The early 90s tech scene that created L0pht, the legendary hackerspace

322 points3
narrator19 hours ago

I was around in the early 90s on BBSs. One of the things that amuses me about people asking AI how to do bad stuff and all the handwringing about AI safety is that one of the popular things that was available for download on some of the less reputable forums in the early 90s were various "text files" that would give instructions for doing various illegal or morally dubious things.

There were hundreds of these and it was a practical thing to share back when 1 megabyte took an hour to download. One that cracked up to no end that I still remember vaguely was "How to be a gigolo.". Apparently, you have to move to South Florida and wear a sport coat. I don't remember anything else from it except it was hilariously written. Good times.

Also, since BBSes required a lot of technical knowhow to get into, it was this back channel for all the extreme teenage geeks in the local calling area. It was this phenomenally fun secret club that I met some exceptionally weird people through, but also lifelong friends. There were some great magazines of the time like Mondo 2000, and the ethos was real techno-libertarianism, information wants to be free, and all that fun stuff. Everyone was coming off the high of the Soviet Union falling apart and believed that now human liberty would flourish everywhere.

bink19 hours ago

Shout out to Jason Scott and

RGamma16 hours ago

This feels appropiately oldschool, thx

alexsereno18 hours ago

Thank you for this

totetsu15 hours ago

These text files really show that it was only a very specific type of human who’s liberty was flourishing.

zozbot23414 hours ago

Hindsight is always 20/20. What matters is that we live in a much freer and more open world today than in the 1980s and information of all kinds is vastly more accessible, often available for free. So these early predictions have basically proven quite accurate.

wkat424211 hours ago
bsuvc9 hours ago

To which specific type of human are you referring?

seneca11 hours ago

What an absolutely bizarre way to interpret them. It shows that the internet was accessible to a very small segment of the world

aww_dang6 hours ago

Is it bizarre? It seems like the new norm. Everything is filtered through this lens, no matter how inane.

DANmode12 hours ago


mytailorisrich18 hours ago

I got onto the internet in the second half of the 90s and as a rebellious teenager I, of course, started by downloading the various 'cookbooks' (anarchist, phreaking, etc) that were very easy to find through Alta Vista just to play cool and boast to my friends.

I would not ask Google about those stuff today and I would certainly not dare downloading them for fear of triggering so many alerts and red flags. Today it would probably be possible to be jailed (in the UK) just for having this material on your computer.

0xGod16 hours ago

Why is the UK full of so many weak nannies and wannabe tyrants that your state can tell you what you can and cannot read over there?

pjc502 hours ago

The US response to terrorism was directed overseas, while the UK one has for a longer time been directed at "enemies within". The UK press is entirely behind all these restrictions, sadly.

nonethewiser12 hours ago

The baffling thing is how it’s defended.

0xGod11 hours ago

The ones who defend it are the ones who believe they would benefit from remaining in control once systems of enslavement and thought control are built and deployed.

nonethewiser12 hours ago

As I recall the anarchist cookbooks aren’t that bad. Stuff like how to make napalm (gasoline and styrofoam as I recall).

jstarfish10 hours ago

As I recall, there were quite a few about how to mix poisons and improvise explosives.

Arguably "tame" but not something you want to be associated with today.

holoduke15 hours ago

Really? Is it that bad? You cannot google what you like. I ask obscene questions all time. Just out of interest. Whats wrong with that?

mytailorisrich15 hours ago

At least in the UK I believe that your search history over the last 12 months is accessible by the police. So if for whatever reason you become under investigation it is sensible to ask yourself what the police would think about what you searched...

nonethewiser12 hours ago
Cthulhu_16 hours ago

One Rumour I heard is that the ones about making bombs was actually written and published by the CIA and intentionally wrong.

mytailorisrich16 hours ago

Well, I was sensible enough not to try so I cannot say!

nonethewiser12 hours ago

I always assumed it wasn’t that hard to figure out how to make a bomb. That’s not to say it would necessarily be efficient or easy.

ganoushoreilly15 hours ago

Given they did this with terrorist literature, it wouldn't be surprising.

thrwawy7416 hours ago

1) I'm against restricting things behind technical know-how to select for "the right group of people" on principle. I'm not talking about then, but now.

2) I wonder if this magical period was only possible because it was reachable by a few, and this knowledge was not largely abused because of the entry fee.

3) AI is lowering the barrier to entry. The great equalizer, to see what we do with valuable insight ~ Politicians should fear computers more than disgruntled citizens.

4) I hope we don't see export laws changed to cover AI models like encryption was.

nonethewiser12 hours ago

I think people don’t build bombs because they don’t want to. Not because they don’t know how.

raverbashing16 hours ago

I kinda agree but technical know-how is probably one of the more "honest" ways of self-limiting something if only because freeloaders usually don't have the patience for anything too complicated

And punishment for abuse is mostly non-existent

TacticalCoder14 hours ago

> ... various "text files" that would give instructions for doing various illegal or morally dubious things.

I was there in the BBS era too. I remember one such text file explaining a simple mechanism to light up a bomb without leaving much trace of the mechanism used to delay the bomb blowing up: it consisted of lighting a cigarette in which a small hole was drilled. Then the text file was going into details, explaining which type of cigarettes to buy so that it wouldn't consume too fast / not get blown by the wind / etc. It was totally hilarious too.

nonethewiser12 hours ago

I feel like the concerning thing is that someone seemingly had direct experience with this. But you just reshared the information and no one cares. The info itself just doesn’t seem that terrible.

