Monthly Archives: November 2015

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C64 Disk Covers (Fzool Collection #3)

Here we go with another portion of Fzool‘s vast collection of paper artifacts from the mid-1990s C64 demoscene. This time it’s disk covers – used to store 5,25″ floppy disks, but also exchanged among sceners as a commodity of its own, as can be seen with these covers, copied on A4 sheets and “swapped” by sceners without actually cutting them out. “Cover designer” was a proper scene “profession” at that time, and there are a few stunning pieces of work among these covers.

Attitude #1 disk cover by Zapotek, 1999 [metadata]
Avantgarde disk cover by Cat, 1995 [metadata]
Bioblech disk cover by Jak T Rip, 1997-1998 [metadata]
Bizarre disk cover by Brainsmasher, 1998 [metadata]
Centrax disk cover by Serio, 1997 [metadata]
Colitt/De-Koder disk cover by Zapotek, 1999 [metadata]
Cucumbeer disk cover by Serio, 1997 [metadata]
Deus Ex Machina disk cover by Junkie, 1999 [metadata]
• Untitled disk cover by Comanche, 1995 [metadata]
• Untitled disk cover by Wednesday, 1998 [metadata]

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Mixed Demoscene Stuff From Se7en

Once again, Se7en scanned some things which he accumulated during his long-standing demoscene career: Stickers, disk covers, flyers, and some weirder things like “demoparty dollars” and a Breakpoint sticker produced by a hotel. Enjoy!

Birdhouse Projects sticker, 2000s [metadata]
Brainfart “Prost!” sticker, 2000s [metadata]
Breakpoint 2009 dollars [metadata]
Breakpoint 2010 hotel sticker [metadata]
Crest “Deus Ex Machina” sticker, 2000 [metadata]
• Disk cover for Extend‘s “Der Gümmel” demo, 2006 [metadata]
Hitmen disk cover by Stone, 1996 [metadata]
Hitmen sticker sheets, 1996 [metadata]
Replay Copy Convention 2005 flyer [metadata]
ROLE disk cover by SID, 1990 [metadata]

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The PLK: A Crucial Communication Tool

Bodo/Rabenauge provided us with this scan. It’s an inconspicuous pink paper slip, slightly bigger than a credit card. For German crackers and demosceners in the 1980s, however, it was the single most important tool for long-distance communication and data transfer, before the introduction of BBS‘s and a long time before the Internet.

PLK is short for “Postlagerkarte” and roughly translates as “Mail storage card”. Introduced by the German Imperial Post in 1910, it was a service that enabled customers to receive mail anonymously. 1 The pink slip was the only ID you needed at the post office counter to pick up the mail sent to the particular PLK number. Also, unlike P.O. boxes (“Postfächer”), you could get a PLK for free and without having to reveal your identity. 2 From the mid-1980s onwards, when German law enforcement began to take piracy more seriously, PLKs became the preferred software exchange channel for computer kids – and particularly for their “elite” segment, the crackers and swappers, who raised illicit software exchange to a semi-professional level. Going to the post office and picking up the latest disk-filled envelopes was part of the most active sceners’ daily routine. Some even went as far as having multiple PLKs across their hometown. 3

Of course the German public, and particularly the law enforcement authorities, became aware of the scheme rather quickly. Already in 1984, some computer magazines stopped publishing classified ads with a PLK contact address, as it began to have an air of piracy and fraud around it. 4 In 1986, the infamous copyright lawyer Günter von Gravenreuth described the PLK principle to a specialist audience. 5 To cope with the PLKs’ anonymity, the authorities had to go to great lengths. After finding out which post office a particular PLK was assigned to, the police had to place plain clothes officers at the post office and wait until someone showed up to collect their mail. 6 1980s cracker magazines are full of reports about people getting “busted” in this manner. Jeff Smart, editor of the papermag ‘Illegal’, described the typical situation in 1988: “Normally you get a PLK […] without giving your name or address, so the cops have to wait in the post office until you appear and get your packages from the counter clerk. Then they politely ask you: ‘are you really in that group X.X.X. ???’ and GA-BOSH! Game over for you!“. 7 Such confrontations at the post office, which sometimes escalated into spectacular chasing scenes, could also lead to a house search. 8

