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The Blind Hacker Who Inspired Apple

Keith Schaub
7/29/2013 04:45 PM EDT

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rick merritt
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Great story, well told
rick merritt   7/29/2013 5:55:38 PM
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This is just one of many tales of smart hackers and engineers whose achievements we need to celebrate.

mcgrathdylan
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Re: Great story, well told
mcgrathdylan   7/29/2013 8:37:32 PM
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Hear, hear. Or is it here, here? Anyway, I agree. This is a fantastic story. I'd never heard about the Whistler before, but I had heard about Woz and Jobs and the blue boxes. And as it is told here, I do see the logic in the Whistler being at least partly, if not completely, responsible for the formation of Apple. Great stuff.

Patk0317
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Re: Great story, well told
Patk0317   7/29/2013 10:41:50 PM
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Wasn't there a whole slew of these people in the 70's. I think one was called "Captain Crunch" who also sold these boxes? And to think today - at least in the USA, long distance is effectively free. My how times have changed!

Caleb Kraft
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Re: Great story, well told
Caleb Kraft   7/30/2013 8:26:09 AM
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Yes. Captain Crunch is probably the most widely known. You can find videos of him on youtube. He got his name from the captain crunch whistle he started with. He found it was the perfect tone to trick the phone into giving him things. Later, he got to where he could just whistle the tones as well. 

junko.yoshida
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Whistler
junko.yoshida   7/29/2013 10:26:33 PM
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Until I read this piece, I didn't know the blind hacker character in Robert Redford's movie "Sneakers" was based on a real historical character. Very cool.

Caleb Kraft
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Re: Whistler
Caleb Kraft   7/30/2013 8:16:54 AM
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Yep, that movie did a fantastic job on a few things. They showed that hacking was mostly a social manipulation game as well. A good percentage of the time you never touch a computer. You con people into giving you the information you want instead. 

Charles.Desassure
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Visit from the past...
Charles.Desassure   7/29/2013 11:19:48 PM
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This was a good story, but come on.  We all know the FBI did what they wanted to do doing the 60's and early 70's.  I really appreciate the article.  There were a bunch of guys like this during that time period but their stories will never be told.   But thanks for a visit from the past.

Susan Rambo
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Re: Visit from the past...
Susan Rambo   7/29/2013 11:39:44 PM
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Captain Crunch, Woz and more in this 50-min video on phone phreaking and hacking. Hackers The History Of Hacking - Phone Phreaking, Cap.Crunch, Wozniak, Mitnick

Charles.Desassure
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Re: Visit from the past...
Charles.Desassure   7/30/2013 12:44:03 AM
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Susan...Thanks for the link. I sure can use this for my Fundamentals of Information Secuirty class this fall.  Great job. 

Susan Rambo
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Re: Visit from the past...
Susan Rambo   7/30/2013 12:52:11 AM
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@Charles.Desassure, I'm glad you liked it. It's a good documentary. I watched the full 50 minutes! The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA may have one of those blue box keypads from Woz (who is a big supporter of the museum). I like that Woz, Draper, and Mitnick are sitting at the table together at the end. Two of them had some tough go of it, didn't they.

Caleb Kraft
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Re: Visit from the past...
Caleb Kraft   7/30/2013 8:22:12 AM
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this is one of the greatest documentaries out there. Here's my collection of the 10 best docs/movies about hacking.

My wife casually mentioned that she had used a small phreaking box as a teenager. She was surprised to see me get excited. She had no idea what a pivotal role that piece of hardware had played in our tech/security history. 

rich.pell
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Re: Visit from the past...
rich.pell   7/30/2013 10:38:31 AM
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"Here's my collection of the 10 best docs/movies about hacking."

This reminded me of one the best books written early on about hacking - The Cuckoo's Egg, by Clifford Stoll.  I remember picking it up at the library when it first came out not knowing what to expect and then not being able to put it down.  A real page turner!

Max The Magnificent
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Re: Visit from the past...
Max The Magnificent   7/30/2013 11:29:30 AM
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@Rich: This reminded me of one the best books written early on about hacking - The Cuckoo's Egg, by Clifford Stoll.

You are right -- that really was a great book ... I wonder what Clifford is doing now (this is just a vauge musing because I'm too lazy to look him up on the Internet :-)

 

Tom Murphy
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Re: Visit from the past...
Tom Murphy   7/30/2013 2:42:33 PM
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Ah, the old days.  When I attended Berkeley in the early '70s, I didn't know anyone who actually paid for long-distance calls, which were quite expensive back then.  Blue boxes, black boxes, credit cards, phony 3rd party calls, and other techniques were shared ad freely as spare change.  The bad part was that the phone companies would always end up calling the people that you called after a couple of months, threatening them with criminal action for committing misprison of a crime.  I never heard of anyone getting into actual trouble for it, aside from the hackers who built the boxes.

