Soon it will be midnite, in New York.
When I write about/as Agent T.W. Lee: Interzone Intelligence, I like to include the sentence “Soon it will be Midnite, in New York.” Why Midnite, and why New York? Midnite is when a day officially changes. New York is considered in many instances to be the center of the world. They don’t show the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Cleveland. New York also happens to be where this whole thing that you’re now reading started thirty-two years ago. Midnite however is also when all good people are supposed to be asleep and dreaming, except for us outliers who are up late working a muse.
I have been in New York at midnite. The last train North that would get me to my destination in time to catch a cab home was a little after 12:00. I later had a car and that all changed. I think the last train North was at 2 or 3 in the morning, but if you were down in Gotham that late you might as well just crash at a friend’s apartment and leave the city the next morning. (Only the insane drive in New York if they’re from out of town.) Sometimes late nite hacking sessions caused you to lose track of time, especially if you were working on a particularly difficult problem.
Back in the day when it was midnite in New York one might find themselves sucking down a Kirin Ichiban at this place down in the East Village called Around The Clock with other fellow outliers who were working a muse or otherwise dealing with being awake when all good people are supposed to be asleep and dreaming. Or maybe they were ruminating over a coffee and a tuna melt at that 24-hour diner down by 13th Street and 7th Avenue. Those were only two of many places you could find yourself when it turned midnite, in New York. They are both gone now, but there are others. The city never sleeps.
One of the last times I visited Around The Clock was with fellow outlier Emmanuel Goldstein, my editor at 2600. I’ve been writing for 2600 longer than I have been doing Cybertek or any of the zines that came afterwards. It was on May 1st, 1992, the night that the Rodney King protest in Greenwich Village turned into a riot. I had my trusty PRO-34 handheld scanner with me, and previously programmed it with every NYPD frequency used in downtown Manhattan. When word reached us about the protest, we set out to go witness it (we are writers after all). In short order I had found the frequency used for response, and we had a nice stream of information to complement what we were watching from a position of relative safety about 2 blocks away, which we learned was the optimal distance to observe a civil disturbance while staying out of the way of both the police and protesters. This was the first time I went to an active event and did COMINT, and wouldn’t be the last.
Most recently another fellow outlier and I ran an urban LP a few miles out from a George Floyd protest march being held in a local city. While we didn’t have the capability to monitor low-power on-scene communications (such as if the protesters were using FRS radios), we still managed to stay apprised of what was happening during the event. The PRO-34 was replaced by a PRO-43, and now a WS1040, but I still keep one handy.
The ongoing project to bring the lab/workshop back to where it was out west before the move back had progressed significantly since the release of Cybertek #30. The most recent edition was a monitor for video testing that included an ATSC tuner. Since OTA TV is yet another free news and information source, I pulled a WA5VJB 400-1000 MHz. PCB log-periodic antenna out of storage for a reception test. Scanning the OTA TV bands netted me 45 channels. The signal strength on a few of them is marginal, but WA5VJB’s website has plans for cheap yagi antennas with higher gain that you can make from scrap obtainium you may have handy. The OTA TV made a good addition to the AM/FM broadcast, shortwave and police scanner receivers that were already operational in the lab. It’s total information awareness, as they say.
Total information awareness is important and useful because it lets you find out news, events, and incidents in your area without bias and gatekeepers. Pundits from both the right and the left are not only known to add their slant and bias to news stories, but also known to selectively report and distort information to their customers. In this day and age you simply cannot afford that level of de facto censorship. The solution is collecting your information directly from the source. Speaking of sources, do you know which two broadcast news sources are the most straightforward and unbiased? They are NPR and PBS. You will of also want to occasionally keep and eye and ear on the big four if only to see what the other sides are talking about.
When I hear a siren (or multiple sirens) off in the distance, if my police scanner is not on (as it is right now) I am prompted to turn it on. I generally find out what’s the cause of the siren in a few minutes and can then go about my business if the issue is of minor or no concern. Most of the time it isn’t anything to worry about unless traffic is blocked on a road I will be using shortly. If I ever see an increase in tactical military vehicle or air traffic along with an increase of encrypted communications on certain frequency ranges then my level of concern might be elevated.