867-530914 hours ago

can't forget the Terrorist Cookbook - that thing must be as old as the internet

aYsY4dDQ2NrcNzA6 hours ago

Are you thinking of the Anarchist’s Cookbook?

dstroot17 hours ago

I was only “hacker curious” back then. I always wondered - was it pronounced “loft” or “low fat”? I know dumb question but I always wondered…

lagniappe17 hours ago

pronounced as "loft heavy industries"

sanswork17 hours ago


strictnein6 hours ago

Bouncing around BBSs late at night in the 90s was just a blast. Sitting in the basement, hoping the parents wouldn't find you up at 3am yet again. Seeing what random "stuff" was available. Playing door games (TradeWars, LORD, etc). Finding a list of other local BBSs and calling into those and repeating the process.

alwayslikethis44 minutes ago

I wish I had a chance to do that, but I was born too late. By the time I had consistent access to the internet (and learned English), the internet is mostly ruined already.

spiritplumber15 hours ago

I miss that spirit, how do we get it back?

narrator15 hours ago

The problem with the tech incubators and hackathons and so forth of today is that it's only tangentially about having fun.

Back then it was 90% fun and maybe a few random guys were trying to figure out how to start some sort of tech business. It was mostly hobbyists just screwing around. That sense of play and screwing around is what made it so magical.

The last time I felt that kind of magic was when I attended an event called BIOcurious (Note the 'O' in previous word) where they showed complete novices how to use a minION device to sequence DNA with pipettes and reagents. It's the kind of thing that you need to be physically present for. The tech is not easy, but crazy powerful. With biotech gear getting cheap enough to be prosumer, maybe there will be that kind of extreme hobbyist thing forming around biotech? In a similar way, in the 80s computers went from things only big companies could afford to prosumer and even consumer devices and so all these people were getting involved just to see what they could do with these new magical devices.

toofy13 hours ago

i think this is exactly it. the internet of old was mostly hobbiests. even the early blogs were mostly hobbiests whi just wanted to share their info and didn’t care at all whether it made them money.

the profit motive creeping in changes the dynamic completely. btw i think this seems to happen with everything, i don’t think it’s limited to just technology—it happens with anything that transforms from fun hobby. this always seems to sap the energy from many of the most passionate.

alwayslikethis40 minutes ago

In addition the data collection projects made it dangerous to have too much fun on the internet. Sadly, this will never be the same again with ubiquitous surveillance.

RugnirViking10 hours ago

This is something ive been thinking for a long time. It always annoys me when people say stuff like "content creators wouldn't exist without ad revenue" like dude no it would be different for sure, much less polished but less bland, people would absolubtely still make stuff for fun & to be cool not to make money. Theres a reason the culture of the internet today is still so influenced by stuff like newgrounds, because that kind of expression for its own sake is where creativity thrives

Vespasian12 hours ago

We have a local hackerspace that regularly holds gamedev meetings and once or twice a year holds a weekend long Gamejam.

I love those because it's 2 days of challenging yourself to actually finish your project and do something crazy if you like. These constraints make it fun.

Our regular meetings are a good mix of hobbiests, professionals and the very occasional idea guy to allow great discussions and feelings of community.

Obviously there is no corporate sponsor and no prices besides the appreciation of your fellow hackers.

I also participated in "local government" sponsored Hackathon and while those are nice to meet people and encourage the bueocracy to embrace the modern world it's almost always about some social goal like accessibility, open data etc. These are important and interesting topics but the projects are never that "fun".

spiritplumber14 hours ago

Was it in SF? I was there with a very derpy bioprinter that was basically a Solidoodle 2 or 3 with peristaltic pumps instead of an extruder :)

legerdemain10 hours ago

Maybe it was Counter Culture Lab in Oakland, which is a maker space with a focus on microbiology.

TigeriusKirk11 hours ago

The last time I felt that magic was the BarCamp scene. People would give presentations on whatever they wanted, and it ran more on the fun side of things than the useful knowledge side. But even that was almost 15 years ago now.

myth_drannon13 hours ago

You can't bring it back because it exists only in the memories of your youth. That spirit is created in the minds of many young people at this moment and in 20 years they will ask the same question (bring back the spirit of bitcoins, 4chan, Reddit, or whatever).

alwayslikethis33 minutes ago

No, there is something decisively different about today's internet. I'm not from that time, having been born after the turn of the millennium, but I also feel a sense of excitement when I read these things from the past. This spirit is not present in today's corporatized, sterile internet. Everyone is trying to build a business on the internet now, so much so that there is no place left for fun anymore.

Lapsa6 hours ago

the spirit of 4chan - I like the sound of it :D

illwrks4 hours ago

The anarchist cookbook...

I remember downloading it and putting it on a floppy disk, I'm not sure I ever even look at it :D

jamesfmilne17 hours ago

Yup, I remember the Anarchists Cookbook, telling you how to make mortars, and napalm out of polystyrene & petrol.

nonethewiser12 hours ago

I feel like this isn’t so taboo though. Google returns a featured snippet for napalm ingredients. And you literally just told everyone how to make napalm right here.

