Before Hackers Wore Hats

Apr 26, 2018 at 11:00 am by Warlord720

I distinctly remember an extreme attack of vanity setting in.

I wanted to see my name listed on the software I was using. I wanted to freak out my friends when they saw it on the screen the next time we fired it up.

So, I searched the code and changed it to what I thought was more appropriate.  MD McCallum. Much better.

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I was officially a hacker. I just didn't know it then.

I'm pretty sure I was wearing a ballcap that most likely wasn't black or white. Probably wasn't backward on my head either.

I remember the ballcaps because they kept the long hair out of my eyes and face. Flying hair was a constant problem for some of us in the 1960s/'70s. Steven Segal short ponytail chic hadn't hit the scene yet.

Sigh… those were the days. Hair.

Right now, I'd settle for a mind-numbing mullet just to have hair. Sorry about that out of nowhere mental image of Billy Ray… that's collateral damage.

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Now I wear a hat to keep the sun from burning my head and overheating my onboard, bio-metric information storage and retrieval system. A scorched head is no fun at all.

Hats, however, were the furthest thing from my mind as I searched lines and lines of uncompiled BASIC code to change things that annoyed me. Then I changed things that could be improved. Then I screwed up the whole thing and started over.

Was I breaking the law? No idea. Bending rules? Probably. Running amok over the Users Agreement? Why not? 

What's a User's Agreement anyway? Is that akin to the legendary but rarely sighted "User's Manual?"

Back in the day, the concept of not owning something in your home that you paid for was so far outside the norm it was hard to wrap your head around the notion.

What do you mean you licensed this to me? I bought the freaking thing… it's mine.

Good or bad… black hat or white hat never entered the equation. It's like my car. If I want to change it… I will. Otherwise… don't give me a way to change it.

Those were the digital frontier days. It was the wild west with loose code and open drinking. Or was that the other way around?

Anyway… regardless of my hat color, I was hooked. No piece of uncompiled code was safe. I pried into, Peeked and Poked (those are official BASIC terms) my way through the code until I bent it to my whims.

It was custom to the max.

Where you have dots, dashes and impartial prompts… I was enjoying a tailor-made experience with the same software.

Before hacking went either way we formed teams… Hacker Dawgs… to improve uncompiled software every chance we got. Then we discovered de-compilers and our hacking went into another dimension.

It never occurred to us to bring harm to a person's data and the thought of a virus… well, that's another story because we really couldn't wrap our minds around that. Intruding on someone's private data was morally objectionable to most of us. It just wasn't on our radar.

It was a different time or maybe I was a white hat back then!

I can remember in Windows DOS when I discovered you could change the command prompt from the usual "C:\" to whatever you wanted so I used variations of "Task Failed – Press Again to Reboot". This of course brought up another altered DOS prompt with the same message leading people to believe they were locked out when all they were doing was pressing the Enter button over and over.

I was young… and evil. Wouldn't do that now but it sure was a hoot to watch way back when.

Hmmm… now that I think about it, guess I was wearing a black hat and just didn't know it!


M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years.  Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD at his website


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