T E X T F I L E S
Jason Scott's Top 100 Textfiles
It's perfectly understandable that someone finding textfiles.com for the first time wouldn't be interested in sifting through thousands of textfiles to get an idea of what the site is about. For this reason, I've selected a "best of" collection of one hundred textfiles that I think capture the spirit of this siteand the unique culture that it attempts to preserve.
While in many cases, there are slicker or longer examples of these files, I felt that these specific examples best captured the genre they belonged to. I invite you to browse through this section, read up, and if you find something that intrigues you, to read more about it in the bulk of the site.
These files are arranged alphabetically, not in any order of importance.
914 Area Code BBS List, by Dan Gelman (January 15, 1984)
A snapshot of the typical BBSes you might find in an area code, in this case, mine. A good portion of the "General" boards you see listed were in fact Phreak or Pirate boards. Keeping an active account on all your local systems could be quite time-consuming.
Relaxen und watch das blinkenlights...
This sort of small, quaint humor file could be found lurking across many different kinds of BBSes and mainframes. Origin: Unknown, although it very likely could date back to the 60's or 70's.
Call The Upside Down BBS!
A typical "Tag File" for a Bulletin Board System, in this case a classic Apple II with 64k of memory. To entice you over, the BBS offers you everything up to and including the two floppy disks located in the floppy drives. Besides being an interesting approach for a BBS ad, this short file also shows the variety of devices you could hook to an Apple II, including devices you could hook to other devices.
Adventure: Solving it in Easy Steps, by The Rom Raider and Doctor Digital
Don't read this file if you haven't played Crowther and Wood's original classic "Adventure"! This file is a solid example of a "Walk-through", where the goal was to present an easy, no-thinking solution to the classic thinking person's game: text adventures. While these games could present hours (or days or weeks) of fun trying to solve the puzzles and pitfalls, many people were content to just be given the answer and go through the game blindly, watching as every step they made was the exact right one. To a smaller degree, there was a constant one-upsmanship with Walkthroughs, where whoever could come out with the "solve" for a game the soonest after it was released (or even before) was the King of the Hill.
ASCII Art of "Angela"
A solid, classic example of an ASCII Nude, brimming with joy and text-based sexiness. Some of these were hand-drawn, while others used primitive digitizers and software that translated graphics to text to give surprisingly realistic photos when seen from a distance. Naturally, these files were a hot trade online.
The Joy of Handles, by Mahatma Kane Jeeves and David Lescohier
This series of articles attacks the issue of anonymity and handles from a completely different set of perspectives; that is, the protection of the writer from general harassment and investigation, and not necessarily that of promoting unwelcome or illegal ideas. An informative read.
The Apple Mafia Story, as told to Red Ghost, 1986
This interesting insight into the comings and goings of the Apple piracy world of the early-mid 80's shows the battle between the older class of pirates and the new breed of "r0dentz" that has been waged for the last 20 years. This file also gives a history (and hardware list) of the Sherwood Forest BBSes, which were among my all-time favorite boards, and probably a pretty darn influential force in the world that textfiles.com presents.
Typical Apple Piracy Message Base, circa 1984
This pristine capture of a 14-message apple "warez" message base shows a gamut of user types converging in one place to trade boasts, information, and programs. From Sherlock Apple's boast of "I have em all!!!!!!" to Creative Cracker and Key Master's BBS ads, you can see how these places became hotbeds of activity and information. Key master and I traded textfiles back then; I thought nothing of calling a BBS called "The 4th Reich".
The Art of Writing Textfiles, by The Bronze Rider
Bronze rider weighs in with his opinions on how to write proper textfiles, probably in response to some lack of quality in files up to that point. (This file is incomplete for the moment, but you'll get the idea.)
B00g and the Art of Zen, by Anarchy Incorporated
This file started a weird "b00g" craze that perpetuated itself for a number of years across a lot of BBSes that I was on/involved in. Then again, Anarchy Inc. was one of those groups you could depend on for some really excellent writing no matter what the subject was about.
Mouse Balls Available as a Field Replacement Unit
A classic example of a somewhat plausible file making the rounds for years and years. This likely-true file discussing how to wash the balls from Computer Mice took on a life of its own and still shows up occasionally. Surely a giggle, if not a guffaw.
Bioc Agent's Telecommunications Series, Part IV
BIOC Agent 003 was one of those rare phone phreaks who could both assimilate information around him and present it in a well-written, forthright manner. Often, many of the phreaking textfiles of the time were poorly written, hastily formatted, and lacking in any perspective beyond how to break or get freebies from a computer or network. Bioc got a lot of attention with his clear writing and informative series "The Basics of Telecommunications", which appeared in the summer of 1984. This example from the series, part 4 (of 7) covered both the hierarchy and electronic network of the Bell Telephone System. Groundbreaking.
Bioc Agent's Telecommunications Series, Part V
Another example of BIOC's writing in the Basics of Telecommunications Series, this section dealt entirely with the basic telephone, including the wiring and the electronic aspects. Notably, BIOC gives a bibliography where he got a lot of his information (something pretty much not done beforehand) and additionally covers the theory of operation of the infamous "Black Box", as well. Excellent.
Whatever Happened to REAL Bulletin-Board Systems?
What strikes me about this file was that it was written around 1982 and decries how out-of-touch, vicious, and impersonal the BBS world has grown for the writer. Note the interesting reasons he gives for the downturn of BBS's.
Modification of the Uniden Bearcat BC950XLT for Cellular Frequencies, by John Stover (March 29, 1988)
The problem was major: Cellular phones could be listened to by any ham radio scanner being made. The normal solution: Produce better cell phones, that did a better job of encrypting/scrambling transmissions. The solution the government took: Force all creators of any ham radio scanners to remove the capability of ham radios to listen to the frequencies chosen for the cellular phones. Naturally, the companies did this in the cheapest way possible, often just running a short-circuiting wire such that attempts to go to those frequencies would be unsuccessful. And naturally, files such as this one made themselves available, where you were told how to take out that wire and restore the machine to full functionality. Was the point to listen in on people? No. The point was crippling technology to hide things from people flies in the face of the spirit of technology. 5 short lines, and the efforts from the unknowing are thwarted. The power of textfiles.
