RIP — Joybubbles, Honorary Geekdad

Geek Culture

Joybubbles was a very unique guy who died in Minneapolis this month. While he was not a dad (that I know of) he was extremely fond of children and so I would like to pay tribute to him here on the GeekDad blog.

Most people outside of Minneapolis who heard of Joybubbles knew him as Joe “The Whistler” Engressia, the famous phone phreak. Born blind, he was gifted with excellent hearing and this helped him learn that a 2600 hertz tone could be used to get free phone calls. He was an associate of Steve Wozniac and Steve Jobs. According to hacker legend, it was he who showed John “Captain Crunch” Draper how to get the 2600 tone with a cereal box whistle. He is considered the inspiration for the blind security analyst “Whistler” in the movie Sneakers.

But while he maintained a lifelong fascination with telephones, later in life he was far more interested in celebrating children. He legally changed his name in 1991 and decided he wanted to be a child again, and told everyone he was 5. He often spent his time telling stories to children, either in person or on one of his telephone storylines. A rabid Mister Rogers fan, he once saved up money earned from working as an olfactory analyst (“smelling hog doo-doo”) and traveled to Pittsburgh and listened to all but 2 episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood over the course of 6 weeks.

He died on or around August 8, 2007 at the age of 58.

Here are some additional bits of info on Joybubbles if you’re interested:

Joybubbles was a “Extra class” ham, callsign WB0RPA and was active in HandiHam, an organization that helps handicapped people get their ham licenses.

He once had an interview on the hacker radio show Off The Hook in which he demonstrated whistling through the telephone lines to achieve certain technical effects. (Though by then, the 2600 hertz hack had been eliminated by the phone company.)

He was mentioned in an 1971 Esquire article about the blueboxing phenomenon. (A blue box is a device that generates the 2600 hertz tone.)

A good eulogy on

A St. Paul Pioneer Press obit.

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