by Bart Nagel. Read a selection of Mondo 2000 issues here!

Mondo 2000 embodied the cyberpunk subculture, and often served as the premier source for trends and news within the space. It wasn’t long before the rest of the world was trying to catch up. Sirius was starting to get quoted by mainstream sources like the Boston Globe or the Chicago Tribune who were dipping a toe into the bizarre cyberpunk waters for the first time. If John Shirley is known as being the “godfather of cyberpunk,” Sirius may have entered public eye as the crazy uncle. The Mondo 2000 house was regularly a who’s who of the eclectic Bay Area characters. Aside from Sirius, Queen Mu, St. Jude, and Synergy, regulars included contributors like subscriber-turned-music-editor Jas. Morgan, psychotropic-explorer Morgan Russell, and the drug-loving bankers Gracie and Zarkov.

Much of the content development for new Mondo articles stemmed from outrageous parties thrown at the Mondo house. It wasn’t uncommon for different rooms to be filled with active interviews, parlour games, or conversation between unlikely guests. A virtual reality expert might discuss politics with a smart drug theorist. Timothy Leary could discuss virtual sex with a computer hacker. Someone might suddenly get up to dance or go to the kitchen to try a 2CB analogue mixed with piracetem. As Mondo helped those on the fringe meet the like-minded, the culture only grew and evolved with each new issue. More and more reporters from publications like Newsweek or The New York Times were flocking to Mondo for a controversial opinion or unconventional view of the future. Before long, zine writers and editors like Gareth Branwyn and Mark Frauenfelder of bOING bOING, and Jon Lebkowsky and Paco Nathan of FringeWare Review started contributing to Mondo. Authors like Rudy Rucker, Robert Anton Wilson, and Douglas Rushkoff began submitting work as well. While the Mondo 2000 parties could only exist locally, articles came in from every corner of cyberspace or alternative plane of existence. Mondo had become a hub of interaction for those beneath the underground.

A Little ReWiring

As Mondo 2000 hit its stride, a new publication was just starting to take shape. Years earlier in 1987, Electric Word (originally launched as Language Technology) became a prominent linguistic technology and computer culture magazine in Amsterdam. White it generally focused on linguistic technology, and computer culture, Electric Word featured such pioneers as Xerox PARC’s Alan Kay, AI expert Marvin Minsky, MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte, and even Mondo-regular Timothy Leary. After three years the magazine shuttered, leaving editor Louis Rossetto and ad sales director Jane Metcalfe without jobs. Partners in business as well as life, the pair decided to return to the United States and embark on a new magazine about cyberculture and technology. They wanted to call the publication “Millennium” to highlight the new technical revolution, but the name was already taken by a film magazine. John Plunkett, then the creative director, wanted to name it “Digit” (a play on “dig it” and “digital”).Eventually, they settled on Wired and started developing a prototype with a mission to decipher the new digital revolution.

Cover for Language Technology issue 3. Read select issues here!

When Rossetto and Metcalfe arrived in California after shopping the publication around New York, they were soon introduced to the Mondo 2000 team. Things appeared to be friendly enough, and Queen Mu would often visit Wired’s offices and engage Rossetto and Metcalfe in conversation while handing out fresh issues of Mondo. Just starting out, the Wired team did its best to differentiate itself from the madcap, already-successful Mondo 2000. Both the Wired and Mondo groups were well aware of what one another was up to, and there was care taken to not step on any toes. The Wired team didn’t want to compete or be compared, they wanted to come into their own.

Louis Rossetto and Jane Metcalfe, via wired.com.

Not all was well within Mondo 2000 at the time. As Mondo grew, celebrities were vying to get into the magazine in an attempt to appeal to a more underground audience. When The Edge, guitarist for rock band U2, wanted to be examined for an article, Sirius recruited his friends from the band Negativland to conduct the interview. Negativland, who U2’s management had recently sued for copyright infringement, was a logical choice for Sirius. During the interview, The Edge didn’t know who he was speaking with and mentioned his views on intellectual property. At that point, Sirius revealed the band and trapped The Edge in his own hypocrisy. This resulted in one of the most well-known Mondo 2000 articles, but at the time it was strongly opposed by editor Queen Mu. After she refused the piece, Sirius had reached a tipping point and left Mondo, stepping down from his position as editor-in-chief. While Queen Mu eventually relented and published the article, Sirius never returned to his previous position. While he did eventually come back as a contributor, he also divested his share of ownership in the magazine.

