Hacking The Digital And Social System

When you live in a totalitarian, controlled and “happy” society, and you want to be a hacker, you have to hack the social system first. Being just an engineer doesn’t cut it, you have to be a hypocrite, dissident and a smuggler at the same time. That’s the motto of my personal story, which starts in Yugoslavia, and ends in Serbia. No, I didn’t move, I’m still in Belgrade, only the political borders have changed.

Half a century ago, when I was in elementary school, I discovered the magical world of HAM radio. I became a member of two amateur radio clubs, passed all exams and got my licence and callsign, which was YU1OPC. I was delighted, but after five years, the party was over. What happened? Well, one day the police paid a visit to all registered owners of CB Band equipment and simply took that equipment away. No one knows why they did it, but it was probably off the books, as we never got any written confirmation, and no one ever saw their equipment again.

I wondered why they didn’t take our HAM Radio units as well, which were as legal as any CB unit. I guess they didn’t know how to use it… for their own personal needs. Nothing will disuade me from calling it uniformed robbery.

Actually, I was not too sad about it. I lost only a Japanese 5W CB transceiver, but I was not interested in HAM radio anymore. Since the first commercial HAM radio equipment appeared on the market, the profile of users has changed dramatically – instead of people who could build HAM units with their own hands, now you had people who had enough money to buy them. Maybe I was overreacting, maybe there were still a lot of enthusiasts, but the magic of my own enthusiasm was destroyed and I moved to digital technology. I didn’t know that in just about two decades, the same thing would happen again with computers.

The “Pen and Paper” Development System

The migration from electronic tubes to transistors was fascinating. Such a small tube, with a cold cathode and a low anode voltage, so cheap and simple to use! I bought my first germanium transistors from my pocket money, and built… guess what? The flip-flop! I thought I invented it. How could I have known that it had already been invented fifty years ago?

Just a few years after Intel’s 4004, I was head over heels in love with microprocessors. I had ordered two Z80s from the USA, but soon discovered that one of them was inoperative – I most likely burned it somehow without realizing it. Still, I had the second one, so I could start building my first microprocessor project. What should I use it for?

life_frontIt was an easy question. I was fascinated with Conway’s Game Of Life, and all the walls in my room were covered by papers with hand drawn cell groups, in hundreds of generations. There were two consequences of my wall art: the fact that my parents and half of my friends thought that I had gone crazy, and my first project – Game Of Life, with a 16×16 LED matrix. The LEDs were so expensive back then that I finalized the firmware with less than half of them, and filled the matrix gradually in the coming months.

I didn’t have a computer, so I assembled the firmware manually, by pen and paper, and then entered the code in my programmer, byte by byte, using rotary switches. However, the debugging process was relatively fast, as I had two 2708 EPROMs – in fact, I had four to start with, but burned (literally) two of them trying to debug my DIY EPROM programmer. So while one of them was in the UV eraser (built from an old sun-tanning lamp), I could debug the code and program another one.

However weird it may seem to assemble the code manually, I didn’t know there might be another way to do it. And when you don’t have a better idea, there is no reason to be unsatisfied with the current one. So, I went on and finished my Game Of Life. Unfortunately, I don’t have it any more, but I replicated it a few years later and it still runs in my workshop after almost 40 years – even the EPROM still keeps its content. Maybe I should describe it at the Hackaday.io projects page, as one of the old MPU DIY projects that still work?

No Computers, Please

The personal computers of that time were pretty expensive, but it was not the main problem. If you lived in Yugoslavia, you simply couldn’t buy them. It was not specifically forbidden, but you couldn’t import anything worth above 50 Deutschmarks. So I asked a friend of mine from the US to split my freshly ordered TRS-80 model 1 into two units and send them to me in separate packages, as inconspicuously as possible. Having to cut the ribbon cable that went between two PCBs (there was no connector) was frustrating but, after some hesitation, he grabbed a pair of scissors and went for it. A good while later, I received them tax-free, labeled as “technical junk”, then “repaired” it. My own computer revolution had started.

The basic model had 4KB of dynamic RAM, so when I saw the commercials for the 16KB expansion kit, I wondered who would ever need more than 4KB! Ironically, I soon found myself using not 16, but 48KB, arranged in three piggyback layers. The main PCB got numerous hardware upgrades: Shift hold, 2×clock, single step mode, speaker, and an additional EPROM with my own disassembler and editor/assembler.