I think the edginess comes from the implication that there were people out there actually doing this. And perhaps that people read this when they were 14.

alwayslikethis32 minutes ago

There are plenty of videos about women doing this in Ukraine to support the war effort.

ghaff19 hours ago

From about the mid-80s to the mid-90s, after grad school, I was active on another 617 area code BBS (Channel 1). It was a mostly aboveground thing though pretty much all BBSs had dark corners you could peer into. Quite a few of the regulars on the main board ended up getting together semi-regularly in real life.

ilrwbwrkhv18 hours ago

Same. I also remember totse which was such a fun read and there was this book on how to be a professional assassin. It was riveting. Now everyone is on the internet so I guess those days are never coming back.

joshxyz12 hours ago

Shit man okay now add that to my list of legitimate fears, AI getting their hands on works by the Paladin Press, haha.

zoklet-enjoyer12 hours ago

My teen years were spent reading books from Paladin and Loompanics and browsing totse, erowid, and bluelight

rco878617 hours ago

Jolly Rogers Cookbook comes to mind

samstave16 hours ago

>>"Also, since BBSes required a lot of technical knowhow to get into"

HA!!! I ran a BBS Warez Site out of my North Tahoe High School CAD lab on an everex step cube on a 9600 baud modem in 1991

I was 14.

I was grounded for a MONTH for calling long distance into a BBS in San Jose CA in order to play "The Pit" and "Trade wars" and the phone bill was $926 and I failed to buy all the wheat in the galaxy and accidentally SOLD all my wheat failing to corner the market, but flooding it...

Yeah, that was on a 286 with an amber monitor that I convinced my dad he needed a computer for his business... and then a 2400 baud modem was important... so I could play Populous with a friend over modem.

samstave16 hours ago

MONDO 2000 was Amazing!

Its wear i learned the first of Jaron Lanier and UI/AI/etc whatever he was talking about at the time.

Was later a long time subscriber to WIRED before they got too smug.

narrator16 hours ago

I've bumped into R.U Sirius a couple of times. Whenever I do I always congratulate him on Mondo 2000 and being so far ahead of the curve at the time.

samstave14 hours ago

Whats nuts is that my middle school Lake Tahoe Bus Station sold MONDO - and for a middle schooler, it was pretty expensive... I Think it was ~$7 or maybe $5.99 - regardless, it was NUTS in 1989/1990 F I cant even recall the time...

But the sold it in LAKE TAHOE. IN 1990-ish!

UHM, was also a subsccriber of 2600 and a total phreak (built blue/black boxes that fit into film canisters, and had an official captain crunch cereal whistle when it was released)

We used to troll 411 (in the early US, you could call "411" for "information" and it would connect you to operator who you then ask "Connect me with [BUSINESS] or [WHAT IS THE TELEPHONE NUMBER WITH PERSON X IN CITY Y]

So we wou;d have contests on how long we could keep the 411 OP online, and social engineer where they live, where work, how big call center, etc... we were like 14 years old and just doing this for laughs in 1988 or such.

I also pulled the famous 'packing tape on dollar bill' hack (theft) to play video games ;

So there was this 'hack' where you put a strip of packing tape (folded over itself such that the sticky parts are together) - you put them on a $1 or $5 bill\

You put the dollar into a vending machine at the post office to buy stamps.

You buy the cheapest amount of stamps, then you YANK the dollar-in-packing-tape from the machine...

You receive the stamps, the change from the yanked bill, take the change to the Safeway (grocery store) next door and you play the video games they had in them ; Defender and Contra.

It took us $25 in stolen quarters from the post office machine vuln to this attack to beat contra.

My buddy who I did this with is now EVP at Blizzard.

Convolutional12 hours ago

> There were some great magazines of the time like Mondo 2000, and the ethos was real techno-libertarianism, information wants to be free, and all that fun stuff. Everyone was coming off the high of the Soviet Union falling apart and believed that now human liberty would flourish everywhere.

Louis Rossetto had this viewpoint 20 years before he launched Wired, and was smart enough to focus on the tech and tech people and tech business for the most part. The right-libertarian philosophy was doled out lightly and cleverly. Wired did try to make it seem that Silicon Valley was just a right-libertarian utopia, and made it seem everyone was of this mind - more than was the case.

R U Sirius had similar ideas. I think it made things seem different than they actually were.

legerdemain20 hours ago

Meanwhile, here in South Bay, an activist board member (who is a senior lead at Tesla by day) just fired our longtime hacker space director with zero days notice because membership wasn't growing fast enough. Now our events are struggling and members are leaving because of this cavalier display of leadership.

It is almost impossible to find tech-adjacent countercultural spaces in the Bay that aren't fully co-opted by a self-devouring corporate mindset.

thrown12309819 hours ago

So start one that's completely toxic to the current mainstream culture. People forget just how unpopular tech was in the 90s/00s. Or that counter cultures are always reviled by the majority.

myself24819 hours ago

This was something that blew my mind when I visited out there. Visited every space I could, and the startup/commercial culture was just incredibly pervasive. Couldn't talk about a cool idea for more than a minute or two without some tech bro trying to monetize it.

Maybe that's someone's jam, but I just wanted to hang out with some nerds that reminded me of back home. Everywhere else I've traveled, I could visit the local hackerspace and get my fix, but the bay area was..... different.

weld15 hours ago

In the 90s the L0pht was not commercial and was funded as a hobby. Nearing 2000 we wanted to make it our day job and not a hobby and transition from to jobs we all had working for someone else. It was the beginning of my journey to entrepreneurship but this transition was very rocky. Manu didn’t survive. It was a huge learning experience documented in Space Rogue’s book.

escapecharacter18 hours ago

Part of why I moved out of the Bay Area and to NYC!

