Around the Trashcan Fire —
I often go on pickup runs around websites, looking for the new textfiles or radio shows of the day, to add to either web.textfiles.com or its very loud buddy audio.textfiles.com. Like somebody browsing a flea market, I have some preferred items in mind, but I never shrink away from other cool stuff I happen upon and I try to take a policy of “no info left behind”.
So if I find a website with a hacker radio show and then see it links to a site with textfiles, I start grabbing the textfiles, the audio, the images linking them, and whatever else I can. Think of a big massive vacuum with me steering it around laughing maniacally.
Anyway, I stumbled upon a site, one of these weblog/forum/library conglomerations that represent the old BBS spirit in many ways, called BINARY UNIVERSE. And like I said, it’s a collection of files, some weblog entries, a forum, and downloads. Basically, it has many of the same traits as a bulletin board system used to have, and collects them all with the additional advantages of a color scheme and graphics, as well as faster transfer rate.
And in this website, there’s a collection of “lectures”, a set of IRC logs of people talking about various subjects, presenting them for others to learn from, and then logging them and putting them up for later reading.
One of them is an introduction to phreaking. (This is their copy, this is my copy.)
What we have here is a lecture given this year, just a month or two ago, in an IRC channel, with a young phone phreak trying to pass on phreaking history to another set, another generation of kids. I am so truly warmed to know that this is taking place, and to have a record of it.
The story has been beat up, compressed, changed up a little, with different emphasis and names switched, but it’s surprisingly accurate.
He mentions Joybubbles (Joe Engressia) and the 2600hz tone and what it does, but does not credit Cap’n Crunch (John Draper) with discovering it, which is quite accurate. He also doesn’t mention Mark Bernay, the Midnight Skulker, who was also a notable part of phone phreaking history and who has an excellent website of his own. He gets in a mention of the scene-busting magazine article, Secrets of the Little Blue Box, by Ron Rosenbaum (my copies of this article are here and here), tips a hat to Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in a vague way (spelling their names wrong) and then fires up through the advent of bulletin board systems, and the rise of phreaking “groups”, and then into the modern era.
Like a record left out in the sun, some parts are warped but you can make out a good amount of the story. And this is 2006. “Secrets of the Little Blue Box” came out in 1971, 35 years ago. Most of Draper and Engressia and Bernay’s major exploits involving phones date into the late 1960s, which is nearly 40 years ago. It is quite something that someone talking on the online version of a street corner, a trashcan fire, can wind together a story of relative accuracy dating back four decades and that there are others who would want to hear it.
Four years ago, I gave a talk on the “history of phreaking” or Phreaking 101, not unlike these kids, at PhreakNIC 6, a computer conference in Nashville, Tennessee. Here’s my speech and some information associated with it. (I should get that thing on archive.org one of these days.) In the same way, there I was, telling stories going back 100 years, likely warping the record a little myself, but trying to show the same tune. The people trying something new, the characters and people behind the cold hard facts, the pure fun that phone phreaking represents throughout its history.
Here’s to more trashcan fires.
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Looks like their site is down… 🙁