Phreaking Me Out

About twenty years ago, I ran a bulletin board system (BBS) called The Basement. It was the New England outpost for an organization called TSAN. In the delightfully murky 1200-bit-per-second, FidoNnet-connected underworld, I was known as Boingoloid. Originally it was found on 207/761-0438, but only at night – as, like most broke teenagers, I had but one phone line. When things picked up, I sprang (with my girlfriend’s father’s money, it would turn out) for a dedicated line for the board: 828-0438. We did a lot of fun stuff; occasionally it was even legal. Some of my users became lifelong friends. A few went on to build – or help build – enduring technology companies.

The phreaking and hacking community back then was incredible fun. The mystery you’d feel and the sense of discovery and accomplishment one would get from plumbing those electronic depths – especially at that younger age – was something else indeed. And back then, it truly was an underworld. Your friends and your mother didn’t know what the fuck you were talking about – wait, dude, what do you mean there are people on your computer?? – and so on. It’s a different world now, most of it for the better.

I really started grooving on computers in the mid-80s – with Phrack and 2600 and TYMNET and TRS-80s – and came of technological age as part of that whole modem-meets-personal computer generation of geeks. The online population back then would have probably filled a small stadium. (Am I exaggerating? Does anyone have data on this?) If it wasn’t that small, it seemed it. You really did get to know one other – by handle or, more rarely, by name – it was different in a fun way.

Operation Sundevil changed everything, at least for those easily spooked. Shortly after that, TSAN began to collapse and I shut down The Basement. By then, I was in college, and it was time to expend my technological energy in more productive directions.

The point of all of this is not to make you realize that I’m old. It’s a lead-in to a podcast I found lying around on my computer from BBC Radio’s Between The Ears. It’s called “Connected”, and it’s a really fun exploration of the phreaking/hacking community from the 50s through the 80s. Enjoy.

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