Tag Archives: napster

The Early Days of Mass Internet Piracy Were Awesome Yet Awful

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/the-early-days-of-mass-internet-piracy-were-awesome-yet-awful-180211/

While Napster certainly put the digital cats among the pigeons in 1999, the organized chaos of mass Internet file-sharing couldn’t be truly appreciated until the advent of decentralized P2P networks a year or so later.

In the blink of an eye, everyone with a “shared folder” client became both a consumer and publisher, sucking in files from strangers and sharing them with like-minded individuals all around the planet. While today’s piracy narrative is all about theft and danger, in the early 2000s the sharing community felt more like distant friends who hadn’t met, quietly trading cards together.

Satisfying to millions, those who really engaged found shared folder sharing a real adrenaline buzz, as English comedian Seann Walsh noted on Conan this week.

“Click. 20th Century Fox comes up. No pixels. No shaky cam. No silhouettes of heads at the bottom of the screen, people coming in five minutes late. None of that,” Walsh said, recalling his experience of downloading X-Men 2 (X2) from LimeWire.

“We thought: ‘We’ve done it!!’ This was incredible! We were going to have to go to the cinema. We weren’t going to have to wait for the film to come out on video. We weren’t going to have to WALK to blockbuster!”

But while the nostalgia has an air of magic about it, Walsh’s take on the piracy experience is bittersweet. While obtaining X2 without having to trudge to a video store was a revelation, there were plenty of drawbacks too.

Downloading the pirate copy took a week, which pre-BitTorrent wasn’t a completely bad result but still a considerable commitment. There were also serious problems with quality control.

“20th Century fades, X Men 2 comes up. We’ve done it! We’re not taking it for granted – we’re actually hugging. Yes! Yes! We’ve done it! This is the future! We look at the screen, Wolverine turns round…,” …..and Walsh launches into a broadside of pseudo-German babble, mimicking the unexpectedly-dubbed superhero.

After a week of downloading and getting a quality picture on launch, that is a punch in the gut, to say the least. Arguably no less than a pirate deserves, some will argue, but a fat lip nonetheless, and one many a pirate has suffered over the years. Nevertheless, as Walsh notes, it’s a pain that kids in 2018 simply cannot comprehend.

“Children today are living the childhood I dreamed of. If they want to hear a song – touch – they stream it. They’ve got it now. Bang. Instantly. They don’t know the pain of LimeWire.

“Start downloading a song, go to school, come back. HOPE that it’d finished! That download bar messing with you. Four minutes left…..nine HOURS and 28 minutes left? Thirty seconds left…..52 hours and 38 minutes left? JUST TELL ME THE TRUTH!!!!!” Walsh pleaded.

While this might sound comical now, this was the reality of people downloading from clients such as LimeWire and Kazaa. While X2 in German would’ve been torture for a non-German speaker, the misery of watching an English language copy of 28 Days Later somehow crammed into a 30Mb file is right up there too.

Mislabeled music with microscopic bitrates? That was pretty much standard.

But against the odds, these frankly second-rate experiences still managed to capture the hearts and minds of the digitally minded. People were prepared to put up with nonsense and regular disappointment in order to consume content in a way fit for the 21st century. Yet somehow the combined might of the entertainment industries couldn’t come up with anything substantially better for a number of years.

Of course, broadband availability and penetration played its part but looking back, something could have been done. Not only didn’t the Internet’s popularity come as a surprise, people’s expectations were dramatically lower than they are today too. In any event, beating the pirates should have been child’s play. After all, it was just regular people sharing files in a Windows folder.

Any fool could do it – and millions did. Surprisingly, they have proven unstoppable.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN discounts, offers and coupons

No Level of Copyright Enforcement Will Ever Be Enough For Big Media

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/no-level-of-copyright-enforcement-will-ever-be-enough-for-big-media-180107/

For more than ten years TorrentFreak has documented a continuous stream of piracy battles so it’s natural that, every now and then, we pause to consider when this war might stop. The answer is always “no time soon” and certainly not in 2018.

When swapping files over the Internet first began it wasn’t a particularly widespread activity. A reasonable amount of content was available, but it was relatively inaccessible. Then peer-to-peer came along and it sparked a revolution.

