Hacker’s Code

Hackers! A name that has a negative connotation in it. But: what, in fact, is a hacker? As I wrote earlier, Hacking means to me:

to unlock currently hidden functionality.

There are some other definitions, and this one comes quite close to my definition:

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

This is also in the Hacker Attitude, as formulated by Eric Steven Raymond:

1. The world is full of fascinating problems waiting to be solved.
2. Nobody should ever have to solve a problem twice.
3. Boredom and drudgery are evil.
4. Freedom is good.
5. Attitude is no substitute for competence.

I think hacking is mostly about freedom; freedom is good (4) and, sometimes you have to overcome limitations creatively. But, there is no freedom without responsibility. So, if you want to be free, you need a Code of Ethics. There are a few drafts for a Hacker’s Code of Ethics on the web, and I’ll quote some of them here:

First the four essential freedoms by Richard Stallman who, BTW, coined the term “copyleft” (as opposed to “copyright”):

  1. The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  2. The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  3. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  4. The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements (and modified versions in general) to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

A program is free software if users have all of these freedoms.

Then, there is the Code of Steven Levy. 1984. Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, Anchor Press/Doubleday, Garden City, NY, 458 pp.

  • Access to Computers – and anything which might teach you something about the way the world works – should be unlimited and total. Always yield to the Hands-On Imperative!
  • All information should be free.
  • Mistrust Authority – Promote Decentralization.
  • Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race, or position.
  • You can create art and beauty on a computer.
  • Computers can change your life for the better.
  • A very interesting (IMHO) draft of a Hacker Code is this one:

    Preamble: We, the people of the electronic universe, in order to establish a society of knowledge and skills, do hereby proclaim the following.
    Hackers are diverse, from all cultures and backgrounds. Every hacker is unique, yet we all share some characteristics. While not every hacker follows this Code, many believe it is a fair description of our shared traditions, goals and values.
    1. Hackers share and are willing to teach their knowledge
    2. Hackers are skilled. Many are self-taught, or learn by interacting with other hackers.
    3. Hackers seek knowledge. This knowledge may come from unauthorized or unusual sources, and is often hidden.
    4. Hackers are tinkerers. They like to understand how things work, and want to make their own improvements or modifications.
    5. Hackers often disagree with authority, including parents, employers, social customs and laws. They often seek to circumvent authority they disagree with.
    6. Hackers disagree with each other. Different hackers have different values, and come from all backgrounds. This means that what one hacker is opposed to might be embraced by another.
    7. Hackers are persistent, and are willing to devote hours, days and years to pursuing their individual passions.
    8. This Code is not to prescribe how hackers act. Instead, it is to help us to recognize our own diversity and identify.
    9. Every hacker must make his or her own decisions about what is right or wrong, and some might do things they believe are illegal, amoral or anti-social to achieve higher goals.
    10. Hackers’ motivations are their own, and there is no reason for all hackers to agree.
    11. Hackers have a shared identify, however, and many shared interests.
    12. By reading this Code, hackers can recognize themselves and each other, and understand better the group they are a part of. This will be beneficial to all hackers.

    And, finally, this one:

    A hacker of the Old Code.”

    • Hackers come and go, but a great hack is forever.
    • Public goods belong to the public.
    • Software hoarding is evil.
    • Software does the greatest good given to the greatest number.
    • Don’t be evil.
    • Sourceless software sucks
    • People have rights.
    • Organizations live on sufferance
    • Governments are organizations.
    • If it is wrong when citizens do it, it is wrong when governments do it.
    • Information wants to be free.
    • Information deserves to be free.
    • Being legal doesn’t make it right.
    • Being illegal doesn’t make it wrong.
    • Subverting tyranny is the highest duty.
    • Trust your technolust!
    • Definition: A good is public if the marginal production cost is lower than the marginal billing cost.

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    • The Aesthetics and Beauty of Knowledge

      Shih was the opposite of facts and raw information; shih was the elegance of knowledge, the insight and skill to organize knowledge into meaningful patterns. As an artist chooses colours or light to make her pictures, a master of shih chooses textures of knowledge – various ideas, myths, abstractions, and theories – to create a way of seeing the world. The aesthetics and beauty of knowledge – this was shih.

      – David Zindell, The Broken God, 1993

    • Geek Attitude

      The attitude thing is about flexibility, portability, creativity, sociability and jamming (ran out of suitable “ity” words!). It’s about improvising – in the practical and musical senses of the word; not getting tangled in boundaries and the “right” way to do things.
      Definitely the only way to travel.
      Martin Delaney – “Laptop Music”.