I'm not anti-monetization by any means, but so often I'd end up in conversations that the other partner wanted to be a startup pitch, and I wanted to just talk about something cool. There's so much premature optimization of monetization out there.

thrown12309819 hours ago

But then those nerds can't be sexist, or racist, or translhobic, or smell bad or ... basically people want their office mates to be in the hacker space but also somehow be magically interesting.

gtirloni17 hours ago
wkat424211 hours ago

I see a lot of similarities with VR actually. A lot of people tell me the tech is in no way there, nobody wants it and it'll never find a purpose.

I always compare this with the grumps back in the day who thought computers were worthless. And all have a smartphone in their pocket now of course.

We could see where it was going, and as well as that the journey there was just a ton of fun. Tech doesn't have to be perfect to be worth the time.

nikanj16 hours ago

Rent for a suitable space is one umptillion bucks per month. You need to be corporate-friendly to score a sponsor for the rent

localplume19 hours ago


weld15 hours ago

The L0pht had no leadership. Only partners that paid rent and utilities. You had to pay to cover your share of expenses but also contribute with sweat equity. We ended up kicking out a couple of people that ceased to contribute to the common good even if they paid.

ValentineC12 hours ago

> We ended up kicking out a couple of people that ceased to contribute to the common good even if they paid.

As a member of a hackerspace myself who's always wondering how to get rid of bad eggs: how does this "kicking out" process happen for the L0pht? Who gets to quantify their sweat equity and decide?

ta9888 hours ago

Kicking people out can be tricky depending on the structure and bylaws of a given place. I've seen different kinds and you'll always have a part of your members that wilm think it is too much and others not enough. In the end what caused 99.9% of the issues I saw in the hackerspaces I've been part of wasn't the people kicked out arbitrarly or too lightly, it was that abusing people were allowed to stay for too long. The reasons were multiple. But in the end if you want to keep the culture alive you have to remove the elements that work against that culture. Or start/find a new place if the whole culture shifts with the majority of the members.

kurthr19 hours ago

Come on you're just holding it wrong, Zero to One is the most important thing! One to zero is next.

Really, how did he become a board member? Donated money or self-important resume? The rest of the board let him do it so it's a bigger problem than just him. Get the email list of membership and start a real space... there's lots of empty office space now so you might be able to get a donation since they get to write it off at old pricing, but it's a huge amount of work for very little return (unless you like running these sorts of things).

Sorry for your situation.

legerdemain19 hours ago

Yeah, I'm not incorporating and ponying up $30k to get an office lease. There's commitment, and then there's commitment.

Our hacker space has had tons of leadership drama over the years, from misuse of funds to a co-founder trying to get a trademark on our name to do a hostile takeover.

Basically, if your hacker space exists because some tech people made big money in company stocks and decided to buy a personal playground, you're constantly subject to their whims and caprices.

throwawaaarrgh19 hours ago

Leave the bay area, or go find some artists with a warehouse and give them some cash to let you keep some machines there

medion17 hours ago

Counterculture in general seems scarce, everything and everyone feels so hyper normal these days.

ljf17 hours ago

There is heaps of counter culture both online and in the real world - even in my small English town. And so much of what was counter culture has been co-opted into general culture now too.

I'd say things, ideas, opportunities and ways of being/thinking are even broader now than they were than when I was a teenager in the 90s.

ta9888 hours ago

There is a ton of counterculture. You just need to stop looking for large and noisy groups that are taking most of the attention space. It is just that the hum of the crowd got louder. The signal is still there, it is just the noise that got stronger.

medion8 hours ago

I'm not looking for counterculture, I'm quite happy doing my own thing in relative obscurity. I'm merely being nostalgic for when it used to be a lot more visible (physically). Punks, weirdos, hackers, oddballs, flâneur's, were in plain view - their associated shops and hangouts (record stores, counter culture book stores, etc), rowdy pubs, etc. Perhaps they're all just at home on computers now. Or gentrified/normalised. I don't know. Merely anecdotal.

legerdemain8 hours ago

Modern counterculture (for the sake of argument, defined as non-commercial and deeply personal crap produced by marginal individuals) has shifted to mostly online and mostly to expressions that I'm not interested in: most particularly, furries. Furry software, furry art, furry music, furry meetups.

icelancer17 hours ago

There is a pretty strong reason for this; deviancy from the norm is punished heavily on social media. No one wants to be the main character when they have 300 followers and they're just posting their opinions.

anthk16 hours ago

Mastodon, Gemini and the 2007-reborn Gopher.

But yes, you are right. Back in late 90's/early 00's Linux and Unix desktop were trully different and unique. Fluxbox had zillions of different themes. 3D, black, retro, flat-ish, metal-ish, Java styled, Gnome styled, KDE-alike, Gaudi, childish, Bohemian, alien looking... every style was fine for anyone.

Ditto witht the icons. One day I felt technical and I switched into the Slick theme being "workstation/highend" themed with a gray color scheme, and the next day I felt nice and cheerful and switched into Noia with a blue Keramik theme.

Now everything looks bland, flat and everyone looks afraid on having an style.