From the beginning, copyright holders felt that the law would answer their problems, whether that was by suing Napster, Kazaa, or even end users. Some industry players genuinely believed this strategy was just a few steps away from achieving its goals. Just a little bit more pressure and all would be under control.

Then, when the landmark MGM Studios v. Grokster decision was handed down in the studios’ favor during 2005, the excitement online was palpable. As copyright holders rejoiced in this body blow for the pirating masses, file-sharing communities literally shook under the weight of the ruling. For a day, maybe two.

For the majority of file-sharers, the ruling meant absolutely nothing. So what if some company could be held responsible for other people’s infringements? Another will come along, outside of the US if need be, people said. They were right not to be concerned – that’s exactly what happened.

Ever since, this cycle has continued. Eager to stem the tide of content being shared without their permission, rightsholders have advocated stronger anti-piracy enforcement and lobbied for more restrictive interpretations of copyright law. Thus far, however, literally nothing has provided a solution.

One would have thought that given the military-style raid on Kim Dotcom’s Megaupload, a huge void would’ve appeared in the sharing landscape. Instead, the file-locker business took itself apart and reinvented itself in jurisdictions outside the United States. Meanwhile, the BitTorrent scene continued in the background, somewhat obliviously.

With the SOPA debacle still fresh in relatively recent memory, copyright holders are still doggedly pursuing their aims. Site-blocking is rampant, advertisers are being pressured into compliance, and ISPs like Cox Communications now find themselves responsible for the infringements of their users. But has any of this caused any fatal damage to the sharing landscape? Not really.

Instead, we’re seeing a rise in the use of streaming sites, each far more accessible to the newcomer than their predecessors and vastly more difficult for copyright holders to police.

Systems built into Kodi are transforming these platforms into a plug-and-play piracy playground, one in which sites skirt US law and users can consume both at will and in complete privacy. Meanwhile, commercial and unauthorized IPTV offerings are gathering momentum, even as rightsholders try to pull them back.

Faced with problems like these we are now seeing calls for even tougher legislation. While groups like the RIAA dream of filtering the Internet, over in the UK a 2017 consultation had copyright holders excited that end users could be criminalized for simply consuming infringing content, let alone distributing it.

While the introduction of both or either of these measures would cause uproar (and rightly so), history tells us that each would fail in its stated aim of stopping piracy. With that eventuality all but guaranteed, calls for even tougher legislation are being readied for later down the line.

In short, there is no law that can stop piracy and therefore no law that will stop the entertainment industries coming back for harsher measures, pursuing the dream. This much we’ve established from close to two decades of litigation and little to no progress.

But really, is anyone genuinely surprised that they’re still taking this route? Draconian efforts to maintain control over the distribution of content predate the file-sharing wars by a couple of hundred years, at the very least. Why would rightsholders stop now, when the prize is even more valuable?

No one wants a minefield of copyright law. No one wants a restricted Internet. No one wants extended liability for innovators, service providers, or the public. But this is what we’ll get if this problem isn’t solved soon. Something drastic needs to happen, but who will be brave enough to admit it, let alone do something about it?

During a discussion about piracy last year on the BBC, the interviewer challenged a caller who freely admitted to pirating sports content online. The caller’s response was clear:

For far too long, broadcasters and rightsholders have abused their monopoly position, charging ever-increasing amounts for popular content, even while making billions. Piracy is a natural response to that, and effectively a chance for the little guy to get back some control, he argued.

Exactly the same happened in the music market during the late 1990s and 2000s. In response to artificial restriction of the market and the unrealistic hiking of prices, people turned to peer-to-peer networks for their fix. Thanks to this pressure but after years of turmoil, services like Spotify emerged, converting millions of former pirates in the process. Netflix, it appears, is attempting to do the same thing with video.

When people feel that they aren’t getting ripped off and that they have no further use for sub-standard piracy services in the face of stunning legal alternatives, things will change. But be under no illusion, people won’t be bullied there.

If we end up with an Internet stifled in favor of rightsholders, one in which service providers are too scared to innovate, the next generation of consumers will never forget. This will be a major problem for two key reasons. Not only will consumers become enemies but piracy will still exist. We will have come full circle, fueled only by division and hatred.

