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August 27 2013

Four short links: 28 August 2013

  1. Juju — Canonical’s cloud orchestration software, intended to be a peer of chef and puppet. (via svrn)
  2. Cultural Heritage Symbols — workshopped icons to indicate interactives, big data, makerspaces, etc. (via Courtney Johnston)
  3. Quinn Norton: Students as Hackers (EdTalks) — if you really want to understand the future, don’t look at how people are looking at technology, look at how they are misusing technology.
  4. noflo.js — visual flow controls for Javascript.

August 05 2013

OHM 2013 : les hackers sortent du bois | Mediapart paywall

#OHM 2013 : les #hackers sortent du bois | Mediapart #paywall

Aujourd’hui, on voit émerger l’idée que la convivialité est un outil de sécurité. [#cybersécurité]

Sponsored post

July 11 2013

Les hackers, ces héros de la révolution du Web -

Les #hackers, ces héros de la révolution du Web -

Pour Julien Cordoniou de Facebook Europe, les hackers d’aujourd’hui sont les entrepreneurs développeurs de demain. Le logiciel est la seule industrie où la méritocratie fonctionne et où diplômes et origine sociale n’ont pas de valeur. Reste qu’il nous manque 60 000 à 100 000 développeurs pour satisfaire la demande. Pour Julien Cordoniou, il faut éveiller à l’informatique dès l’école primaire car le logiciel sera le moteur de la croissance du XXIe. Tags : internetactu (...)

#éducation #école #code

Réflexions destinées à la cérémonie commémorative pour Aaron_Swartz

Réflexions destinées à la cérémonie commémorative pour #Aaron_Swartz

« Il y a longtemps, Henry David #Thoreau a demandé si un « citoyen [devrait] jamais un instant, ou le moins du monde, abdiquer sa conscience au législateur ? » C’est une question qui devrait être posée en permanence. Je le dis en tant que législateur, et en tant que père. Désormais je pense à Aaron quand je lis le livre Henry gravit une montagne à mes jumeaux de cinq ans. Le livre a été inspiré par la nuit que Thoreau passa en prison. » Washington, DC, le 4 février 2013 Il y a longtemps, Henry David (...) (...)

#Hommages #USA #XXIe_siècle #Hackers #hacktivisme

September 06 2012

Digging into the UDID data

Over the weekend the hacker group Antisec released one million UDID records that they claim to have obtained from an FBI laptop using a Java vulnerability. In reply the FBI stated:

The FBI is aware of published reports alleging that an FBI laptop was compromised and private data regarding Apple UDIDs was exposed. At this time there is no evidence indicating that an FBI laptop was compromised or that the FBI either sought or obtained this data.

Of course that statement leaves a lot of leeway. It could be the agent’s personal laptop, and the data may well have been “property” of an another agency. The wording doesn’t even explicitly rule out the possibility that this was an agency laptop, they just say that right now they don’t have any evidence to suggest that it was.

This limited data release doesn’t have much impact, but the possible release of the full dataset, which is claimed to include names, addresses, phone numbers and other identifying information, is far more worrying.

While there are some almost dismissing the issue out of hand, the real issues here are: Where did the data originate? Which devices did it come from and what kind of users does this data represent? Is this data from a cross-section of the population, or a specifically targeted demographic? Does it originate within the law enforcement community, or from an external developer? What was the purpose of the data, and why was it collected?

With conflicting stories from all sides, the only thing we can believe is the data itself. The 40-character strings in the release at least look like UDID numbers, and anecdotally at least we have a third-party confirmation that this really is valid UDID data. We therefore have to proceed at this point as if this is real data. While there is a possibility that some, most, or all of the data is falsified, that’s looking unlikely from where we’re standing standing at the moment.

With that as the backdrop, the first action I took was to check the released data for my own devices and those of family members. Of the nine iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch devices kicking around my house, none of the UDIDs are in the leaked database. Of course there isn’t anything to say that they aren’t amongst the other 11 million UDIDs that haven’t been released.

With that done, I broke down the distribution of leaked UDID numbers by device type. Interestingly, considering the number of iPhones in circulation compared to the number of iPads, the bulk of the UDIDs were self-identified as originating on an iPad.

