The best thing about a big house was that my wife and I could keep all our toys downstairs. That left us blissfully ignorant of the mess a constant flow of teenagers created upstairs. But it was getting close to the holidays and it fell to me to make that long climb to assess the damage.
I found Chris in the game room on the PC. He was surrounded by the usual assortment of plates and glasses, but on the whole the room and its assorted tech gadgets were faring pretty well. In the midst of giving him a hug I noticed a curious screen on the PC.
“What are you up to?” I queried.
“Nothing much. Searching for a song on Napster. I know how it goes but I don’t know the name. It’s frustrating,” he replied.
Out loud I said, “Gee, I’ve heard of Napster but I’ve never used it. Can you show me what your doing?”
But inside my fire roared, “Fuck, Fuck, Fuck, FUCK!!!” I’d let my son wander into a mind field not even knowing there was a fucking war!!!
Shortly before the dot com crash I went to a random technology seminar. I don’t remember anything about the gathering except the clarity of a single question:
Take as a given Moore’s law. Processing power doubles every 18 months. More recently, hard disk technology has been doubling every 12 months. Now, networking technology is poised to start making the same kinds of gains.
So consider the future. Compared to our current technology, the future will have infinite processing, infinite storage and infinite bandwidth. What does that mean? What would you do with it?
Whatever that is… *IS* the future.
I kept the kids deliberately oblivious to the war. I never told them of my trials and tribulations. To them it would just be ancient history. And there never seemed to be any point.
In the suburbs, you don’t take needless chances with your children. You don’t brag about skipping school or going drinking with your friends. You don’t wax poetic about marijuana or promiscuity. And you certainly don’t drone on about pirates, war dialing entire phone exchanges or using WATS lines and PBXs to obfuscate exploration into random computer systems with lax security. You just keep your mouth shut and act like a responsible dad.
My kids had unlimited access to computers from before they could walk. I made sure of it. If there was an educational program I bought it. If I found an interesting game I taught them to play it with their friends. When they started school Janet and I took every opportunity to work the computer into their education.
All three enjoyed computers but I don’t think they ever saw them as anything magical. They were children of software engineers. Computers, scanners, printers and modems lay strewn about the house like any other tool or toy. I imagine a carpenter’s children feel the same way about power saws, air-hammers and drill presses. They could fire up the computer, TV, stereo, or microwave with equal facility when appropriate. I held on to my old computers and disks for years thinking one day I’d teach them my history and they’d feel all the magic and wonder that I did.
I just want to say thank you to everyone for the inspiring comments! I never considered I would be read outside the family.
I’m posting from my phone during fathers day with my family. But i really wanted to say I’m grateful for all your kind words!
Well, my original goal was to try and write ten interesting things. Nine (questionably) interesting things later and I haven’t even finished the backstory. So much for brevity!
Still, I’m not entirely unhappy with my progress. The words are starting to flow faster even if there are more than I expect. The process is still excruciatingly painful but I’m whining less. Maybe I’ll get the hang of it after all.
The series as a whole is intended to explain my various interests and campaigns throughout the copyright war. Most of you know I have an obsessive fascination with the subject. Some of you have even suffered torturous longwinded explanations of why. These posts will allow me to spare the rest of you. Do I hear a hallelujah? Now maybe I’ll start getting invited to cocktail parties again.
At this moment I’m planning to continue the series past 10. At least until I’ve documented a few of the fun anecdotes and novel technologies that constituted my past decade. You know, the things I want to reply when people ask, “What have you been up to?” but know you’re only mentally prepared to hear, “Nothing much, what about you?”
Now you can’t say you’ve never asked, and it’s not like I’m forcing you to read the answer. As a matter of fact, there’s really no point in your reading these stories now. I’m just going to bore you with them when I’m old and senile. Ignore them now so they’ll seem fresh.
Anyway, June 5th is going to be a beautiful Sunday. I’ll be thinking happy thoughts and smiling. You do the same!
There was only one person I cared to share my epiphany with. I’d have waited, but I couldn’t sit still. I had to babble on with someone who’d understand. He was the only one.
I folded the two revealing pages and stuck them haphazardly into my pocket as I headed for the car. I ran the hill between the car and the CS building. The halls seemed curiously quiet as I tried the handle. It was locked. I knocked but there was no answer. I circled the terminal lab but no one interesting was there. It’s frustrating to have a story that wants to be told but no one to tell it to!
After Bug Attack, I decided to dig a little deeper. I hadn’t really explored any of the ROM code that ships in the computer. In fact, I’d never gotten around to learning the boot-loader that had inspired me. Now seemed like the time!
It was another personal quest. The ultimate goal was to see if I could learn enough to reproduce what that cracker had done years before. I could have gone to the boards and looked up how, but that wasn’t the point. I wanted to reconstruct the knowledge from first principles. From analyzing and uncovering how the computer actually worked.
After a two year hiatus from college, the fall of 1985 marked my second year back. I was technically a sophomore, but by procrastinating the humanities core I had progressed through to upper level computer science classes.
