Superzapping in Computer Land - The ride of the "Dalton Gang".

This article comes to us from the January 12, 1981 issue of Time. (Actually, "TIME" always spells their name in all caps, so I guess they want you to shout it whenever you say it.) The article covers the antics of four thirteen-year-old boys and their proto-hacking adventure.
Since this is 1981, and most people only understand computers as crazy things that huge companies have, the author (Frederic Golden) takes on the task of teaching some new words to TIME's audience. This is always hilarious. It's unclear whether Golden himself had heard the new terms only recently, but it's easy to imagine him using quotation fingers around strange new words like "access"... hopefully just for the benefit of the readers.
New "jargon" taught to TIME's readers in this article:


"seized control"



The four hackers in the article were all students at a New York private school called Dalton School, and they had hacked into Datapac's (an ISP) system. This, of course, was a softball opportunity for TIME to call them The Dalton Gang. I'm sure there were high fives all round the office at TIME when they thought that one up. Sadly, The P.A.G.  Research and Googling team was unable to find any updates about who the kids were or what they've been up to since then. Since they were only thirteen, their names weren't mentioned in the article and records of this crime are probably sealed or whatever. Incidentally, the amount of data the hackers destroyed: 10 million bits. That's 1.25 megabytes. It would fit on a floppy disk. That's adorable! Like a kid who had his lollipop stolen. Better still, that 1.25 Mb was one fifth of Datapac's computer's total storage capacity. So, a 1981 ISP's computer had 6.25 megs of storage. BAH hah hah, snort! Hang on. Let me go get some coffee so I can properly laugh it out my nose.

In '81, high-profile computer crime was still a curiosity. Back then,  Kevin Mitnick was just getting warmed up and even the FBI didn't know his name yet. Sure, it had been about ten years since John Draper had started his career by phone phreaking and by '81, he was already developing software for the Appe II. However, computer security was still a kooky sci-fi idea to most people. How kooky?
Jeez oh man. "Some" users are resorting to coding devices and "changing passwords". "What has the world come to?" they must have thought. I'm sure that, back in 1778 when the first tumbler lock was designed, people hung their heads in disappointment. What a sad day it must have been for people to realize that if you leave your front door closed with a nice heavy chair leaning against it, somebody might just find their way in and mosey out with your harpsichord under his arm.

I try to be in favor of any effort to remove money from dumb people. Still, the naivete of 1981 is maddening. That must be how most of the world looks from the perspective of guys like Anonymous.

The illustrations are by Kimble Mead. The name sounds familiar, like I should know who that is. 

A Google search page on the name is pretty much a bunch of art-related sites all stumbling over each other to proudly announce they've never heard of him. Nice work, Google. Here's a book he's illustrated on Amazon. Aah yes. That's him. Still beating the dead horse of bulbous, post-Yellow-Submarine Peter Maxism after all these years.

For further reading on early hacking, I recommend watching some TV. This wonderful documentary on Discovery Channel is... well, wonderful. Surprisingly, Discovery will let you watch the whole damn thing online via that link. It tells the story of Draper and Mitnick and pals with interviews and not-too-annoying reenactments. It also tells the story of the blind kid in the 60s who could whistle the control tones into his telephone to "seize control" (heh) of the phone system. Careful though, Discovery may try to sell you a DVD or something. I carry this doc around in my phone because I love it so much. I watch it a few times a year, because it's interesting to see how things get started.

Maaaaybe somewhere in the future, someone is reading this very post on an archived compilation of the entire internet stored on a 75,000,000 petabyte nano-USB stick while they're riding the hoverbus to their job at the space cafe? I wonder what we're starting...  right... now? WooooooooooOOOOOooooo!


Craig F. said...

That Kimball Mead fella illustrated every goddamned thing in the 1970s. It made me want to hurl even then. I hope that son of a bitch's fingers fell off so he could no longer besmirch the good name of illustrators everywhere.

PhilAreGo@gmail.com said...

Yep. This Mead guy's work (or work similar to his) was unavoidable. Blame the interestingness of Yellow Submarine for starting a trend that would take America another decade to get out of their system. The beatles moved on right after YS. Classy move. I think Kimball Mead (if he was the guy) should have stopped after doing the art for the Pay Day board game, having achieved the pinnacle of his career.


Thanks for reading, as always, Craigf!

Craig F. said...

I dropped my daughter off at her before school program the other day and they had Pay Day set up. Only now, all the artwork is modernized and it sucks.

PhilAreGo@gmail.com said...

Yeah, when I did the search for a picture of the board I remember, I found mostly the current version. Suck indeed. The important thing is, your daughter will probably learn to drive a manual transmission when the time comes, am I right?

Thanks, Craigf!

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