Photograph of the band Negativland.

Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die

Though Mondo 2000 may have still been holding on to its popularity, there were increasing struggles to draw in advertisers. Mondo’s strong drug-friendly stance didn’t mix well with button-up businesses that had money to spend on product promotion, and the magazine suffered because of it. There was less cash on the table when writers looked to Mondo as a potential place to submit their articles, and many opted to go with other publications. While some continued to contribute to Mondo out of passion, outfits like the new Wired could afford to pay more per word. Looking back, Mondo was never truly run as a business looking to make as much profit as it could. Instead, it resembled an art project assembled by a hodgepodge of culture jammers and social engineers.

Still riding high in 1992, Mondo published Mondo 2000: A User’s Guide to the New Edge, a book containing 317 pages of compiled articles and artwork from past issues with new content mixed in. In February of 1993, Time magazine featured a “Cyberpunk” cover story, complete with art from Bart Nagel and numerous mentions of Mondo 2000. Cyberpunk had gone mainstream with Time’s article reaching households all throughout the USA. Much like Ron Rosenbaum’s “Secrets of the Little Blue Box” article published in Esquire in 1971, the Time article inspired hordes of new people to invade a subversive subculture. While Mondo received a boost from the story, it might have been a little too much attention.

Time Magazine’s February 1993 issue. Read the story here!

When Wired’s first issue came out in March of 1993, it was largely dismissed by the Mondo crew. In the eyes of many, it watered down the content Mondo was known for and passed itself off as a sub-par imitator. At the end of the day, Wired was appealing to a largely different audience. They didn’t need the hardcore console cowboys or smart drug pioneers to like them, they could get by with weirdo weekend warriors and flirt with the “normal people.” Mondo may have been a bellwether for the digital revolution, but it was on the decline. Many thought it was circling the drain.

Wired Magazine issue 1, March 1993.

Mondo 2000 was able to survive for another five years under the leadership of Queen Mu and her assistant-turned-editor Wes Thomas, ending with issue 14 in 1998. It may not ever be known if Mondo finally closed down due to infighting, failure to rouse advertisers, dilution of cyberpunk culture, or some perfect storm of those factors. Its legacy and influence, however, cannot be questioned.

Mondo 3000

In 2010, R.U. Sirius announced “MONDO 2000: An Open Source History”, a multimedia-driven Kickstarter project that attempts to capture the history and lore of Mondo 2000 — and all of its previous incarnations. Between a web document, a printed book, and video footage (that may ultimately become a documentary), Sirius hopes to save all of the stories, viewpoints, and ephemera that made Mondo what it was. He is currently in contact with past contributors, and continues to work on the project. In line with Mondo 2000’s whimsical nature, Sirius created a project reward that allowed one backer to be written into Mondo 2000’s history. Some of the events surrounding Mondo may not have happened, but all of them are true.

While we may not see a new issue of Mondo 2000 ever again, Sirius is hard at work. Within the last month, he has re-established Mondo’s Twitter presence and created a brand new website at mondo2000.com featuring reprinted and expanded articles from Mondo’s past, as well as new content.

For those who remember it, Mondo 2000 is something equal parts special and weird. For many, it changed everything, and then it faded into the ether organically as the world changed around it. Browsing the new site, my mind starts to wander. Maybe there is a void left in the world that could only be filled by Mondo 2000 coming back. Maybe the world needs a “Mondo 3000.”

Somewhere out there, hackers and cyber-mystics are typing away furiously on computers in coffee shops and bus stations, creating new virtual worlds and building communities.

Maybe someone else has already created a Mondo 3000.

Maybe this time I’ll be around to catch it.


Keep your eyes bulged and your cybernetic implants on alert for a follow-up article featuring an interview with R.U. Sirius.

 

Recollecting The Future— An Omni Retrospective

This article was originally written for and published at Neon Dystopia on June 28th, 2017. It has been posted here for safe keeping.

