Aug. 15th, 2011

I got into electronic communications as a kid. I had private clarinet lessons at the local university student union. One day I was staying late, waiting for my Mom to pick me up, when I wandered past two guys in the basement doing things with a phone and a box of wires. I asked them what they were doing.

"Get lost, kid," one of them growled.

"Unless you think it's cool to make free long-distance telephone calls," the other added. They ignored me and proceeded to prank-call the Irani embassy in DC. I watched, fascinated, as they used an electronic signal generator to make the tones necessary to control the phone network. Their little box made an 'E' note, although it sounded a little flat to me. It only worked about half the time, and often the phone phreakers would have to scrub their attempts and start over. I got out my clarinet.

"How about this?" I said, playing a pretty good 'E' at 2600 Hz. The long tone hung up their call. The college kids stared at me, astonished. We made a lot of calls that day.

In ten years time, there wasn't an Irani embassy anymore and I had a crude kit-built box called a 'personal computer' sitting in my garage. In twenty years I was running my own message board while decrypting packets for fun. In thirty years I had won and lost a fortune with dot-com startups and was spending a lot of time editing the first batch of Wikipedia pages.

In those days the new electronic age was like the open range. It was a free, wild place where you didn't have to follow any rules, because you made the rules; you made them for the few people like yourself that even knew this unexplored country existed. It was a place where you could make your own way, a true frontier. Those were exciting times to be alive.

But I got old, and the open range was tamed. All the good ideas had already been had; all the stunts one could pull had been anticipated and short-circuited. I got old and the electronic world got boring. So I found myself, a senior citizen, working on reverse-engineering first-rate hardware for a third-rate hardware company.

That's when my head started to hurt.

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