"Hey how much for someone to, you know, screw with the beef?"
This is the only beef pornography I've ever seen. Sexual Surrealism at its best.
Better Homes and Blue Boxing, Part I, by Mark Tabas (January 7, 1985)
Mark Tabas came along in 1985 and wrote a series of chatty, friendly files about all the fun you could have with the mysterious Blue Box, the most famous of all the Phreak Boxes that rose out of the 1970's and 1980's. This box, when used in conjunction with a 2600hz tone across a phone line, allowed you to seize control a telephone line as if you were an operator and do all sorts of neat, crazy stuff. By 1985 these boxes were becoming obsolete (with the advent of Electronic Switching System, or ESS) but this file harkens back to this interesting era. A sign of the great works LOD would create for the next decade.
The Bill of Rights "Lite", by John Perry Barlow
This re-tooled Bill of Rights, rephrased to reflect most of the constitutional issues arising in cyberspace and in general everyday life, hit the nail on the head as to how far the government had strayed from its original plan. Barlow, a co-founder of the Electronic Freedom Foundation, makes his beliefs about the modern world known in just a couple screenfuls of slashed-up constitutional law.
To All Who Dare -- The Black Box
For many people, this simple little text file was the opening door into the world of the Phone Phreak, a world where a simple application of technology meant a subversion of the great and powerful Bell System. In this case, the Black Box would convince the telephone company that your phone was still ringing, even though you'd picked the phone up and were chatting happily through the buzzing rings. With its name owing to the 1970's era "Blue Box", the Black Box was the final spark to ignite a stream of steady "box" files, each one a more flamboyant and wild color and each promising the world.
The Bastard Operator From Hell #1, by Simon Travaglia
As the BBS kids of the world grew into full-fledged System Operators, they found that no textfile out there caught the frustrations and issues of a computer hacker saddled with responsibility more than the BOFH (Bastard Operator from Hell) series. Stretching through many files and continuing to this day as a magazine column, these textfiles set out an alternate-world Simon the Sysadmin who would torture and ruin his users in the pursuit of more free time and lager. The initials BOFH have become one of the better-kept inside jokes of the System Admin trade, and these files have become immortal.
The cDc #200 Higgledy-Piggledy-Big-Fat-Henacious-Mega-Mackadocious You-Can't-Even-Come-Close-So-Jump-Back-K-BOOMIDY-BOOMIDY-BOOM File, by Swamp Ratte'
The Cult of the Dead Cow continues to be a prominent force in the online world, but when they started in the late 1980's they were just another text-file writing group, copying heavy metal lyrics and printing bomb ingredient lists. Swamp Ratte's perseverance and leadership caused cDc to break out of that mode, however, and by the time they'd released their 200th textfile (In December of 1992) they'd been around for over 6 years, forever by BBS standards. To celebrate, Swamp Ratte' wrote this file, which I consider to be an all-time classic not only because of the dead-on parodies of the BBS world of the 1980's that run through it, but for the way these parodies perfectly capture a lot of the cultural forces that ran through that time. (The warez vs. textfiles debate, the self-aggrandizement of older hackers, the completely bizzare spelling styles, etc.) This file truly goes above and beyond in every way. A great reference file to see if you can get all the jokes when reading other files here.
An Apple for the Captain, by Steven Wozniak (October 1, 1984)
BIOC Agent 003 transcribes an Infoworld article that mentions a funny story about Captain Crunch (John Draper), an employee of Apple, reprogramming an Apple II so that it would dial up PBX lines to get free phone codes. In a few short paragraphs, Steven Wozniak describes Phone Phreaking with an innocent sense of fun and exploration, using common technology.
The Story of Captain Midnight
This textfile, source unknown, tells the story of Captain Midnight, a lone satellite operator who overrode HBO's signal with a warning against charging $12.95 a month and scrambling their signal. This sudden seizure of the HBO signal caught the media (and the government)'s attention, and he was soon caught. This textfile saves the memory of a fellow who took matters into his own hands, and blew out a showing of Pee Wee's Big Adventure as a bonus.
Expanding Your Apple Cat II, by The Ware-Wolf
The Novation Apple Cat Modem was one of those pieces of technology that you just can't believe ever got out into the market, and which stands as a straight example of the creativity that lives in this world. Built simply to be a flexible modem, this piece of technology contained 4 digital to analogue converters and several other unexpected ports and switches that caused it to be used as a clock, answering machine/voice mailbox, hold button, voice changer, and music player. Simply put, this modem was beyond belief. This textfile helps show some of the amazing modifications to this modem that were devised by its users.
Robert Hayden's Code of the Geeks v1.01
The Geek Code is one of those bizzare Internet-only phenomenons that would only rise up among a culture dominated by the intelligensia: a code that, through an application of letters with plus or minus modifications, would indicate the hobbies, desires, or public aspects of that person, easily machine-readable, but to anyone who didn't know the code, completely indecipherable.
Copy Protection: A History and Outlook
Dt writes a quick overview (intended for publication, and therefore a little more balanced than it normally would have been) about the history of copy protection and some of the methods used on both sides in the war over software.
From Crossbows to Cryptography: Thwarting the State Via Technology
Chuck Hammill of the Libertech Project comes out with a jaw-dropping defense of technology as a liberating force, through the use of cryptography and communication, and applies it to his (cynical) view of history and the nature of Governments. A speech given at the Future of Freedom Conference that is at once balanced, intruiging, revolutionary, bitter, hopeful, and inspiring. All around, ahead of its time and relevant to this very minute.
DEC WARS: The Continuing Saga of the Adventures of Luke Vaxhacker
One of the earlier and one of the best cross-cultural fan fiction files, combining the world of Digital's VAX series of computers with the Star Wars movies. Peppered throughout this file, tons of inside VAX jokes combine with Star Wars references, making it one of the geekiest, nerdiest files you could come across online. This genre has exploded out of control since then, but at the time, it was something really new, and a ton of fun.
When He Boots It, It Boots Him! From Ziggy Stardust
This explosive device sticks in the mind because of both the pure nastiness of the situation (booby trapping a floppy disk to turn it into a bomb) and the reason given for a person to risk someone else's life: they didn't trade pirated programs honestly.
