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Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws who… (edition 2013)

by Phil Lapsley

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937129,846 (4.39)None
Member:karieh
Title:Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws who Hacked Ma Bell
Authors:Phil Lapsley
Info:Grove Press (2013), Hardcover, 416 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:Non-Fiction, Amazon Vine, 2013

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Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws who Hacked Ma Bell by Philip Lapsley

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  1. 00
    Engineering and Operations in the Bell System by Irwin Dorros (AsYouKnow_Bob)
    AsYouKnow_Bob: "Engineering and Operations in the Bell System" gives a more technical explanation of the analog network that the phreaks were exploring.
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This book is a quite detailed history of the rise of phone phreaking from the early 50s until the dawn of the 80s, with an entertaining mix of anecdotal, historical and technical details. Phone exploits are explained with just the amount of precision to make satisfy the technically minded yet without delving into tediousness. It also provides a nice background into the history of the telephone, and the evolution of its network in the USA.

While I enjoyed learning more about early telephone technology and the almost mythical phone phreaks that were the ancestors of computer hackers, I still found this book a bit tedious to read, especially after the first two thirds or thereabouts. There seems to be too much emphasis on the FBI investigations agains the phreaks and their sometimes pathetic response, compared on the first chapters on technological history and the discovery of various telephone exploits. ( )
1 vote timtom | Oct 27, 2013 |
I stayed up much, much too late reading this book. I loved it, but I also recognize that it's the kind of book where you probably have to go into it with a foundational interest in the subject matter - in this case, the phone phreaking of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, in which teenagers and young adults made a hobby out of finding and messing around with exploits in the AT&T phone system.

It also helps if you like phone history overall, which I do. The other big aspect of this book is a look at the evolution of the phone system, in terms of policy and equipment, which is so in-depth that one of two things will happen: you will be even more impressed by the ingenuity of the phone phreaks, OR you will think I'm a lunatic for being this excited by this book. It also explains a lot about the user experience through the decades, which is awesome in giving some context to the various outdated phone things depicted in books and movies -- like what is happening behind the scenes when operators placed voice calls, and you'll recognize (well, if "you" are a phone obsessed person) all the different variations on operator actions, codes and responses. ( )
1 vote delphica | Oct 14, 2013 |
I grew up in the computer hacker community of the 1980s and was surrounded by the legacy of phone phreaking, the terminology and culture was everywhere. However it was foreign country by then since new digital switching technology made phone phreaking largely obsolete and computers were better for hackers anyway. So this book was a great reveal on what the "Old Breed" hackers were about, the origin, the technology and some of the important phreakers (infamously "Captain Crunch" the first hacker to go to jail). The parallels between phone and computer hacking are so close they are nearly the same thing, one following the other. It all started here.

Basically during late 1950s and 60s, phreaking was practiced by a small number of very geeky people with strange phone obsessions; then in 1971 it crossed over into mainstream culture when Abby Hoffman co-opted it as part of a larger movement to fight the man. Then by the early 80s it was mostly gone. So it had about a 20 year run with the 70s as heyday. The connection between counter-culture and technology are very apparent. Much of the modern computer revolution is thanks to hackers.

The book is dense with random incident and character, I listened to the audio version and found 12hrs a bit draining though not impossible to follow. There is no great central narrative or mystery as it moves forward in time, each chapter almost a standalone essay on a certain period. I think it's better read then listened to, or listened to with no distraction. There are some challenging technical aspects and many dates and names that mean slowing down and re-reading is important at times. There is narrative on smaller scales that makes it pretty easy to follow. This is probably the definitive history of phone phreaking, Phil Lapsley has done a great service to interview the people before they disappear. ( )
  Stbalbach | Sep 24, 2013 |
I'm a little too young to have grown up in the phone phreak heyday, but as a toddler, I had neighbor who caught the tail end of it. Whenever there was a block party, he would round up us kids, take us to his room and show us a trick with the phone.

