Hackers Turns 15

Do you remember hacking The Gibson? How about that place where you put that thing that time? Last week, the film Hackers turned fifteen years old. Now normally, when a film turns fifteen years old (or more often ten years old) it gets some sort of special treatment with a re-release containing no less than three discs in some collectible tin case with little extras wrapped up in the package. With Hackers, this isn’t the case. The film isn’t even available on Blu-ray yet.

Now, while many people might brush this film under the carpet as a loose end of the 90’s, there still exists a small group fanatics that watch the movie over and over again celebrating it yearly. Who are these fanatics? You might be surprised to know that the people who keep this movie alive are probably the people who dislike it the most: hackers. Yep, above it all, people involved in the computer industry love this movie. It’s campy, it’s nostalgic, and it’s downright entertaining.

Despite this, there are many people involved in hacking culture that find this movie damaging. Not only does it perpetuate the use of the word “hacker” to mean someone who breaks into computer systems to cause chaos, but also detracts from the image with the almost “too hip” feeling of the movie. Personally, I’m a fan of the movie due to the fact that I find it to be very interesting. It plays into the fear of technology and provides something of a time capsule for the mid 1990s. There is humor around every corner of this movie if you know where to look.

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Despite this movie being forgotten by film companies, many still strive to keep it alive. For example, Infonomicon released the Hackers on Hackers commentary a few years back. The commentary itself is both informative and comparable to MST3K. There is also a planned anniversary party for those die-hard fans out there slated for next week in NYC.

Who knows if Hackers will ever get a proper DVD or Blu-ray release (Criterion, here’s hoping) but as long as there is one DVD or worn VHS tape, this film will continue to live on at hackerspaces and file sharing networks. Copying a garbage file has never been so interesting.

 

Flea Market Find – Lineman’s Handset

I recently purchased a blue lineman’s handset for $12. It is quite an interesting piece of hardware. At first glance, it looks like a standard handset, but upon further review there are characteristics that set it apart. On the back of the handset is a rotary dial used for dialing numbers, a hook to connect it to the belt, and two test leads with alligator clips. The alligator clips have a piercing spike in them to connect to insulated wires. No stripping is necessary. On the side of the phone, there is a switch that can go between TALK and MON. MON in this case stands for monitor. There is also a nice “Bell System Property – Not for sale” engraving.

I brought the handset home and plugged it in. I had the switch on TALK and instantly heard a dial tone. I decided to call my cellphone, and entered the number (which can take a bit of time using a rotary dial). I got connected and heard my voice mail message. I decided to try to use my old Radioshack tone dialer next. I punched in the number on my tone dialer, and held it up to the handset. I hit the dial button on the dialer, and heard the tones through the earpiece of the handset, but the tones did not register on the handset itself, and the number wasn’t called.

Next, I flipped the switch on the handset to MON mode. At first, I didn’t hear anything on the line. I hooked up a standard phone nearby, and picked up the handset of that phone. My lineman’s handset instantly had a dial tone, and was monitoring the line. The MON setting also turns off the microphone in the handset, so there are no slip-ups when monitoring.

Other than the cool factor, there are a few things I can do with it. I could use it as a house phone, though it does not have its own ringer. I could also do some wire tapping, but that is illegal. It is not a very practical piece of hardware, but it certainly does hold my attention. Maybe the web will end up lending me some ideas of what I could do with it.

 

Wizzywig Volume Two

Ever since January of this year, I have been waiting for the second book in the Wizzywig series to be ready for distribution. The first volume, subtitled “Phreak” follows a young kid named Kevin Phenicle who goes by the handle Boingthump. Let me say, this isn’t some drab piece of writing you would find in the discount bin at your local book outlet. These are graphic novels, containing anything but a boring story about some kiddie hacker acting out a stereotype. This first book I read about Boingthump was a definite, and somewhat unexpected, treat. The bulk of the story was composed of little snippets of this character’s doings. From his first experience with blueboxing to social engineering pizza, the story is rife with creative scenarios that paint a vivid picture of an anykid in the golden age of phreaking. Suffice it to say I was impressed by just how much fact went into the story, and was curious to see where it would go… or where it would take me.

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Fast forward to November. I stumbled across Ed Piskor’s website after forgetting about it for a little while. I found out that the second book had been completed and was ready for purchase, so I quickly snagged myself a copy, which arrived in the mail quickly after my purchase. Upon reading the book, I was happy to see much of the same structure as was present in the first. The story bounced back and forth between present day (Kevin has been incarcerated) and his younger days when he started experimenting with computers, and became immersed in a new, exciting, and scary world found through his phone lines.

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The story found in these books is not your cookie cutter hacker epic. Take your Hackers, your Die Hard 4, your Swordfish, and throw them out the window. Ed takes careful attention to detail, nothing here is a stretch of the imagination and you can see he has done his homework in the creation of these novels. Reading along, you’ll be able to see all he has done simply by what is alluded to. No Hollywood garbage trying to make hacking seem glamorous or news stories spewing out tales that this underground world is full of all kinds of dangerous people who can make a computer explode. Ed gives the honest, gritty perspective the genre has hardly ever been represented by.

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Summing things up, I don’t know anyone who is showing the world of phreak/hack culture in this fashion. Ed has truely honed his craft, and the fact that he himself is only an admirer of this culture, and not a participant only ampliphies his qualities. If you liked the first one, you probably already have the second, and are waiting patiently for the third and fourth. For those of you who haven’t jumped on the wagon yet, you can purchase both books directly from Ed at his website. There are also previews of both of the books, so you can read a few panels before deciding.

Also, I happen to be “in” the second installment as an angry fellow on page 10.

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Neptune – It doesn’t exist

I recently ushered in spring break yesterday by installing an operating system that doesn’t exist. The infamous Windows Neptune. Somewhere between Windows 2K and Windows Me, there was this humble little operating system. I got a hold of the 5111 build and I am certainly not disappointed. Despite the tiring install, and a few driver errors in the beginning, its been running solid as a rock. I have no idea what I’m gonna do with it. The computer that I had it on used to be my little web server project, so I’m gonna see how Apache holds up on it soon. If you have any idea for it, leave a comment, I open to stuff.