The first time I read anything out of Omni, I probably had a completely different experience than you did. The original run of Omni, the iconic science and science fiction magazine, ran in print from 1978 to 1995, ending when I was just four years old. The first time I eyed the pages was maybe only five years ago — on my computer screen, with issues batch-downloaded from the Internet Archive back when you could find them there. While I didn’t get that feeling that comes with curling, sticky-with-ink pages between my fingers, or the experience of artificial light reflecting off of the glossy artwork and into my retinas, I was able to ingest the rich content all the same. While there is something sterile and antiseptic about reading magazine scans from a computer, there is more to say about reading Omni, in particular, this way; what the readers have been dreaming about since the publication’s inception has become reality. I have a whole archive of Omni issues that I can take with me everywhere in my pocket. To reference an oft-used quote from Ben Bova, previous editor of Omni, “Omni is not a science magazine. It is a magazine about the future.” The future is now, and maybe some things did end up changing for the better.

The iconic Omni logo.

Omni (commonly stylized as OMNI) got its start in a rather interesting way back in the late 1970s. Publisher Kathy Keeton, who had previously founded Viva (1973), an adult magazine aimed at women, and held a high-ranking position at the parent company for Penthouse (1965), proposed an idea for a new type of scientific magazine to Penthouse founder and her future husband, Bob Guccione. Keeton and Guccione would develop the concept of a magazine focusing on science, science fiction, fantasy, parapsychology, and the paranormal. It was a departure from both the over-the-top, pulp science fiction magazines of the 1940s and stiff academic scientific journals of the time aimed at pipe-smoking professionals in three-piece suits. Omni was aimed more at the layperson in that its content was accessible yet serious — they bought into their own brand and expected you to as well.

Guccione and Keeton, image via dailymail.co.uk

A strange departure from the pornographic roots of both Keeton and Guccione, Omni was a completely new beast, eccentric and untried. While other science publications looked to ground their content in what was concrete, Omnifocused on the future with wonder and a sense of possibility. An issue may contain irreverent, gonzo articles about alien abductions, chemical synthesis of food, what personality traits should be given to robots, thoughts on becoming a cyborg, or the computer-centric musings of lunatic/genius Ted Nelson. You could find articles on drugs back-to-back with discussions of high-tech surgical procedures or homebrew aeronautics. No topic was off limits, and with decent rates for writers, the weird had a chance to turn pro. Whether it was intentional or not, Omni adopted a laid-back, transgressive west coast culture that praised the strange and favored the “out there.”  For a lot of readers in the late 1970’s, this was the only place to get this type of content. People couldn’t pull out a cell phone and hop online to get the vast swathes of information that we can now – there was an ever-present undertone of information isolation, and Omni filled the void.

Omni‘s premier issue, October 1978.

While the magazine was well known for its articles and comprehensive interviews with the scientific elite such as Future Shock (1970) author Alvin Toffler or astrophysicist Carl Sagan, the most flirtatious quality of Omni was its illustrations. Slick and glossy, Omni never failed to draw a shy eye from a newsstand with bright colors and airbrushed art of feminine androids or lush mindscapes in high contrast. Many notable artists contributed their work to Omni, including John Berkey, H.R. Giger, and De Es Schwertberger. For each issue, the gold-chain-wearing Guccione would be said to personally pick the featured art; each image was part of what he wanted to convey with the magazine, and it might be more than a coincidence that many of the covers featured women. Omni wasn’t the only publication of the time with intricate cover art, as Heavy Metal (1977) featured similarly detailed depictions, and even shared some of the same artists. Where Omni really set itself apart from others was through the use of artwork throughout the periodical as a whole. With sprawling, multi-page illustrations, the art didn’t take a backseat to the articles. Just flipping through, someone might think that they had picked up an art magazine; Omni was never one to skimp on the visuals.

H.R. Giger’s Dune concept art would grace the cover of Omni‘s November 1978 issue.

Above all of the articles and artwork, Omni may have been most celebrated for its short fiction. At its inception, nobody really knew how to react to Omni’s foray into the science fiction ecosphere. The SF community was tight-knit and amiable, but it wasn’t exactly used to sleek publications from groups that had no background in the subject showing up suddenly in bookstores and comic shops. Keeton and Guccione did their homework and hired notable editors, Ellen Datlow and Ben Bova (a six-time Hugo Award winner during tenure as editor of Analog Magazine (1930)), to seek out content for publishing. Like Bova, Datlow was a fan of the genre herself and wasn’t afraid to push the envelope when it came to buying far-out fiction. The magazine came to showcase science fiction for science fiction fans, and didn’t subdue or water down the content for the sake of a broader audience – the bottom line was never sacrificed. With contributors like Robert Heinlein, Orson Scott Card, Isaac Asimov, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, George R.R. Martin, and William S. Burroughs, there were not only excerpts from larger works but complete short stories introduced to the world for the first time. William Gibson notably published “Burning Chrome” (1982), “New Rose Hotel” (1984), and “Johnny Mnemonic” (1981) through Omni, creating the foundation for the Sprawl that would later host some of his most celebrated novels: Neuromancer (1984), Count Zero (1986), and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988). Omni helped launch the careers of many science fiction authors, and fostered exposure for countless others over its near three-decade reign.