VHF/UHF communications monitoring with a police scanner is particularly useful as it lets you keep watch on an area up to about 50 miles in radius from your home with little effort. If you hear an emergency call you can be assured that the incident is actually happening. Compare the usefulness of communications monitoring to the drivel that charlatans such as Alex Jones call “news,” or some “intel report” that some unknown “3UP” fucktard posts to a Facebook group. I met the late Mike Vanderbough, by the way, back in 2014. I wasn’t impressed back then, and am less impressed now.
There is a certain freedom to be had from being properly informed. NPR’s financial sector reporting combined with historical stock market data and news about recent government legislation has enabled many fellow outliers to invest a nominal amount of discretionary funds that so far have produced gains exceeding the rate of inflation. Taking advantage of that information was pretty easy because the NPR analysts just come out and say “There should be an increase in XXX companies’ stocks because Congress and the President passed YYY legislation.” That is an example of strategic intelligence.
About fifteen minutes ago, communications intercepted on my police scanner informed me of a vehicle accident that caused an intersection down the road to close. That closure might change the route I’ll be taking on my shopping trip in about thirty minutes. There is an example of tactical intelligence.
Both the strategic and tactical intelligence examples are real news. They are both relevant and useful. What I just described are respectively known as Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) and Communications Intelligence (COMINT). OSINT and COMINT are not only useful for finding out news and information. The topics themselves are a filter. As you come across people who may qualify as like-minded individuals you can subtlety quiz them to see if they are worth dealing with. Do they understand and practice OSINT and COMINT? Do they instead parrot what they hear from the likes of Alex Jones, Ann Barnhardt, and other charlatans? If it’s the former, then they might be worth talking and dealing with. If it’s the later, you might want to have nothing to do with them. You see, soon it will be Midnite, in New York. When that happens the coach is going to change back into a pumpkin, and you don’t want to be riding in it when that happens. (Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo!)
I’m going to show you how to make your own ride so you don’t have to borrow your fairy godmother’s for the next party. That’s a lot harder to do these days because the Internet has you locked inside a walled garden of your own making. Hopefully the memetic triggers in this text have done their job, and I’ve released the bindings enough for you to not only consider attempting the stunt I’m about to outline, but actually do it. A word of warning first. What I’m about to suggest is particularly dangerous. If you are under 18, you should definitely attempt this because you stand to benefit from it more so then someone who is 58. I was about 15 or 16 when I first tried it, but I also played D&D back then.
When I first started this long strange trip some of my best discoveries were accidental ones found by just exploring different pathways. A trip to the computer section of a bookstore had me find Steven Levy’s Hackers while seeking programming books for my Commodore VIC-20. That introduced me to Computer Lib, Robert A. Heinlein, and William S. Burroughs. (Burroughs was part of the inspiration for T.W. Lee.) A fellow outlier and hacker known as “Bill From RNOC” who used to attend 2600 Meetings in New York (City) showed me a copy of William Gibson’s Neuromancer, which all the hackers were reading at the time. I found a copy in the Science Fiction at the same bookstore, but while looking for it I discovered Arthur Clarke’s Report On Planet Three and Other Speculations. The list goes on and on.
Decent bookstores (both new and used) are a sadly thing of the past. I wish I could tell you to go into your local Barnes and Noble to poke around like I did, but the selections just suck too badly. Not only that, but you are at this stage too limited to properly conduct this experiment. Nor am I one to suggest you go out and buy random books. Actually I am, but you probably wouldn’t do it anyway. For this experiment you need to visit a place you are either familiar with or avoid completely depending on how blue or red you are. That place is your local library.
Your local library is free. They have a selection of books you can borrow for while to read, take notes from, and copy pages out of. Their selection is broad and eclectic. Okay, it’s more broad and eclectic than you have probably experienced in the past. So, your first step in this experience is to visit your local library and get a library card. When you visit, you will see and experience new things. Mouth shut, eyes and ears open. You are in collection mode. Save the analysis for later.