The Do's and Don'ts of Ascii Express, by Quasimoto
The story of Ascii Express is one of a telecommunications company adding a small feature to allow remote downloads, that spread into a massive underground network of pirated applications throughout the Apple II community. These "AE Lines" provided quick, simple access to other floppy drives across the country, and became a subculture all their own. This file purports to give some suggested etiquette for AE lines, only to be deflated quite humorously by Count Nibble at the end.
A Guide to Easy Money, by The Flash (January 4, 1986)
Even a cursory read of this file shows that the Flash knew not one molecule of what he was talking about. This complete lack of knowledge in the dark arts of Street Economy obviously didn't stop him from publishing a series of files on how to succeed in them. At this no-man's land between fact and fantasy, you get a great insight into the author's idea of how the world works, and how easy he thought the world of crime was. (Ostensibly, the Flash has gone on to a nice, quiet life somewhere.)
Can You Put Psychedelic Mushrooms on Pizza?
A pretty funny example from a Usenet posting in alt.drugs. Somehow, I can imagine this happening. And oh, he's the MANAGER! While a lot of drug files tend to be boring chemical lists or long and drawn-out philosophical discussions, this file makes you think twice about who's working the cash register.
The Eel Says Goodbye to the Pirate World
What really strikes me about The Eel's farewell to the piracy world of 1992 is that while he says that one of his primary motivations for leaving is his current circle of "real" friends, the rest of the file goes to show he has dozens of other "real" friends as well. No doubt in the years after his break away from life on the modem he's built even more circles of friends, but one can't help wondering if he doesn't read this file and think of what else he threw away besides his collection of "warez".
The Elite Commandments
As the word "Elite" came to be bandied about in BBSes, people started to separate themselves between the "Elite" and "Unelite". Specifically, this was just another way to look down on others based on completely arbitrary, meaningless reasons. This file skewers that attitude in a list of "commandments" that best represent the mindset of the self-named "elite". As a bonus, several inside jokes from the era are presented in a "gossip weekly" parody at the end.
Someone Completely Blows Up
A young BBS user (I don't know where this came from) suddenly begins ranting about everything that bothers him about being on BBSes. His complaints take on a heartwarming quirkiness, looking back.
Ethics for BBS Users
A well-written, nicely-formatted, completely pedantic file that lectures you on every aspect of being a BBS user. This file was part of a trend of Sysops explaining to users how great they had it for having BBSes to call, and to appreciate the work behind them. They were rarely successful, but you do what you can. The invitation to download the file and display it on other BBSes meant that some new users would be subjected to this file automatically. The "wearing a tie to school" side of the BBS world.
Famous Computer Bugs, compiled by Dave Curry and John Shore
This ARPAnet-compiled lists of computer glitches through history shows some wonderful perspective on disasters and screw-ups through history (mostly the 60's and 70's) and shows you the interesting vulnerabilities that have cropped up over time. Some of them, such as a probe suddenly losing contact with earth, are scarily sobering, but others, such as the Multics bug (the swapper-out process would swap out the swapper-in process!) make you just want to snort, assuming you snort at that sort of thing. Geeky, and cute.
Fuckin' Eleet Haxor Issue #1, July 1st 1995
As the World Wide Web really started to take hold in the middle of the 1990s, textfiles became a rarer and rarer entity, usually leaning instead to HTML pages and graphics to get the information (and the point) across. In the case of FEH, indicative of the textfiles of the time, it is sometimes very hard to tell where the parody and where the seriousness lay within the issue. While a lot of it seems to be a thought-out send-up of the badly-spelling hacking community, some serious and researched information is included as well. This magazine went on to several additional issues, each of them a little more serious than the last. For better or worse, this is how things came to be in the culture.
GEMS: The Untold Story, by the Video Vindicator (February 1, 1992)
The Video Vindicator came late into the game (early 1990's) but produced some of the most wonderful files from that time period. This file caught my attention because he chose a subject that would normally be of very little interest to the BBS crowd (Gemology) and takes it to a completely new level by turning it into both a wonderful history lesson about Gems (I learned a lot in this file) and twisting it into yet another way to scam the planet for some extra bucks. Breathtaking in his audacity, and completely slick in his delivery. One to watch.
An Unforgettable Telephone Service Call, from Pat Routledge
This breed of textfile tends to be short, amusing, and perpetuated endlessly. Often the story is hard to track back, and is even more often a paraphrase of what actually happened, but it never fails to be humorous, especially if it lasted this far. A classic "urban legend", even if it's true.
The Basics of Hacking: Introduction, by The Knights of Shadow
The Knights of Shadow produced a collection of Hacking How-Tos that instructed users how to get around a variety of mainframes, including Digital and Data General Machines. While the information in these texts might not be as relevant, this introduction stands apart for its preaching the idea of hacking for knowledge, and leaving no footprints and destroying nothing in the process. Their definition of "Hacker" is rather interesting, as well. A clever set of files.
The Project Gutenberg E-Text of Bruce Sterling's Hacker Crackdown
In 1993, Science Fiction author Bruce Sterling aimed his considerable writing talents to dissecting and understanding all the forces at work between Hackers, Police, and the people they've had an effect on. He does a very admirable job. While no book (so far) has captured the 1980's computer hacker experience perfectly, this book makes you come away with a feeling that the major issues were touched on and that no-one (on either side) got the short shaft. (This is a major accomplishment in itself.) Sterling is an excellent writer, and while compared to other works in this directory this textfile is a bit on the mammoth side, it's worth it. This file also highlights the work of the great Project Gutenberg, which for 20 years has endeavored to transcribe as many classic works to electronic texts as their staff of volunteers will let them. There's an entire directory of these important and breathtakingly huge projects on textfiles.
The Conscience of a Hacker, by The Mentor (January 8, 1986)
The Mentor's angry scream against the authorities he saw as trying to crush his spark and the spark of people like him. For some reason, this file became the flashpoint that a number of books (including Bruce Sterling's) used as an example of the oppression of the intelligent and the motivations behind the fine art of hacking. Whether it stands up to this sort of light or not, it's a clear statement from someone who feels a lot of pain; and that's what communication is all about.
