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The New Hacker's Dictionary

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by schoolchildren or workers or citizens who are prickly, intelligent individualists - thus, any social system that depends on authority relationships will tend to helpfully ostracize and therapize and drug such `abnormal' people until they are properly docile and stupid and `well-socialized'.

So hackers tend to believe they have good reason for skepticism about clinical explanations of the hacker personality. That being said, most would also concede that some hacker traits coincide with indicators for ADD and AS - the status of caffeeine as a hacker beverage of choice may be connected to the fact that it bonds to the same neural receptors as Ritalin, the drug most commonly prescribed for ADD. It is probably true that boosters of both would find a rather higher rate of clinical ADD among hackers than the supposedly mainstream-normal 3-5% (AS is rarer and there are not yet good estimates of incidence as of 2000).


Node:Miscellaneous, Previous:[15312]Weaknesses of the Hacker

Personality, Up:[15313]Appendix B


Hackers are more likely to have cats than dogs (in fact, it is widely grokked that cats have the hacker nature). Many drive incredibly decrepit heaps and forget to wash them; richer ones drive spiffy Porsches and RX-7s and then forget to have them washed. Almost all hackers have terribly bad handwriting, and often fall into the habit of block-printing everything like junior draftsmen.


Node:Appendix C, Next:[15314]Bibliography, Previous:[15315]Appendix

B, Up:[15316]Top

Helping Hacker Culture Grow


If you enjoyed the Jargon File, please help the culture that created it grow and flourish. Here are several ways you can help:

o If you are a writer or journalist, don't say or write [15317]hacker when you mean [15318]cracker. If you work with writers or journalists, educate them on this issue and push them to do the right thing. If you catch a newspaper or magazine abusing the work `hacker', write them and straighten them out (this appendix includes a model letter).

o If you're a techie or computer hobbyist, get involved with one of the free Unixes. Toss out that lame Microsoft OS, or confine it to one disk partition and put Linux or FreeBSD or NetBSD on the other one. And the next time your friend or boss is thinking about some proprietary software `solution' that costs more than it's worth, be ready to blow the competition away with open-source software running over a Unix.

o Contribute to organizations like the Free Software Foundation that promote the production of high-quality free and open-source software. You can reach the Free Software Foundation at gnu@gnu.org, by phone at +1-617-542-5942, or by snail-mail at 59 Temple Place, Suite 330, Boston, MA 02111-1307 USA.

o Support the League for Programming Freedom, which opposes over-broad software patents that constantly threaten to blow up in hackers' faces, preventing them from developing innovative software for tomorrow's needs. You can reach the League for Programming Freedom at lpf@uunet.uu.net. by phone at +1 617 621 7084, or by snail-mail at 1 Kendall Square #143, P.O.Box 9171, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139 USA.

o Join the continuing fight against Internet censorship, visit the Center for Democracy and Technology Home Page at [15319]http://www.cdt.org.

o If you do nothing else, please help fight government attempts to seize political control of Internet content and restrict strong cryptography. The so-called `Communications Decency Act' was declared unconstitutional by


the Supreme Court, but U.S. cryptography policy still infringes our First Amendment rights. Surf to the Center for Democracy and technology's home page at [15320]http://www.cdt.org to see what you can do to help fight censorship of the net.

Here's the text of a letter RMS wrote to the Wall Street Journal to complain about their policy of using "hacker" only in a pejorative sense. We hear that most major newspapers have the same policy. If you'd like to help change this situation, send your favorite newspaper the same letter - or, better yet, write your own letter.

Dear Editor:

This letter is not meant for publication, although you can publish it if you wish. It is meant specifically for you, the editor, not the public.

I am a hacker. That is to say, I enjoy playing with computers -- working with, learning about, and writing clever computer programs. I am not a cracker; I don't make a practice of breaking computer security.

There's nothing shameful about the hacking I do. But when I tell people I am a hacker, people think I'm admitting something naughty -- because newspapers such as yours misuse the word "hacker", giving the impression that it means "security breaker" and nothing else. You are giving hackers a bad name.

The saddest thing is that this problem is perpetuated deliberately. Your reporters know the difference between "hacker" and "security breaker". They know how to make the distinction, but you don't let them! You insist on using "hacker" pejoratively. When reporters try to use another word, you change it. When reporters try to explain the other meanings, you cut it.

