Q From e-mail:
How did you make the blue box? Do you still own one? Also.. Do you have
the apple I still or any screen shots of it and programs? If so send me
some. Thanks,Andy age:12
I read an article in Esquire Magazine. It was about the October edition
in 1971. The article was entitled "Secrets of the Blue Box--fiction" by
Ron Rosenblum. Halfway through the article I had to call my best friend,
Steve Jobs, and read parts of this long article to him. It was about secret
engineers that had special equipment in vans that could tap into phone
cables and redirect the phone networks of the world. The article had blind
phone phreaks like Joe Engessia Jr. of Nashville, and the hero of them
all, Captain Crunch. It was a science fiction world but was told in a
very real way. Too real a way. I stopped and told Steve that it sounded
real, not like fiction. They gave too many engineering details and talked
on too real a way to have been made up. They even gave out some of the
frequencies that the blue box used to take control of the international
The next day was Sunday. Steve and I drove to SLAC (Stanford Linear Accelerator
Center, the same place the Homebrew Computer Club would meet 4 years later)
because they always left a door or two unlocked and nobody thought anything
about a couple of strangers reading books and magazines in their technical
library. Finally we found a book that had the exact same frequencies that
had been mentioned in the Esquire article. Now we had the complete list.
We went back to Steve's house and built two, somewhat unstable, multivabrator
oscillators. We could see the instability on a frequency counter, but
we were in a hurry. We would set one oscillator to 700 Hz and the other
to 900 Hz (for a "1") and record it on a tape recorder. Then we'd adjust
the oscillators and record the next digit, and so on. But it wasn't good
enough to make a call as in the article. So we tried one oscillator at
a time. It still wasn't good enough. I was off to Berkeley the next day
so it would be some weeks before I designed a digital blue box that never
missed a note. The key to debugging it was a guy in the dorm, Mike Joseph,
that had perfect pitch. If it didn't work, he'd tell me what notes he
heard. If one of them was a C-sharp and was supposed to be an A, I could
look up the C-sharp frequency and find out where my frequency divider
was off, and replace a diode that was bad. All my problems were diodes
that I bought at Radio Shack in a bag where some might actually work.
The key to the phone network then was a high E note, two octaves above
the high E string on a guitar. It was 2600 Hz. The Captain Crunch cerial
whistle could blow this note and seize a phone line. The blue box then
took over with it's dual frequency combinations known as 'multfrequency'
or MF, similar to touch tone frequencies but not the same. Some phone
systems worked on SF, or Single Frequency. The 2600 Hz Captain Crunch
whistle could make the entire call. One long whistle to seize the line,
a short one for a "1", two short ones for a "2", etc. The blind phone
phreak, Joe Engressia, could dial an entire call just by whistling it
out of his own mouth!
If you want to test this principal, play 2600 Hz into and long distance
call and you'll be disconnected. We had fun doing that in the dorms. But
don't be stupid and try to make a blue box today. It's much easier to
make or program, but you're nearly guaranteed to get caught right away
in most places. I experimented with it in 1972 but even then I paid for
my own calls. I only used the blue box to see how many things I could
I have Apple I's and original software and things but they're in storage
and I don't have time to get them out and get them working right now.
Q From e-mail:
Recently I've heard that Apple licensed floating point BASIC from Microsoft.
As I had programmed in microsoft BASIC on the IBM PC-XT as well I saw
no simularities to the Applesoft BASIC on my ][e so which is the truth?
Can you elaborate on how much Microsoft provided to AppleBASIC?
I wrote the original Apple Integer BASIC. I had wanted it to be the
very first BASIC for the 6502 microprocessor. I might then have something
to be recognized for. I decided that it had to play games and let me solve
engineering problems. I first wrote out a syntax with floating point but
then figured that it might be done a few weeks sooner with just integers.
I had to write it in the evenings as I worked at Hewlett Packard then.
So I cut back to an integer BASIC that I called "Game BASIC".
I'd never programmed in BASIC. My college had encountered Fortran, several
machine languages, Algol, and a couple of special languages. But you could
buy a book called "101 BASIC Games". Plus, the Gates/Allen BASIC was becoming
the standard thing to get for your Altair computer, although very few
people had these computers yet.
I'd never writting a computer language or taken a course in it, although
I'd studied books on my own touching on the topic. I have no idea to this
day if I wrote it as anyone else would. I broke the entire language down
into a syntax table that was stored in memory, in modified text form.
