Interview with Dack of the Un-Nameables / Automation 26th February 2007 by SHW.

Why Dack?
Why not ;) It actually has several origins. It primarily was a nickname I obtained at 6th form College due to me liking a particularly bad American TV series, but also had the Data-Acknowledged computer hardware bit at the same time. There is also the acronym Depressed And Crazy Kid.

Briefly what's your scene/computer history upto getting an ST?
Studied computer science at comprehensive school when they started offering a day release scheme at the local sixth form college. One half day a week they would get all the fourth and fifth formers into buses and trundle off. While looking around for which one of my 'options' to take at the end of the third year the chemistry teacher prompted me to have a go at the computer science O-Level because there would be good money in it. He lied.

Unfortunately I seemed to have a bit of an aptitude and went through the A level and degree route.

At home I went through: A TI99/4A (the machine that didn't even have a POKE command in it's BASIC), An Atari 400 (upgraded to 48k) and a 1050 disc drive., A Spectrum 48k (with original dead flesh keyboard and free centre-punch), then STFM (which I upgraded to 1 Meg myself).

Who founded The Un-Nameables, and who came up with the name?

Well.....what happened was I had started 'liberating' software with some friends at the time (John and Mark) and we called ourselves the WCA - Welsh Cracking Alliance. Mark supplied and John and myself cracked. It was then that a small (at the time ;) ) ginger haired person, who I had previously swapped games with on the Atari XL series, bought an ST. He could supply lots of games and was interested in how to crack. I felt guilty after blowing up his 1050 drive with an unsucessful attempt at making it a Happy drive so showed him a few things. After a few uneventful months he started compressing the cracked games - using the happy packer and put menus on the front of them. I believe there were 5 WCA cracked games discs.

It was about that time that LSD put out the request for other groups to get in touch with them if they thought they could contribute. LAW, for 'twas he dear reader, sent the WCA games to a PO Box number. LSD got back in touch and then we had to create a name. Unfortunately we were stumped as to what to call ourselves. I believe it was me who decided on "The un-namables" due to the fact we couldn't actually think of a name and it happened to be the title of a really bad movie (based on a HP Lovecraft novel).

Who were the other members of The Un-Nameables.. . their roles?
Frodo AKA John did some cracks but got a job soon after starting and so stopped.
The LAW AKA lots of names did cracks and compilations.
I'm not actually sure of Phill - think that was one of Laws colleagues who provided artwork.

What was the first thing you cracked?
On the ST? Can't of the first IIRC was Enduro Racer. It had a main exe where they had left the Debug build on the disc. Loading the file up and seeing BNE Pirate sort of made my day :)


How did you get in contact with WNW/LSD?
See above - It was Law who did it.

Who wrote Ultra Lumpy/Chunky and why?
Well I got bored.

What had happened was that after the Automation packer got released, along with the TRAP 1 code, I got to talking with EGB of the Sub-Humans in Turkey and we sort of came up with the idea of what would happen if we split the files into chunks. The usual TRAP 1 loader would have a file open and read, a check of the header and then decompress if the packer header was found.  Problem here is when files didn't all get read in at once - you couldn't pack them. By chunking them up we could compress the files that had multipart reads in them and so make the games even smaller. EGB wrote the packer (using the Fire and Ice compression routines) part and I did all the Trap decoding routines.

There were also some other utils that would take speech files and convert them to 7 bit instead of 8 bit and so allow them to be compressed too (along with a sigma delta compressor that didn't get released)

See Autoroute for the rest of the saga :)

What is SyncroFlush(tm)?
That was a random thought that was named while making the gopping mega demo IIRC. It involves, for want of a better phrase, weeing (and not in the Nintendo way) then flushing the toilet mid-stream. You aim to stop urinating as the flush finishes filling up with water.

Heady days :)

Did you ever get close to being busted?

Not that I know of. There were certain times when I got a phone call saying someone I knew had been busted and the traditional "hide all my discs at a friends house" game took place.

Favourite ST tune?
Can't really think of one on the ST - on the 8 bit I always loved the Alternate Reality music (and Tail of Beta Lyrae)

One of the Automation menus had several releases.... Whats the story with
Auto Route?

I think most have had multiple releases now ;)

Well 210 (Autoroute) was one of the first times I was trying the  Chunker out. No-one else had done Autoroute and it was sitting there on two discs in my draw. I compressed the two discs down and they just about fitted on a single disc - leaving about 2K for a menu and intro. It was meant as a test exercise to see if I had captured all the functions for processing chunk packed files. During the testing I discovered that I had to add a lot of extra functions (FSEEK, FWRITE, FDUP etc....) It was a good test.

Automation 210 version MXCCCLXXXVII

Unfortunately........due to the cack way Autoroute worked (lots of FSEEKS and toggling between two large data files) it meant it was pretty awful if you traveled between the two maps. It was also pretty awful on the one map as Autoroute kept opening and closing the files meaning you had to keep reading the chunk index block back in.

Even more unfortunately I sent a test copy out to Law and he passed it onto Rob and it got released.

Rob had a bit of an epi (now thats a phrase you don't hear enough these days short for having an epileptic fit) and released a version without the chunking.

There's a mention of it in a Pompey Pirates scroller I believe.

Favourite ST game?
I used to play Dungeon Master probably more than most others.

What computers/consoles do you own now?
Two Dell Centrino Laptops, A P4 3Gig out in the garage, an XBox, Two Gamecubes, a Dreamcast.

Do you still own your ST?
Nope - got rid of it in about 1997. Still got a few discs around here of stuff though Law took a few last time he visited.

Are you Kylie, Danii or Rick?
I have the man-breasts to match Kylie, the sunny disposition of Danni and I dance like Rick Astley.

What is at the end of "The Large Green Sprite?"

