Hi everyone,

My name is John Draper, you may also know me as Cap’n’Crunch. I’m ready for all your questions!

Here's my proof: https://twitter.com/jdcrunchman/status/516269921005604864

Here’s a nice story about me:

The esquire article had come out, and came to the attention of Woz, who contacted me through a trusted friend, and he wanted me to show him how to use the blue box. His box was digital, but rock solid frequencies. I told him it would never work, but on some phones, the carbon mikes in the phone smoothed the waves so it would barely work, perhaps one time in 10. He wanted me to show him how to call the pope. After many tries, we got the Vatican, it being 4:30 in the morning in Rome, he told them he was Henry Kissinger, then the sec of State, and wanted to confess.

I actually got busted because a careless friend who knew my phone number got busted for using the Woz box. My conditions for giving out my number, was that they had to memorize it, no problem for blind people. One such person Richard Ceasar violated my trust, which was during the time the federal government was raiding some of the phone phreaks they could catch, but could never find me, because there was no reference to me. A big Grand jury investigation resulted from the Esquire article. Woz's box set off all kinds of alarms in the 4A switch was how they busted Richard.

I had met Steve jobs many years before he started Apple. I was closer to Woz then jobs because Woz was an engineer, as I was. He actually got me an employee discount to the HP35 a post fix calculator I used in colleges when he was working for HP. I was the envy of my class at De Anza College in Cupertino where I was taking engineering courses.

This was after I showed Woz and jobs the blue box. Jobs stated there would be no Apple computer without the blue box, and this is true, because the initial money Woz needed came from selling them, which went into laying out and producing the printed circuit for the apple one.

Right after Woz developed the Apple one, I had to serve my time at Lompoc Federal prison. Lompoc was a minimum security facility located near Vandenberg Air Force Base. There were no fences or walls. But very clearly marked signs that said "out of limits". Before going in, I arranged a system for making free phone calls. That had to be arranged before actually getting to Lompoc. They only allowed collect calls, and no 800-number calls, and there wasn't even a dial on the phone. All I had to do was to call to a certain number that would "except" the call.

I had phone freaking classes in jail. They were disguised as electronic classes, right under the noses of the jailers. We had very little supervision from the jail guards. I had modified an FM radio that would tune into the guards frequencies, so I can tell when they were coming.

By the time I got out of Lompoc, Steve had just finished designing the Apple II. It was a convention in Los Angeles where Steve was demonstrating the Apple II for the first time. Steve invited me to join him at Apple. This was a time when you weren't really assigned a job, but you could pretty much work on what you wanted to work on, as long as it promoted and enhanced the sale of the main product. Woz suggested that I build a telephone interface to the Apple II. This was an era where smoking was permitted in the workplace. They set up an annex building near their main office where Steve, myself, Randy Wigginton, and a few others working on the Apple peripherals. I threw Mike Scott out of my office for smoking, he was CEO of Apple then.

The telephone interface board was called the Charlie board. It could send and receive any tones, or tone pairs. It also had software controls for controlling the hook switch, and other functions regarding controlling the telephone. Tones were generated in Software using a 256 byte sin table and tone tables defining the frequencies.

Steve Jobs decided not to market the board, because it could be used for "illegal things" because of it's high flexibility, but the main reason, was because it was illegal to connect directly to the telephone line. Company provided a "interface device" that would allow one to connect directly to the telephone. Rental of the device was $250 a month, and was unfeasible to require customers to use this. Expensive device for the phone board, so it was never marketed. After I delivered the phone board to Woz, left a note on his desk with a cassette tape with the software, and asked him to try out. I wrote a simple interface program which would allow you to enter in a phone number and dial it. As a prank, Steve modified the program, to call Steve Job's home phone number over and over again and let it run all night. I go into the office, and Steve really laid it on the thick and heavy. He then lit up a big fat cigar and puffed it in my face as revenge. I got so sick, I couldn't work for the rest of the day.