Before you begin, you must acquire some tools for generating randomness. I know the first thing you’re going to reach for is an Android app on your not-so-smart phone, and if I were there I’d smack you across the knuckles with a yardstick like some old-time Catholic school teacher, in a virtual manner of course. Seriously, don’t do it. The process and tools should be analog and meat space.
In a public library, there are two broad selections of books: fiction and non-fiction. Any coin that resides in your pocket right now has two sides: heads and tails.
Works of fiction are arranged in alphabetical order by the last name of the author. There are 26 letters in the English alphabet. A deck of playing cards has 52 cards in it. In doing a little math you will discover that 52/2=26.
Works of non-fiction are arranged by the Dewey Decimal system which breaks the stacks down into ten classes, then ten divisions, then ten sections. The ten classes are as follows: 000 – Computer science, information and general works 100 – Philosophy and psychology 200 – Religion 300 – Social sciences 400 – Language 500 – Pure Science 600 – Technology 700 – Arts and recreation 800 – Literature 900 – History and geography
Ten-sided dice are common among role-playing (D&D) and strategy board gamers. If you remove two cards from your playing card deck you will have 50 remaining which is divisible by 10.
Since we have to “remove” two cards from the deck, I just simply designated the Jack of Diamonds and Jack of Hearts as “try again” cards, for reasons. Playing cards and coins are common enough, and everyone can find them. Playing card decks are in the toys/games departments of Wal-Mart and Target. I get mine from the checkout aisle of my local Dollar Tree for $1.25. (They used to be $1.00.)
But, most of all she was thinkin' 'bout the Jack of Hearts. – Bob Dylan
Here’s how this works. Go to your local library and check out a few random books to read. Flip a coin. Heads you go to non-fiction, tails you go to fiction. Shuffle your deck of cards and pick one out at at random. If you were in the fiction section and got the letter “M” you would pick out a book written by an author whose last name begins with the letter “M.” Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick would be a good choice if you have not already read it. If you were in the non-fiction section and pulled up a 4, you would proceed over to division 400, which is the Dewey Decimal class for Language. In all seriousness, I’d go over one more to division 500. That is the Dewey Decimal class for Science, and you are more likely to find something interesting in that section. You decide that section 500 is more your style. You pull two more numbers 3 and 7. Dewey decimal number 537 is for Electricity and Electronics. Broken down into its elements 500 is Science, and 530 would be Physics. You will also find electronics books in section 621: Technology, Engineering, Applied Physics.
If the thought of randomly checking out books from the library is too radical for you at the moment, then go find an interesting book in one of these sections: • 000 to 099 – Computer science • 130 – Parapsychology • 350 – Public administration and military science • 500 to 599 – Science • 600 to 699 – Technology • 700 to 799 – Arts and Recreation If you cannot find at least three books in the library to borrow from these sections, something is wrong with you. Take some DMAE and call me in the morning.
If you live in Connecticut, you happen to be fortunate when it comes to having a decent used bookstore within driving distance. If you want to build up your library at a reasonable price, I recommend you visit The Book Barn in Niantic. Their military science/history and technical sections are absolutely incredible. This is the place where Wildflower bought the bulk of his library before discovering the Internet and downloading gigabytes of potentially useful PDF files that later became The Doomsday Disk collection. The Book Barn has managed to survive the decades. You should go visit The Book Barn because it’s the best place for outliers like us who like having stuff in hardcopy form. If any reader has information about good used bookstores, electronic surplus stores, army/navy stores, or anyplace similar in their area, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org so we can compile a list for everyone’s benefit.
On my keyring is a USB stick drive that has around 2100 PDFs covering a range of topics from A to Z. The entire collection takes up about 5 Gigabytes of space, and I still have a little more than 10 Gigabytes free. Imagine what size library you could fit on a 1 or 2 Terrabyte drive. Physical books are nice, however, and there will be some texts you want in hardcopy so you can read them at any time without a device. Most department stores sell a 2’x3’ three-shelf bookcase for $20-$25 depending on where you go, and if there’s a sale. This gives you six feet of shelf space for books.
