The Cheshire Catalyst
Just Who IS This guy?

Or, "If you're so smart, why ain't you rich"

I like the description that Gag Halfront used in "The Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy" to describe Zaphod Beeblebrox, the President of the Galaxy. "He's just this guy, you know?"

When people ask The Cheshire Catalyst, "What's your real name?", he tells them "Richard Cheshire". Many people walk away at that point happy to know "The Secret", because they've been trained by TV, comic books, and the movies (though not necessarily in that order). Most people know that Superman is Clark Kent, and that Peter Parker is Spiderman. so it doesn't occur to them that Cheshire might actually have another identity, strictly for his own privacy. Cheshire is the "Public Person" in the Big Bad Hacker World. "Ozzie" is the private person who was vice president of his local Ham Radio club, works a couple of jobs to make ends meet, and is generally (though he hates to admit it) a pretty nice guy.


OK, let's explain it all out in the open so I don't confuse anyone (especially the Three Letter Agencies who seem to be "subtlety impaired"). My name is Robert Osband. My dad's nickname was spelled "Ossie", so in my contrarian youth I had to be different, and people spell me "Ozzie". My brother just calls himself "Wizard".

When I started publishing in the TAP Newsletter, I needed a nom de plume, a pseudonym, an alias. Back in High School chemistry, I had thought up the name "Cheshire Catalyst", and it was there when I needed it. A couple of years into the occasional writing of newsletter articles for TAP, I started writing for Teleconnect Magazine. I wanted to keep my "following" from TAP, but had to use a more real sounding name. That's when I stared writing under the name "Richard Cheshire". In the Post-9/11 world, I merely claim "Richard Cheshire" and "The Cheshire Catalyst" as Author Pseudonyms. I used to have ID for Richard Cheshire, but in these paranod tmes, it's not a good idea. These days I might have business cards for handing out at trade shows.

Ozzie in 1975
Always the "space cadet", Ozzie is seen here in a 1975 photo shortly after returning from a spacesuit sale in Delaware
Here I am, writing this file in January of 2003, because I'm expanding farther out into "The Real World", and people want an answer to the question, "If you're so smart, why aren't you making any real money?".

The quick and dirty answer is, "No Ambition". I've said for more than 10 years now, "I could get a Real job, but I'd have to move away from here, and I like to watch things to 'up' too much". "Things going up" is a reference to the Canaveral Spaceport (made up of the Kennedy Space Center, and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station) across the Indian River from Titusville, Florida.

As things stand here in the Winter of Ought Three, I'm living in a housing program in Cocoa FL that is set up to help the "working poor". I feel it's fitting that since my Day Job keeps me in this economic condition, they're the ones that found me this program. Until last August, I'd been sharing an apartment with a woman I'd met at work. She took me in when her husband left her, to help out with the rent. While the relationship was not completely plutonic, she never did get over the guy, and it took her three years to drink, smoke, and starve herself to death. I couldn't keep the apartment without her either, so I got evicted shortly after her death.

I actually did live in a tent for a week after the eviction. I can highly recommend the Space Coast RV Resort on Barnes Ave in Rockledge FL. While it's only got a dial up internet connection, I had full e-mail and FTP (File Transfer Protocol) access to the Internet and updating my Web pages. I had to walk to the bathroom, sure, but I had hot showers, and electricity for my portable radios and TV at the campsite. It was paradise!

A friend of mine at work took pity on me, though, and took me in for a week or so. Her lease was such that she could have an occassional "guest", but could not sub-lease or share the apartment. The rumor mill at work is pretty good, and letting it be known that I was "officially homeless" reached the HR department pretty quickly, and they suggested the WIN Housing Program in Cocoa. WIN is an acronym for "When In Need".

The ways of the United Way communitty are pretty strange to those of us that don't circulate with that "crowd". My company, being a pretty major employer in Brevard County FL (more than 500 employees, and as many as 1200 people in boom times) has a United Way campaign every year. The company's HR director got so involved, that she left the company to be hired by the local UW office. I check off my $1/week on the form each year, so I'm not a total slacker. And here I am now, a client of one of the UW programs, and I've actually found a way to help out! The website for the WIN Housing Program was for a while being hosted at ViaOz.Com, my web hosting site. They had no in-house geek of their own, so I was it for a while.

Ozzie in his 'Suspect' t-shirt
Ozzie doesn't like to fly "false colors". With radios and other gear on his belt, he doesn't want to be mistaken for an undercover cop, either
But it always comes out that I'm "The Cheshire Catalyst", a big, bad hacker dude with (quite literally) a world wide reputation. I've actually been flown over to Europe to give talks on hacking, and lectured at a Swiss computer camp. I've even starred in a Swiss television documentary on hacking. Many employers are not wise in the ways of The True Hacker, and do not understand why they should hire their own in-house hacker.

What is a hacker, anyway?

