An increasingly popular niche online revolves around smallish UNIX systems offering dialup access out one door and Internet access out the other. These aren’t the regional networks setup to offer host access to the NSFNet back bone, but another layer connected to those regionals. Operating as small commercial services, they offer an inexpensive bridge between the Internet world and the somewhat more accessible dialup district anyone can access with a modem. There are an increasing number of them, and they are a bit unusual.
We recently stumbled across one of these in New York titled MindVox that has some interesting characteristics.
Technically, the system runs on a NeXT Turbo with 64 MB of RAM tied via LAN to some 3.2 GB of storage. If that weren’t unusual enough, it uses a program titled VOICES 2.0 that is essentially Thomas Dell’s Waffle II running on NeXTSTEP. Like most UNIX systems, the result is a little clunky, but actual ly pretty easy to use.
The system offers 24 dialup lines in New York at (212)988-5030. [Note: Our new dialups are at 212.843.0801] It also has an IP connection to the Internet and you can telnet to the system with telnet phantom.com.
For dialup callers, the system is a pretty good value at $10 per month. Callers have an Internet mail box, access to about 1600 Usenet News Groups, a connection to the Interactive Real-time Chat (IRC) function that can have up to 500 users engaged in a massive global chat. Those who want to telnet into the system can do so for $10 per month as well, although the system doesn’t give them access to Usenet Newsgroups and some other functions they already have access to anyway.
But in addition to an unusual custom software setup on a NeXT machine and Internet access, MindVox has a very different flavor from those you may often encounter. The system is actually the brainchild of Patrick Kroupa (Lord Digital) and Bruce Fancher (Dead Lord ). Kroupa has written a long, rambling essay espousing his early years as a “hacker”, a hiatus from Cyber Space, and his recent rediscovery of the online mystique. While the 60KB editorial sports some valiant efforts toward self aggrandizement and some overdone shots at the “suburbia/tract housing” of today’s common PCBoard style electronic bulletin boards, if you discount the “onliner than thou” elements, it’s actually a pretty interesting description of the growth and transition of teenage hackers into adult online enthusiasts. Actually, it was a bit enchanting.
And the catharsis may be representative of a larger picture. Recall that Len Rose, a prominent figure in the Operation Sun Devil drama, was arrested for breaking into a Bell South computer and fetching a copy of a 911 service ad ministrative document that the telephone company claimed was valued at some $79,000.
Rose plead guilty to the charge. Craig Neidorf, a college student in Missouri who published an electronic newsletter titled Phrack, was also charged with a variety of things based on the theft, transportation across state lines, and publication of the document. A trial ensued in St. Louis and as it turns out, the document was publicly available from the telephone company at about $13.50. The charges against Neidorf were dropped. But since Rose had already plead guilty, his sentencing, despite the fact that it oc curred after the Neidorf trial and after what actually amount to fraud and manipulation of the justice system by the telephone company had been re vealed, somehow Rose got 14 months in prison anyway. I’ve never been very comfortable with this turn of events, and Rose likely less so. Subsequently, we read regular accounts from Rose of life behind bars in Jim Thomas’s elec tronic publication Computer Underground Digest. He apparently found the stay in jail a very focusing and clarifying experience.
Rose was released a few months ago, and apparently Kroupa has hired Rose as the system administrator and chief of security on the MindVox system. And Neidorf and Jim Thomas are on the system regularly along with a host of luminaries from the network and the hacker underground. Bruce Sterling, au thor of THE HACKER CRACKDOWN has been on a few times and the system seems to be forming up as a hangout for a whole bevy of maturing hacker underground types. This makes for a rather interesting community of users.
The system exhibits a kind of an adolescent humor that hits sometimes and misses about as often — alternating between grandiose and often lengthy poetic descriptions of a grander cyberspace, and arcane inside jokes. They claim to be newer, flashier, and more satisfying than gummy bears and longer lasting than most hair styling products for example.
In any event, the system is different, clearly experimental, and working in this new Internet host bridge niche that’s struggling to find legs. This one’s certainly worth a look. Phantom Access Technologies, Inc., (212)989 2418 voice: (212)989-4141 data; Internet: [email protected].