Many years ago I discovered IRC which is short for Internet Relay Chat. Now, it is considered an ancient form of communication but it was the precursor to instant messaging and chat rooms. My involvement started when I became interested in rubber stamping. Ok, I’ll just pause here while you try to figure out why I would be interested in rubber stamps. Got it? No? Are you really going to make me admit that I want to be an artist but I can’t draw for the life of me and rubber stamped images kind of give me a head start? Do you feel better now? Do you!?
Now that I’ve been totally humiliated, I’ll get back to my story. I found out there was a place online where I could join a chat room and talk to other people who like rubber stamping, too. Yes, there are others! It was fun till this guy came in and threatened to take over the little server we were on.
That was the beginning. The guy’s nickname was Froolap. This geeky guy kept telling us that he was exposing our security flaws and tried to tell us how to fix them. Most of the middle-aged ladies there had no computer savvy whatsoever and I was in the same boat. Froolap obviously had skills, and who knew what he was capable of? They were afraid, but I was intrigued. I wanted to learn more.
Sure that he was just an internet troll, the ladies banned him. Now it is true that he played a lot of pranks on them so he sort of deserved it. He put a bot in the channel that would spy on them and when he reentered the channel he could repeat the things they said in his absence. That freaked them out, they thought he was some sort of hacker who could divine their very thoughts.
I think it was his CC Grabber scam that put the ladies over the top. When they wouldn’t believe him about the very real security flaws the server had, he figured he’d scare some sense into them. He told them that he had a way to get their credit card numbers. I imagined their eyes growing large with fear on their faces. Their fears were soon realized when he told them to hold their credit cards up to the screen and he would recite the number. They must have thought he put his swami hat on because he started saying “I see a 3 oh and I see a 5.” By that time they were totally going crazy and completely convinced that he had read their cards through their computer screens. Hey, Kellyanne Conway had nothing on them. It was about that time that they banned him.
Before that happened, I had asked Froolap how I could learn some of these techy things and he took me to a channel (that’s what they call chat rooms on IRC) on the Efnet server. It was chock-a-block full of real geeks. These guys knew their stuff. I had no idea what their stuff was because I didn’t understand the jargon, but they sure did know it! I was on a real server now.
I had a blast there. I created my own little channel called #papermoon. I learned the jargon and the commands. I learned 1337speak where numbers take the place of some letters. I learned how to run a bot! All of this happened more than a decade ago and I’ve forgotten half of it. However, the channel is still there, though it’s just greatly diminished. IRC is dying in favor of newer technology.
While on IRC I also saw the underbelly of the internet. A lot of the people I hung out with were hackers. Real hackers, not just pranksters like Froolap. Some were the good-guy white hats, some black hats, but mostly they were gray. I was really glad they were my friends and not my foes. I experienced real internet trolls who tried to take over my channel. I learned first hand that some of the people on the internet are truly evil. In jest, I mentioned to a friend that I wanted to be evil. He joked that I was “almost evil.” That made me laugh. How fitting for a geek-wannabe.
Then it struck me. So many years before, Froolap came to a little channel and tried to help, but was looked upon as evil. I guess he was “almost evil” long before I was.
Without him, I never would have had those wonderful experiences or made the friends I still hold dear to this day. We lost Froo a year ago to suicide but he and I got to tell that story to a lot of friends that drifted through the channel over the years. I owe Froolap a great deal and I’m grateful that he knew that before he died.