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Hacker

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Hacker

Postby Dr. Goodword » Sun Jul 06, 2014 10:52 pm

• hacker •


Pronunciation: hæ-kêr • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A computer programmer, a computer buff. 2. Someone who gains unauthorized access to a computer or computer system. 3. Someone who enthusiastically pursues a game or sport: a weekend tennis hacker.

Notes: We are ignoring the common meaning of this word, "someone who chops (irregularly)", for the more recent senses. Hacker is derived from hack "to write computer programs" or "play golf or tennis poorly".

In Play: A hacker can be just a computer programmer: "Wiley Fox will hack you out a search code for your database. He's a world-class hacker." These days, however, a hacker is often someone who uses his computer skills to access accounts that belong to others: "Some hacker broke into Manley Guy's Facebook page and made him out to be a girl!"

Word History: The first report of today's Good Word in its latest sense in print by the Oxford English Dictionary is 1976. It may be simply a semantic extension of hacker "amateurish or inept golfer or tennis player", who simply hacks at the ball, not knowing what he or she is doing. The extension to a computer programmer was via the observation of programmers chopping away at a keyboard. The history of this word was certainly influenced by hack "amateurish, inept worker at any job", a shortened form of hackney. A hackneyed phrase is one that has been worn out, heard many, many times before. Hackney originally referred to a horse that pulled a carriage for hire or taxi. When they were sold, they tended to be worn out or broken down. (Marilyn Beckman didn't have to hack our e-mail—thank heaven—in order to recommend today's Good Word. Double thanks, Marilyn.)
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Re: Hacker

Postby Kate Winter » Mon Jul 07, 2014 2:28 am

What about the sense of "hacker" as "a person who hacks around" -- when I was growing up in the 1950's that was a common usage. A bunch of us would get together after school or on weekends "just to hack around" -- no sports or games were involved, in fact the idea was to hang out together with no particular plan or format. True, "hacker" as a noun was less common than "hack around" as a verb, but the usage long predates the OED's 1976 -- surely it's in print somewhere.
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Re: Hacker

Postby call_copse » Mon Jul 07, 2014 9:55 am

There are other local meanings - in the UK at least, if you took a horse to do what those over the pond might call trail riding, you would be a hacker undertaking hacking.

In general I like to stick to proper developer's definitions of hacking though. A white hat or well meaning person who is testing network defences may be a hacker, a black hat or antipathetic intruder is properly called a cracker, common tabloid parlance notwithstanding. Properly speaking a programmer is not a hacker if they cut bog standard COBOL for a bank say - a 'programmer' hacker should combine excellence, playfulness, cleverness and exploration in performed activities. It's a noted accolade basically.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hacker_def ... ontroversy
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Re: Hacker

Postby David Myer » Sun Jul 13, 2014 10:52 pm

This is all a bit odd. Surely a computer hacker is like any other hacker - someone who breaks into something? You might hack into a safe, or hack down a door with an axe, or hack open a safe, or hack your way through the jungle with a machete.

Surely nothing to do with chopping away at a keyboard or hacking round the golf course?

Further to Kate's comment, in the UK when I was growing up, we would knock around with our mates (or hang around) rather than hack around with them. I wonder if that usage of hack is simply a corruption of hang?
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Re: Hacker

Postby Dr. Goodword » Sun Jul 13, 2014 11:12 pm

You can also hack down a tree, hack up (to pieces) anything made of wood, as well as "hack into". There is also hacks at many newspapers. The problem is that computer hackers are not incompetent.
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Re: Hacker

Postby Bazr » Mon Jul 14, 2014 1:28 am

The hacker in computer terms is someone who is very smart at what they do. They are really experts in the field and computer literate in every sense of the word. I would suspect that they come from an IT background or are very well self taught.
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Re: Hacker

Postby Perry Lassiter » Mon Jul 14, 2014 9:18 pm

We have witnessed the shifting and developing meaning of hacker in the last 30 years or so beside the evolving of computers. Initially hackers were computer programmers and nerds, ahead of the times and owning them. Then the illicit breaches of security began the negative senses of the term. Recently, hackers were sliding into total disfavor as authors of identity theft and other breaches of security. Now the word seems to vary according to context, sometimes with white hat, other times black.

