The man who communicated with technology

Joybubbles, died in Minneapolis on August 8. He was a sui generis technical communicator.

In 1957, Joybubbles (born Joe Engressia) found that he could communicate with the phone system, the only large, complex computer system readily accessible to the public at that time. He did this by whistling at the same pitch as a specific signal the phone system used. Yes, he was an early hacker, known in those days as a phone phreak. Here’s a link to a video about him. Younger generations of hackers and geeks revered him.

As you might guess, his special talent for making hundreds of illegal long distance calls eventually led to his arrest. An article in Esquire magazine in 1971 tells the story. But he didn’t do it for the money; he just loved the phone company and dreamed of working for them.

Reading Joybubbles’ story reminded me of Three Days of the Condor, a spy thriller where The Phone Company (TPC) turns out to be the omnipotent Big Brother.


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