August 8, 2012
Twenty-four years ago today, I had a very bad day.
On August 8, 1988, I was a senior in high school. I was working my after school and weekend job at Safeway as a cashier, when the store manager suddenly walked over and said I better stop ringing up customers and talk to my mother on the store phone right now. Mom told me to come home immediately because, well, there were police at the front door asking for me with some legal papers in hand.
Like I said, definitely not a good day. The only sliver of good news was that I was still 17 at the time, so I enjoyed the many protections that the law provides to a minor. Which I shall now throw away by informing the world that I am a dirty, filthy, reprehensible adult criminal. Thanks, law!
One of the problems you had in the pre-Internet 1980s as a hardcore computer geek was that all the best bulletin boards and online services were kind of expensive. Either because you had to pay an hourly fee to access them, like CompuServe, or because they were a long distance modem call. Or both. Even after the 1984 AT&T breakup, long distance at around 20-30 cents a minute was a far, far cry from today's rates. (Does anyone actually even worry about how much voice calls cost any more, to anywhere in the world? This, my friends, is progress.)
Remember, too, that this is back when 9600 baud modems were blazing, state of the art devices. For perspective, the ultra-low-power wireless bluetooth on your phone is about 80 times faster. If you wanted to upload or download any
warez software, that meant potentially hours on your modem at rates of around $20/hour. Adjusted for inflation, that's closer to $40 in 2012 dollars. My family wasn't well off enough to afford a second telephone line, so most of my calling was done late at night both because the rates were lower, and also so that I wouldn't be monopolizing the telephone. Nothing was worse than the dreaded "mom picked up the phone" disconnect to an elite difficult-to-access BBS with limited slots.
One way or another, I eventually got involved with the seedier side of the community, even joining a lesser Apple // pirate group. Probably my main claim to fame is that while trolling BBSes, I personally discovered and recruited a guy who turned out to be an amazing cracker. He was so good he eventually got recruited away.
I was, at best, a footnote to a footnote to a footnote in Apple // history. This was mainly a process of self-discovery for me. I learned I was the type of geek who doesn't even bother attending his high school prom, partially because I was still afraid of girls even as a high school senior, yes, but mainly because I was so addicted to computers and playing my tiny role in these nascent online communities. I was, and am, OK with that. This is the circuitous path of 30 years that led me to create Stack Overflow. And there's more, so much more, but I can't talk about it yet.
But addicted, I think, is too weak a word for what I felt about being a part of these oddball, early online home computer communities. It was more like an all-consuming maniacal blood lust. So obtaining access to free, unlimited long distance calling rapidly became an urgent priority in my teenage life. I needed it. I needed it so bad. I had to have it to talk on the phone to the other members of my motley little crew, who were spread all over the USA, as well as for calling BBSes.
I can't remember exactly how I found it, probably on one of the BBSes, but I eventually discovered a local 804 area code number for "calling cards" that accepted a 5 digit PIN, entered via touch-tone phone. Try over and over, and you might find some valid PIN codes that let you attain the holy grail of free long distance calling. Only one small problem: it's a crime. But, at least to my addled teenage brain, this was a victimless crime, one that I had to commit. The spice must flow!
All I had to do is write software to tell the modem to dial over and over and try different combinations. Because I was a self-taught programmer, this was no problem. But because I was an overachieving self-taught programmer, I didn't just write a program. No, I went off and built a full-blown toolkit in AppleBasic, with complete documentation and the best possible text user interface I could muster, and then uploaded it to my favorite BBSes so every other addict could get their online modem fix, too. I called it The Hacking Construction Set, and I spent months building it. I didn't just gold plate, I platinum plated this freaking thing, man. (Yes, I know the name isn't really correct. I read as many 2600 textfiles as the next guy. This is mere phreaking, not hacking, but I guess I was shooting for poetic license. Maybe you could use the long distance dialing codes to actually hack remote machines, or something.)
I never knew if anyone else ever used my little program to dial for calling codes. It certainly worked for me, and I tried my level best to make it work for all the possible dialing situations I could think of. It even had an intro screen with music and graphics of my own creation. But searching now, for the first time in 24 years, I found my old Hacking Construction Set disk image on an Apple ROM site. It even has real saved numbers in the dialing list! Someone was using my illicit software!