Texas State had a particularly strong Computer Science program. It owed its early start in the field to famous alumnus Lyndon Johnson. During his presidency Johnson personally redirected a computer to his little known alma mater in San Marcos, TX. The retiring military computer had been originally slated for the Ivy League. I felt a certain kinship when I first heard the story. Even the esteemed faculty members had taken *extreme measures* to get computer access. We were all alike.
There are dozens of ways to rationalize the war. Who was morally wrong. Who was legally within their rights. I won’t bother.
This is my vanity blog. It’s about how the war affected me. Not about whether such effects were justified.
So in a nutshell, the war’s effect on me was…
It pissed me off!
Commercial time-sharing and selling CPU seconds was a feature marketed by manufacturers of large computers as a way to offset purchase costs. The concept evaporated with the arrival of unlimited use microcomputers. Ironically, Gates and Allen used time-sharing in its destruction. They started porting Altair BASIC using free CPU time on a government owned computer at Harvard. Once discovered, they finished it using $40,000 of CPU time purchased on a school district computer.
They didn’t teach about the war on demonstration day. The guys in radio shack hadn’t mentioned it. The computer math teacher had no clue it was raging. It was a quiet guerrilla war. An insidious war.
I’d learned how the war started from a magazine.
Way back in the dark ages of computers, a shadowy figure walked off with a paper tape during a computer demonstration. The tape contained Altair BASIC. The tape made its way to the now fabled Homebrew Computer Club where a guy with access to a tape punch volunteered to make copies. Members then passed those tapes around and made more copies.
Everyone remembers their first time. In the spring of 1977 my Jr. High rewarded its graduating 8th graders with a celebratory “Demonstration Day.” There must have been a dozen presentations but I remained fixated on the bright yellow teletype terminal.
We got a lecture about computers and how this wasn’t one. The computer was in the district headquarters miles away. This was how you talked to the computer. Computers were very powerful and very expensive. One had to buy “CPU time” and it was measured in dollars per second! How it was an amazing luxury for kids to even be able to see a computer working.
There was no organization to the meetings. Nobody ran them. There were no speakers. Just geeks coming together. And for a covert pirate lair, surprisingly, there were no secrets. You could ask anybody anything. If they didn’t know the answer they could usually point you to someone who could.
“What are those switches?” I remember asking someone.
“Just a hack so I don’t have to cut a notch in the disk to write on the back.”
I was flummoxed. The Apple drive was single sided and everyone bought single sided disks they were way cheaper. “What do you mean?” I asked. “Do you buy double sided disks?”
When you’re 18 and in college a 15 year old seems like such a little kid. It was hard to take him seriously when he walked up to us in the mall video arcade. “Have you tried E.D.D?” he asked. He had overheard us talking about trying to copy a new game my friend Mike had just purchased. We had tried Copy II+ and Locksmith but no joy. We had even been to several BBSs and news stands looking for game specific copy parameters for either program.
“What’s EDD?” I asked a bit condescendingly. Mike and I weren’t exactly novices. He got his first Apple ][ in 1979. It was the original model with integer basic and a cassette drive. Within a few months he’d splurged on a floppy drive and language card. I got my Apple ][+ in 1980. Technically it was my dad’s and for business but my job was to make the computer useful. I had hacked in a separate board into the plus so it would display both upper and lower case characters. Even used it to drive a letter quality daisy wheel printer. For out in the ‘burbs of 1982 Houston, Mike and I were the shit.
For Apple II geeks PR#6 represents both end of what you were doing last and the beginning of what you want to do next. After an interesting and productive few years Clay and I have decided to wind up HBM and each move on to new adventures.
As most of you know, Janet finished her PharmD and launched her own pharmacy consultancy last fall. She totally rocks at it and her colleagues can’s stop singing her praises! However, there is an old saying about the shoemaker’s son being the only child running around barefoot. Curiously, the same concept holds for healthcare consultants and insurance. As such I’m looking for an interesting corporate gig where I can provider her with the comprehensive health coverage that keeps her smiling and happy.
As it turns out I’m not a very good writer. Not that my final product is impenetrable or incoherent. It’s more that my process of creation is personally painful. Write. Read. Wretch. Re-read. Sigh. Shuffle. Delete. Delete. Delete. Rewrite. Then repeat ad-nauseam. It’s not that I aspire to be Tracy Kidder, Steven Levy, Bruce Sterling or Douglas Adams. I’d just like to feel less anxious writing English prose than I do writing C++ poetry.
Back in 2005, the musician Jonathan Coulton quit his job and started on a personal project he called, “A thing a week”. His goal was to write, record and publish at least one song or interesting snippet each week. After 52 weeks he declared the project a personal success.
Following his lead, I’m going to attempt to write and publish, “Ten interesting things”. Hopefully one a week for ten weeks. A regimen designed to make some future eleventh interesting thing easier to compose than this blog post.
On the off chance anyone besides my wife reads one of my ten things, drop me a comment to keep me going.
Well, two and a half years and not a single post. Maybe I’m less vain than I thought.
I’ve updated this site to use WordPress so that I can update it easier. All the old photo galleries are still linked to the right. Hopefully, I’ll be able to update this from my iPhone to keep it lively.