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Hacker culture is a relatively new, very open, diverse, and inclusive subculture that revolves around the use of computers. Merriam-Webster defines “hacker” as “an expert at programming and solving problems with a computer”, it includes expert programmers and system administrators. An alternative definition of “hacker” from Merriam-Webster is: “a person who illegally gains access to and sometimes tampers with information in a computer system”, which is often the movie definition, is the deprecated use of the word (Raymond, 1996) and is beyond the scope of this document. Hacking is a relatively new subculture that developed with new technology. Tracing back to the late 1960’s when the UNIX operating system, an early operating system often associated with hackers, was created (Slatalla, 2002), and when MIT launched its artificial intelligence lab (Trigaux, 2000). In the early 1970’s, John “Captain Crunch” Draper figured out a way to take control of the phone companies switching equipment using a tone made by a whistle he found in a box of Captain Crunch cereal. His new technique was called “phreaking” [sic], which is defined as “Closely related to hacking, using a computer or other device to trick a phone system. Typically, phreaking is used to make free calls or to have calls charged to a different account” (Webopedia, 2002). After taking control of the equipment, he could experiment with their internal system and redirect his call (Draper, 2001). News about phreaking spread when magazines like Esquire magazine and The Youth International Party Line newsletter published information about the technology used to get into the system (Slatalla, 2002). The information published included stories of how the information was gathered for the blue box and what you can do with it (Rosenbaum, 1971). The hacker community needed a place to communicate their methods on a broader scale. They found this in the first electronic bulletin board system, the BBS (Moshchovitis, Poole, Schuyler, Senft, 1998). As the knowledge spread, and computers became more available to the general population, new languages and software was developed. Some early hackers take credit for being the first to make shapes and create movement on the computer screen. Today, almost anyone can get a computer and an internet connection to get access to information published by other hackers, and publish their own information on hacking. While it is currently easy enough to have the monetary resources to become a hacker, the most important aspect of being a hacker is the ability to program and solve problems on computers. More than 40% of hackers listed their motivation for hacking as “Intellectually stimulating” and “Improves skill” (Boston Consulting Group, 2002). Eric Raymond (1996) lists two of five parts of being a hacker being “Attitude is no substitute for competence.” And “The world is full of fascinating problems waiting to be solved.” Philip Tellis’ (2002) lists these people on his list of famous hackers: Some of the more famous hackers of lore are Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak - the founders of Apple Computer, Bill Gates - more of a hacker during his teens than later, Linus Torvalds - the guy behind linux, Richard Stallman - founder of GNU, Larry Wall - author of Perl, Bill Joy and James Gosling from Sun Microsystems, Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson from AT&T, Bjarne Stroustroup - author of C++. Many of these hackers have reached demigod status in the community and are still active hacks. Most hackers are listed because of their technical ability, and nothing else. Many hackers use their technical ability to further their career. According to the Boston Consulting Group’s (2002) survey of programmers, professionals were the largest group of people that took the survey. The study just shows correlation, so it isn’t certain whether open source developers, or people that share their programming code, hone their skills and later get jobs, or whether professionals are just looking for a hobby in their spare time. Food is a minor, but still prevalent aspect of hacker culture. To be a hacker, there are no restrictions on religion or nationality, so food intake is very diverse. There is still one food that hackers generally agree on, caffeine. More than 70% of developers said they lose track of time when they program (BCG, 2002). Working in blocks makes managing thoughts much simpler, and late night programming is often used to get a days worth of programming into one block. The caffeine is used to keep hackers away during the night hours. Online hacker store “ThinkGeek” has only one section for consumables, consisting entirely of products like caffeinated mints, caffeinated water, and energy drinks (http://www.thinkgeek.com/stuff/caffeine/). Even though the internet is blind to gender issues, there is a massive gender gap in the hacker world. Out of all the people who took the Boston Consulting Group survey, 98% was male. Most communication between developers happens electronically, with people that use nicknames, and is generally anonymous. Because it’s anonymous there is no discrimination from hackers, females are not excluded. Out of the people who took my survey, 95% of people were male, showing