Of course, you have a reason. You say that readers have become used to your insulting usage of "hacker", so that you cannot change it now. Well, you can't undo past mistakes today; but that is no excuse to repeat them tomorrow.


If I were what you call a "hacker", at this point I would threaten to crack your computer and crash it. But I am a hacker, not a cracker. I don't do that kind of thing! I have enough computers to play with at home and at work; I don't need yours. Besides, it's not my way to respond to insults with violence. My response is this letter.

You owe hackers an apology; but more than that, you owe us ordinary respect.

Sincerely, etc.


Node:Bibliography, Previous:[15321]Appendix C, Up:[15322]Top


Here are some other books you can read to help you understand the hacker mindset.

Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden BraidGšdel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid Douglas Hofstadter Basic Books, 1979 ISBN 0-394-74502-7

This book reads like an intellectual Grand Tour of hacker preoccupations. Music, mathematical logic, programming, speculations on the nature of intelligence, biology, and Zen are woven into a brilliant tapestry themed on the concept of encoded self-reference. The perfect left-brain companion to "Illuminatus".

Illuminatus! I. "The Eye in the Pyramid" II. "The Golden Apple" III. "Leviathan". Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson Dell, 1988 ISBN 0-440-53981-1

This work of alleged fiction is an incredible berserko-surrealist rollercoaster of world-girdling conspiracies, intelligent dolphins, the fall of Atlantis, who really killed JFK, sex, drugs, rock'n'roll, and the Cosmic


Giggle Factor. First published in three volumes, but there is now a one-volume trade paperback, carried by most chain bookstores under SF. The perfect right-brain companion to Hofstadter's "Gšdel, Escher, Bach". See [15323]Eris, [15324]Discordianism, [15325]random numbers, [15326]Church of the SubGenius.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams Pocket Books, 1981 ISBN 0-671-46149-4

This `Monty Python in Space' spoof of SF genre traditions has been popular among hackers ever since the original British radio show. Read it if only to learn about Vogons (see [15327]bogon) and the significance of the number 42 (see [15328]random numbers) -- and why the winningest chess program of 1990 was called `Deep Thought'.

The Tao of Programming James Geoffrey Infobooks, 1987 ISBN 0-931137-07-1

This gentle, funny spoof of the "Tao Te Ching" contains much that is illuminating about the hacker way of thought. "When you have learned to snatch the error code from the trap frame, it will be time for you to leave."

Hackers Steven Levy Anchor/Doubleday 1984 ISBN 0-385-19195-2

Levy's book is at its best in describing the early MIT hackers at the Model Railroad Club and the early days of the microcomputer revolution. He never understood Unix or the networks, though, and his enshrinement of Richard Stallman as "the last true hacker" turns out (thankfully) to have been quite misleading. Despite being a bit dated and containing some minor errors (many fixed in the paperback edition), this remains a useful and stimulating book that captures the feel of several important hacker subcultures.

The Computer Contradictionary Stan Kelly-Bootle MIT Press, 1995 ISBN 0-262-61112-0


This pastiche of Ambrose Bierce's famous work is similar in format to the Jargon File (and quotes several entries from TNHD-2) but somewhat different in tone and intent. It is more satirical and less anthropological, and is largely a product of the author's literate and quirky imagination. For example, it defines `computer science' as "a study akin to numerology and astrology, but lacking the precision of the former and the success of the latter" and `implementation' as "The fruitless struggle by the talented and underpaid to fulfill promises made by the rich and ignorant"; `flowchart' becomes "to obfuscate a problem with esoteric cartoons". Revised and expanded from "The Devil's DP Dictionary", McGraw-Hill 1981, ISBN 0-07-034022-6; that work had some stylistic influence on TNHD-1.

The Devouring Fungus: Tales from the Computer Age Karla Jennings Norton, 1990 ISBN 0-393-30732-8

The author of this pioneering compendium knits together a great deal of computerand hacker-related folklore with good writing and a few well-chosen cartoons. She has a keen eye for the human aspects of the lore and is very good at illuminating the psychology and evolution of hackerdom. Unfortunately, a number of small errors and awkwardnesses suggest that she didn't have the final manuscript checked over by a native speaker; the glossary in the back is particularly embarrassing, and at least one classic tale (the Magic Switch story, retold here under [15329]A Story About Magic in Appendix A is given in incomplete and badly mangled form. Nevertheless, this book is a win overall and can be enjoyed by hacker and non-hacker alike.

