At his age, there wasn’t a whole lot going on the night before Christmas. His brothers had both gone out to hang out with friends and discuss what they would be getting for Christmas and drinking rum and cokes. In their eyes, a fine Christmas morning would be to find a new Stratocaster, or Holley Double Pumper carburetor under the tree.
But it wasn’t Max Headroom or Back to the Future cast across the screen – it was the user interface to TUFF Hacker by The Underground Fone Federation, and it was running on his Atari 800XL computer complete with disk drive. TUFF Hacker was a code scanner – a program that would dial a long distance carrier number, wait for a dial tone and then enter a code followed by a known carrier number. If the program detected carrier then it knew that the code was good and it would log it to file to be (ab)used later.
The only problem was that he had no modem.
The Holidays, along with a business trip caused a slight delay in writing this installment. I must also admit that I have a bit of a problem occasionally handling multiple items on my plate and unfortunately there have been many things going on.
I guess the subject matter is somewhat of a stumbling block for me as well. In some ways, this article covers things that opened up a new world for me in several different ways, and I have always held the things it will discuss dear. Call me melancholy, call me stuck in the past – it is what it is.
Before any computer aside from Atari Pong and the Terminal my dad brought home ever entered my house I had a fascination with the telephone. I spoke often to a female friend I had growing up who lived only a few houses down and also to another friend who I spent time with on the weekends. I would sit there in the kitchen, sometimes on the old wooden bar stool we had underneath where the telephone hung and I would gab away for as long as my parents would allow. Sometimes this would be 5 minutes – possibly due to someone else in the household needing to use the only phone we had, and sometimes the calls would stretch into the night – even after my parents went to bed.
There were two phone numbers that I dialed on that rotary phone over and over again – especially during the winter months. One number was 214/844-1234 (or any 4 numbers actually), and the other was 214/787-1111. The first was GTE time and temperature and the second was the local Weatherline number which was provide forecasts as well as time and temperature for my area.
But its the first number – the GTE time and temperature number that I will be waxing melancholy with you about here.
I can only guess, but I would think that I probably started calling the T&T number sometime in the late 70’s as it was then that I became aware of the fact that if it snowed or iced up outside, it meant that chances were good that I wouldn’t have to go to school. Many calls were made in evenings and early mornings to check on conditions with my fingers crossed that the temperature would be below 32 degress – especially if it was precipitating outside.
Though I started calling the number that early, it wasn’t until around 1981 or 1982 that I made a discovery.
It was one of those cold months, and I had called to see if the dark skies that day might equal snow for a friend and I to enjoy when I stayed on the line for some reason past the recording and I heard something. I listened as closely as I could but the line went dead.
I quickly dialed again, and then again, and finally after a few times I realized that what I was hearing after the automated female voice announced the time and temperature was a voice – and not just one, but several voices.
Dialing back that afternoon I finally thought to say something, “Can you hear me?? Hello????”.
“Yes, Hello… This is Charles… “, followed by – “… and this is Amy..”
I was awestruck… “What was this??”, I asked myself. “What did I find???”, I asked again.
Over the next few days, weeks, months and eventually years, I “chatted” with many people. Even though the “conversations” could only last for 10-15 seconds, it was enough time to say hello and introduce yourself or hear who else was on, and eventually people began trading phone numbers after the lady would announce the time and temperature information.
The discovery also catapulted my interest in the phone system and I dialed numbers similar to the time and temperature number endlessly in search of other “neat things” similar to what I had found – and I did find several other things before I even became aware of what a “phone phreak” was.
By the time I finally had the guts and social determination to try and meet others I had an Atari computer sitting in my bedroom and had already stumbled across things like “loop lines” and “conference bridges”, but I still dialed in to the time and temperature from time to time because it seemed as though it was just “ordinary people” who called it and not computer geeks like I found on the BBS’s and loops/bridges I called.
By the time I dialed into the number and realized it was dead I was pretty much knee deep in telephone/phreak related resources.I didn’t really “need” 15 seconds worth of chat when I could have hours upon hours via any number of bridge or loop I had access to, but it was the first of its kind and was special to me because of that reason and more.
To this day, I wonder about the technical reason behind why this existed, about what other relationships good or bad might have been created via the number and also what finally happened that ended it.
My hunch is that we finally got upgraded to ESS and this alone eliminated whatever anomaly that caused the voice bleed through after the recording, but I may never know for sure.
If you have a similar story or possibly lived in my area and “used” this “feature” I would love to hear from you.
And so here we are again, another week and another post.
My intention is not to limit posts to once a week, or to promise more than one post a week. What I do hope to provide is at the very least one new post a week with hopefully more. With that said, we have some time to spend here and even though this blog (and the forums) will mostly be about underground related items, I feel like there needs to be some introductory things covered just so you’ll have an idea of who I am and where I came from as far as technology goes.
No, I am not going to list every game system I ever played or every hacker book that I read – but I do feel like there are a few stepping stones to cover that will transport us into the shadowy world that we will be focusing on here.
And with that said, “beginnings (part one)” deals with a device that became very popular in the mid 70’s and lasted through various iterations into the mid 80’s.
The TI Silent 700.
My first experience with this device was when my father brought one home from where he worked at a large military subcontractor. Turns out there was some work that could be done from home for fairly decent money doing data entry on these things.