If you're curious, fire up your favorite Apple // emulator and give the disk image a spin. Don't forget to connect your modem. There's full blown documentation accessible from the main menu. Which, re-reading now, was actually not half bad, if I do say so myself:
I used to regularly call BBSes in Florida, California, and Missouri? That's news to me; I haven't seen any of this stuff in over 24 years! All I did was upload a disk image to a few BBSes in 1986. After all that time, to discover that someone used and loved my little bit of software still gives me a little thrill. What higher praise is there for a software developer?
About that trouble. Using my own software got me in trouble with the law. And deservedly so; what I wrote the software to do was illegal. I hired a local lawyer (who, as I recall, was missing a hand; he had a prosthetic hand that was almost impossible not to look at) who represented me. It was quite clear at preliminary hearings that the Chesterfield County court system did not see any computer crime cases, and they had absolutely no idea what to make of me, or what this was all about. All they saw was a smart kid with a bit of bad judgment who loved computers and was headed to the University of Virginia, most likely not a life as a career criminal. So the case was dismissed for the cost of lawyer's fees. Which, for the record, I had to pay myself, using my income as a Safeway cashier.
This was definitely a wake up call for me; in the summer of 1988, I was about to graduate from high school, and I thought I'd try being just a regular guy at college, with less of an obsessive focus on computers that causes me to get in trouble with the law, and perhaps spread my wings to other interests. Who knows, maybe even girls!
That didn't last long. Because after all these years, I must confess I've grown to love my own bad judgment. It's led me to the most fascinating places.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
This is a very nice story and a great reminder of "better"(?) times. Thanks for sharing. And I'm happy to see, that you kept being a "smart kid" and stayed out of trouble ;)
Loved reading the article :)
Having software you wrote out there and used by a lot of people is a great feeling, I'm addicted to that too. I currently have an online service that 1000+ people use daily (which is also a bit naughty :P (just google my name [nick kusters])), and two tools I wrote and uploaded to The Priate bay a long time ago, that got 100.000+ users each (check tag NKCSS).
who, as I recall, was missing a hand
And that’s why you don’t hack computers.
I know the feeling... I wrote a compiler that converts a language i created into brainfuck code, and then put it on google code. I was ecstatic when one day I received an email from some guy asking for help on it
Usually your vignettes are somewhat useful and or informative. But this time you sound like one of two old ladies on a park bench talking about their hip replacements.
I had a similar "bad day" in 1993. Few years after you sounds like, but the situation was the same. Looking for free phone calls to get into long distance bbs's. By then we were trolling for system75s, and using wardialers with custom scripts to try default passwords in unix & vms systems. Was a different time....glad it happened before I was 18!
I am oddly turned on by this.
*sigh* ... I am jealous of your programming endevours as a young man, I am late into programming (was 25 years old when I started) and always wonder how much better at programming I would be if I started as a young teenager. I didn't go to uni so I've had to learn the fundamentals myself and I still feel like I'm playing catch up. Hats off to you sir! Very good reads.
> Does anyone actually even worry about how much voice calls cost any more, to anywhere in the world?
People in New Zealand still prefer txt to calls, because calls are too expensive. They txt even while driving a car.
Ahhh. remind me of old days. Thumbs up!
It reminded me of how i felt when i first experienced the "ooooooooh" sensation of my first flat-rate dialup connection after six months of my father yelling at me when he saw the phone bills, and of how i felt when i knew someone was actually using software i wrote (and someone was actually willing to contribute to some opensource stuff i did).
Awesome feelings, both of them.
Oh dear. I didn't actually get to court but I was banned from the university VAX in '93. Twice. Good times. I was forced to use the small Unix machines after. Best thing ever to happen to me :P
I see you talking about Virginia and Chesterfield County. This is where I grew up as well. What high school did you go to? If this is an inappropriate place to ask this let me know.
Great story Jeff - oh the memories of Compuserv. :)
Dude. Your lawyer was a pirate too! y'know.. missing hand...
@Charlieandrews Cwa - A Chesterfield guy here as well. Meadowbrook High School if your familiar. Lived just off Hopkins road.
As a former Apple ][e BBS junkie in the 80s I just wanted to say thanks for posting this story. We all pretty much had to game the long distance providers back in the day and had tons of fun with our WarGames dialers and AppleCat modems. It was against the law yeah, but a great formative experience as a youngster.
