The Weekly Geek: Hackers and whackers


It’s been a very educational week, geeks. Before today, everything I “knew” about hackers was gleaned from the fabulous 1995 cult film Hackers, starring a pixie-coiffed young Angelina Jolie.

However, after reading this fantastic piece on the Anthropology of Hackers at The Atlantic, I feel positively enlightened. That could be partially because the article was adapted from a syllabus (well, it pretty much is a syllabus for author and NYU professor Gabriella Coleman’s course on the culture and politics of the digital freedom fighters), but don’t let that scare you. It’s a great geeky read.

Check out this introductory snippet:

“A ‘hacker’ is a technologist with a love for computing and a ‘hack’ is a clever technical solution arrived through a non-obvious means. It doesn’t mean to compromise the Pentagon, change your grades, or take down the global financial system, although it can, but that is a very narrow reality of the term.”

So perhaps the “damn the man!” attitude is a little played up. But not entirely:

“Hackers tend to value a set of liberal principles: freedom, privacy, and access; they tend to adore computers; some gain unauthorized access to technologies, though the degree of illegality greatly varies (and much, even most of hacking, by the definition I set above, is actually legal). But once one confronts hacking empirically, some similarities melt into a sea of differences; some of these distinctions are subtle, while others are profound enough to warrant thinking about hacking in terms of genres or genealogies of hacking — and we compare and contrast various of these genealogies in the class, such as free and open source software hacking and the hacker underground.”

If you really want to go for extra credit (and you’re not, of course, an NYU student), Coleman has provided links for the reading material.

As if my eyes weren’t open enough to the wonderful world of computers, I09 posted a delightful gallery of selections from Terrible, Creepy and Outdated Library Books, including this gem about using 3.5 inch floppy disks as a weapon.

Using the power of floppy disks that “can inflict serious damage in your defense”, you’ll never again be attacked by what appears to be a young James Cameron. While I appreciate the concept, the best piece of advice from this era would be to hit the attacker on the head with a cell phone. In 1991, those things were no joke — you’d probably put the aggressor in a coma.

Here’s to learning something new (and geeky!) every day.

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