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April 22, 2004

Etmology of hacking

To the great part of the world a hacker is a pale-faced, gimp-like character with an unnaturally destructive urge to
a) Loot your savings
b) Screw your hard-drive
c) Provide an excellent excuse for not completing the accounts/your homework (delete as applicable).

To the technically minded (geeks, for want of a better word) the hacker is hero. This misunderstanding is largely due to a lazy media (Hollywood in particular) and a desperate desire amongst said hackers to be the James Deans of the web.

Whilst editing a pamphlet by a colleague on how hackers are working with social and environmental activists to reach shared goals I blithely assumed that the term 'to hack' had connotations of taking an axe to a tree, hence some analogy of breaking into something.

But no.

Angermann2 (great pics btw) reveals a much more charming definition from that other favourite, the Wikipedia:

Among ham radio fans in the 1950s, hacking meant creatively tinkering to improve performance. It was a term borrowed from Anglo-American riding culture, where "hacking" (as opposed to fox-hunting) meant riding about informally, to no particular purpose.

As the Wikipedia article goes on to explain (as did the pamphlet), a 'hack' is an elegant or elaborate trick and is most famously associated with MIT. Some of their most famous hacks are available at a dedicated website, my favourite of which was placing what seemed to be a police car atop the great dome at MIT.

As for the definition of geek, that will have to wait for another time.

April 22, 2004 in Web/Tech | Permalink


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