BTW, "cracker" in the American South makes us think first of a Redneck from Georgia, ergo the Georgia Cracker. But even sooner I think of saltines, as in soup and crackers.
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Re: Hacker

Postby call_copse » Tue Jul 15, 2014 6:39 am

The way I'd see hacker is almost as shibboleth - if I observe someone holding forth seemingly knowledgeably on matters of IT yet using hacker as a pejorative (in a development context) then I would assume their knowledge to be superficial at best. It's not something someone who knows their onions would ever do. Linus Torvalds might be described as a hacker for example.
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Re: Hacker

Postby David Myer » Tue Jul 15, 2014 7:36 am

The Good Doctor says ' The problem is that computer hackers are not incompetent.' And I say that it is precisely that fact that says that a derivation from hack in the horse sense is incorrect. Hack in the horse sense comes, as explained in the original analysis, from Hackney and the broken down horses that were used to drive them. My contention, until some more erudite person explains otherwise, is that a computer hacker is someone who breaks into something - as in hacking down a door or through a jungle. Nothing at all to do with hackney or any of the uses derived from it (like golf hacker). And that means the computer hacker sense is derived from a probably much older use of the word hack. Can anyone offer comment on that?
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Re: Hacker

Postby call_copse » Tue Jul 15, 2014 10:37 am

I can of course provide multiple references:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hacker_(pr ... subculture)

This explains the difference between the terms fairly well. I'd also suggest review of the previous, (perhaps unread?) reference provided:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hacker_def ... ontroversy

For example:
"In the programmer subculture of hackers, a computer hacker is a person who enjoys designing software and building programs with a sense for aesthetics and playful cleverness. The term hack in this sense can be traced back to "describe the elaborate college pranks that...students would regularly devise" (Levy, 1984 p. 10). To be considered a 'hack' was an honour among like-minded peers as "to qualify as a hack, the feat must be imbued with innovation, style and technical virtuosity" (Levy, 1984 p. 10) The MIT Tech Model Railroad Club Dictionary defined hack in 1959 (not yet in a computer context) as "1) an article or project without constructive end; 2) a project undertaken on bad self-advice; 3) an entropy booster; 4) to produce, or attempt to produce, a hack(3)." "hacker" was defined as "one who hacks, or makes them." Much of the TMRC's jargon was later imported into early computing culture, because the club started using a DEC PDP-1 and applied its local model railroad slang in this computing context. Despite being incomprehensible to outsiders, the slang became popular in MIT's computing environments outside the club. Other examples of jargon imported from the club are 'losing' "when a piece of equipment is not working"[21] and 'munged' "when a piece of equipment is ruined".[21]"


If you are determined to understand further then look no further than the jargon file:
http://jargon-file.org/archive/jargon-4.4.7.dos.txt

This goes into many aspects of the hacker or developer's love of slang, wordplay and inventive use of language.

I hope this helps!
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Re: Hacker

Postby call_copse » Tue Jul 15, 2014 10:39 am

Sorry, better jargon file ref here for anyone inclined to exploration!
http://www.catb.org/jargon/html/index.html
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Re: Hacker

Postby call_copse » Tue Jul 15, 2014 10:47 am

As I realise many prefer not too access third party sites I'll add the jargon file definition:
"hacker: n.
[originally, someone who makes furniture with an axe]

1. A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary. RFC1392, the Internet Users' Glossary, usefully amplifies this as: A person who delights in having an intimate understanding of the internal workings of a system, computers and computer networks in particular.

2. One who programs enthusiastically (even obsessively) or who enjoys programming rather than just theorizing about programming.

3. A person capable of appreciating hack value.

4. A person who is good at programming quickly.

5. An expert at a particular program, or one who frequently does work using it or on it; as in ‘a Unix hacker’. (Definitions 1 through 5 are correlated, and people who fit them congregate.)

6. An expert or enthusiast of any kind. One might be an astronomy hacker, for example.

7. One who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations.

8. [deprecated] A malicious meddler who tries to discover sensitive information by poking around. Hence password hacker, network hacker. The correct term for this sense is cracker.

The term ‘hacker’ also tends to connote membership in the global community defined by the net (see the network. For discussion of some of the basics of this culture, see the How To Become A Hacker FAQ. It also implies that the person described is seen to subscribe to some version of the hacker ethic (see hacker ethic).

