8 Bit Underground

Tag: the 80’s


.: 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. ūüôā

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 Рit 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 Рpossibly due to someone else in the household needing to use the only phone we had, and sometimes the calls would stretch into the night Рeven 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 Рthe 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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.: this is radio clash on pirate satellite :.

by on Nov.18, 2009, under Other

wargames_ver1

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.

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