Keep your eyes open at tag sales, flea markets, gun shows, and similar places for plastic index card boxes full of microfiche that are labeled with a sticker that says “Pocket Survival, PO Box 2010, Dallas, TX 75221.” During the 1980s this company advertised a comprehensive survival library on microfiche with a small handheld reader in various survivalist and gun magazines. The microfiche in those boxes contain a useful variety of self-reliance and preparedness books and military manuals. As the original buyers of this collection age out, I would expect to see them become available at various second-hand venues. A useful book collection on microfiche, along with a handheld reader, is probably the best way to have a comprehensive library that takes up a minimum of space, and can be accessed at any time. Sadly, Pocket Survival is no longer in business, but I leave this as a something of a Holy Grail for those of you who want the ultimate outlier’s library.
Realistically speaking, the bulk of your library is going to be PDF files on some form of device, unless you get lucky and find a copy of the Pocket Survival microfiche collection. This is an adequate solution for now, but I can tell you from first hand experience that most devices will die after 10 yesrs, losing the data they hold in the process. You will want a few hardcopy versions of books you consider “must haves.” I think filling one of those small bookshelf units would be a good start, and not take up too much space.
One of my early inspirations for getting into technology, Forrest M Mims, III (http://www.forrestmims.org/) started his technical writing career in a 10x8 metal storage shed. Home Depot sells one for $370. There are also other, possibly cheaper, options. Watch the Youtube video called “Building A Cabin From Pallet Wood: Cheap Off-Grid Homestead” by TA Outdoors – https://youtu.be/1HA4zY8xCyY. In the video a couple of gentlemen used nothing but a few hand tools to make a small off-grid cabin out of salvaged pallet wood. They used nothing special, just hand saws, hammers, a square, tape measure, and a ratchet wrench. You could do the same too out of whatever obtainium you come across in your explorations, and the same basic set of tools.
What is obtainium? Obtainium is our currency and lifeblood. It is whatever material you, in your wanderings, can manage to acquire for cheap or preferably free in order to work on projects or trade for other obtainium. Driving through an industrial park and see a bunch of pallets with a “free” sign taped to them? Obtainium. See an old PC or other consumer electronics sitting on the curb during trash day? Obtainium. Day job throws out obsolete components and hardware? Obtainium. Find an old-skool surplus store? Lots of obtainium. Weekend tag sales? Probably find some obtainium there as well. The type of obtainium you come across should have an influence on what projects and experiments you partake in. Working with what you can inexpensively find and have available locally will help stretch a limited hobby budget, and is a hallmark of a competent outlier. Anyone can mail order off the Internet, but only a true gomi no sensei can do things with whatever local obtainium they find.
Gomi no sensei. Master of junk. A lot of us, often not having two nickels to rub together for research expenses, went this route. Work with whatever you can beg, borrow, scrounge and do amazing shit with it. Rescue a few old x86 machines out of a dumpster, and make a Beowulf cluster out of it. Find an old VT100 terminal and modem on a back shelf in a dusty storeroom that’s been there so long it's forgotten and won't be missed. Offer on a slow day to clean out the old junk, and walk past your car on the way to the dumpster, or find that Joe went and threw everything out in that room yesterday, and go dumpster diving. Find a piece of old computing iron at a yard sale for $10, in the original box with manuals. Snag curbside electronics the night before trash day, and gut the useful parts out of them. It's all good.
The best gomi no sensei I ever had the privilege to meet and learn from was my late friend Dave Wildflower. He ran a Commodore VIC-20 and Timex Sinclair 1000 as his computing iron, was a Master scrounger, and was one of the best outliers I have ever known. Dave's lab took up about 250 square feet in his basement. Most of one wall was a workbench he made out of salvaged 2x4s and 4x4s. His go-to tools were hanging up, and the less-used ones stayed in a big old 1960s vintage multi-drawer tool chest. Most of his hand tools dated from the 1940s to 1960s, and I credit him with my fondness for the older tools. His “loaners” were a tool box full of inexpensive hand tools of Chinese manufacture, since it was a statistical certainty that they would get lost or broken. An old multi-band radio (usually turned to the local AM talk station) and TV (usually on Discovery Channel) brought in information from the outside world. A World War II vintage Atlas drill press took up a corner. Another corner had a bunch of fish tanks full of guppies and aquatic plants. That was one of his many hobbies. He found the tanks on curbside during trash day. He made his own aerator filters out of dollar store plastic containers and toilet paper rolls. Worked perfect. The water was pet store or Chinese restaurant aquarium-grade clear. Ninety percent of what he worked with either came out of a dollar store, or was either surplus, scrap, salvage, or the previous owners' “junk.” I have to to admit, outside of my own lab, Dave's lab was one of the most comfortable places to hang out and work in. It was a real-life example of William Gibson's Dog Solitude.
