August 25, 2012 · Comments Off on Floppy disk sleeves & magnetic media stamps

Over the years, I've received little feedback on what Juiced.GS does right or wrong. But never have I heard so many comments, and especially on one feature of our magazine, than I did at KansasFest 2012.

What was it that got everyone talking? Drift, the demo disk that was mailed to subscribers with the June 2012 issue. Everyone was agog that, 35 years after the Apple II was released, they received in the postal mail a magazine with an actual 5.25" floppy disk in it. "That is so cool!" I heard time and time again. "It doesn't get more retro than that!"

To make this disk's inclusion possible, Drift's developers and the Juiced.GS staff bandied several ideas about how to package the disk and magazine. Staples, tape, glue, cardboard inserts, and more were considered. The final approach was made possible by one important component: the floppy disk sleeves, hand-crafted by Melissa Barron.

The disks themselves, purchased from Vesalia Online, came "naked" with no sleeves. Artist Melissa Barron rectified that oversight with her mastery of origami, a process she has documented on her Web site.

A Drift in Juiced.GS

A Drift in Juiced.GS. Photo by Melissa Barron.

The final touch was a rubber stamp I had made that read "MAGNETIC MEDIA: DO NOT X-RAY / DO NOT BEND" with which to stamp the issue's envelopes. I remembered ordering a copy of ProSel from Apple II vendor Charlie's Appleseeds a few decades ago and receiving a 3.5" floppy disk that did not work. I asked him to send it again but this time mark the envelope with the above request. The second disk worked, and I took this anecdote as evidence of the necessity to label software appropriately for handling by the United States Postal Service.

Magnetic media: do not x-ray / do not bend

Magnetic media: do not x-ray / do not bend. Photo by Peter Neubauer.

Is such caution still necessary? Perhaps not. A discussion a few years ago on the KansasFest email list suggested that floppy disks can safely travel through airport X-ray scanners without harm, and the USPS tells me their scans these days are no more powerful than that.

Even had I known that, I still would've marked the envelopes, as it was part of the larger, nostalgic experience of receiving a floppy disk in the mail. It's a touch that did not go unnoticed by Peter Neubauer, who commented on how archaic the warning seemed:

You're walking down a dark alley. Rats, scratching for a bite, scurry behind the overflowing dumpsters. Somewhere in the shadows there's a raspy breathing sound. A windowless padlocked door has an old handwritten sign: "Magnetic Media" Beneath that, barely visible under rust brown splotches: "Do Not X-Ray | Do Not Bend". A cold mist has settled on the ground.

My thanks to everyone who made this collaboration possible, and for the feedback we received that let us know to keep finding ways to reward and surprise our Apple II fans!

September 18, 2009 · Comments Off on Stamp of approval

A typical issue of Microzine.

A typical issue of Microzine. Image courtesy NeighborhoodValues.com.

I grew up with an Apple II in the classroom, where I regularly enjoyed Scholastic's Microzine, a sort of edutainment version of Softdisk. One Microzine game (perhaps Math Mall on issue #22) put players in the role of the proprietor of a a galactic pet store, where they needed to fulfill customers' orders. Shoppers weren't picky about how many or even what kind of pets they wanted — as long as they collectively had the exactly right number of eyes, feet, tails, and other appendages. It might take three space monkeys, two Martian blowfish, and a cosmic coonhound to accommodate their expectations.

Though I haven't seen an issue of Microzine in decades, I don't have to miss this particular game, as I play it every year with the United States Postal Service. With each postage rate increase, I have to determine what stamps to buy to mail an issue of Juiced.GS. For example, it costs $2.92 to send an issue to Australia, but there's no single stamp with that value. What lesser stamps can I combine to come closest to that number? It can't be less than $2.92, but the greater the total is, the more cents are lost. It's an inexact but demanding science.

There are enterprise alternatives to this chore: both Stamps.com and a Pitney Bowes mail meter would let me purchase and apply postage from my own home office. But both require a monthly fee, making them more suitable to companies that mail products regularly. That describes Juiced.GS's former publisher, Syndicomm, which markets a variety of Apple II hardware, software, and publications. But for Gamebits, whose sole product is Juiced.GS, paying monthly for something I'd use quarterly is not economical.

And besides, it's not a great burden to manually address and stamp envelopes four times a year. But it does explain why your issues will be arriving this month featuring lauded authors and wedding cakes. It's not a hidden message so much as it's a manifestation of skills I learned on an Apple II.