I can remember his tricks seeming like magic. To my toddler understanding of the world, the phone was a simple device — a box with either numbers for pushing (for fancy phones), or circle with finger holes that had the numbers 0 to 9 and letters above some of the holes for old fashioned numbers. It also had a hidden bell that would ring if a call came through. Making calls took picking up the phone, asking the operator or if you knew the number, dialing it.

What I didn't understand back then, was that between the two simple devices was a complex (and somewhat bodged together) system. The flaws and short cuts in the system were what made my neighbor's tricks possible.

Exploding the Phone by Philip Lapsley, then, is the history of the phone system in the early days, through the Ma Bell days, and the breakup of the company — and how users have explored and hacked the system in these different eras.

I really can't imagine a more perfect book for my personal library. I wish I also had a copy of The Phone Book by Ammon Shea as a companion piece. This book worked for me on so many levels: the early history, the lengthy but engaging description of the technology (both of the phone exchanges and that the phreaks used), and it's legacy effects on the infrastructure of the internet.

Although I originally read an egalley from NetGalley, I have since purchased a copy for my home library. I have lost track of how many people I have recommended the book to in the last couple of months. ( )
1 vote pussreboots | May 25, 2013 |
Following some of the first hackers, known as "phone phreaks", Exploding the Phone is a great mashup of the history of the telephone and the mostly innocent efforts to crack its system. Even beyond the tricks the hackers used, I was fascinated by the methods the telephone companies used to keep customers and earn money. This is a great, broad-reaching book that will interest almost any reader. ( )
  rivercityreading | Mar 31, 2013 |
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Epigraph
Phone phreak (n.) 1. A person who is obsessively interested in learning about, exploring, or playing with the telephone network. 2. A person who is interested in making free telephone calls.
Dedication
To the men and women of the Bell System, and especially to the members of the technical staff of Bell Laboratories, without whom none of this would have been possible.
First words
There it was again.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 080212061X, Hardcover)

Before smartphones, back even before the Internet and 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. Starting with Alexander Graham Bell’s revolutionary “harmonic telegraph,” by the middle of the twentieth century the phone system had grown into something extraordinary, a web of cutting-edge switching machines and human operators that linked together millions of people like never before. But the network had a billion-dollar flaw, and once people discovered it, things would never be the same.

Exploding the Phone tells this story in full for the first time. It traces the birth of long-distance communication and the telephone, the rise of AT&T’s monopoly, the creation of the sophisticated machines that made it all work, and the discovery of Ma Bell’s Achilles’ heel. Phil Lapsley expertly weaves together the clandestine underground of “phone phreaks” who turned the network into their electronic playground, the mobsters who exploited its flaws to avoid the feds, the explosion of telephone hacking in the counterculture, and the war between the phreaks, the phone company, and the FBI.

The product of extensive original research, Exploding the Phone is a ground-breaking, captivating book.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:21:07 -0400)

Before smartphones, before the Internet and before 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. Starting with Alexander Graham Bell's revolutionary "harmonic telegraph," by the middle of the twentieth century the phone system had grown into something extraordinary, a web of cutting-edge switching machines and human operators that linked together millions of people like never before. Unfortunately for the telephone company, the network has a billion-dollar flaw. And once people discovered it, things would never the be the same. Phil Lapsley's Exploding the Phone tells this story in full for the first time. It traces the birth of long distance communication and the telephone, the rise of AT&T's monopoly, the creation of the sophisticated machines that made it all work, and the discovery of Ma Bell's Achilles' heel. Lapsley expertly weaves together the clandestine underground of "phone phreaks" who turned the network into the electronic playground, the mobsters who exploited its flaws to avoid the feds, and the counterculture movement that argued you should rip off the phone company to fight against the war in Vietnam...AT&T responded with "Greenstar"...The FBI fought back, too...Phone phreaking exploded into the popular culture, with famous actors, musicians, and investors caught with "blue boxes," many of them built by two young phone phreaks named Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak...The product of extensive original research, including exclusive interviews and declassified government documents, Exploding the Phone is a captivating, ground-breaking work about an important part of our cultural and technological history -- Publisher's description.… (more)

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