It’s a natural response to reject monopolistic behavior and it’s a natural response, for most, to be fair when treated with fairness. Destroying freedom is far from fair and will not create a better future – for anyone.

Laws have their place, no sane person will argue against that, but when the entertainment industries are making billions yet still want more, they’ll have to decide whether this will go on forever with building resentment, or if making a bit less profit now makes more sense longer term.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN discounts, offers and coupons

People Pay Pennies For Netflix, Spotify, HBO, Xbox Live & More

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/people-pay-pennies-for-netflix-spotify-hbo-xbox-live-more-180106/

Gaining free access to copyrighted material is not a difficult task in today’s online world. Movies, TV shows, music, games, and eBooks are all just a few clicks away, either using torrent, streaming, or direct download services.

Over the years, however, the growth of piracy has been at least somewhat slowed due to the advent of official services. Where there was once a content vacuum, official platforms such as Netflix, Spotify, HBO, TIDAL, Steam, and others, are helping users to find the content they want.

While most services present reasonable value, subscribing to them all would be a massive strain on even the most expansive of budgets. But what if there was a way to access every single one of them, for just a few dollars a year – in total? Believe it or not, such services exist and have done for some time.

Described as ‘Account Generators’, these platforms grant members with access to dozens of premium services, without having to pay anything like the headline price. The main ones often major on access to a Netflix subscription as a base, with access to other services thrown in on top.

How much a year?

The screenshot above shows one ‘generator’ service as it appeared this week. On the far right is a Netflix offer for $2.99 per year or $4.99 for a lifetime ‘private’ account (more on that later). That is of course ridiculously cheap.

On the near left is the ‘All Access’ plan, which offers access to Netflix plus another 69 online services for just $6.99 per month or $16.99 per year. The range of services available is impressive, to say the least.

Movies and TV Shows: Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO Now, Crunchyroll, DIRECTV/Now, Stream TV Live, CBS All Access, Funimation, Slingbox, Xfinity.

On the sports front: BT Sports, Fubo.tv, F1 Access, MLB.TV, NBA League Pass, NFL Game Pass, UFC Fight Pass, WWE Network.

For music, access is provided to Spotify, Deezer, Napster, Pandora, Saavn, SoundCloud, and TIDAL.

A small selection of the services available

How these services gain access to all of these accounts is shrouded in a level of secrecy but there’s little doubt that while some are obtained legitimately (perhaps through free trials or other account sharing), the roots of others are fairly questionable.

For example, when these services talk about ‘shared and ‘private’ Netflix accounts, the former often appear set up for someone else, with individual user accounts in other people’s names and suggestions for what to watch next already in place. In other words, these are live accounts already being paid for by someone, to which these services somehow gain access.

Indeed, there are notices on account generator platforms warning people not to mess with account passwords or payment details, since that could alert the original user or cause an account to get shut down for other reasons.

“Origin brings you great PC and Mac games. Play the latest RPGs, Shooters, Sim games, and more. These accounts are private (1 per person), however you MUST NOT change passwords,” one warning reads.

Since Origin has just come up, it’s probably a suitable juncture to mention the games services on offer. In addition to EA’s offering, one can gain access to Xbox Live, ESL Gaming, Good Old Games, League of Legends, Minecraft Premium, Steam (game keys) and Uplay.

And it doesn’t stop there.

Need a BitDefender key? No problem. Access to Creative Market? You got it. Want to do some online learning? Queue up for Chegg, CourseHero, Lynda, Mathway, Udemy, and more. There’s even free access to NYTimes Premium. As the image below shows, thousands of accounts are added all the time.

Thousands of accounts, all the time…

While these generator platforms are undoubtedly popular with people on a budget, almost everything about them feels wrong. Staring into someone’s private Netflix account, with what appear to be family names, is unsettling. Looking at their private email addresses and credit card details feels flat-out criminal.

Quite how these services are able to prosper isn’t clear but perhaps the big question is why the platforms whose accounts are being offered haven’t noticed some kind of pattern by now. Maybe they have, but it’s probably a pretty difficult task to sweep up the mess without a lot of false positives, not to mention the risks of ensnaring those who pay for their accounts officially.