a consistent trend. When I interviewed “snipe”, a female programmer who didn’t offer a name, she told me that she felt she was treated differently both in public, and on the internet based on her gender. She elaborated further that she felt over the internet, that the way people treated her was different depending on whether or not she revealed her gender, but pointed out that she could make the choice to reveal or conceal her gender (Interview with snipe, 2002). Having a lot of patience for a computer is important for any hacker. Finding errors in the code, or debugging, can sometimes take longer than writing the original code. Hacker’s frustration with debugging lots of code can be explained in a quote like this: "Debugging is twice as hard as writing the code in the first place. Therefore, if you write the code as cleverly as possible, you are, by definition, not smart enough to debug it." -Brian W. Kernighan Another frustration that is continued from debugging code is compiling code. A compiler is a program that translates a source program written in some high-level programming language (such as Java) into machine code for some computer architecture (such as the Intel Pentium architecture). The generated machine code can be later executed many times against different data each time (Fegaras, 2002). Understanding what the definition of a compiler is difficult enough for those less knowledgeable with computers, but basically it turns the source code into the software that is run, distributed, and used. The biggest frustration with compiling is large programs can take hours to compile. If there is a bug in the code, you may have to wait hours to find out if your change to the code fixed the problem. Hacker attitude is often arrogant and devoted. Programmers who volunteer their time and share their ideas are in no way obligated to follow through on their promises, make deadlines, or take complaints from unsatisfied recipients of free software. This leads to a feeling of confidence, or more likely, arrogance. It is not uncommon sites post comments like “Promised 100% free or your money back!” (http://www.xchat.org) The irony of course, is they do not sell the software, but give it away. The other part of hacker attitude is devotion. Hackers often work late into the night using stimulants like caffeine, and then sleep the least amount of hours possible and get up to code some more (Lowgren, 2000). In an interview with “gus”, he explained that he once had a 3 day coding party. Almost all people surveyed or interviewed claimed they spent more than 60 hours on the computer in a week, 100 hours for some. Surroundings are mostly irrelevant to the hacker, but a few things are consistent. All programmers used their computers during work, at home, school, during their commute, or in hotels while on vacation. Not very often at other peoples houses, on the streets, or internet cafes. Most agreed that they programmed by themselves. They also agreed that music played while programming must be upbeat, and mostly instrumental. Written communication between hackers greatly differs from that of traditional published material. The internet is widely known for its ability to instantly transfer information from any computer to any other computer in the world that’s connected. The problem is, the input device is a keyboard instead of standard speech. The keyboard is much slower than regular speech. To try and make communication easier, hackers make shortcuts to get their message across. In the Unix operating system, the command to “move” files was set to “mv”, and to get a listing of files people had to use the “ls” command. Also, because it’s not always possible to see the reaction of people who are typing “I don’t like you,” could either be joking or serious. To accommodate people, “emoticons” were invented. Emoticons are symbols that represented the faces of the people at the keyboard. Making “I don’t like you : )” a joke, and “I don’t like you >:O” serious. Verbal communication is slightly different for hackers than non-hackers. Common phrases learned before becoming a hacker are often left untouched, but new slang like the term “phreaking”, which is not a dictionary word, are added to the hacker’s vocabulary. Other additions include the names of software and programming languages like PERL (Practical Extraction Resource Language), PHP (PHP: Hypertext Processor), and HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) are all too long to say their full version, so the closest pronounceable version of the acronym is often used. Non-hackers would also use the acronyms if they wanted to reference the programming language, but most do not know that the languages exist. In conclusion, hacker culture is generally reformed from a person with certain prerequisites. Prerequisites include intelligence and patience. Arrogance and devotion are learned. Hacker culture is not built around tradition, and will change as the technology changes. Habits like drinking caffeine could be easily replaced with a new non-prescription drug to keep people awake, or a new programming method that doesn’t require programmers to stay up late. Hacker culture focuses on the functional aspect with smaller amounts of tradition mixed in.
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