Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media

Selection from Cites & Insights 10, Number 9: August 2010

The CD-ROM Project

It’s Crackers to Slip a Rozzer…

…the Dropsy in Snide.

If that doesn’t make any sense to you, the first review in this group will leave you cold.

Totally Mad

The title tells you what it is, given when it was published: The first 46 years (!) of Mad Magazine on seven CD-ROMs. Here’s what the box and each inner pack says about System Requirements:

To run this program properly you should have a computer. (Our technical research shows that a working one is preferred.) Your computer should also have one of those little slide-out “snack trays.” Take the snack out and put in one of the small round CD-ROM things that are in this package.

You get the idea: The whole package is done in Mad’s style, take it or leave it. The rest of the system requirements—shorn of most embellishments—include Windows 95/98 or Windows NT 4.0 (a promising sign—if it runs on Windows NT it should run on Windows 7), a Pentium 90MHz or higher (“any slower and you’ll be dead by the time you get to reading issue #245”), 32MB RAM, 30MB disk space, SVGA graphics card and monitor, 640x480 resolution, 256-color minimum, 2x CD-ROM drive, 8-bit sound card, mouse (“or IBM-compatible chipmunk”). For 1999, those requirements mean something more than a bargain box. My little notebook doesn’t have a graphics card or a sound card, but significantly exceeds the other requirements.

It works!

And it works—mostly. You have to install from Disc 1 and the install worked nicely. Given limited disk space back then, it’s not surprising that they offer a choice of 27MB or 38MB installation. Installation went smoothly and rapidly.

When I reviewed this set (in the January 2000 Library Hi Tech News), I gave it a 93—an Excellent score that “would be even higher but for some weaknesses in secondary aspects of this first-rate package.” More of that in a moment. Meanwhile, when you start up:

Once the opening dumpster leaves you in the main Trash Heap, you can wander over to the cover browser, check out nonprint stuff on the juke box, or find specific content using the Search-O-Meter. Sooner or later, you’ll probably wind up in The MAD Veeblefetzer, which helps you look at the pages of Mad. Not that you really need to use the Veeblefetzer—it’s just the only way you can get inside the covers. If you really and truly despise Mad, avoid the Veeblefetzer at all costs. Then again, you may not be a good candidate for this set. What, me worry?

I’m afraid the Maditude was catching—but I wasn’t making anything up there. It does start up with a video (640x480 on a full-screen backdrop) of the Totally Mad dumpster dumping trash onto your page—and then leaves you in the Trash Heap. Which, unlike the opening, is a proper window, can be moved to a secondary screen, and scales to take full advantage of whatever screen you have. The MAD Veeblefetzer is the page-reading interface with several zoom levels, callable table of contents (which can be a separate window elsewhere on a multiscreen system), print/copy capabilities and…for the inside back cover of many issues—a little tool that lets you fold over the back cover to see the secret message.

A whole lotta Mad

The quality of scans is very good, and it’s all here—notably including the rare ten-cent full-color comic book issues that began Mad back in the day (beginning in 1952). When you navigate to something on a different disc, you get a “Nice going, clod” dialogue box that tells you which disc to insert (and you can start from any disc, once you’ve installed the system). The set includes 376 regular issues, plus 133 MAD Special issues, 12 Worst from MAD annuals, 12 More Trash from MAD annuals and 24 other special issues. (When special issues consist mostly of reprints, you get the pages that are new and a table of contents that will take you back to the original of each article, a sensible space-saving methodology.)

Extras include animated cartoons, music clips from the flexi-disks that were bound into some issues, a few video clips, a couple of odd bits…and a panic button that brings up a phony Excel graph. The Search-O-Meter offers set lists of features, themes, artists, writers and date ranges and keyword searching. You can save individual article bookmarks or result sets. The Veeblefetzer shows page spreads, but you may need to zoom to read everything. Oh, and there’s a rotation feature for special situations where pages were meant to be read sideways.

One video clip had audio but no video. Otherwise, everything I tried ran just fine—impressively well for an 11-year-old product. It cost $50-$60 back in the day. If you remember Mad with any fondness (I used to like it better than I do now), this is a treasure.

Availability and alternatives

If your library has this, the good news is that it still works—and works very well. I’m keeping my set in case I want to do some pop-culture investigation (since most every major pop-culture meme was lampooned in Mad at some point) or just go back to those 25 full-color comics.