Step by step, microcomputers were spreading everywhere, but the government still did not recognize the potential of the new technology. We asked for a new legal treatment of computers, but nothing had changed for an entire decade. Our main argument was that we need the technically skilled people and young software experts, and one politician gave us the famous, widely known answer: “I’ve heard that Americans will create self-programming computers, so we shall need no programmers.”

There was no other way but to continue smuggling, bribing and hiding the equipment deep under the laundry in a suitcase.

Computer Animation from 1979

While I was a student at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in late 1970s, I was enchanted by computer animation. I acted as quite a rookie in here, since I had to start from scratch. I simply had never even seen the equipment that was used for it. First I built the graphical interface, which contained 90 static RAMs 2114 (4×1Kbit), one Z80A and a lot of glue logic. The resolution was 400×300, with a 3-bit monochromatic pixel. I borrowed a 16 mm Bolex camera which could operate in a frame-by-frame mode, and built a solenoid trigger with corresponding computer interface. I also wrote the animation software in BASIC, which could draw geometric shapes in a wireframe mode. Everything was defined in 3D, including the camera, which could move, pan and zoom. All of that, including the amber monitor, was enclosed in a large wooden box, which looked a lot like a coffin, but it did the job of protecting the system from ambient light, and my ears from the noisy solenoids. The animation software was executed on my DIY TRS-80 clone with the 6MHz Z80B microprocessor, so one frame took a mere 10 minutes of rendering time, which translated to 24 hours for an average shot.

I had shown the result to my professor [Marko Babac], who was delighted. He asked me if it would ever be possible to animate human figures, but I said, with a lot of authority and self-confidence: “No way”! He suggested to me that I prepare a short TV broadcast with a few animated examples. I was up for it, but I couldn’t find anyone who was interested in my technological wonder. The only topic being covered by the media at the time was President Tito’s illness.

After 36 years, there are only two short shots left. I never managed to find someone who could digitize them, so I used a flat-bed scanner and improvized backlight to digitize this one.

Galaksija: DIY Microcomputer from 1983

It was not possible to buy a microcomputer legally and nobody was trying to produce it in Yugoslavia – similar problems were faced in all Eastern Bloc countries. Everything pointed to us being stuck in the Stone Age on the matter. We had no computer magazines or other way to educate people about technology, so the media coverage was limited to “a strange contraption called an electronic brain, which can even play chess”.

Regarding microcomputer projects of that time, the most expensive part was the video interface. I knew that the ZX81 and ZX Spectrum had ULA (uncommitted logic array) chips which generated video signals aided by software, but I couldn’t even dream of having that. So I had to hack the microprocessor to make the video controller unit as simple as possible, with the existing TTL chips.

The Z80 microprocessor has one transparent counter, called the R register, which is used for dynamic memory refreshing. It is simply incremented and output to the Address bus after every instruction execution. It could be used to generate the fastest portion of the video signal, and the slower portion of video hardware could be simply replaced by software. So I needed just one shift register driven by a pixel clock and the charracter generator, and I saved on the video address counters, selectors, tri-state buffers and blanking logic. That was a concept worth trying.

Just a few days later it worked perfectly, and I started building the operating system. Memory chips were expensive, so I decided to use only 4KB (expandable to 8K) of ROM, and 3×2K of static RAM. I stole the arithmetic routines from TRS-80 Level I Basic, and started creating my own line editor and a BASIC interpreter.

The resulting price/performance ratio was so good that I decided to publish it as a DIY project in a magazine. As the first issue of the first Yugoslav computer magazine was just about to get published, I met the author [Dejan Ristanovic], and made an agreement with him to let me write the DIY manual. [Jova Regasek], the editor of the issue, insisted that the microcomputer name be “Galaksija” (Galaxy). In August 1983, Galaksija was presented to the readers.

The magazine was named “Računari u vašoj kući” (Computers in Your Home), and the release was scheduled for the very end of December 1983. So I had five months to finalize the firmware, sometimes with Dejan’s help with the general concept. It’s amazing how much you can pack into 4 KB of EPROM space as long as you do your best to optimize the code! One of many ideas I’ve described in my project page is how to use more than 100% of program memory.

A few days before the deadline, I was at the editorial, talking to Jova and Dejan. Jova asked the intriguing question: How many readers will build the microcomputer? I said “maybe 50”, Dejan said “I think that there will be at least 200”, and Jova said “Dont be silly, there will be more than 500”. We laughed at him, as it seemed too much. But we’ve had more than 8000 letters from people who built it. The computer revolution had started in my country.