The Social Organization of the Computer Underground, The Thesis of Gordon Meyer
Mr. (Probably Dr.) Meyer's Sociology paper on the social structure in Hacking, Phreaking, and Pirating groups is interestingly dedicated to George Hayduke (writer of the "Get Even" series of revenge books) and Barry Freed (The pseudonym taken by Abbie Hoffman when he was a fugitive from the FBI). This indicates not a little leaning on the side of the groups he's analyzing. He goes over impressions that the media have about hackers, what being a hacker, phreak or pirate consists of as he sees it, and then tries to draw conclusions of what this all means. Written in 1989, this file takes on the subculture with a non-hysterical point of view that makes it very easy to read. Worth the time.
How to get Really Soaring High on Gatorade, by Max Madd
Some of the most entertaining textfiles are the ones where the writer is obviously hot to write one, but has no actual information to report on. Instead, they pull up a in-the-rough concept, like getting high off a fruit drink, and create a short file around it. In this case, the key is to get high off the thirst-quenching Gatorade, by merely drinking it as fast as possible. Nearly a third of the entire file is a legal disclaimer, a typical gesture that is very likely meaningless in the long run.
How to Become an Unsuccessful, Burned-Out SysOp
From the perspective of 24-hour, super-high-speed internet connections, it's refreshing to read this list of tips telling people how they can improve their single-line, often 2400 baud BBS lines. The hundreds of bulletin boards popping up every month during the early 80's ensured that general guideline files actually had a large target audience. Of course, the comment about free software being inherently bad doesn't seem as relevant anymore...
How Pirate BBSes Impact on the Entire Atari Community, by D.A. Brumleve
This serious report, tracking the theoretical impact of piracy on the Atari ST publishing community, has an unintended secondary effect of documenting and providing an excellent picture of the typical "Pirate" BBS in the early 90's. Besides capturing interesting quotes and entire file directories, this report gives a solid overview of this underanalyzed social phenomenon. Interesting reading, if a bit heavy-handed in some places.
A Step by Step Guide to Making a Dry Ice Gun by The Voice Over
Please don't follow the instructions in this file; I can't vouch for its truthfulness or safety. This file is a typical weaponry/anarchy file, inviting you to build some dangerous thing for the purposes of destruction or entertainment. Unlike many such files, The Voice Over can spell, and he warns you how much you can injure yourself. These files comprise a massive subset of the textfiles of the 1980's; why people dedicate such effort to proving they can blow up more than anyone else is an interesting outcropping of the one-upmanship prevalent in other parts of the culture. An unusually academic file from Metal Communications.
A Collection of Infocom Bugs, from the New Zork Times
I'm not entirely sure this file comes from the New Zork Times, but the "we" tense of the description of the bugs and the invitation to try new things on the end smacks of it. Infocom was a text adventure game company - by pretty much any measure, the best. They had some of the most evocative games to come out at the time, and few game companies today even come close to the experiences that Infocom provided. Because the games were so detailed, the types of bugs that people would encounter were strange indeed, and this file chronicles some of them. Neat.
Hacking Into Hell, by The Raver
The Raver serves up a very odd blend of heavy-metal/satanic imagery, geek humor, and suspense in this story of a hapless user hacking into Lucifer's Mainframe. The Metal AE, where this file originated from, was host to a whole gang of Heavy Metal blasting computer geeks, and that weird matchup shows in nearly every textfile that came out of them. An evocative file, to say the least.
The Utopia BBS Login Screen: "Pansy's Homemade Mainframe"
The first of two login screens from the Utopia BBS on this top 100 list. The Utopia BBS was one of hundreds of Apple II GBBS boards out there, written in BASIC and therefore completely modifiable (the additions were called 'mods') by the Sysop or Co-Sysops. In the case of this particular board, you could log on each day and see a completely different board, with different menus, login screens, and the rest. This time, they make you type your password in several times, only to show they were completely kidding with you. The long message about whether to create a Utopia II and the odd logoff screen (after I was ejected for not being "validated" yet) only add to the fun.
The JiHAD Courier Information File
This particular file doesn't hold any particular historical significance; I pretty much chose it at random because it was a good example of a Tag file, and one of a Courier Group at that. Tag files are little pieces of text usually attached to a pirated piece of software, that tells you information about the group that cracked file, or what kind of program you'd gotten, or even whatever news had gone on it that group recently. Courier groups were an interesting phenomenon of the past decade, where the process of cracking software and distributing it separated and separate groups formed for each function. Crackers could then merely send a program to the contact for the Courier group, and the file would be spread along to the "usual channels" within a day or two. Interesting scene.
The History of Real K-K00L D00DS, by The Edge
While the still-common habit of bad spelling (replacing U for You, 0 for O, Z for S, and similar gunk) in communication might seem a somewhat new fad, in fact it goes back for over a decade. In this file (circa 1985), you can already see that it's been around long enough to be made fun of in a parody text. The Edge engages in a pretty amusing sample "chat" session in the middle of the file, that really makes me laugh, because I really did get users like that. And people think talking like this is still cutting edge?
How to Kill Santa Claus Dead! by the Outland
The Outland (of the Neon Knights) ran the first board I was ever a Sysop of, Milliways. You would never know it if you met him, but when the Outland sat down to write files for Metal Communications and the Neon Knights, he would just spew forth some of the most violent, anarchistic, nihilist text to come out of any file-writing group. Besides Santa Claus, other targets of his files included the Easter Bunny, mailboxes, the local neighborhood, and in one case, I recall, the entire planet. He was certainly in character with the other members of the Neon Knights, where violence was the main driving force in the writing, but knowing him personally gave me insight that for him, it was actually just all fiction, another neat thing to do.
The SchoolStoppers' Textbook
The Yippies, or "Youth International Party" were a political group from the late 60's and early seventies that were really the grandfathers of a lot of the computer "underground" that flourishes today. They staged protests, wrote interesting books and articles, and published the Youth International Party Line (YIPL) which later became TAP, a predecessor of the currently famous 2600 magazine. Among their famous members were Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. This reprinted article is essentially a checklist for causing utter anarchy at your local school, so as to completely disrupt the learning process. Angry but witty, this was where a lot of later "anarchy" files took their style from, knowing it or not.
