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The Hacker Ethic And Linux Kernel 2.4 76

vattervi writes: "Salon has an interesting article on the the work ethics of sysadmins, heavily citing the book The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age and telling the story of Salon's sysadmin as he plays with the 2.4 kernel."
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The Hacker Ethic and Linux Kernel 2.4

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Well, as one among the group you label retards, thanks for your open-mindedness. Not all people with Autism (or closely related disorders such as Aspergers Syndrome, which I have) are retards. Sure I have social and a few other problems, but I also have a job at an ISP writing software.

    Next time, please think before you write. - self confessed 'weirdo'
  • by Anonymous Coward
    wheni was a sysadmin, i rather liked having to work in an Nt shop, becuz I could show them my worth by trying to keep those damn machines up, and they paid me well! It's not ETHICAL, but t least i gotda money. where as if i worked in a shop with all *nix servers, once they were up they would have probably had me only work like 10 hours a week at the most, reducing my takehome... therefore the benefits of working with NT are certainly there

  • by Anonymous Coward
    These people in this ugly story are _NOT_ hackers. These are guys who enjoy playing with the latest greatest software and building new shit. The _REAL_ hackers are the ones making the code changes...something that more and more sys admins don't do. Way back in the days...all sys admins were they just maintain the latest greatest stable stuff on their systems. The only sys admins I have _ever_ seen that are hackers can be found at places like Open AFS []...legacy mature stuff that the old school sys admins still love.

    Just because you use Linux or BSD or whatever..._DOES NOT_ make you a hacker...when you start can than call yourself a hacker.
  • Since CERN started putting out BIND vulnerability warnings. :)

    1st Law Of Networking: Loose ends are bad, termination is good.

  • You'd be surprised. Speaking with people in our data checking department in my company, which employs the largest number of low-paid workers in our business, it's clear that the vast majority have second and sometimes even third jobs.

    Hmm, good point. Although I don't move solely in geek circles, all the people I've known working low-paid jobs have been young & single, and although they didn't like their lowly pay, they didn't need to work two jobs to get by, and they had plenty of free time to do what they wanted to do (as long as it wasn't expensive. Needless to say, "kicking back and watching TV" was a popular hobby).

    However, that was in Sydney. I've since moved to London, and given how expensive it is to live here, and just how low-paid the low-paid jobs are, frankly, I'm amazed I can walk into a cafe and get served. I don't know how the staff haven't all starved to death.

    I was at a coffee/bagel place a few months ago and got talking to the waitress. She saw nothing unusual in that she would be working 12 hours that day, and had jobs that kept her working 7 days a week.

    That's fucked up. And something to think about if you're a sysadmin who works those kind of hours - 'cos you do have a choice, and you're probably getting paid 5 times as much as her.

  • 1) If, like me, you don't have a development environment to play 2.4.0-pre? on, you sure as heck aren't going to slap it on your live application server and just pray. I hope.

    If you don't have an environment that you can sling 2.4.0-pre11 on, then frankly, you don't have an environment that you can sling 2.4.0 on. It's really not that much different, Linus clearly said that it was more a "line in the sand" than a "right, now it's finished" release. If you only have a live application server, you'll be waiting a while before installing any 2.4.n series kernel on it.

    Anyway, the sysadmin in the article was installing 2.4.0 on his desktop box, not a live server.

    2) one point which I felt came across in the article was that the lines between 'work' and 'leisure' time have been blurred by the hacker ethic and mentality. I enjoy the job I do, even though it means sometimes working 70-80 hours a week, and some of the work I do I could easily classify as leisure because of my enjoyment of it.

    Good call. Unfortunately my "work" and "leisure" are clearly delimited by the fact that my work is developing a Windows application. :-)

    It all comes down to reasons for doing the job, you do it because you enjoy it, or you do it for the money.

    Unfortunately I have no "commercial" experience doing the things I enjoy, so to pay the bills, I have to do the crap that people are willing to employ me to do. Ah well, it's surely better than driving a taxi or working at McDonalds, and I can post to Slashdot while I should be working.. ;-)

  • by Stormie ( 708 ) on Wednesday February 07, 2001 @04:19AM (#450128) Homepage

    1. Surely if this sysadmin was so excited about the prospect of Linux kernel 2.4.0, he would have been running one of the 2.4.0-pre n kernels on his box? Anyone who's keen enough to compile a kernel won't have spent the last year running 2.2 and fidgetting impatiently..

    2. I find it interesting that he says "most hackers are able to earn their livelihood relatively easily, with enough leisure time to hack for the public good". Sure, most hackers find it easily to earn a livelihood, and a pretty damn good one at that. But I thought long work hours were commonly considered a scourge in this industry of ours? Any full time job leaves you with not too much leisure time, and if you're working much beyond the 9-to-5.. well.. I kind of doubt you'll have enough leisure time to do too much hacking. "A McDonald's cashier or a taxi driver is not so lucky". Well, maybe they're not so well paid, but I don't reckon someone working a menial job is going to have less free time than a pro geek. And you might find it easier to muster the enthusiasm to code for fun if you haven't been doing it for money all day. God knows I coded more for fun before I started working as a programmer..

    Of course, if you code at work, you can always be hacking away on your own stuff without it being too obvious. That's how I taught myself Perl and Python (hey, one editor window full of code looks much like any other, from the distance between my desk and the boss's office!) ;-)

  • by Phaid ( 938 ) on Wednesday February 07, 2001 @03:51AM (#450129) Homepage
    Why do they have to make their "hacker" sound like some kind of autistic retard? The visual picture their descriptions conjure up is of this guy rocking back and forth in his chair as he watches the kernel compile, repeating the GCC output under his breath as it scrolls by and exclaiming "256,981. Yeah definitely. 256,981 lines" when it's all done.

    (That, and what are these examples supposed to be about? I know plenty of people who use 2.4 -- I ran the 2.3.X series pretty much for its entire duration and never had the problems they describe. Or maybe I just read the documentation.) But I digress.

