“Imagine we have a government that listens to you!” is written in proper style on the push-button telephone, which can be seen in a glass case together with a circuit board in the Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum in Paderborn. The telephone receiver is picked up and both corners are in rubber capsules, which the plumbing trade sold under the name of sink connectors. A blue board hangs above the display case, on which the summary of the Chaos Computer Club’s hacker ethics is printed: With the 40-year-old “data toilet” of the Chaos Computer Club (CCC), hacker culture has arrived in the museum.
In this section, we present amazing, impressive, informative and funny figures from the fields of IT, science, art, business, politics and of course mathematics every Tuesday.
The data toilet, also CCC modem or MUPIM (“my incredibly great intelligent modem”, an allusion to the Btx decoder MUPID) was a successful handicraft project in the early days of the Chaos Computer Club. Anyone who sent 190 Deutschmarks to the CCC in Hamburg around 1983 received the assembly instructions (PDF file), a Euro circuit board, the famous “Klomuffen” – which gave the device its name – a housing and the AM7910 modem chip from AMD , the rest had to be obtained from the local electronics store. According to the CCC, building such a modem cost a total of around 300 Deutschmarks.
It is not known how many enthusiasts ordered the complete kit, only the number of 100 circuit boards produced on behalf of the CCC. Since some particularly motivated hobbyists etched their own circuit boards, as they do today, it can be assumed that at least 300 data toilets were built and used between 1983 and 1988. Wikipedia mentions the total number of 25,000 copies – the number in the original source mentioned only refers to the edition of the Hackerbibel, a text collection of the CCC, in which the building instructions were also printed. The original circuit board and a telephone can be viewed in the Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum, as shown in the original building instructions.
Speed up to 1200 baud
Technically, the data toilet was a modem for full-duplex operation with 300 or 1200 baud, which could be connected directly to a telephone, which was illegal. As an acoustic coupler, it was able to send and receive or modulate and demodulate the chirping tones via the telephone receiver with the said sink connectors without any technical intervention. It was still punishable, because the little tinkering didn’t have an FTZ number from the Deutsche Bundespost. FTZ stands for Telecommunications Technical Central Office, it issued the approvals for telecommunications devices.
For comparison: an FTZ-approved acoustic coupler like the Speedy 1200+ from CTK Systems cost a mere 1150 Deutschmarks at the time and was therefore simply unaffordable for most young hackers. Nevertheless, they wanted to deal with all the great things about the attractive “computer coupler” that the building instructions listed, without mentioning the considerable costs for telephone calls: “Querying databases, terminal operation on mainframe computers, exchange of programs and texts with other computer owners, electronic Mail traffic with e-mail boxes (bulletin board systems), computer conferences.”
CCC hacker ethics require inviolability of private data
If you imagine what “terminal operation on mainframes” could mean, it becomes clear why the CCC’s hacker ethics are emblazoned above the data toilet installation in the museum. Because such an innocent appearing terminal operation can also include hacking into foreign computer systems, exchanging programs and siphoning off personal information. The hacker ethic is short and sweet: “Don’t junk in other people’s data.”
Whether it is still relevant is a completely different question. Reinhard Schrutzki, who got the German version of the hacker ethics in 1988, had his doubts as early as 2010 as to whether it would work. Most recently, CCC spokesman Frank Rieger gave a basic course in hacker ethics at the Chaos Communication Congress in 2018. So let’s stick to this beautiful passage from the hacker ethic: “You can create art and beauty with a computer. The computer has given new impetus to music, architecture, painting and literature. It’s amazing what contemporary musicians can do with their computerized synthesizers, samplers, make emulators and keyboards.”
Things get even more complicated for visitors with no background knowledge when it comes to the early history of hacking. Excerpts are also on display in Paderborn. In front of the showcase with the data toilet, at the beginning of the new exhibition area dedicated to the subject of hacking, there is a box with parts of a model railway in a glass case. They refer to the Tech Model Railroad Club at MIT, the American origin of the hacker culture, described here by the famous Peter Glaser. Another glass case with a box of cereal and a whistle references the story of John T. Draper aka Cap’n Crunch, who started phone phreaking, the search for vulnerabilities in the phone company’s systems.
Prolific hacker develops video game
In the age of flat rates and smartphones, it might be difficult to convey this special type of hacking. There it is Spacewar! better. Visitors to the Paderborn Museum can play the legendary computer game created by the MIT hackers. It was developed on a Digital Equipment PDP-1. In line with the game, the museum is showing another new acquisition, a complete PDP-8E as an example of a minicomputer that was popular at the time and on which many hackers learned to walk.
Spacewar became legendary! not only by the hackers, but by a long report on the “First Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics” and the hacker culture at MIT that Stewart Brand published in Rolling Stone in December 1972. The image of the jubilant Bruce Baumgart (scroll down far down), winner of the “Five-Man Free for All”, shaped the image of the long-haired hacker for a long time. Incidentally, it was the first commissioned work by the later world-famous photographer Annie Leibovitz. She photographed for 4 hours at MIT and later the hackers at Xerox’s PARC.
Blackjack is a card game of chance played in many casinos. The hacker exhibits in the museum include “Machine 1”, which the Bonn students Rudolf Schönhardt and Hermann Krause built in 1972. The minicomputer was carried in a right-hand jacket pocket, and the keyboard on which the drawn cards were typed was in the left. The computer then calculated the sequence of the next cards. It was issued in a pipe case. It all happened in French casinos because they used what is known as a shuffling technique, in which decks of cards are simply shuffled into one another.
Win at blackjack using minicomputers
With the machine 1, the inventors won many thousands of francs night after night. Of course, they didn’t see themselves as hackers back then. “Back then there were no bans on technical aids, nobody had them on the bill,” recalled the astrophysicist emeritus Schönhardt to the “Spiegel”. The cost of Machine 1, which consisted entirely of integrated circuits, was about the same as that of the data toilet built 10 years later. An improved version, the “Machine 2”, is said to have been built. The museum’s restorers are now looking for her. This type of hacking is completed by a shoe computer, with which physicists in casinos tried to calculate the course of a roulette ball.
At the end of the stories about hacking, you can try a very special game on a monitor, the casino virus, which was created in 1990. The virus that destroyed DOS’s File Allocation Table (FAT) was coupled with a bit of gambling. In this case, the chance of winning was 17.2 percent. If you lost, your computer’s FAT was destroyed.
Unlike the ransomware rampant today, there was no attempt to blackmail the user with a ransom demand. Many DOS users still took regular backups seriously.