In the same year, my friend [Zoran Modli], a famous radio host, started broadcasting programs for all current microcomputers in his weekly show on the FM radio, and even on TV! There were no floppy nor hard disks at that time, so the only magnetic media were compact cassettes. Data coding was performed in audio range, which made it convenient for broadcasting. So we had the wireless network (or at least its predecessor) in 1983!

You might think only the pirated video games were broadcast, but actually the vast majority were original programs written by enthusiasts. Zoran even created a digital magazine, which was broadcast in digital form.

In the next few years, there was approximately one new microcomputer in Yugoslavia every year. Most of them were in limited production, and they were predominantly Apple II clones with Microsoft Basic.

War and No Peace

Starting in 1991, Yugoslavia was disintegrated in the bloody war. When I saw the military Jeep under my window, I knew that I had no choice but to take my toothbrush, razor, walkman and some garments and let those guys take me to the quarters outside of town. Tomorrow morning, my officer asked me about my current job. When I said that I deal with computers, he sent me to the headquarters, to check out an old Apple II: “It’s inoperative for more than a year, nobody could get it back to life”. I offered to try to fix it back at my workshop, and thus was given a ride back by the same Jeep.

Home again! It took me a few minutes to see that the only problem was in the video monitor. I disassembled it, replaced a burned diode, and everything worked fine. The next day the officer gave me back my ID and sent me home, saying the words which I remember to this day: “Take care of yourself, I need you alive. Who knows when this peace of shit might get broken again”.

Feeling like I woke up after deep sleeping, I joined several anti-war and anti-Milosevic campaigns, writing articles against terror.

In 1995, after a few tragic events in my family, I was left alone with my two-year-old son, no money, and three days during which we had to leave our flat. Then I did a very stupid thing: I threw away almost all of my projects, including the documentation and five prototypes of the Galaksija microcomputer.

Hope and Punishment

probe2Living during war time was very stressful, so I sunk deep into my work to pull myself together. In 1998, I built a small hand-held instrument with a single-chip MCU design. Using a PIC16F84, it was a logic probe, single channel logic analyzer, 50 MHz frequency counter, RS 232 analyzer and a battery charging manager – all that in only 1K of code. I sent mail to Microchip and offered it as an Application Note. The answer was very encouraging: “We are very impressed with the level of integration that you have achieved with the PIC16F84…”. First they asked for one, then for three more samples, so that they can use them as a demonstration tool during their conferences.

They promised me not only to publish the Application Note, but also exposure in US and European magazines, together with an official consultant status. Asked about the compensation, I refused money and said I’d rather have their in-circuit emulator.

I prepared an article and soon the project appeared on Microchip’s site as AN689. At last, there was a hope that finally I shall rise, after all the pitfalls and disappointments. But only a few weeks later, I received the following message from Microchip:

“Evidently, the United States has some type of a trade embargo against Yugoslavia…” and so on. They were apologetic but were still certain that some kind of an arrangement could be made…

No magazine articles, no consultant status, no in-circuit emulator. Even the Application Note was removed from the site.

I was thinking that my luck couldn’t be any worse than this, but only a few months later Serbia was attacked by NATO and intensively bombed for 78 days. Without a single day off, 24 hours a day, we were listening to the war sirens, supersonic blasts, guided missiles and frequent detonations over the city.

Technology and the Legacy of Five Decades

In 2006, after several mails, I have finally received my In-Circuit Debuggers from Microchip and the Application Note was put back in place. I strongly believe they did everything they could, so I can’t really blame them. I stilll like the PIC platform and I’ve never stopped using it for my medium-scale projects.

mDSC_0758For a long time, I was listening to “experts” telling me my Galaksija computer is X times slower than the modern PC and Y times slower than their smartphone. Lately though, it seems like we entered a sort of a renaissance of technological culture. People grow nostalgic and more appreciative of older stuff. Now there are numerous retro computer emulators for PC, including a Galaxy emulator, and also the single chip FPGA replica named μGalaksija, created bu [Dušan Grujić].

I was honored by the Muzej Nauke i Tehnike (Museum of Science and Technology) in Belgrade, when I was asked to donate a sample of the Galaksija computer. How can I donate it, if I don’t have it? Fortunately, I found one forgotten prototype in my cellar, cleaned it and now it is a part of the museum exhibition.

The last decade of the 20th century was a disaster for my country, but the worst damage was done to the people’s minds. Corruption spread, social values suffered the most. Not unlike in the Middle Ages, various clairvoyants, prophets, quacks and pseudoscientists flooded the media, and there was not a single voice from the side of reason.