    Also, their idea of "the hacker ethic" sounds more like "the slacker ethic". Considering that hackers tend to work 80 hour weeks -- and not just because the threat of layoffs looms near -- I find that a bit insulting. Their assertion that "it's my life" has replaced "time is money" etc is largely missing the mark. Yes, a lot of people burned out during the dot-com boom and are no longer willing to live in their cubicles. And that's as it should be, no one should be willing to meet unreasonable demands on their time.

    But the fact remains that a lot of conscienscious, dedicated hackers continnue to work a lot more than the standard 40-hour work week, whether it's actually necessary or not. If they're not really working on a company project, they're developing open source on the side, or learning Perl, or teaching themselves how device drivers work, or whatever. And the reason hackers are willing to spend this much time on what is ostensibly their career, is that they find the work interesting and stimulating. The rest of the world finds this amazing because they've settled for a career that doesn't bring them fulfillment. Tough. Do what you love, or do something else.
  • Real men run production networks. Sissies code the crap we have to put up with.

    Mod -1 Motherfucking Flamebait, but that don't mean it's not true

  • What's up with that? I could compile qt and KDE2 from scratch in a day. And installing binaries takes about 10 minutes (including download time)

    Or maybe I'm missing the whole point of the story ;)
  • Hackers is an awesome book, one of the best books about computing culture ever written, in my opinion. The Hacker Ethic picks up on some strands that are in Hackers, and elaborates it into a theory of how hackers approach work.

    Hackers: indispensable
    Hacker Ethic: interesting
  • by Andrew Leonard ( 4372 ) on Wednesday February 07, 2001 @07:44AM (#450133) Homepage
    I can't say that I'm surprised at how condescending and outright nasty many of the comments directed at Salon's sysadmin are here. The tenor of discussion at Slashdot has degenerated quite a bit since I first started reading it three or so years ago.

    But I will say that the particular admin I was describing is, in my opinion, a really cool guy who is passionate about free software, works with it every day, and is knowledgeable about a ton of of complex technical issues.

    I'll also say that those of you trying to pretend that sysadmins can't be hackers or vice versa are bigots, plain and simple. You're a disgrace.

    My bad on the CERN/CERT typo and the freshmeat URL. Should be corrected by now.

  • The difference becomes prettty fuzzy (Dubya be damned) as admins grow. Admins who are smart and improve themselves become rather good programmers, of the sort that tend not to piss off sysadmins through stupid assumptions about infinite bandwidth, disk IO, or database cycles.
  • Oh yeah. One more thing... and I'm reading this from my business card. My official title reads "Hacker-in-Chief"; NOW WHAT!!!!!?


  • by NatePuri ( 9870 ) on Wednesday February 07, 2001 @07:30AM (#450136) Homepage
    I am one of these people you describe, the difference between me and the people you describe is that I understand that work had to get done. I don't write too much code, my job is sys admin. I call my own hours, I may come in after noon, but that's because I stay until midnight. I never leave until at *least* one major weekly project is completed. But that is just me.

    As to your characterization of what is a hacker. I think you may very well be in agreement with most people who write code a lot. I.e., if one does not code, then one is not a hacker. Here 'hacker' is used like some kind of title. In that sense, you are being an elitist. However, to the rest of the world if your fingers make unix go, a hacker you be. I say unix because windows is too familiar to the average person to make it seem hackerish. However, with transparent eterms and kernel compiles zooming along, the average person goes "oo you're a hacker, huh?" The distinction is one of elitest jargon vs. everday jargon.

    At the Linux conference, I wouldn't say 'me hacker', but everywhere else I would.

    So fella, you are a bit cranky aren't you? I can understand your gripes about the people who got no work done. But don't mistake that for all the other quirky idiosyncratic and maddening individuals who get a hell of a lot of work done all the friggin' time.

    This brings me to my gripe. I'm totally pissed off by engineers who think that hackers should do what they say. Look code monkeys, just because you sit around all day reciting 'if, then, else' doesn't mean you know how to build a network of 200 puters and make WinBlaBla, Sun, Linux, BSD, HP etc., interopate and stay up all friggin' year, ok? All I have to say to you all is NIS, NFS, autofs, bind, apache, IIS, Exchange Server, Black Orifice, samba, ipfilter, ifconfig opts, mtu, dhcp, bla, bla, fuckin bla. I stay up all night keeping up on trend after trend for this specific purpose, I buy book after book know the finest distinctions between OS'es. That's my job. Don't fuck with that. [ooo meee koong foo on yoooo ya fucka] [--battle-maneuvers --go-here].

    If I am a code consumer, then let me tell you... it tastes like crap, but I still have to eat it, humph...

    -Nate, the self-taught, muy scripting, mucho bullshit enduring, in order to support myself while in grad school, much essential member of the clan, if 'me', then 'go', else 'fucked', sorry it ain't my fault...
  • Why oh Why does these supposed "hacker" magazines (and salon is not a hacker mag, it's a poser mag) try to write articles about technical aspects when they have no solid knowlege of what they are talking about? I laughed pretty hard at the whole article, making "hackers" look like mential boobs/outcasts while making it sound like a kernel re-compile is voo-doo. Although the sad part is in some of the truth there... Typical sysadmins out there are at the low level like salons seem to be from the article. Paper cert's. and no real knowlege or real world skills. That makes us pro's look overpriced because we don't have that nice shiny paper that is worth nothing. (Even though when we leave they have to hire 3 people to replace us!) Nice fluff piece with made for movie realisim.

    Reminds me why I dont read Salon.
  • <p><i>It is nice to spread $8.00 for two weeks of food, but you wouldn't want to do that once you are out of college.
    <p>I don't know about that; my wife and I find that it's a fun challenge to feed our family of four nutritiously on less than $0.50/meal. It require time spent looking for good deals on bulk ingredients and cooking from scratch, but it's not that hard. Besides, my homemade sauces taste better on pasta than anything I've bought in a can. Lately we just can't bring ourselves to go to any fast food joints because it's hard to get a decent meal there for less than $10.00 (family of four, remember).</p>
    <p>My point is that while I don't <i>need</i> to budget my money so closely, it's fun being able to invest $300+ per month toward retirement, donate to worthy charities, and not worry about bills. Watching my finances and budgeting frugally I'm able to keep a few hundred dollars more a year for myself than I would otherwise. I guess it all depends on how you define living comfortably and where you put your priorities, I just have things I'd rather spend money on than food.</p>
  • by LL ( 20038 ) on Wednesday February 07, 2001 @05:03AM (#450139)
    I would question whether the kacker mentality is healthy in the long-run. Part of the problem is the relative newness of the "mainstream" or massification of computing technology. This naturally attracts early adopters with spare time (ie the pre-teen - professional student) segment which has a natural work approach quite disctinct from the baby-boomers. This can also be seen in places like Japan which is rebelling against the concept of corporate worker drones or samauria salarymen for life. Hwoever is this really the attitude you want to project? Given the sheer mind-numbing tedium of pouring through magalines of code, it is only natural that our mental defenses turn it into a game (in-line jokes, clever credits, etc) otherwise we'd go bonkers having no life. The question is whether this is the "professional" image one wants to retain?

