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Books Programming

25th Anniversary of Hackers 149

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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  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @02:56PM (#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:25 years? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @03:03PM (#31914094)
    She is easily mistaken for an anorexic elf, so the confusion is understandable.
  • by onionman ( 975962 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @03:05PM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @03:09PM (#31914176)

    Clearly you're one of the "new generation of hackers" (read: Hopped on teh intarwebs bandwagon in 1999 and now consider yourself an authority on geek culture).

  • by Em Emalb ( 452530 ) <ememalb@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @03:11PM (#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 Thiez ( 1281866 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @03:14PM (#31914236)

    I think his point is that they weren't scamming people for millions of dollars, it's more like they were commiting petty theft. Yeah, it's wrong, and probably illegal (although there may not have been many laws about this stuff back then). But it's not 'nazi-wrong'.

  • by v1 ( 525388 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @03:21PM (#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."

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

  • by ceswiedler ( 165311 ) * <chris@swiedler.org> on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @03:25PM (#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 jmtpi ( 17834 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @03:30PM (#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 @03:56PM (#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 greg1104 ( 461138 ) <gsmith@gregsmith.com> on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @04:10PM (#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 Jonathan ( 5011 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @04:17PM (#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.

  • by HappyEngineer ( 888000 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @04:49PM (#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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @05:05PM (#31915622)
    Arrogant? Knowing his style, I read

    In terms of effect on the world, it's very good that I've lived.

    as similar to pretty much everything else he says: the unadorned truth. A style that is effective at communicating, as long as the listener doesn't allow themself to get bogged down in red herrings.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @05:16PM (#31915762)

    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.

    Perhaps I'm jaded but I find the direction of computing and the internet to be rather boring. Where is all this new and exciting stuff that I haven't seen so-so-many times before?

  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @05:19PM (#31915798) Homepage Journal

    No, I didn't miss the point. I stated that when a property crime doesn't actually cost the victim anything it is properly less serious than when it does.

    It's a simple extension of the well established legal principle behind the distinction between grand theft and petty theft.

    My argument, BTW is more or like if you wander into an unlocked store after hours but don't take anything you might be guilty of something but it's not theft. (In fact, it's simple trespassing).

  • If I take something from you, but you still have the same amount you had, have I really taken something from you? You don't have any less of it, how can you claim I harmed you? You are lumping exclusionary and non-exclusionary goods together into the same category when they are fundamentally different. If you shoplift at a store, the store has less of what you just took.

    Let me tell you a little story. A beggar went into a market and bought a piece of bread. He then went to the sausage vendor's stand and held the bread over the smoke, to flavor it. The sausage vendor became irate and demanded payment for the flavor of his sausages. All the townsfolk gathered round and took sides in the ensuing argument, some thought the beggar should pay, others thought the sausage vendor was being ridiculous. Then someone had a bright idle: "Let's ask the fool!" and the whole town thought this would be a fair way to settle things: let the fool decide. The fool asked the beggar if he had any coin left, and he did, so the beggar bounced the coin on the table and said, "There. It's settled. He's paid for the flavor of your sausage with the sound of his money."

    And morally, that is the most we should be obliged to pay for something that someone else is letting go to waste, or for anything we can take without there being any less of it.

  • Re:25 years? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by falconwolf ( 725481 ) <<falconsoaring_2000> <at> <yahoo.com>> on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @05:42PM (#31916020)

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

    If I recall right that was the original cover.


Thus spake the master programmer: "Time for you to leave." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"