Kracowicz' Kracking Korner: The Basics of Kracking Parts 1-9
The world of Apple II Copy Protection was a hot battlefield throughout the Apple II's production life, with commercial developers spending thousands on new copy protection schemes and crackers rising out of the woodwork to "crack" these programs, make them copyable, and distribute them. With Krakowicz, you had a Software Company's worst nightmare: A literate, intelligent crackist who made a supreme effort to teach others. What is most striking about this series of files is not just the amount of detail and research that Kracowicz put into his writing to make it understandable to others, but his unique hardware-based solutions to the software that was being piped through his Apple II. By creating boards, switches, and hot-wiring his chips, he could exert incredible control over the programs he was attempting to crack. The companies didn't have a chance. Kracowicz stands alone.
The Complete Guide of Laying a Girl v1.1, from John Smith
Probably the most amusing textfiles I occasionally stumbled across were those attempting to teach you the birds and the bees, or at least how to get laid. Usually in the form of "how-to" guides, these textfiles were usually completely out of left field, totally lacking in any accuracy or truly helpful information, and more likely than not someone's complete fantasy from watching too many teen exploitation flicks. In the case of this particular specimen, Mr. Smith seems to have as weak a grasp on the English language as he does on the particulars of intercourse or romance. Such stunning phrases as "Stack you hand gently under her trousers and move your hand more deeply evert time" guarantee that you're going to take this file with an oven-sized grain of salt. Sadly, this file is among the best of the bunch -- many of the others indicated rape or kidnapping as appropriate means to seduction. A fountain of ignorance.
The Society of "Leeches" in the Telecommunications World, by Mister I/O
"Mister I/O" was the first name of The Outland, who later went on to join the Neon Knights and Metal Communications. In this file, he skewers the world of "Leeches", users who connect to systems and take all the files without donating any of their own. This particular kind of file (ridiculing other groups within the subculture) were plentiful by this time, but I think his stands out for that completely bizzare chart of the lineage of Leeches. Additionally, he even throws in some mathematical equations to determine your "leechiness". This file was written before his files took on a much more violent (but still witty) turn, as mentioned previously.
The Legion of Doom/Hacking Technical Journal Volume 1, by the LOD
I can remember when the Legion of Doom was just one of a group of punk kids hanging around on some of the same BBSes that I frequented. But someone or several someones within the group threw a ton of energy into the LOD, and they quickly rose to the forefront of Hacker/Phreaking groups of the time. The advantage of years of hindsight and a number of books have brought the group much more fame and regard historically, but even the most cynical or skeptical observer had to admit; this group produced. A prime example are these Legion of Doom/Hacker Technical journals, an indirect response to Phrack and other hacker magazines. The LOD/H Tech Journal was heavy, meaty stuff for the time (1987) with schematics, statistics, and even attributions to the files that had come before it. The series is worth reading as a prime example of the "highbrow" hackers, who put on the airs of having the knowledge to share, while raising the ire of those who didn't.
The Official 1984 Lozerlist, by The Atom (March 3, 1985)
The Atom's bile-spewing, gossip-heavy "Loser List" comes in as one of the best examples of an all-around "Rag File" that I've seen, where the writer takes everyone on and attempts to completely slam them into the ground on all sides. Personal info, analysis of the groups they belong to, rumors and innuendo are all up for grabs as he decimates a lot of the "big names" in the 914/212/718 BBS world (as well as a few from the midwest). It appears a lot of his hatred comes from the Richard Sandza articles (also in the top 100), but more than that, he has it in for nearly anyone who has become in some way "famous" or "legendary" in the Phreak and Piracy world. Quite a piece of work. I never found a 1985 list or anything since.
Basic, Intermediate and Advanced Luding, by Sinbad Sailor
While calling an interesting BBS called the 1985 BBS (the last four digits were 1985, it came up on January 1st of 1985 and went down December 31st, 1985), I stumbled upon this small social phenomenon called "Luding". The board was reeking with it; there was a Luding sub-board filled with messages and there were a good number of instructional "Luding" files, not to mention some Luding poetry and fiction. Naturally, this really threw me for a loop, and while the actual idea of "Luding" is somewhat tame, these set of files stand out to me as excellent examples of how just writing about a small little fad in your hometown could blow the entire thing out of proportion to the point that you thought you were really missing out on something big.
Impure Mathematics: The Story of Polly Nomial
What we have here is probably the all-time marathon-running Usenet humor file. A collection of mathematic inside jokes used to tell a running set of sexual innuendo, this story of the hapless Polly Nomial and Curly Pi was the kind of file you'd trip over time and time again in different file directories. There are a good amount of sequels, but you can't beat the original. Math Geek humor; what beats that?
Go Bare, by Captain Goodnight (August 25, 1986)
Captain Goodnight's fictional short story is worth reading for the somewhat accurate feeling it gives of living a life primarily through a computer. There's some bad spelling and weird images mixed into the paragraphs, but on the whole, you'll come away from it either remembering memories from your own childhood or feel like you're peering into someone's life. A real gas of a story.
Voices in My Head: The Mindvox Overture by Patrick Kroupa
Mr. Kroupa's announcement of the creation of his new ISP caught a lot of people off guard. The tack from which he made his announcement was to harken back to the 1980's, and all the unique cultural forces at work then, that expressed themselves on the modem. In many ways, he saw a lot of what I've seen in terms of a need to preserve or maintain that time in some fashion. He additionally saw a need to make those times come back by creating Mindvox, his ISP by way of his company Phantom Technologies. I know that mindvox was wildly successful for a time, but the full story of its downfall escapes me. Meanwhile, this text still survives and shows an amazing breadth of insight into the BBS world of the preceding decade. This document was reprinted everywhere, so it definitely hit a nerve. I just wish we had a little more in our hands to show for it.
The Modem Life: Is it Worth it? By Bryan Nomad (May 26, 1985)
Bryan, frustrated by downed BBSes, busy signals, abuse and hatred in message bases, and the financial drain of being s SysOp, takes a different tack. He writes this heartfelt message to the BBS world at large to ask people to remember that they're all people, they're all part of a community, and it's not about how much abuse you can spew into the air, but about getting to know one another and maybe make some friends. How effective is this file at getting into a cynical heart? Who knows. One can always hope it did some good. Thank you, Bryan.
