Telehack, ANSI window into the past
June 3, 2011 4:33 AM   Subscribe

This is how the net looked like in the beginning. The exploration of this simulation of early arpanet and bbs hosts is like a descent into a cave filled with unknown riches, much as it was at the time many people got their first modems and started discovering the proto-internet.

Many who did not have had the chance to witness the birth of the internet, either because they were too young, or because - like me - they lived in countries beyond the Iron Curtain, can now catch a glimpse of this past culture and the people who influenced it.
posted by hat_eater (66 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
 
And suddenly it's 1988. I have a 1200 baud modem, a monochrome screen and telnet prompt. I'm so wired on Mt. Dew my eyeballs are singing like dry ice on metal and I'm experiencing the strange sexual thrill of fingering the .plan files of absolute strangers on servers I probably shouldn't be on.

Oddly enough it's still 4 in the morning, the sun is rising and I can't sleep. Some things never change.
posted by loquacious at 4:42 AM on June 3, 2011 [14 favorites]


This is one of those "you know you're old if..." things, isn't it?
posted by ryanrs at 4:56 AM on June 3, 2011


1200 baud? Luxury. It was a 300 baud and the Atlanta BBS scene for me. This was even pre-FIDOnet. A few of us had discovered that one certain local company had a dialup number but had forgotten to set a password for the 'uucp' user. From there, it was ascertained that several of the actual users had forgotten to do the same, and thus it was that we used their dialout modems to check out the Hawaiian BBS scene.

To really make it work, we had to use special terminal software that emulated 80 columns on the C64. It was slow, but fun as hell.

One night we were both (my friend/mentor and I) on this company's system and I pretended to be the actual user. Using 'write', I sent him a message demanding to know who he was. He immediately disconnected. I counted 10, did the same and called him up. He was all FLEE WE ARE DISCOVERED. I let him twist for a minute and then fess'ed up. He was not amused. Anyway, every time I drive by that place (or, you know, receive a paycheck) I remember those days and grin like a chimp inside.
posted by jquinby at 5:01 AM on June 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


Hayes.... is that you, Hayes? AT? AT? Attention? Llooccaall eecchhoo......
FidoNet... Hiding $1500 phone bills from your parents...
Downloading weird discordian philosophy from California and nude girls from BBSes in Chicago, fragments from a whole world of stuff from across the Atlantic like flotsam on the beach...
Finding dedicated programs that used low-level raster programming to display JPEGs using more than the standard 16 colors... a strange, shimmering display that could take ten minutes to render
Then SLIP... so slow.... gopher and Mosaic... the CIA world factbook.
Pictures! xv. The screen flashing purple and green and poop-brown with indexed pallette changes with focus-following-mouse...
And never having to talk to a helpdesk operator because there were no helpdesks...
And besides, you knew the sysops in person...
It was the best of times... it was the worst of times.
posted by eeeeeez at 5:03 AM on June 3, 2011 [7 favorites]


This is how what the net looked like in the beginning.
This is how the net looked like in the beginning.

FTFY. T.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 5:06 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love this kind of, like, digital archeology.
posted by delmoi at 5:15 AM on June 3, 2011


Wow, nice. Needs X.25 for Altos and QSD though.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:20 AM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


May the command line live forever. eof.
posted by infini at 5:20 AM on June 3, 2011


Has anyone notice that you can't even find phones to fit an acoustic coupler these days?
posted by pompomtom at 5:25 AM on June 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


+++ ATH0
posted by Ad hominem at 5:25 AM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Even back in the early days I was considered an old guy in a kids world on BBS. There were about 5 dial-up BBS boards local to me (remember when the term "long distance" meant "lots of money"?), and the same group of 12 to 16 year old guys (girls were NOT allowed to have computers, since then we've screwed that up as well) were online constantly, trying to get past the busy signal to log in to one of them.

One evening I was dialed into a BBS run by a local computer repair company. A store front operation, one of the few places in the county to get your machine worked on. I was cruising through the usual 14 year old comments about hacking and girls, when all of a sudden someone started typing at me. Remember, back then only one person could log on at a time, and, since I was logged in, it meant that someone was at the computer running the BBS.

This was about 11 pm, the business had been closed since 5 pm. It was obvious to me, someone had broken in to the building and was playing around on the computer (I didn't say it was a smart conclusion to come to, or that it made sense, I just said it was "obvious", to me, that is, 'cuz I was no smarter back then.).

