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 It was most likely on eBay, though I have no idea how I was originally made aware of its existence.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.”

 

On Music, Mondo, & Mayhem: An Interview With R.U. Sirius

This article was originally written for and published at Neon Dystopia on September 1st, 2017. It has been posted here for safe keeping.

I recently wrote an article for Neon Dystopia on Mondo 2000, a cyberculture magazine that helped shape the cyberpunk sub-genre. When thinking of Mondo, the first person that comes to mind for most people is Ken Goffman, better known as R.U. Sirius. While he may be best known for his time at Mondo 2000, Sirius has no shortage of interesting accomplishments. Aside from Mondo, Sirius has had articles published in Artforum International, Rolling Stone, Time, Wired, and Esquire. He has been editor-in-chief at Axcess Magazine, GettingIt.com, and H+ Magazine. He’s hosted two podcasts, started multiple websites, and even had a run for the presidency in 2000 under the Revolution Party. Did I mention he has also authored or co-authored 10 books and appeared in two movies?

R.U. Sirius (Photo by Bart Nagel).

Aside from his accolades, Sirius is known as a knowledgeable, iconic, and somewhat eccentric guy. An acquaintance of his once stated, “[Sirius] once told me he had trouble reading anything written before 1990-it was 1980 at the time.” While Sirius has constantly been seen as being ahead-of-the-curve in a lot of ways, it was never something that hindered him — it only helped him excel. Without R.U. Sirius, we may have had a completely different experience traversing the digital revolution. At a minimum, it wouldn’t have been nearly as fun.

I had the pleasure of interviewing R.U. Sirius for Neon Dystopia over the course of the last few weeks while working on the Mondo 2000 retrospective. Being able to pick his brain was an experience, and after he answered my long series of questions, he started to tell me about his music — something I wasn’t at all familiar with. I had known R.U. Sirius the editor-in-chief of Mondo 2000, but not R.U. Sirius the musician. With a little research, I discovered he was the lead singer and songwriter for the band Party Dogs, which performed in New York in the 1980’s. Later in the 90’s, he would perform in the band Mondo Vanilli, which even signed a record deal with Trent Reznor’s Nothing Records (though there was never an official album release). Sirius recommended two albums to me, and I queued them up as I sat at my keyboard and pulled at the seams of Mondo.

The first album he recommended to me was MONDOtoxicated, a work-in-progress collaboration with psychedelic jamtronica band Phriendz. Sirius does the lyrics and has vocals on all but one song in the collection, “I Hope You Didn’t Dose the Pudding,” which instead features Phriendz’s own Daddy Phriday. The first track on the album, “Speed and Weed” is a great entry point into the unique sound put out by the collaboration. You can feel the funk and electronica elements, and they blend together seamlessly to create something otherworldly. Later in the album are two remixes from Sirius’s Party Dogs days: “On The Beam,” and “President Mussolini Makes The Planes Run On Time.” These songs are very punk-fueled, beckoning back to their original 1982 compositions, but blend well with the new electronic elements in the remix.

The second album, a much longer compilation spanning from 1982-2010+ titled That Which Does Not Kill Me Makes Me Hipper, features songs from Party Dogs, Mondo Vanilli, collaborations with Phriendz, and also songs by band SLT which Sirius supplied lyrics for. Aside from the Phriendz collaborations (which were also featured on the other album) the Party Dogs songs have a great punk rock sound that I could listen to all day. The real standouts on the album are the the techno-rock Mondo Vanilli tracks. “Love is the Product” in particular is a playful, satirical song that will get stuck in your head with its catchy chorus. While the album spans a number of decades and a few different genres, Sirius’ style shines through on each track. You are able to see how his music has evolved over the years, and never loses its power or passion.

While listening to these albums, I got the sense that music was and is an important part of Sirius’ life. I had to rethink my interview and go beyond the Mondo topics I was so focused on. I wrote back to pester Sirius with some additional questions, this time about his musical career.

