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Exploding the Phone: 05/25/13

cover art

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.

Five stars

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