Those who used PLKs for swapping resorted to different strategies to counter these measures. After the dangers of picking up PLK mail became common knowledge, sceners went to the post office in groups: “One of us took a peek, and if the situation seemed safe, he beckoned the rest of us.” 9 Those operating on a more professional level resorted to hiring younger kids who would pick up their mail for pocket money. These, ideally, did not even own home computers, and thus were perfectly “clean” when apprehended by the police. 10 Other groups began leasing P.O. boxes in neighbouring countries with a more lax attitude towards piracy, such as Belgium or Luxembourg, and periodically drove over the border to pick up their packages. 11

All in all, PLKs quickly turned out to be anything but the universal remedy for those involved in software swapping. However, they were still widely used – most importantly because they allowed the hiding of real names and addresses not only from the police, but also from other sceners. Thus, PLKs also became the preferred method of data exchange for demosceners – some of whom even wrote to commercial computer magazines arguing that having a PLK did not always imply criminal intent. 12 The notion of a PLK as a synonym for a contact address within the scene became so popular that even in a Yugoslavian crack intro, the group introduced their contact details (an ordinary street address) as “our PLK”. 13 Thus, the concept of a PLK gained international cultural significance within early home computer culture even beyond its original meaning.

The German Post abolished the PLK system on 1 June 1991. The scene did not shed many tears over it – after all, much of the data exchange was already relocated onto BBSs. However, a significant cultural practice disappeared, to be forgotten by all except by those who experienced it themselves.

Gleb J. Albert

Got a personal PLK story to tell, and want to share it with our readers? Please do get in contact!

PS: The scan of Bodo’s PLK is available here.

Notes:

  1. http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postlagerkarte
  2. Jeff Smart. „What’s going on in Germaney???“ Illegal, no. 29 (1988): 9, http://archive.scene.org/pub/mags/illegal/illegal29.pdf
  3. Gangsterkater. „Wir waren Cracker. Eine reale Geschichte aus der Sicht eines Insiders.“ Cevi-Aktuell, no. 3 (2008): 29, http://www.c64.at/modules/download_gallery/dlc.php?file=171; „A Sad Boy“. „Are the P.O. Box / PLK so sure??“ Bad Tongue, no. 4 (1988), http://demozoo.org/productions/128439/
  4. „Raubkopierer Achtung!!“ Computer Kontakt, no. 12 (1984): 59.
  5. Gravenreuth, Günter Freiherr von. Das Plagiat aus strafrechtlicher Sicht. Software-, Video- und Markenpiraterie, Raubdrucke. Die Straftatbestände des gewerblichen Rechtsschutzes. Einschlägiges Prozessrecht (Köln: Carl Heymanns Verlag, 1986), 193.
  6. Ibid.; Gravenreuth, Günter Freiherr von. „Die Tricks der Softwarepiraten.“ KES: Zeitschrift für Kommunikations- und EDV-Sicherheit 4, no. 5 (1988): 290–92.
  7. Jeff Smart, „What’s going on in Germaney???”
  8. Virus. „Die Virus-Story.“ Crackers International, no. 3 (1989): 7, https://files.scene.org/view/mags/crackers_international/crackers_international_03.pdf; MC Winkel, Die Postlagerkarte (back in the days), Whudat blog, 28 January 2009, http://www.whudat.de/die-postlagerkarte-back-in-the-days/
  9. Jörg. „Wir waren Cracker.“ Cevi-Aktuell, no. 5 (2008): 13, http://www.c64.at/modules/download_gallery/dlc.php?file=172
  10. Interview with Hamster/TRSI, Saarbrücken/Germany, 4 April 2015.
  11. Ibid.; „Special note and information.“ Criminal [Paper], no. 1 (1990): 6, https://files.scene.org/view/resources/gotpapers/magazines/criminal_1_%28april_1990%29.pdf
  12. Case/Duplex A. „Legale PLK? [letter to the editor].“ Amiga Special, no. 12 (1990): 4.
  13. Yugoslav Cracking Service. 3D Construction Kit [Crack]. Commodore 64, [late 1980s], http://csdb.dk/release/?id=142663
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C64 Scene Photo Albums

Interpersonal relations in the early cracking– and demoscene were shaped by a contradiction. On the one hand, sceners hid behind nicknames – for conspirative reasons, or just to appear “cool” and mysterious, or a mixture of both. On the other hand, despite the moral panic of “isolation” as a purpoted consequence of home computing, being part of the scene was always a highly social activity. From its dawn in the 1980s, the scene was a long-distance, yet very dense, interpersonal web, woven by floppy disks in the post, modem connections, conference calls, and intro scrolltexts. Of course, one could meet each other on a local level, and from time to time copyparties provided possibilities to meet your long-distance contacts, but more often than not you did not know how your fellow sceners outside your regional boundaries looked like.

