If you are addicted to menudisk scroll texts, you probably noticed the name of Hal a lot of times. Meet the man who was involved in teams like Elite, D-Bug, Automation, The Medway Boys, etc. What was his role? Find out more in this interview with an ex-member of the greatest teams of all time!
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2) Arriving in the world of the ST
3) Hacking contact
4) Other crews
5) More contacts
6) Favorite team
7) Short story
8) Favorite games
9) Speaking of demos
10) Leaving the scene
11) No more ST?
12) Nostalgia and emulators
14) Final words
1) Hello Hal. Can you introduce yourself in a few words (age, job, country, passion, route, etc.)?
Hal aka Alan Keeling.
Job - Why work when Google AdSense exists - remember a working class mentality is for the brainwashed masses who have been led to believe that the only thing they have to sell is themselves?
Country - UK
Passion - Janet S - Girlfriend
No kids - ever.
If you don't know who the old guy in the photo with me is, then you know nothing about the hack/phreak scene.
2) Was the Atari ST your first computer? When did you buy it?
I got my first computer in 1979, it was a Tandy TRS-80, it had 16K, it was B/W and it was also very cool at the time, it didn't do much though. This led me to my local Tandy centre, a place in which all sorts of strange people hung out, including Matthew Smith of Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy fame. The original birthplace of companies like Bug Byte and Imagine (both Liverpool-based games companies). By the way mass piracy started on tape - my first encounter with mass piracy was when I saw Bug Byte using its copying equipment to copy Imagine's games, then handing them out, to whoever wanted them.
Have managed to own a ZX81, Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amiga, PC and of course an Atari ST, I think I got mine around 1985.
3) How did you start in the hacking world?
A long long time ago in a bedroom not far from my current location, I met a phone line and I called it ATnT. How did I get involved with hacking? I have always been a techno head: give me a piece of technology and I want to know what makes it tick. Before computers there was the phone network, but that's another story, my first real break into hacking rather than just piracy, was via "2600" (a hack/phreak magazine). It switched me on to all sorts of things. The world opened up when phone calls became free and blue boxing (invented by the old guy in the picture above) became a way of life. You get a modem and a bulletin board number, OH MY GOD, there are other people out here, you end up talking to them and the rest is history.
4) Did you belong to any crew? If so, what was your role?
I have belonged to many crews over the years, I don't know why or to be honest even how many, I seemed to have become extremely well known and in essence some crews made me a member just so as they could list me as one of their friends - Mad Vision comes to mind.
I think I was in the Elite, the Empire and Dbug but don't quote me on it, although my role in each of these groups was minimal, I did supply free phone call information to a few chosen people. The main role I played for most groups - and this was not even well known to most of the people within these groups - was as a releaser of wares to the American market. Basically I was one of the first ST people to upload wares to America / Canada etc. Although not the first as I think that accolade may go to one of the Level 42 crew, an ancient race of higher beings, uber crackers from the ST's earliest beginnings - Aha). Anyway Phrozen Ghost ran a BBS, I think in New York, a BBS which a select few had access and a portion of his mighty hard disk was given over to the ST. Unbeknownst to me I was slowly becoming famous as one of the few people in the world, releasing new wares to the boards on the ST, especially in America. This was largely due to the fact that I used to go drinking with LSD / Automation, near Leeds university, a crew of the highest calibre?
They used to release most of the Automation disks at this computer club. Ozz, Marl, Rebel and occasionally Was Not Was would be getting drunk in one corner and the locals would be busy leeching everything they could in another. Before the net there was only 3 ways to get wares: snail mail, swapping in person or from the boards and seeing as how it is hard to beat someone who goes drinking with one of the ST's most prolific crews, then I had managed to corner the market in ST releases to the boards. In effect, whichever bulletin board I appeared on, instantly became the number one ST site in the world.
5) You were credited on a lot of menus. How did you manage to get so many contacts?
It's strange thinking back, but I remember meeting lots of crackers world wide, Zippy (hello Graham), Ozz (the main man), Was (a man who never left a keyboard), Frank aka Snake (The Replicants), never met but talked to, very cool guy, AXE of Delight, one of the best, most of the Bad Brew Crew (BBC), plus a whole load of other people who most people will never know, I got about in them days. The Pompey Pirates came along later, this is when the BBS became the in thing to be involved with and as I had already established myself in this neck of the woods. A lot of people wanted to know what it was all about. How to make free calls was one of the main questions (o800 890011), MCI, Sprint etc. I had the knowledge and the contacts to get the right numbers thanks to Jacko of Falcon, Captain Crook, Jay Sabbath and more than I can list. Unlike the Amiga cracking scene which was massive and as far as I can remember, run on a profit-motivated basis, the ST scene was much smaller in terms of people who really stood out, it was also a lot nicer. Once you had reached a certain level of fame on the ST scene, then it was almost as if everyone knew you. Most of the people at the top knew each other, so once you networked at that level, it was quite easy to meet others.
