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31 Years of TidBITS Keeping It Real

This week marks the 31st anniversary of when Tonya and I started publishing TidBITS, way back in April 1990. Last year’s anniversary rolled through during some of the darkest days of the pandemic, when we were all struggling to regain equilibrium in a world upended (see “TidBITS Marks Its 30th Anniversary in a Time of Pandemic,” 13 April 2020).

Not to detract from the pandemic’s incalculable human, social, and economic costs, but a year later, it feels as though there is finally a path forward. I just hope we can stay on it until governments can broadly disseminate the astonishing scientific and technological vaccination advancements of the past year across the entire planet. (Tonya and I will be fully vaccinated by the first week of May, with Tristan receiving his second shot two weeks later.)

There’s nothing like a global pandemic to make you think about what you do and why you do it. I started TidBITS because I genuinely take pleasure in using the Mac and Mac apps, figuring out non-obvious ways of leveraging technology, and sharing what I’ve learned with those who are interested in expanding their knowledge and abilities. The Apple ecosystem has evolved significantly since then, but if I didn’t actively enjoy exploring Apple-related hardware, software, and services, I’d do something else. TidBITS has always been about using technology to improve our lives, and while we criticize where appropriate, we try to ensure that it’s always constructive criticism.

However, it has been hard to stay positive in the past year in general. News from the tech world hasn’t helped, whether it’s Apple’s haphazardly applied App Store policies, Facebook algorithmically participating in election manipulation around the world, or digital advertising companies tracking our every movement online and off. Beyond the news about all the ways that Big Tech is failing society, writing about the creeping crud of security exploits and fixes makes me feel a little dirty. At least we can use such coverage to encourage good computing habits.

The point behind this confessional? Merely to reiterate that when I decide what to publish for you each week, I’m continually evaluating whether the article will be useful, important, or amusing. Regardless of which category an article falls into, I always want it to be thoughtful, detailed, and well-crafted. We’re not perfect, but we try hard. Our authors regularly tell me that TidBITS does more—and more detailed—editing than nearly any other publication out there. It might not be the most lucrative use of our time, but it’s all in the cause of ensuring that what we publish for you is as good as we can make it.

Going forward, I certainly don’t want to sweep the ills of Big Tech under the rug, but they’re well-publicized elsewhere. Instead, I want TidBITS to focus more on the positive ways we can use technology to improve our lives, improve how we communicate and interact with one another, and improve the world in general. Amplifying the drumbeat of negativity does little to make the world a better place. You can help me in this goal by participating constructively in TidBITS Talk, where I’m continually pleased to see the generosity of spirit embodied in people helping others, purely because they can. Please feel free to both ask and answer questions.

I would be remiss in my duty to our authors if I didn’t note that we can only keep commissioning articles thanks to voluntary contributions from TidBITS members. Modern publishing trends encourage exclusive subscription-only email newsletters and website paywalls, but we’ll continue to help even those who can’t pay as long as we can make ends meet. If you join the TidBITS membership program, you’ll also get discounts on over 90 Mac apps. Apps we’ve added of late include Acorn, Retrobatch, TextSniper, HazeOver, and Timing, and don’t miss all the apps from our sponsors Smile and Rogue Amoeba. Thanks to all our current members, who made it possible for us to ride out 2020 in solid financial shape!

On a final note of both personal and numerological nature, Tonya and I started TidBITS when we were 22 years old. When we were 31, we had our son Tristan (see “Please Welcome Tristan Mackay Engst,” 18 January 1999). He’s now 22, the same year that TidBITS turns 31. And like us, after he graduates from Cornell University in May, he’ll be heading off to the Pacific Northwest. Not to work at Microsoft, as Tonya did in 1991, or to live in Seattle, but to start his PhD in machine learning with a focus on computer vision in a young, energetic department at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. What goes around comes around.