Below is the full interview, with all of the questions on Mondo 2000, music, and everything else mingled together. Take a ride, and try not to fall off!

Neon Dystopia: Before you started working on High Frontiers, you were in a band called Party Dogs. Was this your first foray into music? How did you get involved in the band?

R.U. Sirius: Party Dogs was my first real foray. I recorded 3 songs before that with a band we called The Spoons as vocalist and lyricist in an analog electronic music room at a State University in Binghamton NY in 1976 – two of them got some local airplay. The song “Reggae Ripoff” caused a minor stir when a DJ who liked to play it realized I was a local white boy and freaked.  The lyrics are here. But there were no live appearances.

I had a few onstage moments after that… I’d go onstage for one song basically… “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” (or “Raw Power“, once).  But Party Dogs was the first sustained band that actually performed often. Actually the only band that performed often.

I was in Brockport New York, a small college town. I’d gained confidence in my voice by learning the entire Stones catalogue with a friend who thought he was Keith Richards (RIP, it goes without saying) … and when the neighbors came by saying they thought it was the Stones record and then realized we were doing it … I think that was my breakthrough in terms of confidence. I was already 25.

So I started putting together a band in Brockport. The first one we called Skippy and the Nice Guys. It was raw and confrontational. Everybody hated it.

When Party Dogs started, almost everybody hated that too… but we got good with practice. It was more punk-inflected rock than punk. Among our copy songs we played the Dead Boys, Sex Pistols and Iggy. But on the other hand, we played some Rolling Stones and Bowie. And mostly our own songs, of course. We ended up being kind of popular both in town and in Rochester, New York nearby. The other guys continued being in great bands in Rochester, including SLT, who I wrote some lyrics for a few years ago.

At our last Party Dogs appearance in Brockport, we closed as usual with a noise rock version of “Strangers In The Night.” Some jocks who were tripping on acid decided I was the devil and plotted to kill me. A girl who knew them and knew me talked them out of it!

ND: Music seems to be a big part of your life. Do you see yourself as a musician at heart despite all of the other work you’ve accomplished?

RU: There’s a great line in the TV show Dear White People… “Trust me. Find your label.” I guess I’m kind of too cosmic when it comes to considering myself anything. I’m amused by the way many millennials have this really expansive panoply of labels (particularly for sexuality) but such a constricting need to be codified.

Having said that, to the extent that I made a livelihood, it was mainly as an editor-in-chief and a writer.

I’d love to be known for my lyrics…  like maybe Van Dyke Parks or Bernie Taupin or Pete Brown (Cream)… except I guess mine are much weirder.  I don’t know. Who writes lyrics for avant-garde operas? I’d like to be him or her!

Mondo Vanilli album cover for i.o.u. babe.

ND: Have your influences changed dramatically between Party Dogs, Mondo Vanilli, and your most recent music?

RU: In terms of vocals, I’ve looked to people who work with rhythm and attitude but don’t have a vast range — Lou Reed, Jagger… for some examples.  And just before I embarked on my latest work, I had a cough that lasted for 2 months. I had kind of a recent-Bob Dylan growl befitting of an old man whose done a few naughty things…  but it disappeared. I don’t know if I will ever regain my voice the way I want it.

In terms of lyrics, it’s just whatever comes. I think maybe Frank Zappa is an influence although I’d maybe rather write like Leonard Cohen or Nick Cave. But I think my stuff is mainly unique and as good as almost anyones…  can I say that? I mean, for permission to go off the map of the usual rhyme schemes… I’d look to Don Van Vliet, Patti Smith and Bowie.

ND: In Mondo 2000, and earlier with Reality Hackers and High Frontiers, I see hippie/yippie influences, such as the work Stewart Brand was doing with the Whole Earth Catalog. I also see some parallels with Ted Nelson’s work, and the sort of general DIY attitude that the punk subculture perpetuated. What would you say were some of the biggest influences that Mondo 2000 drew from?