The first page of William Gibson’s “Burning Chrome,” featured in Omni‘s July 1982 issue.

Omni thrived for many years as it continued to dazzle readers with exciting and thought-provoking composition. Eventually, Omni would get its own short-lived television show, Omni: The New Frontier (1981), a webzine on Compuserve, and six international editions with varied amounts of both reprinted and original articles. Later in the publication’s life, the articles took a more paranormal slant that left many fans and contributors wondering about the magazine’s direction. Keeton and Guccione had always held a lot of interest in the paranormal and found a kindred spirit in their editor-in-chief, Keith Ferrell, who took up the position in Omni’s twilight years. While Ferrell wanted to shift Omni’s focus towards the vetting of the unexplained, the magazine couldn’t sustain itself for much longer. Omni published its last print issue in the Winter of 1995, citing rising production costs. At the time, Omni had a circulation of 700,000 subscribers, many of whom were left high and dry if they hadn’t already abandoned the publication with the recent shift in focus. While it is unknown whether or not production costs were to blame for Omni’s demise, many surmise Guccione’s strategy of funding Omni via Penthouse’s profits was starting to fall apart. While free Internet pornography flourished in the 1990’s, it put the older print industry in jeopardy. The ship was sinking, and something would need to be thrown overboard before the situation would get any better for the Penthouse empire.

“Some of Us May Never Die,” article by Kathleen Stein, October 1978.

Omni did not disappear completely, and successfully transitioned into an online-only magazine dubbed Omni Internet in 1996. At the time, there were few examples of magazines who could make the jump to digital. Omni embraced the new format which allowed them to play with how content was structured and draw in fans with interactive chat sessions. While a conventional magazine could only be published once a month, Omni could now report on scientific news as it happened, setting a standard in web-based journalism that we still see today. This was a “blog” before Jon Barger coined the term the following year, and it holds a spot as an early example of the format. In 1997, Kathy Keeton died due to complications from surgery and Omni closed down completely just six months later. While Omni was the brainchild of both Keeton and Guccione, Keeton had always been the main driving force that held all of the moving parts together. The publication that always promised to bring the future would now become static, slowly fading into the past with each passing year. While no new content was published, the site remained online until 2003, when Guccione’s publishers filed for bankruptcy.

AOL welcomes you to Omni Online, one of Omni‘s first forays into the web. Image via http://14forums.blogspot.com

While Omni may have ceased production, its strong legacy cannot be questioned. While fans wax rhapsodic about the old days, there are plenty of remnants left over that have diffused the iconic Omni spirit to new generations. Wired (1993) owes just as much to Omni as it does its precursor, Language Technology (1986), as well as Mondo 2000 (1989), bOING bOING (1988), and Whole Earth Review (1985). While Wired didn’t rely on science fiction, it still yearned for a techno-utopian future and even hired on some Omni expatriate short fiction writers to become reporters for the new digital revolution. Later in 2005, a much-unknown omnimagazine.com was launched, claiming to be cared for by former staff and contributors of Omni, including Ellen Datlow, the fiction editor who worked at Omni for nearly its entire run. In 2008, the website io9 was created by Gawker Media (Later a property of Gizmodo) specifically to cover science and science fiction, just as Omni had done decades before. io9’s slogan, “We come from the future,” echoes Ben Bova’s Omni quote, and helps cultivate an image of the site as a spiritual successor.

Wired issue #1 from March, 1993. The cover features an article by science fiction writer and Omni contributor Bruce Sterling.

In 2010, Bob Guccione passed away at the age of 79 following a battle with lung cancer. While Guccione’s death didn’t immediately influence the future of Omni, it set off an interesting chain of events that would ultimately lead to a rebirth of the publication. In 2012, businessman Jeremy Frommer bought a series of storage lockers in Arizona, one of which happened to contain a large amount of Guccione’s estate. Frommer was enamored by his discovery and immediately fell down the strange and multifaceted rabbit hole of Guccione’s mind. With the help of his childhood friend, producer Rick Schwartz, Frommer started building The Guccione Archive in a nondescript New Jersey building. Out of the entirety of Guccione’s life work, Frommer became fixated on Omni and explored the collection of production materials, pictures, 35-mm slides, and original notes generated from the life of the magazine. It wasn’t long before he brought in others to sort the collection and track down original artwork used for Omni that he could purchase and add to the archive. For Frommer, it became a passion to create the most complete collection of Omni-related materials, and he had to get his hands on every bit he could find.

