8 Bit Underground

Telco

.: phonelosers of america: book

by on Apr.09, 2011, under BBS, Non-Fiction, OldsCool, Telco

So I really didn’t intend this to be a book/movie review site, and it won’t be – but here is another book mention that  I think is relevant.

I have been a fan of phonelosers of america since the extremely early days – though I must admit that when I first saw them I assumed it was just a joke and since my sense of humor is extremely dry and doesn’t normally cross into my geek interests, I didn’t pay a ton of attention immediately.

They persisted though and I quickly realized that the take wasn’t just a comedy, but did involve some actual hacking and phreaking along with some anarchy (which has never interested me in the least – though I would think some people today would consider hacking and phreaking anarchy in themselves). They also eventually broke through my dry sense of humor barriers. I mean how can you read the “Dino” pranks and not absolutely be rolling on the ground laughing?? That story is priceless and worth the cost of the book in itself, even if I have read the story 100’s of times online for free.

Anyway – so I was browsing the shelves at amazon and stumbled across the book and decided I had to have it. Yes the book is basically all of their stories put into hardcopy (or ebook) format, and I will also admit that the way the stories are presented is a little bit odd as they don’t really follow any chronological order – but I have to wonder if this isn’t just more zaniness that makes the PLA so funny to begin with transcending itself into the structure of the book.

So for the uninitiated, the PLA basically consists of tricks suck as prank calls that they record and also persist at for extraordinary lengths of time, fairly basic hacking/phreaking stunts, anarchy type things such as cursing over the PA system at a store similar to Wal-Mart, and changing signs at McDonald’s so everyone who goes through the drive through gets to read them. At first those things might not seem terribly interesting for the type of people who might visit this blog – but unless you already know that you don’t dig the PLA stuff, I would at least recommend you visit their site and check it out or read some excerpts from the book. I say that because I feel like those who enjoy the dedication to the old school that this blog promotes will see some of the same dedication to more primitive pranks and stunts in the PLA – even if it isn’t *quite* as old school as what we normally talk about here. The PLA began formally in the early 90’s, and still exist today.

One other thing about PLA that has always been somewhat interesting to me is that they have never really considered themselves a “group”. I remember throughout my online history that this has always been somewhat of a source of frustration for lamers as they are always asking “can I be part of the PLA”, to which the core founders generally respond “sure, start a bbs or site for your area and tell us what you do..”. The core “group” has always been fairly small – RBCP and several friends. Everything else is simply community – not really anything organized by group activities.

I will once again caution though to not go into this book thinking you are going to read Mitnick/Poulsen level exploits of VMS or HP3000’s. Go into it understanding that voicemail hacking, prank calls, and code abuse are the order of the day. The PLA made being a k0d3z kid cool again.. 🙂

Finally – and I did not know this until I read the book; RBCP is quite the nomad. I knew he spent some time in Illinois, which I believe is where he “grew up”, but he also left home at 17 and moved to Galveston, lived in Austin, OH, OR, FL, and I believe SC as well. The thing that was even more interesting and actually raised my eyebrows was the fact that he spent a lot of time homeless – very young – and seemed to enjoy it due to the fact that his responsibilities other than finding enough food to eat and somewhere safe and hopefully warm to sleep, were none.

This takes serious balls, street smarts and maybe even a bit of insanity – which goes a long way to back some of the absolutely insane stuff that this book covers.

I have no association with PLA whatsoever other than enjoying what it represents for a long time now, and also being someone who purchased the book, but I will recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed what this blog has been put together for. I do not think you will regret the purchase.

For an excellent “one-two punch”, I suggest not only purchasing this book, but also purchasing Commodork by Rob Ohara as well – a book about growing up with a C64, bbs’s, long distance codes, and one again – a pretty big set of balls. Both books are pretty well written, easy reads, and if nothing else I applaud the authors for taking that big step and releasing novels about stuff they are passionate about.. Something I’ve been pondering and would really love to do some day.

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.: misdialing leads to tornado alarms

by on Sep.26, 2010, under Telco

Just goes to show what you might find with a little handscanning.

This article was ripped from http://www.engadget.com – an excellent gadget blog.

Sounds like fun, no? Find the super-secret phone number that triggers a citywide tornado alarm, dial it up, and watch as Hutchinson, Kansas goes berserk. That’s essentially what happened this past week, when an AT&T “software glitch” caused the security systems surrounding the tornado lines to vanish. When the system operates correctly, these sensitive phone numbers can only receive calls from three specific phones; if and when those phones call, alarms are set off to warn residents of impending danger. Due to this here “glitch,” all phone numbers were able to dial in, which led to a smattering of false alarms when locals misdialed and accidentally rang the tornado hotlines. Thankfully for everyone involved, the issues have since been fixed, but there’s been no word on whether these folks were simply trying to guess Dorothy’s unlisted digits.

