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Slate Reprints Blue-Box Article That Inspired Jobs 121

Slate has reprinted the piece that Ron Rosenbaum wrote for Esquire in 1971, explaining to the world that there was an underground movement of people hacking the phone system. (Rosenbaum is now a columnist for Slate.) According to the article's new introduction and followup piece by Rosenbaum reflecting on its impact — and to the New York Times obituary for Steve Jobs — this article inspired Jobs and Wozniak to start building blue boxes themselves, an effort that made them several thousand dollars.
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Slate Reprints Blue-Box Article That Inspired Jobs

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  • not any more (Score:4, Insightful)

    by spokenoise ( 2140056 ) on Monday October 10, 2011 @05:37AM (#37660230)
    They would now be considered a homeland security threat or some such shit and locked up, put on a no fly list and given a free colonoscopy. The several thou would be proceeds of crime and fined in the brazillions or dollars....
    • Re:not any more (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Monday October 10, 2011 @05:49AM (#37660270) Homepage Journal

      Most definitely. Phreakers would be water boarded at Guantanamo today. Not only would the law have taken Steve and Woz's paltry thousands, they would have confiscated their homes, their cars, their parent's homes and cars, and the families of both would be on no-fly lists, etc ad nauseum. Gotta do away with those phreakers - they'll be the downfall of this great corporate nation!

      • Why stop there? Woz would be dressed in a pantsuit and hung inverted on a rack while dwarves plucked at his beard and insulted his mother. And most horribly, Steve Jobs would be forced to wear a brightly-colored T-shirt WITH ABSOLUTELY NO COLLAR WHATSOVER, exposing his poor fragile neck to harsh atmospheric vapors.
      • They also would have imprisoned them for life, chemically sterilized them, removed their toenails, confiscated one of their kidneys, given them lobotomies, and forced everyone who had ever met them to weak ankle bracelets.

        America is just so crazy isn't it?
      • In all fairness, phreaking had negative connotations at the time (once you explained to people what it was). But since it exploited a company (Ma Bell) which was eventually found to be an illegal, controlling, price-fixing monopoly that was forcibly broken up, it has a neutral to positive connotation today. Likewise, once we regain our senses, the security hysteria of the last decade will probably be viewed much as McCarthyism is today. And those who rebelled against it will be viewed in a much more posi
        • by mikael ( 484 )

          There's a better understanding once people know that the cost of national (inter-state) and international calls were at least $1.50/minute. So if a college student desperately wanted to call her parents from campus for a 30 minute call, that was $45. Take into account inflation over the past 40 years, and that would be like paying $250 now.

          Or you could get a little blue box, put it over the handset, and enter some admin codes to get a free call.

          Now you just use Skype with a PC or a mobile phone. There was a

          • I never did understand, and still don't understand, why anyone needs to talk for 30 to 60 minutes. I called home from the Virgin Islands, from Spain, from Bahrain, from England. All of my phone calls were ten minutes or less. "Hi, Mom! How are things? Oh, Uncle Bill is sick? That sucks. Well, we came through the Suez, and cruised around in little circles for a couple weeks. Now we're in Bahrain. Yeah, it's hot here. Did you get the pictures I mailed? Good. Well, tell everyone I love them - I'm h

            • by mikael ( 484 )

              Ask your women-folk - they'll want to chat about everything from relationships, celebrities, friends, relatives, marriages, divorces, babies, uncles, aunts, fashions, dresses, blouses, events, weddings, parties, celebrations, festivals, and more...

            • I never did understand, and still don't understand, why anyone needs to talk for 30 to 60 minutes

              It's called having an over-inflated sense of entitlement. People then thought they should be able to talk for as long as they liked for free, in the same way that people now think they should be able to access all the entertainment they want for free.

              • Apples and pineapples, pal. Phreaking made use of hardware and equipment that had to be maintained, by people drawing wages, often times on call 24/7. One may or may not make an argument that Ma Bell and AT&T overcharged, or that they had a monopoly, or whatever. The entertainment "industries" tend to gain money with sharing. They certainly do not lose the money that they claim. In fact, the entertainment "industries" operate unethically, as well as unlawfully in a number of ways. Starting with th

      • sadly phreaking like we used to do disappeared before it really homogenized into something solid. It was taken over by kids who used the name as when all they did was look over the shoulders of people entering their phone card numbers and remember them. Lame shit, even script kiddies have to at least press the enter key a few times, those guys were shit.

        BTW, the remnants of the phone company response to the original boxes remains to this day. If you call a number and it rings more than a set number of times

    • Only if they got caught. Mitnick got 5 years for something similar, partly in solitary because they thought he could launch nukes by whistling into payphones.