So I thought I could try to hack the system again. I wrote and published two books and a lot of newspaper articles and light fiction, promoting a skeptical view on the paranormal phenomena. And it worked, at least partly. I was invited to many TV shows, and a certain number of intellectuals started to raise their voices against the modern superstition. Some deceivers and quacks were even jailed, I like to think, at least partly as a result of my efforts.

Unfortunately, the ’90s crisis left us with some serious consequences. A lot of young scientists and experts, which were the better part of the generation, left the country. One prominent politician said that there’s no harm done, as during the period we also received an equal number of refugees. Numerically speaking, we are the same.

Here is how I see the consequences of that brain drain. In 1960, Yugoslavia was one of six countries which had its own computer, CER-10. It was created by our engineers at the Mihailo Pupin Institute, which is just a few hundred meters from my home. Guess what those “scientists” are producing today? Magnetic slippers! Well, you may have pseudoscience in your media, but we’ve gone a step further – we have the pseudoscience in our science!

Still, one gets used to everything. At this point I would be surprised if things turned out any better. As for myself, all I need are four walls and peace, so I can do my work and create. I don’t need a lot of money, that’s why my projects are open. I never counted them, but I guess that I have between 50 and 100 open projects published in computer magazines.

Last year I met [Mitch Altman], who is known not only for TV-B-Gone, but also for teaching introductory electronics workshops around the world. When we were talking about the creative work in general, I told him my problem is that I fall in love with each of my projects, and he laughed and said “What a nice problem to have”! He was right, it’s the best possible problem, and that’s why my projects are open – when you’re in love, then you want to tell it to the whole world and to show the object of your love to everybody. Maybe you won’t get rich that way, but you will surely spend the life worth living.

[Illustration by Bob Zivkovic]

​​Voja_AntonicVoja Antonic works as a freelance microcontroller engineer in Belgrade. His first microprocessor projects, based on Z80, date back to 1977, just a few years after the appearance of the first Intel’s 4004. He assembled the firmware manually, by pen and paper. In 1983, he published his original DIY microcomputer project called Galaksija, which was built by around 8000 enthusiasts in the former Yugoslavia. To date he has published more than 50 projects, mostly based on microcontrollers, and released all of them in the public domain.

114 thoughts on “Hacking The Digital And Social System

  1. I think that this is the longest Hack A Day article I have ever read, and I enjoyed every word of it! Thank you for sharing your story and your enthusiasm for hacking.

    1. Read every word, even some that were “between the lines”. ;-)
      I would like to hope that I could do as well under those circumstances, but I haven’t done as well without living through that.
      [voja], you shame me to do more!

    2. Agreed! This article was fantastic.

      Also don’t scroll down any further as some of the comments below ruined my good mood and are totally not what this article deserves!

  2. Interesting read, good to hear you’ve overcome all that and are still tinkering away with electronics, its people like you that create progress, definitely not big multinational tech companies like the obvious ones to mention.
    Keep it up :)

      1. Are you saying nothing innovative came from Edison’s R& D lab, the wright’s? Just to bring up a couple of examples. Not that I’m saying nothing innovative can’t or hasn’t came fro garages, just that sound bites can’t help innovation very well; IMO.

        1. i think youll find at least a few of edisons inventions were outright stolen off others he had working for him most of which had already developed something along the lines before coming to work for him but needed further funding to fully realise it but the initial stages were often “garage” developments

  3. Dude? Seriously?

    I’m in no way a fan of our government… but the differences are night and day between what we deal with and what a majority of the rest of the world deals with. No one is going to jail as a result of Obamacare- it’s just a tax for a horribly broken system that wasn’t really meant and doesn’t fix the problem it was designed and promoted to fix.

    To compare the state of our system to what Mr. Antonic describes is disingenuous, disrespectful and so blatantly untrue that you should frankly be embarrassed for yourself.

    …I know I’m certainly embarassed to have to confess that you and I share a country.

    1. Yes , it does not compare to Mr. Antonic’s situation but you can’t stick your head in the sand when the Supreme Court twists the commerce laws to uphold obamacare.
      Freedom means not being jerked around by an out of control Government machine. Now , every poor kid that turns 26 must buy health care or else. This takes the last few dollars he or she made mowing lawns or something to satisfy the will of the elite.
      What next , you must work here two years to satisfy another want of the elite.
      Read the ACA rules. By 2016 the fine is $600 +.

