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In commemoration of the tenth anniversary of Michael Dertouzos' passing, please share your cherished memories, recollections and musings on this legendary leader.

The "Michael's Phone" Hack:

In fall 1995 Michael and I ran a freshman seminar called "Hanging with the Hackers" (his words).  Every week we would get together with a bunch of students and chat about technology, engineering, life at MIT, etc.

We would meet in his office on the first floor of LCS, usually sitting around the conference table.  Michael loved to make "big phone calls;" he would yell to his assistant Anne Wailes in the outer office and ask her to raise so-and-so on the line, then he would press one button to activate the speakerphone on his desk and bring himself and the students into the call.  He did this a lot; once we had Bob Lucky, the head of research at BellCore, on the line.  We got the impression that Mike loved to have Anne place calls for him, and we teased him about it.

One week MLD was traveling, but we met in his office anyway.  We decided to hack him by reordering the buttons on his phone.  We rearranged the 12 little button-caps, carefully moving the ribbon cables around under the phone plate so that each button would still do the right thing (i.e. pressing "3" would still produce the "3" tone, etc.).  We tested it, then let Anne in on the joke and asked her to be unavailable at the right moment the following week, which would force Michael to place his own calls.  Finally we put everything back the way it was.

The next week, we got to the meeting, had Anne get Michael out of the room on a pretext, and re-hacked the phone.  Once Michael returned the meeting got started, and after a while the students provoked him into doing another "big phone call."  Finding that Anne was not around, he decided to place the call himself.

And I will never forget this:  he walked over to sit on the edge of his desk and picked up the phone.  He glanced down at the keypad and with only the slightest pause, and a most subtle smile to the group, proceeded to -- despite the completely misarranged keys -- *dial the number correctly* and place the call.

When it rang and the right person answered (whoever it was), Michael flashed us the biggest grin -- we had been hacked.


Seth Teller, CSAIL

August 25 2011