Like any good Samaritan, I did the right thing. I logged off and dialed the local police.

Back then the only computers around were in the hands of big companies and 12 year old kids. Evidently nobody at that particular police department had a clue about computers, or modems, or BBS software.

I spent the next half hour attempting to explain to a Luddite how I, being 25 miles away from that building, knew that there was someone inside. Once I explained that, I had to explain why I was logged into the computer in that building via a phone line, and why it was OK.

They finally said they would check it out. Yea! I had saved the world.

The next evening someone posted on the Total Systems Support BBS, the one I had saved from theft and destruction, that the owners 13 year old kid had been at the office with him while he worked late that night, evidently playing on the BBS computer, at least until the cops arrived.

I miss those days!

Excuse me, I have to find the floppies for the IIe.
posted by tomswift at 5:28 AM on June 3, 2011 [8 favorites]


That pretty much explains ASCII pron.
posted by bwg at 5:37 AM on June 3, 2011


First there was exploring nooks and crannies in the university computer - challenging at times but usually not rewarding. Next came dial-up BBSes - expensive when nearly every access was a toll call and the tolls were not insignificant back then, but there was booty to be found. I still have a version of Zaxxon downloaded from a BBS decades ago. Having the internet interconnect all these individual BBSes made life much easier. Now most of us carry internet access in our pockets - it's like out of the Jetsons. I still await my flying car though.
posted by caddis at 5:38 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, today /b/ is telling our children that their "Low Orbit Ion Cannon" program, written in C# and pretty much designed to do nothing but contribute to a DDOS, is "hacking."
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:48 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can't believe you guys paid for long distance calls, didn't you guys have codez?
posted by Ad hominem at 5:48 AM on June 3, 2011


Meanwhile, today /b/ is telling our children that their "Low Orbit Ion Cannon" program, written in C# and pretty much designed to do nothing but contribute to a DDOS, is "hacking."
Hacking is getting pre-teens to run your DDoS on their own machines.
posted by delmoi at 5:54 AM on June 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


1200 baud? Luxury.

Heh. Actually, I lied because I didn't want to tease you with the modem I was actually using, because it's kind of hard to explain how I had such a fast modem at such an early stage.

The first computer I personally owned was an NEC 4800, which is basically the same thing as a Tandy TRS-80 Model 200. The TRS-80 Model 200 is just the Tandy rebrand of the NEC. It's a clamshell "laptop" with a 40x24 black and white LCD screen without a backlight. It's a glorified calculator with 32k of RAM and a keyboard running a stripped down menu-interface version of CP/M. It's a computer that would run for hours and days on end on a fresh set of C-cell batteries. No disk drive, no hard drive. The OS is stored in ROM. Not re-writable EEPROM, just plain old ROM.

In a very real sense it's the precursor to a netbook. I bought it from the DAK surplus electronics catalog for $300, which at the time was still a bargain for a piece of kit like that. Took me working my ass off all summer to earn enough for it.

But what it did have is a built in 300 baud modem and a terminal program. And a real serial port. I spent a lot of time at 300 baud. It was fine for text and chats.

Around 1986 or 1987 my step dad was working for [Major Aircraft Company] as a network engineer. In what was one of the only nice, generous things I think he ever did he brought home a modem and just gave it to me, instead of trying to "sell" it to me so he could get my allowance money back.

Turns out it was some kind of industrial strength Racal-Vadic network modem that could run up to 19,200 baud. Even better is how it seemed to tap into unusual handshake modes when I dialed up other modems. I could direct connect to a friend's 2400 baud modem and sometimes it would actually connect at 4800 or 9600 baud depending on line quality. Most 14.4 modems (when they came available) would connect at 19.2. Without compression. This was long before modem compression actually worked. That thing was awesome. I'd get messages from sysops all the time asking things like "Ok. How did you do that? You're connected at 9600 but the fastest modem in my pool is a 2400."

Keep in mind that at the time an external 9600 baud modem would cost somewhere around $800-1000 USD in 1988 dollars, especially if it was a genuine Hayes. 14.4k modems weren't even available to consumers yet.