Distribution of UDID by device type

What does that mean? Here’s one theory: If the leak originated from a developer rather than directly from Apple, and assuming that this subset of data is a good cross-section on the total population, and assuming that the leaked data originated with a single application … then the app that harvested the data is likely a Universal application (one that runs on both the iPhone and the iPad) that is mostly used on the iPad rather than on the iPhone.

The very low numbers of iPod Touch users might suggest either demographic information, or that the application is not widely used by younger users who are the target demographic for the iPod Touch, or alternatively perhaps that the application is most useful when a cellular data connection is present.

The next thing to look at, as the only field with unconstrained text, was the Device Name data. That particular field contains a lot of first names, e.g. “Aaron’s iPhone,” so roughly speaking the distribution of first letters in the this field should give a decent clue as to the geographical region of origin of the leaked list of UDIDs. This distribution is of course going to be different depending on the predominant language in the region.

Distribution of UDID by the first letter of the “Device Name” field

The immediate stand out from this distribution is the predominance of device name strings starting with the letter “i.” This can be ascribed to people who don’t have their own name prepended to the Device Name string, and have named their device “iPhone,” “iPad” or “iPod Touch.”

The obvious next step was to compare this distribution with the relative frequency of first letters in words in the English language.

Comparing the distribution of UDID by first letter of the “Device Name” field against the relative frequencies of the first letters of a word in the English language

The spike for the letter “i” dominated the data, so the next step was to do some rough and ready data cleaning.

I dropped all the Device Name strings that started with the string “iP.” That cleaned out all those devices named “iPhone,” “iPad” and “iPod Touch.” Doing that brought the number of device names starting with an “i” down from 159,925 to just 13,337. That’s a bit more reasonable.

Comparing the distribution of UDID by first letter of the “Device Name” field, ignoring all names that start with the string “iP,” against the relative frequencies of the first letters of a word in the English language

I had a slight over-abundance of “j,” although that might not be statistically significant. However, the stand out was that there was a serious under-abundance of strings starting with the letter “t,” which is interesting. Additionally, with my earlier data cleaning I also had a slight under-abundance of “i,” which suggested I may have been too enthusiastic about cleaning the data.

Looking at the relative frequency of letters in languages other than English it’s notable that amongst them Spanish has a much lower frequency of the use of “t.”

As the de facto second language of the United States, Spanish is the obvious next choice  to investigate. If the devices are predominantly Spanish in origin then this could solve the problem introduced by our data cleaning. As Marcos Villacampa noted in a tweet, in Spanish you would say “iPhone de Mark” rather than “Mark’s iPhone.”

Comparing the distribution of UDID by first letter of the “Device Name” field, ignoring all names that start with the string “iP,” against the relative frequencies of the first letters of a word in the Spanish language

However, that distribution didn’t really fit either. While “t” was much better, I now had an under-abundance of words with an ”e.” Although it should be noted that, unlike our English language relative frequencies, the data I was using for Spanish is for letters in the entire word, rather than letters that begin the word. That’s certainly going to introduce biases, perhaps fatal ones.

Not that I can really make the assumption that there is only one language present in the data, or even that one language predominates, unless that language is English.

At this stage it’s obvious that the data is, at least more or less, of the right order of magnitude. The data probably shows devices coming from a Western country. However, we’re a long way from the point where I’d come out and say something like ” … the device names were predominantly in English.” That’s not a conclusion I can make.

I’d be interested in tracking down the relative frequency of letters used in Arabic when the language is transcribed into the Roman alphabet. While I haven’t been able to find that data, I’m sure it exists somewhere. (Please drop a note in the comments if you have a lead.)

The next step for the analysis is to look at the names themselves. While I’m still in the process of mashing up something that will access U.S. census data and try and reverse geo-locate a name to a “most likely” geographical origin, such services do already exist. And I haven’t really pushed the boundaries here, or even started a serious statistical analysis of the subset of data released by Antisec.

This brings us to Pete Warden’s point that you can’t really anonymize your data. The anonymization process for large datasets such as this is simply an illusion. As Pete wrote:

Precisely because there are now so many different public datasets to cross-reference, any set of records with a non-trivial amount of information on someone’s actions has a good chance of matching identifiable public records.