    If IT is to gain the natural prestige and social statues of other professions (ie not hacker but software engineering) then perhaps some careful though needs to be applied into thinking of a core concept around which you perpetuate teh good points. The medicals have the Hippocratic Oath, the lawyers have the client-attorney privilege. researchers the scientific method (repeatable evidence of theory), what has kackers got? What social/moral/ethical force is there to encourage quality code, open disclosure (e.g. witness Engineering responsibilty of professional negligence), and fair treatment of the suers and fellow hackers?

    Perhaps someone should consider formulating a Code of the Hacker (CotH) like ....
    #1 When in doubt, read and grok the code
    #2 Honor thy source and those who have coded before thee
    #3 Thou shalt not delete or corrupt data needlessly
    #4 Avoid contaminating your only backup
    #5 Covet not thy fellow hacker's interface or API

    Perhaps the hacker mentality of caffeine-driven code-fests is a little dated (and expecially not appeal to the female-gender) and might need some seasoning to balance the serious professional aspects and the zen-like fun aspects as well.

  • amen brother!!!

    progging is all well and good but some of us would rather focus on the interaction between packages, programs and os's.

    neither can exist w/o the other.
  • I wrote an article on Using Test Suites to Validate the New Linux Kernel.

    Excellent! The article and, even more importantly, the activities to which it refers are exactly the sort of thing Linux needs most. Kudos to all who are involved in the grueling and usually thankless effort to bring Linux testing up to an acceptable level.

  • "We discuss the possibility that someone has already written that script and uploaded it to the Web. We go a step further -- maybe he should write the script and get Freshmeat to link to it. He's pleased by the idea, but later, after inspecting Freshmeat's new redesign and deciding he doesn't like it, he puts the idea aside."

    I wonder if this is really happening...

  • And since when does freshmeat sport a dot com domain?
  • This is probably completely wrong and random, but my guess about the 40+ hour week is that bosses tend to think that their programmer, not having the incredible stress of working with PR, or managing the entire show (though, yes, it actually is a bit stressful working with the public, but of course we all know that programming is stressful, too), is actually being blessed with a lighter workload even though they're working such long hours. I mean, also look at it this way - if that programmer gets a bug on the server fixed or a new webpage up, who notices? Not many, probably... I mean, some bugs, like security issues, won't always trickle down to be noticed by the lower levels of the bureacracy. I guess I'm also saying that programmers get treated poorer (sometimes) because what they produce is not exactly tangible. Sure, if you're producing the latest PlayStation game, it's really noticeable, but if you're just one of many people on the team producing some big suite for a new client, no one sees the part you produce in the whole. They would if it weren't there, but since you worked all those long hours, it is there.

    But since I'm not speaking from actual experience, I'm probably way off...
  • by drivers ( 45076 ) on Wednesday February 07, 2001 @09:10AM (#450145)
    I haven't read the Hacker Ethic, but I have just finished reading "Hackers" by Steven Levy (great book). The book is basically about the hacker ethic illustrated by the early hackers at MIT, the hardware hackers of the '70s, and PC game programmers in the early 80's, ending with what happened to the AI lab that RMS was at.

    I balked at the ~$25 price for a 200 page book (The Hacker Ethic)... If you've read "Hackers" (anyone) would you know whether this hacker ethic is in line with the book discussed in the article?

    • Access to computers should be unlimited and total.
    • All information should be free.
    • Mistrust authority - promote decentralization.
    • Hackers should be judged by their hacking not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race, or position.
    • You create art and beauty on a computer,
    • Computers can change your life for the better.

  • by omarius ( 52253 ) <omar&allwrong,com> on Wednesday February 07, 2001 @05:16AM (#450146) Homepage Journal
    • Maybe because he and the other sysadmins were too busy upgrading Salon's version of BIND after a CERN advisory of a major security weakness.
    I wonder what that CERN advisory said about BIND... Is it unstable? Will it decompose into a more stable program? What about radiation? Are billions of neutrinos, sparticles, and hadrons bombarding me right now? There's only a thin, wooden clost door in between me and the name server! Will I get super DNS powers? This is exciting!


  • I think your post is actually better than the article. You get the point across better than the journalist, who uses a sort of bad example for his hacker archetype. The Salon sysadmin seems a little clueless. I myself was impressed with the journalist's understanding of the tech world, though. They usually can't even figure out how to turn on a computer, much less write about computers.
  • ...and telling the story of Salon's sysadmin as he plays with the 2.4 kernel.
    My mind instantly switched to prOn scenes...

    Oh, wait a minute!
  • The article is indeed pretentious crap, but the book is not. I don't think the author of the article read much of the book.

    No, you are not a Hacker. You are a "Protestant" (in terms of work ethic).

    The two who were fired may well have been Hackers - and they were fired because they were not Protestants.

    The Hacker ethic is better for the worker - but not necessarily more productive.
  • How much of the book did you actually read?

  • I think the main thing that mislead you was Andrew Leonard's interchanging of the words "geek" and "hacker". I would certainly qualify most PC gamers at the lanparties I go to as geeks, but almost none of them as "hackers," because they don't really hack anything. They all obviously love computers in general, as most of them are hardware geeks as well, but I don't think you can be called a "hacker" until you start tinkering around with the underlying substance that makes things work. (Be it source code or whatever.)