The Soul of a New Machine Tracy Kidder Little, Brown, 1981 (paperback: Avon, 1982 ISBN 0-380-59931-7)

This book (a 1982 Pulitzer Prize winner) documents the adventure of the design of a new Data General computer, the MV-8000 Eagle. It is an amazingly well-done portrait of the hacker mindset -- although largely the hardware hacker -- done by a complete outsider. It is a bit thin in spots, but with enough technical information to be entertaining to the serious hacker while providing non-technical people a view of what day-to-day life can be


like -- the fun, the excitement, the disasters. During one period, when the microcode and logic were glitching at the nanosecond level, one of the overworked engineers departed the company, leaving behind a note on his terminal as his letter of resignation: "I am going to a commune in Vermont and will deal with no unit of time shorter than a season."

Life with UNIX: a Guide for Everyone Don Libes and Sandy Ressler Prentice-Hall, 1989 ISBN 0-13-536657-7

The authors of this book set out to tell you all the things about Unix that tutorials and technical books won't. The result is gossipy, funny, opinionated, downright weird in spots, and invaluable. Along the way they expose you to enough of Unix's history, folklore and humor to qualify as a first-class source for these things. Because so much of today's hackerdom is involved with Unix, this in turn illuminates many of its in-jokes and preoccupations.

True Names ... and Other Dangers Vernor Vinge Baen Books, 1987 ISBN 0-671-65363-6

Hacker demigod Richard Stallman used to say that the title story of this book "expresses the spirit of hacking best". Until the subject of the next entry came out, it was hard to even nominate another contender. The other stories in this collection are also fine work by an author who has since won multiple Hugos and is one of today's very best practitioners of hard SF.

Snow Crash Neal Stephenson Bantam, 1992 ISBN 0-553-56261-4

Stephenson's epic, comic cyberpunk novel is deeply knowing about the hacker psychology and its foibles in a way no other author of fiction has ever even approached. His imagination, his grasp of the relevant technical details, and his ability to communicate the excitement of hacking and its results are astonishing, delightful, and (so far) unsurpassed.

Cyberpunk: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier Katie Hafner & John Markoff Simon & Schuster 1991 ISBN 0-671-68322-5


This book gathers narratives about the careers of three notorious crackers into a clear-eyed but sympathetic portrait of hackerdom's dark side. The principals are Kevin Mitnick, "Pengo" and "Hagbard" of the Chaos Computer Club, and Robert T. Morris (see [15330]RTM, sense 2) . Markoff and Hafner focus as much on their psychologies and motivations as on the details of their exploits, but don't slight the latter. The result is a balanced and fascinating account, particularly useful when read immediately before or after Cliff Stoll's [15331]The Cuckoo's Egg. It is especially instructive to compare RTM, a true hacker who blundered, with the sociopathic phone-freak Mitnick and the alienated, drug-addled crackers who made the Chaos Club notorious. The gulf between [15332]wizard and [15333]wannabee has seldom been made more obvious.

Technobabble John Barry MIT Press 1991 ISBN 0-262-02333-4

Barry's book takes a critical and humorous look at the `technobabble' of acronyms, neologisms, hyperbole, and metaphor spawned by the computer industry. Though he discusses some of the same mechanisms of jargon formation that occur in hackish, most of what he chronicles is actually suit-speak -- the obfuscatory language of press releases, marketroids, and Silicon Valley CEOs rather than the playful jargon of hackers (most of whom wouldn't be caught dead uttering the kind of pompous, passive-voiced word salad he deplores).

The Cuckoo's Egg Clifford Stoll Doubleday 1989 ISBN 0-385-24946-2

Clifford Stoll's absorbing tale of how he tracked Markus Hess and the Chaos Club cracking ring nicely illustrates the difference between `hacker' and `cracker'. Stoll's portrait of himself, his lady Martha, and his friends at Berkeley and on the Internet paints a marvelously vivid picture of how hackers and the people around them like to live and how they think.

#===================== THE JARGON FILE ENDS HERE


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