It is better to be described as a hacker by others than to describe oneself that way. Hackers consider themselves something of an elite (a meritocracy based on ability), though one to which new members are gladly welcome. There is thus a certain ego satisfaction to be had in identifying yourself as a hacker (but if you claim to be one and are not, you'll quickly be labeled bogus). See also geek, wannabee.

This term seems to have been first adopted as a badge in the 1960s by the hacker culture surrounding TMRC and the MIT AI Lab. We have a report that it was used in a sense close to this entry's by teenage radio hams and electronics tinkerers in the mid-1950s."

So,I would surmise that hacking in the computer sense is clearly nearer to the sense of crafting furniture than breaking anything.

Finally from The Meaning of Hack we have a classic hack:
"In 1961, students from Caltech (California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena) hacked the Rose Bowl football game. One student posed as a reporter and ‘interviewed’ the director of the University of Washington card stunts (such stunts involve people in the stands who hold up colored cards to make pictures). The reporter learned exactly how the stunts were operated, and also that the director would be out to dinner later.

While the director was eating, the students (who called themselves the ‘Fiendish Fourteen’) picked a lock and stole a blank direction sheet for the card stunts. They then had a printer run off 2300 copies of the blank. The next day they picked the lock again and stole the master plans for the stunts — large sheets of graph paper colored in with the stunt pictures. Using these as a guide, they made new instructions for three of the stunts on the duplicated blanks. Finally, they broke in once more, replacing the stolen master plans and substituting the stack of diddled instruction sheets for the original set.

The result was that three of the pictures were totally different. Instead of ‘WASHINGTON’, the word ‘CALTECH’ was flashed. Another stunt showed the word ‘HUSKIES’, the Washington nickname, but spelled it backwards. And what was supposed to have been a picture of a husky instead showed a beaver. (Both Caltech and MIT use the beaver — nature's engineer — as a mascot.)

After the game, the Washington faculty athletic representative said: “Some thought it ingenious; others were indignant.” The Washington student body president remarked: “No hard feelings, but at the time it was unbelievable. We were amazed.”

This is now considered a classic hack, particularly because revising the direction sheets constituted a form of programming."
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Re: Hacker

Postby Slava » Tue Jul 15, 2014 1:59 pm

So, to my mind, this shows that, while this event is portrayed as a simple prank, a classic hack is an illegal breaking and entering to maliciously alter someone else's programming. Pretty much adds up to my thoughts on the matter.
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Re: Hacker

Postby David Myer » Tue Jul 15, 2014 7:06 pm

Excellent, Ian. Thank you for all that effort. I have followed up the links assiduously. And all very interesting; particularly revealing of the rather esoteric culture within the computer programming fraternity. It certainly seems a good humoured club.

My beef really was with the original assertion in the Word of the Day that "The history of this word was certainly influenced by hack 'amateurish, inept worker at any job', a shortened form of hackney. A hackneyed phrase is one that has been worn out, heard many, many times before. Hackney originally referred to a horse that pulled a carriage for hire or taxi. When they were sold, they tended to be worn out or broken down." My argument is that the 'inept worker' usage pre-dated the Hackney concept and so could not have been a shortened form of it.

And I think your comments and your references endorse my thoughts. Hackney cabs are a nineteenth century thing, but the original hack slashing and breaking soil with his hoe (from your Wikipedia reference) is much earlier. So also presumably is your axe-wielding furniture maker definition. And it is clear that the computer hacker concept was derived from those original meanings and nothing to do with horse drawn vehicles. Of course the meaning has changed over the years and there is now considerable respect for computer hackers - I note that many of your alternative definitions include the word 'expert'.

Loved your story of Caltech and the Rose Bowl game, by the way. A very good prank. And while we are on the subject of words, such a prank was known at my school in England as a squealer, where the word also meant any junior boy, usually a first year.
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Re: Hacker

Postby call_copse » Wed Jul 16, 2014 7:20 am

No problem David, I enjoy discussing my profession, in whose culture I am steeped.

@Slava I'd suggest 'maliciously' is the key word that is out of step with your assertion there. That is of course a matter of opinion, and that is part of the background of hackery rather than the present.
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