Friday, August 15, 2008

Granddaddy of Phone Phreaking a Christian Scientist?

Joybubbles, the grandaddy of Phone Phreaking, was apparently a Christian Scientist, or studied it at the least. On a new website dedicated to the history of Phone Phreaking, this passage about Joybubbles' apartment caught my eye (emphasis added):

What's this? Oh, an old military AUTOVON telephone, complete with the magic extra Touch-Tone button labeled "FO ("Flash Override") that Generals were supposed to use to alert the President in the event of war. It's next to half a dozen other telephones and boxes of wires, connectors, and components. And this? Oh, that's a complete Braille bible ... next to the complete Braille Mary Baker Eddy Christian Science text ... next to a complete Braille Webster's dictionary. Which are all next to a 1970 Pacific Telephone/AT&T training manual for the #1 electronic switching system (ESS) ... a gold mine if you were a phone hacker like Joybubbles was back in the day.

Here's a guy born blind with perfect pitch who accidently discovered at age 7 that he could manipulate the national telephone system by whistling into the receiver. He's an interesting character, who can be traced as the inspiration behind Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak's first retail collaboration, a blue box that that did electronically what Joybubbles could do with his whistle. The New York Times published a fitting obituary late last year.

Joybubbles Steve Wozniak with blue box

Joybubbles was an ordained minister of his own Church of Eternal Childhood, reflecting a lifelong desire to return to the innocence of youth. But it's interesting that he was packing heat with the Bible, Science and Health and Webster's. Perhaps his reverse-engineering of the phone system offered some metaphysical insight into the underlying cause of things. If nothing else, he was a poster boy for the kind of undying curiosity that inspires people like Jobs and Wozniak to invent wonderful things. Because the world is full of wonder, but sometimes, you need a Joybubbles to remind you.

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