RugnirViking10 hours ago

social media, especially but not limited to social media revenue models for content creators, demand regression to the norm. When every interesting idea for a video/song/blogpost gets literal orders of magnitude less views, when a clickbaity video with only the most surface-level engagement with whatever "topic" is your usual fare gets far and away the biggest numbers you've ever gotten, its no surprise there is less counter culture.

Take a look at for example the youtube creator dashboard for an established creator, how it directly compares your videos against each other, trying and pushing you to get more numbers, entirely uncaring for anything other than eyeballs.

sacnoradhq17 hours ago

Old and outdated lists.

The best thing to do is find some cool rich peeps, go in on a small commercial/industrial space to make it sort of like a college dorm, and keep the membership invite-only and tiny.

weld15 hours ago

My space in Cambridge is not on the list. It’s Been there for 20 years. It’s private so no need to advertise. I think it’s good to be on these lists so people know hacker spaces exist

rolph16 hours ago

yes old and outdated, but breadcrumbs... finding the trail and the desired endpoint is often an effective filter for prestige accounts [hey, im on 31l337h4X0r space] that dont have the properties of "adept hacker"

900913 maps is probably anathema to some thus they dont show up.

its best to look thru a span of search engines with different DNS providers, you can dive deeper past the search bubbles

legerdemain19 hours ago

The closest one to me on the map is something called "the fifth space," but I can't find any online presence at all for it (it shares a name with an interfaith org in India, which is what most results are for).

The consortium lists spaces in SF, Oakland, and father out. This could be a major motivator to move to SF.

rolph19 hours ago

not all of these are considered active, some may have gone gray in presence, but still exist in some form.

legerdemain18 hours ago

I appreciate your well-intentioned effort to help. Thank you.

dannyobrien18 hours ago

you may wish to visit Noisebridge someday

legerdemain18 hours ago

I'd need to move from South Bay to SF first to make repeated visits worthwhile. Over an hour each way is... yeah.

dannyobrien8 hours ago

well, not loading this on you, but many Bay Area hackerspaces started after people spent time at noisebridge or another related space, and then realised they could work with others to build one somewhere nearer to them physically or ideologically: Ace Monster Toys (now Ace Hackerspace), Queerious Labs, Double Union, Sudo Room, Mothership Hackermoms. It's not hard if you find likeminded people, and the best place to look is just dropping by casually to a hackerspace not-so-near you..

legerdemain8 hours ago

Not a criticism of your response, but you'll notice that every space you mentioned is either in SF or in Oakland. I have been looking for and trying to build community in South Bay for almost a decade now. The conclusion I've come to is that the people who might populate a healthy hacker space don't live here in sufficient numbers, and the people who do live here have very different interests, goals, and community needs.

I've obviously been to Noisebridge. It didn't become a part of my life because it is at least an hour drive away, and often much longer during the times of day when I can reasonably go there.

ornornor8 hours ago

Who is sick enough to put KPIs on a for fun hobby?

goodpoint18 hours ago

> It is almost impossible to find tech-adjacent countercultural spaces in the Bay that aren't fully co-opted by a self-devouring corporate mindset.

HN being a prime example outside of SF.

legerdemain18 hours ago

A news website run by a VC firm that is also a startup accelerator? "Countercultural"?

goodpoint17 hours ago

Not at all, I'm saying that HN is coopting the word "hacker".

legerdemain12 hours ago

Ah, got it.

renewiltord18 hours ago

Yeah, but the website community is decidedly anti-startup so that does make it countercultural in the local culture.

capableweb13 hours ago

I've heard a lot of strange things on HN but this one absolutely ends up in top-ten. How in the world is HN anti-startup? Sure, there is some anti-startup sentiments in the comments usually, but there is also comments anti-anything in the comments. HN is very much a startup-centric place if anything.

recuter16 hours ago

You remind me of a guy called Brian. He is a very naughty boy.

sacnoradhq17 hours ago

Hahah. Yep. Is that Hacker Dojo or some shitty place like that?

Corporate, BMW SUV-driving assholes who think of themselves as "liberals" but are ready to turn on anyone for any reason and excommunicate them without the possibility of fair treatment.

electrondood17 hours ago

You clearly never spent any time at Hacker Dojo.

ilamont19 hours ago

I'm also a BU grad from that era. Loved reading this. Don't know the author, but I did know many of the places mentioned. Not sure where the loft was located, but it sounds like the area around Fort Point channel which used to be an artists colony (and also near the site of the infamous Channel nightclub) which is now one of the most expensive pieces of luxury real estate in Boston, the "Seaport" district.

One observation about 80s and '90s tech communities: it's fascinating how groups of people would coalesce around interests, schools, small businesses, or whatever.

In Taiwan, my landlord's eldest son eagerly showed me "Yamnet" which was a local BBS and hacker group he belonged to, I think through his college. I was listening to "How I Built This" podcast interview with one of the founders of Alienware, and his group in Miami was included a lot of second-generation Cuban Americans who got into 90s LAN games and building custom PCs. Even my hometown had a little group of teens who gravitated to the local indie computer store, "The Bit Bucket," to hack on TRS-80s, Commodore-64s, Apple IIe's and early PCs.

These communities seemed to be everywhere, even if they were largely invisible to most people.

max18217 hours ago

Once I make my money I dream of opening a 90's esque hacker space like you see in movies like Hackers.

Dark warehouse, neon lighting, The Protegy playing in the background, a place where hackers can bring there machines, talk tech and rage. Coffee in the mornings, bar at night.