Granted the modem was half the size of my rather chunky "laptop", but that didn't stop me from taping it to the lid with a battery pack so I could use it on the go. I was basically doing the same thing I do now with text, networks and mobile computers and I was doing things like making a phone patch cable with alligator clips on one end so I could "beige box and clip into exposed phone punch down boards at school and make free calls to BBSes. While I was at school. Or goofing off at the mall and exploring the access halls behind the stores.

I was checking my BBS "email" and even hitting up telnet through a public dialup pool for a local university from public school in 1988. In retrospect I'm guessing I was unofficially the first person to ever use the actual internet from a public (non university/college) school campus in my entire county, something like 5-10 years early.

I also learned with the right serial cable I could tap into my high school's x.25 serial network and access pretty much anything on the district net, including viewing transcripts and changing grades, but that actually scared me so much and I was so surprised there was zero security I never did anything with it. Plus the most convenient cable-end to plug into happened to be in the waiting area for the school guidance counselors, it, well, it was really awkward trying to explain why I had a portable computer at school in 1988 and what exactly was I doing with that cable?

Yeah, be jealous. My family wasn't at all rich or anything, but I have a long history of lucking out with getting my hands on technology fairly early.
posted by loquacious at 6:03 AM on June 3, 2011 [24 favorites]


codez? no
cracker jack whistles? some folks.
posted by caddis at 6:04 AM on June 3, 2011


Anybody here from Ripco in chi? Just wondering...
posted by hal_c_on at 6:05 AM on June 3, 2011


cracker jack whistles? some folks.

Blue boxes didn't work near me. I'm pretty sure that kind of signaling went out-of-band when all the COs moved to ESS.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:10 AM on June 3, 2011


I bought it from the DAK surplus electronics catalog

A winner is you, sir. I haven't thought about the DAK catalog in years.

(relights corncob pipe, rocks meditatively)
posted by jquinby at 6:11 AM on June 3, 2011


I was charmed to discover that ZigBee's wireless 802.15.4 modules still use a variant of the old Hayes command set. This stuff is deep in our DNA.

I still consider finger my generation's facebook.
posted by phooky at 6:13 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


After Hours BBS in Austin.

I wish I knew what happened to sine nomine.
posted by swift at 6:18 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


300 baud? We had a 110 baud actual teletype. And we liked it!
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:19 AM on June 3, 2011


tomswift: I spent the next half hour attempting to explain to a Luddite how I, being 25 miles away from that building, knew that there was someone inside. Once I explained that, I had to explain why I was logged into the computer in that building via a phone line, and why it was OK.

Tom Swift and his Analog Packet Sniffer: an eponysterical tale of retrofuturistic technology.

"How do know they're using 1970s technology?", the desk sergeant wanted to know.

"From the transfer rate," was Tom's baudy response.
posted by Herodios at 6:24 AM on June 3, 2011 [7 favorites]


Wow, I just learned that the slow, dinky little processor in my CP/M laptop was the same processor used on the Mars Rover Sojourner.

I never knew that. No wonder those pre-laptop computers were so popular with field reporters and scientists and such. They were really bulletproof. Mine never crashed. In fact I'm not sure if it even had a reset button.
posted by loquacious at 6:26 AM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


For some reason, the memory that pops up when these topics are discussed is that my parents didn't have a touchtone phone, so tone dialing didn't work. Somehow I figured out how to use pulse dialing with the modem, which opened up the BBS world. Then, later, when my parents took my phone away for racking up huge bills, I manually pulse-dialed my friends by using the hangup button on the answering machine.

I think I remember that so fondly because it must mean that I had actual problem-solving skills before Google.
posted by cabingirl at 6:47 AM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


tomswift: I spent the next half hour attempting to explain to a Luddite how I, being 25 miles away from that building, knew that there was someone inside. Once I explained that, I had to explain why I was logged into the computer in that building via a phone line, and why it was OK.

You've just reminded me of something I did in the late 90's -- I frequented some goofy Yahoo message boards, including ones having to do with vampires (it got fun watching some of the I-am-Lestat-childe-of-the-netherworld posturing that happened in there), and one day saw a few posts that were clearly made by a guy with a grudge. He was claiming to be a doctor in Virginia, and going on and on about how [s]he tortured kittens for their essence or whateverthefuck every night. He provided the address of the doctor's practice in each one. Then in another post I saw a second address whch [s]he claimed was a home address, and I got spooked and called the doctor to warn her that some freak was impersonating her. Fortunately, it turned out that the "home address" was a second office, but the receptionist thanked me for alerting them to the goings-on nevertheless.