The video below, from late 2016, gives a decent overview of how an account generator platform works. Even for many hardcore pirates, especially those who demand privacy and respect the same for others, parts of the viewing will be uncomfortable.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN discounts, offers and coupons

Piracy Brings a New Young Audience to Def Leppard, Guitarist Says

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/piracy-brings-a-new-young-audience-to-def-leppard-guitarist-says-170803/

For decades the debate over piracy has raged, with bands and their recording industry paymasters on one side and large swathes of the public on the other. Throughout, however, there have been those prepared to recognize that things aren’t necessarily black and white.

Over the years, many people have argued that access to free music has helped them broaden their musical horizons, dabbling in new genres and discovering new bands. This, they argue, would have been a prohibitively expensive proposition if purchases were forced on a trial and error basis.

Of course, many labels and bands believe that piracy amounts to theft, but some are prepared to put their heads above the parapet with an opinion that doesn’t necessarily tow the party line.

Formed in 1977 in Sheffield, England, rock band Def Leppard have sold more than 100 million records worldwide and have two RIAA diamond certificated albums to their name. But unlike Metallica who have sold a total of 116 million records and were famous for destroying Napster, Def Leppard’s attitude to piracy is entirely more friendly.

In an interview with Ultimate Classic Rock, Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell has been describing why he believes piracy has its upsides, particularly for enduring bands that are still trying to broaden their horizons.

“The way the band works is quite extraordinary. In recent years, we’ve been really fortunate that we’ve seen this new surge in our popularity. For the most part, that’s fueled by younger people coming to the shows,” Campbell said.

“We’ve been seeing it for the last 10, 12 or 15 years, you’d notice younger kids in the audience, but especially in the last couple of years, it’s grown exponentially. I really do believe that this is the upside of music piracy.”

Def Leppard celebrate their 40th anniversary this year, and the fact that they’re still releasing music and attracting a new audience is a real achievement for a band whose original fans only had access to vinyl and cassette tapes. But Campbell says the band isn’t negatively affected by new technology, nor people using it to obtain their content for free.

“You know, people bemoan the fact that you can’t sell records anymore, but for a band like Def Leppard at least, there is a silver lining in the fact that our music is reaching a whole new audience, and that audience is excited to hear it, and they’re coming to the shows. It’s been fantastic,” he said.

While packing out events is every band’s dream, Campbell believes that the enthusiasm these fresh fans bring to the shows is actually helping the band to improve.

“There’s a whole new energy around Leppard, in fact. I think we’re playing better than we ever have. Which you’d like to think anyway. They always say that musicians, unlike athletes, you’re supposed to get better.

“I’m not sure that anyone other than the band really notices, but I notice it and I know that the other guys do too. When I play ‘Rock of Ages’ for the 3,000,000 time, it’s not the song that excites me, it’s the energy from the audience. That’s what really lifts our performance. When you’ve got a more youthful audience coming to your shows, it only goes in one direction,” he concludes.

The thought of hundreds or even thousands of enthusiastic young pirates energizing an aging Def Leppard to the band’s delight is a real novelty. However, with so many channels for music consumption available today, are these new followers necessarily pirates?

One only has to visit Def Leppard’s official YouTube channel to see that despite being born in the late fifties and early sixties, the band are still regularly posting new content to keep fans up to date. So, given the consumption habits of young people these days, YouTube seems a more likely driver of new fans than torrents, for example.

That being said, Def Leppard are still humming along nicely on The Pirate Bay. The site lists a couple of hundred torrents, some uploaded more recently, some many years ago, including full albums, videos, and even entire discographies.

Arrr, we be Def Leppaaaaaard

Interestingly, Campbell hasn’t changed his public opinion on piracy for more than a decade. Back in 2007 he was saying similar things, and in 2011 he admitted that there were plenty of “kids out there” with the entire Def Leppard collection on their iPods.

“I am pretty sure they didn’t all pay for it. But, maybe those same kids will buy a ticket and come to a concert,” he said.

“We do not expect to sell a lot of records, we are just thankful to have people listening to our music. That is more important than having people pay for it. It will monetize itself later down the line.”

With sites like YouTube perhaps driving more traffic to bands like Def Leppard than pure piracy these days (and even diverting people away from piracy itself), it’s interesting to note that there’s still controversy around people getting paid for music.