Can you imagine how much it costed calling the USA BBSs from Italy!?
But using those I learned how to build TSR programs in DOS (who does remember what they were about?) and then bought my first TSR for DOS APIs, which "arrived" from the States on a 5 1/4'' disk along with the user manual and made me super-happy :)
@Philip and what's wrong with that? Nothing is wrong with a little nostalgia.
I think similar situations happened to a lot of us. The "scared straight" technique works quite effectively. lol
Yeah, we had a lot of BBSs in Missouri for some reason. And of course the great COIN network allowed free vt100 access to the Internet circa 1990 (Gopher, FTP, and telnet! Http not yet invented).
Some times I miss those days, if only for the 16-color ANSI graphics...
@philip Jeeze how old are you 18 going on 64 and 3/4.
I recall one one my collegues who worked at BT with me had been busted for phreaking when younger. Aprently one day a senior guy for our feared security deivisions happend to bup into him at teh office and almost had a fit - our senior management told then to F off.
Oh and the ex phreak was the guy to goto when I had to help a FSTE 100 customer out by cracking some passwords that they had lost
I hit the tail end of the BBS times but they were still around when I started hacking. I wasn't into software as much as knowledge in general. I was so into this amazing thing called UNIX. Operating systems of large companies was a huge driving force for me to get online and to pull down the latest 2600 or Phrack magazines.
I had a dot matrix printer one summer and started printing everything I could find out of my 8088. My room was littered with code, UNIX command lists, phone number databases, credit and calling cards.
I was up late war dialing 800 numbers for access to modem banks I could use to connect long distances to other BBSes. I had heard that major universities still had them up but that the numbers would change, whether that was true or not, I had found a bunch of 800 numbers with modems attached. I awoke one morning to find a number with PCAnywhere attached to a system that was wide open. It only took about 5 minutes to realize it was a car dealership in Idaho or something. I don't know if another hacker or salesman had left this open but I spent 2 more hours looking around, finding nothing of importance with a lame DOS prompt.
One day my mother got a call from some crazy lady saying that a long distance call was charged to their business and that someone had charged 2 hours of time. Sticking up for me, like she did, my mom told the lady off and hung up. My mom then proceeded to go completely insane on me. She said cops were going to come and that I was screwed. I said "I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT" and dizzy, proceeded into my locked room where I started tearing up all the pieces of printed dot matrix paper in a manic fashion. I knew I was turning 18 soon and that laws would apply. I never felt so terrified in my life.
Nothing ever happened, and of course that wasn't the end of my hacking adventures, but the story sounded really similar so I had to share. :)
Ah, good memories. I wasn't into the calling card stuff so much. But I was heavily involved in the BBS era. I remember my computer desk littered with dot matrix printouts of BBS numbers and other printouts of game activation codes...until neverlock came out. Haven't heard the term warez in years. Call waiting was evil until I found out about *70. Brings back memories of tools like Norton Utilities 6, Procomm/telix/telemate, xtree gold, TheDraw. Heck, even debug. The boards I connected to were running Wildcat(yuck), WWIV, Telegard, PCBoard.. The sound of my 2400 modem connecting was almost magical.. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Those were great times!
The most I did was dial up to the library's BBS to renew a book. Your story is much more interesting.
I feel fortunate to have cut my teeth on an Apple ][ then an Amiga in the late 70's and 80's. I remember hanging around the local Apple dealer and being the only customer (and one without any money) in the store. Going to the Apple store these days is still a bit surreal because of my childhood experiences.
I often wonder where all the digital hoodlums who I hung around with in the 80's ended up. Aside from a few locals, I have no idea where all the other aliases went except for Cyborg and I'm glad for that.
Protovision, I have you now...
So... Have you learnt how to access and use a woman?
My take-away from this story is that I'm old because that era was a simpler, gentler time. The biggest crime in hacking was generally the phreaking side of things by using services without paying for them and hacking was mostly just snooping around systems without permission.
Today, hacking is a significant crime that usually involves stolen credit cards or bringing down massive systems and causing real damage.
Beautiful story! You brought back old memories! I was fortunate to only experience the end of the BBS days, but I experienced the beginning of the new FTP Top Site scene era.