I went on to write EasyWriter, the WordPress program, because I needed a program to write documentation to FORtH, a language I was writing with the grace of the Forth Interest group and I as designated to write it for the Apple II. I was urged to market the word processor program. we couldn't copy the disks fast enough to keep up with the sales, and I was still in jail, at a Work Furlough program where they let me attend the Faire. I wrote all of it while in in jail, they would let me go to an office during the day under very close supervision, and before going back to jail I would print a fresh copy of the source code (in FORTH) and study and modify the code at night. It was an ideal (but unorthodox) programming situation. I would go back and type in the modifications, run it through this cool debugger I wrote. Then after testing, I found very few bugs, and started writing the next session, and repeat until it was finished. I did it in 3 months of my 4 month stay at Alameda County Work furlough facility.

The word processor was very popular for the Apple II and made it's appearance at the 4th West coast computer faire. It made number two on the Soft Talk magazine hit parade. IBM started sneaking around, trying to locate software vendors to write a word processor for the IBM PC. They contacted Microsoft, and they contacted us. We beat out Bill Gates, and got out word processing program functioning much earlier than Microsoft, so IBM bundled EasyWriter with every IBM PC sold. There were some shady dealings with my publisher, which resulted in a lawsuit, and a major loss of my royalties.

I went off to do different things, living off the royalties of EasyWriter Until IBM stopped publishing it. Recently, I learned I have a degenerative spine disease which was the main reason for my health issues, I had one surgery in 2009 for my lower back, another one in 2010 for me neck, and this most recent surgery took 9 hours where the doctors put 4 large screws in my spine.

Insurance company covered most of the expense, but learned a lot of items I need for recovery are not covered and are fairly expensive.

Through some contacts I know, a QikFunder has been started up. https://www.qikfunder.com/crowdfund/help-john-draper-captain-crunch

Plus BBC picked it up. http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-29381279

I've already reached my goal, and during DefCon this year, a large "get well" card was written up and signed by the contestants of the Scavenger hunt and was presented to me in the hospital, and pictures are on my facebook time line.

EDIT: I had a great time answering your questions! All of these questions were very good ones, and I answered each and every question thanks to some help from my friend. I hope to run another AMA sometime in the near future to answer any update questions. Don't forget to visit my website www.webcrunchers.com for updates and always visit my Facebook every day because I always have cool things up there!

Comments: 742 • Responses: 52  • Date: 

Draestrix508 karma

You hear a lot about Steve Jobs and his infamous temper. Did you have a lot of interaction with him, and are those rumors exaggerated? What did you think of him?

Jdcrunchman1228 karma

Personally, I think Jobs was a jerk. He treated his programmers like shit but his driving force was really necessary to urge his team to produce. Thats not to say his team wasn't treated to a working retreat at a very expensive resort in Hawaii. I had as little interaction with him as possible, because I was working in an annex at Apple's first headquarters in Cupertino.

adri0801314 karma

How wealthy are you?

Jdcrunchman745 karma

Not wealthy at all.... all my EasyWriter royalties dried up many years ago, I'm living on Social Security, earning just enough to pay rent and 2 utilities, phone and internet. Not enough for food, and now some of my medical expenses.

adri0801110 karma

Oh wow, you should get in contact with General Mills and try and sell your soul to them!

Jdcrunchman268 karma

General Mills has left me alone because I call myself The Crunchman as my name, but of other people call me Capn Crunch, it's not my fault. I'm jdcrunchman on ALL Social networks including wickr. Android and iPhone users should use this app, it's as close as you are going to get to being NSA proof.

CloudMage1295 karma

What was your favorite "hack"?

Jdcrunchman655 karma

when Kevin Mitnick social engineered his wiretap to be taken down.

NorbitGorbit291 karma

Woz’s crank call to the pope is a famous story, but I haven’t heard too many others from the blue box scene. What are your favorites?

Jdcrunchman857 karma

I remember the time when Woz got caught red handed with his box at a payphone by police, he told the cop it was a synthesizer.

Because of the power of the blue box, we had the capability of jumping in on others calls during this time. An acquaintence who approached me regarding blue boxes was asking me some suspicious questions, so I tapped his line and learned he was an informant.

I also tapped the FBI's line.

Dexadrine207 karma

Dude! WTF? 76 comments in 2 hours?

Wow, people who remember the old VT100 days must have up and died this week.