      1. Like I said… I’m not a fan but you’re comparing apples to earthworms. ACA is crap, the Supreme Court are Obamas lapdogs doing as he *tells* them but it’s a consequence of the system we have but we get what we deserve… the democrats just play the game better than the republicans do and it’ll stay this way as long as we are content with a two-party system. Pander to the groups that are most likely to sing your praises with the lowest real investment. Obama got elected by pandering to minorities and will see to it that his successor will be who he endorses (another democrat). ACA was the poor that will be kept poor by jobs that don’t offer insurance and now he has added the LGBT community because the republicans refuse to acknowledge that love is love regardless of what the genders of the people that feel it and before he leaves office he’ll be adding immigrants to the people in his corner. Its not just the groups that he reaches out to but the real numbers come from the people that simply empathize with those groups. Meanwhile- troops still in the middle east, gitmo is still operating and we’re still using drones to assassinate people inside sovereign nations we don’t have the authority to operate inside of.

        Point is: lots of rank shit going down with no sign of change but it doesn’t even compare to armed troops in the streets with guns pointed at the citizens. To attempt to liken what happens in the US to what happens around the globe only goes to show that the majority of Americans have no real clue on just how much worse it can and likely will be in the future. Americans are like ostriches and until someone takes all the sand away we’re gonna keep singing the star-spangled banner until the wolves take a bite out of our skyward pointed asses.

        Can we be done now?


        1. “Americans are like ostriches and until someone takes all the sand away we’re gonna keep singing the star-spangled banner until the wolves take a bite out of our skyward pointed asses”

          The ACA is the first bite, would you agree.?

          A great statement, and that is why we must alert to creeping socialism.

        2. “Can we be done now?” LOL;why trying to have the last word? Done when Kike says it’s done. In th e event I missed such an announcement, my apologies for posting this

    1. They are, but its an argument of technicalities in much the same way that everyone not expressly included in Title VII of the Employment Discrimination law is excluded from the protections that it offers.

      Its like the ruckus over the salaries of mens soccer vs. womens soccer… mens soccer brings more revenue… therefore… go ahead- cap mens soccer salaries to the same level as womens and the only people that benefit are the people that own the mens teams because suddenly they are bringing in the same amount but can’t pay the men players more ‘even if they wanted to’. Or the arguments against Affirmative Action that get written off as ‘racist’. Intent is pure, but sometimes the purest of intents can still do harm.

  4. No, you don’t live in a totalitarian society. You being able to say that is the proof.

    If you created a blog, and gone to prison because of that, or your computer parts got confiscated because they were subversive, or printing paper was only sold to registered buyers, you could say you are not free. You are more free than the large majority of the people, but you don’t realize that.

    I live in Brazil, and even being a “free country”, we are less free than you. I bought 10USD in some chips in December, they were posted from China and arrived in Brazil early January. Customs is still processing it. I already forgot what I wanted to do with that chips.

    It’s common to receive a brown package, open it, and I cannot remember what is that and what I need it for. We pay taxes over medicine, over books, over anything you can think of. You pay too, but you can count on security, count on road repairs, on energy supply. We can’t. And I still think I live in a free society. Fora Dilma!

    And before anyone point the “US police violence”, check the statistics. Brazil killed more people last year than the 2nd Gulf War. In the night when US soldiers conquered Bagdad, there where few causalities there than in São Paulo, a peaceful country in a peaceful time.

    You are free, not free as you think you should be. But you are.

    PS: http://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2015/02/26/opting-out-of-the-obamacare-tax/

    “So what would the penalty for noncompliance be? Jail time? Nope. The language in the Act specifically rules out jail time, at Section 500A(g)(2)(A). But that means that the IRS will chase you and lien your property if you don’t pay, right?
    Nope. That’s not allowed under the Act. At 500A(g)(2)(B)(i), the Treasury cannot “file notice of lien with respect to any property of a taxpayer by reason of any failure to pay the penalty imposed by this section.”

    So, no liens.
    Then, clearly there will be levies or seizures on your wages and account, right?
    Nope. Not that either. Under 500A(g)(2)(B)(ii), the Treasury cannot “levy on any such property with respect to such failure.”
    To recap then, by law, you have to pay the penalty. But if you don’t, you won’t go to jail, you won’t be liened and you won’t be levied for collection.”

    No, Obamacare don’t send you to jail. Stop lying or believing in lies someone told you.

    1. You have to realize that the US political system is a drama – it’s politics by television, and the real decisions are made elsewhere. As such, it’s entirely about telling a big story rather than telling the truth or even offering any real options.

        1. As someone living in a country with public healthcare since forever, I totally fail to understand what’s so wrong about it: when I was in the need it was there, and helped a lot because I was unemployed, and when I didn’t it went to someone who needed it more. So what’s wrong with it?