While this release in itself is fairly harmless, a number of “harmless” releases taken together — or cleverly cross-referenced with other public sources such as Twitter, Google+, Facebook and other social media — might well be more damaging. And that’s ignoring the possibility that Antisec really might have names, addresses and telephone numbers to go side-by-side with these UDID records.

The question has to be asked then, where did this data originate? While 12 million records might seem a lot, compared to the number of devices sold it’s not actually that big a number. There are any number of iPhone applications with a 12-million-user installation base, and this sort of backend database could easily have been built up by an independent developer with a successful application who downloaded the device owner’s contact details before Apple started putting limitations on that.

Ignoring conspiracy theories, this dataset might be the result of a single developer. Although how it got into the FBI’s possession and the why of that, if it was ever there in the first place, is another matter entirely.

I’m going to go on hacking away at this data to see if there are any more interesting correlations, and I do wonder whether Antisec would consider a controlled release of the data to some trusted third party?

Much like the reaction to #locationgate, where some people were happy to volunteer their data, if enough users are willing to self-identify, then perhaps we can get to the bottom of where this data originated and why it was collected in the first place.

Thanks to Hilary Mason, Julie Steele, Irene RosGemma Hobson and Marcos Villacampa for ideas, pointers to comparative data sources, and advice on visualisation of the data.



In response to a post about this article on Google+, Josh Hendrix made the suggestion that I should look at word as well as letter frequency. It was a good idea, so I went ahead and wrote a quick script to do just that…

The top two words in the list are “iPad,” which occurs 445,111 times, and “iPhone,” which occurs 252,106 times. The next most frequent word is “iPod,” but that occurs only 36,367 times. This result backs up my earlier result looking at distribution by device type.

Then there are various misspellings and mis-capitalisations of “iPhone,” “iPad,” and “iPod.”

The first real word that isn’t an Apple trademark is “Administrator,” which occurs 10,910 times. Next are “David” (5,822), “John” (5,447), and “Michael” (5,034). This is followed by “Chris” (3,744), “Mike” (3,744), “Mark” (3,66) and “Paul” (3,096).

Looking down the list of real names, as opposed to partial strings and tokens, the first female name doesn’t occur until we’re 30 places down the list — it’s “Lisa” (1,732) with the next most popular female name being “Sarah” (1,499), in 38th place.

The top 100 names occurring in the UDID list.

The word “Dad” occurs 1,074 times, with “Daddy” occurring 383 times. For comparison the word “Mum” occurs just 58 times, and “Mummy” just 33. “Mom” came in with 150 occurrences, and “mommy” with 30. The number of occurrences for “mum,” “mummy,” “mom,” and “mommy” combined is 271, which is still very small compared to the combined total of 1,457 for “dad” and “daddy.”

[Updated: Greg Yardly wisely pointed out on Twitter that I was being a bit English-centric in only looking for the words "mum" and "mummy," which is why I expanded the scope to include "mom" and "mommy."]

There is a definite gender bias here, and I can think of at least a few explanations. The most likely is fairly simplistic: The application where the UDID numbers originated either appeals to, or is used more, by men.

Alternatively, women may be less likely to include their name in the name of their device, perhaps because amongst other things this name is used to advertise the device on wireless networks?

Either way I think this definitively pins it down as a list of devices originating in an Anglo-centric geographic region.

Sometimes the simplest things work better. Instead of being fancy perhaps I should have done this in the first place. However this, combined with my previous results, suggest that we’re looking at an English speaking, mostly male, demographic.

Correlating the top 20 or so names and with the list of most popular baby names (by year) all the way from the mid-’60s up until the mid-’90s (so looking at the most popular names for people between the ages of say 16 and 50) might give a further clue as to the exact demographic involved.

Both Gemma Hobson and Julie Steele directed me toward the U.S. Social Security Administration’s Popular Baby Names By Decade list. A quick and dirty analysis suggests that the UDID data is dominated by names that were most popular in the ’70s and ’80s. This maps well to my previous suggestion that the lack of iPod Touch usage might suggest that the demographic was older.

