I have seen the ICE age

The student looks up from the VT100 terminal that he has been working on the whole night. The green letters on the screen turning blurry. He rubs his neck, shrugs his shoulder to get rid of the annoying pain that’s been building up on his neck for slouching over the terminal. He suddenly noticed the sweat on his forehead. It has not been very hot this summer so far. The night was quite cool. He curses the ritual of switching off air conditioner at night. Tough India is a poor country, but there is no excuse of switching off air conditioner on the  fourth floor, particularly when there are so many computers in this bioinformatics lab. Those mammoth Silicon Graphics machines spewing hot air like plumes out of jets. He shakes his head, but he has no option but to work late at night. This is the only terminal that’s connected to to the Internet, and it’s free only late at night. He damns Lynx and slow Internet. It’s 1996, for  God’s sake. Where’s the Netscape?  He smiles though, thinking about the  information that he could gather about the software. Dangerous, because the software is illegal to run without an explicit license from the vendor. It is like searching information about how to use explosives. He shivers. Is it really a software?  The name, SoftICE.

Can a computer software define an era? Can it create a subculture of a movement of sort? Or, can a software define liberation in its truest sense? If there was any in the history of computing, then it must be SoftICE.

For those of you, who has never felt a firearm in the hand, let me tell you, the feeling you get in holding that cold, hard steel in the hand is, in one word, liberating. History says that SoftICE was a symbolic debugger for DOS and later Windows machine. But I say it was something more. A software so powerful that it shaped history. It was the ice age.

If you knew how to use it, you could open up any software protection scheme. The power came from the break points that you could set up in the Windows API calls by function names. You didn’t need to know anything about how a software operated, but if it asked for registration, you knew that it called a function that showed a dialog box on the screen. Put a break point on the dialog box and you could bypass the whole code checking routine in the memory. Virtually every piece of software in Windows was cracked using SoftICE. If you knew how to use it, you were the master of the universe.

And masters there were. They were there even before the ice age. The center of activity was Fravia’s site of reverse engineering.

Francesco Vianello (aka +Fravia, aka Fjalar Ravia) was the master reverse engineer. At least, he created a place where similar minded people could gather and share knowledge. They tried to crack the reality. Authorities tried to close down fravia.com several times, but like the Phoenix the site popped up somewhere else, each time it was shut down. Chicco, I try not to “waste my whole life in order to be able to buy slightly sooner a car of a different color”.

If +Fravia was the Superman, then the Batman was +ORC. Old Red Cracker was the name. But he was the Scarlet Pimpernel. No one knew who he was.

They seek him here,
The seek him there,
Those seekers seek him everywhere,
They seek in the heaven,
The seek in the hell,
Damn illusive Pimpernel.

Some say he was ex-KGB, some say he was Fravia himself. He was an enigma. He was a myth. He wrote a series of cracking tutorials, not only software, but reverse engineering your whole life, that defined the whole movement . Crack the reality with a sip of his famous Martini-Wodka:

Take a cylindrical “milk” glass.
– 2 ice cubes.
– 1/3rd dry Martini.
– 1/3rd Wodka Moskowskaia (don’t use Smirnoff as a substitute).
– 1/3rd Schweppes Indian Tonic.
– Lemon zest and Green Olive.

In late 1990s, he just vanished. Poof, just like that.

And SoftICE? Good things never last forever. I’ve kept CTRL-D unassigned on my keyboard.

Yes, I have seen the ICE age.


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