More on the passing of old-school phone phreaker Joybubbles

One week ago, we pointed to news that an early hacker named Joybubbles had passed on (previous BB post). Reader Adam Aviv writes in with word of obituaries that offer more insight into the life of this man:

The New York Times recently ran an obituary of Joybubbles, AKA Joe Engressia. He was a pioneer of telephone touch-tone hacking, or Phone-Phreaking and is dead at the age of 58. The article is a fascinating read of a fascinating man. Blind, Engressia had perfect pitch and learned how to recreate the touch-tons necessary to move the switches at AT&T in the 70's. Using this technique, him and a community of others, were able to get the switches to do their bidding. Thus began the revolution and inspiration for many computer scientist and network freaks.

Later in life, he also hosted a weekly telephone story time from Mineapolis, similar to Mr. Rogers. Clips of which can be found in an NPR interview with Ron Rosenbaum of Slate, who first published an interview with him in Esquire in 1971.

RIP JoyBubbles.

Image: Associated Press, 2005.

Update: That 1971 Esquire magazine article by Ron Rosenbaum in which Joybubbles is featured is available online, and a fascinating read: Link.

BoingBoing reader Eric Etherige adds,

This is the post you've been waiting for: an item on Joe Engressia by Ron Rosenbaum, the legendary magazine writer who wrote that 1971 article for Esquire.

Wow, no kidding. Here's a snip:

He was a great American character, a Thomas Edison/Gyro Gearloose folkloric figure and someone who, despite his hardships was a truly wonderful personality. He and the phone phreak/hacker phenomenon spoke to the love/hate relationship America has with technology: we love what tech does for us, but we love the techno outlaws who know how to subvert it and show us humans are still the boss.

About 15 years ago Joe changed his name to "Joybubbles" and dedicated his life to the sensibility of five year olds. I wondered about that, but I realized it's about play and how hackerdom preserves the spirit of play in an increasingly antiseptic, joyless, cyberworld.

Joe deserves credit for creating, with his phone phreaking, the first electronnic web; the world will miss a lovely spirit, but it's a spirit that lives on in the World Wide Web.


Bb reader Dave C says,

When I read that he was blind it reminded me of something. I live in the Twin Cities and back in the 80's, if you looked at the very end of the phone book, the last listing was for something called 'Zzzzyzzerrific Funline' or something similar to that. When you called it the recording was always by the same guy who would usually tell you a bit about himself including the fact he was blind. He always talked in a sort of sing song voice. A quick check on Wikipedia confirmed my suspicion! I never knew I was listening to a legend! Great memories. He will be missed.