What do you think of the possibility of white space mesh communications networks? Thus far, it seems pretty cool. But considering that people haven't made much progress with conventional wifi or RF systems, I dunno.

Jdcrunchman242 karma

I find this technology technically exciting but we better get our asses together in the event something might happen to the internet, because mesh networks might actually replace it if the world goes to hell in a hand basket.

yourofl10151 karma

[deleted]

Jdcrunchman164 karma

I know two Aarons, one in Thailand, and one in LA, which one are you? I'm doing great, having lots of fun working this AMA!

puketehnope142 karma

What are you working on right now? Anything large we can expect in the future?

Jdcrunchman258 karma

Right now, healing myself with exercises, and learning how to walk. I'm going to need to hire my own physical therapist to work with me in healing me after my insurance runs out next week, and having to take shitloads of meds.

As soon as i'm healed enough to travel, I want to go off somewhere on a retreat with my hired book author and write my book, and I'm acting as an advisor to a company in Thailand and need to get back to them.

Then, just recently, I am being considered as an advisor by a person who I have yet to meet.

gataco101 karma

Thank you for taking the time to do this, after reading all of this, I can only say you are a badass. Are you still an Apple supporter? What is your current rig/setup like?

Jdcrunchman149 karma

I have an apple laptop, an iPad running ios 7, and an iPhone running ios 6.

gataco56 karma

Why do you like Apple? I am quite curious why your iPhone is running ios 6?

Edit: Forgot to add what verison

Jdcrunchman126 karma

I like older versions because they are faster, and you are right, I should upgrade.

None of my devices are jailbroken.

Yanmega96 karma

Hey dude- you got me into computers. Thanks for that.

What was your best call?

Jdcrunchman193 karma

Calling tricky dick about my constipation problem.

Peets_Bedroom91 karma

I know there are a few documentaries and things about your incredible life, and I love your stories on Webcrunchers. But is there an official Crunch bio or autobiography in the pipeline? I'll bet the publishing houses would snap it up.

Jdcrunchman147 karma

I'm making many attempts to earn enough money to write my book. An effort is being made to achieve this, including perhaps another QikFunder project. I need to hire a professional writer. But so far, wrote 13 chapters including a polished chapter on Woz.

Peets_Bedroom68 karma

Well I can promise that your fans are very much looking forward to it. And 13 chapters is a pretty encouraging start. Do you ever see much of Mr Woz nowdays? From his Twitter posts he seems to be living mostly out of an aeroplane. The last we saw you two together was that docu with you, him and Mitnick.

Jdcrunchman106 karma

Hardly, I had 3 email exchanges with him last night asking for a retweet, he replied "No Time" but referred me to this possible job. He's on his way to Hong Kong and eventually to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

His travel and speaking schedule is plain brutal. I pity the poor chap. But as long as he's having fun, thats what counts.

Peets_Bedroom39 karma

I recently attended an interesting lecture on integrating VoIP systems with Ruby. Have you ever been tempted to play with the likes of Asterisk, or are telephonics very much a part of your past now?

Jdcrunchman59 karma

I setup an Asterisks system just to play with and make cheap calls to Europe through a network of others. But for the most part, telephonics are in the past for me.

lewisje89 karma

What is your view of Tor?

Jdcrunchman158 karma

I LOVE IT.... although I don't use it, mostly because my iPad version sucks.

Strimkind82 karma

What are your thoughts on today's hackers?

Jdcrunchman163 karma

I have mixed feelings... due to media exposure and new hacker law enforcement tools, hacking is very dangerous and I discourage it, and No, the law enforcement people did not tell me to say that. With "Stingray", law enforcement can take total control of cell phone towers, and of course the NSA's famous "Vacuum cleaner" in effect, pretty much states that hackers are passe, then we have to trojan writers, and even them are getting shut down.

hackertripz79 karma

Where there such thing as phone phreaking meetups where people in the community would come together and show off their skills?

Jdcrunchman116 karma

Yes, these were in the form of audio conferences setup by phone phreaks. The most popular required a blue box, where they would dial 604-2111

I subscriber phone cannot dial that number, and was the center piece for the grand jury investigation, because as Van Couver was converting over to MF (Multi-freq), the phone phreaks stayed on the conference as it was being torn down, word has it that the FBI urged Canada to leave the conference up, to build cases on the participants.