Probably a JMP ;)

Who was better at "Baste my Puddings"?

The computer.

These, of course, refer to the gopping megademo that was written by The Law and Myself when we got bored one night.

We were fed up of the giant ego-wanking (tm) that had started in the demo crews. Yes their demos were impressive but the boasts about how many rasters they could produce while eating a Pizza were getting rather silly.

We decided to do a generic mockup of the typical demo that was out. The main screens, IIRC, were:

Worlds biggest sprite (change the colour of the screen based on keypress)
Worlds fastest infinite fractal zoom (change the colour of the screen)
Baste my puddings (a version of Pong where the ball always started off going the wrong way and the computer was programmed to avoid it)
Worlds biggest starfield demo (we changed the screen white and had one black pixel going the wrong way)
Boost those borders (where we made the screen as small as possible by filling in from the outside in)
Move P demo (where we split a letter P in half using the movep commands popular at the time)
Move A demo (see above but letter changed)

Stunning eh?

We also did it on a double sided disk that had some protection on it, a TTP (TOS TAKES Parameters) extension for the 'password', a fake error to make it look as though you had copied it wrongly. Awful 'blippy bloppy' music and an unreadable scroller (with word breaks at the wrong times).

Well it made us laugh (and caused Hal to get a 'don't you ever upload junk like this again' message from a US board :) )

I also sent a copy to ST Format as they had asked for demos for a review they were going to do.

They never did review it.

Have you tried the Emulators?

I've tried a few, currently got "Steem" installed on this laptop.

Did you ever slag anyone off you wish you hadn't (in scrollers) ?

At the time no. As you get older you realise that it's very much like the internet tag line about winning a medal at the special olympics.

I remember meeting Alien and a few of the PPs at a show in London and believe we actually got on Okay. I also used to talk to 'Juggler' on the phone occasionally - I probably spoiled the meeting with Damian though as I asked him why his nickname was Alien? He said it was from the film and I asked was that because he had gingivitus like the creature seemed to have? It was a tumbleweed moment.

How many variations of "Pompey Pirates" did you come up with?
Can't remember :) My favourite was the Pumpy Prostrates

Did you ever not slag anyone off you wish you had?

What was the most innovative thing (at the time) you saw on the ST?
The Sync scrolling stuff.

Best ST game?
Dungeon Master at the time, though I played an awful lot of Oids too.

Can you name 10 ST Hackers?
Individually No - they would probably all be nom-de-plume's of Law or WNW

Can you name 10 PC Hackers?

What does that tell you?

It's a different environment now, speed and a stolen serial is everything. There are less and less people who can be bothered to learn the ways code actually works.

Scene death by apathy.

What music do you like?
My musical tastes have  moved on a bit from my "Go and buy some Latin Quarter" days - though Steve Skaith has a new album out soon :) I like pretty much anything and everything. Some bands/Artists I like: Badly Drawn Boy, Caravan, Neil Young, Indigo Girls

Best ST Demo?
They all sort of merge into one asynchronous blob after all these years. Can't think of any in particular - they all had things that impressed. From Tex through Union.

What's your cracking or menu group?
If you mean favourite then I don't really have one.

What's your fave TV show?
House MD is about the only thing I go out of my way to watch these days.

What's your fave Movie?

If you could travel back to 1988, would you do anything differently?
Probably try and get a different job. The problem with the one I got is that I had to move around a lot over the 88 to 93 period and this meant I lost contact with a lot of people I wish I hadn't.

What's your fave cheese?

Who did you most admire (scene wise)?
Oddly enough I thought Andy The Arfling should have had a lot more respect - he was a fine coder AND cracker and that is rare.

I also, of course, thought that Rob was quite good :)

What? A hacker coding cool demo screens ? (ATA)

What's your fave food?
Mexican at the moment - it comes from a project I finished last year where I spent a lot of time in Texas. You can get everything with the authentic chilli flavour - even Italian food :)

Are you still in contact with other members of TUN, Automation or the
old scene in general ?

I got back in touch with Law a while ago, I've been in contact with EGB once or twice and also had a few email exchanges with The Mighty Clog of the Medway Boys during the DVD software days (he wrote for one company and I was writing for another as a hobby).

What Pseudonym's did you have?

I tended to stick with Dack.

What's you fave software house?
All non-descript entites these days. On the Atari ST it was Thallion.

Do you think your activities helped to kill off the ST?
Not directly. The availability of software pushed hardware sales which in turn caused more companies to write software. ST just had it's time. If piracy killed computer systems off then we wouldn't all be using PCs these days would we :)

CJ asked me to put in one question at the end. He said to just say "Sapiens"
- What does that mean?

It translates as: "He is a git"

One of the discs I did had Sapiens on it. It was already cracked, by Boss IIRC, and I packed and put a front end on it crediting the original cracker. It worked on my machine but froze after a few minutes on other peoples. Once again Rob fixed.

What are you doing now?
Writing software for aircraft systems. Can't go into too much detail as it tends to be for controlling odd bits of hardware. :)

About to get married :)

Anything else to add?
Probably thing I was most happy with was the Autohack software I wrote (and Law then added the seek and destroy bit to) - It was the standard Rob Northen stuff so I just loaded the file, set an interrupt up looking for the end of decryption and then dislocated it back to an executable. Stunt Car racer was the first to fall with it.

Reason I stopped the hacking was that I was moving around too much and had a full time job. This meant I wasn't getting software very quickly and so it was pointless even bothering - also it had got to the stage where cracking was taking more time than playing. It wasn't fun anymore. Think I stopped about disk 350. One amusing thing was that I got a copy of "chucky egg" pre-release date on the cover of ST Format due to an error at their duplicators. I actually phoned them up to say it might be a problem :)

Still dabble every once in a while though - Still interesting to see how things work....