A Critique of the Hacker Ethic by Steven Levy

Topics: Computer, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, Hacker Pages: 6 (2040 words) Published: May 29, 2013
I found that Steven Levy makes some very bold claims. I will address those in next week’s Journal. This week, he mentions a long list of people and computers that ends up reading like a computing industry “Hall of Fame.” Many of these have contributed greatly to the way our computers work, how small and how powerful they have become. Below, I have some impressions as I looked into the biography of each. Levy’s descriptions are colorful, but not very enlightening, as regards their roles in computer history. Some of their situations have changed since then. I have listed some of the more interesting items and impressions from the text and the bios. Altair 8800 – This machine is considered by many as the first true personal computer. Microsoft’s first project was to develop the language for the computer, Altair BASIC. The 8800 was featured on the cover of Popular Mechanics in 1975, after which the numbers of orders through the mail is cited as the start of the PC revolution. Apple II – The first of a long line of successful machines. The Apple IIc was the first with a full-color monitor and the computer that introduced me into the new era. Doug Carlston – His company, Broderbund, is one of the top-grossing software companies in the world today. John Draper – He got his nickname, Captain Crunch, from the Quaker Oats cereal. Quaker Oats offered a whistle as a premium to entice purchases. John learned how use that whistle to simulate the tones AT&T used to connect to their long distance carrier networks. It is estimated that he placed millions, perhaps tens of millions, of dollars in free long distance phone calls before going to prison for it… that estimate is at retail value, of course. Bill Gates – I find it interesting that Levy mentions Gates as “cocky,” likely in the sense of being supremely confident in his own abilities to the point of excess. I wonder if Levy considers him the same way today. Many Hackers hold Gates in contempt because of the closed-source nature of Microsoft’s products and cookie-cutter production approach. IBM-PC - An homage to an honored enemy?

Steven Jobs – A hall-of-fame caliber leader and innovator, it is surprising that Levy holds a “non-hacking” person in such high esteem. Chris Esponosa, Tom Knight, Randy Wigginton, Peter Deutsch, David Silver – These teens and children show the emphasis youth has played in the development of computing and software through their interaction in the computer counterculture. Russel Noftsker’s Symbolics, Inc.developed the first domain name, symbolics.com. Symbolics went out of business rather quickly, but the domain name is still online. It contains a lot of interesting trivia about the Internet and computing in general. The website for the company who purchased the original Symbolics’ assets, copyrights and patents is still available at http://www.symbolics-dks.com/ Richard Stallman (rms) – Originally, I thought that Levy used the term, “Last of the Hackers” to describe rms as the ultimate hacker. That is, someone who will act as the prototype of what a hacker ought to be. After reading the text for this week, the term seems more than that. I think Levy is saying that rms will never give up the ideals of hacking (as Levy describes them). One non-technical hacker (by Levy’s definition) that figures prominently in a similar way to others on this list is Kevin Mitnick. He developed a method to access secure information, called “Social Engineering.” Mitnick would pose as someone who would reasonably be expected to have access to someone’s account, say a personal assistant to a minor Vice President, and pressure a receptionist, technician or security guard for sensitive information. The meat of the text from Steven Levy lies in chapter 2. Although I deeply appreciate the metaphorical exaggeration that Levy uses in his description of the early years at M.I.T. with TX-0, his statement still falls squarely on the shoulders of “The Hacker Ethic.” It seems that he...
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