[Hpr] What's a "hacker"?

epicanis+hpr at dogphilosophy.net epicanis+hpr at dogphilosophy.net
Tue Mar 19 17:25:12 PDT 2013

> Why not just use the definition from how to become a hacker?
> http://www.catb.org/esr/faqs/hacker-howto.html

> The definition as in the jargon file,
> http://www.catb.org/jargon/html/H/hacker.html , is arguably the most
> authoritative definition of the word.

Since when would a hacker accept "appeal to authority"? :-)
This is a topic that's been simmering in the back of my brain for a few years now, and of course
it's all tangled up with a desire for pro-"hacker" activism which colors my thoughts.
(Oh, crap on a stick, this is going to turn into an email essay, isn't it?...)

I wouldn't use those sources because...well, for one thing, they're not definitions.

The "How to become a hacker" document is a good one, but doesn't do anything but give some (completely accurate in my opinion) general examples of hacker characteristics (and then essentially says "become a computer programmer" which is one way to do it, but I suggest is neither necessary nor sufficient.)

The jargon file has *8* "definitions", which appear to be based on the computer-programmer community over a quarter-century ago, and all of which I have problems with for modern usage.

Going through them, they are (to paraphrase)

1. Someone who enjoys computer-programming theory.
2. Someone who REALLY enjoys computer-programming theory.
3. Someone good enough at hacking to appreciate a good hack.
4. Someone who is good at one particular computer program and/or a specialist computer programmer.
5. A fast computer programmer
6. Someone who is really good at something or really likes something.
7. Someone who likes puzzles
8. A criminal computer expert even though you shouldn't use this word for that.

These all look like examples (and unfortunately almost entirely defined by "computer programming") rather than any definition one could apply to something that someone may engage in to determine if what they are doing counts as "hacking". The first five all boil down to "someone who's really into computer programming", which I think is neither sufficiently inclusive nor entirely accurate (I find it UNLIKELY that someone could get really good at computer programming entirely by rote, but such a person could hypothetically exist. I consider the idea of any activity devoid of creativity being "hacking" to be oxymoronic, so someone who was really good at/really "into" putting together software in a manner that was entirely by rote and devoid of creative input should definitely NOT be called a "hacker" - at least not a "software" hacker.).Furthermore, definition 3 is just plain circular. Definition 6 implies merely being "into" something would make one a "hacker", but being "into" something doesn't necessarily translate to being creative or even necessarily competent, and conversely I would NOT deny the term "hacking" to someone who wasn't especially familiar with or even fond of a particular area of knowledge but happened to spot and implement some clever application of it anyway.

I think 7 is an almost-mandatory characteristic of "hackers", but doesn't seem like an appropriate definition (this is like defining an "athlete" as "someone who is strong".)

8 is "the media SAYS this is what hackers are but they're wrong" (which I agree entirely with, but isn't really helpful for defining what a "hacker" IS).

I said a "hacker" is "someone who engages in hacking" (which is NOT defined by ESR, and the definitions of "hack" are pretty vague) because I suggest that the central definition that is important is that of the ACTIVITY, not the person doing it.

I'm going to reject "computer programming" as a necessary element of "hacking" (though it is rightfully an extremely popular medium with which to conduct hacking - I'm only saying that an activity may still be "hacking" even if it's not "computer programming") in the modern era, and in particular in regards to "hacker public radio(tm)".

Should we be assuming coleman lanterns, urban camping, and cooking are "of interest to expert computer programmers"? (I argue "no", obviously). I suggest that the pleasantly inclusive and wide-ranging topics that are appropriate for Hacker Public Radio implies that we accept the possibility for a listener to be a "hacker" in some field other than computer programming.

At this point my thoughts split between two subtopics: the "purpose" of HPR, and exactly why I am currently using the definition that I mentioned, and I'm wondering if I shouldn't just shut up for now and either wait for someone else to chime in or just go add it to the topic list for my backlog of HPR episodes to record...

Actually before I shut up let me take a stab at the former topic.  I doubt this is "official", and I'm not even sure everyone (or anyone even) else would agree, but I would suggest that the "purpose" of Hacker Public Radio is the encouragement and support of "the hacker nature", which I will (intentionally vaguely) for now define as "the constellation of personality traits and thought processes that results in the likelihood that its possessors will regularly engage in hacking". In short, I suggest that Hacker Public Radio's "purpose" is to encourage people to become "Hackers", and to encourage those who already are "hackers" to become better.ones. Society would benefit greatly from a lot more hacking these days in my opinion.

I'll stop for the moment before I start rambling worse than I already am...

(Oh, and I like the idea of a round-table discussion - if everyone who wants to participate is willing to use the current release-candidate client so I can try/promote Opus support, I'd even be willing to set up and host a murmur server of our own to host it on. I would like to get it rolling in writing first though so I can try to get my own thoughts on it together...)

Shutting up now...

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