As per the official WOzFest 18 announcement, the theme for the upcoming event is Community Service.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about giving back to our retrocomputer communities – it’s something I’m passionate about because of the significant help and support I’ve received not only from my own local community especially, but also from the wider community online.
I was never much involved in “the community” back in the day, and it took some time from when I first started getting back into Apple ][s in 1998 to when I found and became a part of the local retrocomputer community (in 2013/14). (I was, however, quite involved in the Mac community, which ended up seeing me start my Mac consultancy in 1997.)
But in the short time since I found the local retrocomputing community, here I am in 2021 planning four WOzFests and Skyping/communicating with some of the current leading lights of the Apple ][ retrocomputer scene!
I engage with the community in other ways, sometimes just participating in conversations, but, more importantly, also trying to find ways to give back to the community that has given me so much.
This is not to big note myself – many people are doing much, much more than I, but even a schlub like me can make a positive contribution to the community, and I’d like to share some of the ways I have done so over the years.
I hope this post will serve as inspiration to others and give them ideas on how they might be able to contribute to their retrocomputer community – every little bit really does count.
First up, I’d say if you see a request for assistance you can answer, answer it! It doesn’t get any easier than that. Try to keep all contributions positive. This is most especially applicable when dealing with new members of the community.
You might know the answer immediately, or know which manual you have to open – you might even find yourself firing up some equipment to check behaviour. But it’s amazing how strange the path to helping might be.
For example, a question was asked on the KansasFest 2020 Discord about converting a vector PICT file – modern programs were having issues interpreting it. I also found none of the graphics or DTP programs I had on my macOS Catalina iMac wanted to convert the file.
However, I remembered one semi-modern (or at least able to run on semi-modern macOSes) program which I thought might have the legacy parsing code in it, even though it’s the worst page layout program I have ever used: MYOB AccountEdge. And guess what? Under macOS Mojave (10.14), MYOB AccountEdge v11.5 was able to load the PICT into an otherwise empty invoice layout screen, and print to PDF the file in its full vector glory!
Just jump right in and try things out when helping your fellow enthusiasts – in and of itself, overcoming such technical challenges can be rewarding.
Specialist skills – Silentype font
As a long-time desktop publisher and user of vector-editing programs, I’ve always been interested in fonts. In several DTP jobs, this led to using Fontographer to create bespoke fonts for customers to simplify logo and symbol use in their work.
When I started getting back into retrocomputers, I wanted to recreate the feel of one of my first printers, the Apple Silentype. I didn’t have a Silentype, but I was able to source a full character output “rainbow” printout via a request online.
With that in hand, I released the original version of my Silentype font in March 2004. Because of character rendering changes in OS X, I had to tweak the font and released v2 in December 2012. I released it under the Open Font License so that others could work on it if they wish.
Chris Torrence has done something similar with another font I always intended to work on, Motter Tektura. Not wanting to duplicate effort, I now just use his font and am happy to see it available before I got a chance to work on my own version.
Specialist skills – Proofreading
Once again utilising my experience in publishing and editing, I have proof-read a few items for different projects, most significantly early versions of the .woz file spec for John Morris’s Applesauce and more recently passing my eye over John Snape’s reprint of the Beneath Apple DOS/Beneath Apple ProDOS books.
I don’t always bring a deep technical knowledge to such a task, but I am very details-focussed, and often pick up slight inconsistencies otherwise missed. This helps the community as the documents have had more review, and being non-technical is in some ways an advantage as I will request details to try and make sure technical material is clear to cater to all levels of readers.
Grunt work – BBS Crackscreens
Sometimes the work is much less glamorous and/or much less interesting in its actual undertaking.
He maintains a list of BBSes – including the dialin number, sysop, date/s in operation, etc. His tweet sought volunteers to scour old text files looking for such details, and as a follower of the Apple II Crackscreen Twitter account, I knew the details available in such crackscreens would need special attention as it wasn’t just text – it would all need to be manually transcribed.
