Pr0n Swanson (acalculatedname) wrote,
Pr0n Swanson

a 1337le confession, a 1337le reminiscin'

Ladies and gents of the LJ community: first off, while I DID read as much as possible, I must apologize that a series of completely ridiculous personal and local events / setbacks kept me from commenting much on your stuff this last round. I'll fix that this time out, promise.

In the mid-90s, back when I was in college, my long-latent inner computer nerd was in full if somewhat late bloom. Looking for cool things to do with my screaming-fast custom-built 200MHz machine with its whopping 2GB hard drive, I discovered the wild world of warez - pirated software. And at this point in time, before BitTorrent or any kind of so-called P2P application had even been invented, you had to really know what you were doing to find it.

As part of my n00b journey into the darkside of the then-Internet, I met many people who had lived and breathed in the "scene" (ok, "sc3n3") for a full decade already, stretching back into the days of phone-in bulletin board setups and the Commodore 64. They communicated in their own proprietary language, only a fraction of which has survived above-ground, to be mocked by the more knowledgeable dorky citizens of the modern-day Internets.

The posilutely redonkulous, character-transposing hacker-speak of those early days - for instance, bestowing the highest possible cyber-honor of uhhh eliteness, aka "l33tness", perhaps even "1337|\|355," onto someone or something - had already existed for a long time. It had come full circle into ironic, tongue-in-cheek usage for most of the folks in this huge, international, largely unsung subculture. But this was all very new to me in the mid-90s, and pretty damned hilarious to me at that.

One primary source of warez in this particular early-Internet era was IRC. Internet Relay Chat is the global and somewhat confusing chat network that every true-blue computer nerd knows about. Many such nerds met their closest friends and/or the love(s) of their life on IRC; heck, many of these nerds still use it (primarily to talk to other nerds). Mention IRC to the right sort of people and you'll be immediately met with dreamy-eyed nostalgia; mention it to most normal people and you'll get blank stares.

Hanging out on these not-quite-darknets, brushing elbows and trading digital goods with fellow warezhounds (or w4r3zhounds, take your pick), you'd eventually hear about all of these secretive, exclusive IRC chatrooms - properly known as channels - that required an invite for entrance. Over spans of days, weeks, maybe months, you'd suck up to enough Internet ass to get an invite, taking great care not to appear pushy or eager. If you played your cards right, eventually you'd somehow find your way into such an exclusive channel, and it felt like a major life achievement. Maybe that false sense of accomplishment should have been my first clue that there were far better things I could have been doing with my youthful time.

Now that you were truly one of the 1337 inner circle, you were surrounded by a plentiful bounty of "DCC bots" - chat-based services / scripts run at some personal expense and risk by generous quasi-criminal souls, which would selflessly and semi-automatically serve up your choice of perhaps 5-10 different pirated programs of the day (or, if you will, of the 0-day).

The text-noise in one of the big warez channels was almost impossible to follow, as dozens of bots talked over one another and recited their pirated-software menus for the day, repeating themselves once every 5-10 minutes or so. Actual human conversation was not allowed, and even if it had been, you'd never see what was being said before it was pushed off-screen by ten bots simultaneously reading off their daily specials. To "place an order" off a given bot's menu, you'd send a private message to the bot in a very particular format, and then get in line to receive your electronic shipment of sort-of-stolen merch.

Once I was "in," I downloaded everything in sight. Hoarding allegedly valuable data and applications became a veritable part-time job for the next several years. Did I need that app, or "need" it, right then? It didn't matter. It always looked amazing, and maybe I'd find some amazing use for it later, and by golly, it was free now.

See, I had a screaming fast connection-- at least until graduation-- while most of the rest of the country was still on AOL at 14.4k baud and home broadband was but a twinkle in the dastardly cable company's eye. Seeing my post-grad modem-based future and deeply dreading it, I set about on a mission to make the most of my available resources.

Hyper-expensive CAD, audio, 3d modeling and animation, programming environments, high-end art and design software - everything save games (I was never much of a gamer), I soon had it all. If it looked remotely interesting, I grabbed it. It seemed ridiculously easy, even as the hours involved in these pursuits silently ticked away by the hundreds and thousands.

In the end, of course, I maybe ended up using 1% of the apps I illicitly grabbed. At some point I had maybe $100,000+ worth of pirated applications-- more than enough to theoretically put me in federal prison, especially when the nasty ol' DMCA passed here in the US in 1998.

I guess that was part of the fun. I never resold any of this stuff, made any money with work I'd done using pirated product, did anything remotely smacking of actual damaging-to-society crime. But, dammit, I was still an outlaw, and I never even had to leave my desk chair. (Looking back, yeah, it's a darned good thing I already had a girlfriend before the day the campus put in those Ethernet ports.)

And sadly enough, I still have many of those applications, as I recently discovered. Since I also bought a CD burner the second they fell below $500 ca. 1997, I archived all of this crap to CD-R-- dozens of discs of now-completely-obsolete pirated software. I forgot all about this until recently, when I found the stash of discs and had a great laugh looking at their very-carefully-organized, now-utterly-useless contents.

Guess I thought the hard-won collection would still come in useful someday. Never mind that this ancient crap won't run on a modern Windows machine; even if it would, it has all been surpassed in functionality a million times over... in many cases, surpassed by contemporary free / open-source packages, or even by a $2 smartphone app.

(Having now written this entry, although I am long past the statute of limitations and half the companies that authored this stuff are now defunct, the CD-Rs are in a dumpster far away from my house. In fact, I made this entire entry up just for something to satisfy a prompt. Again, feds, do not raid my house. Nothing to see here.)

Nowadays, I still kinda know where to find stuff not-so-legally if it's absolutely necessary. But I very strongly believe in buying software, and especially believe in financially supporting developers and software companies who are consistently good to their customers. (There are still plenty such companies / devs who aren't good to their customers, and they can still go fuck themselves-- but instead of using a pirated version of their crap as a middle-finger-up gesture, I'll just find someone else's equivalent product to use.)

As a nerd, I get a lot more joy and fulfillment by buying an app and really putting the time in to learn what it can do for me. It's kind of funny; all these hours of my life were wasted in the thrill of the hunt for a given pirated app to "enhance my productivity," only to be immediately / invariably distracted by the next hunting mission, never getting around to actually using the stuff I'd just hunted down at such length for whatever-the-hell I thought I'd do with it. I'm way, way more productive now with only one legit and/or paid-for app for everything I actually do, thank you very much.

...At least, when I'm not wasting all of my time pointlessly shooting the shit on LJ, Twitter and/or Facebook... which I am doing probably around, oh, say, right this very instant.

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