          1. Then again thoriumbr’s comment isn’t relevant to qwerty’s question, because there isn’t public health care in the USA, not even public health care insurance coverage, except for Medicare. Even with Medicare one has to purchase additional coverage to keep the wolf away from the door

    1. …Except that the ACA law speaks AGAINST jail.

      Its like killing someone in self-defense. They don’t send you to jail because you still killed someone.

      If the law you violate excludes going to jail for breaking that law… you just have to pay for a better lawyer to make the court realize. Then pay the lawyer which will probably cost you more than the $600 you would have paid so you’re better off just paying the penalty which is what they were counting on when they drafted that provision.

      Like I said above- it’s a game and the democrats are playing it better.

      1. As I said , the inforcer of the law , including ACA is the IRS and they do mention jail. Read your 1040.

        Simply put, failure to file, failure to pay and tax evasion can result in any number of civil and even criminal punishments, including imprisonment.
        When the comments above say it’s not the same as his country, it’s only levels of freedom change before we in the USA reach the same thing.
        I stand by my statements , the Healthcare law makes us just a few more laws away from totalitarian. No we are not free here in America.
        Since the commerce law has been bent, there’s no barrier to other communist looking laws being passed .

        1. [Jeff] you seem quite happy to criticise your government in a very public forum. The fact that you can do so without fear of being whisked away by the secret police for detention without trial or representation shows that you are actually living in a free society. Enjoy it, acknowledge it, but don’t condemn what a large portion of the world’s population would love to have.

          1. The American people , 70% were against this law. Forced purchase of something is different from a tax. I am happy to pay tax, but this was a gift to insurance companies. And it has done great damage. Employers will not hire because they want to avoid paying the health care insurance of the employees. They will can people to get under the 50 employees rule. They even have a name for them. Seen any jobs lately?

          2. @Jeff

            Employers will not hire because they want to avoid paying the health care insurance of the employees.

            I’ve got a hunch that this may not be as true as you think. Proof? Maybe just a circumstantial evidence.

            I’ve been hearing the same whining about minimum wage for the last ten years in Poland. Organisations representing employers were shouting on every corner: “unemployment will skyrocket if you raise”, “it’s better to have a poorly paid job than no job at all”. Considering the unemployment rate was well above 10% people were buying it and were really afraid. Then the government (which I have reasons to dislike but that’s a different story) raised the minimum wage by about 80% between 2007 and 2015 (the last table in the section). In the same period the unemployment has fallen. The change was not monotonic and there were many factors in this process, nevertheless it is lower today than it was in 2007. Of course I can’t be sure it was due to the change in minimum wage, although I am convinced it helped. What I am sure is the change didn’t make the unemployment raise, what isn’t that obvious if you consider the economic growth in the period was rather moderate.

            That being said employment costs incurred on employers do not necessarily lead to raised unemployment.

          3. No paying tax isn’t communism. Anyone who characterizes it as such doesn’t know the meaning of communism isn’t worth the effort of reasoning with

        2. I agree with him here, look at how Disney animal kingdom is made. The animals look and act free but the design and layout prevents true freedom from the wild. We are in a cage but our cage is different. Just try to get into being your own bank, you might intend to mean well and you will make a ton of money. Yet, you will be regulated out of making your own. In order to get your dealership license to buy cars cheap at a auction, you have to have $100k in assets. What would happen if I make a new type of car design to put into the road?

  5. Somebody get in here and fix the threading… …maybe you need to remove the (report) button since people like using it to remove comments they simply disagree with. Maybe replace it with an up-vote/down-vote that carries across the entire thread of replies?

    I’m guessing enough people reported [jeff]s comment that the system kicked it out.

    1. Yeah, that’s exactly what happened. Enough people reported Jeff’s comment (because they disagreed with it), and comment threading went to hell. It’s fixed now.

      If you’ve ever wanted the best argument against an upvote/downvote system, there you go. The greatest danger to the freedom of speech isn’t from the government, it’s from jackasses that want to silence what they disagree with.

        1. Great story. I’ve had the pleasure of working with several technical people from former Eastern bloc countries, including from Yugoslavia, who have similar tales, but Mr Antonic’s accomplishments and persistence are certainly remarkable.

          I don’t think Mr Antonic would find common ground with the jackasses upthread who can’t tell the difference between social responsibility and genuine oppression.

