the Jungle

The Jungle is a community that exists, primarily, in electronic mail. It is a discussion list with no threads, no moderator, and only one rule. There is a Jungle web page, but you need to be a member of the Jungle to visit there.

There are about thirty people on the Jungle. This is a history that I rattled off to include with the Jungle Yearbook, a photo book sent around to the Jungle community in early 1998.

Jungle Technical History

A short history of the Jungle, which starts with a ramble about how the Jungle Lord met the Jungle Hosts:

In the summer of 1985 I worked in a computer store in Manhattan, Wolff Computer. Penn and Teller both came in and bought laptops from another salesperson. A week later my sister, in high school, was taken to Penn & Teller's off-Broadway show at the Westside Arts. She came home and tried to describe the material. I had no idea what she was talking about. Teller came in with a toasted floppy (the Kaypro laptops had terrible internal floppy problems), and I recovered fifteen pages for him. He signed a sheet of blank paper for my sister: "Dear Brett, I will always remember those nights under the Venetian moon, Teller." He told Penn that I was the guy to call about computers.

I hung out with Penn for a couple weeks, eating Chinese food in Chinatown with Eddie and a group of others, racing his taxis on my ten-speed, and meeting him to talk about what else his autoexec.bat could do ("Hold your horses, I'm coming, I'm comin'" was what it announced as it started up). Then I went back to architecture school while Penn & Teller continued to get more famous.

At the end of the summer in 1986 I was taking a break from school. Technically, I was AWOL. I worked at the computer store and bumped into Penn and Teller again outside their show. They were excited, since they had a new monster laptop on order (Toshiba's new plasma screened machine, 10mb hard drive). I talked to them about what they wanted to do and switched the order to an IBM 286xt, a nice solid machine that worked for almost nine years as the Jungle dial-in machine.

Before the machine arrived I was experimenting with a little piece of software called Remote, from the people that made CrossTalk. I managed to get Penn, Eddie and me calling into a machine at Wolff, exchanging lyrics from the new Paul Simon album, Graceland. When the boys' IBM arrived I used the same software to set it up for them to call into. I did little else. I put CrossTalk on their machines, they could call in and, while online, read and write email and public messages. Marc Garland bought a laptop and joined them.

I went to Italy. In the spring, when I had returned from Italy, I stopped up at the offices. The mail system was clogged and overflowing. Over lunch at Nathan's and various deli's, Eddie and Penn talked to me about computers and email. Penn talked about the shortcomings of the present system. I tinkered with Pascal, which I had been introduced to in Computer Science 100 at school. I had never written anything more than the example programs.

Eddie played pinball endlessly with Marc Garland on the Jungle Lord pinball machine in the office. He suggested that we make a much hipper version of the email system. He said it should say stuff like, "Sorry, no mail, Daddy-o." I worked on a way to store the messages and re-invented stupid stuff like garbage collection to keep deleted messages from filling the hard drive. In March of 1987 we trashed the old system and installed the new one, The Jungle Drum. Users still had to dial-in and stay online to read and write their messages. The public messages started as 3M Post-in notes, but evolved to Bulletins, which were read with the command Bully! and Teddy Roosevelt's exclamation lead us to call the messages themselves Roosevelts.

Soon after, I wrote Bongo, a portable Jungle Drum. We were finally able to read and write messages without being connected. Penn, Teller and the crew were able to work on email while flying from gig to gig. Other than incremental improvements, including networking the system so that the boys could use the system in the office at the same time that someone else could call in from the outside, little happened to the Jungle for while.

When Penn & Teller moved their operation to Las Vegas in 1995 I experimented with sending roosevelts out in a crude Internet mail program that worked on the Novell network we had installed in the office. It sort of worked. rrg, rob and a few others stopped having to log on to the office machines to grab their mail.

In early 1996 it became clear that I wouldn't be able to raise Rudy and be the Jungle Lord at the same time. Penn & Teller hired a C++ programmer to code a Jungle that was entirely geared towards collecting and sending Roosevelts through Internet mail. The Jungle continued to operate for some time just for private messages between the Penn & Teller crew members. As Penn and Teller switched to real ISP accounts for their mail, and real mail clients for reading and writing it, Bongo was finally quit (with the command Later!) for the last time. It was a solution that lasted a decade, not bad for the work of a lone programmer with a single course in programming. Less than a year later it was clear that the programmer was not that good at C++ coding, and Internet Rose was not a stable program for hosting The Jungle. At the very beginning of July 1997 Krasher authorized the development of the current Jungle system, which runs on a Macintosh OS clone as a HyperCard stack linked to Claris Emailer by a few AppleScripts. I continue to make incremental improvements, but it seems to be a stable system.

The Beaters of the Jungle Drum

All of that leaves out the most important part of The Jungle, the people that inhabit it. They are, and have been, a diverse group that share one common mark: they were invited onto The Jungle personally by Penn or Teller or both. In some cases, Penn and Teller pushed and assisted with computerization, required before membership in the little community was possible. In a few cases, we lost contact for a little while between the first time they were invited on and their current steady presence.

created: May 23 1999
last updated: May 31 2001

Copyright Colin Summers 2006 and other years.