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25th Anniversary of Hackers 149

Posted by kdawson
from the glad-he-didn't-have-that-time-machine dept.
theodp writes "Sharks gotta swim; bats gotta fly; hackers gotta hack. On the 25th anniversary of Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, author Steven Levy has penned an interesting where-are-they-now follow up on the original digital revolutionaries for Wired. 'Some of my original subjects,' writes Levy, 'are now rich, famous, and powerful. They thrived in the movement's transition from insular subculture to multibillion-dollar industry, even if it meant rejecting some of the core hacker tenets. Others, unwilling or unable to adapt to a world that had discovered and exploited their passion — or else just unlucky — toiled in obscurity and fought to stave off bitterness. I also found a third group: the present-day heirs to the hacker legacy, who grew up in a world where commerce and hacking were never seen as opposing values. They are bringing their worldview into fertile new territories and, in doing so, are molding the future of the movement.' Here's hoping Google reads this and gets inspired to let Andy Hertzfeld ship whatever the hell he wants!" Glyn Moody pulls out one poignant detail from Levy's account: rms's thoughts of suicide.
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25th Anniversary of Hackers

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  • 25 years? (Score:5, Funny)

    by AnonymousClown (1788472) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @01:54PM (#31913996)
    How old was Angelina Jolie when she made that movie?

    The Amazon link is showing a different cover than what I usually see.

    Why is everyone looking at me that way?

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @01:56PM (#31914016)

    The word hacker entered the popular lexicon, although its meaning has changed: In the mid-'80s, following a rash of computer break-ins by teenagers with personal computers, true hackers stood by in horror as the general public began to equate the word -- their word -- with people who used computers not as instruments of innovation and creation but as tools of thievery and surveillance. The kind of hacker I wrote about was motivated by the desire to learn and build, not steal and destroy.

    Based on my humble experience, most of the hackers doing black and grey hat stuff like phreaking/cracking/etc. weren't doing it to "steal and destroy" (even the phreakers stealing phone service were often only motivated by the desire to be able to dial long distance BBS's that they wouldn't have otherwise been able to afford). In their own way, they too were motivated by a desire to learn and with the thrill of accomplishment (over defeating a security system, finding a way to make a system behave in a way it wasn't intended, etc.). They were as much a part of the hacker culture as the guy sitting down and figuring out a new sorting algorithm or the guy finding a way to make a mainframe do something it was never designed for (like playing a videogame). And many of these crackers and phreakers were quite talented and actually went on with successful programming careers (especially if they were lucky/good enough not to have been caught).

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Trepidity (597)

      They were often the same people, too, e.g. Woz was both varieties of hacker (which weren't that strongly differentiated anyway).

      • by gyrogeerloose (849181) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @02:36PM (#31914484) Journal

        They were often the same people, too, e.g. Woz was both varieties of hacker (which weren't that strongly differentiated anyway).

        That's true. Wozniac and Jobs got their start in the tech industry building and selling blue boxes. While neither one of them denies that, they generally don't make a point of bringing it up either. Of course, the devices hadn't yet been outlawed at that point.

        (For you youngsters out there, a blue box was a device that allowed you to control a telco's electronic long-distance circuit switches to your advantage.)

      • by dangitman (862676)

        They were often the same people, too, e.g. Woz was both varieties of hacker (which weren't that strongly differentiated anyway).

        Actually, Woz had strong moral/ethical apprehension about the use of his blue box phone phreaking system for illicit purposes, so I wouldn't say he wasn't that much into the "cracking" side of things.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Trepidity (597)

          I think that was actually pretty common in the 70s/80s hacking scene, though, so Woz isn't a huge outlier. A lot of people got interested in breaking security as a sort of puzzle-solving challenge. There was of course a vague sense of triumph over The Man, and thrill of breaking into an AT&T system or whatever, but there was still an ethos of not damaging the systems you broke into, not using them for stupid things like fraud, etc.

  • Nice to see /. getting its' Tom Lehrer on...

    Sharks gotta swim, and bats gotta fly, I gotta love one woman till I die. To Ed or Dick or Bob She may be just a slob, But to me, well, She's my girl. In winter the bedroom is one large ice cube, And she squeezes the toothpaste from the middle of the tube. Her hairs in the sink Have driven me to drink, But she's my girl, she's my girl, she's my girl, And I love her. The girl that I lament for, The girl my money's spent for, The girl my back is bent for, The gir
  • Do so.

    Really, I'm not going to tell you why, just do it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Hmmm..... you do make a compelling case.
      • I could go on and on on why geeks should read that book. Or I can just tell people to do so, and if they decide to heed my advice they will likely not regret it.