Dog Solitude. Dig deep enough and you'll find anything there, the novel says. Any former farm or industrial land, even long-since subdivided, has tons of stuff just waiting for you to find, salvage, and re-purpose. If you're lucky, you might even find a (mostly) still-standing structure that you can repair and rebuild with little effort. Trust me, it's easier than erecting one from scratch. For those of you who are more into urban environs, junkyards are good too. The older, the better. One of the goals of a gomi no sensei outlier is to have their own Dog Solitude that is big enough that they don’t have to wait until morning to go out and buy a part when doing their midnight hacking. Instead, they go into their obtainium stock and get it, even if it’s gotta be desoldered out of an old TV chassis.
Like most other things, there are some important rules about obtainium. The first rule of obtainium is that when the opportunity presents itself to acquire some, you grab it regardless of what it is. This especially applies to free obtainium, because the flow generally stops from a source when you stop accepting it. You can always move it along later if you don't need it and get either some cash or some other obtainium you need in trade. The second rule of obtainium is to not become a hoarder. It is way too easy to become one if you have limited space for obtainium. Only keep what you might realistically use in six months or a year. If you don't think you're going to use it by then, get rid of it. Pass it along to someone else who might need it. Similarly, if you don't use it after six months or a year, get rid of it. There will always be more coming later.
Even if you don’t have a lot of space where you are, you still should be be able to set something up. A 4’ x 2’ folding table placed in an out of the way corner is enough space for electronics and other small craft stuff. You can see just what you can do and fit on a 4’ x 2’ folding table. Here is Dave Wildflower’s workbench which he used when visiting me. He built that crystal radio set (top of picture) on this workbench. There is quite a bit of scrounge-tek in this picture. The shelf unit was made from a couple of milk crates and a piece of scrap plywood. Repurposed cat litter jugs and food jars were used for storage. The police scanner and AM/FM radio were bought at Goodwill. The plastic boxes were from a Dollar store, as were many of the tools he used at this bench. Dave even made his own clip leads out of clothespins, aluminum foil, and zip-cord taken from broken consumer appliances.
Now somewhere along your daily commute are one or more potentially interesting sources of supply. All you really need is one, but it's a bonus if there are more. It might be a Goodwill, a junk shop, or whatever. Hopefully its hours of operation coincide with one of the the two times you drive past it. Now pick a day, any day. Generate a random number between one and five if you have to, or just pick the day after you get paid. Visit it once a pay period, and see what you can find there. You don't have to buy anything if you don’t find anything interesting. Eventually, something interesting will find its way to you. When it does, make sure you have the funds allocated to grab it, because if you leave it there I guarantee you it will not be there the next time you visit. You are not the only player in this game, and there are plenty of hackers out there who would gladly spend $5.00 for that old Linksys WRT54GS so they can load it up with DD-WRT (https://dd-wrt.com/).
When you go into the larger aspects of scrounge-tek, it will behoove you to buy a used beater van or pickup truck so you have the means to haul any obtainium you find. That in itself opens up all sorts of hobby possibilities. You may want to learn basic auto mechanics so you can keep it in running shape without having to spend a lot of money at a repair shop. You may also decide to convert the engine over to alcohol fuel for older gas carburetor engines, or biodiesel/veggie oil for diesel engines. You may want to set up a small alcohol still or biodiesel setup to make your own fuel for it. Vehicles capable of hauling things like furniture are often in demand by people who don’t have their own, and a little extra side money can be made moving things for them. Excess obtainium, especially copper and aluminum scrap, can be hauled off and sold to a metal recycler in large enough quantities to help fund your endeavors. If one of your hobbies reaches a level where it can become a part-time trade, your truck or van now becomes a mobile workshop.