Then, about a week later, I got a call from some guy who worked with the FBI in Virginia; the doctor had filed a complaint, and he was investigating. Since I'd been the one to alert them, he wanted to take a statement from me -- and find what I'd seen. The only problem was -- he had only a rudimentary understanding of computers. I offered to email him links to the passages, but he didn't have email. He did, however, have access to his kid's computer which had AOL. So how could he find his way to these messages to see them?

I had to explain to him what a URL was, what a message board was, why a message board was different from email, why the World Wide Web was different from AOL, and why Netscape was different from AOL. I think I finally got him to open up a browser and I painstakingly spelled out the complete URL of each message for him to type out on his end.

Yeah. And this guy was with the FBI.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:48 AM on June 3, 2011 [7 favorites]


@quonsar II: Thanks, that's what I meant. I mean, one or the other. Both, actually. Allright, you two, stop fooling around or I'm typing with my nose!

Actually, despite living in the eastern part of central Europe, I had a 1200 baud modem since 1988 and used to connect to the local bbs systems - all three of them. Dialing other cities was an adventure, dialing out of country - virtually impossible (to reach some Western countries, the connection had to be arranged beforehand talking to actual live operator) and prohibitively expensive. Going beyond 300 bps was possible only during the night hours, when the phone activity was low and there was less noise in the still mostly electromechanical system.

All the active users knew each other. Nevertheless, that's where I took part in my first flame war (Atari vs Amiga) and was trolled for the first time - although these terms did not exist at the time.
posted by hat_eater at 6:54 AM on June 3, 2011


Is this something I would need to have a computer to understand?
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:01 AM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


even hitting up telnet through a public dialup pool for a local university from public school in 1988

Yeah I dialed into a local university too. You could only telnet so it was a bitch to get a shell. Most hosts at MIT had guest access so I would log in to hosts at MIT as guest and look through /etc/hosts to find new machines that might have guest access or anonymous FTP.This was before bind so the host files had thousands of hosts so I spent hours connecting to random anonymous ftp sites this way. I didn't understand the relationship between IPs and host names, one day I found out the protocol was called TCP/IP so I went to the bookstore and looked through every networking book I could find, they were almost all Netware books. Then I found TCP/IP illustrated and the rest is history.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:08 AM on June 3, 2011


In case anyone missed it from the Telehack page...
Quick Fun
---------

Type STARWARS to view the pinnacle of ASCII-mation, a full-length rendition
of Star Wars in ASCII.

Typing JOKE will display a joke randomly selection from a massive unified
historical arpanet/caltech joke database.
posted by slogger at 7:29 AM on June 3, 2011


I remember writing this massively complicated pro wrestling league management program to run on whatever goddam language our local BBS was using back when I was in high school. I don't remember the language, I don't remember the BBS. I just remember that I seemed to be so much smarter back then than I am now. And I'm an IT professional. If only I could get my 16 year old self to work for me here - everything would be awesome.
posted by charred husk at 7:35 AM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Thanks for making me feel young, MetaFilter. My 'net youth was having a computer (a 386) that was the slow point for internet access, not our modem at the time; my group of friends talking about how awesome it would be to get shotgun modems; and when my parents finally got a second line set up so my brother and I would no longer tie up the phone.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:51 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Use this with Cathode for the full effect.
posted by mrbill at 8:05 AM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


I was able to dial into a local university Unix server from our Mac LC at around age 10, and browse the web with Lynx. I remember how mysterious it was...typing "ls" seemed like some kind of magic incantation. My parents would read in the newspaper about this "Internet" thing, and I'd have to explain it to them. I even wrote a few basic programs, and made my own Web site.

Unfortunately the modern Internet took off shortly after. The university discontinued dial-in access, and we got a commercial ISP. That meant there was 5 or 6 years when I didn't have access to a real computer (with a command line and a compiler). As soon as I had any money I built a Linux box and haven't looked back.

I do wonder whether younger people will get as enthralled with programming as I did, now that it's not nearly so mysterious and occult.

Also: for some reason, I have a NEC 4800 in like-new condition in a box in my basement.
posted by miyabo at 8:16 AM on June 3, 2011


I do wonder whether younger people will get as enthralled with programming as I did, now that it's not nearly so mysterious and occult.

