Phone Losers of America – The Book.
I should have written this a while ago, but I finished reading the book written by Brad Carter himself.
Why I Bought This Book (3 of them actually)
My first thoughts about exploring our digital world were almost haunting. It was about 2002, or so, and I was molded into what society wanted me to be; scared. Horror stories from the news channels, “Freedom Downtime,” old text files, and more all beat any thoughts of exploring out of me in fear of being beaten by law enforcement, or worse, thrown in prison (to which I am actually highly allergic to, I believe).
So I decided to rather explore what other people my age were doing. I started with BinRev forums, which I thought was very informational. I would write down test numbers people had posted for my area and would run down to a payphone and test them out. Eventually, I landed a job at a cellular provider. I was very interested in wireless technology at the time, and by then cracking WEP was also hot subject. I soon realized that the phone the company provided me with wasn’t logged or monitored in anyway, so I decided to do more things with it. I started wardialing and dialed several thousand phone numbers provided by the local CO, or switch near my home. I liked the phone system. It was concrete and hid secrets all over the place. I started looking at telephone poles, and learned which wires did what. I started examining the boxes attached to the poles and some in rural areas that stuck out of the ground. I climbed up poles and took pictures, wrote down phone numbers left behind by the technicians and even started making lists.
Finally, around 2006 or so, I found the Phone Losers of America. The PLA helped me to see things. For instance, their website and forums were so welcoming, that it felt more like a community than BinRev did. BinRev had nice info on phreaking, but it soon found it’s way to the PLA forums anyways, so after a while I decided to just stop going to BinRev. I discovered PLA radio and thought it was amazing. I had a small 4GB ipod at the time and put them on it. Soon after, I found more and more awesome phone phreaking radio shows and sound clips. The Evan Doorbell – Phone Trips was my all time favorite. These were sound clips of a man calling and recording sounds and things that the phones would make while in operation. The show that made me realize, it’s okay to explore was Default Radio. Those guys found things that sounded awesome. There were a few episodes of Doug TV in which Lucky225 was messing around with a cool sounding test set call a Proctor Test Set, and talking about hybrid payphones, and having random fun exploring things digitally that inspired me. I started doing more. I even obtained a Bearcat scanner and listened to a few cordless phone calls (though for some reason, I could only hear one way of the conversation sometimes.?) all because of the PLA.
So, I started buying random parts from radio shack and making phreaking boxes. I had about 5 or 6 different boxes to play with and test. I started rummaging through dumpsters and started keeping track of all the best nights to find cool hardware / files from different local phone companies and cellular providers. I started some free websites on homestead.com, and made a lot of great friends in #lunatics on EFNET. Finally, I had enough content to buy a sub-domain and have a cooler website; 2Dial*Phreak
I prepared for the worst. I thought up a lot of scenarios about being busted and knew pretty much exactly what to do. At this point in my life I had already been busted a few times for phone phreaking activities, but cops really had no idea what to do, or what I was doing. I would just show them my physics tattoo on my arm (yeah, I am a nerd), say i was a student (lie) and that I was testing out a new device i had built that was going to one day make me millions of dollars. Heh. Ethermine and I made it into the can. It was big, but not very exciting. It smelled bad and Ethermine, being a photographer, had a really expensive camera that he didn’t want to damage, so he stood back and shot a lot of photos. The photos became my website, and I tried my best to make canning a, less hazy, topic. Without going too far into details, that I would rather not share anyways, I was taken by this exploration for years into places that I still regard, not only as “exciting” but “creepy” too. Then I found a way to enter the “cans” using only my bare hands. This was a thrust forward, as I didn’t need to carry around a crowbar any longer! What the hell would I say to authorities if they found me with that? LOL!
I am a musician, in what tiny amount of spare time I actually never have, and I started integrating phone recordings into my songs. RBCP once made a thread asking for music suggestions for his show, and I gathered up enough gumption to suggest a song I made with red box tones in it. He actually used it in an episode that caught me way off guard and made me have one of those “Scream Like an Excited Cheerleader” moments, or SLAEC for short. Man, I was so excited! How did this happen?!