    But, for the most part, I think being a "geek" is a resonable requirement for being able to configure, compile, and install a brand-new Linux kernel.

  • Mwahaha, this is one of the best /. posts I've read in awhile.

    if your fingers make unix go, a hacker you be

    This qualifies as "inspirational quote of the day" for me. :)

  • The question is whether this is the "professional" image one wants to retain?

    I'm admittedly not a hacker in the sense of writing a new kernel next thursday and having it ship on sunday, but...

    I am very comfortable in my geekdom and pseudo-hackerdom and hope to continue to be so until I draw my dying breath.
  • by Eil ( 82413 ) on Wednesday February 07, 2001 @10:07AM (#450154) Homepage Journal
    The above huge block of rant-like text is what I've been trying to tell my girlfriend [2 []] for the last year or so. She's one of those down-to-earth type of people (which I like), but while she likes to *say* she understands me, I have this nagging feeling that she doesn't. She would like me to spend all of my time with her, which I can theoretically do, except I wouldn't really be happy without x amount of hours in front of a CRT as well... something we both learned the hard way during Christmas break.

    I think she believes I'm being overly picky about the type of college I want to attend. Most people outline their young adult lives as such:

    goto COLLEGE;
    for (i = 0; i < 4; i++) { learn(); }
    goto WORK;

    My particular pseudocode goes as such:

    goto COLLEGE
    if (college == 'good') { learn_something(); }
    if (made_friends && learn_something) {
    else {
    if (job != "sucking") { work(); }

    (And yes, I realize that gotos in actual code are horrendous but sometimes they're an accurate analogy to real life.)

    In other words, I want to be a geek, and I want to be happy being one. The only way I can be happy is by continuous learning, not by memorizing the tab-frame layout of the WinNT networking preferences box. Going back to the girlfriend issue, she's not aware yet that the vast majority of educational institutions simply do not offer Computer Science cirriculums for those who actually want to learn and broaden their horizons. Most seem tailored to those who want to learn the basics of Microsoft Networking and then run out and make the big bucks.

    Until that times comes, it's back to educating myself and letting my girlfriend get angry at me from time to time. I simply eat, breathe, live, and worship computers and I sincerely hope that will never change while trying to keep my relationship intact.
  • by goingware ( 85213 ) on Wednesday February 07, 2001 @04:25AM (#450155) Homepage
    I wrote an article on Using Test Suites to Validate the New Linux Kernel [].

    You should do this kind of testing either to contribute to the kernel's development (this testing is more thorough than just casually trying it out), and especially if you're considering using a new kernel in a production system.

    I welcome submissions of test suites to include in the article (or other articles to post at the Linux Quality Database [] - you'll see if you check out the site that there's not much there yet, but I have great hopes for doing good with it).

    There have been some new suites submitted, including PostgreSQL's regression tests [] and one or two others that I have not yet added. I'll be updating the article soon.

    Michael D. Crawford
    GoingWare Inc

  • Exactly. Even if she doesn't outright ask, it is nice to be able to provide for her (and maybe build a financial foundation for kids someday?)
  • YES! This is what I have spoke of MANY times. I used to have many co-workers who took up computers for only one reason: money. Now, I choose computer because I love them. If I could afford it, my house would be like Bill Gate's house, but not lame (pictures changing when a certain person walks into a room....ah, no thanks! It's a little cool, but lame because of what a person would have to wear/do to have it happen.). I WANT to walk around like a MIT guy with a computer display on his head. I would not CARE what people would think. I'd be the first to stand in line for a wearable computer (ahhh....would be so nice to have telesopic vision or a heads up display. Or when someone asks you a question, you quickly look it up on your HUD with your wireless broadband.... :)). Computers ARE my life, after God and family. I could care less about having marble kitchen counter (while nice, they are not necessary). I would rather have a nice computer then a car! Besides, if I had a handheld, the bus would be better because I could read webpages instead of books. Why do I like them. I DON'T KNOW! :) I just do. Can I put them down? When I don't need them, I can. If my son needs me to do something for him, I do. Same goes for the wife. Also, the same goes when I am having non computer fun (watching TV or a movie or out for a family outing). The point is if you HATE your job, you won't do well. If you like it, you usually will do great!
  • Good. So I'm not the only one who finds it patronising.

    And if the guy's getting off on 2.4 and KDE so much, wouldn't he have had 2.3.* and at least a couple of KDE betas lying around for ages?
  • He's pleased by the idea, but later, after inspecting Freshmeat's new redesign and deciding he doesn't like it, he puts the idea aside.

    I thought this was the most interesting part personally. I don't know one geek that goes through with most anything they say. Some are worse then others, my old roommate (no naming names) had an amazing way of saying "I'm going to do xxx" every day, every day it was different. everyday he wouldn't do anything. If he did actually start on anything he said he was going to do he would stop at the first road block, anything that would cause him to stop and think, solve a problem, he would quite.

    his new roommate is AMAZINGLY bad. every single time I saw him we would say "Jon, I have this great Idea! I'm going to do bla bla bla, and it's going to have bla bla bla". then sometimes (if he's serious) about it, he might doodle a diagram of some system overview.. it was always a large complicated system, never a simple (do-able) project.

    Another friend, talks in theory a lot, and through ideas around, bat rarely says he's actually going to "do something" unless he means it. if he says he's going to, he'll probably at least give it an honest effort. I can respect that.

    Another trend is that all of the three are braggarts, strangely in sync with there ability to lie to themselves. The "AMAZINGLY" bad one has a tenendy to say things like, "This sucks! Wednesday I have to have lunch with the CEO of the company, because my flagship product I'm working on is so important. And then the day after that, I have to have lunch with the CTO of the company!", actually ok, that verbatim.

    so is it just me or do most "hackers" talk a lot of smack, and rarely do jack?