LeoPanthera15 hours ago

That's funny, I've always wanted to open 90s-style Internet Cafe here in the bay area. Maybe not so much Prodigy, but now that my generation is all in their 40s and 50s, I figured it would be fun to combine really really good internet access with retrocomputing resources. I don't know if anyone's done that before. And I doubt it would be profitable. But I'd enjoy it.

almost_usual14 hours ago

I’d totally go to this. I miss the 90s era Internet cafe.

buzzert8 hours ago

Why hasn't this happened yet? Serious question. There are a LOT of Hackers fans here (as evidenced by the Hackers night at DNA Lounge), and a LOT of rich nerds. And the DNA Lounge is close, but it's still not Cyberdelia.

dig113 hours ago

Jamie Zawinski [1][2] (Netscape/Mozilla/Emacs/XscreenSaver fame) is running something similar called DNA Lounge [3], and has a blog with all sorts of stuff [4], from automating things with perl to running a night club business.





LeoPanthera12 hours ago

DNA Lounge is a great nightclub, and it does have a Hackers-themed night most years, but I wouldn't call it "something similar". It's a nightclub. A very very cool nightclub - but a nightclub.

(PS. If you click these, and your browser correctly forwards the refer(r)er URL, you will get a "funny" image, as jwz blocks links from HN.)

dboon13 hours ago

Man, I love JWZ’s landing page for traffic from HN. He’s living the dream

wkat424211 hours ago

You could do that but it takes a ton of space, and it's a pain in the ass to work in. Image finding the screwdriver you dropped in a pile of junk when the lighting is nightclub style.

We used to sit in the dark sometimes in our old makerspace but it would really know work if everyone used a computer and nothing else. In makerspaces this is rarely the case.

quickthrower211 hours ago

The Prodigy? I loved The Prodigy!

e12e9 hours ago

Why the past tense?

edvinbesic16 hours ago

Are you me?

anony2315 hours ago

We are all us.

8f2ab37a-ed6c20 hours ago

I miss the more genuine and naive world of 90s hacking, or even something as simple as local LAN parties with people dragging their giant CRTs with them to be in a sweaty room with a bunch of other early PC gamers. I suspect those worlds aren't making a comeback.

dasil00319 hours ago

As a teenager at the time, there was a palpable feeling of being part of a counter-culture that was on the bleeding edge of an inevitable future which adults simply could not grok. That world definitely ain't coming back, in large part because global internet connectivity has rendered quaint the very notion of counter-culture.

On the other hand, retro computing and nostalgia for the era has never been stronger or more accessible:

b800h18 hours ago

I predict that your second sentence will be thoroughly disproven by the next generation, who will go offline en masse to find reality once AI makes the entire Internet inauthentic.

mindcrime16 hours ago

who will go offline en masse to find reality once AI makes the entire Internet inauthentic.

I've been thinking about this a bit lately, albeit from a slightly different angle. I think people will begin looking for a different "reality" due to the homogenization of everything due to AI. That is to say, it's not "inauthenticity" as such that I think people will react to, but lack of originality and creativity.

I mean, when ChatGPT is writing all new books, screenplays, whitepapers, business plans, etc., etc., it seems to me that everything is going to collapse to one boring, homogeneous, "everything is the same as everything else" state. If my theory is right, the currency of the future might simply be "novelty" and human creativity.

This is, of course, all based on the idea that (current) AI's are, as Emily Bender put it, "stochastic parrots"[1]. All they can really do is spew up a somewhat randomized pastiche of human reality circa 2021 or so. So far they don't really have any innate creativity as such. That said, I don't see any reason in principle to think that AI won't also eventually be able to be creative is the same sense that we are today. What happens then is a whole other question.


wkat424210 hours ago

> I mean, when ChatGPT is writing all new books, screenplays, whitepapers, business plans, etc., etc., it seems to me that

ChatGPT needs humans to learn from though. It's very good at combining human knowledge and existing ideas. That's totally its thing.

Creative thought and new inventions? Not so much.

> everything is going to collapse to one boring, homogeneous, "everything is the same as everything else" state.

That's probably true. Like the circles you get in now when you try to Google something. Try to tweak your query and you keep getting the same shit back like it's the only few sites in the world. Really creepy, and probably the result of some overbearing algorithm or too many paid results.

It reminds me of this ST:TNG episode where one character is In a collapsing bubble where everything keeps disappearing.

Jensson17 hours ago

They wont be able to go back to their childhood programs because they wont exist any more, so nostalgia computing wont be a thing for them even if they wanted it.

NovaDudely17 hours ago
b800h16 hours ago

I'm thinking a bit more broadly than that. It'll be about real-flesh experiences, learning physical musical instruments and playing with others, experiencing real physical peril, a thorough rejection of transhumanist ideals; essentially a reiteration of the Romantic movement which led to things after the Industrial revolution like the Kibbo Kift: By their very nature, things which can't be ingested by an AI and monetised.

Of course, after that you'll have a synthesis of the two ideas emerging. That's too many steps ahead for me to predict, but there are passages from Iain M. Banks' Culture books which might be on the money.

ragnot16 hours ago

This is an insight I'm going to remember for a while.

hammyhavoc9 hours ago

LAN parties aren't dead, but the people that used to attend them got older, had kids, and now will probably get judged by their spouse for going to one. Younger generations most definitely have LAN parties. Now that computers are once again becoming less popular and more appliances have taken their place (smartphones, game consoles etc), the people who are into PC gaming are becoming a more tight-knit and like-minded demographic.