RU: I view the influences in terms of periodicals more than in terms of hippies or yippies etcetera, although a kind of counterculturalness is intrinsic. For myself, and I think for many others involved in the publication, there was a love of magazines.

Mad Magazine was as much an influence as Whole Earth.

Creem magazine with its irreverence… it’s disrespect for journalistic conventions and lack of rock star worship.

Some Dadaist publications like File (which became Vile after punk rock hit) for its use of allusion and not having to make sense.

The original underground papers of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s for their aliveness – trying to transcend their containment within a printed thing that you can buy and hold in your hand and have expectations towards. Can we make this object explode or dance or shoot off psychedelic sparks?

Interview… because it used interviews without the intrusion of the all-knowing authorial voice.

Omni for the pop science and technology and for recognizing that was the next cool thing.

Evergreen for counterculture in an urbane package with top tier writers like Terry Southern, Susan Sontag, Tom Wolfe, Eldridge Cleaver.

Wet for looking cool and feeling futuristic

ReSearch/Search and Destroy for exploring the connection between punk counterculture and various historical/anthropological memes like Situationism, body modification and so on.

That’s off the top of my head.

ND: What was the typical content of an issue, was anything too far out to be included?

RU: There was some relatively straightforward reporting on tech and science developments towards the front, usually … right after the very colorful and strange letters to the editors. Lots of interviews and conversations with people making up the hipper edges of the emerging tech culture but also musicians and just eclectic off-center stuff like an art forger/money counterfeiter. I mean, I can’t really do any issue justice in terms of how ultra-strangeness rubbed up against techie relative-normalcy.

I can’t remember a feeling that anything was too far out to be included. They were different times. The extremes hadn’t been fully weaponized yet, so to speak.

Mondo 2000 issue 2 contents.

ND: The 1980’s saw a big push into science fiction and the development of cyberpunk with Neuromancer and the growing popularity of publications like OMNI. Were you aware of the content in this space?

RU: Yeah we were friendly with Dick Teresi and other editors at Omni. We were excited with SF Eye and some other publications I’ve forgotten since. The excitement over the so-called cyberpunk writers was hitting us when we were still High Frontiers (the magazine we published from 1984-1988, preceding Mondo). Timothy Leary was very excited about Neuromancer, so he kind of led us towards that, but we had people around like St. Jude Milhon who were already trying to call our attention to that.  There were some cool periodicals doing something sort of vaguely similar that came and went. And Boing Boing preceded Mondo technically, although we had already done High Frontiers and Reality Hackers and they were influenced by those.

ND: Mondo 2000 is often cited as a large influence in the development of the cyberpunk subculture. How do you think it has been able to influence cyberpunk over the years?

RU: I think Mondo was more its own thing. Anybody who took cyberpunk too seriously as a movement or a memeplex might have been alienated by our eclecticism, our fancy design, our not-giving-a-fuck about cyberpunk or much of anything mien.  The hardcore nerds and cyberpunk sorts, for instance, hated that we did fashion spreads and girls with circuit boards around their nipples (as did some feminists). Mondo was an art project, really, specific to the people engaged in it, with the idea of cyberpunk or cyberculture in the nose cone but so much else going on behind it. And yet we hit a sweet spot for other eclectic sorts… I guess I’d say hipsters, in a positive sense (that label wasn’t a curse back then.) But also, the sort of person that loved Robert Anton Wilson and Church of the Subgenius.

ND: Tell me about the culture of the Mondo 2000 house. What was a normal day like? How would you describe the parties?

RU: It was a largish house in the Berkeley hills…  looked like a Blue Oyster Cult cover… thus called a “technogothic citadel” in various reports. There was a dead red 1956 MG out front.

