Gasconheart interviews Tomasino

On september 6, 2021 I interviewed Tomasino through a text-based chat platform. This is what came out. I am also providing a translation to Romanian here

gasconheart Hello, dear readers. Today I am offering you the fourth interview of this series for my blog. Tomasino should have been the third, but the chance came up to interview Violeta, which I couldn’t miss.

Today we will be talking about computers and one of my favorite topics: trivia. I’ve been playing trivia on Romanian IRC servers for 19 years now. But the trivia we will be talking about today is a different kind of trivia. OK, welcome, Tomasino, and thanks for granting me this interview! Please introduce yourself to my readers.

tomasino Hi gasconheart! I’m tomasino, or James Tomasino, and I do things on the internet.

gasconheart Where are you from? Your name sounds Italian.

tomasino I have Italian citizenship as well as American, but I was born in the US and lived there all my life until I made my way to Iceland a few years ago. My language skills are quite poor, though. I studied Italian in high school but never had a chance to use it. But now I’m learning Icelandic and that’s going better. I even speak some Icelandic on my shows occasionally.

gasconheart Oh! Icelandic must be a difficult language. But I heard of an English man who learnt it in two weeks. Please tell us: what was your first experience with computers? How old were you? What computer was it?

tomasino My dad worked for Magnavox when I was a kid and he got access to a lot of electronics through work and he developed an early interest in it for me. The earliest memory I have on anything was on a VIC-20. We also had a Tandy and an Odyssey in those very young days. I didn’t spend any significant amount of time on a machine until we got an 888 and later a 286. I was about 6 or 7 years old and my dad got me to go to a computer camp at the library where they taught us Logo and introduced GW BASIC. I made myself a flash-card program around that time, mostly through manually re-typing things from a workbook. But honestly, I was more interested in my Nintendo once I got that, and computers lost a bit of interest until I discovered BBS’s a few years later.

gasconheart This leads directly to my next question. How did you find out about SDF? How long have you been a member?

tomasino Oh wow, SDF. I came upon SDF really late, sadly. I know they’ve been running from about ’87, but I was not in that area and mostly focused on local dial-up BBS’s in New Jersey. I didn’t join SDF until 2016 or so. It was like coming home again. I missed BBS culture so much and that rekindled a love in me that would eventually transition to the tildeverse. I haven’t really been active on SDF in the last year or so, having moved most of my focus outward into tildes and adding more options to the space.

I was really mostly focused on gopher, and then com along with anonradio. I used to do a show there.

gasconheart I also joined SDF late, in 2015 or so. Personally, I use mostly the email, IRC, COM and html hosting here.

What is a tilde?

tomasino A tilde is a public access system, just like SDF, but modeled a bit more basically after an experiment that Paul Ford did back in 2014. He got drunk one night and set up a vanilla linux server and opened it up to public registrations. It was called and was a huge hit. Today is just one of several of these servers and new ones are popping up all the time. Many of them have decided to share services, like an IRC network, or net news (like USENET, but a private network), and collectively call themselves the tildeverse. I run one of these servers.

While I was more active on SDF I ran a radio show called Choose Your Own Adventure. I would read choose your own adventure books, or other interactive fiction, and the listeners in IRC or COM would vote on which decisions we’d make. It was a bunch of group fun, very silly, and I learned a lot about Linux audio, streaming, and merged in my passion for fiction.

Unfortunately I got a cease & desist from ChooseCo, the company that owns the brand. I had to shut down the show then. They were very nice about it and there’s a longer backstory there that has to do with Netflix, but that’s for another time.