        Feel free to let me know if I was wrong once you read the book. ;)

        • Refusing to expound on its merits creates an air of mystery about it. If nothing else, you'll succeed in getting me to research it :)
      • Indeed, really speaks to the large "grew up in a totalitarian society where you did what you were told by a faceless voice without question" segment of the slashdot population. Those slashdotters who grew up in north korea? Totally reading the book right now.

    • by Vanders (110092)
      What he said. While you're there, read "Where Wizards Stay Up Late", too.
  • I used to stay up late programming for fun.

    Now I stay up late so that some company I don't care about can turn a profit on my services... And of course so I can afford all the cool stuff that I've grown so fond of.

    It's a vicious cycle, and I could use a vacation. I can't really imagine doing anything else though...

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I used to stay up late programming for fun as well.

      Now I stay up late spending time with a girl who in response to my timid "I like role-playing games." did not respond with "You D&D dorks are pathetic." but instead she responded with "Would you like me dress up as a school girl and spank me with a ruler?"

      Oh well, we all make sacrifices.

  • by onionman (975962) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @02:05PM (#31914122)

    Regardless of your opinion of the FSF and the (L)GPL, the Stallman quote is very sad!

    Hey, RMS, if you're reading this, then just know that I'm glad you're here!!! Stick around, buddy! You've touched many lives in a good way.

    • by Em Emalb (452530) <ememalb AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @02:11PM (#31914196) Homepage Journal

      "In our original interview, Stallman said, "I'm the last survivor of a dead culture. And I don't really belong in the world anymore. And in some ways I feel I ought to be dead." Now, meeting over Chinese food, he reaffirms this. "I have certainly wished I had killed myself when I was born," he says. "In terms of effect on the world, it's very good that I've lived. And so I guess, if I could go back in time and prevent my birth, I wouldn't do it. But I sure wish I hadn't had so much pain."

      Unreal. Genius (and as much as I disagree with a lot of what he has to say, he is a genius) is often tortured. And arrogant.

      • by jimbobborg (128330) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @02:29PM (#31914408)

        Genius (and as much as I disagree with a lot of what he has to say, he is a genius) is often tortured. And arrogant.

        Yes, we are.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by mindbrane (1548037)

          Genius (and as much as I disagree with a lot of what he has to say, he is a genius) is often tortured. And arrogant.

          Yes, we are.

          Hi! Well, that truly was most arrogant. My name's Bob and I'll be your torturer today.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Em Emalb (452530)

        The above post is not a troll post, stupid moderator.

        Heres a troll post:

        The reason RMS can't go back in time after building a time machine to kill lil' baby Stallman is because A) he'd then be forced to release the code to the masses for free and he'd also be removing the very thing he created, his massively enlarged EGO.

        See, moderator, that's a troll. Or Flamebait. Either way, you suck and I hope your software never amounts to anything.

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Hey, RMS, if you're reading this, then just know that I'm glad you're here!!! Stick around, buddy! You've touched many lives in a good way.

      And if you redistribute that sentiment, you must also include the source code

    • by jmtpi (17834) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @02:30PM (#31914428) Homepage

      Sad indeed (to the point where I feel guilty for using xemacs....). But it doesn't strike me as something that somebody would say because they haven't been appreciated enough. Rather, it sounds like he's clinically depressed. When you're that sad, it's not for a logical reason....

      • by DrgnDancer (137700) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @02:56PM (#31914700) Homepage

        I believe Stallman is medically manic-depressive (I recall reading this somewhere). If he's not actually diagnosed he probably should be. I mean realistically I can't see what he's experienced that has been all that painful (outside of normal run of life's little tragedy's that all of us experience). He's got a reasonably comfortable life doing work that he enjoys and considers important. It's more than most of us get. The fact that he hasn't completely succeeded in freeing all software is as much attributable to the unrealistic nature of a goal as to any personal failing of his (not that he doesn't have them). He has succeeded in helping to build a thriving Free and Open Source software infrastructure with numerous standout projects used by millions of people.

        Personally I think the man is a fanatic, and I don't actually like him much, but I can respect his success. I can't see how he can consider what he has accomplished as anything other than "success". He's taken on some of the biggest players in the industry and come out with his hide intact and a large and thriving community embracing varying degrees of his philosophy.

        • by dangitman (862676)

          The fact that he hasn't completely succeeded in freeing all software is as much attributable to the unrealistic nature of a goal

          This.

          Apart from the medical depression bit, I think he is actually upset that everybody doesn't immediately see the genius of His Way and start following His Principles, for they are perfect.