Have you tried to use processing yet? That shit is like voodoo to me.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 8:28 AM on June 3, 2011


Been there. The rubber-cupped telephone cradling 300 baud modem was like a gift from the gods in 1982. Telnetting to all sorts of weird places in the dead of night. BBSing (like a boss) to find proto-FAQs about dark & mysterious unspoken practices. Typing in BASIC programs from paper and altering the Wumpus code on the fly.

*sigh*

You kids get off my ASCII lawn.
posted by Aquaman at 8:39 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


mrbill: I just noticed that the 'Ambience' slider in Cathode's preference, when it's pegged to the right, shows a reflection of some airport gate lobby... it takes some squinting.

I just love the fact that Cathode exists!
posted by Jubal Kessler at 8:43 AM on June 3, 2011


I remember writing this massively complicated pro wrestling league management program to run on whatever goddam language our local BBS was using back when I was in high school. I don't remember the language, I don't remember the BBS.

High school, of course, was a nightmare for me. However, the saving grace was some class called Computer Instruction. Other than I actually attended class and it set the direction for the rest of my life I remember very little about the specifics of of the course.

What I do remember about those computers is they were connected to a Very Large Network, a gift from the right-next-door Honeywell Plant. On this Very Large Network was something to do with a department store called Maas Brothers. Something to do with credit card applications accounts approval. Something about not getting actual credit cards but theoretically walking into the store with information on a piece of paper that allowed people, hypothetically speaking students, to make purchases. Of clothing, or shoes, or, say, gold jewelry.

And why I don't remember now much of the details I do remember the police showing up while I was on the terminal and my shutting off the computer. And then some questioning.

Since I had nothing to do with any of it I admitted to them I had no idea what they were talking about. And then they looked at me really strangely. Really intensely. For long, curiously hot moment.

Years later, a whole lot wiser and happy for a decision I made much earlier in life (high school, sophomore year, 1980?) to "always you powers for good never for evil", I know what the look meant the officers were then giving that young, young me.

It meant, "Kid, we know it was you. We know you did it. We know you are lying. But we just don't know exactly what you did, or how you did it, or even how we would charge you. So this one? It's a freebie."
posted by Mike Mongo at 9:20 AM on June 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


ASCII? ASCII is luxury. ASCII has contiguous numbering for all the alphabetic codes; in ASCII, 'z' - 'a' = 25. In a real man's character coding, 'z' - 'a' = 40, 'j' - 'i' = 8, and '0' > 'Z' > 'z'.

First real computer I ever played with was the shiny new FACOM M160F at the Swinburne Institute of Technology. That machine is basically the reason I dropped out of my engineering course; I spent too much time fartarsing about with the computer and nowhere near enough attending to the curriculum.

Engineering students were supposed to do all our programming in FORTRAN. And we were supposed to do it on coding forms, which we would hand over the counter at the I/O centre to get punched onto 80 column IBM-format punch cards and run through the reader; the next day we'd get back a card deck and a printout. I still have a couple of those in my bottom drawer.

There were, if I remember correctly, all of six timeshared video display terminals for the entire engineering student body. So my mate and I used to go over to the Business Studies building, which had a room with about a dozen - and they were the good ones, Teleray terminals like the one in the picture, with a cursor you could actually steer around the screen by issuing the right escape codes. No screen editor was available though; just the same line-oriented editor that worked on the truly dumb terminals over in Engineering. All the terminals connected back to the mainframe via 2400 baud RS-232.

The college also had a PDP-11 running RSTS/E, and it had terminals that ran at a truly staggering 9600 baud via current loop. First-year engineering students were not given accounts on this computer, so I never learned much DEC BASIC.

I used to spend hours in the library watching FACOM instructional videos (on U-matic cassettes - none of your modern VHS nonsense, thank you) and eventually got the hang of the job card format, and learned enough of the FACOM macro (shell) language to write some handy scripts in it. First-year engineering students were given interactive logon rights, but our accounts were really limited - if I remember correctly there were only a handful of files (sorry, "data sets") that survived the regular Friday purge: FORT1.FORT, FORT2.FORT, BASIC.BASIC, DATA1 and DATA2 are the ones I remember. There were no such things as subdirectories on the FACOM, but you could create a file as a "partitioned data set" and store multiple subfiles inside it; functionally a rough equivalent to an archive file. So I wrote a script that I'd run (by hand) every Friday, to take all the files I'd created that week and stuff them into DATA1 which I'd turned into a PDS; on Monday I ran another script to pull them all out again. But there was also a hard limit on space allocated to us, and it chafed.

