8 Bit Underground

OldsCool

.: 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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.: talk hard

by on Mar.05, 2011, under Fiction, OldsCool

So it was 1990 or so and I hadn’t been out of high school too terribly long. I was definitely still a “kid” in my own mind and was also still very much infected with the bbs/h/p/warez bug.

I don’t really remember if I saw it immediately after it came out or if a little time passed, but I remember seeing the commercial for Pump Up The Volume and absolutely FREAKING.

First of all, I thought Christian Slater was a pretty good actor – but I remember the commercial showing him in his room, it was all dark and he had radios and gadgets and stuff all around. I really “got” that because that was sort of the way I always tried to keep my own room set up.

So we watch the movie and we see that its something a little different than most movies of teenage angst. As a matter of fact, the take on the movie was quite a bit different an approach than I have seen since either. We have an outcast who is new town.. Not just new in town but new in the environment as well as he came from “back east” and was now living in Arizona. Talk about a huge shock to the system right there if nothing else.

So our character Mark had been a ham radio guy “back east”. Unfortunately his setup wont reach his friends, so through a little hacker motivation, Mark figures out that he can create a pirate radio station and begins broadcasting music, as well as commentary and even takes phone calls from others and reads letters that get sent to his PO Box.

He is a loner, and while they didn’t really portray him to be much of a geek in the movie, he obviously had some geek skillz right? What to be running a pirate radio station and all.

Suddenly once people start hearing his show, he starts getting some more serious phone calls (which he was routing through his neighbors yard shed heheh!!) one ends up being a suicide and now Mark (our character) is somewhat involved indirectly with this suicide.

So from there he meets the “eat me beat me” lady which is a fairly hot dark haired actress who we are eventually treated to without her shirt on and the dialogue from that point forward mainly revolves around Mark thinking that “this has gotten too big.. I gotta quit..” and “Nora” telling him that it is his responsibility NOT to quit now – that too many people were counting on the show and that it had become something bigger than just a hobby in a  new town.

It is at this point that we go from a pretty cool movie to something a little more silly. Even at my young age in 1990 it was a bit silly.

So Mark and Nora decide that they’re going to do one last broadcast while the FCC is out searching for Mark to shut his show down for good and (we assume) take him to jail.

So they steal his mom’s jeep and mobilize the radio station and off they go with helicopters and FCC triangulation vans all trying to “catch” them. They even go off road a little bit – but all of this is in vain.

In the end, Nora holds a broken connection in her hands – stating she can “fix this” as she sort of presses the ends together. But Mark knows that there is no need anymore as he stands up – looking over the valley of high school students, police, FCC commissioner, etc..

He has a mic, and begins rolling with some banter about the airwaves are free and whatever you feel you should take them and share your feelings on the air.

I think the thing about this movie that touches me more than the sort of “identifying” I could use to compare my own high school years with Mark’s in some ways is the fact that we were just on the cusp of entering into a new age. An age where not only geeks like me and so many of you engaged in online communication – but where grandmothers, dog catchers, harley riders, and whoever else wanted to have an online presence to “express themselves” could absolutely do so – and as it turns out, eventually do so quite easily.

And now, as we have debate of net neutrality, the whole thought of big brother comes knocking at the door once again, and we may have a total “comes around again” situation on our hands very soon.

So yes indeed.. Talk Hard, Steal the Air… And lets wait and see what the next evolution in the ever continuing saga of communications will bring us.

For anyone who cares – I would rate the movie probably 6.5 or 7 on a 10 scale.. Acting was actually pretty decent mostly – but as I mentioned the story seemed to disintegrate about 3/4 of the way through. I have been meaning to see if this was ever done as a novel. If so I will post about it once read.

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.: 8-bit underground forums are back!

by on Mar.04, 2011, under OldsCool

Yes, you read that correctly. I have decided to reopen and restructure the forums. They will contain fewer sections in the actual underground topics, and maybe a few more sections in the general areas.

As I believe I mentioned in the last post, I will be coming up with a new way to update and link the software that I am cataloging. Still trying to figure out the best way to do this.

Anyways – I should be adding another relevant post to the blog later this weekend so keep your eyes peeled.

Finally, I am offering a bounty for several OLD pieces of software. If you have them, let me know and you can make some coin.

  • CodeSuck – Atari 8-bit Codehacker
  • TransPhor – by Brew Associates and Phortune 500 (AE Style BBS software)
  • Fone Conspiracy BBS Software
  • Genesis PC and Genesis Deluxe BBS Software (and code if possible)
  • Happy Hacker – Atari phone tone program

There are likely more – but those come to mind first. Really just about any hacker or phreaker type apps for either the Atari 8-bit or the Atari ST would generate a bounty – though I will be honest that its TransPhor that I want more than anything else..

Check back later for a newer post.

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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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.: iWoz

by on Feb.15, 2010, under Hardware, Non-Fiction, OldsCool

Well so it’s pretty much the same as anything that I get involved and interested over – life gets in the way and things get placed on the back burner to cool. Yet while the pot was sitting there congealing, 8 Bit Underground was on my mind the entire time as I worked on this and that which was required of “the real world” for the past week or two.

Now then – on to something relevant.

I read quite a bit. About 10 percent of the books I read I enjoy, and about 1 percent I would recommend to someone else. iWoz by Steven Wozniak is one of those books that falls into the 1% category, and initially I thought it was going to fall into that 90% category of which I don’t like.

Wozniak obviously wrote most of the book, or – his editor totally sucks. The prose is rough, and the writing mistakes for a book that were made are probably trumped only by the mistakes that you might find in this blog. 🙂

But those things aside, it was Wozniak’s somewhat self righteousness that I didn’t like. He is pompous and full of himself, and that draws out very well in the text. As I read on though, I began thinking about who this person is that I am reading about. This is Steve Wozniak – co founder of Apple and the engineering genius behind a machine that pretty much set the stage for everything that I love – and everything that this blog is about.

To add a little sauce, we have an entire chapter – really a little more than a chapter – dedicated solely to phreaking. Most of it is about Woz and Jobs blue boxing exploits, but there are some other morsels there as well.

I am about halfway through with the book now and I am just getting to the part where Jobs is working at Atari under the Bushnell regime and Wozniak is being asked to come down and code Breakout. By this point I am taking the book, and the man – for what they are and I am enjoying the thing.

If anyone would like the book, drop me a private message on the forums (or here) and I will be happy to send it to you when I’m done with it – free.

I will not plug many things here – and certainly not many “modern day” things – but I think the book is a good read for most of the audience that visits this site. Pick it up – or be the first to tell me you want it.

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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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.: a 300 baud Christmas :.

by on Dec.24, 2009, under BBS, OldsCool, Other

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 not him. No, he sat in his bedroom, the dull glow of the nineteen inch TV screen casting long shadows as he took another gulp from his two liter bottle of Coke.

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.

Click here to read more…

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

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

3VandeGraaff_mainimage

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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