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This article was posted to the Usenet group alt.hackers in 1995; any technical information is probably outdated.

Re: "Hackers", the movie (*RANT!*)

Article: 8620 of alt.hackers
Newsgroups: alt.hackers
From: (Morgan Schweers)
Subject: Re: "Hackers", the movie  (*RANT!*)
Keywords: Movie
Organization: Foxsoft Cyberware
Date: Tue, 19 Sep 1995 13:11:53 GMT
Lines: 170
Status: RO


    Some severe and odd (*PRO*-'Hackers') rants follow.  It's
5am, and I've heard one too many slams on Hackers, and am feeling
annoyed at our world, so...

Some time ago (John Nagle) happily mumbled:
>      Just saw "Hackers", the movie.  It's about as close
to reality
>as "Ghostbusters".  Fun, but very, very light.
>					John Nagle

    I dunno...	In tech terms it's nonsense, but the attitude, and
even some of the events are very very real for me.  I remember doing
things like that nearly a decade ago.  The main character had a geeky
'I don't fit here' feel, which was very true for a lot of hackers, but
tacked onto it was the 'I've gotta look good' 90's attitude.

    For me, someone who spent a hell of a lot of my younger life doing
exactly those things (dueling over the ownership of a system I'd never
seen with another who had never seen it, for example), that movie
spoke of an attitude towards computers and knowledge that made me
think that maybe, just maybe, those times aren't dead yet.  Maybe some
kids today will see that movie, and go off home, and kick some ass,
wake some Big Computer administrators up, and maybe, just maybe, learn
something valuable about computers, information, morals, and knowledge
itself, like I did.  (What I learned about computers is immesurable.
Information, I learned, SHOULD be free, but isn't and won't be.  My
morals were formed in a large part by my attitude towards the systems
I entered.  I learned that you don't hurt people, you don't delete,
and you don't use information against someone, as that's WRONG.  The
knowledge of knowledge itself expanded my mind and taught me more
about how to learn and how to know things than was ever taught in our
godforsaken schools!)

    The movie portrayed things that nothing else (especially, god
forbid, The Net or Virtuosity *blech*) has ever shown.	The trancelike
state of reverse engineering something, or breaking into a system you've
never heard of before.	They showed something that hasn't been shown.
They did it with Hollywood style, of course, because otherwise the only
people who would watch it would be geeks like me.  But they showed it.
Most of us here have been there, gazing nearly deadly at the screen,
fingers falling like rain on the keys, data flowing past at a nearly
unreadable pace, but managing to comprehend the pattern under it all,
nothing, not time, food, sleep, nothing at all impunging your sheer
mental concentration.  The movie should at the LEAST be applauded for
giving a feel for THAT to non-hackers of all stripes.

    If you ignore and forgive the Hollywoodisms, you'll see a layer of
'real' under it all.  Maybe you didn't do it, in which case I freely
admit, it's hard to explain.  Maybe you did, but can't forgive the
hollywoodization of it.  In that case too, you're not going to like
it, and there's nothing I can do about it.  But if you see past all
the gaud and sillyness about it, and you've been there, a lot of that
stuff strikes a real chord with at least one person who's been there.
There's a lot of really REALLY cool techie in-jokes, too, which is

    I'll toss out my side comment here...  I know that by 'admitting'
to having had a darker side a long time ago, I've probably pulled the
outrage and/or anger of a lot of self-righteous people who believe
that breaking into computer systems has no redeeming value.  Well, I'll
make this clear.  I did it for a long time.  From around 11-18.  I
stopped just before the 'virus' craze hit, and my specialty was always
'big' computers.  Vaxen and Unix systems mainly, with Primos (yeah, THAT
long ago!) as a sideline.  It taught me huge amounts about computers, and
even life.  Why'd I stop...?

    I saw viruses hitting personal computers, my idealized version of
the freeing force of the digital revolution, and was disgusted by the
idea.  I fought them.  I worked for McAfee Associates, killing
computer viruses for 5 years, protecting people, and helping them.  I
think I've earned my stripes, and I think that any anguish or pain
that I might have caused (despite having been EXTREMELY careful to not
cause), I've made up for.