I’m going to do a year-by-year breakdown and some proper statistics later on, but we’re looking at an application that’s probably used by: English speaking males with an Anglo-American background in their 30s or 40s. It’s most used on the iPad, and although it also works on the iPhone, it’s used far less on that platform.

Thanks to Josh Hendrix, and again to Gemma Hobson and Julie Steele, for ideas and pointers to sources for this part of the analysis.


February 03 2012

Makers and hackers: The Where Conference is looking for you

Where Conference 2012The program for Where, our geolocation and mapping conference, is almost complete. Now we're looking for makers, hackers, developers, and DIYers to bring awesomeness to the 2012 Where Conference (April 2-4 in San Francisco).

There are three ways to participate.

1. Share an amazing geo/location/data visualization video or image

Geodata is often best expressed visually. Inspired by projects like Cab Spotting, Dave Imus' The Essential Geography Of The United States Of America and Eric Fisher's Locals and Tourists, we want your data viz videos, imagery and cartography. (Be sure that you have rights to the underlying data and that you attribute it properly.)

2. Create an interactive RFID installation

Inspired by Mediamatic, each attendee will have an RFID tag that can be paired with our conference social network. If an attendee swipes his or her tag, you'll be able to:

  • Fetch info about the owner of a swiped badge.
  • Show the owner of a swiped badge where they are supposed to be next, according to their personal schedule.
  • Send the owner of a swiped badge a message via the attendee directory.
  • Make two owners of swiped badges contacts within the attendee directory.

3. Mini Maker Faire: Hardware project

The Where Mini Maker Faire will take place on Wednesday, April 4. We're interested in any hardware project that is in the geo/location/sensing space, particularly ones that feature:

  • Kinect/Computer Vision Arduino/Lilypad/ADK Processing for Android
  • Beagle Board/Panda Board
  • Gadgeteer Wearables
  • ROBOTS!!!!

Mini Maker Faire setup includes a four-inch skirted, countertop-level table, Wi-Fi and power.

Acceptances will be rolling. The deadline to get your proposal in is March 1, so apply soon. If your project is accepted for any of the above, you'll receive a pass to Where.

Where Conference 2012 — O'Reilly's Where Conference, being held April 2-4 in San Francisco, is where the people working on and using location technologies explore emerging trends in software development, tools, business strategies and marketing.

Save 20% on registration with the code RADAR20

October 07 2011

Looking for the future? Watch the "crackpots"

Attention in the tech space is generally bestowed upon massive incumbents or hot new startups. The small teams and lone enthusiasts rarely get a mention, let alone major media coverage.

But if you're looking for what's next — the envelope-pushing stuff and the tech that will shape our world in years to come — you need to expand your field of vision to include the "crackpots."

This point was the crux of an energetic discussion between Tim O'Reilly and Charlie Rose at the IAB Mixx Conference & Expo.

"The future often happens with crackpots who are pre-startup," O'Reilly said. "By the time the venture capitalists and the startups arrive, the technology is in full swing." [Discussed 21 seconds in.]

The interview touched on a number of related topics, including:

  • The evolution of Maker Faire and the arrival of the VCs. [59 seconds in]
  • Who knows the enthusiasts driving new technology? The other enthusiasts. [1:34]
  • The convergence of "patterns in technology and patterns in people." [2:00]
  • What qualities do enthusiasts share? Disregard for convention, independent thinkers, passion, and they want to make the future happen. [3:41]
  • Asking who will be the next Mark Zuckerberg is like asking "who will be the next person to win the lottery." [4:35]

A portion of the interview has been made available in the following video:

You'll find comments and additional discussion about this interview in this Google+ thread.


July 15 2011

Visualization of the Week: An approval matrix for hacking

This post is part of a new series exploring visualizations. Some weeks we'll point the way to intriguing examples we find in our web travels. Other times we'll dive into our own datasets and imagery. We're always looking for leads, so please drop us a line if there's a visualization you think we should know about.

New York Magazine has long published its Approval Matrix as a way of visualizing its assessments of various pop cultural phenomenon, from high brow to low brow on the vertical scale and from brilliant to desperate on the horizontal scale.

