Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Joybubbles, RIP

Posted on Wed, Aug 22, 2007 at 4:00 AM

As reported by Douglas Martin in The New York Times on August 20th, Josef Carl Engressia Jr., aka Joybubbles, made a name for himself in the 1960s when he discovered that he could make free phone calls anywhere in the world by simply whistling the proper sounds into what was then a tone-based national phone system. He and others -- including Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak -- turned that talent into a game. They became "phone phreaks," precursors of what we know today as computer hackers.

But in the '70s, Engressia got caught. He had moved to Memphis in 1971, where he was eventually convicted of phone fraud. From Memphis, he moved to Denver and then to Minneapolis, where he built a network of fellow phone enthusiasts. He survived on Social Security disability, but he did take part-time jobs. Engressia's superb sense of smell, for example, led agricultural researchers to use him in their efforts to control the odor of hog excrement.

Throughout his life, Engressia clung to childhood. As Martin reports in the Times, he made himself minister in what Engressia called the Church of Eternal Childhood. He owned tapes of every episode of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, He collected teddy bears. His I.Q. was 172. The cause of his death remains unknown.

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