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Comments About 31 Years of TidBITS Keeping It Real

Notable Replies

  1. I think I’ve been with you and TidBITS for about 29 of those years, Adam. My first issues came through my Compuserv email account and I was so impressed when I got a setext reader that could translate all those odd punctuation marks into reasonable facsimiles of bold and italic.

    Good luck to Tristan in his academic work, and thanks to you and Tonya for your remarkable contributions to the Mac community.

  2. When did Adam write the The Internet Starter Kit?. That was my first run in with Adam.

    I was in college at Rutgers and found the book to get my Mac SE onto this Internet. Back then, it was logging onto a Unix server via Red Ryder software. I had a fast 9600 baud modem.

    The book was a great help in finding a much bigger world.

  3. Wasn’t setext great? Ian Feldman did the bulk of the work on that, and then Akif Eyler (who I still hear from every now and then) wrote EasyView for viewing setext documents. setext was also a precursor to Markdown, to the point where Markdown viewers would interpret setext documents flawlessly.

    The first edition came out in September 1993. I was so happy when Karen Whitehouse, Hayden’s acquisitions editor, managed to license MacTCP from Apple for it, meaning that the $30 book had a piece of $60 software on its disk, not to mention the fact that you couldn’t really buy MacTCP separately—this was well before Apple Stores, and MacTCP wasn’t something Apple sold generally. It was mostly site-licensed to universities then.

  4. Congratulations, and thanks for TidBits Keeping it Real!

    I just learned about TidBits-Talk after going through my account info recently after talking to you. It will be nice to start using it.

    Starting reading TidBits about 25 years ago! Always enjoyed the Mac news, tips, etc.

    Just found a Tidbit file on my Mac that I saved from Feb 4, 1998: “All About Macintosh Extended Format (HFS Plus)” by Geoff Duncan. It opened in SimpleText, no it was TextEdit!

    Have a wonderful day today!

  5. Can’t prove it but I’ve been using TidBITS since almost the beginning. It’s paid me many times over what my membership contributes. Thanks, Adam & Tonya

  6. Congratulations to you both on yet another great year, both professionally and personally. We’re so lucky to be the beneficiaries of your clear vision, dedication to the community, and willingness to focus on goals other than “How can I make the most money possible from this thing?”.

    Thanks for being you!

  7. Given that we have nearly 25,000 people on the main TidBITS list, I don’t encourage phone calls, but Rick was having trouble with changing the credit card associated with his membership and wasn’t receiving issues due to bouncing problems, so he gave me a call. I don’t normally pick up the phone these days (dratted robocalls) for unknown calls, but I did for some reason, and was rewarded by being able to help Rick out and have a nice chat!

  8. Only the best publications can stand the test of time, and 31 years is proof of excellence. I became a Tidbits fan around the time that Adam’s Internet Starter Kit was released, and a TidBITS Talker since day one. TidBITS has always delivers excellent Apple focused editorial, advice, how-to and product information, troubleshooting, as well as keeping readers up to date on the latest hardware and software releases. And, of course, for carefully moderating and maintaining TidBITS Talk.

    Cent’ Anni, L’Chaim, Slainte, Chin-Chin and many, many more. And Congratulations to Tristan!

  9. Adam, I remember well the issue you put out when Tristan was born in 1999 (the same year I began my internet music discographies) with a link to photos of the birth. I also remember you saying that you would not push him into learning computers; yet a little while later, you were saying how you set up one of your older Macs for him to play around on. Hmmm. Now here he is pursuing a DOCTORATE in a computer field! Wow. Sounds to me like it all worked out the way it was supposed to (ha). Hearty congratulations on over three decades of TidBITS and thank you for providing all the news and assistance with using Apple products.

  10. That’s a shame. I was just about to call to remind you that your automobile’s extended warranty is about to expire.

    Happy anniversary to you and Tonya. And congratulations to Tristan on beginning his doctorate. I guess when you write about the Mac for 31 years the Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

  11. “ We’re not perfect, but we try hard”

    As good it gets, right there.