So much coding was involved creating a secured, reliable, fast, customizable, unique FTP server (glftpd).
So much coding was involved to creating automated apps in C to FXP stuff from one server (in one country) to another server (in some other country) with smart algorithms to decide the most efficient routing.
So much coding was involved creating pre apps, so each courier could smartly distinguish between a fake and a real release, as well figuring out smartly what type of release it is and informs all courier team it is time to FXP.
So much research and coding was involved developing cracking tools to automatically identify and crack software once the holy grail (cracking algorithm) was solved.
So much management to ensure elite people are invited, so hard to get in, banning those that sell, leak, buy. Banning those that release to torrents/newsgroups/fxp sites/colo sites. Hardcore encryption, SSL/blowfish text/Protected passwords/Identity/private networks/multiple routed bncs. Get the best hardware suppliers, at that time getting 1TB was unique since every house hold had only 40gb. People go crazy and raid multiple machines. Crazy bandwidth suppliers, protecting the box underground etc.
I was a kid, without being exposed to the elite top site scene, I wouldn't have become a Software Engineer, or have my love and passion in this industry. I realized what I did wasn't a good thing, and I was extremely addicted to it. Cops knocked on my door, parents were not fond, bad grades at school, so at the end, I woke up and realized that I can't place that on my resume :) So I ended up switching to Software Engineering during my first year, and contribute to Open Source software instead which I am still doing today, cause I love it!
Ah, the days of BBSes. I wrote my own BBS software and ran it on my C64 back in the day. Sadly, in 1988 I wasn't in high school, I was 26 years old, had my degree, and was two years into my career. Now I feel really old.
Thanks for sharing this great story - I thoroughly loved it!
Same age, same year, except in south NJ and with a C64. I remember the shock of how my little 300 baud Hess modem and those late nights calls to modems who-knows-where did not equal warez riches, but a $600 phone bill. Working at Pep-Boys paid that off. There were plenty of local BBSs, and there was a way to get to command prompt on certain Apple sites, whereby one 'could' format the disk - but that was never my thing. Live and let live in the wild BBS frontier was my motto.
Many great memories of the BBS days. I've always considered WWIV's source code distribution my first step into what is now considered Open Source. For a $25 registration fee Wayne Bell would send you the WWIV source code on a disk. That spawned a community of people distributing mods for WWIV. Sure, you had to recompile after applying each mod, but dang that was fun times. Seeing other people use my WWIV mods and offer feedback and suggestions was amazing.
In regards to the modem speeds of the time, discovering HS/LINK made that experience so much better.
wait a minit, you were the cyborg?
You never had a 9600 baud modem - you probably had a 9600 bps modem. Which was 2400 baud :p
ANSI art still makes me smile. Makes me want to look through my old 5.25" floppies.
fellow 80s hacker/phreaker here, man those were the days!
You were Zero Cool? Crashed fifteen hundred and seven computers in one day? Biggest crash in history, front page New York Times August 10th, 1988. I thought you was black man.
Your post raised two feelings: 1) Nostalgia about the 80s when I was 18 by the time you wrote your story 2) Jealousy, because in Brazil and in particular in the place I grew which was 70km from the biggest city, it was a telecom/computer nightmare at that time and neither BBS or computers were marginally affordable to most of us. Since I have watched "War Games" I was crazy to enter in that world which could start happening only after a few years in college.
Fortunately, the last till today ;
I feel kind of ripped off. Do you have any idea how much more difficult something like that is when the computer access procedure is "carefully fill out a deck of Hollerith cards using an IBM-approved Electrographic pencil (no erasures, please) using Fortran IV ONLY (no other interpreter would be running; escapes would be rejected in the prebatch card transfer), submit for the biweekly area-high-schools-computer-clubs batch, then wait for fanfold results"? The worst we could do was tiny. low-res, naughty ASCII art.
Jeff, it appears we led parallel lives! I graduated in '88 as well, and worked a summer in junior high at a computer store to save for a 9600 baud modem. I was phreaking like crazy, and wrote a popular program just like yours called HackPack. I ran two BBS's: The Mausoleum and Afterlife ][, but my life revolved around Ultima III. Good times.
Awesome... Yepper, I remember those days of baud rates, BBS, cards/pins, etc... Thanks for sharing.