    • by nurb432 ( 527695 )

      Phreakers were back then too since what they were doing was illegal. Just not as many resources were spent, until they decided they wanted Kevin out of the picture for a while and tossed his butt in prison..

    • They would now be considered a homeland security threat or some such shit and locked up

      Maybe you should read the article before reaching for the tinfoil - because Mr Draper (AKA Captain Crunch) was in fact locked up back then. (As were other phone phreakers.) The only reason Jobs and Woz were never so treated is that they managed to stay off the radar and were never caught during their brief careers as phreakers.

      IIRC, the mere possession of a 'box' could net you a hefty fine. If they could prove

  • by kervin ( 64171 )

    news that matters

    • Re:yup (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rsmith-mac ( 639075 ) on Monday October 10, 2011 @08:35AM (#37660962)

      Scoff all you want, but it would do all the youngins here good to read the whole Blue Box article from front to back. Not only does it provide a great historical context to modern hacking - and proof that the motivations haven't changed even though the technology has - but it's also an example of an extremely well written article, something the modern blogosphere is incapable of creating. Even if it takes the death of Steve Jobs, it's exactly the kind of article that should be posted on Slashdot.

  • iWoz, Chapter 6 (Score:5, Informative)

    by BitterKraut ( 820348 ) on Monday October 10, 2011 @06:19AM (#37660362)
    titled 'Phreaking for Real' tells the story from Steve Wozniak's perspective. It starts "In 1971, the day before I headed off to my third year of college at Berkeley, I was sitting at my mother's kitchen table and there happened to be a copy of Esquire sitting there." After giving an account of the article and the excitement it gave him, Woz first mentions Jobs four pages later: "One of the first things I did after reading the article was to call up my friend Steve Jobs. He was just about to start twelfth grade at Homestead High School, the same high school I'd gone to. I started telling him about this amazing article, [...]".
  • The lesson is... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 10, 2011 @06:20AM (#37660370)

    Be a criminal first. Then start a business so you can rip people off bigtime. Legally.

    Don't much care for apple of the last 10+ years. Apple could have advanced computing greatly. Instead they advanced lockin, lawsuits, form over function, and trendy fad expensive disposable products.

    We're not a pc! No.. you're the same hardware with one extra thing to make it a pain to interoperate with the rest of the computing world easily and cheaply. Once apple started using intel as their base it should have become obvious to everyone what they were doing and what they actually cared about. Money.

    And that does not make you great. That's actually pretty common.

    Damm shame... Apple forcing microsoft and other companies to compete on a level open playfield could have done so much more to advance technology.

    Instead you now get your choice of iproduct in a range of primary colors!

    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by lucm ( 889690 )

      No doubt you will be modded down to the darkest pit of trolliness, but know that some people agree with you nonetheless.

    • by Pieroxy ( 222434 )

      This is all well and good, but do you know any other way to make a computer useable by grandma?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        "Grandma" browses the web and checks her email just as well from a well set up Linux or Windows box as a Mac.

      • by SlippyToad ( 240532 ) on Monday October 10, 2011 @09:21AM (#37661316)

        I didn't know "grandma" was the problem the iPad was meant to solve.

        Demographic studies [] would seem to indicate that the main group using iPads are between 35-44. In other words, perfectly computer literate, probably well into their careers, and wealthy enough to afford the hefty price tag and maintenance (after all, you've got to send it back to change the battery).

        Also, I have used an iPad. It is just as quirky as any Windows computing device. I don't know where this delusion comes from that Apple products are more user-friendly, but from the perspective of someone who had to learn how to hook these damn things into my virtual desktop environment, I have had ample opportunity to experience the Apple user interface, and it is really nothing spectacular. It's just as badly-designed as every other user interface I've ever encountered.

        • by Pieroxy ( 222434 )

          Ha! Then, you missed the biggest part of the iOS so-called "revolution". The key is that there is only one button, and this button always brings you to the same place.

          You see, computers (and phones, VCRs, etc.) are stateful machines. The biggest gripe non computer literates have with computer is that they invariably get lost somewhere, and then they don't know how to get back to their previous state. I once caught my mother in law editing a word document with a 1600x magnification on. She was barely able t

          • by hitmark ( 640295 )

            Oh i think they get it, what they worry is that by pandering to the lowest common denominator one heads towards idiocracy.

            • by Pieroxy ( 222434 )

              Instead of idiocracy, I'd settle with "to each his own". Since computers as we know them are too complex for dumb* people, we should not cater anything for them? I'd rather have two sets of computers on the market: The dumbed down version and the full fledge computing platform for us.