The upstairs front room was used as the main office. Three people would roll in and start answering phones at around 9:30 am. Andrew Hultrkans our managing editor tended to come in early too. I slept in a room downstairs with my girlfriend at that time… we made some noise in the morning hours that would “frighten the horses” upstairs. I came upstairs in a silk bathrobe and nothing else usually around 11 am and went into the kitchen to make coffee.  Bart Nagel, Heide Foley and the art department was in a large downstairs room. I don’t know when they started but they often worked far into the night. The place was pretty dedicated to working on the magazine and dealing with the business and publicity on weekdays. Sometimes people would show up…  Jesus Jones (a “rock star” of the ‘90s); Buffy Saint-Marie! She’s awesome by the way. Some kids looking for me… the main dude said his dad was head of the CIA or something like that.

I don’t know that I want to describe the parties.  Some of them were large… lots of people.  I don’t remember any outright orgies – despite hearing rumors about them. Massive psychedelic drug taking was more common during the High Frontiers period in the mid-‘80s.  There was tech being shown off… brain toys, definitely some drugs, sex in private places…   I have this memory from around 1991 of these ravers being really contemptuous that the old folks were “dancing to Bryan Ferry.” But it wasn’t Bryan Ferry. It was Roxy Music and they were way fucking better than anything EDM ever produced!

Editors Rudy, Queen Mu, Ken Goffman, with Bart Nagel, the graphic designer. (Photo by Bart Nagel.)

ND: I often think that Mondo 2000 benefitted from hitting at just the right time, as computers and technology were riding this sociopolitical wave in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Do you think that Mondo 2000 was just as influential at the time as it was reactive? What was the feedback loop like?

RU: I think Wired hit at just the right time to be commercially successful (they were, of course, more accessible to the “normies”). We intentionally teased out the countercultural influences in the early Silicon Valley digital culture and helped make the connections between alternativeness and technoculture. A fellow named Michael Gosney – who had a digital arts magazine called Verbum – sponsored something called the Digital Be-In, timed to the annual Mac gathering in San Francisco, independent of us… so there were other people doing this as well. (We attended those splendid events, of course.)

San Francisco counterculture’s embrace of the celebrations of technology, virtual reality etcetera at that time in the early ’90s is kind of an extraordinary thing that requires a whole other essay.  It was a culture where the people who throw rocks at the Google bus would have been at the same party as Larry and Serge… our party!  Anticipating the future brought people together more than the actual thing.

Cover for Verbum issue 5.2. Click here to read the whole issue.

ND: Why do you think Mondo 2000 was so successful at the time? What did it have that nothing else did?

RU: We had a lot of hype from the mainstream media … an excitement about the superficial stuff like VR and smart drinks… that helped to let people know we existed. But I think the magazine itself was something extraordinary. It was the message from some other planet… some other future… that Wired later claimed to be. And there was an audience that wanted that.  People used to haunt magazine stores, Tower Records, in various towns…  “When will we see another issue of MONDO 2000.”

I mean, it wasn’t that successful. We hit our peak just shy of 100,000 circulation.

ND:  Timothy Leary once said that Mondo 2000 was “a beautiful merger of the psychedelic, the cybernetic, the cultural, the literary, and artistic. It shouldn’t last a long time.” Do you think that Mondo could have gone on for many more years, or was it by nature much more fleeting?

RU: 2000 would appear to be an expiration date. It could have continued. There were some internal problems that I don’t want to air here. Wait for the book, still in progress. We could have charted a new course of outrage. We had a lot of opportunities in terms of advertising that weren’t used… but I’ll leave it at that

ND:  I often look back at the comic “The Guy I Always Was” by Patrick S. Farley and consider how Mondo 2000 was more of a publication that invented the future (in both a dreaming sense, or simply making things up) instead of simply reporting on it. Do you think that would be an accurate way to put things?

RU: Yeah it was saying this thing was happening and then helping it to actually happen. Except for the things that didn’t happen, like universal virtual reality and “sharpies mutants and superbrights” taking over the planet…  I mean, it was a fantasy of the total transmutation of everything… and it’s turned out to be more the total fragmentation of everything, although we always made sure to predict that too (just in case.) I mean, it wasn’t really all that message-driven … there were lots of pages and lots of varying views and visions and just plain fun.