Artwork like this Di Maccio piece showcasing”Psychic Warriors,” by Ronald M. McRae was being tracked down to add to the archive.

Organically, Frommer came to the conclusion that he needed to take the next logical step: he needed to reboot the magazine. When Claire Evans, pop singer and editor of Vice Media’s Motherboard blog, met with Frommer to cover the Omni collection, she was asked if she would be interested in working on a new Omni incarnation. In August 2013, Evans was named editor-in-chief of Omni Reboot and got to work. The new publication was off to a strong start as Evans was able to get submissions and interviews from former Omni alumni and science fiction icons like Ben Bova, Rudy Rucker, and Bruce Sterling. Free scans of Omni back issues were made available at the Internet Archive, and the blood once again flowed through Omni’s withered veins. Nostalgia was in full force as people rediscovered their favorite article or got caught up in the whole journey of the reboot. Quickly though, criticism came in about the quality of the content and what would become of the Omni legacy under the new owners. Not everyone thought the magazine should be rebooted.

An Excerpt from “Hi Everyone. Welcome to the New Omni,” by Claire Evans served as the introductory article to Omni Reboot (August 2013).

While Omni Reboot still conformed to the science and science fiction roots of the original, it did so with a higher dose of cynicism than even the original obtained. When the old fantasies of science and technology started to become reality, it was only natural for people to consider how the world around them could grow to bite its master and send civilization into a negative spiral. In many cases, it already had. In contrast, the zeitgeist 40 years ago slanted more towards the hopeful idyllic; people used to have conversations about how an advancement would influence mankind and drive the world ahead. That’s not to say everything back then was so hunky dory – we always see the past through rose-colored colored glasses, smoothing over the corruptions and jagged edges in our memories. While the world aged and evolved, so did opinions towards its technocentric trajectory. Etherealism was no longer en vogue.

As the reboot grew it started to come under fire from authors as it was discovered that submitted work would become owned by Jerrick Media, Omni Reboot’s new parent, for a year after publication. Further fueling controversy, the back issues of Omni on the Internet Archive were removed in 2015, much to the disappointment of readers. In 2016, Jerrick Media released Vocal, a publishing platform for freelance writers to make money based on article views. Omni Reboot(now just Omni) was re-purposed as one of Vocal’s verticals, serving as an interface for science and science fiction related submissions from the Vocal content network. Browsing Omni now, there is an overwhelming, uneasy feeling of quantity over quality. A name that once stood proudly and represented a home for the weird and futuristic had become just a limb on a larger, alien body.

Omni’s current homepage, via omni.media

A few weeks ago in May of 2017, we got another chance to relive the rich history of Omni as back issues became available once again. Unlike the older Internet Archive scans, these new transfers are in high resolution, with each and every issue accounted for. Also unlike the older transfers, each issue costs $2.99 for a digital copy, though they are free if you happen to be a Kindle Unlimited subscriber. While it’s bittersweet that these issues are now available for pay, profits from their sales are going to a good cause. Omni announced a partnership with the Museum of Science Fiction who receive a portion of the revenue from each purchase.

Cover of Omni‘s February 1987 issue. Just one of many back issues that are now available for purchase.

While Omni has changed many times over the years, it is still remembered as that wondrous and weird, crazy and cool publication delivered to mailboxes month after month. Omni worked best because it didn’t try to fit into an existing space, it pioneered its own; It became a destination that amalgamated the new, the scary, and the unknown. In the true Omnispirit, we have no idea what is coming for the publication as the clock ticks ahead. Will it thrive and continue on, or become another ghost in the machine, slowly obsolescing.

The future is ahead of us, and for now, we can only look to it with hope and wonder.

We can only look to it just like Omni would want us to.

 

The Best of 2016

See the 2015 post here!

Here is my second installment of the best things I’ve found, learned, read, etc. These things are listed in no particular order, and may not necessarily be new.

This annual “Best Of” series is inspired by @fogus and his blog, Send More Paramedics.

