Chapter 10

A vintage cover of 2600 MagazineAnyone interested in the hacker community should be familiar with 2600 Magazine. The title of the magazine refers to the magical frequency of 2600 Hz, a tone which once caused a great deal of trouble for American Telephone & Telegraph.

In the book, John Fagan’s old friend Winston Smith is the editor-in-chief of a publication that’s loosely based on 2600. In this chapter, Edward Latrell’s man Nathan Krieger is seeking evidence on the identity of the magazine’s most infamous contributor, who’s known (to the public) only as phr33k.

2600 is the longest-running and the most venerable of publications devoted to the electronic underground, but it wasn’t the first. That honor (as far as I know) belongs to YIPL, the newsletter for the Youth International Party Line, begun by Abbie Hoffman (of the Chicago 7) and the pseudonymous “Al Bell” in the early ’70s. There were computers back then, but almost no one had access to them; YIPL was more concerned with the phone system.

(Tune out now if you know all about this next part; not everyone does.) In the United States of those days, there was a strong, radical and vocal uprising boiling over against the Establishment. And to many, AT&T (the only phone company) represented a prominent part of that oppressive force in America. The anti-war efforts, the drug culture, the sexual revolution, women’s liberation, and many other diverse movements were somehow combining organically to form a YIPL scan from 1973powerful, widespread voice of resistance against The Man.

Hoffman’s group, the Yippies, promoted action as opposed to words, and YIPL was the publication they used to spread the message. Phreaking was the term Hoffman created for his anti-AT&T actions, which were mostly confined to spreading forbidden knowledge and obtaining free long-distance phone calls. In the book, John Fagan was Hoffman’s inspiration for this new area of technological radicalism.

Above is a quick scan I just took from an old issue of YIPL on my bookshelf. Note to adventurers: even if it was complete and readable, the Red Box schematic there won’t work today, though it might get you hauled in and questioned, so don’t try anything cute.

For more on Abbie Hoffman and his movement, in his own words, read Steal This Book.

But back to the present day. Unlike their common, blanket depiction in the media, true hackers are explorers, inventors, and experimenters, not vandals or thieves. Criminals exist in all categories, but it’s a serious mistake to lump the good guys in with the rare bad seed. Wozniak, Kamen, Jobs, Gates(!) and many other household names have at one time or another been members of that elite community, along with thousands of others whose names most of us will never know. But we owe most of the technological advances of the information age to them, in one way or another, and I hope they’re always out there, going strong.