        • by Zak3056 (69287)

          He's taken on some of the biggest players in the industry and come out with his hide intact and a large and thriving community embracing varying degrees of his philosophy.

          More than this, his philosophy has actually co-opted some of those players--IBM and Novell, for example--making them his willing allies. Maybe that is what is really getting to him--it took Linux in order to really mainstream the GPL, and all cries of "It's GNU/Linux!" are pretty much universally ignored. In his position, I think that wo

        • by Thing 1 (178996)

          I mean realistically I can't see what he's experienced that has been all that painful (outside of normal run of life's little tragedy's that all of us experience).

          I think he was referring to the time in his life when he had RSI, and had to hire someone to type for him. Having a physical issue where you cannot type seems like it would be rather painful.

          • Sufficiently painful to seriously wonder if you should have ended it all? That's a bit over the top doncha think?

            • Clearly. I think he's a fanatic as well, but I never thought to call him a manic depressive or just clinically depressed. I figure, there are countless people who will continue to benefit directly or indirectly from GNU and the free software movement whilst still saying this guy is a complete paranoid nut job who wgets his google searches. He doesn't get to be a patron saint to anyone but software developers and activists who believe in free software but who probably mostly want little to do with Stallman's

      • Many dedicated hackers don't get enough sunlight, which can cause vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D defiency, now widespread in the USA, is a seriously deadly situation, which can cause depression, schizophrenia (Hans Reiser?), cancer, heart disease, autism, and other things. Almost all indoor professionals in the USA should probably be taking 5000 IU D3 in gelcaps daily (except days when they get a lot of sun) as well as eat right to get the other co-nutrients needed for vitamin D to work optimally (a very t

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Jorl17 (1716772)
      And fortunately, you are not the only one. I may be against many of his arguments and crazy thought and I've personally changed emails with him trying to get some sense out of what he thinks, but I know that nearly everything I fight for in my town -- the Free Software Movement, Take 2 -- I owe to him. And if I'm asked who was the greatest & most important figure of our Software days, I'd gladly say that Stallman is the man. But, what the hell, I'm just a sixteen teen.
    • by Smauler (915644)

      “In terms of effect on the world, it’s very good that I’ve lived. And so I guess, if I could go back in time and prevent my birth, I wouldn’t do it. But I sure wish I hadn’t had so much pain.”

      To be honest, this quote strikes me as something that a self-important emo would say. All I can think when reading it is that he's relatively well off, he's relatively well respected, and he's moaning like fuck about it. I feel a hell of a lot more sympathy for those with his tal

  • by joeflies (529536) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @02:13PM (#31914220)
    The book makes the case that RMS is the last hacker, and he even says so again in the article. Yet the book never defined hacker as being a pure-non profit hacker, since both Apple & Microsoft are both prominently featured in the book. The book also mentions the LISP wars that emerged between the various companies emerging from MIT. There's been subsequent great companies started from MIT - RSA being one example. There's been other successful projects that emerged from academics, such as Linux and Google. So where does "the last hacker" designation come from?
  • by v1 (525388) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @02:21PM (#31914322) Homepage Journal

    Hackers that come to mind for me aren't these people that do digital break-ins. They don't even have to apply to computers whatsoever. Dictionary.com doesn't even have the correct original definition:

    1. a person or thing that hacks.
    2. Slang. a person who engages in an activity without talent or skill: weekend hackers on the golf course.
    3. Computer Slang.
      a. a computer enthusiast.
      b. a microcomputer user who attempts to gain unauthorized access to proprietary computer systems.

    First there were hackers. Then there was a new subset, called "computer hackers". Now the former are known as "hardware hackers" and the latter simply as "hackers". (and with only the negative connotations)

    When *I* think of "hacker", I think of MacGyver. and Scotty. and Junkyard Showdown. And in the best modern tradition, Robot Wars [wikipedia.org]. It's a real shame that I can't declare myself a "hacker" nowadays without people getting all the wrong ideas. In my book, a "hacker" is anyone that can do more with less than the average individual. I think I'd even have to call Red Green a good redneck hacker - anyone that can solve that many problems with Duct Tape has got to be a hacker.

    I suspect the original definition evolved from "A person that hacks away at a problem using primitive tools not designed for the purpose, to create an acceptable and sometimes elegant solution."

    • Then there was a new subset, called "computer hackers". Now the former are known as "hardware hackers" and the latter simply as "hackers". (and with only the negative connotations)

      Hack [etymonline.com] goes further back than that.

