Interview with (Chris Fitzsimons) Freak of The Harlow Cracking Service
What is your alias? If you find the story interesting, then let us know how you came up with it?
FREAK - I was watching a program on TV, I think it was in 86 and it was about a young computer hacker called Freak.
Have you changed handles? If so, give us the reason(s) and your previous nickname(s)!
I used 'Fat Hamster' while I was in the Amiga scene.
When and where were you born and where do you live now?
I was born in 1969 in ELY near Cambridge, England. I now live in Essex, England.
When did you get your first computer and which computers do/did you own? When did you get your C64?
My first computer was a VIC20 which my father bought me for Christmas 83/84? Can't remember which year. I then bought an Amstrad CPC464 when they first went on sale and then a CBM64 in 86, an Amiga A500 in 88 and then an A600 & A1200 when they 1st came out. Now I have two PC's.
How did you get to know the scene? Who was your first contact (person you knew) on the scene?
Some friends at our local I.T.E.C had access to COMPUNET and that's when I first experienced the 'SCENE' we all used to hang out at our local computer shop. Once I had purchased a modem and a Compunet account I started chatting to people on Partyline.
Describe your scene career, including all groups you have been a member of! Keep chronological order please!
I was only a member of 'THE HARLOW CRACKING SERVICE' which comprised of myself, Gairy and Andie. A lot of stuff we done was never released although Gairy did work on commercial games and rewrote the Hubbard music player, which was used in another game.
Which scene do/did you consider best and why? If you have been only on the C64, then give us the reason(s)!
The best scene was the C64, although I did write a couple of demos on the Amiga I found the C64 easiest to program. When the Amiga scene became strong people started dropping the C64 and didn't move onto the Amiga.
What do you think you gained by being a member of the scene?
Being a 3rd generation hacker (1st generation was people who built home computers, 2nd was people who wrote O/S, 3rd was people who wrote games/demos) you were apart of the history of the evolution of computing.
There was a Strong bond between coders and most would share their source code and explain new routines. Most coders would know their C64 better than their girl friends (if they had one).
What do you consider lost, wasted or meaningless during the years you have spent on the scene?
I lost my education as I spent most of my time during lessons thinking of game designs and writing code routines.
What is/are/was/were your main interest(s)/function(s)?
My main interest during school and upto 1985 was coding on Pet/BBC/ZX81, then 1985-1990 on Amstrad/C64, then 1990-1992 Amiga. I did some systems hacking during the 1987-1991 period. Although now I do program (Win95/NT - Visual Basic 4/5) its not my main job. In 1997 I purchased a C64 and Amiga 1200 and will again be following the scene.
What made you start doing graphics/composing/swapping/modem trading organising or whatever you did?
I started coding because I was fascinated about how a computer functioned and how by using assembler you were able to create things only limited by the imagination and hardware. Also cracking games and swapping was a big thing as we could not afford new games while at school.
What are/were your greatest successes/fiascos?
My greatest success was hacking into Istel and the British library using an Amstrad computer. I also requested a dozen boxes of brochures from the Egypt tourist board and had them sent over to a friend's house as a joke.
Was there any special connection between you/your group and some other people/groups on the scene (co-operation, war, friendship etc.)? If so, what made it start and stop?
Gairy from our group was the guy who spent most of his time talking with others like Ash & Dave, Ian & Mic, Pazza, Skuzz and swapping code etc.
Have you attended parties? Tell us about your favourite conferences? You can even mention some fiascos.