By the way, I love that comic.

H.M. Ludens, from “The Guy I Almost Was.”

ND: A lot of people attack Wired magazine though accusations that they copied Mondo’s style and watered it down for a broader audience. Do you think Wired was ever able to bottle the Mondo 2000 spirit? Was their success just a matter of timing based on when they started?

RU: They used a lot of the same writers and covered some of the same stories at first, but the appeal was more towards the ordinary…  They were genre specific. They didn’t have interviews with Daniel Johnston or Diamanda Galas or gonzo anthropological theorizing about secret cultic uses of tarantula venom as an intoxicant… stuff totally outside the supposed techno genre. They had a conventional approach that hit a bigger audience and was comfortable for advertisers.

They weren’t trying to bottle the Mondo spirit. The writers were told explicitly to steer clear of counterculturalness… Alternativeness was just the colored sprinkles on the corporate frozen yogurt.  Negativland pranks were cute items where for us they were subversive blows against the empire … and the main article. I mean, they were probably right. The empire survived our culture jamming … and now the alt-right establishment is doing a form of it themselves.  None of this is meant to be all negative about Wired. They did what they did well and I enjoyed many of their issues… and even wrote a few bits.

ND: Are there any people from the Mondo 2000 days that you still keep in touch with?

RU: I’m in touch with many of them.  St. Jude Milhon, who I worked closely with, died in 2003. Our business manager, Linda Murman, died of cancer maybe a decade ago. Kathy Acker, who was a friend to all of us, also died of cancer. There have been losses like that. A lot of people have been interviewed for the Mondo history project. I’ve been in touch with many of them.

ND: One person from the M2K staff that has always intrigued me is Michael Synergy, especially with his quick-fire claims of government-toppling knowledge in the Cyberpunk (1990) documentary. Do you know anything about his activities after Mondo 2000? Did he indeed mutate and take over the world?

RU: That’s a complicated and difficult subject. He disappeared after failing to appear at his wedding, more or less. Howard Rheingold swears that he’s Michael Wilson, who was involved in the development of the TV show Burn Notice and that the main character was based on him or at least on his braggadocio.  There are some strange, disturbing scenes with Synergy in the book (yes, still in progress.)

Cyberpunk (1990) documentary cover.

ND: There are a lot of different reasons posed for Mondo 2000’s eventual halt in publication. Is there any one reason that you think was the root cause?

RU: Insanity.

ND: In Synthetic Pleasures (1995) you said that “the way to eroticize the brain is to explore sexuality with new media.” With the popularity of the Oculus Rift and virtual reality in general right now, how do you think the ideas of sex and eroticism will mingle with these technologies going forward?

RU: Did I say that? :–)  Many knew mediums gain their financial foothold via porn. What will virtualized eroticism bring to the party, not just in terms of porn but in terms of real sexual connection? It seems to me that a lot of relationships take place mainly online now. Gender, genital sex, smells…  are these things becoming obsolete?  I don’t know. I can’t get no satisfaction from any sort-of totalist approach, myself…

ND: What’s the current status of the Mondo 2000 History Project?

RU: Negotiating a book deal. Otherwise, close…  Not knowing the format has complicated its completion.

ND: I noticed recently that Mondo 2000 has a new twitter account and an announcement of a website coming soon. What are your future plans for Mondo 2000? Can we expect a Mondo 3000 to come soon?

RU: Mondo2000.com  … it should be operational by the time people are reading this…

ND: While I’m of the belief that Mondo 2000 was something truly unique, is there any organization or publication these days that carries the same spirit?

RU: Dangerous Minds covers some of the territory. Boing Boing covers some of it. Coilhouse was awesome but has apparently disappeared. I don’t think anyone would do Mondo 2000 now in the way we did it. It was – dare I say – radical but politically incorrect in a way that is much more difficult to approach in a playful manner now. I’m still not sure how I’m going to navigate that aspect of our change in the culture with mondo2000.com.