      When *I* think of "hacker", I think of MacGyver. and Scotty. and Junkyard Showdown.

      MacGyver yes, Scotty not so much, and Junkyard Showdown I've never heard of. However there's Harry Broderick [imdb.com].

      Falcon

      Beam me up Scotty!

      • by v1 (525388)

        hmmm have a look at this [www.ex.ua]

        Basically two competing teams have limited time to throw together something from junk or parts to compete against each other. Battles like this usually give you very little idea of what you're going to be required to make until you hit the field, so you have to be skilled at making anything, from anything. That's what hacking is all about. There are several examples of tournaments like this. Some competitions allow you time to build your bot before the competition, but still all

      • by v1 (525388)

        Scotty not so much

        ok maybe LaForge moreso... "we can try to reroute a tacheon pulse through the main deflector to..." wait, maybe not. Anyway they were hackers in theory, but in a technobabble kind of way. We rarely got to see Scotty do any hacking, but we sort of took it for granted that there was some going on.

        OK how about I redeem myself with Doc Brown [wikipedia.org]?

        • OK how about I redeem myself with Doc Brown [wikipedia.org]

          Yea, that's better.

          I haven't done much hacking in a long tyme, years, myself. About all I do is cooking and gardening. So I've been thinking of combining electronics and gardening. Makezine [makezine.com] printed an article on using a Garduino microcontroller to garden [instructables.com]. It measures how much light and water plants get and if needed will turn on grow lights or a water pump. It's a bit late for this year though. Now what I'd do if I had a greenhouse would be to add heating,

    • by AP31R0N (723649)

      That's not just the original definition so much as the correct and only definition. When someone calls a cyber criminal a hacker... they are wrong.

  • by ceswiedler (165311) * <chris@swiedler.org> on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @02:25PM (#31914370)

    As I recall, the book had three sections:

    1. Original hackers in the 60s on early mainframes and minicomputers like PDPs
    2. Homebrew hardware hackers in the 70s putting together their own microcomputers
    3. Sierra game programmers in the 80s writing King's Quest

    When I read it, my reaction to the third section was: wha? Sierra programmers were pretty cool and the stories are neat (especially the stuff about the partying and the (unsuccessful) effort by Ken Williams to try to get one of his programmers laid) but didn't rank anywhere near the top of the "cool hackers of the world" list. It was obvious in retrospect that he should have waited until the open source hacking community really took off; GNU and Linux are the obvious third generation of hackers. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and the book is nonetheless excellent.

    • by JoeWalsh (32530)

      That's true. In 1984, though, he could easily have written about the kids in their bedrooms learning how to program using their Commodores, Ataris, TIs, Apples, etc. rather than about Sierra, a commercial enterprise that turns out to be of little historical significance. While it just so happens that those kids in their bedrooms grew up to dominate the world of computing...

      • by greg1104 (461138) <gsmith@gregsmith.com> on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @03:10PM (#31914878) Homepage

        Sierra, a commercial enterprise that turns out to be of little historical significance

        Uh, what? Sierra [wikipedia.org] reinvented the entire adventure game genre with graphics starting with "Mystery House" , in the process providing a model for how to build a gaming business from plastic bag distribution to giant company. And their Sierra On-line modem-based gaming service was one of the very first places you could play the sort of graphical multi-player games that everyone now takes for granted. Oh, and since "Hackers" was released, they invented the internet MMORPG [wikipedia.org] too. And then there's the whole saga around the IBM PCjr and King's Quest...

        • by JoeWalsh (32530)

          I'm aware of what Sierra accomplished, but it doesn't change the fact that all of it is of little historical significance.

    • Because Sierra was considered pretty hackish, by the general public anyway, in 1984.

    • by HappyEngineer (888000) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @03:49PM (#31915442) Homepage
      When I read the book I felt the same way. They were interesting stories, but they didn't seem particularly important compared to the first two sections which discussed people who really made a big difference. However, the book seemed to have an arc which started out with super obsessives at MIT who made little/no money from their work then progressed to super obsessed hardware hackers who often made gobs of money and in some ways departed from a pure hacker ethic. Then it jumped to game programmers, some of whom had the hacker ethic, but mostly they were just in it for the money. The book ended with RMS and his talking about the loss of the true hacker culture at MIT due to most of the originals leaving for a lisp computer company.

      I have to say that that book gives me the best impression of RMS that I've ever had.

      By the end of the book I found myself really disliking Ken Williams. He sounds like a real jerk. It seems like the best games made at Sierra were the result of hackers who were devoted to making the best game possible, yet Ken seemed like he was happy to produce cheap crap as long as it produced money. That only works in the short term. If there are better alternatives out there then eventually users catch on and stop buying your crap.