        2. Don’t take that to mean that he necessarily agrees with you. It’s possible that he just suffers fools a little longer than some other folks here. It’s kinda what he get’s paid to do…

      1. to be fair giving people a system of displaying dis-/approval would not inherently have anything to do with how or where that message is shown, it can and often is used in such a manner but that is a choice of sorting, ie. the web designers choice.

        having a report button that allows a large influx of reports to automatically remove a comment seems to be the perfect tool for jackasses that want something silenced.

      2. I don’t think people reported Jeff’s comments because they disagreed with it. His comments were simply not relevant to the article. The article was about how oppressive government regimes stiffed technological innovation and Jeff was talking about health care. If he was talking about how FCC regulations prevented him from completing his supper awesome UAV then his comments would be relevant. As it is his comments are no more relevant to this discussion, than a post about cheap Viagra.

      3. I believe YouTube’s system still, allows you to see a comment if it has received enough down votes to remove it from normal view. a person choosing not to read a comment based on community input isn’t censorship; censorship is preventing anyone from having their say at all. Few would call choosing not to read the letters to the editor censorship.

  6. What a great story! I think a lot of engineers would benefit from working around such crazy constraints – buying parts to imitate someone else’s project is well and good but scavenging bits and bobs to make something unique is incredible :)
    [Voja], keep on hacking, you are an inspiration!

  7. What a sad story. The only thing stopping me from crying is remembering that you ruined our generation by starting a war and attacking everyone around you. And all the people you killed while following your buddy Milosevic. Yeah, military jeep. Try years with no water, cluster bombs taking children legs, fathers not coming back to their families, rape. Try death.
    Your Croatian ex-buddy.

    1. haha you’re pathetic. I am as against the horrors of war as anyone else, but trying to make this guy feel bad when he clearly was opposed to the war anyways is just stupid and selfish on your part. I hope you do the world a favor and step on an abandoned mine bro.

    2. Well, I was, as a Serb, made refugee twice by Croatian ex-buddys. So stop telling fancy cowboy and indian stories, like only one side is right in a civil war that displaced millions on ALL sides. Voja, great and inspirational story, from your former countryman.

  8. Fascinating story. It echoes in many ways that of a physics professor of mine who had mostly avoided the attention of the NAZI’s and a blood chilling escape from the SS in Prague and escaped from the Russian scientist collectors (24 hours of cross country skiing over the mountains and into the welcome arms of Patton’s army). This statement

    “I became a member of two amateur radio clubs, passed all exams and got my licence and callsign, which was YU1OPC. I was delighted, but after five years, the party was over. What happened? Well, one day the police paid a visit to all registered owners of CB Band equipment and simply took that equipment away. No one knows why they did it, but it was probably off the books, as we never got any written confirmation, and no one ever saw their equipment again.”

    should be on the wall of anyone who has anything registered with the State from internal combustion vehicles to firearms. It is also a warning of some sort to anyone who uses the Internet today. Thanks Voja.

  9. Thank you. Articles like this give a great breadth and depth to the history of the hacker movement. I experienced a similar timeline and hacker ethic but from so much more of a comfortable and privileged environment. I am lucky both in that I did not experience many of the hardships you did and that I am able to read of them.

    1. Yes, if it is “Mandated” health care . At that point it’s worthless. And if you remember the Supreme leader quickly exempted Congress from Obamacare after it hit the fan. So you see the laws are for you but not the elite.

      Young people simply don’t need healthcare until they are older. In my youth we never sat around and worried about these things. Catastrophic health care or some other formula would be better. So yes a Terrible Thing.

  10. Just finished reading all the comments above…
    The usual american trolls, an Brazilian who doesn’t distinguish his belly button from his country history. The usual Croat who in the end are only good at inventing new kinds of knifes…
    Mankind kinda sucks…

    We really need some overlords to put an end to this misery… Hey!! AI’s!!! Please!!!! Do something!!!!

  11. That animation is brilliant!
    The story is an excellent read too. It’s a great reminder of what life in a communist country really was like – something that those of us who have lived our lives in the West find hard to imagine.

    1. This is a really interesting perspective. As an American, I tend to assume that most of the rest of the world’s opinions of my country range from “it’s another country” to “boy I sure hope they don’t invade us and kill my family” with maybe some “death to the infidels/capitalists/whatever” on the side. That open calls to emulate or emigrate to the US would be common enough for someone to position themselves in opposition is surprising to me. I’m not entirely sure it should be, but it is.

      1. There are standards and values that would be next to impossible to live by in America.

        Also having basic healthcare typically costing 5% of the national average income($51,939) and massive unemployment makes me appreciate the lack of a economic free-for-all in our puny cultures..