Favorite Blog Posts Read

Articles I’ve Written for Other Publications

I’ve continued to write for a few different outlets, and still find it a lot of fun. Here is the total list for 2016.

Favorite Technical Books Read

I haven’t read as much this year as previously

  • The Cathedral & the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary – Really cool book about early community software development practices (at least that’s what I got out of it). Also covers some interesting history on the start of time-sharing systems and move to open-source platforms.
  • Computer Lib – An absolute classic, the original how-to book for a new computer user, written by Ted Nelson. I managed to track down a copy for a *reasonable* price and read the Computer Lib portion. Still need to get through Dream Machines.

Favorite Non-Technical Books Read

Number of Books Read

5.5

Favorite Music Discovered

Favorite Television Shows

Black Mirror (2011), Game of Thrones (2011) , Westworld (2016)

Programming Languages Used for Work/Personal

Java, JavaScript, Python, Perl, Objective-C.

Programming Languages I Want To Use Next Year

  • Common Lisp – A “generalized” Lisp dialect.
  • Clojure – A Lisp dialect that runs on the Java Virtual Machine
  • Go – Really interested to see how this scales with concurrent network programming.
  • Crystal – Speedy like go, pretty syntax.

Still Need to Read

Dream Machines, Literary Machines, Design Patterns, 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10

Life Events of 2016

  • Got married.
  • Became a homeowner.

Life Changing Technologies Discovered

  • Amazon Echo – Not revolutionary, but has a lot of potential to change the way people interact with computers more so than Siri or Google Now. The fact that I can keep this appliance around and work with it hands free gives me a taste of how we may interact with the majority of our devices within the next decade.
  • IPFS – A distributed peer-to-peer hypermedia protocol. May one day replace torrents, but for now it is fun to play with.
  • Matrix – A distributed communication platform, works really well as an IRC bridge or replacement. Really interested to see where it will go. Anyone can set up a federated homeserver and join the network.

Favorite Subreddits

/r/cyberpunk, /r/sysadmin, /r/darknetplan

Completed in 2016

Plans for 2017

  • Write for stuff I’ve written for already (NODE, Lunchmeat, Exolymph, 2600)
  • Write for new stuff (Neon Dystopia, Active Wirehead, ???, [your project here])
  • Set up a public OpenNIC tier 2 server.
  • Participate in more public server projects (ntp pool, dn42, etc.)
  • Continue work for Philly Mesh.
  • Do some FPGA projects to get more in-depth with hardware.
  • Organization, organization, organization!
  • Documentation.
  • Reboot Raunchy Taco IRC.

See you in 2017!

 

Hacker Zines

I have many projects. Too many, one might argue. Either way, they exist and I enjoy doing them.

For a long time, I’ve had something of a collection of magazines that I usually refrain from talking about simply because it doesn’t come up a lot in normal conversation. A few months ago when it was announced that Nintendo Power was halting production, someone told me that the cover of the last issue was a throwback to the very first issue from 1988. I was asked if I had the first issue (people tend to wonder just how much old stuff I have) and I do. Here’s a picture of it.

Nintendo Power #1

Nintendo Power #1

What you don’t see in this picture is the rest of my magazines. I have a lot. Hundreds. Most of them are video game magazines from the 1990’s and I’ve been accumulating them for over ten years. That isn’t to say that these sum up my entire collection. I have an almost complete run of 2600, six or seven years of Wired, a few dozen issues of MAD Magazine from the 1970’s bundled away, 10 or so issues of High Times from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, and a few years of some more modern things. Besides those, I have a few other random magazines here and there and most likely some I’ve forgotten.

Magazine Shelf

Magazine Shelf

While I have a few current subscriptions, I’ve recently re-opened my magazine obsession. Why now? I don’t really know, but it was bound to happen. Every once in a while you get one of those “I should really do that, wouldn’t that be great?” ideas and they really start to stack up. One or two of those ideas end up toppling off the pile sooner or later and you just run with them. This particular idea started with Blacklisted! 411.

