The Art of Threading

A Conversation with Foone

Foone Turing, aka @Foone, is an American programmer. They are very passionate about old computers and shares their findings through their writing with a lot of nostalgia. They’re definitely someone to follow if you’re a fan of the 80s/90s.

Interview published on July 18, 2019

Q. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

A. I'm Foone Turing, a 34-year-old computer programmer from the mountains of North Carolina, now living in the Bay Area, working for one of the big tech giants. I'm best known on twitter for posting about old computer/video tech, retrogaming, and occasional long rants about scientific subjects that I find interesting.

Q. Where does this passion for old devices come from?

A. I think most of it comes from growing up through the 90s with a keen interest in computers but not a lot of money to explore it. The 90s were a very fast moving decade for computer technology, and I was mostly watching from the sidelines, eagerly looking through magazines and catalogs for all the neat new tech I couldn't afford. Around 2015 I realized that a lot of that neat old stuff was sitting on ebay & craigslist for relatively cheap, so I started looking for some specific pieces for nostalgia reasons. That lead to me finding a whole new love for all these obscure corners tech went throughout the last couple decades, all the interesting products that were meant for some little market that had dried up by the time they made it to sale. It's real easy to look in the history books or skim wikipedia and think you know the story of tech, but there were so many little cul-de-sacs that are nearly forgotten. I find those endlessly interesting.

Q. What’s your finest treasure?

A. It's hard to narrow down, because there's so much weird stuff! But I'd have to say my Beta copy of Microsoft 3D Movie Maker. That program has been a passion project for me for years and years, and until one copy randomly showed up on ebay there were no hints of there ever having been a beta version produced. It just appeared out of the blue one day and was incredibly interesting to those of us in the Microsoft 3D Movie Maker community, as this disc was never supposed to make it outside of Microsoft, it was supposed to have been destroyed by now. Somehow it made it onto ebay, and we're eternally grateful for that.

Q. You cover various subjects, mostly nerdy stuff like special effects, the origin of the PNG format or a 44-year-old Windows bug. How do you pick the topic you’re about to write about?

A. Usually I'm just reading something interesting somewhere and it sets me off on a mini-research subject to find out more and I'm always finding things that are amusing or amazing, at least to me. I basically just enjoy ranting about subjects I find interesting and the connections between them, and fortunately for me some people find it to be entertaining reading. For example, with the old windows bug it just happened to me as I was copying some files, and I thankfully understood why it had happened, so I thought it'd be interesting to go into the explanations for why Windows worked that way.

Q. You wrote a series of threads about human vision, how did that happen?

A. Those were similarly just me reading something interesting somewhere else and deciding to go into and expand upon it. I found the original statement about how our eyes lie to us about time in order to cover up the saccades, and then used it as a jumping off point to talk about other interesting facts I'd learned about vision over the years. After that thread got big, I got a bunch of interesting comments from people who were elaborating on various things I'd said, as well as providing other info or corrections to my statements. Those ended up being great jumping off points for other threads about vision.

Q. Can you talk to us about

A. The Death Generator (formerly the Sierra Death Generator) is a site I built that lets you make fake video game screenshot memes. You pick a game, some options, and type in text, and get a picture. It's a project I built sort of inspired by things like the Something Awful Simcity Board of Advisors page. I had the idea to make it more automated, using techniques from building my own games, as I'd always found writing font engines to be fun. It started with just one game (Police Quest 2), and rapidly expanded into the current state where it's getting hard to navigate because I've stuffed 136 games into it.

Q. What do you think of the current state of the Internet?

A. That's a hard question to answer. It's definitely neat to see the internet becoming the amazing tool for efficiency and connectiveness that we all hoped it would become back in the 90s, but at the same time I'm definitely seeing horrible trends emerging on the internet. It's become all too easy for badly designed algorithms to promote content that ends up being misleading or hateful, or to funnel abuse towards people. It feels like content moderation and community guidance is something we still haven't really figured out, and there's an incredible number of sites with a huge thriving community with a massive undercurrent of hate and abuse. Most sites don't know how to and don't want take steps to fix that. This has always been a problem with online communities, but as they've gotten bigger and more important the possible fallout from mis-managing a community has gotten far worse. Back in the 90s the worst you'd do is cause a few people to leave in a huff or split a growing fandom into two camps, now you can get people killed and change the course of elections. It's a scary world, and I hope going forward more communities recognize the difficulty in shaping their online culture and take steps to avoid creating a poisonous one. It feels very much like the internet is a tool like atomic energy, and we're just now reaching the point where we can make power plants and nuclear weapons. There's lots of great upsides to this new development, sure, but we're only just now starting to realize how much trouble we are in if we misuse it.

Q. What are you favorite Twitter accounts?

A. I try to keep a very focused twitter follow list, as I make a point to read all my backlog every morning. So I mainly follow other retro-tech people. Some of my favorites are:
* @dosnostalgic. Anatoly is one of the only people in the world who loves old MS-DOS machines/software/games more than I do, and he's always got something interesting to post about. It's like 50% "oh wow I remember that!" and 50% "wow, I never heard of that!" and it's all great.
* @TubeTimeUS. Tube Tube is the twitterer whose skills I most envy: He's built multiple neat retro projects, like a giant-scale 6502 CPU using discrete parts, and incredibly exact replicas of multiple classic PC sound cards. He recently started a series of cross-sections where he is taking assorted electrical components and neatly grinding them in half, and making annotated diagrams of all the internal workings under a microscope, which is super neat, as you see the outside of these parts all the time in electronics but it's usually impossible to really get a good look at how they work inside.
* @FozzTexx. They're a really neat guy because they are interested in similar old-tech to the stuff I post about, just a bit later and they've put some of it into practice in ways I can only dream of. They still run a bulletin board system, in 2019! You can dial-in with a modem and chat, play games, and do all the cool stuff we were doing in the 80s and 90s before the internet reached us. They also run the r/retrobattlestations reddit, and are a really good example for how to keep online communities alive and active. They're always planning special contests or compilations to get people working with their old computers and doing fun things with them, instead of letting them collect dust in the garage. Retro tech is definitely one of the communities I could easily see being far less active and interesting if not for people making sure we can stay engaged, like FozzTexx.

You can support Foone on their Patreon and read their threads here.


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