A Time Travel Experiment: The retro newsletter project proposal

The internet is an interesting place. Quite often, things I am trying to find end up not findable (far too often), but I almost always end up somewhere I didn’t intend to be finding something I didn’t mean to find.

Recently, I went in search for a Chromaset game that was referenced by L. Curtis Boyle on CoCoTalk Live (the nation’s leading weekly Color Computer talk show) episode 17. A reference had been made to this “Zero Gravity” (I think that was the title) game being disassembled and ported to OS-9, and I was curious to see what kind of game it was.

During this search, which was unsuccessful, I ended up at some random home page that had an archive of newsletters in PDF format. The one I found was from 1983, and it contained a review of the Chromaset subscription service (which I think was a cassette tape full of programs you received each month).

It was a fascinating read, including an article talking about rumors that Radio Shack was working on a “CoCo III” model. (That article was a gag, though, but no doubt rumors of a CoCo 3 must have started circulating as soon as the CoCo 2 came out.)

Reading through this newsletter was like stepping back in time. 1983 was when I received my first Radio Shack Color Computer. I remembered newsletters like this.

Today, archive sites like archive.org and the Color Computer Archive do a great job at trying to preserve much of this old information. I have scanned and submitted several newsletters and manuals, myself. One could easily spend weeks going through all that is there, which is why I expect none of us have done it. (I wasn’t even aware of this “ETUG” newsletter until I stumbled on it accidentally.)

Wouldn’t it be neat…

With retro computing so popular these days, wouldn’t it be neat if there were some kind of subscription service that would mail you physical paper copies of newsletters from the past, on a schedule just like they were back then? I’m not talking about anything new, but actually representing a point in time as if you were subscribing to them back then.

All it would take is finding as many of these newsletters as possible and getting them organized by date. Then, when someone subscribed, they’d start receiving newsletters each month, starting with the earliest time available.

Or, you could sign up starting at a specific month (say, the year you first got your computer).

Subscribers wouldn’t be in sync with each other, so discussing the “latest” news would be problematic, but since all of this exists digitally, it would be as simple as…

Hey, I just got the August 1983 issue of CoCo Chronicles out of East Texas. There’s this cool BASIC program that makes sound like a synthesizer with no machine code! Here’s a link to the PDF of the issue

Think of all the great tips and programs we’d (re)discover this way, as a new generation wades through the cutting edge information of 35 years ago.

There might even be a way to automate something like this, through a service that will print and mail on demand.

Sure, we can all go download any of these for free… But have we? It’s much easier to pay attention to something when it shows up at your house, versus you having to remember to go out and find it. (Amazon, anyone?)

There are some problems, of course: Copyright. Low quality scans of copies that might be hard to read. Zero interest in this…

But if such a service existed, would you sign up? How much would you be willing to pay? Who would have the time to run something like this?

Discuss.

4 thoughts on “A Time Travel Experiment: The retro newsletter project proposal

  1. James Jones

    Over the years, I have accumulated a lot of stuff. Frankly, now, I need to go through it all and get rid of a lot of it. If nothing else, it costs to keep it. Even better, it can get to somebody who’ll use it. I don’t need more physical stuff. Data, OTOH, I can use.
    My ethical objections to DRM have fallen when placed against the ability to get a book without having the damned dead tree version taking up space and getting in the way. I haven’t bought a dead tree book since Kernighan and whoever’s book on Go.
    I guess that finding one’s typos when typing in a program listing by hand was at least somewhat educational, but after a few decades of typing and music, my hands thank me for not reliving the experience, or they threaten me with how they’ll feel if I do.
    In summary, I can’t justify paying for hard copies.

    Reply
  2. DuLac (alias factor-h)

    Lovely idea.
    Here’s a suggestion with software already available:

    Synchronet BBS turned from Fidonet to Internet, more than a decade ago.
    It has it’s own QWK service (thus easing distibution).
    It runs over Telnet, thus keeping the ‘feeling’ of the time.

    It can be used, adapted, later some doors can be built to automate everything.
    On the down side (relative to it’s programming API, is all C, not Pascal).
    Perfections does not exist, though this can be very close.

    See http://www.synchro.net/
    and https://synchronetbbs.org/

    Reply
  3. Scott

    A subscription service would REMIND me to go play with my retrocomputers.
    Otherwise, they just sit there in my “collection.”
    A big list of links is nice, but they don’t REMIND me to take time to play computers.
    Could be my own fault. Anyone else have this problem ?

    Reply
    1. Allen Huffman Post author

      Most folks don’t seem to want paper anymore, and I agree (I don’t even have CDs or DVDs). But, when I go back and try to read these early newsletters on a tablet, it’s a huge pain. So much work to pan around. And, Rainbow started doing “continued on page 11” so you have to swipe down and find it, then remember where you were and swipe back, etc. If they were DESIGNED for ePub, this wouldn’t be an issue. But it’s a major pain to try to read these things digitally. I’m tempted to just print them out!

      Reply

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