My fiction passions after that show led me to create Cosmic.Voyage (web, gemini, and gopher accessible). That’s my tilde community in the tildeverse.

gasconheart I hope I don’t get one the my Gascony Show! There was one called exactly that some years ago.

tomasino It’s unlikely. I was collateral damage in a seperate lawsuit. Just the brand having to prove it protected its copyright.

gasconheart Oh I see. OK, audio and Linux. Hm.

tomasino As the tildeverse grew in shared services we wanted to add a radio program like anonradio on SDF, so we created TildeRadio. I was the very first person to stream on it, in fact. We didn’t have any archives back then, but it was a multi-hour rambling talk program with some music mixed in.

gasconheart I didn’t know that! Dear readers, we’re having a celebrity here!

I also like to grab a mic an ramble randomly. That is basically the Gascony Show.

tomasino Yes! I still do ad-hoc streams like that occasionally. It’s great fun.

I spent so much time learning how to configure pulseaudio in Linux to stream my mic and computer audio I couldn’t just abandon streaming completely. I didn’t know what I wanted to do as a program, though. Choose Your Own Adventure was really successful because it had interactivity and I really wanted that again.

The search for interactive radio led me to trivia. My best friend runs a bar trivia in her town and it got me thinking about doing it online. How would that work? Would lag be an issue?

gasconheart Nice! You jumped head-first to my star topic.

tomasino Ahh, haha! We’re in sync like that.

I had all the crazy ideas about creating a web-based team portal where people could join together and we could do team scoring

gasconheart Bar trivia is popular among the English-speaking community here in Spain.

tomasino Do they do it team based like they do in the US?

gasconheart They do, yes.

For how long have you done this trivia?

tomasino (Quickly checks the archives) My first show was in June of 2020. Pandemic finally got me motivated to seek out more human contact, I guess. I do it monthly on the last sunday of each month for about 90 minutes. It’s a little late for the European crowd, starting at 2330UTC. Most of my active audience was in the US at the time.

gasconheart Oh! For some rason I thought it was older!

How do you prepare each show? How long does it take to prepare one show? And why exactly once a month?

tomasino A great question! I have a few things I do and some rules for myself on that front. I learned while doing Choose Your Own Adventure (weekly) that even a simple show that involved picking up a book and reading was going to take effort to prep and I would get busy and it would become a hassle. So, to limit that for myself on the trivia show I give myself a maximum of 2 hours to prepare. I’ll get my son into bed and then begin. I have previously gathered a massive collection of general knowledge trivia questions & answers at varying difficulty levels into a backlog spreadsheet on Google Drive. I use that for the majority of the question content. But each show I try to do something special and unique, so that’s usually a segment of questions called “This Day in History”. I’ll ask 5-10 questions about historical trivia that happened on that date, and that’s all on me. I don’t have any resource for that except Wikipedia and search engines. I’ll look at the histories and pick out interesting things, try not to make it too US focused, and turn them into trivia questions. Occasionally I’ll strike gold and a question will lend itself to audio: a speech, a radio program, a song. I like when that happens so I can stream it as part of the show.

gasconheart Oh yes, it enriches the show when you do it.

tomasino And then otherwise the rest of the prep time is music. I pick a very specific intro and outro song and I use Audacity (or the fork now) to pre-lay that down and some background audio for the full 90 minute segment. I have that scheduled to auto-play when my show starts and then I can stop watching the clock. My outro-music will let me know when time is almost up.

I also gather up ~10 other songs to pick from for each show and then I’ll stream them at opportune moments. Sometimes I can work those in with the questions too. That’s mostly accidental, but cool when it happens. After the show I take my archive mp3 and my playlist, tack it into an archive HTML file and upload them and I’m done! Not a lot of work overall.

