Brad Carter (ed.)
Big Beef Bueno Books
This book contains all 47 of the text files (issues 1-46 + pla-099.txt, an unauthorized issue) released by the Phone Losers of America, a phreak (phone hacker) group that’s more interested in malicious pranks than in learning every technical detail of the North American telecommunications network. The group was led, and essentially just was (and continues to be) Brad Carter, AKA RedBoxChilliPepper, who had already rewritten some of the texts featured in this book, into another book called Phone Losers of America that has already been discussed on this blog. In The Complete Zine Collection, the reader gets the complete original text files produced by RBCP and company (mostly written by him) in print form. Of course, all of these text files are accessible already on the PLA website, and if you’re not an obsessive book collector and if you want to read them, then this particular publication is unnecessary.
I remember two overarching attitudes amongst the members of the 90s-era, BBS based, hacker scene: the condescending know-it-all who is driven to learn everything about computer systems, network communications, and various infrastructures, and is also driven to call anyone who doesn’t possess their knowledge a ‘lamer’. These people were, of course, insufferably irritating. The other attitude were the malicious pranksters who wanted to exploit the technical failings of various systems for the purpose of fun and profit (generally in that order) - with fun usually meaning getting on other people’s nerves. These people often exhibited a mean spirited humour that I would consider, socially speaking, a step above the mean spirited condescensions of the former category of teenage hackers that I described. These two categories were not mutually distinct, and they can probably be broken down into the ‘black hat/white hat’ categories of hacker culture that have emerged out of somewhere.
The PLA can probably be described as ‘black hat’, in that their investigations into the phone systems of the United States were generally geared towards pranking people and defrauding various phone services for relatively small amounts of money. In other words, they were willfully malicious. Their text files contain numerous accounts of these kinds of adventures, with RBCP also including stories of occasionally getting caught for his crimes. Some of his stories are fictional, and I remember his fictional story about gradually taking control of his town’s infrastructure (pla-015.txt) was once published in an issue of 2600 magazine.
The PLA text files were part of a large body of literature written by young men (for the most part) and teenagers about how to use telecommunications systems as an outlet for releasing destructive energies. The PLA files are entertaining and informative (in their time) but were only a small component of the overall body of hack/phreak literature that was produced during the period of the 1980s and 1990s. Jason Scott’s site textfiles.com contains a fairly comprehensive (although not fully comprehensive) library of these materials for anyone who is interested, because a largely forgotton teenage subculture existed during those two decades, oriented around practices of writing and analysis in combination with willfull adolescent destructiveness and angst.
The attitude in the zine is one of complete contempt and disrespect for most aspects of society, but especially for the people who work at the phone company and for the people who work at convenience stores. This attitude often takes the unfortunate form of complete superiority over the “idiots” who work at these places, as expressed whenever the PLA puts one over on one of these people. Maybe it’s possible that the underpaid wage-earners manning the operator phones and service counters don’t care about maintaining absolute security at the institutions they work for... after all, RBPC describes himself as an overbored convenience store employee in his book (the 'employment' page on Carter's personal website lists enough low-wage jobs that he could probably write a Dishwasher style book recalling his work experiences). With that being said, the misanthropic attitude expressed by the PLA against normal people was prevalent among the BBS hacker text-file writing scene during that period, the PLA members were just funnier than most in their expressions.
So RedBoxChilliPepper wrapped up the PLA e-zine in 1997, although PLA continued (just look at the two books they published last year!). Prank calls are probably the PLA’s primarily form of activity, and many of their .txt files included transcripts of them. The whole ‘web 2.0’ world of user created content and the various service that facilitate delivering such content to users has been a huge benefit to Carter and friends, since he now provides content via youtube, sporadically produces two podcasts (PLA Radio and Big Beef Bueno), and an online radio show called ‘The Phone Show’ as well as maintaining the Phone Losers of America website.
Here's just a video to show some of the recent work being done by RBCP: