The Rise of Hacking
August 13, 2009

I just skimmed a bloggy post on news.yc titled "The Fall of Hacking". It got a pretty mixed reception, but I was surprised that nobody on news.yc seemed to think that it directly contradicted what's actually going on. Since I'm procrastinating any one of a large number of overdue projects, and since I wouldn't mind driving a little attention to my nascent site ... eh, I'll jump in with a diametrically opposing viewpoint.

I'm 30; I got my first exposure to computers along about the second grade, with a really neat setup consisting of a Commodore Vic-20 and a Commodore 64. I taught myself programming by typing in programs from the back of a magazine (I think I got it from the public library), and in between bouts of record-breaking scores in Asteroids on an Atari, I gradually got the hang of POKEs and PEEKs and computer memory and logic and program flow and all that kind of stuff.

Later, I picked up Pascal, then moved on to C, then started digging around in the guts of a computer with 68040 assembly programming. I discovered the joys and wonders of MacsBug, and figured out how to edit the compiled code of some shareware games so that I didn't have to register them. (I don't do that anymore.)

I also had various electronics kits, chemistry kits, mechanical toys, and the like.

The thing is ... I was kind of an anomaly. There were very, very few kids throughout my school years that did anything even remotely similar, and, being all introverts, we didn't really get to know each-other. There was no community to it; we each learned aspects of "hacking" completely on our own, in our own little islands of investigation.

It's different today. Better, I think. There was no JavaScript for me to toy around with at that time. I couldn't just create a text file on my computer and open it in a web browser and learn the basics of programming that way. There wasn't much in the way of communities -- yes, there were BBSs, but those required you to tie up a phone line. There weren't the kind of active, dynamic, easy-to-access communities that there are now. If someone wants to learn about how things work now, you have some really great resources -- not the least of which is Wikipedia. Remember when you had volumes and volumes of encyclopedias to flip through if you wanted more information on a subject?

There are classes for it, too. I briefly tutored a teenager in the basics of programming. We started with Phrogram, which was kinda horrible but worked OK as an introduction. From there we briefly moved on to Shoooes, and from there he started teaching himself C. He'll hopefully be attending a school geared towards kids like him -- I don't think we had those so much when I was learning this stuff. There are mechatronics classes and the like, and it's no longer quite as strange for a kid to be doing these things.

The author might be disappointed in some of the mainstream aspects of the computer industry, but he's certainly picking and choosing his examples. Sure, there are business-oriented sites now geared towards people that make shiny websites with trendy languages, but so what? There are also plenty of really good security forums, you can still hack on embedded systems -- if anything, things like Arduino make that more accessible than ever before -- you can play around now with network protocols, and best of all, none of this really carries the same social stigma it used to.

These do not sound to me like the traits of a thing which is dying out.