    First started in ‘92 I think with you guys, at least that’s what I vaguely recall, talking about it to the design team at BAM, who mostly rolled their eyes at their geek of a boss.

    Keep it up Adam and Tonya and Josh and all the writers. Appreciate the great work y’all do.

  12. I remember the Starter Kit book, too. We are getting old :grinning:

  13. And can you pick Marilyn out of these 2000 and 2002 pictures from the TidBITS Ice Cream Social at Macworld Expo NY? (Hint: she has more hair than Dori.)

    Planet Money just did a nice show about these calls. They used to be “real” in the sense that there was some sort of a service contract behind them (albeit still a scam) whereas now they’re just aimed at getting some personal information for scammy purposes.

    We stuck with that—Tristan only did computer stuff he wanted to. Alas, now he’s moving more and more away from the Mac world because for machine learning, he needs Nvidia GPUs, which don’t work with Macs. He bought a high-end gaming PC a year or so ago, not for gaming at all, but purely to run Ubuntu and for its GPU. And he’s looking at replacing his aging 13-inch MacBook Pro with a Linux laptop after he sees what things are like at Simon Fraser. Currently, he’s also using one of the 2014 27-inch iMacs whose SSDs I fixed, but mostly as a screen to SSH into his Linux box. As long as he stays in the Mac world, he still turns to us for IT help, but once he moves entirely to Linux, he’ll be on his own. :slight_smile:

  14. I can’t even begin to express my gratitude Adam for all your fantastic work over the years. Time and time again TidBITS has provided me with wonderful guidance that both improved my computer skills and save me lots of $$$ - and prevented me from making some pretty dumb mistakes lol. I will always be grateful for learning about Take Control books and most precious of all for me, Nisus Writer Pro, which continues to be the go-to word processor fo choice. Also I am grateful to all the posters to Tidbits Talk - what a great source of wisdom and community. Thank you all.

  15. P.S. Regarding those photos posted, I’m glad you lost the facial hair!! :grinning:

  16. Thanks, ACE & Co. I’ve been reading TidBITS since the days when it was distributed as a HyperCard stack.

  17. The beard was necessary when I was 19 so I didn’t look 13, and it wasn’t a terrible thing to look 5-10 years older. At least until I was 37, when I realized it was still working in the same way. ;-)

  18. Congratulations to Tristan from a TidBITS reader in Vancouver. However, if he is to successfully find the SFU campus he should be aware that it is actually located in Burnaby, a suburb of Vancouver, and that from the Canadian viewpoint we are in the Pacific Southwest.

  19. Congratulations and a big thank you for the tips and hacks over the years. I started with TIDBITs a long time ago and TIDBITS filled an information need as I am based in Australia, and in those early days, there was little useful Mac information available locally. Thank you for your efforts to stop using the term Fall for us international subscribers. All the best for the future of TIDBITS and its contributors.

  20. Congratulations Adam and Tonya, what an amazing feat to keep it going and keep it relevant over these 31 years. I also want to thank you for the terrific ride its been for me as a follower for 30 of those years. I still remember the excitement I felt that first year when each newsletter would arrive in my inbox. I was 21 (2 years younger than the 2 of you) and just starting my PhD. After reading one of your issues, I got the idea to network the Macs in my lab, as there were only 2 shared Macs for checking your email and printing. I ran the cheaper PhoneNET adapters and it was a revelation for everyone - you could print from your own machine and access the internet. How far we have come since then.

  21. Has it really been so long? I started reading Tidbits while in either in my first or second year as a student at the British Columbia Institute of Technology in Vancouver back in 1991/1992.

    Speaking of both Tristan’s upcoming schooling at SFU and Adam’s Internet Starter Kit For Mac, I bought my copy to make better use of one of my first internet providers, a dial up account at SFU.

    It used to amaze me that I could use the university FTP server to download to my remote account (and then eventually transfer over to my 28k modem to my computer) at the unimaginable speeds of a small piece of their T3 connection (44.7 Mbps).