Now, the technology magazine IEEE Spectrum has released its own visualization — "The Two Faces of Hacking" — using a similar sort of scale, but one that depicts not great (or awful) movies, but good, bad and neutral hacks.

"We took 25 of the biggest and best stories and assessed them along two dimensions: innovation and impact," writes IEEE. "Whether you agree with our assessments or not, we'd like to hear what you think."

IEEE Spectrum
Click for the interactive visualization.

Indeed, rating hacks this way raises a number of interesting questions: What constitutes a "good" hack? Is it motive? Is it skill? Is it the obtaining of a certain amount of attention or media buzz?

More broadly, what does it mean to visualize material on this sort of scale? Does it make recent hacks understandable by the general population? Or does it still assume a certain amount of insider knowledge (arguably, just as New York Magazine's film assessments do)?

OSCON Data 2011, being held July 25-27 in Portland, Ore., is a gathering for developers who are hands-on, doing the systems work and evolving architectures and tools to manage data.

Save 20% on registration with the code OS11RAD


February 16 2011

Four short links: 16 February 2011

  1. Interactive Treemap for the Budget (NY Times) -- why don't government departments produce and release these automatically? (via Flowing Data)
  2. Hold Conversations Not Meetings (HBR) -- that sentence perfectly captures the heart of Foo Camp. (via Hacker News)
  3. Kiwi Foo 2011 Book Recommendations -- we held a "which books are you reading, or would recommend?" session and this is the collected output.
  4. Hackers, Transparency, and the Zen of Failure -- If hackers can't create something with the data, they won't do anything with it. The idea of an "army of armchair auditors" becomes a functional paradox, as the people the Government has in mind for the data apparently sit in armchairs, while the hackers sit in cafes, meet in pubs, and generally find comfy chairs far too comfy to code in. (via Public Strategist)

February 14 2011

Trend to watch: Formal relationships between governments and hackers

Cyber security grabs headlines when something big happens, like last year's Google-China flap, but it's one of those topics that dissipates. That's perhaps because a "cyber war" is hard to imagine — typing on keyboards doesn't have the visual clarity of tanks maneuvering into position.

However, it's important to not equate a lack of mainstream attention with a reduced threat. That's why we'll be checking in from time to time with Jeffrey Carr, author of "Inside Cyber Warfare" and CEO of Taia Global. He'll key us in to the important cyber security trends he's monitoring.

The first interview, posted below, focuses on the rise of formal arrangements between governments and hackers.

Jeffrey CarrJeffrey Carr: We're going to see a trend in 2011 — maybe longer — of governments enlisting civilians as part of an organized cyber militia.

There's information about Estonia doing this. Also, late last year an official Iranian newspaper said the Iranian paramilitary corps may recruit hackers to conduct a "soft war" in cyberspace. Iran already has a lot of active hacker groups, and I think they're simply formalizing a relationship. I wrote about this recently.

Countries like Russia and China use hackers and other civilian resources, but they do it in a covert way. Iran and Estonia are being open about it.

Other countries get ideas when a government like Estonia's, which you wouldn't suspect of doing illegal things with their civilian hackers, says they're going this route. The upside — and the reason why Estonia and Iran are engaging in these activities — is because it's an economical way to tap a great pool of talent. You don't have to reinvent the wheel to create a cyber defense.

The same topic pops up in U.S. debates almost every year. The people in favor of government-hacker programs sometimes refer to a Letter of Marque, which historically allowed governments to enlist private vessels &mdsash; and pirates — in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

But I think it's going to be a long time before we see government-hacker relationships in the U.S. because the Department of Defense is likely averse to this type of thing. There are models that could serve as potential examples, like the civilian Coast Guard Auxiliary, but the big difference between something like that and what you're seeing in Estonia is that Estonia is saying "It's part of our government, and we're doing it."

This interview was edited and condensed.

Inside Cyber Warfare: This book provides details on how nations, groups, and individuals throughout the world are using the Internet as an attack platform to gain military, political, and economic advantages over their adversaries.


