Fans raise cash to help phone phreaker John Draper, aka Cap‘n Crunch
An online fundraiser for legendary phone phreaker John Draper, better known as Cap’n Crunch, has passed its target $5,000 in just three days. Draper himself doesn’t even know who started the fundraiser, but the money is intended to help with his medical bills. According to a recent blog post, he suffers from both degenerative spine disease and C. Diff, an inflammation of the colon.
I want to thank with the bottom of my heart for an anonymous person for setting me up with qikfunder…. http://t.co/mwzDLLRpHH
— John Draper (@jdcrunchman) September 25, 2014
In conjunction with others in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Draper figured out that a toy whistle given out in boxes of Cap’n Crunch cereal emitted a tone at 2600 Hertz. By pure coincidence, that happened to be the tone AT&T used to reset its trunk lines. As a result, Draper became a legend in the nascent world of phone phreaking, a predecessor to early personal computer hacking.
These days, Draper has become something of an itinerant hacker. A 2007 profile of him in the Wall Street Journal described his “one-room apartment beside a four-lane expressway” in Southern California. It was a place “in squalor, with open cereal boxes, clothes in trash bags, computers, and old newspapers strewn about.”
Draper’s come a long way since his heyday decades ago. In 1971, he and his fellow phreakers’ exploits drew the attention of journalist Ron Rosenblum, then writing for Esquire magazine, who penned a lengthy story on the subject. When Steve Wozniak, then a student at UC Berkeley, read the article, he invited Draper to his dorm room. Shockingly, Draper showed up and proceeded to teach Wozniak, and then Steve Jobs, how to build a “blue box,” a device that would produce the 2600 Hertz tone.
Crunch, as he’s referred to in the piece, embodied the early hacker ethos. As he told Rosenblum:
“Ma Bell is a system I want to explore. It’s a beautiful system, you know, but Ma Bell screwed up. It’s terrible because Ma Bell is such a beautiful system, but she screwed up. I learned how she screwed up from a couple of blind kids who wanted me to build a device. A certain device. They said it could make free calls. I wasn’t interested in free calls. But when these blind kids told me I could make calls into a computer, my eyes lit up. I wanted to learn about computers. I wanted to learn about Ma Bell’s computers. So I built the little device. Only I built it wrong and Ma Bell found out. Ma Bell can detect things like that. Ma Bell knows. So I’m strictly out of it now. I don’t do it. Except for learning purposes.” He pauses. “So you want to write an article. Are you paying for this call? Hang up and call this number.”
Draper, now in his early 70s, still seems to have retained his raison d’être. Last month, he wrote a detailed post about his hospital stay in Las Vegas. “They tied a snitch wire on me, so if I exit the wheelchair it goes off and the nurses come running,” he wrote. “I figured out how to disable it, after all, I’m a hacker, but I decided not to mess with it.”
On Sunday morning, Draper took questions on a reddit AMA.