Friday, August 2, 2013

A Little Techie History

EETimes, which used to be (still is?) a weekly tabloid newspaper for Electrical Engineers tells the story of Jo, a guy famous in hacker and security circles, and one of the guys who inspired Jobs and Wozniak to start Apple in their garage.   Not a long read, and worth the time if you don't know the story.
This is the story of a brilliant, highly skilled young man's journey that spawned an entire new industry of engineers and arguably was the true seed inspiring the creation of Apple.

In 1968, a young man by the name of Jo was kicked out of his university, investigated by the FBI, and nearly went to prison all because he had developed an unusual skill.

He had discovered how to make free long-distance calls simply by using his voice and whistling various tones and clicks into the receiver. That skill earned him the nickname the Whistler but got him into trouble with the FBI.
The link is to a book on the topic, with intriguing lead-in:
Before smartphones and iPads, before the Internet or the 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.
Jo - actually Joe - was a blind teenager who learned to whistle the tones that accessed the AT&T long lines system.
Without our four blind phone phreaks curiously hacking the telephone network, Woz would never have read an article on how to build the fated blue box -- the same blue box that is credited by both Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak as the underlying reason they formed Apple. Jo planted the seed that has grown into the ground-breaking giant we all know as Apple. It makes one wonder what other seeds are hidden in plain sight and awaiting discovery.
There have been a few books (I enjoyed the first version of this one) and movie or two made about this time.  Jo, and phreaking in 1968 were before me: I first worked on mini and microcomputers about 10 years later, but never got deeply into the software side.  Still, I find the stories hit me deeply, perhaps because the characters are so much like so many people I've been around all my life.


  1. He later changed his name to Joybubbles.
    Passed away in 2007




    1. I ran across that fact and a little of the story back while writing this. It's a sad story in a way, but still a pretty amazing one.