With the bot owner’s permission, Jason provided all 8,000+ source images to me. On Jason’s suggestion I removed the screens without details, then went back and transcribed the details for all the BBSes I could find in the remaining images.
I ended up with about 750 screenshots with details to transcribe, which had about 1,450 BBS listings (many of which were, of course, duplicates). Jason is incorporating these details into his main list, and many Apple ][ BBSes will now be findable. On and off, this took me three months to complete.
Twitter image bot
Speaking of the Apple II Crackscreen Twitter image bot, it inspired me to create my own image bot, the Applesauce Fluxes bot, which tweets random flux .pngs from the Internet Archive’s Flux Capacity collection several times a day.
I just love the variety and beauty of the Applesauce flux images, I felt I had to share them with the world!
While I’m not regularly updating the bot’s image collection, there were over 20,000 images at the time of my download – this will keep things fresh for quite some time to come!
This is one which gets more critical every day as bits rot, pages moulder, collections are trashed upon death (bleak, I know), and knowledge and expertise fade.
I have an Applesauce I make available to WOzFest attendees, and others are brought to spread the load. Attendees bring scanners for scanning at WOzFests, and many attendees are scanning while at home, too.
While some preservation/digitisation requires specialist knowledge or specific equipment (not always cheap), even allowing others to undertake the preservation of your own items is a contribution to the community.
Reach out to other enthusiasts and find out how you can contribute material, time or effort to this very worthy cause.
Even when I didn’t have WOzFest HQ available to me, I acted as a clearing house for old tech for customers, family and friends.
With a reduction in e-waste collections generally in Sydney, I continue to offer to hold material for people, including WOzFest attendees, and will periodically visit the local Community Recycling Centre, which accepts e-waste and is only 5 minutes drive away. Occasionally, I’ll even offer items to Freecycle before e-wasting if they seem still usable.
I am diligent, however, in ensuring this “service” does not lead to accumulation of bulk material as I very much savour the free space I have available to me and I work tirelessly against the strongest of my hoarding inclinations (and I will always want to be able to meet my preferred definition of “collector”).
The Australian Computer Museum Society is trying to establish a national computing museum here in Oz – I recently became a Committee member (I like the fact that several WOzFest attendees are also Committee members or volunteers).
The Society has had a checkered past, and the new Committee is trying to get things back on the rails, which I think is well worth my time.
Beyond Committee matters, I also help out as they’re moving their massive collection to a single storage location, which involves pushing heavy, dirty computers on and off trucks – but it has to get done.
And, of course, I host WOzFests! I’ve enjoyed the 5+ years of WOzFests tremendously.
Product releases, Skypes to international luminaries, interesting technical discussions all feature at WOzFests, and I am also building up tools and resources for attendees to use (and perhaps borrow) including books, manuals, and test/repair equipment.
Providing space and motivation for attendees to work on projects has proven very rewarding and instructive, and I can now offer storage space for frequent attendees who can’t complete projects in one sitting but are space-constrained at home.
This is the hardest volunteering role for me to recommend to others – not because it’s hard work (it can be), but because it relies on a reliably-available venue. I would find it very hard to commit to hosting an event without the 42 m² (360 sq ft) in WOzFest HQ.
An alternative would be to get involved in the running of other events like Oz Kfest, KansasFest, VCF events, or just local gatherings of like-minded retrocomputer enthusiasts. I’m pleased that regular WOzFest attendee Murray now holds a generalist gathering called Nozfest.
Give it a go!
I’m sure others have more ideas for what they can do for their community – focus on things that “spark joy” for you, and it will make it that much more enjoyable. That said, grunt work can also be rewarding as there is a definite physicality to the contribution you’ve made.
Please add your own suggestions in the Comments below – it may even give me other ideas on what I can do, and hopefully will do the same for other enthusiasts.