        There are a lot of other things too like culture, low-development-density that preserves standards of living etc..

      2. Also, you country just drove weapons across most of our countries.. If we were extremely discontent with imperialism we would of just attacked them.. We also have McDonalds and other American franchises so we can also get cancer and obesity..

        1. You can get cancer and obesity from mostly everything. Eat too much, eat badly Done. You can even get both due to random events. So, unless you didn’t have cancer and obesity before those “American franchises” arrived, stick to your day job, whatever it is but I gather doesn’t require any rigorous thought, and leave thinking to those who can do it without bias.

          1. Coming from someone trying to sale a country as superior where the average citizen needs paper or a calculator to do arithmetic..

            Rigorous thinking? My eight year old cousin knows more languages and science than you likely do.. In fact all eight year old children do in most Euro countries.. The writer of this post even did..

  12. I always felt that Voja Antonic was our “local” Woz :) as kid born in Belgrade, in the same time as first mass marketed microprocessors, then in late ’70 an early ’80 I was just old enough to whiteness birth of one new exciting frontier and to get infected by your enthusiasm – my life would not be the same if there were no man as you to inspire and guide… Thank you!

  13. This totally sidetracked me from my work this afternoon but I’m glad – an excellent article written well. It’s the kind of writing and content I normally only see on medium.com but I approve of it on here!

    A suggestion to HAD though – could we have some kind of prefix to the title so we can find such articles more easily?

    On a kind of related note, in the RSS feed I see the whole article at once, whereas on other sites it will cut it and provide a link to the whole article – is this something that could be implemented?

  14. US will spend 800bilion in next 10 years for healtcare(80bil/year) and also spends 900bilon/year and icreasing for inteligence and defence – destroying homes to milions of people and giving them a “chance”(literary no other choice) to grow in war torn enviroment.

    So lowering defence budged for 10% would mean 10bilion/year extra with the bonus of less people having their hoems destroyed.

    And you complain that you will get treated without prexisting condition BS and withouth going bankrupt.

  15. Once more, Voja brings one of the most inspiring articles in Hackaday. The recent History of Yugoslavia is very sad and a real shame for western countries because of the way they handled the war. I know many great engineers from Serbia and I am convinced that better times will come. All the best!

  16. Great article, and thanks for telling it.
    The asm byte by byte by hand comment triggered some memories for me, when I first got interested in asm I didn’t know what a compiler was and we looked up the ascii for each opcode and put a definition in a basic block inside quotes and executed it until after a year or two of not knowing better I finally discovered compilers and other “modern” niceties when computing started to become popular and I went to a club of people sharing the common interest. I did think I had a better low level understanding of what was going on doing it the hard way though and I was already used to looking up how many clock cycles each instruction “cost” to optomise things.
    I was also into 11m band ssb cb with hacked about sets and homebuilt linears and antenna but ended up a radio ham to legalize myself then lost interest when the commercial set buyers came onto the bands with their dirty 2MW shop bought linears swamping the nearby frequencies for everyone nearby and qrp became impossible from my house, although I did have a dabble in ax27 over 2m and some atv combining my two interests, not being able to afford phone bills for long distance modem dialing to a bbs in pre-internet days :)
    Its all good fun, sometimes we forget we are the actual overall project we’re working on and miss the value of the learning. Something I feel you haven’t missed at all…

    1. My keyword was motivation, not knowledge. I didn’t need a lot of basic knowledge to deal with digital electronics. As Bob Widlar said, every idiot can count to one.
      I have started with magazines (Radioamater, Elektor, Byte), a lot of experimenting and reverse engineering.

  17. Ooo wholly crap I live in that 80s and make that Galaksija back then 32 years a go, using just one small Iskra 25W soldering iron. One thing that I did not saw back then and still do not see form this historical distance is that anyone was oppressing us back then more than it is today. So guys do not sell that t@talitarian s$t now, we all live in a world ruled by b.nk/bigbs. scrupulous and inhumane at same level or even worse that some old regimes was and that is much worse that Huxley’s brave new world.
    Be honest and say that we have more chance to do and make something back then. So Vojo please do not spoil my pleasant view of you and your work that I have form my teenage days with mondaine politicization, we all go and shop thing in W.Germany and Italy that was not made back home. But be honest we had production of licensed 8-bit CPUs in our country back then and custems was there to protect internal production as it is all around world. And stone age that you talk about was back then well developed centralized mainframe age, that is back upon us with Cloud computing if you ask me :)

    Lets talk about things we all love and cherish

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