With torrent sites slowly dropping off the record labels’ hitlists, one is much more likely to hear them criticizing YouTube itself for not giving the industry a fair deal.

Still, bands like Def Leppard seem happy, so it’s not all bad news.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

My first computer

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2016/04/05/my-first-computer/

This month — March, okay, today is March 36th — Vladimir Costescu is sponsoring an exciting post about:

How about this: write about your very first computer (e.g. when you were a kid or whatever) and some notable things you did with it / enjoyed about it. If you’ve ever built your own computer from parts, feel free to talk about that too.

My first computer

I could swear I’ve written about this before, but I can’t find it, so it must’ve never escaped Twitter.

My very very first computer was this bad boy, which I had when I was… geez, I’m not even sure. 7, maybe?

The VTech PreComputer 1000, from back in the days when “1000” still sounded futuristic. It had a screen with one entire row of pixellated LCD characters, a qwerty keyboard complete with Caps Lock (?!), and a wide variety of trivia games. Ran on six C batteries.

I seem to recall that the behavior of Caps Lock was to reverse the usual capitalization, by which I mean holding Shift while Caps Lock was on would produce lowercase characters. Wild. (edit: A great many people have informed me that this is in fact how Windows always worked, which surprises me a lot, because I very distinctly remember being surprised by a real computer’s behavior! It seems that at least some combination of MSDOS 6.22 and a particular keyboard model would ignore Shift when Caps Lock is on, so maybe that’s what I remember.)

In a kind of precursor to DLC, there were also several extra cartridges you could buy. They were about the size of a thick wallet and came with different sets of… more trivia games.

Then there was the part that changed my life forever: a built-in BASIC interpreter.

It was a huge, huge pain in the ass. I could only see or edit one line at a time, of course. There was also no writable internal storage — this machine was released in 1988, when the idea of a video game that could save your progress was still novel! — so any program I wrote was lost as soon as I turned the thing off.

It did come with a book full of documentation and sample programs. The documentation was helpful enough to get me to make some things, but perhaps not particularly well aimed at the target audience of 9-year-olds, as I remember there being several constructs I didn’t understand in the slightest. The sample programs weren’t described particularly well, had no comments at all, and at the longest ran beyond 30 lines. 30 lines doesn’t sound like a lot to me now, but it was the biggest program I’d ever seen at the time, and typing it all in on a one-line display was daunting. (There were nine “canonical” sample programs baked into the ROM, but the programming tutorial had several lengthy examples that had to be typed in.)

I really wish I could find a copy of the book online, but it predates the web, alas! This was all so long ago that I can’t really remember any of the sample programs. I want to say there was the usual “guess a number” game, a temperature converter, and maybe hangman? Haven’t the foggiest idea what kind of little programs I wrote from scratch, unfortunately.

I’m tempted to go find and buy one of these, partly for the nostalgia and partly to see how much I can convince a baby BASIC to do. Mine might even still be in my parents’ attic, if they haven’t thrown it out by now.

While I resist the urge to scour ebay, let’s move on a year or two.

Addended interlude: the manual

Aha, a commenter has found a post with a scan of the BASIC part of the manual (at the bottom)! There are a lot of gems in here I’d forgotten about, like how switching to BASIC mode would automatically turn Caps Lock on (something I remember hating, even as a kid). I also fondly remember the goofy proportional font they used, even for code, that used a ∅-like glyph for zero. I even spotted a missing semicolon in some example code that I could swear I’d noticed before.

I’m surprised to learn that there is some semblance of debugging available, though I doubt I understood it at the time — you could add a STOP statement to a program and it will halt there, returning you to the default REPL, where you could presumably print out variables or change lines of the running program.

Something that particularly fascinates me now is the error reporting. A syntax error would be reported as ?SN ERROR, and you would have to look at the list of error codes in the manual to find out that SN meant SYNTAX ERROR. Why not just say SYNTAX ERROR, then? This had me thinking that they adapted an existing BASIC interpreter rather than writing their own, and indeed, the errors have the same names as MSXBASIC’s errors. Not sure where the two-letter codes came from, though.

I’ve copied all the example programs into a gist for easier perusal. Looking at them with a more seasoned programmer’s eye, a few things stand out to me.

