NEW 9/20/2021: What are you working on these days?
Well it's gonna seem like a helluva pivot, but wouldja believe I'm streaming close-up magic on Twitch? Not even kidding. The story about how THAT came about is long and byzantine, but the short version is that I've always been into magic, the pandemic drove most of my performer friends online, one of them made their way to Twitch and introduced me to a pirate, I got invited to do magic for said pirate on his stream one night, and suddenly I was streaming magic three nights per week. Funny old thing, life. Click the screenshot if you wanna see the minute-long channel trailer. If you like magic, come on by some night and say howdy.
NEW 3/22/2021: So what the heck happened THIS time?
Ha ha yeahhhh, so our hosting service decided to upgrade their servers to PHP 7 without telling anyone, which I personally consider to be pretty poor form since version 7 was well-known to have removed all sorts of legacy commands that AtAT's 20-year-old code relied on. And that happened during a pandemic and a crunch of real-world deadlines and it just took me a while to sit down and rework all the stupendously awful spaghetti code (CURSE YOU, PAST ME) into something that would technically function again. But after a maybe-four-month hiatus, I think we're back online. Probably? Sure.
What the heck is this site?
Gather 'round, young 'uns, and let me transport you back to a time over two decades ago. The year was 1997, and Yours Truly was laid up with a broken ankle (yes, skateboarding was still dangerous back in Ye Olden Days), and to kill some sittin'-down time, I said, "gee, I wonder if you could use nothing but nested table cells with defined background colors and a single transparent pixel to make whole graphics in a web page without loading more than that one GIF?" (The answer is yes, but your computer will hate you and your browser will probably set fire to the souls of your ancestors.) In screwing around with a far less psychotic version of that technique—remember, this predates any reasonable implementation of CSS—I found that I could fairly well replicate the look of Mac windows within a web page, and they would scale vertically to hold whatever text I threw in them.
Now, back in those days, Apple as a company was not exactly the Apple you know today. I can't recount its whole history to you here, but if you do your research, you will likely be appalled by how dire things were for Apple in the mid-to-late-'90s. It really was circling the drain before the rehiring of Steve Jobs, and those of us who loved the company's products lived in a perpetual state of tech-depression because of the very real possibility that Macs would go extinct and we'd all wind up having to use Windows 98. I wanted to give us something to smile about, even if it was the GRIM RICTUS OF DEATH.
So I took the Mac-look web code I'd thrown together for fun and used it in a site intended to satirize the constant overwrought doom-and-gloom handwringing in every article then published about Apple. At the time, even the good news was hinted to be merely a footnote to the inevitability of the company's imminent demise. So each day, I would find three stories about Apple, link to them, and provide melodramatic but light-hearted commentary on each one intended to show the whole thing in the context of a soap opera. The conceit was that the site was a TV show: each link-with-commentary was a scene, and the three scenes taken together was the day's episode. As the World Turns was a popular American soap that ran for over 50 years, and the site's name came from that.
As the Apple Turns, or AtAT, caught on somehow, and it wound up running for about eight years before I completely ran out of steam. In that time period I cranked out over 5,200 individual "scenes."
...Whyyyyy would I care?
Oh, no, you almost certainly wouldn't, especially if you're young enough that your memory of Apple starts with, say, iPods or something. But at its peak, AtAT had about 30,000 daily viewers, and a few of them might still be kickin' around and looking to reminisce while they shake their fists and yell at the neighborhood kids to stay off their lawns. But anyone interested in the history of Apple, now one of the biggest and most valuable companies in the world, might find something of note in the daily ramblings of an Apple fan who lived through the company's darkest days.
Are you actually the guy who wrote the original AtAT?
Indeed I am, and while I know there have been others claiming the identity over the years, I'm the one with the basement full of unsold t-shirts to prove it.
(Incidentally, if you're somehow interested in buying a shirt or some stickers, drop me a line and we'll try to work something out.)
But I heard you died.
Yeah, I heard that too, more than once. It's a really interesting experience to see people you've never met come forward and claim they're your neighbors or friends or tax consultants and claim that you died unexpectedly of various weird syndromes or grisly accidents. I highly recommend it.
If you're not dead, are you writing anything else I can read?
If you want stuff about as far removed from the style of AtAT as is humanly possible, you can visit my poetry-centric web site at jack-miller.org. I think there are about two dozen poems up there that have been published in various literary journals across the planet, but be forewarned: most of it is engineered and finely-tuned to depress.
More likely, you want something more like the AtAT content of old, in which case the closest thing I can give you is the blog I recently started called RUNNING SCARED. Basically I run on a treadmill a lot, and when I do I'm usually watching horror movies to stave off boredom, so I made a dumb dad joke and a few different people said I should (heh) run with it. So if you want to read reviews of scary movies in a style similar to that of AtAT (and in which I award ratings of 0 to 5 bloody severed feet), that would be the place to go.
Oh, and I guess you could always find me rambling about stuff on Twitter.
So what are the other AtAT staff doing now?
Katie, AtAT's Resident Fact-Checker and Goddess of Minutiae, is off doing the lawyer thing and (when not hampered by a pesky pandemic) winning crossword tournaments and trivia nights galore, because she's still wicked smaht.
Anya, AtAT's Intern and Goddess-in-Training (who wrote her first scene when 6 months old), is now a grown-ass adult and off at college, where she is also making mash-ups and original music like a boss and producing her own K-pop podcast, all on a MacBook Air with an AtAT sticker on it.