You can still buy the set. Amazon has it from other sellers for $55 new, $20 used. But you can also buy Absolutely Mad, a newer product with the first 54 years of Mad on one DVD-ROM: that goes for a little over $40 and includes more than 600 issues in all. It adds seven more years to the CD-ROM set, and is apparently done entirely differently (e.g., everything’s in PDF). Some reviews suggest that the DVD has lower-resolution scans; since I haven’t seen it, I can’t comment. The new version does appear to lack some of the extras and the silly interface. Oh, and the DVD version will run on a Mac…

I’m guessing you’re not going to find a free online archive of all of Mad. The official site does have a few bits of “past madness.” It’s hardly surprising that the publishers don’t give the archives away for free.

Doonesbury Flashbacks: 25 Years of Serious Fun

I had high hopes for this one, which I apparently didn’t review back in the day. It came out in 1995 and included the first 25 years of Doonesbury—with, as I vaguely remember, some cute little extras (video clips, a clickable map) and an index as well as browsable access to the strips.

It was not to be. Autorun immediately pops up a message, “Must run under Windows 95”—but when you close that, a nifty Install screen (with a Doonesbury image) comes up. But clicking on Install first brings up an error you can ignore, then a GPF fault. This one isn’t going to install under Windows 7 (or any Windows from the last decade) without some form of trickery.

This time, I tried a little harder, since Windows 7 does have a compatibility adviser that can apply various settings. No luck—even with Windows 95 settings applied, the result is a GPF when attempting to install. Best guess? The program uses the kind of direct low-level access that isn’t allowable with a secure OS.

When I went looking for the CD-ROM online, I ran into reviews saying you could right-click on “DA.exe,” apply the W95 compatibility setting and it would run. To which I can only say, “Sort of.” Doing that does bring up an opening multimedia splash screen and an animated main screen—but all my efforts to move from that main screen resulted in DA.exe shutting down. Fundamentally, I just don’t think an ordinary user would be willing to do enough to get this to run.


You can still buy the CD-ROM. I see it offered for $4.36—but with the explicit statement “Windows 3.1/95.” No more recent version is available.

Unfortunately, there’s really no online alternative. Slate and other sources offer today’s strip and selected older strips, but although there’s a place saying you can sign up for access to the full archives, there’s no live link or way to actually do so.

9,000 strips, interesting ways to get to them, some video clips: It’s a loss. Not a huge loss, but a loss. Too bad.


Here’s an oddity: A CD-ROM from 1993, produced by a division of Softkey, that must have been part of one of the ten-packs back in the day. I never reviewed it back then (as far as I can tell), but somehow kept it.

It installs if you open Windows Explorer and double-click Setup.Exe, with neither a security warning nor much trouble—a screen with an odd little animated UFO appears for a few seconds as a shortcut is added to the computer. That’s it: Everything runs from the CD-ROM.

It runs properly—opening up a group of windows (a menu bar, a map, an “incidents” window, an optional search windows with date parameters and various incident options, and two optional windows for each incident: A photo or video window and a text window). While all windows start out in the upper left corner of the primary screen, they’re all movable and the photo and text windows are resizable—but videos are always tiny, and most photos have so little detail that they should remain tiny. Text is white on a blue background, but readable enough.

What this is, is a whole bunch of “incident reports” with dates, place and text for 988 incidents, photos for 201 of them and videos for 30. The photos are variously unconvincing (a few are at least interesting); the videos, with breathless narration and text about their incontrovertible evidence, are pretty much uniformly worthless and appear to be taken from some TV special for credulous viewers.

I don’t think I’ll keep this one around. It’s an odd little disc for an odd little audience.

Availability and alternatives

This disc seems long gone, but I do see more recent alternatives, such as the 1998 UFO Anthology Vol. 1 with about four times as much stuff (and, from an odd little company, two DVDs of all that Supressed Truth). There’s also a three-CD UFO Anthology Deluxe from 2000, available for $3.99(!) and probably worth almost every penny; one can gain an insight into the audience from the single Amazon review—which gives the product five stars (the highest possible rating) while using the headline “Thief” and saying the CDs wouldn’t play on today’s computers. Well, at least it’s the highest possible quality set of useless plastic!

The thing is, this is an area where the web shines: Lots of “information” about a topic with hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts. You can find more than 50,000 sighting reports (on one site), hundreds of higher-quality photos and videos, and more theories than you could shake an Area 51 at. I’m sure most of these sites are done with the same care for documented accuracy and verifiability as the CD-ROM.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 10, Number 9, Whole Issue 132, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford.

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