Back in Grade 11 in high school ( in the ancient year of 2003 ), a friend of mine got suspended for the last few days before the Christmas Break and weren't allowed back into the computer lab because of a program I wrote ( well, two, actually ).
The first program was pretty much just to annoy people. The school ran Linux machines ( which was pretty awesome ), and I wrote a bash script that would pop up a terminal that would display an animated ASCII art stick man sticking out his tongue at the user. The idea was to use ssh to log into another persons machine while they were using it and launch the script to freak them out. The problem was that the logged in user has to set a flag before ssh'd in users can launch programs that require an X window.
So I wrote a script that would pretend to be ssh, and grab their password when they tried to ssh in somewhere. I then taught the other kids in my class about the talk command, and how you could use it as a MSN replacement -- at least to talk to kids that were in the same class as you. So then we had a couple of our classmates passwords, and we were able to prank a bunch of them with my pop-up smiley face script.
But my friend and I bragged to another kid, who then tried to use the pretend ssh program to get teachers passwords and change his grades. He was found out, and pointed the finger at my friend and I. We admitted to it when called to the vice principals office. Thankfully, the system admin was there, and I was sort of friends with him. I think he was kind of impressed that I managed to write the scripts, and he knew that I was just being a silly hacker kid: doing something to find out if I could. That's why we were only suspended for a few days, and not kicked out of school.
Anyways. It's nice to know that other people have their own childhood hacking stories -- although I wish I had the geek cred to say I was phreaking in the BBS era.
@Chrisdunn 03: Everyone is always playing catch up when it comes to programming. That is how it is when you work in an ever-evolving field. The fact that the curriculum doesnt get updated every year i the bad part. Some schools still teach with pascal!
Now I know why I have to dial that unwieldy 12 digit code each time I use my calling card.
Spare a thought for this guy, who's currently fighting extradition to the US for having set up a web site providing links to pirated TV shows. He's not a minor.
Nostalgia is a powerful thing:
I had a really long winded comment about my own shenanigans from high school & jr. high and being a sysop in a pretty awesome local BBS scene, complete with an anecdote about almost having my own "very bad day" dodging the v& (due to the heads up of a friend who's mom was the mayor, and the agent getting reassigned because of the OKC bombing).
But srsly, it'd be a blog post like the one above. And tl;dr, unlike this awesome article. =^.~=
Enjoyed reading your blog.
I once wrote an assembler as a teen and recall as the best days of life being a geek.
Unfortunately that was the last time I had fun doing something geeky.
I spend a lot of time on BBS's also, with my Atari 1200XL and trusty modem. Where did all the people that enjoy the BBS's go?
Maybe to HAM radio...
Ha! Another Chesterfield County kid here.
@James Atkinson, which end of Hopkins? I lived behind FCJHS near the reservoir and the north end of Hopkins.
Am I the only one who thought of Arrested Development when he mentioned the one handed lawyaer - "And that's why you don't write illegal software!"
I had the same problem on 90's here in Brazil...
A manager from a huge phone company here called my mom asking her to pay a bill of 250 thousand dollars (not updated to our reality)...
They had a bug on their system that permitted me to take advantage of calling there redirecting the costs of the call to them (providers). I don't know exactly if you have this at your country.
You call another person but the costs of the call, if accepted after a message advising, is redirected to the person called.
Of course I didn't pay, even because their system accepted the message... LOL
But it was programmed to not accept. =]
Good times... Of phreaking, defacing, and studying..
Theese times gave me so much knowledge nowadays..
These times has gone... Now we are full of script kiddie's that think they are "haaaackorrrrs"...
But we still have good hackers making really good stuff cracking Sony, Apple and others...
Ah, those were the days. Thanks for the story, it really took me back in time.
My first hack was in 9th grade in 1975. It was the first year our school had a computer class. We would use one of those teleprinters (a desk looking contraption with a keyboard and a box of formfeed paper under it on which it printed). The teleprinter was connected to the school districts mainframe. It was on this that we would write our BASIC language programs for class. I soon realized that since we had to log into the system with a school ID and a password, I could start guessing how to log into other school's storage areas. Since our school's password was some kind of fish (I can't remember exactly what now), I would try random ID's, like one number off from our school's ID, and then different types of fish for the password. It didn't take long before I was in and could view some other school's student BASIC programs. And not only could I view their programs, but I could edit them too. I was an evil child, and would rewrite student's programming assignments. Sometimes I'd just add a bunch of PRINT statements which would print out a bunch of expletives. And sometime's I would do other dastardly things like disable the BREAK key and then do page advances in an endless loop. Imagining some poor kid showing his program to his teacher and having it call the teacher a bunch of bad words or shooting paper out like crazy while trying to frantically stop the program. I know, not cool, but I still smile a little when I think of it.
