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You ASCII'd For It
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          Y O U    A S C I I ' D   F O R    I T !     by Joan Stark
                                                      Dec. 30th, 1998


   -=[ view in fixed-width font such as Courier, Monoco, or FixedSys  ]=-

     ___
    /   \
   |  _  |
   |     |
   |__|__|ll great stories begin with "Once Upon a Time..."  and so,
   once upon a time, the Internet was used by only the military powers
   of the world.  It was designed to be a way to communicate if all
   other methods failed.  People were stationed at computers throughout
   the world.  They were instructed to send messages to other computer
   stations every hour to ensure that the system was operating.  This
   was also a way to make sure that the computer operators remained awake!

             _
         0  (_|       To help pass the time, these computer operators
       |(_~|^~~|      would create pictures while sitting at their
       TT/_ T"T       keyboards.  Their palette was limited to the
  ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ characters found on their computers. These text-
  based pictures were often their message to other computer stations.
  This was the start of what is now known as "ASCII art".


  ASCII is an acronym for the "American Standard Code of Information
  Interchange."  This is the 7-bit code system which enables computers
  to exchange information.  Without going into technological details,
  ASCII characters are those which are found on a typical U.S. keyboard.
  This includes numbers, basic punctuation marks, all uppercase and
  lowercase letters, and the space bar.  Other "fancy" characters such
  as the English Sterling pound symbol, the cedilla, dieresis, or any
  accented letters are not part of the standard ASCII code and are not
  used in true ASCII art.

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         (   A   a   B   b   C   c   D   d   E   )
          )  e   F   f   G   g   H   h   I   i  (
         (   J   j   K   k   L   l   M   m   N   )
          )  n   O   o   P   p   Q   q   R   r  (
         (   S   s   T   t   U   u   V   v   W   )        the list of
          )  w   X   x   Y   y   Z   z   1   2  (  <-- ASCII characters
         (   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   0   ~   )
          )  !   @   #   $   %   ^   &   *   +  (
         (   ,   .   <   >   (   )   `   '   "   )
          )  ?   /   ;   :   }   {   [   ]   =  (
         (           |   \   -   _   space       )
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  ASCII art was important when universities and medical institutions
  joined the government on the Internet.  The early Internet was
  primarily text based. Graphic files such as JPGs and GIFs were not
  universal from system to system.  The best way for people to share
  pictures/graphs on the Internet was through the text-based ASCII art.


      .-------.      Text art is really not new.  Before the emergence
     _|~~ ~~  |_     of the Internet, people used text as an art medium
   =(_|_______|_)=   in typewriter-art and concrete poetry.  The type-
     |:::::::::|     writer art and concrete poetry differ from ASCII
     |:::::::[]|     art because more flexibility is allowed.
     |o=======.|     Typewriter artists often use a technique called
     `"""""""""`     over-striking (typing several characters in the
                     same space).  They also use half-spaces and
   super/subscript characters.  Typewriter artists may also slant their
   paper or remove it to type sideways or upside down.  A nice example
   of typewriter can be found at: 
        http://webspace.webring.com/people/cu/um_3734/asciibg.gif
   There are more astounding examples in Alan Riddell's book,
   _Typewriter Art_, (London, 1975).


   Text art has also been created without the use of keyboard or type-
   writer.  Monasteric monks have artistically modified letters into
   ornate renderings of people and creatures.   Still other people have
   used hand-written text characters to create large images.  A Korean
   named Gwang Hyuk Lee created a stunning picture of Jesus Christ with
   the entire text of the Bible's "Book of John".  
        See:  http://webspace.webring.com/people/cu/um_3734/newtest.jpg
   Unfortunately he was killed because of his religious beliefs.

