A good time for hacking. | NCPR News

The pre-hacked view of the legendary arcade game “Datnoids”.

Two things happened this week that seem largely unrelated, but converged in my mind and caused my thoughts to stop at a station she hasn’t visited in years:

  1. Willing hackers have enlisted in the war in Ukraine, seeking to disrupt the Russian invasion on the cyber front. They do everything from sabotaging electronic communications to adding graffiti to Russian government websites. And while my general feeling is that the situation will deescalate as quickly as possible, I think I speak for most of us when I say that I hope the hackers come in and sign Vladimir Putin for a lot of expensive magazine subscriptions he didn’t order and ruin his credit rating.
  2. I bought an Xbox.

I bought the Xbox for my 13 year old son after spending a week in Wisconsin during which he and his oldest friend spent hours on the couch playing FIFA ’21. My Gen X parenting instinct was to sigh deeply and growl that When I was a teenager, I didn’t spend hours playing FIFA. But when I was a teenager, I did spend hours playing a board game called Pro Baseball Statswith my oldest friend. We used the Baseball Encyclopedia to create player cards for obscure 1899 Cleveland Spiders third basemen and 1931 Cincinnati Reds catchers. And watching my son and his friend’s social interaction on the couch made me nostalgic for that time and realistic about the unlikelihood of Statis Pro Baseball returning.

Either way, these two developments got me thinking about my own career as a hacker and computer gamer. That was a long time ago, and quite short. It was 1982 and – like my son is today – I was 13 years old. My eighth grade days in the DC area included a Saturday morning class at the “Center for Talented Youth,” housed at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. These facts have nothing to do with this story, except that it meant that classes were held half a block from my father’s office.

So every Saturday morning we would drive downtown, and if we got there early enough, I could play the IBM PC that his organization had on an AV cart, so he could go from office to office. another when people needed it. More importantly (to this story) one of my dad’s co-workers subscribed to some kind of computer magazine that came monthly with a 5 1/4″ floppy disk full of cool features you could use on a computer without hard drive.

Among the regular sections of this magazine on diskettes was the game of the month, of which a fateful month was called “Datnoids. “It was a fairly basic maze, alien game optimized for monochrome monitors of the day. One Saturday morning, I blasted the aliens, probably for about an hour, until I got bored and I start to play with the disc and I discovered that the game was written in MS-DOS.

I was in the first class of my elementary school which learned “computing” on the Commodore PET that the school had acquired. The computer class involved learning what was happening to coding in the late 1970s and early 1980s. And that day gave me my first practical use for coding, when it turned out that no one had thought to write-protect this particular disk.

Being the enterprising 13-year-old that I was, I decided to play around with Datnoids’ code, accomplishing three major hacks:

  1. I changed the name from “Datnoids” to “Boogers!”. (Yes, with the exclamation mark)
  2. I changed the messages users received when winning or getting blown up, to something even less mature than “Boogers!”.
  3. I changed the developer’s name to my super secret hacker name: “Mitch Teich”.

It was a cyberattack that I hadn’t thought about for several years, until I met a colleague of my father’s who, when he heard my name, asked me if I was the developer who had coined “Boogers!” and mortified the 17-year-old me, especially when it turned out he had played on a pirated version of the disc that I had modified.

All this to say that I wholeheartedly endorse the efforts of the Ukrainian hackers and especially my eighth grade son. In fact, I’ll probably join him in a few minutes, right after he finishes downloading Datnoids ’22.

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