6) What was your favorite team? Why?
I should say LSD but I won't, I knew them too well - mostly as a bunch of drunks. I don't think I ever seen Rebel sober! Strangely enough my favourite crew was one I was never a member of: The Replicants. They were based mostly in France, they just seemed to crack all the stuff that was really tough, they were the best, if you ask me. The Medway Boys / Dbug came a close second with Automation in 3rd place. Zippy / Was and Ozz are all brilliant crackers, then came the Pompeys not bad, then Elite, The Empire, Hotline, Mad Vision and the rest. These teams all consisted of a loose amalgamation of losers, including me. The good thing is none of them did it for profit as far as I know but I think Rob C, was the top martyr to the cause.
7) Do you have some anecdotes about ST crews in mind?
LSD - Stood for Leeds something I think this was a myth, Rebel told me it stood for Loads of Shit Disks. Everybody apparently hated Alien from the PPs. I never met him but apparently he was the ugliest kid around. I'm not sure if it's true, but there was a rumor, that someone sent Operation Wolf back to Ocean with a message saying, that this is the way it should have been done, the original game came out on 3 disks and took ages to load, LSD managed to put the game onto one disk, with a faster loading time and no copy protection! (ha). Most of Mad Vision hated the Replicants, they made me a member not realizing how much I respected their hated enemy, but I never bothered to tell them. I annoyed a lot of people, but I couldn't care less, after all I did get a free all-expenses paid trip to the US, Disneyland, cruise ships, Mexico etc. And contrary to some people's accusations, NO, I didn't have to get physically into bed with any Americans for it.
PS. Little Lulu definitely wasn't that little.
8) What were your favourite games?
Freelancer / Far Cry / Shogun: Total War but I guess you mean on the ST - errrrrrmmmmmmmm, Defender of the Crown was good, Elite, my memory must be failing, as I don't remember playing that many games on the ST. I copied a lot, but most games only got loaded once normally. Yep it works, looks good, whatever, next?
9) Were you interested in demos?
Not really, but I did meet the Lost Boys at a computer show in Earls Court in London, they did some nice stuff, I also like some of those full screen demos, I always thought they must have taken some coding.
10) When did you leave the ST scene? Why?
Things went a bit awry after going to the States, the ST scene was dying anyway and after getting busted my life changed a bit. Sex, drugs, rock and roll, became my new in thing.
Hell I was no longer a teenager, I was twenty something and looking for new thrills. I moved onto the Amiga for a bit, then like everybody else I joined the Microsoft-world and got a PC. The net is king and boards are for dodos, it's time to let other people take the risks, I did it all, I seen it all, the ST is dead, long live supernova?
11) Do you still own your ST computer?
Nope it died a long time ago, but I currently own a 3200XP, GeForce FX5950ultra - 1gig of ram + half a terrabyte of SATA storage and a 1mbit internet line.
12) Have you tried emulators such as Steem or SainT?
God no! Never look back, although a friend of mine showed me Automation menu 69 part C, at least I think that was the number, running on an emulator on his PC, saying hey do you remember this, a whole Automation menu dedicated to you. Wow?
13) What are you projects now?
I started three companies, some successful others not so successful, it's a long story. My main project right now is an online ebook, it is totally free to download and is about technology and its probable impact on both society and the global economy. It is endorsed by John Draper aka the most famous computer hacker of all time and the guy who started off the whole computer hacking scene. It is also backed by 'Manic Miner' himself and described by the number one A.I. guy in the world, as a very creative ebook. It can be downloaded from:- www.heaven-or-hell-its-your-choice.com
Just remember to click on some of the adverts, otherwise I don't get paid, thanks.
14) A last word?
Most people think the ST scene was bigger than it was, it wasn't. Although millions of people probably got copies of games etc, there was probably less than 100 people who really counted as far as cracking was concerned and probably less than 50 worldwide in all honesty. When you consider the amount of people who benefited from this labor of love, then I can only say they need a big pat on the back from all of us. These people are clever, talented and greatly misunderstood by the powers that be.
Keep in mind, copyright is all well and good especially for the people who don't have to work, but profit from it?
Also remember hackers are not wares pirates, crackers, phreaks or social engineers............ Hackers possess all these skills and the elite know that the architecture is multi colored and has nothing to do with buildings?
Best Wishes to Mark Anthony (Kentucky USA), The Missing Link Bob New York New York, Jacko of Falcon (Holland), Rick of the Big 5 (Canada), Sledge - Hotline (Holland), The Law, P.M., the rest are mentioned in this interview in one way or another, there are probably others but my memory fails me. If anyone wants to get in touch, then see email address attached.
HAL - [email@example.com]firstname.lastname@example.org[/email]
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