Eventually, one of us worked out how to put FACOM macro script into a card deck where a FORTRAN program would usually go, and submit it just like any other job. And my mate put in a script containing a DIR command, and found that the files he saw were not his, and that one of them was called PASSWORD. So he submitted a script to print out the contents, and lo and behold: we had a printout of every logon username and password on the system. Turns out that the card processing was all being run under a user account called TMP, and TMP had full system administrative rights.

One of the accounts near the top of that list was A33XSTR. We went over to the business building, logged on as A33XSTR and had a bit of a poke around. It had masses of files in it, most of which we could not make heads or tails of. There were also some user account creation and maintenance scripts in there, among other things; taking these apart greatly improved my macro scripting competence. And it looked like it might be a useful place to sock away copies of our DATA files on a Friday, so I modified my script to do that. It worked, and there appeared to be no size limit either. Good stuff, thought we.

A33XSTR also gave us access to a Pascal compiler, so we taught ourselves Pascal. Both of us liked it rather better than FORTRAN.

All good things must come to an end... one day I was happily logged on as A33XSTR and debugging some Pascal thing on a business terminal I had no right to be using, and I got a literal tap on the shoulder from the college sysadmin. My mate and I got hauled up before the Dean, who demanded to know what the hell we thought we were doing messing about in the central admin account where all the student records were kept.

Neither the Dean nor the sysadmin believed we were anywhere near as naive as we appeared to be and in fact were. Neither of us had ever really contemplated the idea that computer security was a Thing - we'd come to the FACOM via messing about with various Commodore PET and Exidy Sorcerer personal computers on display in shops, and we pictured the FACOM as much the same kind of beast only bigger. We had been told when we were first given our student logons that there were "walls" around our accounts to stop us "having trouble", but neither of us had been having trouble after figuring out how to climb those walls - just fun!. But Jesus, we were close to getting expelled that day. It was only later that it dawned on us then that had we been a little savvier, and a little more cautious, we could probably have awarded ourselves a couple of degrees :-)
posted by flabdablet at 10:01 AM on June 3, 2011 [7 favorites]


I remember Roboterm blowing my socks off. You could use the mouse! and it had 8k colours!!!
posted by joelf at 11:23 AM on June 3, 2011


real man's character coding
Yeah, you could tell ASCII was on the way out when IBM dropped the ASCII bit from the PSW in 1970.

special terminal software that emulated 80 columns on the C64
DesTerm?? That's what I used to surf the net on my Commodore. Nice program. I kept meaning to send him a check.
posted by MtDewd at 11:31 AM on June 3, 2011


y'all have typed 'quest', right?
@quest

QUEST

Hacker Quest Challenge 1.14
maintained and adjudicated by -=[ DarkNet / Continuity ]=-

Preparing your challenge..........done

Your challenge is:

Hack your way to the host: REDACTED
The host contains this file: REDACTED
Read this file and it will give you further instructions.

Good luck!
Shit gets crazy from there...
posted by togdon at 11:32 AM on June 3, 2011


Is this where we talk about how old we are and how we had to code using "1s" and "0s" and when we ran out of those we had to use lower case "Ls"" and capital "Os"? On that note I can't believe there's a Wikipedia stub on Recomp II, my first (and frankly only) language. Float, clear and add, bitchez!
posted by Standeck at 11:34 AM on June 3, 2011


I guess I'm more silver age, as my first modem was 2400 bps and used to log on to WWIV BBSes. In the 90s I remember how the handshake kept getting longer every time I upgraded (28.8, then 56k).
posted by linux at 11:41 AM on June 3, 2011


Damn, togdon -- now I'm going to be stuck figuring that out. I'd already figured they've got an ancient topography model going on with lots of neat places simulated: now I've actually got to NAVIGATE there? Shiiihhh. Sounds like I need some 21st century scripting...