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.: GameLine

by on Mar.12, 2010, under Beginnings, Hardware, OldsCool, Telco

I’m back!

As is obvious from my blog, and the forums – I am a telecom/datacomm freak (phreak?) and developed quite an interest in modems at an early age.

Well – around 1980 or so I was thumbing through a gaming magazine and I stumbled across an advertisement about a device called the “GameLine” for the Atari 2600:

The gameline allowed you to plug a cartridge into your 2600, then plug a phone line into the cartridge (which obviously was also a modem) and then download games as well as do things such as primitive email, message boards, etc.

Well obviously when I saw this I was absolutely stunned, and begged my father for it for quite some time. Unfortunately dad knew that things like this would incur long distance charges, online time, membership fees, etc as he was already doing some timesharing type computer work for his employer. In short, I never got a GameLine – nor did I ever even see one in use.

Ebay has always sort of been a fountain of youth for me in that I have been able to buy some of the things that I was never able to have yesterday and play with them – or at least worship them – today.

I had watched the Ebay auctions for the GameLine unit for quite some time starting maybe 5 years ago, but the auctions were always ending with a bid much higher than I was willing to offer. About a month ago I saw one and just for fun bid $100 – about the most I would ever offer for something that I would never actually be able to use – and what do you know? I won the auction.

The box is in good condition, and the unit and all documentation – including a certificate for some free hours which looks like it was bundled with the unit as part of a local radio station contest – are in excellent condition.

I will be adding a page to this site to dedicate to the GameLine where I will post all images, links, and information about the device for any and all to peruse. I will also be dedicating a page to another somewhat similar service for the Atari 8-bit called “Games Computers Play”, or “GCP”.

I realize that the GameLine isnt an “underground” topic – but it is an item in the history of my life that certainly led to or at least added to my desire to get into telecomputing that led me into underground computing. Additionally its another one of those items that was only in production for a very short time and then was basically forgotten until people began archiving things on the Internet.

8 Bit Underground GameLine Page

8 Bit Underground Games Computers Play Page

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.: when a stranger calls

by on Jan.25, 2010, under OldsCool, Telco

So I was trolling around on a message board (binrev) the other day and I stumbled across this picture and thought it was pretty neat.

Obviously this was placed in print around the same time that the phone company began using digital switches and gained the ability to (easily) establish caller ID of those troubled souls who did things such as make profane and prank type calls.

The thing that I really enjoy about the ad is how the phone company really tries to give the reader a sense of “we can get you”. I think it was somewhat a sign of the times; the digital age was beginning and the phone company knew that there were all kinds of ways that it was going to benefit them and they wanted the public to know about them.

This type of attitude though probably helped a lot of people continue to think that the phone company was nothing more than a money sucking, “big brother” type entity and made them fear and loathe it even more than they already did.

Something else that I find somewhat funny is that while my friends and I certainly made plenty of joke calls back in the day, I never once remember getting or hearing about anyone else getting any type of obscene phone call. I’m sure it still happens even today, but this was the kind of stuff that happened in movies, not in real life – and I grew up around a very large city.

Taking this ad even further into the context of this site, I have to ask myself – were there more people in 1970 making obscene phone calls, or more people defrauding the phone company by exposing and using loopholes that they found such as blue box control tones?

I have to answer that question and imagine that there had to have been more people abusing the phone system in ways other than prank/obscene calls that their advertising dollars would have been better spent trying to ward off those who were stealing from them rather than the 1 in 1000 people who got off by making calls to old women at midnight.

The ad then goes on and dangles some futuristic term “voice print” in front of us. As if they were taking a sample of the human voice and somehow matching that to our identity – something that not even the current day phone company could do for every customer.

Finally the reader is told that if they aren’t scared enough that they should be “because we haven’t told you everything”.

I don’t know about you, but I’m sure glad that we get to deal with the happy, sunny phone company of today rather than the “voice print” agency of 1970.

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.: review number one: phoneman for the c64/128 :.

by on Dec.30, 2009, under Apps, OldsCool, OldWarez, Telco

Well I put this blog up to be a site for those of us who are melancholy over the old school underground with an emphasis on the applications we used on 8/16 bit computers but so far I’ve not placed any of the promised reviews of those apps online.

Today that all changes, and I figured I would start things off with what I consider to be one of the best of the best of this breed of utility, Phone Man for the Commodore 64/128.

So without further delay, lets get on with review number one on 8bit underground. Please note that the actual download of this application for emulation will be provided on this sites forums which are located here.

Click here to read the review…

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.: beginnings (part two – 214/844-1234) :.

by on Nov.26, 2009, under Beginnings, OldsCool, Other, Telco

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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.

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