On phones and phreaks
The other day I tuned into Anonradio at a time when there was nothing on the
schedule. To my surprise I started hearing a very technical (and ridiculously
nerdy) discussion on the small sounds that different kinds of telephone
exchanges make when long distance calls are placed through them. The presenter
had a very professional radio voice, too, and I suspect this was enough of a
clue for SDF user Cat to let me know it was probably something by "Evan
Doorbell". Indeed it was, and it turns out the guy has a whole series of
podcasts entitled "How I became a phone phreak" that you can listen to on
SoundCloud (https://soundcloud.com/evan-doorbell, for as long as SoundCloud
still exists). Its tremendously interesting and well presented stuff, and I've
been listening to it on and off for the last few days, as well as reading lots
of Wikipedia articles about the PSTN (thanks to SDF user Tomasino for answering
some of my questions on Mastodon!).
I have been *aware* of the old phreaking culture for a very long time (in fact,
at one point I wore a "Blue Box" tshirt from 2600 magazine, back when I thought
they were cool), but never took part in it or really understood it. Possibly
this was due in large part that I'm too young to have participated back when the
scene was thriving. I'm young enough to have used landlines and payphones
because there was no other option, and I even remember using a pulse dialing
phone (and, later, disassembling our old pulse dial phone once we got a touch
tone and hooking it up to a bulb out of an old flashlight, so the light would
blink a number of times matching the digit you dialed, which at the time I
thought was super cool), but in-band control of the telphone system, so that you
could hear and record the exchanges communicating with one another, was totally
dead in Australia by that time. I also could never shake the perception that,
even though people talked about the thrill of "exploring the phone system", 90%
of phreaking was about getting free phonecalls, or being able to play obnoxious
pranks on people, or eavesdrop on people, or other stuff that teenage me was far
too much of a square to want to have anything to do with.
Even if that was true, though, after listening to Evan Doorbell's show and doing
a lot of reading, I now actually *totally* understand how a person could
genuinely be fascinated by exploring the phone system with no mallicious intent.
I don't think that as a kid I appreciated the timeframe that a lot of this stuff
was happening. The phreaks were doing their thing in the 60s and 70s. They
didn't have home computers and they sure as hell didn't have the internet. The
idea of a hierarchically structured network of electronic devices with
international scope that you could operate from your home must have seemed
pretty incredible to right kind of person, as the PSTN was the only thing like
it that existed. It was the nearest thing to an internet before there was an
internet, but it wasn't advertised as such and it took curiosity, persistence
and ingenuity to figure out to correctly think of it and use it as such. It
must have been really fascinating.
I've been an ARPA member of SDF for a few months now, and must admit that when I
signed up I had approximately zero interest in the VoIP functionality that this
entitled me to. I'm starting to rethink this, especially after learning that
SDF's VoIP system is hooked into something called C*NET, or The Telephone
Collector's Network (https://www.ckts.info/), which, as I understand it, will
let me use my internet connection to dial into all kinds of interesting obsolete
phone hardware, including stuff which should make audible sounds as a side
effect of doing what it does. Seems fun to play around with.
Do any other SDF members make use of the VoIP functionality on a regular basis?
Drop me an email if this is something you have interest in /experience with.