    I've done both sides of the fence now, though I've NEVER written a
computer virus.  (Other than on paper, and that under VMS/DCL of all
things.)  I don't like virus writers, I don't like computer viruses.
I think there's millions of fantastically creative things that you can
do with low level knowledge of a PC that are far cooler than a virus.
I still hold someone who can creatively (not using a cookbook) break
into a computer system as a much higher grade that anyone who writes a

    However, I (grudgingly) still consider both far higher than
someone who only uses a computer, and does nothing creative at all
with it.  That's the saddest part to me about the computer revolution.
The number of people who see it as nothing more than an even more
complicated VCR, still with the blinking 12:00, barely able to
understand the sequence of commands to start up their word processor.
(And even those instructions written, hardcopy, on a post-it attached
to their monitor.)  These people aren't learning, they aren't
exploring, they are letting their brains be confetti, being spoon-fed
through the VDT.  Is this what we have computers for?  To allow the
faces of the world's zombie's to be illuminated by CRT light?

    In another newsgroup I was just in, someone was bemoaning the fact
that people still space-justify their text, put in page numbers by
hand, and other nonsense, because they haven't learned their word
processor.  Why didn't they learn it?  Because they don't have the
WILL to learn!	THAT is, in my opinion, what hacking is about.	The
will to learn, the will to explore, and understand.  To grok the
computer, and on a larger level the 'system', and it's functions.
When did people lose this?  I like to think I never did...  Where did
the manager down the hall?  Where did their administrative assistant?

    'Hackers' shows something impressive.  It shows that these kids
are playing and exploring.  Computers have become consumer electronics
items now.  They are 'dull'.  What's needed is something to jar
people, make them realize there's still a WORLD untapped inside the
box on their desks, much less this entire Internet, which is somehow
more than a world of its own.  I'm tired of being surrounded by slaves
to the machine, who, if the 'puter didn't exist, would be slaves to a
typewriter, calendar, and dictaphone, just the same.  The computer is
a freeing power, why isn't it freeing these people to work better and
smarter and more creatively?  It *CAN*, it's just NOT.	WHY?

    Maybe 'Hackers' can't address those issues, but maybe (and here's
where I'm going to be branded a Bad Person by other 'adults' the world
over) just maybe it'll get some kids out there, learning, undiluted,
unsupervised, the power of the computer, exploring, doing more than
nuking imps with the cheat codes under Doom.  Maybe they'll go out and
break into a few computer systems, learn something about non-PC/Mac
computers, and maybe, like mine did, their eyes will suddenly open to
appreciate that THEY HAVE CONTROL OVER THEIR COMPUTERS.  Maybe those
kids, like the 'Wargames' kids who joined long after I, won't grow up
to be VDT-slaves.  Hell, that alone is worth Kudo's to the Hackers
movie to me, the HOPE that it will free some kids from the vision of
computers as the dominant partner in the connection of machine and man.

    On the other hand, maybe those days are gone.  Maybe everybody
WANTS to be GUI, and touch-and-feel-interface, and RAD, and not know
the guts of VMS or Unix, or even the guts of Windows.  Maybe I'll be
sitting in a Radio Shack someday, holding a cane and berating 'Kids
These Days' about the 'Good Old Days' when we KNEW what code our
compiler put out, and we could take the output of one program and feed
it through another with nary a mouse click.  The days of writing our
own OS's, for the fun of it.  The days when OS code was done by hand,
not by automated machines that customize your OS to your style, so you
don't ever have to think when using it, as it's fully intuitive, owned
by Microsoft, who is owned by the Japanese/Germans/Russians/Whomever
actually has the creative talent then...

    I sure as hell hope not.  It's the explorers, the kids who are
turned on by what Hackers portrays, that will prevent that pristene,
Mister Clean, homogenized world from happening in the long run.  As an
attitude, and as a graphiced-up portrayal of things that *WE* used to
do, Hackers hits home strong.  As 'Real Life' it does about as well as
anything Hollywood does, which is to say it's not even close.  Deal
with it, and read between the stock footage.  I think you'll like it.

						     --  Morgan Schweers

   Adding 'external library support' to a Novell Netware NLM based
   SQL server product.	Basically, if you wrote and loaded a library
   NLM on Netware, you could export a User Defined Function in a
   database which would directly call that function.  It became like
   an extension to SQL.  (This is simple under Unix, but under Netware
   it's MUCH more...interesting.  *grin*)

   And then getting shot down by management saying that we are afraid
   of being liable if our users write bad code and crash the server from
   within their own UDF's.  *grumble*
Morgan Schweers |  New Chrome Grass!  Finger for my PGP key   |
Live fast, die	 \ B1 S4 a b g j++! k l? p r- s t+ u v- w+ x y- z, approx.__/
old, and leave a smouldering pile of metal as a corpse...  It's never enough,
until your heart stops beating, the deeper you get, the sweeter the pain...


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