December 02 2010

Gov 2.0 events: Civic hacktivists gather globally

There's an exciting stretch of days ahead for Gov 2.0 events around the world. Out in the mountains of the United Sates, people interested in local Gov 2.0 will be gathering together this weekend at CityCamp Colorado. CityCamp CO will include a collaborative virtual panel on data journalism with special guest Jeanne Holm from

Yesterday, United Nations Global Pulse kicked off its inaugural three-day Pulse Camp in New York. According to its organizers, the Pulse Camp will focus on "designing an open source real-time platform to protect vulnerable populations in global crises" over the next three days.

rhok_logo_CS4.pngU.N. Global Pulse will contribute challenges to another coding effort following the effort, Random Hacks of Kindness #2. Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra blogged about "hacking for humanity" this summer at, describing it as "an initiative that brings together the sustainable development, disaster risk management, and software developer communities to solve real-world problems with technology. Patrick Svenburg, director of platform strategy for Microsoft's U.S. Public Sector developer and platform evangelism group, blogged further about the history and mission of Random Hacks of Kindness at Sector Public:

What happens when brainy folks from NASA, The World Bank, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google put their heads together to develop innovative solutions to humanity's problems? Random Hacks of Kindness, or RHoK, is about building a community of innovative people who can contribute technology expertise to help make the world a better place ... What's the bottom line here?  Talented experts from the private sector teaming up with public sector leaders, giving up their free time to develop open source solutions that help save lives and alleviate suffering around the world.  Now that's the kind of hacking we can all support.

RHoK will be a worldwide effort, with "main stage" events in Denmark, Brazil, Kenya, Illinois and India. Here's a short video explaining more:

Remarkably, Random Hacks of Kindness isn't the only global hackathon this weekend. Around the world, the International Open Data Hackathon will convene participants in over 56 cities in 26 countries on 5 continents. According to the hackathon website, the hackathon will be "a gathering of citizens in cities around the world to write applications using open public data to show support for and encourage the adoption open data policies by the world's local, regional and national governments."

Organizer David Eaves, a Canadian open government data advocate, wrote in to say that he's hoping the open data hackathon "yields some exciting outcomes and raises awareness." Eaves also shared that he'd recently helped launched, which uses open data to let Canadians track pollution in their neighborhoods. He said more more features and build outs are on the way.

The hackathon has a number of useful tools online, including a great list of open data tools like Scraper Wiki, Google Refine, mapping and format converters.

If you're interested in open government, Gov 2.0 or civic hacking, you know where to go and help.

August 17 2010

June 03 2010

"Hackers" at 25

Steven Levy wrote a book in the mid-1980s that introduced the term "hacker" -- the positive connotation -- to a wide audience. In the ensuing 25 years, that word and its accompanying community have gone through tremendous change. The book itself became a mainstay in tech libraries.

O'Reilly recently released an updated 25th anniversary edition of "Hackers," so I checked in with Levy to discuss the book's development, its influence, and the role hackers continue to play.

Writing "Hackers"

Do you remember the original pitch for "Hackers"?

Steven LevySteven Levy: I don't remember it, though I can tell you that it didn't wind up being what the book was. I thought I was going to embark on a series of magazine articles.

Soon after I started researching, it seemed like it was going to be a two-part book starting with the Homebrew Computer Club and then the game hackers and that emerging industry. But then I realized that the whole hacker culture started at MIT. That was where I had to go, and it turned out to be a key section of the book.

Of all the stories and profiles in the book, which resonated most with you?

SL: The MIT story was just amazing. I stumbled upon this important history and no one else had chronicled it. It's difficult to overestimate how important that community was to hatching the culture of hacking, and really the culture of computing. It had ripples far beyond the hacker community that went out to the way we all use computers.

I would learn about these people like Richard Greenblatt and Bill Gosper, that no one ever heard of. The way they expressed themselves and the reverberations they created were very influential. They were legends within the walls of MIT.

It's a little bittersweet that the book itself wound up defining them to a larger audience. From a journalistic and psychological perspective, it was interesting to talk to Greenblatt and Gosper. They had mixed feelings about sharing with me. Gosper had the biggest vacillation. He was okay with the book, but he never went to a Hacker Conference. And there's things in the book that were a little embarrassing for Greenblatt, but he was okay. He felt: "Well, that's just journalism. The more important thing is hacking, and if the book is good for hacking, that's all right."