Rcurl
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Re: Visit from the past...
Rcurl   7/31/2013 9:30:55 AM
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@Max: "I wonder what Clifford is doing now (this is just a vauge musing because I'm too lazy to look him up on the Internet :-)"

 He's making Klein bottles:  http://kleinbottle.com/

Max The Magnificent
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Re: Visit from the past...
Max The Magnificent   7/31/2013 10:18:03 AM
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@Rick: He's making Klein bottles:  http://kleinbottle.com/


Arrggghhh -- that's right -- now I remrember you bringing one of these to my office and telling me that this was what Clifford wa sdoing. I must admit that when O wrote my comment there wa ssomething at th eback of my mind about this -- but these days I seem to forget more than I... sorry, what were we talking about? :-)

Susan Rambo
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Re: Visit from the past...
Susan Rambo   7/30/2013 9:23:57 PM
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@Caleb: Here's my collection of the 10 best docs/movies about hacking.

Thanks, Caleb. Clifford Stoll spoke twice at the Embedded Systems Conference about 10 years. We still have the video of him running around, hair flying. He was very inspirational,  funny, and fun. THanks for this video collection.

Caleb Kraft
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Re: Visit from the past...
Caleb Kraft   7/30/2013 8:24:40 AM
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I'm sure there were lots of people disappearing, but these kids were probably just seen as peculiar annoyances. They weren't tied to any of our "enemies" and they were just screwing with phone relay systems. In the 60s and 70s the FBI had more pressing issues. 

Of course, all that changed, and now you can get in serious trouble even for contacting a company to tell them you stumbled onto a security flaw. 

Frank Eory
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Re: Visit from the past...
Frank Eory   7/30/2013 4:43:11 PM
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It is remarkable what an influential role some of the "phone phreaks" played in creating the hacker culture -- both the mischevious kind of hacking and the tinkering-with-electronics kind that fueled the microcomputer revolution.

prabhakar_deosthali
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Apple connection?
prabhakar_deosthali   7/30/2013 10:11:43 AM
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This is a great story indeed!

But I just could not get the Apple connection

Caleb Kraft
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Re: Apple connection?
Caleb Kraft   7/30/2013 10:22:45 AM
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The apple connection is a thin one, but it is there. Woz and jobs learned how to build the phreaking boxes that Jo had helped design. The two built them and sold them, then went on to keep building and selling things together, like the first apple.

prabhakar_deosthali
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Re: Apple connection?
prabhakar_deosthali   7/31/2013 12:32:33 AM
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Thanks for enlightening me on the Apple connection.


In the olden days when companies used to put a physical lock on the telephone rotary dial, to restrict the use of the phones by employees for private purpose,  I have developed the skill of tapping the hook to imitate the dial pulses to dial a desired number without using the dial. Most of the time I succeeded.

vharihar
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Re: Apple connection?
vharihar   8/2/2013 5:52:14 AM
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Awesome!

WireMan0
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The real story
WireMan0   7/31/2013 10:08:48 AM
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For the complete story about phone phreaks, blue boxes, and the AT&T phone system, read the excellent book, "Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws who Hacked Ma Bell," by Phil Lapsley.

Rcurl
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Re: The real story
Rcurl   7/31/2013 11:02:59 AM
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Remember John Draper, AKA "Captain Crunch": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Draper

He discovered that a plastic Bosun's whistle that came in Captain Crunch cereal emitted a frequency of exactly 2600 hertz, which was the phone company's "knock-down" tone between central office tandems.  This allowed him to make free calls worldwide. He got in BIG trouble over it.

BTW- Don't get any ideas- his scheme won't work with most modern phone exchanges.

 

C VanDorne
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The other Kevin
C VanDorne   7/31/2013 11:26:38 AM
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Is there any love out there for the other Kevin, not Mitnik but Paulsen?  I read his Biography called the Watchmen, or something like that.  It was one of the most interesting books I've ever read.  I highly recommend it for anyone who wants an awesome trip back into the Eighties and a superb view into the world of an A-List Phreak.

Susan Rambo
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Re: The other Kevin
Susan Rambo   7/31/2013 10:30:35 PM
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@ C VanDorne, Thanks for the book recommendation. Here's the link to the book you mention: The Watchman: The Twisted Life and Crimes of Serial Hacker Kevin Poulsen 

chanj0
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The truth of job creation
chanj0   7/31/2013 2:18:37 PM
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It's better to create your job than apply for a job. Jo's story inspires not only Wozniak and Jobs but also others. Jo has created his job by hacking into phone line. There are a lot of enterprenenurs creating their own job by reinventing business. Thinking outside the box and challenging the existing operation seem to be critical to creation.