Mondo 2000 hypercard via Boing Boing.

ND:  I’ve noticed in the past that you keep an eye out for articles online that mention Mondo 2000. Are there any websites or other publications that you read regularly?

RU: My morning online commute runs as follows… recent facebook posts, recent Google+ posts, Boing Boing, Vice, RAW Story, Reason, Huffington Post, io9, The Intercept, Washington Post, Dangerous Minds, ego search for R.U. Sirius, Mondo 2000, Timothy Leary, Ken Goffman. My Steal This Singularity twitter. (Now) Mondo 2000’s twitter.

ND: Are there any big things you are working on these days that should be on our radar?

RU: I like doing lyrics and music more than anything else. I have lyrical song cycles – some that have actual songs and some that have just lyrics — that I like as much as anything I’ve ever done. I’ll probably post them on Mondo2000.com. I think some of the new stuff that I will be working on with R.U. Sirius & Phriendz and some other folks will be stunning… It’s hard to get people to check it when they don’t know you for music though. People are real twats about that.  (My bandcamp…)

ND: Do you currently have any plans for more music coming up?

RU: Working on a bunch of songs… some may have my voice others not. R.U. Sirius & Phriendz may see the most production. Another artist who is known in the jazz world but who will be working under a pseud is working with me on some stuff. We’ll see.

I posted this sort of lyrical conceptual thing just recently. I’d love to get that done as a thing. Some of the songs exist already

ND: Many theoretical topics or downright crazy ideas from Mondo 2000 are becoming reality. How do you view the future these days? Where do you believe we are headed?

RU: The blurring of reality – the disbelief in even functional truth —  has entered too deeply into the realm of the political… People grasp for certainties, ideologies, authority… even anarchist authority if that’s their leaning. More chaos. Existential threats like the weather; increases in nationalism and racism and hostility; the spread of nukes…  There’s this sort of quasi-Leninist notion that bad material conditions lead to revolutionary progress.  Not true. They lead towards authoritarianism and reaction.

 

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.

 

‘More Than Just A Game’– Brainscan Review

This article was originally written for and published at Neon Dystopia on May 22nd, 2017. It has been posted here for safe keeping.

In the mid-1990’s, we saw cinema saturated with cyberpunk movies. Some became staples of the genre, while others simply faded into obscurity. Brainscan (1995) combines elements of cyberpunk and horror, to create a unique story about a video game gone wrong. While not a particularly successful film, Brainscan turns out to be an interesting extension to the classic “killer computer” trope. At a time when owning a computer has become normal for your average household, it’s easy to ponder how things could go wrong, especially in the style of a Twilight Zone fever dream.

Upon watching, Brainscan instantly makes you feel uneasy with its instrumental score, and it is something you will notice over the course of the entire film. The electronic music quickly fills any scene with dread, reminiscent of 1978’s “Halloween Theme Main Title” (from the film of the same name) by John Carpenter. Coupled with a dark color palette, the mood is set and unchanging. While the film definitely exhibits a horror-themed, fanciful atmosphere, make no mistake about its ties to the cyberpunk aesthetic. Technology, and our inherent fear in embracing it (as a species), sits center stage for the full run of the story. Likely influenced by publications of the time such as Mondo 2000, we get a taste of the cyberdelic lunatic fringe.

When our protagonist Michael (Edward Furlong) is told about a horror-filled video game that interfaces with a player’s subconscious, he’s eager to call up the phone number printed in a Fangoria advertisement to place an order. His appetite for blood and gore is insatiable, but the game isn’t what he bargained for. Furlong gives an excellent performance, tapping into some of the same themes exhibited by his Terminator 2 character, John Connor, a few years earlier. Michael himself easily fills the role of the smart high school student. He has a voice-controlled computer, Igor, which he primarily uses to place and take phone calls. Red-light-drenched computer hardware spans a large section of his attic bedroom, including an interface to his video camera which he uses to spy on the neighbor-cum-love-interest, Kimberly (Amy Hargreaves). You may call him an introvert, or a misfit — he has few friends and even less family but seems close to his best friend, Kyle (Jamie Marsh).

