This book (official site) just came out early February 2013. There was a good review in the WSJ on it so I ordered it. Exploding The Phone is the story of phone “phreaking”/hacking form the early days right up through the birth and nascence of Woz and Apple Computer. The famous Captain Crunch (John Draper) and Woz crossed patchs a couple of times.
Here’s how Amazon describes it:
“Before smartphones, back even before the Internet and personal computer, a misfit group of technophiles, blind teenagers, hippies, and outlaws figured out how to hack the world’s largest machine: the telephone system. Starting with Alexander Graham Bell’s revolutionary “harmonic telegraph,” by the middle of the twentieth century the phone system had grown into something extraordinary, a web of cutting-edge switching machines and human operators that linked together millions of people like never before. But the network had a billion-dollar flaw, and once people discovered it, things would never be the same. Exploding the Phone tells this story in full for the first time.”
The earliest phone hacking began soon after the first telephones were installed. But it didn’t gather momentum until the 1950s, and really took off in the 1960s. And this old Esquire article from October 1971 sent the practice into the stratosphere and into the mainstream.
A few items I enjoyed from the book:
1. There were phone phreaks in 1890?! p. 22
2. Remember the movie Sneakers from 1992? Grab it and enjoy. It will make a lot more sense now.
3. Now you know where 2600 magazine got its name.
4. The first mechanical phone switch was created in 1892. The design reached its peak in 1972 when 42 million phones were connected this way. pp. 25-26
[the pics in the center of the book are fantastic]
5. Davy Crockett. pp. 30, 36
6. 2,600 Hz. p. 48
7. Disconnecting phone calls by whistling. p. 122
8. Loop-arounds as the first social networking. p. 148-150
9. Cap’n Crunch whistles. p. 155
10. Woz discovers phreaking and goes all-in. pp. 218-220
11. As the 60s & 70s wore on computerized switches began to slowly replace the old electro-mechanical switches. p. 232
12. AUTOVON. pp. 268-269
13. Carterfones. p. 298
By the late 1970s the golden-era of phreaking was in large part over. The technology had changed the landscape and many of the old techniques no longer worked. But Draper charged forward. As personal computers came on the scene, in particular Woz’s Apples, Draper embraced them and began working for Apple, even making the Charley board (p. 312) to enable the Apple to connect to the telephone line.
While the book chronicles phone-phreaking in general, and follows several specific and notable phreaks, there’s no question that Draper (@jdcrunchman) is the main character and the center of the story. He’s a larger-than-life character who is still active today (hear a recent interview).
If you’re interested in the early days of computing, hackers/hacking, etc. this is definitely one you’ll want to pick up. A lot of this material exists in pieces scattered all over the Web, but this book pulls it all together nicely. It’s well-written, tough to put down, and the intro was written by Woz.
Oh, two other notable things about the story. It’s amazing how many of the characters were blind teens and/or were ham radio enthusiasts.
Exploding The Phone — About
Secrets of the Little Blue Box - Esquire, Oct. 1971
The Real Captain Crunch
Book Review: iWoz by Steve Wozniak
A Look Back At Captain Crunch and Phone Phreaking
Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws Who Hacked Ma Bell
Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, and Ben Kingsley made one very prescient movie. – Slate Magazine
Stories of Apple – Captain Crunch on Apple – An interview with John Draper