    Streamripper []

  • How do define the hacker? If any of you have missed the Jargon File in your net existence, I would recommend it for a starting point. It's a collection of "hackish" terms and sundry nomenclature of technology. It defines hacker as:

    hacker n. [originally, someone who makes furniture with an axe] 1. A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary. 2. One who programs enthusiastically (even obsessively) or who enjoys programming rather than just theorizing about programming. 3. A person capable of appreciating hack value. 4. A person who is good at programming quickly. 5. An expert at a particular program, or one who frequently does work using it or on it; as in `a Unix hacker'. (Definitions 1 through 5 are correlated, and people who fit them congregate.) 6. An expert or enthusiast of any kind. One might be an astronomy hacker, for example. 7. One who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations. 8. [deprecated] A malicious meddler who tries to discover sensitive information by poking around. Hence `password hacker', `network hacker'. The correct term for this sense is cracker. The term `hacker' also tends to connote membership in the global community defined by the net (see the network and Internet address). For discussion of some of the basics of this culture, see the How To Become A Hacker FAQ. It also implies that the person described is seen to subscribe to some version of the hacker ethic (see hacker ethic). It is better to be described as a hacker by others than to describe oneself that way. Hackers consider themselves something of an elite (a meritocracy based on ability), though one to which new members are gladly welcome. There is thus a certain ego satisfaction to be had in identifying yourself as a hacker (but if you claim to be one and are not, you'll quickly be labeled bogus). See also wannabee. This term seems to have been first adopted as a badge in the 1960s by the hacker culture surrounding TMRC and the MIT AI Lab. We have a report that it was used in a sense close to this entry's by teenage radio hams and electronics tinkerers in the mid-1950s.
    So thus, the sysadmin in the article is a hacker, trying devilishly to get something working. Some may not think it productive or useful, but likely that same sysadmin, who in the article foisted the newest BIND upon the servers in the line of duty is likely filling cycles with his allegorical "hacking", which from experience makes you a lot better at being a sysadmin.

    But I never, ever thought that such a relationship between a "recreational" hack and real work hacking would be understood by the coding methodists. Some people work through a problem in order, and organized. They do well, and they are usually very good teachers. A hacker builds up a ridiculously large body of knowledge about coding, os quirks, configs, styles of development, architectures, systems and services, and then, just sort of starts to "get it" when presented with a new problem.

    Those of you who have had this happen know what I'm talking about. Just, well, "feeling" where the problem should be in the code, and it's there. Some of my coworkers called it "zenning" the code. I like that term. Hacking is a term of honor, and I'm not there yet.

    Open your mind. Read the Jargon File

    The Jargon File [] on

    Enjoy or don't. Disagree or don't. But always, always think and consider.

  • Good .point! I missed that one.
  • Actually you aren't too far off. The place I work at, while the immediate bosses/environments are cool, the higher ups (ie: VPs, CEO) have this mentality of 'If the user doesn't see it or isn't immediately affected by it, it doesn't exist'.

    The worst example was when we requested an admittedly hefty set of upgrades that would help the programmers and admins do their jobs much more efficiently and much faster, these upgrades were also requested to overcome certain looming limitations to the hardware we were working on. We were turned down specifically because 'there was no immediate noticable advantage to the user to justify the expense'. Frustrating.

  • I've read through the replies to my post, and it looks like people perceived the following:

    * I was taking pot shots at the profession of systems administrator.
    * I was implying that sys admins couldn't be hackers.

    Neither of these is the case, nor was I implying them.

    I did use the term "glorified sys admin" once in the post, so I guess shame on me. I do think that some of the conclusions people took away from post were kind of a stretch but so be it.

    What I was railing against was applying the term hacker to someone just because they run a particular operating system, exhibit odd behavior or spend all day staring at a screen.

    (This description seems to sum up the person the author of the article is focusing on)

    None of these things in and of themselves make you a hacker, a geek maybe, but not a hacker.

    If anything, hacking is about results and effectiveness, not superficial appearances.

    The article seemed to be all about superficiality, which is why I had a negative reaction to it.

    I also had a bad reaction to the article due to what I felt was a strong similarity between the attributes of a supposed hacker that the author chose to dwell on and some of the traits exhibited by two ex-coworkers.

    The author seemed to be overly impressed by the fact the sys admin in the article was installing the 2.4 kernel, or because he was ... gasp ... compiling KDE. Whoop de freaking do!

    Like the author, my ex-coworkers seemed to revel in the superficial.

    They had just the appropriate number of Linux posters put up in their cubes, the obligatory tux stuffed animal, an impressive library of virtually unused technical books (mostly Oreilly, of course) on their shelves, several PC's in their cubes, each running a different distro of Linux (which seemed to change weekly).

    Despite all these trappings, they were useless when it came time to doing actual work, such as installing and appropriately configuring our development/test systems (Solaris + custom app), scripting in Perl/DBI, configuring and tuning Oracle, working on the load balancing/DNS component of our solution or developing any other aspects of the service.

    Requests for them to do work were greeted with some flip response and then right back to making yet another failed attempt to correctly compile enlightment or get transparent e-terms working.

    Given what I read in the article, the author would probably consider my ex-coworkers hackers as well and of he would be outrageously incorrect.

    Slackers and phonies maybe, but definitely not hackers.
  • by gustar ( 125316 ) on Wednesday February 07, 2001 @04:41AM (#450165)
    This article is pretentious crap. I doubt I'll bother with the book.

    I use open source software all the time, like so:

    Configure --options-go-here
    make install

    Doing this does not make me a hacker.

    Sometimes I even have to perform small customizations to a piece of open source code prior to performing the steps mentioned above.

    Doing this does not make me a hacker.

    Sometimes installs have problems and I need to review and make small fixes to what make install (or what ever the installer is) is doing in order for things to install cleanly.

    Doing this does not make me a hacker.

    What all these things make me is an educated consumer of open source code, nothing more.

    Hackers are the people who actually do the hard work of the writing the software that the rest of us use to get our work done.

    I really doubt the glorified sys admin in the article will be writing the next version of Perl or Apache anytime soon.

    He's a code consumer like the rest of us, and apparently one with out much in the way of time management skills.

    Which brings me to my second point...

    Our development group "had" two induhviduals who exhibited many of the same behaviors as the one mentioned in the article.

    They spent inordinate amounts of time building the current latest pen-ultimate Linux desktop, spent weeks are the holy grail of the perfect configuration of enlightment, had impressive arrays of hardware on their desk, were always suggesting that we use some obscure but "cool" open source tool to do a job and then spending weeks trying to build said tool only to come up weeks later with neither the tool or the work completed. On top of this they would come and go as they pleased, showing up at 11 and then bailing at 5, as well as constantly blowing off meetings.

