A debut biography/memoir tells the story of Silicon Valley outlaw Captain Crunch.
Draper, once known by the pseudonym Captain Crunch, is most famous for inventing “the little blue box,” a homemade piece of phone-hacking equipment that allowed users to make calls anywhere in the world for free. (Two of the people he shared his invention with were youngsters Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, who briefly manufactured and sold a version of the box.) But Draper’s career and influence went far beyond this early innovation of the Phone Phreak movement. Working as a contractor for the company that Jobs and Wozniak went on to found—a little outfit called Apple Computer, Inc.—Draper developed the first word processor. Later, as a thought leader of the internet privacy movement, he created the first working firewall. A prankster, rabble-rouser, and eventual activist, he landed himself in prison several times during the 1970s and ’80s for his hacking activities, leading many figures in Silicon Valley to hold him at a distance. With the help of Fraser, Draper is now telling his story for the first time: the inventions, the police busts, the parties, and the chance encounters in a world populated by tech entrepreneurs and countercultural freaks. Fraser’s frame narration, which is primarily set in the recent past and follows the composition of the book, is sharp and readable. But it is the sections narrated by Draper himself where the real meat is, even if these are rendered in his simple prose. Here he describes his activities after being released from jail one time: “We headed back up to San Jose. I had to report to my probation officer. I hooked up with Woz again when I got back up to Silicon Valley. He had built a few more complete Apple II prototypes.” The book’s self-aware structure and the prominence of Fraser as a character are peculiar choices, but a work about a figure as idiosyncratic as Draper is bound to be a bit odd. Anyone interested in the rise of the tech industry should be fascinated by the strange but influential role that Draper—Captain Crunch—played on its margins.
A singular and entertaining tech account.