Also, some phreaks social engineered switchmen to open up conference calls.

hackertripz34 karma

It sounds like phone phreakers were spread across the globe. However, were there any cities in particular that gathered a strong member base? Specifically, did you know of people phreaking in Chicago?

Jdcrunchman58 karma

I don't recall meeting any in Chicago. Most in LA, Seattle, San Jose, New York and after my incarceration, toll fraud expanded thousands of times then before that, so my phone phreaking programs and lessons I've given in jail, seem to actually have my "students" remember their lessons.

everyoneisthinkinit66 karma

[removed]

Jdcrunchman75 karma

Thank you, I'm honored.

SquirrelBrains64 karma

What is your favorite memory of Woz?

Jdcrunchman205 karma

When I was invited to his superbowl party, and he was sitting alone playing tetris on a little tetris gameboy while everybody was partying around him. That is like my favorite memory of Woz.

igorw62 karma

Do you still do any programming these days? In what languages, and on which platforms?

Jdcrunchman109 karma

I do very little programming these days due to the limitation on how long I can sit at a computer. My latest work involved writing small program in Ruby (just because I'm learning it) which took an entire day, when my boss in Thailand could have done it in 20 mins. I could have done it in Python, which I'm strongest in.

I'm also doing some work on a Raspberry Pi project, which is on hold at the moment.

NicknameInCollege62 karma

Good afternoon John, first let me tell you that your story has been an incredible inspiration to me. From the moment I heard the story of your blue box back in high school my life had immediately changed. You helped me find my passion for exploring the bounds of otherwise commonplace systems, which has made me many friends and given me indescribable experiences in my life. Thank you very much for sharing what you do!

For my question, I have to ask what your opinion of 2600 Magazine is. I pick up every copy I can find and I feel like it is the communities attempt to carry on your legacy. What do you think of that?

P.S. I am a huge fan of yours and wish you the best of luck in your recovery.

Jdcrunchman54 karma

I thank you for nice comment... 2600 still going strong, I read a copy when I can.

Zliko51 karma

Any nostalgia for good ol' hacking/phreaking days where it was more hands on/hw boxes analog>digital stuff going on, than these days of pure digital world? Do you think novelty hacking is slowly moving more to the, now more accessible, areas of biotech and robotics?

hope you recover soon and that we will see that book one day published! :)

Jdcrunchman113 karma

There are usergroups for these things like Raspberry Pi, Arduino, and a host of other lower level microcontroller groups which are driving the hacker field these days, then there is pen testing of course which requires lots of legal backing to protect the hacker.

I would like to see genetic hacking, where people can create new life forms, but right now, that is sci fi.

I'm also wanting to see more research into stem cell technologies, perhaps it might happen before I die, and I can repair broken parts of my body.

burgerbecky47 karma

Do you remember an Apple ][ hacker by the name of Dr. Death?

Jdcrunchman66 karma

There were so many of these then hackers, back then known as pirates, starting BBS's which I never had time for getting on.

hackertripz39 karma

Were you involved in the Home Brew Computer Club when it started? Did you ever meet Timothy Leary? And what do you think of virtual reality?

Jdcrunchman60 karma

I made the 3rd meeting, I was out of town that first meeting. But before that, there was this non profit entity called the Peoples Computer Center, where they gave public access to PDP 8 mini computer. Do you remember them? Every Wed, they had a potluck dinner, where most of the people started the home brew. It was precursor to the home brew. Search google for the home brew reunion which happened in March of last year, Woz was there, and they paid my air fare, and I was staying at Daniel Kottkes place, one of the very first Apple employees.

SexyShrimp37 karma

Can you talk more about what programming was like in the early days of apple? You mentioned EasyWriter. What language did you write that in?

Jdcrunchman51 karma

I wrote it in Forth, as a member of the FORTH interest group, Bill Ragsdale gave me an early version of Forth. it was the only language I used for several years because it was so cool. Then, I learned C.

ProfOak_35 karma

Something I've always wondered... Do you still know the ins and outs of the telephone system, or is it much less fun now?

Also, could you tell the president he's out of toilet paper for me? Thanks.

