"These guysyes, they're mostly guysare
ruthless. They rip each other to shreds with no hesitation. If you can't
leave your ego at the door, you're going to be a very unhappy hacker."
Zach Hoover 01 and Ryan Soard 01 wrestle at the keyboard during a scene from Deadfish, Idaho.
"There are people who get a kick out of breaking into other people's systems. They proclaim themselves hackers, but real hackers call these morons crackers and want nothing to do with them.
The media continues to confuse these, but the difference is simple: hackers build things, crackers break things."
HackerPhreaks and CyberGeeks
In January of 1979, I waged scholastic warfare with my best friend, Mike
Frye. We were 15 years old. Our rivalry, which began years before in elementary
school, had gradually grown more intense. Where once we had competed on
spelling tests, SRA reading levels, and who could read Charlie and
the Chocolate Factory the most times; suddenly it all became serious.
I had just won the DAR Prize. It was a staggering moment of victory. The
American Legion Award was less than a month away, and I felt certain that
if I could win it, Frye would be a broken man.
Then Frye called me up. He had something important to show me. When I
arrived, it was there on his desk: a brand new Tandy TRS-80 Model IV computerthe
very system we spent countless hours playing with at the local Radio Shack,
until the store manager kicked us out. I looked at the black and silver
gray box on Frye's desk and realized right there and then that I had lost.
I could only look on with envy.
Frye wasn't interested in playing with the machine. Frye wanted to be
a coder. Frye's favorite book was the Mostek Z80 instruction set reference
guide, which was the Geek bible of its day. All of his early attempts
at programming were assembled with paper and pencil, using the Mostek
book as a reference, and then typing in each piece of code manually. The
best parallel I can think of is the Native American process of additive
color dying used in the making of thread used for weaving fabrics. Before
you can weave the strands together to make the fabric, you must know the
"codes" for which dye combinations are required to achieve the
colors you want to use.
I have no interest in this kind of painstaking work, but watching Frye
gave me some insight into, and longstanding respect for, the nature of
By the time I came to Wabash in 1981, I had saved enough money to buy
my own computer: an Atari 800 XL with a whopping 16K of RAM. After moving
to New York four years later, I acquired an Atari 520ST and wrote my graduate
thesis on it. It was the first computer I actually relied on. I had to
trust this thing.
I also had to trust myself: I wanted to upgrade the memory to one megabyte;
Atari had no service centers, so I was on my own. This meant I would have
to open the case and install the replacement chips myself. This was a
geeks-only operation. The subset of theater people who also solder their
own memory chip upgrades is very small. I needed help.
I found it at the New York City Atari User's Group-a collection of Atari
computer enthusiasts who met on the first Tuesday of every month to share
ideas, swap software, and drink Schaffer's, possibly the worst beer made
in North America.
These guys-and they were all guys-showed me how to install the upgrade,
but that was the least of what I learned. That night I had my first look
at geeks in their natural habitat. That meeting-and I attended nearly
every one for four years-gave me my first glimpse of hacker culture.
Hackers essentially do two things: solve problems and build things. They
believe in voluntary cooperation and information sharing. They have an
instinctive hostility to censorship and secrecy. The cardinal sin in hackerdom
is selfishness. You contribute by improving on what others have done and
allowing others to improve what you have done.
In The Cathedral and the Bazaar, Eric S. Raymond lists five tenets
There are people (mostly adolescent males) who get a kick out of breaking
into other people's systems. They proclaim themselves hackers, but real
hackers call these morons crackers and want nothing to do with them. The
media continues to confuse these, but the difference is simple: hackers
build things, crackers break things.
After Atari pulled out of the hardware business, my interest in computers
shifted. In 1993 a friend of mine showed me a new operating system that
he claimed would eventually "blow Microsoft out of the water."
It was called Linux. Today, it's my primary operating system, and has
become the second most popular operating system worldwide, recently surpassing
MacIntosh in total number of users.
In 1991, the inventor of Linux, Linus Torvald, released the source code
for Linux into the public domain. In the years since, thousands of programmers
from all over the world have worked together to improve it. Today it is
probably the most stable OS on the planet. It almost never crashes. For
this reason, and a few others, it's become the main engine that keeps
the Internet running.
Linux is the OS of choice for most hackers. Given the anti-authoritarian
nature of most coders, it's easy to understand why most of them choose
to run Linux.
I'm not a hacker. I have only a rudimentary knowledge of programming. My real interest is in the culture surrounding hackers. To write my play, Deadfish, Idaho, I needed to get a closer look at coders doing their thing in the pressurized environment of a release deadline. There's really only one place to do this: the epicenter of hacker culture-Silicon Valley. So last July I traveled there.
If I was thrust into the middle of it, I suppose I would gradually adopt
the coder mode of communication; but artists don't generally work this
way. Our egos are too imbedded in the work.