The Night of the Hackers, by Richard Sandza, transcribed by The Reflex
There are two notable angles to this file. The more simpler one is that it was transcribed by The Reflex of Omnipotent Incorporated, a regular on The Works BBS and an all-around prolific and intelligent writer. He chose as an important addition to his body of work this article from Newsweek, published in 1984. The second angle is this article, "Night of the Hackers", which brought right to the forefront a lot of those mysterious terms that hung in the air as private knowledge and secrets for only those "in the know" in the BBS world. Sherwood Forest, Blottoland, Plovernet, tele-trials all got (unwanted) national exposure in this article, and things just weren't the same afterwards. The aftermath of Richard Sandza's life is documented in "Revenge of the Hackers", also in this collection. Studied with the span of years from it, the article is solid, interesting, and pretty accurate.
Variable-Pitched Frequency Generator, or How to Annoy Your Teachers, by Captain Quieg
The Captain provides you with an accurate (I had one built), inexpensive, and mostly harmless prank electronic toy that would emit an extremely high-pitched noise, such that many people could get headaches from prolonged exposure. Not exactly a gentle diversion, but unforgettable. While this particular diagram worked, it was a relatively rare thing to come away from an electronics document and have everything function as claimed. Educational.
The Paging Game, by Jeff Berryman
Trying to explain this one to anyone who doesn't know the concept of "memory paging" is a little bit of a losing battle. Essentially, a machine with memory that pages will throw out unused parts of programs or files onto a disk drive, ready to bring it back if you really use it. If you think MY explanation's a little choppy, wait'll you real THIS file. A golden piece of work from 1981.
The Peat Moss Incident
The best size-reaction ratio of the textfiles collection. Surreal.
Mr. Pez's Rambling About Textfiles and Leeching, by Mr. Pez (March 13, 1987)
Mr. Pez was another Works regular, always there with a quick wit and a really snooty attitude. Besides being on The Works, he also graced several other 914 boards and The Dark Side of the Moon (408) with his acidic attitude. In this file, he decided to just turn on his word processor and talk about whatever for as long as he could. To our advantage, the subject he chooses is Textfiles, which gives us insight into the type of world a teenager lived through in 1987 BBS terms. Most amusingly to me, he recounts the time I sat there copying all my textfile collection onto his hard drive trying to convince me to have his guitar and some cash. (The attempt was unsuccessful, and Donna married some other guy.) A personal trip down memory lane, but relevant to get some insight into where my editorial bent is as well.
Phrack Magazine Volume One, Issue One, edited by Taran King (November 17, 1985)
The Phreaking/Hacking magazine that changed everything. While other electronic magazines existed before Phrack, none took the voice of the underground and presented itself as such a dominating, matter-of-fact entity as the Phracks have. Through the years, Phrack has always been dependable as a solidly-written, interest-gathering, packed-with-talent compilation of hot topics going throughout the Hacker Underground as most people have come to understand it. Electronic zines as a general force were usually created so that individual writers' work wouldn't get lost in the wash of sites; by hooking up with a dozen other articles, relatively monstrous 50k-100k files could stand out from the endless grouping of 2k and 15k files that others were putting out. It worked.. very few people don't remember Phrack in some fashion if they were involved in BBSes in the late 80's. This brings us to the other example issue...
Phrack Magazine 4th Anniversary Issue, Volume Three, Issue 29 (November 17, 1989)
By the fourth year of publication, Phrack is an institution. The issue opens with a profile of Emmanuel Goldstein, the enigmatic and steadfast editor of 2600 Magazine (which has gone on to become a major institution itself) and progressing into deeply technological discussions involving money transfer and Internet protocols. By this time the Phrack World News, an overview of the social and legal scene around the culture had become a staple of the issues. Unstoppable.
The Wizard's Call, Peek and Poke list for the Apple ][ (May 1984)
Part of the immense charm of the Apple II series of computers was how they would encourage their users to learn everything they could about the system, to reprogram, modify, hardwire, and otherwise mess with all aspects of the machines. What this meant was that people were getting a knowledge of the Apples that could far outstrip almost all the other personal computers of the time. Evidence of the depth of this knowledge shows in files like this one, where a good portion of the total memory locations have been mapped and all sorts of neat features make themselves known. By the end run of the Apple II's main life (late 80's) this machine could accomplish a breathtaking amount of tasks. Geeky, but a lot of fun.
The Unisex, Omnisexual Purity Test v4.00 (April 23, 1988)
One of the interesting things that arose out of the ARPAnet and Internet was the way that an unbelievable amount of energy could be focused on a single project, causing it to turn into a Wonder Of The World in a very short period of time. In the case of this file, the goal became to determine a person's "purity" by creating a list of questionable non-innocent acts that they could perform in life, and whatever percentage they had not yet done, was their purity. Of course, after dozens of entries into this document, it's become this complete other world, with every degrading, exciting, bizzare thing that someone could do with someone else (or themselves, or a group of people, or food) is listed. There are actually divergent, unrelated versions of this idea up on this site, but I chose this file because it lists out a great pedigree that goes back to 1982, and it's particularly well-written. Head-swimmingly sick.
Real Programmers Don't Use Pascal
One of the most interesting fads to hit the online world were the "Real" files. Based loosely on the pop culture book "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche", these files presented a framework where others could just list their idea of what a "real" hacker or golfer or restaurant or whatever. It's an addictive way to describe things, and this explains the dozens and dozens of "real" files that pervaded BBSes throughout the decade. In the case of the "Real Programmers" file, the writing style of the author is particularly well-crafted (although I can't really judge the accuracy of his assertions) and it therefore has a very large distribution. Geeky humor.
Real PEZ Devotees, by Mr. Pez
The Works BBS's own Mr. Pez makes his own contribution to the "Real" files canon with this file about the followers of his BBS, "Pez Devotees". In the case of this file, the combination of his mention of all the different things he personally liked (including clothes, bands, sports and writing style) combined with his edging into nearly all aspects of a person's life to provide guidelines to be one of his devotees, makes this one of my favorite files. It should be noted that this file is a derivative of the original, the "Real Pirate's Guide", below.
