What — am I a hacker, or what?

There’s this heading ‘hacking’ on Fading Memories, isn’t it? Hacking, and not coding. But what’s a hacker — when it comes down to it? It’s, perhaps, someone who’s been sharing code against all odds for longer than he cares to remember, someone who has a sense of esthetic regarding code, even more than regarding ephemera like user interfaces. Perhaps a hacker is a coder who’s just that little bit harder to herd.

So — what am I — I mean, am I, or not? Not exceptionally bright, like Paul Graham, but I’ve been coding since 1982, been using Linux since 1993, been learning a new programming language every — on average — three years. I think I know by now; I’m a hacker, and I dislike being herded.

Not that there’s much chance of that: whenever people show up and try to convince coding people that Process is Paramount (note nice reference to Quick Service) and TQM is king (or is that Queen?), I smile enigmatically (not that that is much use in an on-line discussion) and refrain in a refined way from commenting that those attempts are futile and vainglorious. There’s no way someone who cannot code for toffee can get me — let alone people who can code really well — to do his bidding. I’ll follow my own agenda, thank you very much. If you like it, fine, tickled to death, I’m sure, if not, learn C++ yourself, it’s not that difficult, my dear man.

So, if I’m a hacker — what’s my forte. Not audacity of design. Not actual knowledge — when working on Krita more than half the time I do not know what I’m doing. I have little math and less computer science. But a kind of dogged going on coding, because I want to see what it does and learn what makes it tick. That’s my ticket. Sometimes a programmer’s gotta do what he gotta do.

A while — quite a while, actually — ago, there was a bit on O’Reilly Network that tangentially discussed the set of features that makes a hacker a hacker. In the cause of full disclosure and unmitigated boasting I must add that I: hate Heinlein (silly racist right-wing loony), like Tolkien, like van Gulik better, play the clarinet, fence, despise gun-bunnies, wish I had the
necessary moral righteousness to conform more closely to the ideals of the FSF, still play RPG’s, know zilch about RPGi-the-language, know (a bit or quite well, it depends) various basics, PL-SQL, SQL, C++, Pascal, Java, C++, Python, SGML, XML and, scraping the barrel a bit, SNOBOL. I paint a bit, have written a novel, a book, a number of articles, am a linguist — but all that is mere outer trappings.

The most important thing is, I think, that whenever I see something that’s cool, that seems to work, I want to know why, and how, and more importantly, how can I make things like that, or even better. Preferably better. That whatever I do seldom is better isn’t the point. It’s the attempt that counts — in a Newt Pulsifer kind of way. That, and being unherdable, of course.

Which neatly brings me back, and from there to another rant: Why do so many people who take a certain philosophy lock stock and barrel think they’re the ones who think, while the poor shmucks who have chosen something else must be incapable of cogitation?

People who think they have achieved a freedom of thought because they’ve bought into the free-thinkers thing seem to me pretty naive — given to take a label for its contents, for one thing.

Give me one of the great Gregories (Nyssa, Nazianze, the Great) any day above those shallow ‘thinkers’ who cannot get beyond ‘Either one believes, and does not think, or one thinks, and does not believe’ (Bert Keizer in Trouw, this week).

Just like Frederic Brooks, I think, therefore I believe