   In a world of technological advances, it is
   hard to believe that ASCII/text art is           .--.       .--.
   still being created and used.  Many          _  `    \     /    `  _
   e-mail programs support graphics files as     `\.===. \.^./ .===./`
   attachments, but not all.  People are                \/`"`\/
   squirmish about downloading unknown files--       ,  |     |  ,
   especially if they have ever experienced         / `\|`-.-'|/` \
   a computer virus.  Yet people like to see       /    |  \  |    \
   images.  Images are often essential in       .-' ,-'`|   ; |`'-, '-.
   getting an idea across and they certainly        |   |    \|   | 
   spice-up dull text.                              |   |    ;|   |
                                                    |   \    //   |
   To date, ASCII art is still used.   To view      |    `._//'   |
   ASCII art properly, one must use a fixed-       .'             `.
   width font such as Courier, Monoco, or       _,'             jgs `,_
   FixedSys.  These fonts are the "typewriter-  `                     `
   type fonts where each letter is the same width.  
   Popular proportional fonts such as Arial or Times New Roman will skew
   the ASCII art.  ALL computer systems have options for the fixed-width
   font so that ASCII art can be viewed by all.  (ASCII art also prints
   out very nicely.)

   ASCII art has a variety of uses...  It is used in e-mail for charts,
   graphs, greetings, and signatures.  A small picture in your
   signature area will help people remember you in this faceless
   cyberspace world.  ASCII art is also used in e-zines for titles and
   headers, to delineate sections, and as e-zine logo.  ASCII art is
   used on BBSs (Bulletin Board Systems) and MUD/MUGs (Multi-User
   Dungeons/Games) where graphics are not possible.  In addition, ASCII
   art is used on mIRC (Internet Relay Chat).  There are several mIRC
   channels that focus on colorized ASCII art and scrolled "shows".
   Two of the popular mIRC channels are:  #mIRC_rainbow and #mIRC_Colors.

        /--/|   ASCII art has also been recommended for use in webpage
       /  / |   development.  (See _Building Better Webpages_ by
      /__/  |   Rebecca Rohan; 1998)  Not all people turn on graphics
      |==|  |   when surfing the Internet.  In fact, many people turn
      |  |  |   off their graphics so as to speed up loading time.
      |  |  |   ASCII art will load because it is text-- and it loads
      |  |  |   quickly.  There are organizations--namely universities
      |  | /    and libraries-- who use Lynx as their web browser.
      |==|/     Lynx is a pure text browser-- graphics are not read at
      `""`      all. However ASCII art can be seen on Lynx because it is
                pure text. 

   There are also many "fun" attributes of ASCII art.  Most people are
   amazed at the complexity and creativity of the text images.   They
   enjoy looking at and saving the pictures.  Some people print the
   images and use them for coloring pages.  ASCII art can be useful and
   enjoyed for its aesthetic value.

        /\
        ||    Despite these great benefits of ASCII art, there is a
        ||    faction that would like to eliminate the text pictures
        ||                   because they are too simple.  Instead,
        ||           {}      the push has been that all e-mail will
        ||          .--.     become html-based.  Graphic files such as
        ||         /.--.\    JPGs and GIFs will become commonplace in
        ||         |====|    e-mail.  And ultimately every browser will
        ||         |`::`|              support these graphic files.
       _||_    .-;`\..../`;_.-^-._
        /\\   /  |...::..|`   :   `|   Perhaps this will be true some-
        |:'\ |   /'''::''|   .:.   |   day in the future.  Even so, I
         \ /\;-,/\   ::  |..ASCII..|   believe that there will still be
          \ <` >  >._::_.| ':ART:' |   room for ASCII art in cyberspace.
           `""`  /   ^^  |   ':'   |   There is no reason for this low
                 |       \    :    /   bandwidth art form to die.  As
                 |        \   :   /    long as text remains, so will
                 |___/\___|`-.:.-`     ASCII art.
                  \_ || _/    `
                  <_ >< _>             If you have never seen ASCII art
                  |  ||  |             before,  I invite you to visit
                  |  ||  |             the flourishing world of ASCII
                 _\.:||:./_            art.  You'll find that there is
           jgs  /____/\____\           more to it than smileys and
                                       emoticons.  :)  I think you will
                                       be impressed.

     "jgs":    http://www.ascii-art.com
     USENET:   news:alt.ascii-art
     LINKS:    http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/2695/links.htm
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This article was published in the April-June 1999
Issue of WebBound Magazine-Quarterly
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