I almost 'talked' waxypancake who is also on now but the system I'm avoiding working on right now uses 'talk' and we avoid it because it suuuuuuucks.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 12:01 PM on June 3, 2011


Wow, I don't know how to do anything on this. I started with an Apple PowerMac Performa, if that gives you an idea where I started.

I had the World Wide Web at 56k.
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:57 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, a simulated ancient series of BBS/Usenet/ARPANET and no mention of Digital: A Love Story?

I found it much more accessible, if not nearly as accurate or huge. It's an adventure game that takes place entirely from the interface of a pseudo-Amiga.
posted by mccarty.tim at 1:18 PM on June 3, 2011


I'm going to interrupt this thread to allow you to recall the excitement you felt, while lying in bed and reading a book, when your modem suddenly broadcast the squeal of a 2400 baud handshake after having redialed your favorite board for the last 45 minutes.
posted by eschatfische at 1:20 PM on June 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


This is cool. It also reminds me that it has been almost 20 years since I have had to suffer with dialup access. Dialup access was so terrible. It took 10 minutes just to download one single low quality pixelated boobage. How far we have come, internet!

Things were better when you had to access through a shell account though. Kept the riff-raff out you know? Now pass me some Metamucil and put on Matlock.
posted by Justinian at 1:21 PM on June 3, 2011


Oh my…

"zrun"

So… I know what my Friday night is going to be like. :-]
posted by zuhl at 1:21 PM on June 3, 2011


25 years later and I've still got 292-3124 and 292-3112 taking up valuable memory space. Last two digits were the baud rate. I was lucky enough to be allocated a 2400-baud acoustic coupler, so I never learned the number for 300 baud. OTOH, the guy I knew with a 300-baud modem could use AT-command dialing, I had to use a rotary phone which was NO FUN AT ALL when the modem pool was busy and you were re-dialing for an open slot for 20 minutes.

Yeah, yeah, get off my lawn...
posted by Runes at 2:49 PM on June 3, 2011


I was very involved in the Fairfield Country Connecticut BBS scene in the early to mid 1980's. It was kind of awesome, but I'm trying to think about how I discovered that BBS existed. It must have been through hacked software. Which raises the question "where did I get hacked software?" This, I can't recall for the life of me. I do remember having a copy of The Anarchists Cookbook (printed out on computer paper) but I also don't remember where that came from and found most of it beyond my understanding. I was like a sophomore in high school though, so what did I know?

Simultaneously, I was involved with The Source, which was more like a 300-1200 baud dial-up version of the Internet, except with about the same amount of resources as The Innernette. This was where I learned you could flirt with girls who were fellow fans of the band X in New Jersey even if you lived in Connecticut. The world was a little better from then on.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:37 PM on June 3, 2011


I was very involved in the Fairfield Country Connecticut BBS scene in the early to mid 1980's.

You ever get on Gumby's D-Dial?
posted by Justinian at 4:08 PM on June 3, 2011


Ah, Usenet.

It was a little over 20 years ago that a 12-year-old internet debutante took on all of rec.arts.startrek in defense of her beloved Wesley.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:34 PM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also: for some reason, I have a NEC 4800 in like-new condition in a box in my basement.

You have what in your basement!? Are you serious? Would you like to give it to a good home? I'll trade you some art for it or something. I honestly can't justify paying anything for it - I need a job, badly. But I have a bunch of art cards and random stuff like that I could barter.

Man, I cant even find a picture of that computer online. I'd even do an "unboxing" with photos and such. I only barely remember what it actually looks like compared to the TRS-80 200, but I remember it was much nicer looking and generally better designed. It had a nice keyboard. I could even see myself actively using it as a portable typewriter just so I couldn't get online.
posted by loquacious at 10:39 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


thanks for posting this, and all the stories.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:52 PM on June 3, 2011


My alma mater wouldn't provide remote internet access until I was a senior -- but we did get free dial-up access to the library system, which allowed you to access a lynx browser.