    After about 5-6 months of zero productivity they were both fired, and good riddance.

    And now my point, the behavior of these two induhviduals seemed very close to that described in the article. This behavior seems to be linked to being a hacker and in fact the article is promoting the book "The Hacker Ethic". I think this is erroneous; the name of the article should be changed to "Hunting the wild poser" or maybe even "hunting the wild wanna-be".
  • We go a step further -- maybe he should write the script and get Freshmeat to link to it. He's pleased by the idea, but later, after inspecting Freshmeat's new redesign and deciding he doesn't like it, he puts the idea aside.

    Does this guy sound like a petulant child because he's a hacker or because he's a sysadmin? "I don't like the way Freshmeat(.com?) looks, so I won't send them my script (which I haven't even written yet)! Waaaah." Or is it just my imagination?

  • Now, if I could only get my last 4 bosses to read and comprehend it.

    Fortunately, I am now working at a place where this sort of behavior is encouraged. Do your work, work as hard as you need to to get the job done, and work as much as you need to stay sane. We have almost daily Nerf Wars in the office, even the sales people join in sometimes. We have fun, and everyone is striving to learn and absorb more information, which when it all boils down, that's what the 'hacker ethic' is all about anyway.

  • I bet you know a bit already, just make up the actions for when you 'chop the code', slip a line of code under previous code, kick it into action and the yank it over to the production system.
    Richy C.
  • Damn, where do I send my resume?
  • Well, yuhhh. Take a look at the article. He's pretty clear about not being a techie (journalist, right?). He's reading a book, ostensibly about hackers. His closest such subject "in the wild" happens to be a couple of cubes over, and this specimen fancies himself something of a programmer, his business card title notwithstanding. So, using the not-so-covert methods he mentions, he notes his observations about said individual in the context of reviewing a book concerning a culture that, while he is not a part of it, it's obvious that he has some affinity for it.

    Your distinction, while techically probably accurate is not quite so relevant in the context of the article. I personally thought it was a good article and made a couple of good points about the privileged status that programmers enjoy in this economy. Anyway...

    Later on...

  • It is simple:
    When your hands fly over the keyboard,
    code flows out of your fingers - apparently without thinking,
    and you are one with your computer,
    then you do the hacker kung fu.

    Sometimes it really happens :)
  • I'm very happy to work in scientific research, we can come and go when we want to.
    But sometimes a deadline really helps inspiration ...
  • I am confused, sounds to well spoken to be a troll and the moderators think so as well. Hmmmm.

    Well granted, just because we "just" manipulate the pre-existing code to fit our needs and maybe kick out a few perl scripts to get some things done and perl is about as much of a language as HTML. We are not winidiots either. Hackers IMHO are not always code hackers, they can sometimes be the people that implement the software. Perhaps if we did have that big of head about us, we would call ourselves "System Intergration Engineers", however we do not, well not all of us.

    We make things work, we "hack" the hardware, software, whatever we have to do to make it work. That in is IMO is hacking. Granted sometimes Sys Admins waste a lot of time on getting uncompleted code to work and it fails, however the wiser of us, do that in our off time and then if it works bring it up for the management after we know we can make it work. Perhaps you should just give your sys admin a big hug and you will feel better. :) Just my little rant.

  • Well I guess I can relate to that somewhat. We all need some money to live normally. Rent, food, broadband, blank cd's.. such are the necessities of life. Once you've got that covered, you're healthy and happy. Does that mean I'm going to work at McPizzaWay all my life ? Sure it would be sufficient to survive, but it's boring and depressing.

    Lucky me, the first thing I saw when I was born wasn't the doctor, it was an Atari 400 =) So I spend my days PEEKing and POKEing and here I am now with a confortable no-stress job at the government waiting for the master database to screw up, at which point I will repair it and get back to being lazy. The pay is more than 3 times what I'd be making at McPizzaWay, and I don't need to spend half my salary on therapy to get my mind off chainsaws ("ya want fresh meat ? how about the manager over there ?"). It's a dull job, but it allows me to tinker with other things and doesn't put much strain on my brain.

    Sure, I could be making more money doing some bullshit IT job, which in here is basically 10% programming, 90% sucking up. No thanks, I'd rather be lazy and burn cd's all day. I make enough money to be able to ignore it, and that's all that matters to me. I can spend the rest of my time playing everquest or working on my relationship with a clear mind. The importance of money decreases exponentially as its amount increases linearly. For the lazy minded, that means having 10$ compared to 0$ is a big difference, but having 42000 compared to 39000 is just more taxes to pay.
  • it all depends on how you define hacker. you seem to define hacker as being someone who hacks code all day to create a piece of software. i guess i would consider also a sysadmin who hacks away all day at installing and maintaining software a hacker. to me hacker is defined as someone who is driven by the curiousity of how it works and determined to make it work. hell, an auto mecahnic hacking away at the frame of the car to get a larger engine inside should be considered a hacker.
  • What's the word for someone who looks like a troll, sound like a troll, but isn't a troll?

    Yes, you have a valid point - as skillful as a sys admin might be, sys admin != hacker. But it's also a skill that is not really trainable. You have to understand these beasts, these boxen, you have to grok rebuilding kernels, understand stacks and weak points, and be able to decipher CERN reports. It is a skilled industry.

    As another said: To the casual Windows user, anyone with these skills is a hacker. These people also know that they would never put hacker on a business card, never expect to hear Cox's name mentioned in the same breath as their own.

    It seems easy and trivial to us, but these are skills, often bought with the currency of time, a social life, and popularity in high school. We are being rewarded now, with high-paying jobs, management that doesn't understand us but lets us do our thing, and the ability to play with our favorite toys. Surprise, Surprise, we keep the business going, in a business where they are starting to measure the dollars lost per minute of server down time.

    The hacker ethic is alive and well, even in these folks who touch code once every two weeks. Don't start pissing games because they haven't re-written a kernel.