Often sceners would sent each other photos through the post; from time to time, they would appear on the pages of papermags. Now, thanks to Hedning‘s collecting and scanning efforts, we can rediscover a long forgotten medium of photographic exchange: photo albums and flyers, compiled by swappers and spread among their contacts. A particularly industrious swapper in this regard was Incubus from Sweden, who produced dozens of such albums in the early 1990s, sharing pictures from the most recent copyparties as well as random portraits sent to him by his contacts from all over the world. These pictures, sometimes barely recognisable due to b/w photocopying, do not just show us “who was who”, but also tell a lot about self-staging and identity management in the pre-Internet years of home computer enthusiasm.

You can download the PDFs through the metadata links, or simply browse through the pages of the albums in the gallery below.

Appell #3 photo flyer by unknown author, 1990s [metadata]
Commodore Scene 1996 photo flyer, 1996 [metadata]
Photo-Flyer #1 by Goat/Acrise, 1996? [metadata]
Brutal & Hurricane Party 1992 photo album by Incubus/Antic, 1992 [metadata]
Fifth Party Album by Incubus/Antic (incl. photos from The Party 1993), 1993 [metadata]
Fourth Photo Album by Incubus/Antic, 1992? [metadata]
Immortalized #10 photo album by Incubus/Antic, 1990s [metadata]
Light & Phenomena Party 1992 photo album by Incubus/Antic, 1992 [metadata]
Photo Album by Incubus/Triad, 1993 [metadata]
TCC 1993 photo album by Incubus/Triad, 1993 [metadata]
The Greatest Ever Photo Album by Incubus/Antic, 1992 [metadata]
Yet Another Photo Album by Incubus/Antic, 1992? [metadata]
Yet Another Photo Album by Incubus/Triad, 1993 [metadata]

PS: Incubus himself showed up in a Facebook thread discussing this update, and shared his memories on the production process. I remember sneaking into my mother’s office at her work late in the evenings to use their Xerox machine. All of my 300 contacts got a copy, so it was heavy work for me (and the Xerox machine :) ) each time a photo album was to be released. It was great fun!

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Criminal #1 (April 1990)

Again, we managed to unearth a completely forgotten cracking scene magazine. Criminal was a papermag published by the famous C64 & Amiga group Red Sector Inc. This issue came out only two months before the group’s merger with Tristar into TRSI, an even more legendary team which is still active in today’s demoscene. According to the editorial, the mag had a precursor in early 1990 under the name Business, which had to be renamed due to a different scene magazine being published under the same name. Another note states that the “2nd issue […] will be released at some time in June”, thus one can assume that this is issue #1, even though the cover does not feature an issue number. However, to make things more confusing, Red Sector Inc. released a diskmagazine called “Criminal #1” two months earlier, in February 1990, with completely different content.

The magazine is rather slim; it appears that most of the texts were written by its two editors, Sir Mighty and Irata. Compared to many scene magazines of the time, it has a relatively “grown up” feel to it, and carries a number of copyparty reports and news items. Thanks to Hamster/TRSI, who found several pristine copies of the mag in the basement, we can present you with an extraordinary clean scan. You can download the OCR version (PDF) here, or browse through the mag in the online gallery.

PS: Have a look at the anonymous report on p. 5-6 for an insight into the the fascinating – antagonistic yet symbiotic – relations between crackers and game companies.

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Demoscene Materials 2000-2015

Today’s update to the archive consists of recent demoscene materials from the previous 15 years – flyers, stickers and badges contributed by Bullet, CapaC, and Moqui. Enjoy!

Accession sticker, 2010s [metadata]
Bleep Street stickers, 2013 [metadata] and 2014 [metadata]
Censor & Oxyron sticker, 2015 [metadata]
Data Airlines sticker, 2014 [metadata]
Digital Sound System stickers, 2013 [metadata] and 2014 [metadata]
Deadline 2014 organiser badge [metadata]
Function 2012 visitor badge [metadata]
Function 2013 visitor badge [metadata]
Radwar Party 2000 flyer [metadata]
SceneCon 2009 badge/ticket [metadata]

Remember, you can click on “metadata” not just for information on the artefacts, but also to download the hi-res scans. Some of the metadata was compiled by another new staff volunteer, iks from France. Welcome to the team!