RGamma16 hours ago

You know, being part of any culture (and not just leftovers) would be nice these days...

joshvm18 hours ago

LAN parties grew into eSports and once the internet took off, local network gaming became a bit redundant (outside couch play on consoles). Still a thing at nerdy conventions, too - with all the sweat. ETH Zürich still has the PolyLAN society which is alive and well [0]


weld15 hours ago

If you are in the Bay Area during RSA Conference, Space Rogue and me, Weld, are going to be fireside chatting and signing books at the W Hotel. Come get one and hang out!

oldstrangers18 hours ago

My entire identity growing up was L0pht, cDc, 2600 magazine, defcon, etc.

Even the "original" Hacker News was ran by a guy from L0pht.

Fond nostalgia for that era.

lagniappe17 hours ago

All episodes are on youtube, it was spacerogue's show. HNNCast.

UberFly14 hours ago

I'm right with you. I went to the 1999 DefCon that cDc unveiled Back Orifice. It was all a pretty awesome experience.

flatiron20 hours ago

I remember getting local admin on my high schools nt3.5 box with l0phtcrack just to setup a http proxy so I can read at the library. Fun times.

wkat424210 hours ago

Is this the same l0pht that wrote l0pthcrack, the legendary Windows password brute force tool from the 90s? I used that a lot though these days it's long been replaced by hashcat of course.

leroy-is-here18 hours ago

Is there a second part to this article? It felt like it ended only part-way through. What happened after being invited to the space? History I suppose.

Engaging writing in any case. So engaging that I thought there should be more lol.

ecliptik18 hours ago

It's an excerpt from the book Space Rogue:

leroy-is-here17 hours ago

Thanks, I missed that somehow. I went back and checked the article and, sure enough, I just have banner-blindness. If it doesn't look like text in a <p> tag I just ignore it.

sacnoradhq17 hours ago

This is a hilarious revisionist history labeling a "hackerspace".

That Wikipedia also calls w00w00 a "think tank" when it was a social forum for teenage / college students is laughable too.

adam_gyroscope9 hours ago

I had accounts on ATDT East & The Works, and ran a Wafflenet BBS on the south shore of Massachusetts. I was .. 14? 15? And would travel up to the 2600 meetings as often as I could convince my parents to drive me to the T stop. One memorable night I was invited to go to the l0pht and go trashing afterwards. It was awesome, I got a copy of the Nynex dental plan which I gave to someone on The Works who asked for it. No idea why they wanted it. I also met Lemon (later Lady Ada) at the 2600 meetings. I had no idea at the time how big a deal l0pht was, I was just happy older kids tolerated me.

Thorentis16 hours ago

Just to be pedantic, he said that the BBS could only accommodate 8 char usernames, but that he picked "Space Rogue" - 10 chars without the space.

weld15 hours ago

He used spacerog

ttmb14 hours ago

To be extra pedantic, he only said that "early systems" had that limitation, and that that drove username culture.

provenance16 hours ago

Manifesting an angel to sponsor a low key hackspace on Oahu. Plz email rapht at


PaulDavisThe1st19 hours ago

Whenever I read stuff about BBSs, I always feel so glad that I skipped this entire subculture by being on initially Bitnet and then Usenet plus a bit of IRC. Most of the descriptions of BBSs make them sound like an entirely different place, and although maybe more "hacker intensive", certainly less cordial. But then again, maybe that was just the bit of Usenet I was on.

ghaff18 hours ago

There were definitely different cultures within the BBS world. I was on a fairly small-time but professionally run BBS that wasn't really part of the warez/hacker community. One thing that was different a lot of the time from Usenet was that, given you were dialing up from home at a time when telephone calls were expensive, if you were into BBSing, you tended to get a subscription to a local board, so it was fairly natural to form a local community around the main board.

I guess Usenet had some local forums but my Usenet experience was that it was mostly locationless. (The bigger BBSs like the one I was on had relay boards like Fidonet but there was definitely a local vibe on the main board.)

There also just wasn't a lot of overlap between BBSs in their heyday and the people who had access to the Internet from school or work.

jeffreygoesto18 hours ago

OMG the Bitnet. 91 there were about a hundred machines from which people came into the relay (chat) and we thought we knew them all... Had to press Enter every once in a while on the IBM 3270 terminal to see if somebody wrote in the chat. If there was a sudden storm of answers you got really busy reading and answering...


That was before all those people started to shuffle into IRC even...

I also remember getting the "Datenschleuder" where you could read how to build your own 300baud acoustic coupler...

PaulDavisThe1st17 hours ago

I was using Bitnet in 1986, and my main memory is the way the "hottub channel" would get busy as the USA headed into nighttime (east coast first, later west). It was amazing how lascivious people could be with just text! :)

jamiek8813 hours ago



hunter2_18 hours ago


Ah. Brings back memories of talking Hayes commands directly to my modem via HyperTerminal, or maybe VB5.

hereforphone20 hours ago

I'd like to post my perception since I was a 90s hacker.