Good times, good times.
This kind of stuff makes me want to get into programming more but I'm still too lazy to try so hard.
Well, I can say I was the "lucky guy" in the world of free BBS-ing in the circa-1990 times.
My father worked at the phone company (the only one available in my country at that time) and every friday, just before leaving the work, he went to a certain rack, disconnected certain cable and... tada! Free phone at my home the whole weekend! Of course he reversed the process the next monday morning. He was never caught.
I remember spending whole nights downloading stuff from BBSs while chatting with the sysops (bimodem rocks!). I was using a monster 1200 baud modem my father brought from work (which was already obsolete at that time and was going to be dumped) and I remember needing a whole hour just to download a 300K disk image for my MSX.
So I had free BBSing without any fear or legal problems. U jelly? :-P
@Charlieandrews and @James Atkinson ... yeah live in Chesterfield also, a bit near Hopkins but closer toward Newbys Bridge.
When i was like 18/19, i hacked into an unused intranet server of my local ISP. The stuff was all my local ip addresses started with 202.123.X.X so all i had to do was to run a hostname scanner and scan all active ip addresses withing that range. I got many pings back. Most of them i run vulnerability scanners and one of them was running IIS 4 or 5 and was vulnerable to Directory traversal. So I was just lurking around on the server and found out that it was an intranet server, way back from 1998. They stored all kind of stuffs and on another subdomain, they were running a full server serving mobile customers. I spent days lurking around, dowloading logs, phone numbers, software manuals, and cleaning my logs after i logout. It was the good old days :)
Cyborg. Ha : )
I hope you got home in time to watch the Chicago Cubs first night game at Wrigley Field! 8/8/88
I used a Heathkit dumb terminal and some even-then-obsolete 300 baud acoustic coupler modem to dial up the local grocery store. Dad was always terrible with passwords, both then and now. I got into their VMS system, and now I was in, I had the run of the place, I ruled the world.
I changed the price of ground beef.
The police never knocked on my door.
It's amazing how far all of this has come since the BBS days. Today's kids just have NO idea what it used to be like, with their broadband and their interwebs and their tweeter and their googol.
Now get off my lawn.
@s in htx
I could see Falling Creek Elem. from my back yard.
Carafe Dr to be exact.
Great stuff, Jeff!
One of my buddies came up with a solution to this problem that was MUCH less elegant than this. He followed his phone line outside to his backyard to the "box" where all the lines where coming from, attached a few lines that weren't being used, and ran them across his yard, up the side of his house, and into his bedroom window. It was an epic couple of days before the knock on the door came.
And ironically, this all took place in Chesterfield County! Had no idea you lived here growing up, that's hilarious.
I was lucky during that era, Baltimore had a pretty booming BBS scene with plenty of 'interesting' boards that had pretty much whatever you wanted to download with a high post/call ratio. This kept the conversations pretty lively and geek belly full of scrumptious goodies.
We were pretty well connected too, we had I think three WWiV and FIDO GCs in our area code, so losing one almost never meant having to call LD just to keep the network message boards pumping. I ran my own for quite a long time, even profitably for a few years until AOL ruined everything.
I think phreaking of some kind is something every nerd from that era tried at least once, the only difference being the 'color' of the box you built, or in your case programmed.
Anyway, that was the push I needed to spend a few hours in nostalgic awesomeness.
I was born on 8/8/1988 :)
I was a long time bbser back in the 1980's, ran several different bbses, and I two bugged out about calling long distance bbses. I even called this famous bbs called 2001, run by bootlegger of the "Bill Landreth" fame.
I was part of the bbs culture back in teh 1980's, 612 area code 4 life.
I loved my Apple ][+, AppleCat Modem, green 40 char monitors.
Crazy game paddles.