      FWIW, King's Quest isn't mentioned in the book. The book talks about their work on the Apple II and Atari 800 computers. I don't think King's Quest ever ran on the Apple II.
  • Like open source programs in general, many people have influenced who I am today. I knew of RMS when I discovered Unix in the 80's. I greatly admired him when I read Steven Levy's "Hackers" the first time over a weekend. I do not agree with all of his ideas. But I would say society is much better off that he was here.

  • by peter303 (12292) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @02:32PM (#31914440)
    I was at the fringe of that world: I hung around the MIT and Stanford A.I. labs of the 1970s; I attended the Homebrew computer club meetings in the mid 1970s where the two Steve's introduced their funky wooden computer named after Beatle music. And I've attended many user and hobbyist groups since and now. The technology ebbs and flows. The the excitement and opportunity to make money, to build a company in your dorm room or "garage" is as great now as it was then. Right now we have Facebook, Twitter, and phone apps breaking out of the stalls. I cant see any real barrier to this ending for another 30 years other than people running out of imagination.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Facebook and Twitter are lame, we had BBS's once that served much the same purpose. I'm afraid that I don't see any innovation or major improvement on that front. Web development has become an unskilled job and I'm less and less impressed with any of it.

      Not even desktop applications excite me, anything worthwhile has a 6 month learning curve. I can learn a new programming language in less time and (if GUI toolkits weren't so clunky) be half way to writing my own version of whatever app interests me.

      Perha

  • the real thing (Score:3, Interesting)

    by slick7 (1703596) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @02:42PM (#31914538)
    A better read and possibly a much better movie(if they ever get around to making it) is "Masters of Destruction"

    A true story about hackers and crackers that ended up in a flame war that brought down the East coast phone network. It's an amazing story from the standpoint of the phone company knowing about it from the onset. Their noob mentality was "Let's see what happens."

    Boy did they find out.
  • that i thought it was about the movie...

  • by Jonathan (5011) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @03:17PM (#31914992) Homepage

    What was interesting about the book was that it was written at a time when microcomputers were just beginning to be big business and not just geek toys. Bill Gates was seen as a geek who made it big -- sort of like Sergey Brin today -- not the "villain" that he was seen as being in the 1990s. And RMS was seen as a hopeless romantic, trying to recapture the spirit of 1970s MIT -- while Levy respected RMS, it was clear that he thought that the idea of Free Software and the GNU project were just hippie fantasies that were going nowhere.

    • the "villain" that he was seen as being in the 1990s.

      Gates marketeers never get tired of getting paid to whitewash his reputation, do they? Here is the whine he wrote in 1976 [blinkenlights.com]. He wasn't always big, but he was always annoying and wrong. The myth of Horatio Alger is just that a myth, and Gates was a rich kid from rich parents and rich grandparents [greenspun.com] who's mom's connections were in a lucky place at a lucky time.

      • by Jonathan (5011)

        The point isn't whether Gates is a nice guy or not; the point is how he was *perceived* at different points in time. In _Hackers_, as was common at the time, he was portrayed in a positive light. If you were around back then, it was IBM that was the "big evil" back then. Microsoft just wasn't seen that way. This isn't "whitewashing" his reputation, it is just reminding us that corporate image changes over time.

        We are seeing this today with Apple and Jobs. While Apple was (at least during the last 20 years)

        • Fuck you for pushing Microsoft whitewashing and trying to frame every company, product or service in the context of Fighting the Microsoft. Apple has its problems but you are utterly full of shit to try to claim that Apple's claim to fame is other than a company focused on providing a good user experience with (usually) quality software and (often) quality hardware.

          Yes, IBM was the relatively big evil back then. It turned out to be small, very small, compared to Gates who was created by IBM as a side ef

          • Nobody is denying that during the 1990s Bill Gates and Microsoft were seen as evil monopolists. The point was this wasn't the case in the early 1980s. Microsoft was a successful company, but not a very large or high profile one -- Gates was just another successful tech guy like Jobs and Wozniak -- probably less famous, actually, as Gates was known as just the guy who wrote BASIC interpreters, rather than the more sexy design of computer systems. Again, read the book -- it gives a good feeling for the time.

  • At this very moment, I am trying to get a CADR talking to an ITS via Chaosnet. The ITS is on the internet and has been for the past several weeks, with a few of my friends poking around at it. (BTW, I hacked the SMTP listener to only accept mail for itself, so it's mostly safe.)

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