The Silicon Jungle, my collection of I-was-there stories from the computer world of the 1980s, is now a free book on Project Gutenberg thanks to Distributed Proofreaders.
You can download it in ePub, plain text, HTML, or Kindle format. Several hundred people already have.
Published originally by the Ballantine division of Random House in 1985, the Jungle is a mix of microcomputer lore and how-tos. Among the highlights are chapters on:
–The Kaypro, one the first “portable” computers. Um, it was really sewing-machine sized. The screen was a gigantic nine inches, more or less the same as the one on my iPad today—a fraction of Kaypro’s size and weight.
—WordStar, the first really good piece of word-processing software in the opinion of many writers. George R. R. Martin has used WordStar to write his best-selling Game of Thrones books, the inspiration for the HBO series. I caught up with WordStar developer Seymour Rubinstein and programmer Rob Barnaby.
—1980s-era hacking by “Captain Zap” and others, along with countermeasures—and smugness. “Computer crime is not now, never has been, and never will be out of control,” I skeptically quoted the Computer and Business Equipment Manufacturers Association, “unless security is completely ignored. And that is not going to happen.” Never. Just ask the CIA, the Democratic National Committee, the Target, Adobe, Yahoo (latest here) and the rest.
—The story of the 300-baud modeming between sci-fi great Arthur C. Clarke and MGM/UA director Peter Hyams during the scriptwriting of the movie 2010. A.C.C. was in Sri Lanka, Peter in Los Angeles. I helped line up their Kaypros and helped with the MITE communications program they used.
Clarke, WordStar, ebooks and bathtubs
The late Clarke was a huge WordStar fan. He was less prescient about ebooks.
“Nothing will ever replace books,” Clarke said via my 300-baud connection with Sri Lanka. “They can’t be matched for convenience, random access, nonvolatile memory (unless dropped in the bath), low power consumption, portability, etc.
“But information networks will supplement them and replace whole categories, e.g., encyclopedias and telephone directories (as is being planned in France).”
Oh, well. At least Clarke loved WordStar. I’m just sorry he didn’t live to see water-proof beauties like the Kobo Aura One ereader.
My past belief that WordStar would go on and on–expressed in the Jungle–is one reason for my devotion to ebook standards and dislike of DRM for retail books. I learned my lesson. Martin’s use of WordStar today is a novelty in in the word-processing universe as a whole. The computer world moves on. As much as possible, we must not tether ourselves in the long run to individual companies, be they MicroPro (originator of WordStar) or Amazon.
Also in the Jungle are 1980s-era reflections, in the Clarke chapter, on technology, imports and the decline of factory jobs in places like Lorain, Ohio, the steel town where I once worked as a newspaper reporter. Yes, it was an issue even back then.
Finally, huge thanks to Juliet Sutherland, K. D. Weeks and the rest of the crew at Distributed Proofreaders for getting the Jungle online for free. May it be useful to nostalgia buffs and students of technology!
Detail: You can register here to volunteer for DP and make donations here. You can also help out PG.
Also of interest: Track Changes: A Literary History of Word-Processing, by Matthew G. Kirshenbaum, a professor at the University of Maryland.
Correction: The communications program ultimately used was MITE, not Modem7.
Loved my Kaypro II. My first computer bought in 1983 I believe. Sitting in my basement right now. Wonder if it would boot?
Check out YouTube for videos of people who restore old tube radios. The same principles apply. Most electronics age well. There’s no reason for a vacuum tube, a transistor, or a resistor to go bad simply sitting in a basement. What goes are the electrolytic capacitors. Some restorers start by replacing them before they try turning the radio on.
With that Kaypro, there’ll be other issues. Corrosion may be a problem for connections to the motherboard, to the sockets for chips, or to cables running to the floppy drives. Those can be cleaned. Getting the floppy drives to read floppies after so long may also be an issue. Basements tend to be damp.
What may be more of an issue is magnetic storage, meaning the boot code and applications on floppy disks. A quick Google did turn up this website hosting the operating system for Kaypros. A bit of searching might turn up applications such as WordStar.
You might also contact computer museums for either advice or to see if they’d like it as a donation. The Kaypro really is a classic from the age of personal computers. It was so versatile, in the early 1980s, the mainframe computers at the University of Washington used one to allow users to feed 5″ floppy drive data for almost any microcomputer into their mainframe.
And for Kaypro applications written by users, see if you can find an archive of Micro Cornucopia files. They distributed hundreds of handy applications for Kaypros for free. This might be a good place to start.
I even contributed one or two myself back when I tried my hand at programming.
Clarke was right about the encyclopedias and telephone books; both of those are dying categories in print. The jury is still out on other categories of books; many people continue to prefer paper for now though that may change over time.
“… though that may change over time.”
Probably not. The adage that to destroy (rather than supplement) an old way of doing things the new must be ten times better still applies.