Jdcrunchman59 karma

I already did.... the phone company now all use digital switches, thus blocking all access, but if you know the computer access to these switches you can control them.

tbagman33 karma

You were a notable figure in a major technological upheaval, and you lived through several more. How apparent were these before the fact, or while they were happening? Do you have a sense of the next to come?

Jdcrunchman59 karma

Absolutely not... I graduated from Pioneer high, went to san Jose City college, joined the USAF to avoid the draft, discharged and if I had stayed in upper New York state, I would have caught woodstock.

I got home, let my hair grow down to my back, got on the GI Bill to go back to college but within weeks of getting back, I drive around Palo Alto and walk into this company with my security clearance still good and got hired for the Military Industrial Complex as a technician, until I realized what I was making was being used in missiles to kill people I resigned and worked in the consumer division of National Semiconductor as an engineering tech building test jigs for the LM101, 741, et.

Slobbadobbavich33 karma

I heard you wrote most of easywriter in prison and you taught other prisoners whilst in there. Did they teach you anything or did you learn anything whilst in jail?

Jdcrunchman65 karma

I already mentioned that in OP, and I learned how to be invisible and make friends with the biggest, baddest dude, so I was almost untouchable, except I unintentionally gave one brute bad info, and he was the one responsible for fucking me up good. I was in infirmary for a few days, and my lower back was never the same again. This was in Pennsylvania.

Reproducing_Automata30 karma

What is the most interesting thing being developed/researched, in your opinion, right now in the world of tech?

Also, is there something today that still blows your mind that we have/can do or socitey have accepted?

As in response to another answer you gave: Since you have a meager income, have you ever thought about getting into the podcast/youtube game? Making a "hacks of history" kind of thing maybe, showing off the idea behind different exploits and technologies in a format where younger people could better understand what did go on "back in the days"?

Jdcrunchman42 karma

Q1 - Genetic engineering, and biotech. Q2 - the internet Q3 - Sounds like a good idea, in fact, I have "2600 Crunch" on youTube.

And check out http://webcrunchers.com

brazeau22 karma

If you could give your 30-year-old self advice after looking back, what would it be? (I'm a 30 year old communications technologist)

Jdcrunchman39 karma

Boy, you got me there. I would encourage you to go out and do something amazing.

SocksForBreakfast22 karma

I just figured out where I remembered your name from.. Jolly Roger's Cookbook! Did you ever talk to/meet the Jolly Roger or have any hand in the contents of that book? There was a lot of phreaking info in it

Jdcrunchman25 karma

I may have in another lifetime, but the name is obviously very familiar.

ogginoggin21 karma

Who in today's computing world do you most admire - and why?

Jdcrunchman49 karma

Steve Wozniak of course, he inspired me greatly.

nunstuckit16 karma

I wrote a paper in eighth grade about computer viruses and chose to introduce phone phreaking as one of the modern computer viruses' predecessors. I believe I wrote an entire page on you (the paper was 15 pages long, in all) I was so proud of it, but the teacher never gave it back and now I am bitter. How can you help me settle up with Ms. Henrion?

Jdcrunchman30 karma

What grade did you get?

lualducor16 karma

Did you fully recovered from your Shoulder injuries?

Jdcrunchman37 karma

NO WAY, I was told 8 months of recovery and meds I have to take for the rest of my life. I'm just now learning how to walk, and if I'm lucky, I might be able to drive in a few months. I have to use a walker when going outside. I have to depend on others to take me to the store, and luckily the store has a scooter.

Peets_Bedroom19 karma

Do you have any public comment for the idiot who grabbed you at Defcon? I mean sure, your condition was bound to deteriorate anyway, but that must have agitated the heck out of it and speeded things along.

Jdcrunchman33 karma

The story was that at a defcon party, a jubilant fan grabbed me a lot harder then my neck could bear, which displaced a disk in my neck. I would ask him if I found out who it was, because i never saw him again at the party.

It took a few days, before I had severe tingling in my fingers, then my hands and arms started to fail. I had surgery in my neck here they put metal to keep disc in place, so far, no neck problems.