  • There were clearly several different authors here! Programs 6 and 9 are the only ones to start numbering from 100, to have 999 END as their last line, to ask if the player wants to play again, and to only accept YES as an affirmative answer. 3 and 4 are the only two to use the SOUND statement, and both omit the space between the word SOUND and its first argument. 1 and 8 are the only programs to finish with an END that doesn’t use 999 as its line number.

  • The PRINT statement accepted multiple arguments, separated by either semicolons or commas, though the manual doesn’t explain the difference (if any). Program 1 stands out as the only program to manually insert a space at the end of a literal string followed by a variable. The tutorial part of the manual implies that PRINT inserted spaces between its arguments automatically, which makes me wonder why this one program felt the need to add its own. Program 8, seemingly by the same author, never prints two things on the same line.

  • Program 4 appears to simulate a one-second delay with a 630-iteration empty loop. There is, of course, nothing explaining why this is the case. 630 might have been my very first magic number.

  • Program 8 is an implementation of selection sort! This is the only use of DIM — the statement for declaring an array — in the example programs. I remember being very confused as to what DIM even did, let alone realizing the point of the program. None of them have any kind of explanation or comments, except for a couple comments dividing up the rather long program 9.

  • The only built-in functions used in any of these programs are INT() in program 9 and RND() in program 5. None of the example programs demonstrate use of FOR ... STEP, ABS(), SGN(), SQR(), LOG(), EXP(), SIN(), COS(), TAN(), ATN(), LEN(), STR$(), VAL(), LEFT$(), RIGHT$(), MID$(), ASC(), CHR$(), GOSUB ... RETURN, AND, NOT, READ, DATA, or RESTORE.

  • Program 9 implements the perfect single-pile Nim strategy. If the player doesn’t correctly decide whether to go first or second, or doesn’t play perfectly, the computer will always win.

My first actual computer

We got it in the mid-90s — a 486 DX running MSDOS 6.22 and Windows 3.11 for Workgroups. It screamed along at 25 MHz 33 MHz, and if that wasn’t enough for you, it had a turbo button that would boost it all the way to 100 MHz! I had to turn turbo off when I won at sol.exe, or else the card waterfall animation would play nearly instantly, but otherwise turning turbo off resulted in a hard lock and a loud angry endless beep. Thanks to an upgrade, it also had 40MB of RAM. Nice.

It came with a huge CRT monitor with an incredible high-def resolution of 1280×1024. (The full-size photo of the PreComputer above is 1024×801.) It had a keyboard lock, too, which I eventually learned how to pick using a paperclip. For reasons.

I distinctly remember its price tag of $1999 $1995. I didn’t know what many things cost yet, nor did I have any sense of how much money people with jobs actually made, so that might as well have been “infinity dollars”. Twenty years later, you can buy a phone that’s orders of magnitude better than that computer for a third of the price.

Thanks to the power of the Internet, I actually managed to track down one of the original ads! This is from page 331 of the May 30, 1995 issue of PC Mag, courtesy of Google Books, which incredibly has a searchable index of quite a few old PC Mag issues. That pins down the date we bought this to the summer of 1995, when I was 8 years old. Damn, I remember those little speakers and that joystick too.

I graduated naturally from toy-computer-BASIC to a real programming language: QBasic. I first encountered it on school computers, and mostly enjoyed it for the fascinating sample programs, nibbles.bas (Snake) and gorillas.bas (a game where two large gorillas standing on skyscrapers try to throw exploding bananas at each other). I remember scrolling through their source code numerous times, having absolutely no idea how any of it worked. I didn’t really understand the feeling at the time, but I’m sure I was amazed and confused at how the same tools I’d used to make guess-a-number could also make these graphical, uh, masterpieces.

Lurking in there is a critical stop along the way to several flavors of enlightenment: realizing and internalizing that the amazing creative things you see and admire were just made by regular people, using regular tools. You can do it too.