After a few years, the owner of the subdomain, Tekk, went off to work for some secret project in the UK for Apple and dropped my hosting without returning any files (that I didn’t have backed up). The website was then dead, but not my curiosity. By this time WEP was a dead technology, but everyone in the world seemed to use it. I decided that wireless technology and penetration testing was where I wanted to go. So I started writing lots of posts in the “Hack / Phreaking / Social Engineering” board of the Phone Losers forums.
From then on, I didn’t pay much attention to phreaking but PLA Radio continued to enlighten me. To this day, I can still laugh my ass off at the jokes and pranks that the PLA does on that show. I love making music for the show too. More importantly, I made a lot of great friends that I will never forget in those forums. A lot of which I had the privilege of staying with at the hotel in Washington D.C. for Shmoocon in 2009. Man, what a ride. They were the most interesting and funniest people I have ever met.
And Finally, The Book Review
That’s enough history, I guess. Getting into phreaking was one of the coolest things ever, but I don’t think I would have stuck with it so long if it wasn’t for the PLA. The PLA kept it going by adding humor to it all and simply not stopping. Taking social engineering to a whole different level, using it for the weirdest things possible. The book describes times where professional social engineering was used for the sole purpose of making the author laugh!
Let me put bias aside and forget that I love the PLA for a moment and say one thing:
This is, hands down, the funniest book I have ever read.
Okay, back to being obsessed with the PLA:
The forward is written by Rob Vincent, a guy I have met on multiple occasions. Putting his face to those words makes the forward that much more heart warming to me.
The first chapter, is there because of me I was told by the author. One of the first things I read at the PLA site was part of this book, which at the time was many bits and pieces, nothing full. It was awesome. Again, very haunting and just plain gripping. When the book was announced in the forums, I begged Brad to put that chapter back in, not just because of “Love and Rockets” but so it was in print. I would have it forever then. He did, and used my name! (Yet another SLAEC moment, the original name was “Scott”)
The next chapter is about Dino Alsman. Dino is ridiculous. I have met many people just like him in my life and now wished that I, too, were as creative as Brad and took the initiative to simply prank the crap out of them. Call forwarding is the topic of the next chapter. This is cool because I had some experience with making people confused before when I was a kid too by doing this. Brad simply takes it to another level, as usual, and makes the phone company confused too! Credit Card Fraud is a chapter that somehow bleeds into the rest of the book. I mean, how is a guy supposed to survive who is always on the move / run? This theme that carries through the book, is analogous to the movie “Catch me if you Can.” This is a bit different though, as credit cards are a bit more complicated than false checks.
Again, social engineering and tactful thinking seems to be a continuous theme throughout the book, making it a phone phreaking joyride! The next chapter covers the “Fred Meyer” incident, where the PLA takes over the P.A. system in the store. This, I have read about in old issues of the PLA zine, but not to this level (or maybe I just don’t remember all the details.) This chapter had some sentences that made my face hurt from laughing. I don’t want to ruin it for anyone else, but just be prepared!
The next few chapters involve much history and pranking. Automated harassment, the PLA magazine, and then a chapter about homelessness, which, is what happens when you are on the run / slacking off. The McDonald’s prank is funny, but the website for it has nice color pictures :D The rest of the book contains TONS of social engineering, technical mayhem, revenge, and many ways Brad Carter found to amuse himself. The last chapter “Back” wraps up the book with an insane twist of events. After which Brad gives credit for all who contributed. Seriously, if Brad was serious about using my name for the first chapter character, I would finally be ready to die. I can finally say that I was truly happy. But, it’s hard to take him seriously sometimes and there is such thing as coincidence.
This book wraps up fuzzy warm memories of phone phreaking and conference calls from the past, all into something I can only compare to…a yearbook. All wrapped up nice and warm in my hands. It’s a culmination. There was no part of the book that was boring in anyway. Hell, there’s even a chapter that seems plagarized from a romance/porn novel that swaps all nouns with the word “Cactus.” Einstein would love this book. In fact, he’d probably like Brad a lot. Einstein regarded humor and imagination with the highest esteem. Brad Carter is, without a doubt, the funniest guy I have ever met. He kinda looks like Ben Folds, and he’s always smiling and ready to mess with someone, or make someones life a living hell – all just for a laugh.