The best demo party we had took place when Andie's mum was on holiday and we had the house to our selves. My self, Andie & Gairy setup our 64's ready for a weekend of non-stop coding. The TV dinners were on standby and so was the beer. Before we started Andie said 'Why don't we go down the pub as some of my friends are down there.' off we went! On this particular night the pub was packed out with people all having a good time! Gairy was knocking back the Grolsh and kept saying the beer was crap and that he didn't feel pissed (he was sixteen at the time). Andie and I were being chatted up by a couple of slappers; we didn't care as we thought it would be an easy shagg. After about eight bottles of Grolsh, Gairy started sa ying that he felt pissed and can we go home. We ordered a Taxi but as there were now five of us (3 men, 2 slappers) the Taxi driver said he couldn't take us, the two slappers talked him into taking us all! While we were travelling back to the house there was Andie in the front with the driver, the two girls sitting on the passenger side of the rear seat, I was in the middle and Gairy was sitting to my right and behind the driver. We almost reached home when I looked at Gairy only to find his face has turned very pale, I asked the driver how to open the window as it was electric, he didn't reply so I asked him again but it was too late. Suddenly a mixture of curry, tea and eight bottles of Grolsh exited Gairy's mouth at a high velocity, hit the taxi driver on the back of his head but with such force that half of it passed both his ears and on to his dash board. The rest of Gairy's convulsions covered the rest of the passengers in the back of the car. When we got back to Andie's I told the taxi driver that all would be ok and that Gairy and I would cleanup the sick. In the back of the car I went and scooped it all out with my bare hands (I was pissed and didn't care about the smell). We told the driver to send Gairy the cleaning bill.
We all went in and setup a camp bed in the kitchen for Gairy to sleep in; he had to share the room with Andie's dog (Sam). Andie and I went upstairs with the two slappers but I think the scene in the taxi had put them off sex and after a while they went home (we even tried to turn them on by showing them SEX GAMES on the C64.' The next day we came down stairs only to find that the dog had become distressed by the presence of a foul smelling stranger in this kitchen and because of this he had pissed on Gairy and shit all around his bed and on his clothes. This was the most memorable party ever and we still talk about it today!
Is/was there any special feeling in your crew, something more than just being in a group?
We were like brothers as we all had a common love for the C64 and of course Beer!
If you are not a C64 scener anymore, when and why did you leave the scene?
I left the scene in 1990 when it was almost dead and sold all of my kit and gave away most of my source code disks (prat!) In 1997 I bought another 64 and will when time permits, write another game.
What were your favourite groups/artists/coders/productions? Why do/did you like their work/these programs?
Ash & Dave, Ian & Mic, Mean team, The might Bogg, Dokk, Skuzz, Alpha flight, 1001 crew, Yak, Judges, Stoat & Tim, Hubbard, Galway, and others for origional work.
Give us a brief description on the development of the scene as you experienced it and computer society in general!
In the beginning the scene life was simple, bitmap with a scroller, then came demos which contained more parts, then the complexity of the math's increased, everyone was searching for new routines and bitching if some body else copied them. The 'Hacker ethic' (share code for the common good) started to die. Commodores marketing were always crap and that's why the Amiga died. People started moving onto the PC, which was a complete bastard to code (unless of course you were in Future Crew).
What is your profession? What do you do for a living? Does it have to do anything with computers? Is there anything you do in real-life that is similar to what you have been doing on the scene?
I now work in a Bank as a Systems Analyst supporting NT (Crap), AS400 (Very stable) and SUN (ok but software's buggy like the PC). I wouldn't be doing this if I weren't apart of the scene, as the 80's for me were the best years of my life. Although I have a Pentium 200 Laptop, Nintendo 64, Sony Playstation, I still prefer playing the C64 and old arcade games (using an emulator on the PC).
What do you like doing in your spare-time when not computing? What is/are your hobby(ies)?
In my spare time I watch motor racing and films and enjoy life with my wife and baby.
Are there moments when you feel nostalgic thinking back to the past years of the scene? If so what do you do when it happens?
Most days I think about the old times and the fun/excitement it brought.
The 80's were a period where people who were interested could really understand the technology right down to chip level.
What are your plans for the near/far future?
I would like to write one more game for the C64 before I die.
What is your goal in life? What would you like to achieve?
I would like to be remembered in life for any programs, which I have written and for enjoying anything I had put my mind to. It doesn't matter whether people are good or crap at things as long as they enjoy the experience.
My goal in like is to become the best that I can possibly be in the field of work I am doing. Currently is systems support but who knows what the future holds?