If you haven’t heard of Blacklisted! 411, I don’t hold it against you. If you know what 2600: The Hacker Quarterly is, then think of Blacklisted! 411 as a lower budget version of that. If you don’t know what 2600 is, it’s the most popular and longest running independent print hacker magazine. Blacklisted! has something of an interesting past. There are a lot of politics involving the magazine that are still something of a hot issue even for people today. There’s no doubt that it left a sour taste in the mouths of many. To briefly go through things, the zine started as a cheap black and white publication in the early 90’s. Initially monthly, the magazine switched to a quarterly release schedule to allow for more articles per issue (mirroring 2600 in this regard). Many criticized the quality of the articles and the publication in general, but it had a loyal group of fans and writers. In the mid 1990’s, the magazine up and disappeared (angering many) and reappeared in the early 2000’s. Throughout the life of Blacklisted!, a lot of people claim to have been treated unfairly by it and promised compensation for their articles which they never received  I wasn’t there, and I don’t know all the details for sure. Defending nor attacking the magazine are not my goals either way.

Issues of 2600

Issues of 2600

For as long as I had known about 2600, I had also known about Blacklisted!. While I could easily get back issues of 2600 through their website, Blacklisted! was far more elusive as it went out of print. I was less likely to come across old issues out at book sales or flea markets when compared to something more popular like Wired. So, I forgot about it for a while and chalked it up to a boat that I had missed.

Fast forward to now. I’ve decided to take it upon myself to start gobbling up every issue of Blacklisted! 411 ever produced. Normally when you see someone take on a pie-in-the-sky task like collecting all of something from scratch you dismiss them with an “oh, that’s nice” and pat them on the head while taking bets on how quickly they tire of the project and go home. I already know it’s not something that will happen overnight, and will probably take years if I’m ever able to complete it at all. It’s a bit of a turn-key project either way, so it’s not much of a hassle. Initially,  I set up some aggregation online to see if any issues go up for sale, at most I might dig through a few more bins at the punk rock flea market. It’s something of a slow burn.

Blacklisted! 411

Blacklisted! 411

As I started doing research on Blacklisted! I came upon a few other hacker or hacker-related magazines that went into print. For example, I discovered Mondo 2000 (and its other incarnations), bOING bOING, THUD, Grey Areas, Binary Revolution,  and more. These were also low-number interdependent physical magazines that lived a short life of usually fewer than 20 issues. So, I expanded my scope. If I can find them for the right price, I’ll snatch these up as well. Are there more out there? Probably (And please, let me know what I missed). I can’t get to everything, but I have a pretty good idea of what print zines we had just by asking around.

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Mondo 2000

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Gray Areas

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bOING bOING

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THUD & Binary Revolution

You may raise the issue of me going after physical magazines exclusively. Where’s the love for the electronic zines? While I do have a fondness for ezines, I don’t consider them nearly as endangered a species as the print-only zines. While an electronic zine may have been copied hundreds of thousands of times with little effort, when a physical magazine goes out of print it can only slip further into obscurity. Some copies get mistreated and trashed, while others are packed away and forgotten. These are the ones I want to save. Right now at least.

So the next logical question is what am I doing with all of these magazines? While I admit that I do get a nice warm, fuzzy feeling from physical magazines, I have bigger plans than simple self-satisfaction. Scanning is the name of the game. I’m currently in the process of scanning in all these old issues I’ve already found, compiling each issue into a single document, and uploading the documents online to share with everyone. Through this whole scanning process, I’ve already learned a lot. Enough to write something on it actually, but it would fare better as its own article. My scanning workflow works well enough to actually yield results, which you can check out here and here. If you want to check out my overall progress on how I’m doing with all the zines I hope to find, you can visit this page. You might notice that in some cases, I’ve found magazines already scanned by people. These are few and far between, but save me a little work considering they are usually of good quality.

While my scanner might be slow and I might be busy, I’m happy to say that the wheels are in motion. Things would probably move a little faster if I had a more portable scanner, but for the time being I’m keeping things slow and steady. That all said, if you have some of these magazines and feel like donating to the cause, I’ll serve as a home for your wayward magazines (and I’m probably a decent alternative to the trash if anything). If you feel like scanning, you can contribute that way as well. The Anarchivism wiki linked above is editable if you create an account.

So as I’m picking up older magazines, I’m also starting to focus on newer ones. Consider something like Bitcoin Magazine. An independent publication about a decentralized digital currency? Who knows how much longer this will stick around. It’s important to apply a little foresight for things like this. Otherwise, who knows what you’ll be able to get your hands on down the line. Luckily, many current publications have bridged the digital divide and offer both physical and electronic copies. Other magazines are now entirely based online. Still, there are those holdouts that are only available on paper. These are what I’m after. These are what I want to save before time runs out.