Question: If you go to a conference what's the one thing you need above all else?
Answer: Business cards.
Problem: Business cards suck. You give them out, other people accept them graciously, and then, nine times out of ten, they toss them Usually this happens with some head scratching on their part after looking at your card a week later and saying, "Who was that?"
Opportunity: My pal Kenton forwarded me a link to some highly memorable business cards. I got to wondering: what kind of a card could I make for a hacker conference that would be memorable?
Inspiration: A printed-circuit board! But since I was giving a talk on the history of phone phreaking, there was really only one choice: a blue box PCB.
(Digression: For the uninitiated, a blue box is an electronic tone-generating widget that phone phreaks used to control the long-distance telephone network. Blue boxes were the scourge of AT&T in the 1960s and 1970s but the network has been immune to them since the mid-1980s.)
Serendipity: I have been corresponding with Don Froula, a phormer phone phreak. Turns out that, just for ducks, he recently designed a single-chip blue box made up of modern components. Over the course of several days we turned his design into a layout for a printed circuit board and then ordered 350 of them through Advanced Circuits. They were shipped directly to my hotel room at the conference and arrived the day before my presentation -- talk about just-in-time inventory management!
Result: A cute little business card that you can assemble and use as a blue box! I gave out 200 of them after my talk. They went like hot cakes.
Conundrum: But where on Earth can you use a blue box if the telephone network no longer uses those musical little tones?
Realization: Not where, but when! You need a time machine. And that's when Project MF comes in. Mark Abene and Don Froula developed a set of patches for the open-source Asterisk PBX system that makes it pretend to be an old-school telephone switch from the 1970s. And with that you now have a perfectly legal place to test out your blue box and experience the joys of the telephone network from days gone by.