  • And of course the fact that a true hacker wouldn't use KDE, even if his life (kernel) depended on it :-)

  • Well, I at least I proved that moderators aren't aware of what a :-) means...

    Anyway, for the record: I don't have anything against KDE (or Gnome, or, or), except when it starts to get in the way of the free choice.
  • I can't remember. Does Salon snag comments from their TableTalk boards and sell them?

    I honestly can't remember.

    Gonna make money off of this here information revolution- even if I have to step on my own beliefs to do it. []

  • Seriously. I've seen a bunch of people install Linux, having read statements about how:
    There are equivalent desktop applications for everything you use under Windows:
    Word -- AbiWord, KWord, Siag
    Excel -- KSpread, Gnumeric, Pathetic Writer
    Photoshop -- Gimp
    and so forth. They discover that while it's easy to compile a table like that, the quality of those Linux apps ranges from slipshod to unusable and wonder what the hell the Linux advocates are thinking.

    The answer is that those advocates aren't using Linux for any real work - they're just downloading, patching and compiling over and over again. If that's what you enjoy, then KSpread and Gnumeric are much better than Excel. And I love tinkering with KSpread but I get my work done in Excel.

    And for crying out loud, of course KDE works with 2.4. As if no one thought of 2.4 support until this pinhead and his friend decided to add it?

    The KDE 2.0 installation has been fraught with setbacks and unexplained crashes, and is very poorly documented. "I'm finding this difficult," says the sysadmin, fully aware of the implication that if this is tricky for him to master, then it would be well nigh impossible for the average person.

    I'm a biologist, not a hacker, and compiling KDE is trivial.

    One quibble, though, gustar; penultimate means "second-most," not "most."

  • Yeah - but you forgot to mention the users and the damn printers. Did I mention the damn printers? Damn printers.
  • I sort of agree though I got more of the impression that the sysadmin came off as a combination of someone who is:

    kinda dumb + kinda enthusiastic + very busy

    I find that most hackers are:

    very intelligent + socially backward (sometimes) + usually busy

  • My thoughts on this...

    1) If, like me, you don't have a development environment to play 2.4.0-pre? on, you sure as heck aren't going to slap it on your live application server and just pray. I hope.

    2) one point which I felt came across in the article was that the lines between 'work' and 'leisure' time have been blurred by the hacker ethic and mentality. I enjoy the job I do, even though it means sometimes working 70-80 hours a week, and some of the work I do I could easily classify as leisure because of my enjoyment of it.

    It all comes down to reasons for doing the job, you do it because you enjoy it, or you do it for the money. Some of the lucky ones manage both (Although I'm still working on the money part;-)

    just my E0.02.


  • 1. sysadmin != programmer 2. programmer hacker The writer seems to know nothing about his subject and to care less. This article is lazy journalism.
  • Why the hell are Smiths' lyrics classed as informative?

    In this context that is :)
  • As talked about in the 2nd part of that article..mmm hacker kung fu
  • Coding is just the best thing in the world. I work 60 h/w and wait at night after my wife is asleep to go to my computer and try to fix that piece of code that is not running the way I want it. Sometimes my wife wakes up and it is 3 AM and she tells to go to bed and get some rest (mostly because the next day I have to be at work at 6:30 AM) but I just continue "fixing" the code. I work as a "simulation engineer" (whatever that means), and I pass most of my day coding (Perl scripts, java, C, C++, Hercules, MatLab m files, etc.), but I do not have enough. My company does not allow me to use "free" tools but I have compiled a whole list staff that I use everyday from open source and installed it inside our server machines (after using some exploits to get root and installing in some really funky directory locations ;^). Not long ago, the head manager of our group asked in a group meeting why I was so "productive" when compared to the rest of my coworkers, and in a moment of inspiration I told him that because I have study the manuals of ALL our software tools very, very carefully and I applied all the tricks (I just forgot to mention that some of those tricks involve not using the stupid "proprietary" software tools that the company pays for, but instead use open source staff). Free is good!! no matter what your boss says, release your code for free!!!
  • All I have to say to you all is NIS, NFS, autofs, bind, apache, IIS, Exchange Server, Black Orifice, samba, ipfilter, ifconfig opts, mtu, dhcp, bla, bla, fuckin bla.

    I don't know why, but when you said this, I had an image of cartman spinning around yelling those words and zapping a poor coder. :)

    All men are great
    before declaring war

  • Cool. Looks like you work at a nice place. I'm jealous ;-) I really miss Nerf Wars :-(

  • Once in a while, one of us has a girlfriend who *demands* that we make a lot of money! :) I could actually care less how much money I make as long as I can do what I want, when I want. Money is a side effect of the kind of things I like to do...
  • An"engineer", and I use the word loosely, -one with all the pasperwork to prove and document his qualifications, decided to install a new file system at a University research project where I was working at the time. The files in question were statistical info, mostly math, on genome code (positions, biochem qualitative, etc etc. To make a long story short, he "lost" then corrupted a file that took five years of research to build, on a network that automatically "updated" backups. Another engineer came in and said there was little he could do without the original data (which had seemingly disappeared). He couldn't find it. A young student with a few fellow hackers, after brushing up on UNIX (BSD) for one day, had everything up an running as before within a few hours. These were guys with no papers to prove their competence. It impressed me so much I read articles on /. now, went from being a Windows slug to a freeBSD education the hard way, and never judge real hackers by the coffee stains on their T-shirts or their taste for Ramen, Krak dinners, Pizza, and Liberty. In other words, in spite of diplomas, true knowledge comes from the SOURCE.
  • I don't see this at all. From what the article was talking about I got an image of a guy who didn't leave his office for several days. Okay, I guess that could look like the first part -- if he hasn't showered and breathes too deeply. From the article it appears he worked 72 hours to get his system up and running, and this wasn't wasted time he was spending for his own enjoyment. The article talks about how 2.4's support for large files could be used on the job. I read the same article as you, but ended up with a completely different picture in my head (not an uncommon occurance).

    If playing guitar on the job counts as slacking, I will never be accused of it. I am about as musically inclined as I am inclined to run a marathon. I just would like to know where you got the impression that this guy was slacking. The article talks about how hackers don't have to worry about job security so they can afford to have a relaxed atmosphere; but, that is not really the same thing as never working. It is the fact that a hacker put in 80 hour work weeks that will make sure he gets a job no matter what kind of $h^t hits the fan.