They didn't trap SIGTSTP, so during a lynx session I was able to Ctrl-Z into a shell and get a PPP binary uploaded which became my handy-dandy personal dialup internet for awhile. Good times!
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:59 AM on June 4, 2011


After dropping out of engineering, I went and did this for money, and later this for fun.
posted by flabdablet at 4:23 AM on June 4, 2011


Turns out it was some kind of industrial strength Racal-Vadic network modem that could run up to 19,200 baud. Even better is how it seemed to tap into unusual handshake modes when I dialed up other modems. I could direct connect to a friend's 2400 baud modem and sometimes it would actually connect at 4800 or 9600 baud depending on line quality. Most 14.4 modems (when they came available) would connect at 19.2. Without compression. This was long before modem compression actually worked. That thing was awesome. I'd get messages from sysops all the time asking things like "Ok. How did you do that? You're connected at 9600 but the fastest modem in my pool is a 2400."
I knew of a girl who went to my highschool and had broad-band internet at home using something like WiFi in like 1997. Of course she just called it 'wireless ethernet' and unlike WiFi it the range was large enough to connect her house to the local university. Oh, and I read this all on her web page, using my 14.4 baud modem (or maybe I'd gotten a 33.6 at that point)
posted by delmoi at 9:27 AM on June 4, 2011


Pfft, the backspace key worked without an hour of tweaking. Lousy simulation.
posted by jewzilla at 11:05 AM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, like, many hours spent later:

An interesting hack. Its perl based (including the z-code interpreter!) and ~kinda~ mimics existing setups. Its hard to say how many of the logins are from real systems and how many are just mockups based on "well its HP-UXish". Anyone going 'quest'ing should know that past it requiring you to use 'porthack' and figuring out how to use PTYMON it doesn't have much utility. Repeating quests right now doesn't do anything that grinding out porthack sessions wouldn't.

There are a number of achievements to get: a number by just grinding but there are couple of valuable targets that will require some puzzling (how to get root on WOPR). fingering other uses is the best way to see all the achievements. Executables largely do nothing: the hackerish ones suggest that there may some day be a use for the 'acct' information but otherwise are kind of lame. Some .exe's will provide animations.

LOTS of games out there from The Old Day but kind of hard to find much without 'archie'. I figure most of this stuff has been culled from the 'net (phrack especially) so is likely out there, but a nice simulation. An interesting amount of usage right now from the Ukraine and the Russian Federation. A neat project -- I'd love to learn more about it and the code. This link suggests there used to be SYSCON points that aren't available now: one guy on chat last night allegedly walked through it with SYSCON looking for the missing breakpoints to see if they'd been relocated but nothing there that you can't get to by other means. This guy had lots of interesting ideas on the theme.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 10:15 AM on June 6, 2011


god, I miss the old days, back before canter & siegel, before AOL, before Netscape, before the whole thing went mainstream and the real world came flooding in and started expecting the 'net to play by real-world rules.

There was a sense of freedom back then, of possibility; we weren't so much changing the world as we were creating a whole new one. These days it seems like the Real World is busier changing the 'net than the other way 'round; the whole game is owned by big-money corporations and all the changes are in the direction of more control, less freedom, narrower possibilities.

We have more bandwidth than anyone knows what to do with, but the cops are watching, future employers are watching, the big media companies are watching, the lawyers are swarming; you can't do anything truly awesome or revolutionary unless you have an army of your own lawyers ready to fight back. You have to play the real-world money game on the 'net now too; the 'net is no longer a haven from all the ancient bullshit.

I like to imagine sometimes that there's a new world analogue to BBSes out there somewhere, some new 'net, secret and hidden, and I'm just not cool enough to know about it. But I don't really think so; I don't think there's anywhere, anymore, that's really out of reach.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:48 AM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like to imagine sometimes that there's a new world analogue to BBSes out there somewhere, some new 'net, secret and hidden, and I'm just not cool enough to know about it. But I don't really think so; I don't think there's anywhere, anymore, that's really out of reach.

Well, there's the so-called Deep Web and it's various hidey-holes.

I've spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out what the modern-day equivalent to the modem/BBS/pre-WWW internet is, and I haven't managed to come up with an answer that satisfies me. The technology that many of us oldsters (40+) had to figure out on our own is pretty and polished today for all practical purposes.

Most days I think it's the Maker movement, and a return to hardware homebrewing. Other days I imagine that some ad-hoc network thing will emerge - built on something we take for granted today, or through some perversion of a future workday technology that looks pretty harmless at first. Perhaps it'll exist alongside what's already there, except just as uncontrollable and open as the older net used to be.
posted by jquinby at 11:57 AM on June 6, 2011


And there's Freenet.
posted by flabdablet at 8:39 PM on June 6, 2011


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