The Real Pirate's Guide by Rabid Rasta
Seizing the opportunity to make a humor file based on the now-popular "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche" idea, Rabid Rasta made what is generally agreed upon to be the first of the BBS world's "Real" files, files which explain what the difference between "Real" and "Fake" was. In the case of his file, he puts down what makes a "Real" pirate, including assertions about computer and modem speed, writing style, and spelling. With the exception of "The Real Programmer's Guide" (which shows up a little earlier than this file, although only on ARPAnet and not on the BBS/AE world), this file seems to have been the one that started it all. The observations he makes are both humorous, and insightful into where the world was in 1984 if you were living your life through a modem.
Revenge of the Hackers, by Richard Sandza, Transcribed by The Reflex
The writer of "Night of the Hackers" for Newsweek revealed in this followup article that his life became quite a living hell for him after the original article was published. His credit cards were hacked, phone calls came 24 hours a day, and, to a lesser relevance, he went on "tele-trial". Tele-trial appears to mean that he had a message base fill up with messages about him. Either way, his article shows the kind of full-on attack that the hacker community was capable of pulling off at the time, completely unorganized and out for blood. The Reflex, as always, does an impeccable transcription job.
Dick and Jane Instigate a Popular Revolution, by The Deth Vegetable and Iskra
Deth Vegetable and Iskra were both co-sysops of The Works way back when, before they both joined the Cult of the Dead Cow and moved on to greener pastures. (Actually, Iskra then came back and became the SysOp of the most recent incarnations of the Works, so it's all kind of circular in a way.) In any event, they got their heads together in the early 1990's and wrote this file, a parody of the "Dick and Jane" books that my generation lightly heard of. Short, sweet, and funny. Oh, and political.
The Safehouse Blueprints, from the Safehouse BBS
The Safehouse BBS was one of the mid-80's "Super" BBSes that were pushing not only that they were the places to be, but that the technology and pure computing power at their disposal made them inherently irresistible. Now, looking back over the years with a more solid technical knowledge, some of the claims in this BBS information file are questionable (It's a modular program? What does that matter!) But you can see an example of how technology presented its own inherent sexiness to the BBS user.
Sex with Satan, by Psychoe
Ah, where do you begin with "Sex with Satan". Psychoe's tale of murder, sexual mayhem, the Lord of Darkness and overactive babysitters never fails to floor me with its perfect blend of comic rant and erotic literature. You come away from reading it completely dazed and unsure what you just read. While you begin to read the file thinking you're to be subjected to another set of poorly spelled pseudo-erotic scribblings, you quickly realize as the character dies that something is quite amiss. After a short time you can't keep track of who is who and why the poor guy keeps getting lit on fire. Another great example of the Heavy Metal/Geek combination that showed up in a small number of AE lines in the 80's.
Digitized Picture of Star Trek's Mr. Spock
One of the nicer ASCII Art Files out there, this appears to have been some sort of program output that looked at a graphics file of Mr. Spock and then mapped it to different ASCII characters based on how "dark" those letters and numbers and characters were. If you print it out so that it's black letters on a white background, it looks pretty darn impressive. Of course, actually printing it out and putting it on a wall would immediately tap you as a geek, so be careful, and have a shredder at hand.
The Destructiveness of the "Kids", from an Anonymous Source
A writer reaches out to the community to lament the loss of the days of the Open System and the unprotected BBS, and gives some (occasionally gleeful) descriptions of the steps he's been forced to take to protect himself. The exact tone of this missive is a little hard to track: in some places he's nostalgic and out of sorts about the way the world has changed, and in others he's the first to the forefront of implementing clampdowns of security and creating traps for any hapless hackers attacking his BBS. Definitely makes you think, if not too hard.
Getting Others to Commit Suicide, by The Blade of the Neon Knights
The Blade was one of the leaders of the Neon Knights, who themselves were an elite portion of the Metal Communications team, purveyor of textfiles throughout the BBS world, but mostly through AE lines. With their unique blend of Heavy Metal, Satanism, and Geek Chic, the group put out some of the odder files out there. In the case of this file, The Blade tells you how to drive others to self-destruction, so as to make it easier to get into college or a well-paying job. A graphic collection of sick suggestions; just the soft of thing you could expect from this group. Are people really afraid of this sort of thing?
The Tao of Programming, by Geoffrey James
Mr. James' gentle and intelligent retelling of the idea of the Tao redone for programming, hardware, and software. This soft of file, meant to be a light parody of another, more famous work, ends up standing up pretty well on its own. There's one for documentation as well, and there's other more pop-culture books expounding on the Tao you can purchase these days. A good read if you believe in it or you don't.
The Taping I, by Underwarez
A particularly virulent example of a "Rag File", a file whose entire purpose was to tease, slander, or otherwise ridicule another member of the same (usually pirating or phreaking) subculture. In this particular rag, a hapless user named Jeff Spicolli is subject to implications of incest, lack of technical knowledge, bestiality, and other similar traits, ending with his voice telephone number. This type of file would start showing up on local AE lines or BBSes and while most of these rants would disappear about a week or two after the Sysops took them down, a few still hung around. The most involved set of rag files to my knowledge would be the Matt Ackeret chronicles from Anarchy Incorporated.
The Ten Commandments of RBBS
I was never a big fan of RBBS software, mostly because a lot of the sysops I ran into had the attitude put forward in this file. Reading over the commandments, we find that the SysOp is God, that you must not use handles or speak of things not involving computers, that profanity is unwelcome, and that a full three commandments dictate what kind of advertising you may post. This file is a great example of how attitude could turn a BBS from a place of fun to a stuffed-shirt, bland, unenjoyable piece of cardboard. Then again, posting this kind of file told people what kind of administrator you were right off the bat, enabling easy and quick escape. Run.
The Top 10 Media Errors about the Steven Jackson Games Raid
This 1992 document from Steve Jackson games responds to some of the most blatant factual errors about the infamous "Raid" on that role-playing game company. In the course of an investigation, the US Secret Service raided Steve Jackson games and confiscated all the materials of a role-playing game called GURPS CYBERPUNK, which was played with dice and cards, and didn't even involve a computer. SJ Games were unable to have their game back for 7 months, during which time it was described as some sort of "hacking manual" that the country had to be protected from. Naturally, when all was said and done, the game was harmless and nothing what the Secret Service claimed it was. A true insight into ignorance on a massive scale.