Dexadrine-1 karma

So, given that you're somewhat crippled now, what would you say to wearing a powered exoskeleton to get around? Too evil, too Darpa like? ;)

Jdcrunchman6 karma

Too evil and this back brace is so confining and I have to wear this for at least 3 more months.

castmemberzack16 karma

Have you read Ghost in the Wires? I'm pretty sure he used a version of blue box for his first "crimes" at Mcdonalds. Would using a blue box at a drive through still work today?

Jdcrunchman26 karma

Yes, it was a "page turner". No, blue boxes stopped working by 1980, it was possible then, but insanely risky.

fone-btc15 karma

Did you have any dealings with Mitnick during the phone phreaker period or shortly thereafter?

Jdcrunchman40 karma

No, Mitnick was more then 15 years after my experience with phone phreaking. I learned about him in the 90's when FBI was chasing his ass.

Since then, I've met him on many occasions and in fact we both live in Las Vegas, and when I moved here last year, I invited him for my housewarming party, but he declined. I assume he is too must making bank breaking into computers legitimately as a pen tester, making more money per hour than most people make in a month.

Slobbadobbavich14 karma

If you could relive your life, what would you do differently?

Jdcrunchman30 karma

LOTS OF THINGS.

Slobbadobbavich15 karma

Can you think of any pivotal moment in your life as an example?

Jdcrunchman64 karma

By not giving Richard Ceasor my phone number. He was busted using the Woz box, and that was the only link the FBI had to me.

primataxdeus14 karma

You participated in the beginning of one of the most revolutionary movements in the history of mankind (Home computer), and considered a legend in the hacker culture. That said, how was deal with it?

Jdcrunchman25 karma

It had it's UPS and DOWNS... a really rough ride.

be_nice_reddit14 karma

[deleted]

Jdcrunchman17 karma

Being somewhat connected to Hollywood, I have a few prospects, but still not sure who I would choose to play me in a movie. Usually, one has to go through central casting and choose a star available.

Slobbadobbavich14 karma

How well did you know Joe Engressia and did you keep in touch with him?

Jdcrunchman21 karma

I first met him in 1971 when I was on a business trip and the airlines offered a triangle fare for only $99, and my company agreed to pay it.

It was in Memphis, and he liked to go swimming every day, and ride on high rise elevators.

hackertripz12 karma

What was it like working in the Air Force?

Jdcrunchman21 karma

Lots of KP, cleaning things, but my main AFSC was radar repair the AC&W system which has all changed. I was assigned to the worst places possible, Indian Mt AFS Alaska and Maine.

sgggrg10 karma

If you were a younger man in today's world would you be hacking thing like you did in the 80s/90s?

Jdcrunchman17 karma

Probably. Just doing it legally this time.

roflmaoshizmp9 karma

Ever thought of pursuing a career in pen-testing or has the time for that passed?

Jdcrunchman20 karma

Time has passed, for me, also don't have any legal protection in place.

iseedoug7 karma

I have probably watched every documentary that you have even appeared in for 30 seconds. After such an awesome life, what are you doing now-a-days?

Jdcrunchman11 karma

I'm honored

lualducor7 karma

What was the most memorable experience from your trip to Colombia back at 2011?

-I Still feel guilty for not thanking you Plentifully for visiting us when you came here, so once again. Thanks a lot for coming, hope you get well.

Jdcrunchman14 karma

I felt like I was essentially a rock star, there was so much attention to me that I had to go to the speakers area to take occasional breaks. It was bitterly cold to my standards and the altitude was killing me. I had to pinch myself to believe I was actually on the equator. The people were great and I had a great memorial time. Good memories!

SausageManDan5 karma

You're a huge inspiration for me, like massive.

Your time in prison is quite well known in the world, the question is, as we all have times where we just want to give up, were there any moments like that for you that you came so close to throwing in the towel? And if so, what made you to continue?

Thank you for doing this, I wish you a speedy recovery and the health that a true pioneer deserves!

Jdcrunchman10 karma

Yes, I had these moments, but I would try and go off and be alone to write my memoirs which will be partially in my book.

rldr1 karma

can you call mojave? i just wanted to tell you thank you in person. i will be on in 5.

Jdcrunchman4 karma

I don't have time to make phone calls for people. But I can call anywhere in the world for free, legally.