              And everyone's happy, except those that claim that the dumbed down version is a walled garden and is therefore evil. But very few care about them so all is well.

              * dumb means computer-illiterate in this context.

              • by hitmark ( 640295 )

                And then corporate backed government decide that those full fledged computing platforms are dangerous to national security in some way, and demand that anyone using them get certified via some office or other. Next thing we know, security research takes a dive and if they find a "open" laptop in your belonging during a border crossing you "vanish".

          • I sort of agree with you, but iOS _is_ stateful. You say it yourself: The home button invariably gets you to the starting point.

            Is that really that different from "hit escape to get to command mode" in vim? (With ":set showmode" on, at least the observant won't do the "hit escape before I do something", like newbies to vi do.)

            No, I am __NOT__ in any way trying to argue that vim is as easy to use (but it definitely is easier to use than vi) as an iOS device.

            Just that it's not really removed state. In fact,

    • by pmontra ( 738736 )
      +1 insightful
    • by Myopic ( 18616 )

      Apple could have advanced computing greatly. Instead they advanced lockin, lawsuits, form over function, and trendy fad expensive disposable products.

      You don't think they did both? I do. The lock-in is the reason I'm no longer an Apple customer (I'm five years clean, thank you) but the nicely integrated systems make me wish they were open enough to be purchased ethically.

    • Apple doesn't get a dime without making products people want.

      Not products YOU want. Products other people want. Your beef is with them, not Apple.

  • What's that? Is that a symlink for cp?
    • by Pieroxy ( 222434 )

      It's been renamed "cat" in recent years.

    • No, it means legally repost, as opposed to illegally copy. (Heck, it might be in their next print edition too, where your presumed nitpick would be completely invalid.)

  • by lucm ( 889690 )

    > this article inspired Jobs and Wozniak to start building blue boxes themselves, an effort that made them several thousand dollars.

    this [visit] inspired Jobs and Wozniak to start building [a GUI] themselves, an effort that made them several [millions] dollars.

    Now that is a pattern of real innovation.

  • Hahah (Score:4, Insightful)

    by X.25 ( 255792 ) on Monday October 10, 2011 @06:33AM (#37660410)

    It's amazing how fucked up humanity is.

    Day after day, "media" spends time talking about someone who managed to run some businesses that basically produced some eye-candy that naive people can drool over. A hero.

    But chance that you will hear about someone who actually saves peoples' eyes (like this, for example: []) are almost zero.

    Edward Bernays would be proud.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      There are hundreds of thousands people who owe their eye vision to Sanduk Ruit.

      He will never need any media to make people remember and love him.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Since most people only care about money our old fashioned life saving hero became the billionaire. And those shallow people are the ones who buy shiny gadgets to upgrade their unimportance to the next level. They don't care about how these gadgets are produced in China, if price meets value, if the gadget is a throw-away one (see battery packs), if they're locked into a corporation controlled ecosystem, if the vendor stifles innovation by ridiculous patents and so on. And all other corporations follow that

    • by Anonymous Coward

      He helped create the information age, which has touched effectively everyone on the planet. Although your example no doubt does work that is very worthwhile, it touches only a tiny number of people in a profound way.

    • So Jobs got started and built his empire on making a Blue-Box phreaking tool that was illegal at the time and still is now .... ....can the government seize his ill-gotten gains ...?

  • by Froomb ( 100183 ) on Monday October 10, 2011 @06:37AM (#37660422)

    . . . greetings, John Draper! This article made you my hero. Hope you've had a great life since the 1970s.

  • by king neckbeard ( 1801738 ) on Monday October 10, 2011 @07:47AM (#37660668)
    We can't have current owners of Apple products find out that Jobs was once at least tagging along with someone who liked to hack. It would tarnish his image.
    • We can't have current owners of Apple products find out that Jobs was once at least tagging along with someone who liked to hack. It would tarnish his image.

      You would be surprised how many current owner of Apple products know that ^-^
      I also really doubt that his image would be tarnished, or that he has a particular bright image.
      Just because you can't stand Steve Jobs, there is no need to overestimate "how much he is liked" by Mac owners.

      • He has a very bright image among many people. That's why there was so much adulation from him coming from various sources. His recent role was also one of very strict control, which many fans of Apple products have stood strongly behind. I've heard a fair amount of arguments that jailbreakers are dirty crooks for trying to exert greater control over products they own. However, phreaking was far more anti-authority than this, making him far worse than jailbreakers, and probably worse than those dirty pat
        • I for my part know no one who frowns upon jail breakers. After all jail breaking is completely legal in europe and unlike in the USA it does not void the warranty.