The Internet Worm Program: An Analysis, by Eugene H. Spafford
The Internet Worm changed a lot of minds about how interconnected and insecure the Internet was at that time. Using a combination of weaknesses and back doors in common programs, the Worm wended its way throughout the then-small Net and succeeded in crippling it. This document, written during the Aftermath, presents a well-thought-out analysis of all the methodology used by the worm, as well as a general oversight of the state of the Internet of the time. Long, but worth it.
Cracking the Universal Product Code, by Count Nibble
Count Nibble makes a second appearance in the top 100 files with his steady, thoughtful explanation of exactly how those silly black lines on every product in the supermarket work. What possible use this knowledge could have in one's day to day existence is pretty darn irrelevant; the point was, it was THERE, we WANTED TO KNOW, and Nibble FOUND IT OUT. That's the spirit of learning. Read and find out too.
Urine Box Plans, by Wolfgang von Albatross (March 2, 1986)
By the time this file appeared on AE lines across the country, "Box" files had proliferated to the point that it was hard to tell who came up with with idea first. As might be expected, parodies began appearing, including the "Blotto Box" (which would supposedly destroy an entire telephone central switching office) and this specimen, which purports to cause the headset on the other end of the line to injure or kill the user. Naturally, this file is complete fiction, but constructed with enough of a straight face to make the unsuspecting collector think they have some sort of accurate textfile. An excellent awareness test.
Login Screen for the Utopia BBS: "May I take your Order Please?"
Taking advantage of the easily modifiable source code of their BBS, the Sysops of Utopia BBS constantly (and I do mean constantly) retooled all menus, messages, login and logoff screens, and even system functions. One result of this was that you always had a surprise the next time you connected to the BBS, and you always felt like you were part of a party. Note that the system actually made me type in my password, only to ignore me and continue its merry blather for a few more paragraphs.
VAXen, My Children, Just Don't Belong Some Places, by Mike O'Brien
Mr. O'Brien's ode to the misunderstood, mistreated VAX has achieved quite a large distribution; I keep finding it buried everywhere, in joke files and computer information sites and just generally all over. Through his sad tale of VAX abuse, Mike keeps you interested to the very end. How much of it is true is left up to the reader, of course, but somehow, it just rings enough with me to consider it real. Interesting.
Fun! With Random Senseless Violence, by Count Nibble (August 2, 1985)
Count Nibble was one of the most literate of all the Apple II-era textfile writers, pre-dating similarly styled groups like Metal Communications and the Cult of the Dead Cow by years with his musical quotes, proper spelling and formatting, and choosing all sorts of esoteric subjects to write about. In the case of this file, he lists out his suggestions for causing mayhem and destruction on a boring summer's night. Through browsing his web presence, an interesting fact about Nibble made itself known to me: He was college-age when this and other files were written, bringing a maturity to both his spelling and general perspective, if not his general outlook on personal property. A pioneer.
The Code of the Verbal Warrior, or Barney's Bitch Manual
Barney Badass, co-sysop of The Glue Ball and heady influence on a number of Chicago BBSes, rants forth with a set of instructions on how to conduct a proper "bitch war". In the vernacular of the Internet, this has come to be known as a "flame war", but the same idea holds: Long after the intended subject has dropped out of debate, two (or more) sides begin a verbal assault on each other that fills the message base with dozens of personal attacks, insinuations, libel, and slander. After a while, everyone not personally involved in the bitchwar is driven away, posting messages on other sub-boards, which causes them to be insulted for not posting on the right sub-board, possibly leading to another bitchwar. Barney Badass, himself, was a true character and the instigator of some of my finest on-line memories.
Warning: This Machine Breaks Down During Periods of Critical Need!
Another light chuckle from the textfiles of the 1970s, this file warns you that the machine is more likely to break down the more you need it. The attempt to parody industrial labelling as well as the attention to clever turns of phrase marks a lot of the "big iron" humor in textfiles from professionals and college students of this time, showing they were looking for a little lightness in their otherwise stressful and highly-taxing occupations.
THE FOLLOWING ARE COMMON SENSE WARNINGS WHEN DEALING WITH A UFO
Yes, in the event that you do come across a classic lights-flashing UFO, just follow these simple hints and you probably won't be abducted, garrotted, or experimented on. A must for overseas travellers!
Watching the Watcher Watching You, by Sir Knight (1985)
Besides the very memorable title, Sir Knight's file stands out for his call to mistrust others in the subculture as being potential enemies and agents, and to think twice before revealing information about yourself. Most noticeably, his automatic dismissal of anyone asking "how do I do this?" on public boards shows the beginnings of a trend that continues to this day. (Note also, that his portrait of the most trustable phreakers/hackers are anyone jewish, middle-upper-class, and under 19.)
Why I Prefer Textfiles, by Jason Scott (February 27, 1987)
I make a cameo appearance! This file came out of my mind one summer in my 16th year while I was home sick with the flu. As my BBS was dedicated to textfiles, I thought it would be fun to write one of my own about why textfiles were better. This file was parodied by a few of my friends at the time, but I think, looking back, my heart was in the right place. (It's still there.)
The Youth International Party Line #1, Transcribed by BIOC Agent 003
BIOC, besides being particularly good at writing textfiles of his own composition, was dedicated to preserving knowledge of the foundation that he and others were building on top of. In the case of Phone Phreaks and later Phreak Magazines, this foundation was YIPL, the house organ of the Yippies, who were a revolutionary youth group of the 1960's. YIPL provided one of the first radical magazines dedicated to learning more about technology. While the first issues (under the influence of Abbie Hoffman and others) merely called upon its readers to use this knowledge as a crowbar to smash the state, later issues (when the magazine renamed itself to the Technological Assistance Party, or TAP) brought forth a love of learning and understanding how technology affected all our lives, and a need to know who was pulling the strings. BIOC does his best to transcribe this issue as close to what it looked like when hastily-scrawled copies were sent out to a few dozen people in June of 1971. Good show.