I only remember one notable thing I made in QBasic in those days. I must’ve still been in middle school, which would mean I was 9 or 10? I got regular homework that involved taking a set of vocabulary words and making “word pyramids” out of them, like this:

1
2
3
c    d
ca   do
cat  dog

…except that the words were more like ten letters long. I guess the point was to learn their spelling, but as someone who was just fine at spelling thank you very much, I thought this was agonizingly boring and a waste of time. So I decided to write a program to do it. I spent well over a week on it, but I did it, and it worked! I managed to get pyramids (effectively squares, really) of different sizes arranged on a page automatically and to print out (directly to the printer) one line at a time. I felt like a fucking wizard for what may have been the first time.

Alas, the teacher wouldn’t accept a printout for some reason.


The 486 was the family computer for a while, what with its being our only one, but after a few years my parents bought a better one (a Pentium!) and I inherited the 486. The glorious beast. I must’ve been 11 or 12.

Somewhere along the way it also got an upgrade to Windows 95, which I hated initially. It was just a blank screen! Where was Program Manager?! Where was Cardfile?

This was just before the turn of the millenium, right when digital music was getting popular. By “digital music”, of course, I mean “Napster”, as the music industry was still a few years away from hearing that the Internet exists. You could download a massive 4 MB MP3 of your favorite song in only ten minutes!

You could, anyway. I could not. My 486 couldn’t decode MP3s in real time, even with the turbo button. In other words, it took more than one second to understand one second of music. I think I had a single WAV, but 40MB was a huge chunk of my 851MB hard drive (later improved to 1.2GB thanks to DoubleSpace, and partly mitigated by a 100MB Zip drive), so I mostly listened to MIDIs.

The timeline is a bit fuzzy, but at some point I graduated from QBasic to a few different things. I think the earliest was some proprietary shareware scripting language I’d read about in PC Magazine or whatever; it was clumsy, but it could be triggered by hotkeys and manipulate existing programs, which let me do more interesting tinkering than the confines of a command prompt would allow. I want to say it was “Wilson WindowWare” or something similarly alliterative; that finds me a extant company with a product called “WinBatch“. The name doesn’t ring a bell, but it fits the description, so maybe that was it.

I ended up with a copy of Visual Basic 6 at some point (free copy on a CD with a magazine, maybe?) and built a few little toy programs with it, like a color picker and a really bad “encryption” program. I also got into JavaScript (!) for a little while, back before anyone was even saying “DHTML”, back when XSS was unheard of and I was free to embed rainbow-text JS into a forum post. That largely fell by the wayside when I discovered server-side Perl, which was magical. veekun was probably the first big thing I tried to build (and stuck with for more than a month or two).

My first built computer

I was still using a 486 in 2000 or 2001, at which point it was comically obsolete. Again, the timeline is fuzzy here, because I could swear that I got a new machine by 2001, but I distinctly remember building it in a place I thought I only lived in 2003. I don’t think I had an extra machine in the middle there, either.

I couldn’t tell you much about the process of building it, but I imagine it went much the same as my experience with building computers now: get a bunch of parts, wiggle them together because everything only fits one way, spend all day trying to figure out why it doesn’t boot only to find that a stick of RAM is sticking out one millimeter too far.

It was a Pentium something in a tower case, which was quite a change. I named it kabigon, the Japanese name for Snorlax, beginning a theme that I’ve continued ever since.

I also put Gentoo on it for reasons I cannot fathom. This was back in the day when the “real” way to install Gentoo was from stage1, which means you don’t get an installer; you just get a massive, massive list of instructions on how to manually bootstrap everything from scratch. It took days to get a working system, including a day or two to compile X and KDE, but I sure did learn a lot about Linux and how a desktop environment is put together.

I’m not sure XP was actually out at this point, so consumer Windows still had no built-in way to share an Internet connection, and ISPs weren’t yet giving out routers. The very concept of a router was still pretty alien. Up until this point, we’d been sharing the connection via some terrible shareware garbage called WinGate (which is somehow still around) that mostly worked, except when it didn’t. I, despite having no clue what the hell I was doing, offered to instead have my computer act as the router, because Linux is better at being a router than Windows ME. Which is true! The plan almost fell apart when my parents got tired of waiting for days for me to finish creating a computer, but in the end I did manage to get kabigon acting as the router, by blindly pasting a bunch of iptables rules my boyfriend gave to me. Hm, actually, I think my interest in Linux can all be traced back to (and squarely blamed on) him.