    "Do not meddle in the affairs of sysadmins,

  • Now! This I do agree with. Emacs is the only program you need; everything should run on top of that. "Linux supplies the device drivers. Emacs is my operating system." -- I have no clue where I saw this.

    Seriously. The best part about Unix is not being stuck with one window manager. I have several on my machine and actually use a rarer one for daily use. But, KDE... well, I suppose; if it is the only thing you have, and it allows you to open four or five xterms, I could survive.

    I'm actually a huge VI fan, not an emacs one.

    "Do not meddle in the affairs of sysadmins,

  • Now, I am not suggesting that living on a very limited budget has to be bad. But I only have a microwave and a small fridge. I can't buy in bulk, and I can't cook most cheap foods. That leaves me with three main items on my dinner plate: Ramen noodles [@$0.1272 w/tax they can't be beat -- plus they make a pretty filling soup. One could be a whole meal. And at under 13 cents a meal they can't be beat ;-) ], Frozen burritos [@$0.23214 w/tax, they are more expensive than Ramen but you can live off their greasy fat longer. 1 for dinner.], and college roundsteak (more commonly known as Bologna) [@$1.33984 per pound, it can seem expensive at first. Unless you know that there are about 20 slices to a pound making it about 6.6992 cents a slice. With an $0.74 loaf of bread, you suddenly have some variety.] As a little side note: condiments are for the rich and the weak. I bought a 64 cent large bottle of hot souce at the start of the semester and that is all I need.

    This comes out to about 42 cents a day, assuming I eat all three. I usually only eat two of the three. Which would average to about 28.6 cents. You can figure it out yourself but that makes $2.00 - $3.01 a week. Well under eight dollars for two.

    Yes, this is what I really eat most of the time. Although I went out and bought other stuff to live on recently. I spent just over $30.00 for a good 5 weeks worth of food. Although the stuff not on this list will go a lot sooner. But it is near the beginning of the semester, I can afford to splurge.

    It will be noted that I did not include the price of beer in the cost above. It fluctuates way to much. I love good beer, so at the beginning of a semester I buy expensive stuff. But when the you only have $13.00 and two weeks to go, you will buy the cheapest beer you can find... or call in favors. {Will program for beer. Yoy can pay me later.} You have to be careful with that though. You are not the only broke person at the end of the semester.

    "Do not meddle in the affairs of sysadmins,

  • by frob2600 ( 309047 ) on Wednesday February 07, 2001 @03:54AM (#450195)
    Hackers, Himanen tells us, have a different relationship to money than normal folks do. They are not ruled by it; they don't do what they do out of a desire for money. They program because programming is intrinsically fascinating, and they share because sharing is righteous.

    Although many people out there might call this bull-poop, the idea certainly is more than just existant. I would say it is almost prevelent. It is very easy to confuse a good programmer with a hacker until you add all the traits together and while this one is not required, I look for it more than the others. I can respect a person more who gets into computers for the love of it and not the money. Too many people here at my school just want to make ungodly salaries and think computers are the way to do it.

    I never was this way (desiring large sums of money). I still am not this way. Even though I am not a poor programmer, I find it feels wrong to charge people for something I enjoy doing so much. Although I get beer out of it sometimes. ;-)

    I think this boils down to the one precept I base my life on. Sell what you need to survive (well maybe survive comfortably) and give the rest away. It is nice to spread $8.00 for two weeks of food, but you wouldn't want to do that once you are out of college.

    "When you enjoy this as much as I do, accepting money has to be prostitution in 48 out of 50 states!" -- annonymous hacker after 27 hour coding session.

    "Do not meddle in the affairs of sysadmins,

  • Mmm. Disagreements based on semantics. "I define hacker as A." "I define hacker as B." Well, to add my two cents...

    Call me old fashioned, but a hacker, IMHO, is someone who "hacks" into things... whether it be Defense Department computers or computer game code or whatever. There has to mystery about it; there has to be figuring out how things work on your own, understanding the computer at the most basic level, and then fooling or changing the system...

    I blame the media. In their urge to make computers sound cool, everyone's a hacker. It used to be an elite group. (One I'm not, BTW, in any way part of... except maybe for when I used to use a hex editor to give myself unlimited lives or money in computer games...<g>)

    I don't think anything done with setting-up or configuring open-source, by definition, could be considered "hacking", since it's all there in the open. Discovering and exploiting its weaknesses, on the other hand, could be.
  • "A McDonald's cashier or a taxi driver is not so lucky". Well, maybe they're not so well paid, but I don't reckon someone working a menial job is going to have less free time than a pro geek.
    You'd be surprised. Speaking with people in our data checking department in my company, which employs the largest number of low-paid workers in our business, it's clear that the vast majority have second and sometimes even third jobs. I was at a coffee/bagel place a few months ago and got talking to the waitress. She saw nothing unusual in that she would be working 12 hours that day, and had jobs that kept her working 7 days a week.

    I'm not saying everyone on minimum wage works like this. But it's interesting that of those who don't that I personally know, I'd put them as "hackers in another context." Example: The PADI dive instructor I know, who makes minimum wage as a dive store clerk, works relatively "normal" hours, but is clearly in it because the minimal overtime (instructing) is something he loves doing.

    I rated the article as being +5 Insightful, not for what it told the rest of the world about hackers, but the comments that ought to have made a few slashdotters who make the usual comments about how anyone on minimum wage can afford to do anything and have time to do anything else and if you don't like a job, well, you can just quit it and find a better one step back and think a bit.

    That said, one of the examples, the taxi driver, is maybe off base as well. Majority of taxi drivers I've met also fit into Salon's hacker ethic. Again they're doing a job they like, and do the overtime for the job as well as the money.

    We're pretty lucky when it comes down to it. How many dive instructors, taxi drivers, or Slashdot reading computer programmers would swap for a collection of jobs at McDs/bagel houses, data cleaning services, and house cleaning maid services?
    Keep attacking good things as "communist"

Competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. -- Dr. Laurence J. Peter