Inclusivity is arbitrary here - no one in the scenes that I was familiar with were excluded because of race or sex - it's just that certain demographics weren't attracted to that 'scene'. Those like me, ADHD, awkward, and not extremely socially capable at the time, were however sometimes excluded. There were still the cool nerds and the lame nerds. I was pretty involved in the scene, being a staff writer of 2600 (several articles published under various handles, my name listed in the cover for a couple of years), and spending some time talking to "famous" people.

Later I grew up, spent 4 years in the military, then used money I earned to finally go to college, graduating eventually with an engineering Master's in my 30s. As I grew up I realized that the whole 90s / early 2000s hacker scene was mostly just a social clique. I learned that many people who were revered had marginal skills. I learned that the paranoia and self-aggrandizement ("The FBI totally monitors #2600 to learn our skills") was really just immaturity. The whole thing eventually seemed lame as I grew into an adult. I realized 2600 was really just a money machine and a manipulative scheme. Phrack went downhill quick, sadly (I also published there).

Still, this was a classic and wonderful time. Even I made friends - some that I talk to now, 20+ years later. I learned a lot. I got started on a tech path that took me very far and into regions of tech I'd never learn about otherwise like radio and telephone. I'm still a hacker, but legally. I don't miss the "scene" at all, but I do wish I was more included in it at the time. As this article illustrates it must have been great.

bink19 hours ago

I generally agree, but some of those claims were true. It wasn't entirely immaturity. I was part of the group at the 2600 meeting near the Pentagon that got raided by Secret Service dressed up like mall security. They conducted some busts a few weeks later based on things illegally confiscated from that raid.

aYsY4dDQ2NrcNzA5 hours ago

Strange that you should mention this of all things. I have a few questions about this particular bust at the mall.

Could you please ping me at Much obliged.

sambull19 hours ago

The FBI did monitor #2600 irc.. it wasn't to learn our skills. But they most definitely ran a bot logging it - they showed me irc logs, asked questions about specific other people I was hanging out with in the SF scene at the time and warned my dad I was in with the bad hacker crowd. This was after a Red hat 6.2 box I built was owned by some php vuln and the person I did it was taking credit cards via email on that same box. He basically pointed at me and said I must be in some l33t hax0r gang stealing his customer credit cards info.

aestetix19 hours ago

It sounds to me like part of your growing up was realizing that the people you looked up to were human, and it shattered some illusions you had.

In truth, pretty much every social "scene" has a small core of dedicated people surrounded by a much larger social clique. This becomes more and more true as it grows in size. There will always be the "talkers" who are good at communicating but have "marginal skills," but I'd argue everyone has different strengths. For example, there are some absolutely excellent hackers who are terrible writers, and other people who write quite well about hacking, but cannot hack themselves. We need both types.

While quite a lot of the worry about government monitoring might actually be paranoia, I'll simply note that Snowden's relevations showed that a lot of the fears were justified. Perhaps there are tradeoffs in privacy that you are willing to make, which others refuse to make.

myself24819 hours ago

> many people who were revered had marginal skills.

Yeah, socially organizing and motivating people doesn't rank very high on technical achievement, but it's often the difference between groups you've heard of and groups you haven't.

And guess who inspires more young people to go learn?

nikanj16 hours ago

Nerds are upset social people do not respect technical skill, proceed to bash social skills

EvanAnderson19 hours ago

I was on the periphery of the 90s "scene" and this rings true to me. One year at DefCon I ended up (somehow) tagging along w/ (some of?) the Cult of the Dead Cow crew and friends to a dinner. I had a decidedly "Wow, I'm sitting at the cool kids table..." kind of feeling.

Age and location had a lot to do with it, too. I was in rural Ohio versus in Boston, Chicago, NYC, etc. I also did community college versus moving away. There were fewer opportunities for face-to-face hacker interactions when you might be the only person in your county into that kind of stuff.

I still lean on my telephony knowledge from back then. It's amazing how much of it is still relevant even in the world of VoIP.

sokoloff19 hours ago

dildog joined the same company I worked at for a short time and I met some of the cDc folks through that. It was a good continuation of my life education on “no matter how good you thought you were [with computers], someone is better.”

yourpaltod16 hours ago

This thread made me check in on and yep, it's still bad craziness.

H4ZB712 hours ago

> something something privilege

> text only i'm a big guy now

> no indication of what this group actually was unless i perhaps read every paragraph

> i liked the thing because of camaraderie

now you know why the hacker scene was always garbage. and internet forums. it's all mediocre people who are just there for camaraderie and jerking each other off over these false virtues.

Slix18 hours ago

Are there any online/remote hackerspaces? Seems like a good idea. Being physically together is too much time and energy sometimes.

wkat424210 hours ago

I've never seen any. It feels like it goes against the grain of the very idea of a hackerspace.

In ours we didn't even do this during the pandemic. We just kept going except during the strictest lockdowns.

matt321019 hours ago

I remember this stuff going on but I was very young (8) and just starting out with my ISA breadboard at the time.

anon2578316 hours ago

Those whom this interests should check out the Tildeverse

bilekas14 hours ago

this was a really cool read. Written really well too but is there more ?

Maybe it's just me but the end seemed too abtupt.. i want more!

spiritplumber15 hours ago

I'm glad I caught the tail end of this.

abksa14 hours ago

Fun times. Anyone here remember Altos?

paulpauper12 hours ago

A way back, I went to school with someone who fit this stereotype. Like out of The Matrix: trench coat all-black attire, sunglasses, good coding skills I presumed, smart, fast typist, always had laptop.

anthk17 hours ago