How complete is this archive?
Pretty complete. I'm 95% sure that every daily episode is there, though the original databases are inaccessible and so I had to work from a text dump from 2003 and then salvage everything forward from there from an auxiliary utility database, but there seemed to be a good year's worth of overlap between the two, so I think it's all there.
What about old "Vote Early, Vote Often" polls? Viewer Mail?
Short answer, no. Slightly-less-short answer: not yet, maybe. There's a chance I will be able to rebuild at least partial archives of those features. That stuff was added to the site relatively late in the game, development-wise, so there was no database back-end for it, and the only place it might yet exist is on old hard drives from Macs of yesteryear. I'll keep my eyes peeled.
Why does the site look completely different from how I remember it?
Wait, you remember it? Wow. Well, AtAT as you remember it was version 2.1ish. 1.0 was put together in 1997, at a time prior to the existence of Mac OS X, and so what we'll laughingly refer to as this site's "design" sought to replicate the windows and UI elements of the old "Platinum" interface from Mac OS 8 and 9. It was supposed to look pretty much like a bunch of windows and Stickies on a Mac OS 8/9 Desktop.
When Apple revealed Mac OS X and the new translucent Aqua interface, complete with rounded corners and alpha-blended shadows, we got a lot (no, seriously, a LOT) of requests to update the site from Platinum to Aqua. However, at the time, Apple's lawyers were keeping pretty busy smacking down companies aping the Aqua interface, so I made an executive decision not to step on those particular toes. So 2.0, which is what you likely remember, contained a lot of nice under-the-hood improvements but still just looked like a slightly smoother version of the same general design.
In private, though, I was screwing around with a full rebuild of AtAT's codebase for a 3.0 version, mostly for backend architecture reasons, and that incorporated the Aqua look (which evolved to be less stripey and gumdroppy in subsequent Mac OS X releases). I more or less abandoned that project at about the same time as AtAT ceased to update, but the topic of AtAT came up recently and I got to thinking it might be nice to get the archive back online, so I dug up an old development backup, spent some time hammering it into ugly-but-functionalish shape, and here we are.
But the old site had a (sort of) working archive, so why not just put that back up?
1) The old architecture was extremely platform-specific, running on WebSTAR (a Mac web server—remember, this predates Mac OS X, and without its UNIX underpinnings Apache wasn't an option), a wonderful SSI add-on called Netcloak, FileMaker Pro (version 3!) as a database, and Lasso to connect WebSTAR to FileMaker. It all ran on my own dedicated second-hand Power Mac 7500 (with a G3 upgrade donated by XLR8) running Mac OS 9, first in my home office on a dedicated DSL line, and then at a colocation facility via MacConnect.
2) That old server died years ago—that's when the site went dead-air instead of just stale—and is probably currently not-rotting away on a scrap heap in Jersey.
So the only practical way to get anything up and running on modern equipment was to use the unfinished 3.0 codebase, which I was building in Mac OS X on Apache, MySQL, and PHP—all of which are now common as dirt, which is fantastic. It meant I could take unfinished code I last touched over 15 years ago, make a few minor tweaks, and get it sort-of-running on MacConnect's shared Linux servers in about a day. Frankly, I'm AMAZED it renders as intended in modern Mac versions of Safari and Firefox, and even mostly okay (though teeny) in iOS Safari, since it's old code with a zillion server-side tweaks to account for, like, Internet Explorer 5 and iCab and things like that. (Did you know that Safari used to render colors incorrectly? I had to rip out all this old code that expressly used different colors in Safari so that rendered HTML elements would match graphics.) I mean, the iPhone didn't exist when all this code was cobbled together.
And yes, I'm well aware that the code is a terrifying mashup of old-school nested tables and CSS. When most of this was thrown together, CSS positioning barely worked in any browser, and each one that "supported" it required different mutually exclusive code in order to render as intended, so I had to fall back on the old nested-tables method for a lot of stuff, which did work consistently in most browsers. It was a sooooooper-fun time to be alive.
It doesn't work properly in my browser, though.
That doesn't surprise me in the least. I doubt I'll spend much (or any) time trying to make the site play nice with other browsers, but hopefully most errors will be cosmetic and not functional.
Will there be new episodes?
There are no plans for a reboot right now. Consider these archives to be the show running in perpetual syndication. People never believe me when I tell them that I had to spend 7-9 hours a day on running AtAT—between researching raw material, writing ~1500 words a day, reading all the mail, putting together the weekend Viewer Mail segments, contacting/invoicing advertisers and creating ads for them, shipping all the merchandise orders, etc. etc. etc. it all really did add up (hence the burnout). There's no way I could scrape together that much time these days, and with this increasingly decrepit mortal coil I don't think it would be possible to go back to the days of 2-3 hours of sleep per night.
But what if you kept it low-key?
I know myself well enough to know it's unlikely that I will ever manage to keep anything low-key. AtAT started out low-key; it used to take up maybe 30 minutes of my day in the beginning.
But also, AtAT was all about the melodrama of the underdog, and now that Apple is occasionally the most valuable company on the planet, the dynamic is just a little different. And as much as I like Tim Cook, he is definitely not the drama magnet that Steve Jobs was.
(more to come, possibly...)