          If you mean the Samsung case with this: and probably worse than those dirty patent infringers and 'ripoffs' of elements Apple doesn't have any legal protection for. Then I advice to try to look through the fog.

          Samsung is the main supplier of Apple for nearly everything Apple is producing. When one of the two is suing the other one and the other o

  • Am I the only person on here who, despite making a living in IT, has has never owned a single Apple product in my entire life, doesn't want to own one, and probably will never own one (not out of some deep political motive but just because they don't sell things I want to buy)?

    I'm much more interested in some tech news, which the "Steve Jobs dying" thing was FOR ONE DAY, and could be summarised in a single brief article. I don't need it front-page of a London paper, slapped across BBC News and then people

    • Me also. They do sell things I want to buy (desktop computer, laptop, mp3 player, phone, etc). Whenever I comparison shop I always feel like the Apple product is less functional and more costly than something else.

    • It's just too much effort to exclude Apple stories, iddn't it?

      You do know that Slashdot looks at the comment count certain topics bring when a story is being chosen to run right?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by catmistake ( 814204 )

      Am I the only person here that has grown sick and tired of people who don't wish to read Apple content that post about how sick and tired they are of the Apple content that they can't stop reading?

      I'm much more interested in reading comments that include humor, insight, and interesting anacdotes that are in some way related to the topic than reading another Goddamn complaint about how some egotistical elitist doesn't understand why they're not interested in the same things as others and forgot how to shut

    • Anybody that cares about having control over their machine and isn't old enough to have owned an Apple ][ or older computer probably hasn't. There was a period with the old world Macs where you still had control, but they tended to have other issues.

      As for Shigeru Miyamoto, just look at the projects that he's worked on during his career. [] It's hard for me to imagine Nintendo carrying on through the electronic era without a visionary like that.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by unimacs ( 597299 )
      Never watched a Pixar movie? Never owned a device with a firewire port?

      What about MS Windows? Windows up until at least 3.1 licensed some Mac OS technology.

      Downloaded any music using a paid service? Maybe you haven't use an Apple product to do so, but Steve Jobs and company turned the music industry upside down and forever changed the way we buy music.

      First web server? Written on NeXT computer. First spreadsheet? Written for an Apple computer.

      Maybe you have never owned Apple product but my g
      • by ledow ( 319597 )

        The Windows GUI was from Xerox Parc (Jobs paid to go there, then was convinced it was "the next big thing", which shows only an amount of insight, not ingenuity) - that's the kind of story behind all the things he brought to market. He can sell, I'll give him that. I'm not sure why that makes him a martyr compared to, say, Tim Berners-Lee (who at least *does* invent stuff).

        By the time you start attributing the web servers and spreadsheets to Apple/Jobs "somehow" - given that he had very very little to do

        • by unimacs ( 597299 )
          The problem with your argument and many others like it is that you place too small a value on the ability to bring something to market. Sure, you need the people to write the code and design the hardware, but getting it to work in a lab someplace in only part of what needs to be done. Certainly Steve Jobs wouldn't have gotten to where he did without somebody like Woz to make the visions a reality. What I think is funny is that a lot of people point out how evil Jobs is because he didn't share $5,000 in bon
  • The irony here is rich and creamy. Jobs and iTunes made the bluebox-like act of downloading music for 'free' an act of unspeakable violence, at least if you ask the lawyers of the RIAA or Apple. So, where will the next Jobs get the thrills needed to motivate them to greatness? Probably where we expect it the least.
  • by Dr. Spork ( 142693 ) on Monday October 10, 2011 @10:24AM (#37662304)
    Seriously, that reprinted Esquire article is an amazing document. I can't believe it's 40 years old!
  • by pev ( 2186 )

    To the person complaining about relevence, if you don't care about it, ignore it! Maybe consider investing the time you spent typing negative comments in reading something you are interested in instead? Much more rewarding I promise :-) besides, Know Your History! I'd seriously be amazed at anyone I know that's a committed hacker (old defn) not to be fascinated by that article.

    Anyway, my actual reason for posting - Given the age of hte article, does anyone know of a recent follow up to it? I'd love to know

  • The thing you have to remember is that Wozniak loved technology, and loved to learn how things worked. It's no surprise that he would want to build a blue box and explore the telephone system.

    Steve Jobs, on the other hand, was an opportunist. He didn't care about how it worked. He cared that people wanted to make illegal phone calls. So he convinced Wozniak that they should sell the things, something which Woz would have never decided to do on his own. That's a move which almost got them both arrested

Competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. -- Dr. Laurence J. Peter