In 2003 I was also in a high school programming class. The class really had two classes taught at the same time: computer science 1, where the teacher taught maybe 16 or 20 kids to do simple stuff in QBasic; and computer science 2, where four of us who vaguely knew what we were doing basically had free reign. I’d taken the AP Computer Science AB class and exam a year or two prior (and was nearly constantly mystified by why C++ was such a pain in the ass compared to everything else I knew), so by now I was finally dipping my toes into building slightly more complex stuff.

One such thing I remember well is an implementation of Hex, the board game on a hexagonal grid where two players try to be the first to connect their two opposite sides of the board. I remember it so well, in fact, that I have managed to exactly reproduce the source code and placed it in this gist just for you. Also I made this screenshot.

C++ implementation of Hex, with Allegro

Or maybe I just still have most of the code I wrote in that class because I’m a packrat. I’m glad, too, because it’s the oldest window I have into what the heck I was doing thirteen years ago. I see I was also showing off. At one point the computer science 1 class had been told to write a change-giving program, where you enter a cost and an amount paid, and the program spits out the assortment of coins and bills you should get back. It’s not too difficult a problem; read a line of input, do a little math, print out a few numbers. I, however, decided that not only would I also write this program, but I would be a total dick about it.

Giving change

Don’t worry, I’ve got the source code for that, too! And it is unreadable slop.

I also remember an assignment about drawing a picture using QBasic’s drawing primitives. So I dug up a picture an artist friend had drawn me, reduced it to 16 colors, and wrote a Perl script to generate a QBasic program that would render it one pixel at a time. Alas, I don’t have the source code for that.

But my greatest achievement was probably writing a Chip’s Challenge clone, complete with a bunch of tiles that were supposed to be in the eternally-delayed Chip’s Challenge 2 (incidentally, now released at last). I had no understanding of a game clock or an event queue or any of that nonsense, so it’s entirely turn-based; the game waits for you to move, and then the entire world updates. I never got around to making any monsters, so it would’ve been purely puzzle-based, except I never got around to making any levels, either. I don’t think you could even die; the game would just not let you walk onto hazards. Also it was just DOS characters, no graphics. I was working on a level editor, but never finished it. Tragic.

Just like Chip's Challenge, except not very good at all

That’s all of interest I can remember. A couple years later, I was in college, playing a lot of World of Warcraft and making bad stubs of websites that never saw the light of day.

Appendix: all my computers ever

If you’re curious! Primary, in order:

  • fushigidane (Bulbasaur, named retroactively for being the first): the 486, running Windows 3.11 and later Windows 95 — current location unknown, possibly parents’ attic?
  • kabigon (Snorlax, named for being gigantic): the Pentium I built, running Gentoo — left behind at a friend’s house many years ago and not seen since
  • rapurasu (Lapras, named for portability): a lumbering brick of a Dell laptop I had in college, running XP and then eventually Kubuntu — still in my possession
  • myuutsuu (Mewtwo, named for its nebulous origins): a Frankenstein(‘s monster) assembled from my roommate’s spare parts after I left home, running XP — eventually returned to its component parts
  • tekkanin (Ninjask, named for its impressive speed): the first machine I actually bought for myself, running Ubuntu — I believe was incorporated into a former roommate’s media center
  • perushian (Persian, named because I splurged on it): my current machine, running Arch — typing on it right now

Secondary:

  • nyarumaa (Glameow, named for Apple aesthetic): a glossy white MacBook I bought for work in 2007, running Ubuntu — current location unknown
  • rukushio (Luxio, named for being medium-sized, blue, and electric): a “big” netbook I bought on a whim, originally running Ubuntu, then Arch, then accidentally bricked when I tried to update it after a long time — current location unknown
  • jarooda (Serperior, named “because it is a smug macbook for smug people”): the MacBook Pro that Yelp loaned me while I worked there, running OS X and Arch — returned to Yelp
  • zeruneasu (Xerneas, named for being newest??): a System76 laptop I bought after getting sick of fighting to get Apple hardware to work with Linux, running Ubuntu — in my bedroom, though rarely used nowadays
  • itomaru (Spinarak, named because… web…): a Soekris 6501 running pfsense and acting as our router — still doing that