A word like "PRINT" was stored as the 5 letters. If you were allowed an
unsigned expression after some word, I stored a pointer to the syntax
of that type of expression, which specified what it could be made of.
Each line was compared, letter by letter, through this syntax table to
see if there was any valid BASIC statement.
I gave each symbol in the syntax table a particular code as on operator.
The word "PRINT" might be operator number 5 and "FOR" might be operator
number 13, etc. A plus sign had it's code too. A symbol like a minus sign
might have two different codes depending on whether it was prefix (like
-5) or infix (like 9-6). A variable or a number was an operand. I pushed
the operand references onto one stack and operator codes onto another.
But the operator codes each had 2 different priorities telling my BASIC
whether to push them on top of the topmost operator already on the stack,
or to pop that one off and generate the output program from it. Each operator
had a value for it's tendency to push others off, and a value for it's
resistance to being pushed off. For example, plus tends to push divide
off, causing the division to happen first. Strangely all this works.
Then I had to write one short routine for each of perhaps 100 operators.
These included keywords like "PRINT", mathematical operators like 'plus',
parenthesis, and other grammar symbols of BASIC.
It took a couple of months to get the BASIC to this shape, with an engine
that ran the whole thing. Then I would define a Syntax sentence in the
syntax table, along with any routines for any new operator symbols. I
would test it, get it working, and move on to the next syntax sentence
for the next BASIC statement. From this point on, things were very modular
and I was only writing very short programs.
Well, the BASIC was a very big success. Especially when I was able to
easily add statements and corresponding routines for color graphics and
game commands in the Apple ][.
We shipped some apps with our early Apple ]['s. Apps like ColorMath (a
flashcard program) and Breakout (a game I'd designed the hardware version
of for Atari). These apps were on casette tapes in 1976, before floppy
disks. Mike Markkula, who was our third and equal partner, was running
marketing for us (and much more!). He, and some young programmers, and
anyone else he could find, wrote our first checkbook program. It led to
two items heading our 'projects to do' list at a staff meeting. This sort
of program wanted floating point numbers (or a programmer like myself
who would have preferred integers) and also a floppy disk for speed. These
became my top two projects.
I rushed and got one of my favorite and most famous designs ever done
in 2 weeks, working every day of Christmas vacation, 1977, including Christmas
and New Years day. I'd never designed a floppy disk interface nor worked
with one. Nor did I have a clue what was in them. I set out this blind
and started designing stuff that would efficiently read and write floppy
disks with the new Shugart 5" mechanism. I wound up with 5 chips one day
doing the job, along with some low level 6502 software of my own. Randy
Wigginton helped me with this project. My motivation was that Mike Markkula
said that if we had the floppy ready to demo at the first CES show that
was to permit personal computers to be a part, in Las Vegas, in January.
I'd never been to Las Vegas, only dreamed of it. Well, I made the trip
and the floppy was a success for Apple.
I next started working on a new floating point BASIC. My design style
is to spend quite a bit of time thinking out every angle in my head and
in rough sketches, and then to start coding. The first results aren't
visible right away, but at the end they come up very quickly. Steve Jobs
got concerned that I wasn't making enough progress. He even accused me
of slacking and coming in at 10 AM in one staff meeting, but I pointed
out that I'd been laying out our floppy PC Card (of which I'm extremely
proud as I relayed it with one shift register shifting in the opposite
direction of my first design after I discovered that would cut the PC
board crossovers from 8 to 5, something nobody would ever see but that's
the drive for perfection) and that I'd been leaving at 4 AM every morning,
long after even the Houston brothers, Dick and Cliff, had left.
Somehow, we wound up with a Microsoft 6502 floating point BASIC one day.
I installed it (which involved a lot back then) and tested it. Since it
was already near completion, and only needed some graphics commands added
for our Apple, our own effort was best dropped. Mine might turn out better
in some regards, but wasn't worth the risk or effort. I have no idea if
this BASIC was written by Microsoft or just found by them. My biggest
disappointment was going to the awful string functions like LEFT$ (VAR,
5) and MID$ (VAR2,5,3) instead of my own, which were written VAR (1:5)
and VAR2 (5;8) for the first 5 characters and characters 5 through 8 of
I forget how much we paid Microsoft for this BASIC.