My parents never discouraged me from technology – but I remember as the 700 sat underneath the telephone in our kitchen on a typewriter table and my father tried time and time again to get the stupid thing to connect to the mainframe on the other end I was shooed away from the scene several times. In hindsight it was all deserved – I was somewhat of a mischief maker and I was always getting into things I shouldn’t be. So it should have been no surprise that my parents would have wanted to keep me from messing with or becoming interested in this surely expensive device.
So I sat in the den on the couch listening to the handshake tone and my fathers cries of obscenity over his inability to get the 300 baud connection that he so desperately wanted so that my mom could make some side coin doing data entry.
It wasn’t until everyone had gone to bed that evening that I found the piece of paper with the phone number, login and password to the mainframe that my dad had been trying to connect to – and with the air conditioner, fridge, TV, and my parents chattering now absent, I connected to the remote machine on the first try.
I had entered the login and then the password and had just been presented with a very minimal “main menu” when my father crashed in hanging up the off yellow GTE handset onto the rotary base that hung on our wall via some crazy ITT adapter and scurried me off to my bedroom – the silent 700 taken back to work never to return.
It had all happened really in the course of 5 minutes – or if you want to include the time I watched as my parents attempted to get connected – maybe 2 hours and 5 minutes.
One thing was for certain though – I was absolutely dumbfounded over the fact that some how our telephone was able to ask for and capture a username and something so very “spy like” called a *password* and then provide me with a menu of things I could do with that machine I had just connected to.
Months would go by where I would lie in bed looking up at the square smoked light fixture in the dark as I waited for sleep wondering what kind of wonderous things I might have been able to do had I been able to have spent more time with that machine.
Even more, I had the imagination to think that there might be tons of phone numbers that answered with that funny tone and if I had one of those suitcase based machines I could talk to all of them.
This was probably around 1977 or so. A time in which I had not really been exposed to anything more than “pong” and a little bit exposed to the video gaming craze that was beginning to overtake the malls that I would go to. It was a time that I was still dreaming of becoming an astronaut, a police officer, or a professional football player while at the same time touring the world as the new guitarist of KISS.
At this point computer people were those people who ran around with pocket protectors with greasy hair and funny glasses – tinkering with blinking lights and huge buttons and twirling tape drives all mounted in a blue steel cabinet in some mountain somewhere. A place where tractor fed green and white striped paper was everywhere and people who actually touched the computer had to wear clean suits.
But it was a start – and from what I remember, it was the beginning.
This is not your son’s Internet.
This is The 8 Bit Underground.
Welcome to the 8 Bit Underground blog system – web based radio clash on pirate satellite.
This blog, along with the accompanying forum, have been two things that I have pondered placing online for quite some time. Now, after a few false starts, I have finally found the right software, themes, and attitude to go forth and make my ideas a reality.
A few things led to this, but one of the main ones was this blog on vintage computing. I found it last week and spent the better part of a day reading through all that the author had to post. As always, I was taken back to the 80’s where my computing life began and I made a promise to myself to move forward on both the blog and the forums and that enough people would be interested in my sites even though they are even more focused than the wide ranging topic of “vintage computing”.
So what am I going to offer the web that hasn’t already been done multiple times over?
In answer, I will be focusing on how 8-bit and 16-bit computers of the 1980’s and early 1990’s were used for underground purposes such as hacking, phreaking, BBS’ing and the 80’s non-pc/mac warez scene.
I grew up using 8 and 16-bit computers such as the Atari 400/800 and Commdore 64 as a lot of people did. I gamed, learned how to write code, and used them for all of the “normal” tasks that many families used them for.
In addition to the mundane tasks though, I also quickly found myself in the middle of the online underground that communicated using phone lines and 300 baud modems rather than TCP/IP and home FIOS connections that are faster than a lot of business Internet connections today.
The entire experience was very surreal and I look back upon the things I learned, things I did, places I explored, and people I met with a fondness that most people reserve for things like first girlfriends, weddings, and the birth of their children.
Today when I see a Atari 1200XL sitting in a dumpster or at a flea market, I do not see a piece of plastic that has yellowed with age thats worthless and “junk”. I see a machine that provided a window to a world that was absolutely teaming with activity in the 80’s and that provided me with several different foundations that would come in very handy later in life.
This “underground” that I speak of consisted of community, software applications such as BBS programs, wardialers, code scanners, and tone programs for doing things such as red boxing and blue boxing. It consisted of groups who came together to share information and trade software. It consisted of hardware that did amazing things even by today’s standards such as the Novation Apple Cat modem.
With all of that said – 8Bit Underground is about revisiting the 80’s online and underground scene. You will find product ad scans for software, hardware and services, text files from groups of the day, BBS lists from the 80’s and early 90’s, links and direct downloads to software such as BBS programs, terminal software, and the various underground appliations that were used on the different computer platforms that were common in the 80’s and early 90’s along with many screenshots from these same programs.
Along with those things you will find commentary by me as the author of these articles and by those who choose to join in and post comments. Ever present will also be a link to our forums where discussion is held in a much more open landscape with some additional topics being included there as opposed to the blog.
While it wasn’t always the case back when the 80’s were the “Now”, this blog will contain only information that is 100 percent legal. There will be no current day information here either “white hat” or “black hat”. There are hundreds of other sites that provide that type of information. 8Bit Underground is instead a time machine where you can ALT-TAB from your spreadsheet or IDE and remember a time when you were young, noone was going to tell you “No”, and you were doing something that nobody older than 16 or 17 had a clue about.
This is not your son’s Internet.
This is the 8 Bit Underground.