Even my last bbs, S.T.O.R.M. BBS is listed on textfiles.com for historical sake. For me it was the culture, the people, the experiences, the learning...
And here i am 30 years later, and into programming php/coldfusion, sql server, linux, mysql...
I just love geeking...
Jeff, ¡Old time Rock & Roll!
Now I know why I have to dial that unwieldy 12 digit code each time I use my calling card..
Great story, mine is similar too. I wrote what I believe was the most popular code-hacking (same deal, AT&T/MCI/etc LD codes) software for the Amiga back in the day (whoo AmigaBASIC!). I never got busted using it, but my buddy who went to high school with us (this was 1987) did, his house was raided *while it was running on his Amiga* and they unplugged everything before they even looked at the screen, fortunately for him. He ended up getting a suspended sentence because he was already signed up to enter the Army upon graduation in a few months. I was a lot more careful after that, but at one point I tried to calculate how much free LD I had used and it was pretty scary.
Thanks for the story. We are the same age and it was definitely a unique time to grow up and be obsessed with computers. Kids today (get off my lawn!), like the recent college grads I run across at work really have such different experiences, and in some ways, I wish more of them could have been around in the BBS days, especially the really talented ones.
Anyhow, great post, really enjoyed it.
--'The Burglar' (from C= scene, there was apparently an Apple scene Burglar as well), sysop of The Corporation and Tog-Dog BBSes in Detroit :)
Ha, I really enjoyed reading this article. I too was a BBS nerd although I don't have any stories about the cops showing up. I did rack up a pretty hefty bill for Q-link(Commodore 64 site) one month that my parents kinda freaked over (I was talking to a girl on there so minus geek-points for me)
I do remember one awkward moment with the neighbours though. I ran a BBS and eventually reached a point where I decided that a single (dedicated) was not enough. However, since our house was only wired for two lines, and the other was our voice line, the local utility had to dig through the neighbours yards to install it. I don't think my parents or neighbours (or even the phone company) understood what was going on but gave it the nod anyway.
But my friends who stole batteries, modems and computer equipment from traffic and train-crossing control boxes? Yeah those guys got in trouble.
My answer to the LD charges was FIDO net and then later a local board began carrying Usenet. That was cool because then I could send bang pathed e-mail to my friends around the world. But as I recall that was all in the mid 80s.
As for addiction I remember the feeling certainly is was something stronger and more wonderful.
Thanks for sharing the experience of those heady days of a geek teenage. They remind me of my own memories, certainly one of the fondest ones I have, trying to find cracks and trying to make sense of binaries with nothing but the ever-useless windows notepad...
Also, it's quite funny to see where your uploaded Apple II ROM image has ended up, starting on a (probably) US-based BBS... The good thing is, it is still up. :D
I never had a "bad" day like that, which is pretty fortunate, since I got into BBSing shortly after turning 18 (in 92-93)... Also, there were a lot of local boards in the Phoenix (602) area by then, and message nets were pretty common. I was only on a handful of more elite boards, mainly because I was an okay(hack) ANSI artist. I still run a BBS today (roughneckbbs.com) which is pretty active, for a BBS in 2012. It's funny how the landscape has changed and stayed the same... Instead of warez boards, we have private torrent trackers, and instead of call back verifiers, we have IP block lists. It's still pretty cool all around, but much happier having the world at my fingertips than not.... Though I really miss the regular local BBS gatherings, you don't get that so much online today.
I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post. concrete driveway
I love the Dune reference. Great read.
I use to love this. I dont know how many people our familiar with shadow run? Its an old pen and paper role playing game I use to always love playing a hacker. Oh the great days.
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Great flashback! You can be proud of that piece of paper in hindsight, I never reached the heights of being notorious myself.
I wonder if you have any information at all about that screen shot of Psi 5 Trading Company you posted? I'm a fan of that game, and the Apple II version is as elusive as a winged unicorn. Never saw a ROM, a screenshot or a disk until this. Did/Do you own it? Is there any copy in real life or emulators?
I graduated High School in '88 as well. I wrote a program to do the exact same things on an Apple II+. There was a local bbs where we would share access numbers and pins. I vaguely remember a service called Metrophone? With 10 digit pins, that if you successfully retrieved one, they would work for months.
Later, I discovered your app (much more refined than what I had built) and used that.
Thank you for the walk down memory lane.