A Growing Hacker

My son lately seems to have been bitten by a similar bug that plagues my father and me. It’s the computer virus.

Men in my family seem not to be able to get enough of those shiny gadgets. We are forever tweaking, disassembling, reassembling, reinstalling, uninstalling, recompiling, hacking, and more. I don’t know how many computers are in my dad’s house, but in mine we have ten. Ten.

People ask, “Why do you have so many computers?” I unfortunately find it hard to answer. They just sort of accumulate. In part, it happens because I love to experiment with new operating systems. I’ve got a machine running Windows 7, Mac Snow Leopard, Ubuntu Linux, and ChromeOS. I used to think my computer acquisition problem stemmed from a constant search to find the perfect solution to all my computing needs — the one machine that would be right in any situation. Now I know that in part it stems from my desire to find the right setup for each situation (no one machine can really satisfy all needs).

But I also know that it is just one of my character defects — I just plain love computers.

And now my son is beginning to show signs. If you look in his room, there are spaghetti piles of cords everywhere. Every time I get a new machine, he wants my old one. He has been trying to hack his Xbox setup so he can make it do things in theory it should be able to do but doesn’t quite do out of the box. In short, he is slowly becoming a hacker.

It doesn’t look the same way it looked when I was growing up, when I would send away for materials to get my ham radio license and build the Kim-1 single-board microcomputer with my dad. Things have advanced and it has more to do with fiddling with pre-existing tools: hacking the Xbox, developing new video games, creating YouTube how-tos related to gameplay. But the fundamental aspects are there.

I’m not worried. This kind of undirected inquisitiveness — hacking — is one key basis for innovation today. I have high hopes for that kid.

* (For those who don’t know, Perl is a programming language.)

Comic from xkcd.

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