All a hacker really is, is someone who hacks away at a computer keyboard until it does what they want it to do. That's all! Neat and simple. A cracker, on the other hand, is someone who hacks past the bounds of propriety, and "cracks" into system security. The press has usurped our rightful title, and handed it off to these 14-year-old twerps that crack into computer systems. Usurped - to unjustly steal what rightfull beongs to someone by caveat or fiat. As in, "The young prince, with the aid of the Prime Minister and the army, usurped the Throne from his father".

I was once asked what type of person becomes a cracker, or writes computer viruses? I replied "The playground bully has moved indoors and learned how to type". That quote turned out to become the headline in the Forbes Magazine article on the subject. Think about it. It's that type of mentality that does that sort of thing. They want to be in control of something. I'm a happy go lucky kind of guy who is scared to have that kind of control over someone else. I just don't want that kind of responsibility. Just let me go along and play with computers, ham radios, and web sites. Need to find me? Give me a radio and a GPS receiver, and likely as not I'll let you track me by Ham Radio over the internet. Consider too, I'm usually seen wearing shirts or jackets embroidered with my Ham Radio call sign, N4SCY. How many illegal activities do you suspect I'll pursue wearing a Federally issued ID code?

Look at what Ham Radio allows me to do. I can crawl around the Packet Radio network to my heart's content, do unspeakable things in the way of routings, and finding holes in the network, and when I report them to the network operators, or publish how to go about the things I do, people thank me for it! I have found a Home in amateur radio.

Governor Jeb Bush teleconferences the First Official Phone Call into Area Code 321 at the Kennedy Space Center. Ozzie, the combination of "space cadet" and phone phreak/hacker, requested the "countdown capitol of the world" get Area Code 321 at a Public Service commission hearing. He is the bearded fellow in the first row. NASA photo
But people can't get over their prejudices, and so they equate me with the "black hat" hackers that send viruses out through the e-mails, and don't know how far they can trust me. Actually, even if I get screwed over, I'm not going to do much. I worked for a "major Manhattan bank" for three years, and was fired after the Technology Illustrated article came out. You have to realize that I was hired to be a computer programmer for the Communications Department of this bank. The regular programming department didn't have the time to deal with the silly little problems of breaking out the monthly telephone and telex statements that came in on mag-tape each month.

I wrote programs that split out the calls by area code and country code so we could see where the phone calls went each month, and see if it wouldn't be cheaper to buy leased circuits to various parts of the world to lower communications costs.

Of course, there was also the understanding that if the Telex circuits went out again (as they had a few months before I was hired), that I would be able to help them get banking messages out via "other means".

They bought me a TWX Teletype line, and a TWX Teletype machine to go with it. It meant that if the Telex circuits went out, we could send messages via the TWX circuits as well. Since TWX machines can be reached via telephone circuits (something AT&T never admitted), the bank would be able to get important messges out if the telex switch failed, but the phone network is still up. (See the Telex Stories for more details).

Well, after I left, someone sat down and actually looked at my programs (something the system administrators could have done any time during the 3 years I was there). They were amazed at the clarity of my well documented code, and how well it did it's job. My stock as a programmer went up considerably within the company. So a couple of months later, there was a major system crash. They had no clue what caused it, but in their paranoia, they figured I must have left a "logic bomb" in the machine. I didn't, of course, but I was grateful they thought I had the programming skills to pull it off.

I'm really not that good a programmer. All I can really do is "piddle" in BASIC - the Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code. And the bank had PDP-11 computers, so I didn't even have to learn a new "flavor" of BASIC. BASIC began life at Dartmouth College in Hanover VT. It found it's way onto various time-sharing computers, and in the 1970's a young punk kid named Gates created a version for the Altair 8800 computer made by the MITS company of Albuquerque NM. He got hired on as the Chief Programmer, and proceeded to take Basic Plus under RSTS/e from PDP-11 computers, and re-work it into "Altair Basic". I'd been programming on PDP-11's running version "e" of the Resource Sharing Timesharing System (RSTS/e), and recognized it immediatley. Needless to say, this eventually became Microsoft Basic.

I still keep a copy of Qbasic.exe around for emergency file hacking (and don't forget the Help File). I find it easier to write a quick program to find and replace things in large files.

Look, I know guys that are much better at programming than I am. Of course, I've got slightly better "people skills" than they've got, so it all works out. The thing is, my reputation far and away exceeds my actual skill as a hacker. The other thing is, I'm bright. I can look at a situation and "grok" what it's about. "Grok" is a term from an old science fiction novel that means "to thoroughly understand something". I tend to laugh at jokes quicker than other people, and even find humor in situations others couldn't find humor in. For the most part, people think "Bright Hacker - Big Trouble".

I'll admit it. If I wanted to cause trouble, I could probably cause it big-time. But I'm just this guy, you know?






this doc: http://CheshireCatalyst.Com/identity.html

Last update: 2003-01-12 13:42:23