Some of the people who grudgingly talked to me ended up appreciating the book. Marvin Minsky, for example, was a mercurial character. He'd get up and walk away and you didn't know whether the interview was over. I would follow him and keep asking questions. I ran into him at a Science Foo Camp last summer, and he said such nice things about the book. I had never heard these things from him. That was just super for me.

Is there anyone you wish you had included?

SL: I didn't set out to create an exhaustive chronicle of all hackers. Some people have told me I should have included them in the book. But I was following a narrative. Just because someone isn't in the book, doesn't mean they're not important.

The "Hackers" impact and the 25th anniversary edition

How has the definition of "hacker" changed over the last 25 years?

Hackers: 25th Anniversary EditionSL: The original term was upbeat. The MIT people adopted it for computer wizards who took systems to the limit. It was a badge of pride, but it became associated with vandals and thieves. There was a lot of consternation in the mid-'70s when the word became synonymous with a destructive element. I never thought that was something to spend a lot of time worrying about, though. The original definition was still lurking there. The movement always went forward, and the people who were inclined to be hackers -- the ones who had the "hacker gene" -- they just kept on.

More recently, the positive version of "hacker" has made a big comeback. I'm happy to see that.

You mentioned a "hacker gene." Is there a connection across hacker generations? Does the book tap into that?

SL: There definitely is. It's been so gratifying to hear people say the book changed their lives. Other times, I'll be reading a biography or an article about someone prominent in the computer world, and they'll mention "Hackers." Some have told me "I recognize myself in this book, and I didn't know those other people were out there."

If you were writing the book today, how would you approach it?

SL: It's hard to say because so much now is taken for granted that wasn't even thought of back then. One of the precepts of the hacker ethic -- which I tried to codify based on what I saw as the implicit assumptions of hackers for various generations -- was that you can create art and beauty on a computer. That was a crazy idea back then, but now it's pretty obvious. The super edgy ideas at that time are now so mainstream you don’t even think about them. So, now, it would have to be a really different kind of book.

The 25th anniversary edition contains updated material. What did you add?

SL: I went back to some of the people originally in the book. I also talked to people who, if I were writing the book now, would've been in it.

Working behind the update was the idea that we had all gotten older. That just happens after 25 years. Everyone was still as enthusiastic as before, though. Take Bill Gates. Even though he has a different job, he's still as hardcore as he was. He's hacking vaccinations, now. And don't think for a minute he's lost track of what happens with Microsoft.

The new people were great. Mark Zuckerberg, to me, is the person who embodies the kind of hacker who doesn't see the conflict so much between commerce and computer creativity. It's all at peace to him.

Hacking in the present day

Are we in a position now where low-cost storage and pay-as-you-go resources will unlock a level of innovation similar to what you encountered when you were writing "Hackers"?

SL: It's a continuation. At the time, creating a program that lived on a paper tape and that was shared among a dozen people was as revolutionary and as dramatic a change as these cloud-based application centers are now. That same sort of flexibility and launching pad for creativity snowballed into something that the masses now participate in.

Is Apple's success with closed products (iPhone, iPad, etc.) an ominous sign for hacking?

SL: Even though Apple has an iron hand in executing the limits that they've set, there's a lot of creativity that happens on the iPhone and the iPad. Setting those limits isn't a very hackerish thing to do. But certainly if you're a hacker and you're so inclined, you could work within those limits and you could write something that Apple would approve. And people have. Just because Apple has top-down regulation, doesn't mean there's no room for creativity.

What is the next frontier for hacking? Physical goods? Biological? Something else?

SL: I don't think we're done with computer hacking. It's more important than ever to have creative ways to make use of this unbelievable infrastructure that we've created.

Any time you think it's all been done, someone comes up with something that changes everything. Look at Napster. There was this period where people thought all the big companies would make all the big decisions, and then Napster came out of a dorm room and knocked everything upside down. We're going to see more of those. Facebook came from a dorm room, right? A great idea that's well implemented can go farther than it's ever been able to go before.

This interview was condensed and edited.


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