For listening to music, CDs weren’t enough (if any) better than cassettes to replace them for on-the-go listening. But downloadable digital files, iPods and smartphones were. In just a few years digital eliminated the Walkman cassette player and its CD equivalent.
Ebooks have been around far longer than digital music, but have yet to displace print. They may be sufficiently better in a few categories, such a read-once romance novels. But in a host of other areas, they’re either worse, no better, or not significantly better.
And don’t forget another factor. The Internet has radically transformed a reader’s ability to find and buy used books. Ebooks aren’t just competing with new books, they’re competing with used books selling at ebook prices.
The result can be amazing. For a friend who’s a fan of Enid Blyton, I wanted to get her an illustrated book about the writer’s life. For a time it looked like I’d have to buy it overseas, paying a large price along with costly shipping. Outside the U.S., Enid Blyton is an enormously popular children’s story writer. Inside the U.S. she’s virtually unknown because she was driven from our book market by librarians practicing their own form of book banning. “She’s too popular,” they sneered back in the 1950s. “Kids aren’t reading anyone else.”
But thanks to the Internet, I discovered a copy at a California bookstore that had priced it cheap, given how few Americans know about Blyton. Their cheap price and domestic shipping were perfect.
If you’d like to spend an interesting afternoon, prowl around and learn a little about Blyton, a author who ranks up there with Agatha Christy in global sales, but rarely has more than a few her books in the typical big city American library with millions of volumes. And if you like to read children’s books as a grownup or would like excellent examples of how to write for kids, you can find links to where you can find her books here:
I’ve been picking up used Nancy Drew books at thrift stores for a niece. They’re not hard to find, even in hardback. But in a couple of years of looking, I’ve yet to see a single Enid Blyton book. Those who’ve been book banning her in the U.S. have been so effective for so long that she’s vitually disappeared.
Meanwhile, those same people scream and screech, devoting an entire week each year to tell us the evil of “banning”—their words—a book like Huck Finn. And they do that despite the fact that it’s almost impossible to find a bookstore, new, used or thrift, that doesn’t have a copy of Huck Finn on its shelves.
“Do as we say not as we do,” seems to be the ruling mantra in that profession. “We can ban an author from our libraries and schools,” they say by their deeds. “But you as a parent have no right to even protest what books we decide your child must read at school.”
A term like hypocrisy seems grossly inadequate to describe such behavior.
Hey, give it a try, Dana, and let us know!
@Shirley: The debate goes on. I doubt paper books will ever vanish completely, but I still think that E will win in the end—especially when publishers wise up on the related business matters, and when the tech is better.
Hey, David. Thank you so much for setting this book free. I just started reading it, and I love what I’m reading. It’s a blast from the past, a highly entertaining romp chock-full of historical detail (not to mention flavor), and it’s amazing how much of the advice contained in it — business and technical alike — is still valid after 32 years. Can’t wait to tell my friends about it.
As a former Kaypro owner, I’d like to thank you for releasing it. All too many people think personal computing began with the Apple II and the first IBM-PC. It didn’t. There was a whole ‘nuther world of computing that gets neglected. MS-DOS was little more than a clone of CP/M, the operating system on Kaypros.
Anyone out their read for Librivox? It’d be great to have an audiobook version of this available. I’d try, but I have a dreadful reading voice.
Oh, and the direct link to David’s book is:
At one time I think Gutenberg had direct way to send ebooks to Kindles. That seems to be gone now, but you can download an app from Amazon that will let you do that:
David might also want to check into putting the book on Smashwords. They provide a gateway to libraries and a host of ebook distributors including the iBookstore and excepting only Amazon.
@Michael: What a great idea—Smashwords. Thanks. Meanwhile the Jungle is up to more than 1300 downloads. As for Amazon, you can download the Kindle version via your Kindle browser. Looks great on my Paperwhite.
@Felix and @Michael: So happy you’re enjoying The Silicon Jungle, and, yes, please spread the word. I’ll forward your comments to Juliet Sutherland of Distributed Proofreaders.
Of course, this is yet another example of the glories of the public domain. As a commercial property, The Jungle just would not make sense several decades after publication. As a public domain book, it may find thousands of appreciative readers who enjoy the “blast from the past.”
A Librivox edition narrated by the right person—my own voice is lousy—would be terrific! And, yes, if nothing else, the book will serve as a reminder that the Apple II and IBM-PC had their share of predecessors.
David: When I search for “The Silicon Jungle” in the Google Books database I do not see a copy. Discoverability would be enhanced if Google Books contained a scanned copy. However, displaying the artwork and photographs in the book may require separate permission if you do not control the rights to them.
Thanks for the suggestion, Garson.
Very much on topic, look what just crossed my Twitter feed: http://www.vintageisthenewold.com/good-old-wordstar-is-still-a-productivity-tool/
@Felix: Wow! Thanks for sharing.