Even so, I’ve got a family and scheduling things that take 2 hours to plan and 90 minutes to stream every week would eat up a lot of time. I figured once a month would be easier on me and make the show more special to the audience. It’s easy to skip something when it happens every week. People make more effort when it’s once a month.

gasconheart That’s why Catholic priests don’t marry.

tomasino Hah, exactly.

gasconheart Will we have a weekly trivia when you retire then?

tomasino Haha! Perhaps! I would love to get back into a fiction show again at some point, but I’ll have to be more creative about what to call it.

gasconheart OK, tell us, how did the tilde community, the listeners, receive your first trivia show?

tomasino It was a massive success from the start. I work in marketing and creating promos, putting out teasers, and talking things up for a few weeks before we started all added to a big crowd and lots of energy. I wanted it to feel energetic and get people hyped, so I decided to use 50s upbeat music for the accompaniment, which also has been really helpful. I encouraged those who can to bring along their drinks and just have fun. Just have fun was another of those rules for myself I mentioned, by the way.

gasconheart Oh I for one enjoy my liquors when I listen to your show.

tomasino When I was planning the show I looked up a bunch of models for how trivia nights can be organized. I mentioned the team style was popular in the US and that’s originally where I put a lot of my focus. But it kept feeling forced and wrong. I went back to my “Just have fun” motto a lot and eventually did away with all of it. Rules, teams, structure. I wanted interactivity. That was important. But scoring isn’t really necessary for that. So now when I ask my questions I encourage people to type their answers as quickly as they can into the public channels in IRC, but we don’t keep score. Or at least I don’t. Sometimes everyone gets it, sometimes nobody does. It doesn’t matter really. Everyone seeing each other posting a lot strikes up a commentary that runs parallel to the show and really makes it work. I have recordings of my shows in the archive people could listen to anytime. There are also some people who can’t make it and try to stream in the car or something. But it’s just not the same without the crowd. They’re really live events and all about connecting with people, and that’s what I love.

gasconheart Romanians are quite competitive at IRC trivia, they need scores.

tomasino Haha, that’s great too. Maybe some of them will come for a relaxing trivia-light on tilderadio sometime to take a break.

gasconheart I am used to that, that’s why I am the only jerk at your show that shouts “I said it first! I said it first!” from time to time.

tomasino Haha.

gasconheart I will invite them to your show.

tomasino That sort of energy is fun to mix in! I love the different reactions we get.

gasconheart Hopefully many Romanian trivia players will be reading this, but also very likely Romanian IRC admins. So, finally, what advice would you give to a Romanian who owns an IRC server if they want to run a trivia like yours? Many of those Romanian IRC have also an audio stream, where they almost only play music all day.

tomasino Great question. Hmmm….

gasconheart Should the questions be Romanian-focused?

tomasino A “show” is many things all at once. It’s a vibe, the actions, the commentary, the give & take. Mostly it’s about connecting the show-runner(s) with the audience and occasionally the audience with each other. You need to approach them in a way that will really work for that particular crowd. You can specialize by making things relevant to their interests, or you can use what you know of their personalities to cough exploit their reactions. I think my best overall advice is to look at all the tools at your disposal that are unique to your situation. If you have a radio stream, why aren’t you using it? What else can you do in IRC that you couldn’t do elsewhere? Links? Colors? Multi-channel actions? Whatever it might be, think if you can maximize your medium. Aim for engagement and Just Have Fun.

gasconheart This has been great.

tomasino It has!

gasconheart I would like for this interview to be a bridge between your show and the Romanians.

tomasino Oh, and I have a question for your readers before we go.

gasconheart Go ahead.

tomasino Being that I’m in Iceland, I thought I’d ask… what Icelandic geothermal site shares its name with a film from 1980? :)

gasconheart Oh man… Beats me.

tomasino They can shout the answer at me at a future show!

gasconheart Sure! Or they can post it in the comment box down below.

tomasino Yes!

gasconheart Well, tomasino, thank you very much for your time, and good luck with all your projects. Good-bye.

tomasino Thanks! La revedere!

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Tomasino’s trivia

Tomasino’s Tilde

Tilde Club

The Tildeverse

Tilde Radio

Choose Your Own Adventure archives (gopher-only link)

What is Gopher, a video clip by Tomasino

What is the Tildeverse, a video clip by Tomasino