The MicroMan
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Yes, let's encourage criminal activity
The MicroMan   8/1/2013 3:03:03 AM
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Try to get around digital rights management in your iAnything and I'll bet the big Apple sends its lawyers after you, like Ma Bell did to the Phreakers.  Is it the proper place for a publication, blogger, or corporation (like the author's) to encourage people to break the law so they can circumvent a company's product revenue.  Not a hero. 

As a kid I, too, read about Blue Boxes, the Captain Crunch whistle, and the thrill of routing (expensive) phone calls across satellites and continents.  There was a very nice article detailing it all in "Esquire" magazine back long ago (late 60's?).  I've got a "Xerox" of it around here somewhere. 

As I recall, the phone company stopped (limited) the Blue Boxes and whistles by making the toll switching equipment respond only to 2600 Hz tones originating from Central Offices.

It's hard to see how Blue Boxes inspired the Apple II, Mac, iPods, or anything else.  It might have given idle minds a source of $ that allowed them to keep thinking of something better to do. 

I hear there was a deaf guy long ago who ended up writing some of the world's most beautiful symphonies. Ludwig somebody.

junko.yoshida
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Why hackers inspire us
junko.yoshida   8/1/2013 8:42:15 AM
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It's interesting to see how stories about hackers inspire a lot of us. 

While some of us might be dismayed by the law-breaking nature of certain hacking, others are definitely cheering for hackers -- really smart, but not exactly the mainstream engineers -- to win. It's the ultimate underdog story we have all come to love. 

 

cookiejar
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Steve & Woz thieves?
cookiejar   8/1/2013 12:07:17 PM
No matter how you slice it, Steve and Woz look like the brains and leaders of a pack of thieves, as illustrated in their first blue box business venture.  What is the difference between their blue boxes and a lock pick from an ethical standpoint? 

 The definition of a thief is someone who bypasses what security there is and takes something of value.  Just because it's high-tech is no excuse.  Why does our society accept white collar crime compared to blue collar crime, despite the damage that white collar crime does is far greater?  Just look at the financial meltdown.

Once a thief always a thief.  Apple went on to lift the technology of the MacIntosh from Xerox etc. etc.  Steve even bragged about not inventing anything - he just took what he needed and attacked all competitors with his team of lawyers.

The Apple logo says it all.  The apple that Eve took a byte off.  Who is the serpent supposed to be?

Caleb Kraft
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Re: Steve & Woz thieves?
Caleb Kraft   8/1/2013 12:22:11 PM
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The reason I can feel ok celebrating them(phreakers) is that, at that point in time it was simply exploration, they were pioneers! Since then, we've come up with better ways of exploring these things that are more ethical. Just look at the things going on at blackhat conferences. We now have entire industries built around penetration testing and hacking.

As far as business leaders using other people's ideas, well that happens. Sometimes it is the implementation of the idea that really makes a difference. However, you're spot on with the complaint about the apple lawyers.



Susan Rambo
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Re: Steve & Woz thieves?
Susan Rambo   8/1/2013 1:37:02 PM
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Wow. Woz et al., committed the original sin? If we want to go back really far, we can say the Europeans stole North America from the Native Americans. So all these corporations (like the phone company) are really just a party to that original sin and therefore thieves.

Max The Magnificent
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Re: Steve & Woz thieves?
Max The Magnificent   8/1/2013 2:11:49 PM
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@coociejar: The Apple logo says it all.  The apple that Eve took a byte off.  Who is the serpent supposed to be?

It's funny how different people can read different things into ... well ... things. I always took the Apple Logo to mean "An Apple a day is good for you" :-)

Susan Rambo
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Top Hackers
Susan Rambo   8/1/2013 1:54:02 PM
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This article Black hat down: What happened to the world's most famous hackers? is worth a read. Woz is: "a surprise visitor to this list of black hat hackers turned white."

Max The Magnificent
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Re: Top Hackers
Max The Magnificent   8/1/2013 2:05:35 PM
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@Susan: Woz is: "a surprise visitor..."

Did you ever see my blog Who Woz That Masked Man? in which I met the Wos (and vice versa, of course). The strange thing was that he and Jobs were always billed as "hippies," but he was in a suite and I was in my usual garb...

Max The Magnificent
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Re: Top Hackers
Max The Magnificent   8/1/2013 2:09:17 PM
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@Susan: And... speaking of "Masked Men" ... did you ever see my column The Lone Ranger and Tonto go camping...

Susan Rambo
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BlinkieChicks
Susan Rambo   8/4/2013 6:24:06 PM
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Interesting that the Blinkie Chicks on Twitter picked up this story about "The Blind Hacker Who Inspired Apple." Their Twitter page says:

We're four legally blind women who are dedicated to integrating the blind & sighted communities through presentations & digital media.

They also linked to this story: "OpenGlass uses Google Glass to identify objects for the visually impaired (video)" 


BlinkieChicks' wordpress page.



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