The bedroom of my teenage dreams.

Upon calling Brainscan, Michael is told about the innovative, fully-customized game and gets electrically shocked before the mysterious voice on the other end of the line tells him that his game has been decided and the first disc will be mailed to him. At this point, I liken Michael to transgressive characters of other films, such as Thomas Anderson / Neo of The Matrix (1999) or David Lightman of WarGames (1984), who transcend connotations of the 1950’s idyllic and its three-piece psychology. In fact, I’d stress that there are a lot of parallels between this film and WarGames — the technophile wiz-kid finds a mysterious phone number which ultimately wreaks havoc on his life. When the first Brainscan disc shows up in the mail, things take a dark turn when Michael boots it up and is instantly transported into the game, seemingly immersed by the “subconscious interface” which creates something akin to an out-of-body experience. In a first-person view, Michael is instructed by a methodical, disembodied voice to commit a murder, which he dutifully complies with. When Michael sees the news the following day, he quickly realizes that the murder was real. The virtual reality has leaked over into the natural world, and the line between them starts to become fuzzy.

The first disc arrives.

At this point, Michael gets a visit from the Trickster (T. Ryder Smith), who materializes out of thin air in his bedroom. Trickster, resembling an undead hard rock front-man, seems to know everything about Brainscan and urges Michael to keep playing until he completes the entire game. If Michael has been a middling character up until now, toeing the line between a rebel and a complaisant, we see him reevaluate his morality as the Trickster begins to impose more and more chaos in Michael’s life. Michael isn’t only pitted against Trickster, but the game itself which Trickster seems to be connected to. He’s lashing out against the technology that has betrayed him but is helpless in combating it.

The Trickster will threaten you with a CD.

*Spoilers Ahead*

Michael is worried about getting caught and reluctantly agrees to keep playing Brainscan in order to tie up any loose ends that may implicate him in his crime. Feeling like he has no other options, Michael continues to kill before standing up to Trickster and refusing to commit a final act. Disappointed by Michael’s act of defiance, Trickster allows the police to shoot and kill Michael. Michael has finally broken out from the game and immediately wakes up in his chair just as he did after playing for the first time. The whole experience was just part of the game, and none of it actually took place. Realizing this, Michael completely destroys all of his computer equipment, symbolically freeing himself of his technological imperative and escapist tendencies.

Complete destruction.

While Brainscan doesn’t incorporate many cyberpunk visuals, it certainly captures the essence of cyberpunk itself. Much like Black Mirror’s “Playtest” episode, we see a main character who seems to detach from reality and chooses to escape into technology to chase a high that he cannot derive from the physical world. While Michael may not fit seamlessly into a generation of young adults who have complete access to information and media, he exhibits traits that make him susceptible to escapist behavior and the dangers that go with it. Exploring his infatuation with high-tech entertainment, we become aware of what can happen when fantasies overlap with reality. Can we expect similar real-world stories to come forward as virtual reality worlds become more immersive and realistic? Maybe we don’t even have to go that far. Is it a stretch to consider that players of conventional video games have difficulty disassociating with them after putting down the controller? Little stops these experiences from bleeding over into our day-to-day lives, especially for the self-actualizing who may be hesitant or unable to make the distinction.

Are you ready to play?

While the premise of Brainscan certainly fits within the cyberpunk genre, the film is not without its shortcomings. Furlong and Smith give notable performances, though the supporting characters are more one-dimensional. At 22 years old, the physical technology we see is laughably dated at times, despite the topical concerns brought up by the story. Brainscan would never win any awards, but it’s a fun guilty pleasure that you want to keep watching. Just make sure you don’t order any video games out of a magazine anytime soon.

Brainscan – 6/10

 

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.