    Congratulations on 31 years :slightly_smiling_face:

  22. This morning it occurred to me that soon TidBITS will be older than me, since I’ve frozen my age at 32. :rofl:

  23. Hah, of course! Perhaps I should have used the term Cascadia instead.

    It’s interesting how we tend to give intentionally broad descriptions when describing places. I know Simon Fraser is in Burnaby rather than Vancouver, but I didn’t even think about writing that, much as I said that we lived in Seattle, when in fact we lived in Redmond, Renton, and Issaquah, but never Seattle proper. I could have written “Burnaby, near Vancouver” or the “Seattle metro area” or the like, but I didn’t. I’ll have to think about why, and if that’s something I should be changing. (And this concludes your brief glimpse into the mind of an editor.)

  24. Congratulations to Tristan! It’s been fun watching (internet wise) him grow up.

  25. I first subscribed to TidBITS in September or October 1991, shortly after purchasing a Mac LC. I attended a meeting of the local Macintosh User Group (Le Club Macintosh de Montréal or LCMM), where TidBITS came highly recommended. I think that subscribing to TidBITS was perhaps the first thing I did with my LCCM e-mail account.

  26. Thank you, Adam and Tonya, for your weekly email. I’ve been receiving TidBITS for many years now, and I look forward to my Tuesday morning hit!

  27. Thanks much to Adam and Tonya, and the rest of TidBits gang. I am so glad you’re going strong these days.

    I do not even remember how/where/when I first got turned on to TidBits, but I love it, and it is an important service for me, helping to ensure I maintain my Apple products appropriately. (also, my wife’s Apple products.) Plus, TidBits is entertaining, and keeps me up-to-date on the “Apple ecosystem”.

    Congrats on 31 years, and thanks again !!

  28. Congratulations Adam, Tonya, and Tristin! I’ve been a reader since around 1992 when I was co-managing four Mac computer labs as a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The Macs were LocalTalk-connected for file sharing and printing, but weren’t even connected to the internet until my senior year. Later, I found my way online from home thanks to the guidance in the fabulous Internet Starter Kit, and was honored to author an article for TidBITS in 1996. Your commitment to quality, accuracy, and thoughtfulness is unmatched in the industry. Incidentally, I was at the MacWorld NYC 2001 ice cream social, and it was terrific fun.

  29. Ach, I don’t seem to have a picture of the 2001 Ice Cream Social, just 2000 and 2002. So you’ll have to remain a shadowy figure in the history of TidBITS. :slight_smile: Thanks for the kind words!

  30. Congratulations to everyone at TidBITS for this major milestone.

    According to an email in my archive titled, “Thanks for subscribing to TidBITS!” I became a reader on July 10, 2000, when I was still living in my native Germany.

    The TidBITS-powered connection to the Apple motherland, as well as several attendances of the Netters Dinner solidified my long-time dream to one day live and work in the Bay Area. And lo and behold, that dream came true “just” 16 years later.

    Better yet, one of the first dates with the wonderful woman who’s since become my wife, was at the 2008 Netters Dinner!

    If this were any other publication, it’d feel very strange that it had such an impact on my life. Since it was TidBITS, though, I simply feel tremendous gratitude to Tonya, Adam, and everyone else who’s part of this endeavor, for not just providing great stories on all things Apple, but for creating a community of great people around the magazine.

    Thank you!

    And just for the fun of it, here’s a little pic of Adam — without the beard :wink: — and Jeff Carlson from about a dozen years ago.

    Onwards, TidBITS!

  31. Hey, that’s very cool—I’m super pleased to hear that the Netters Dinner featured so prominently (and positively!) in your life. I must admit, I’d never heard of it being a dating opportunity before. :slight_smile:

  32. Thank you Adam, Tonya, Tristan and everyone who has contributed to TidBITS and the Take Control books over the decades. You have done fantastic work and been an important part of my life.

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