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Phreaking out…

Cover of the Spring 2012 issue of 2600

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In preparation for “treat-ing” tonight’s parade of freaks, one might pause to pay respects to 2600: The Hacker Quarterly, an American publication that specializes in publishing technical information on a variety of subjects including telephone switching systems, Internet protocols and services, as well as general news concerning the computer underground.  The magazine’s moniker comes from the “phreaker” discovery (by John “Cap’n Crunch” Draper and friends in the 1960s) that the transmission of a 2600 hertz tone (which could be produced perfectly with a plastic toy whistle given away free with Cap’n Crunch cereal) over a long-distance trunk connection gained access to “operator mode” and allowed the user to explore aspects of the telephone system that were not otherwise accessible… like free long distance calls.  (The seed money for Apple was in part raised by the two Steves’ sale of “phreaking boxes” designed to do just this.)

2600 has become a journal-of-record for “Grey Hat” hackers– tech explorers concerned to push past the limits inherent to the design of a given technological device or application (as opposed to White Hats, who are ideologically motivated to do good, or Black Hats, who pursue selfish– often illegal– gain).  So its current editorial focus is largely on the web and its devices, increasingly on mobile implementations and application.

But 2600 honors its roots, among other ways, by maintaining a gallery of photos of payphones around the world; for example…

Peshlawar, Pakistan

Moscow, Russia (The payphones only accept one ruble coins, an obsolete denomination)

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As we wax nostalgic, we might send illuminating birthday greetings to Narinder Singh Kapany; he was born on this date in 1926.  While growing up in Dehradun in northern India, a teacher informed him that light only traveled in a straight line.  He took this as a challenge and made the study of light his life work, initially at Imperial College, London.  In January 1954, Nature published his report of successfully transmitting images through fiber bundles– and Dr. Kapany became the father of fiber optics (a name he coined).  Dr. Kapany ultimately migrated to the U.S., where he continued to invent (he holds over 100 patents), taught, started successful companies, and became a philanthropist.  Fortune named him one of seven ‘Unsung Heroes’ in their “Businessmen of the Century” issue (November 22, 1999).  It was, of course, the implementation of Dr. Kapany’s work that rendered “phreaking” moot.

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Happy Halloween!

 from the NY Public Library’s Flickr set of Halloween cards

Written by LW

October 31, 2013 at 1:01 am

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