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.