Wednesday, 27 May 2009

I never understood 'hacking' and I never will

When I was at puberty I made this insane thought: I had to become a great programmer to distinguish myself from the average joe operating a computer.

Maybe it was my lack of self-esteem and general feeling of misfit at school that forced me to take that decision. I believe this is one of the forces (and one of the curses) behind trying to become a master of any art there is. The quest for fame and honor.

At first I was bothered with school exams that were needed to be selected at a university, that didn't left me much time for seeking this dream. I didn't do much back then but the thought kept breeding in my mind. Later, as I became a student at the university and got an internet connection in the university lab I discovered the first traces of the demoscene community. I had already seen some demos from an old magazine CD several months ago but didn't know anyone near my place being involved in the community. It was the time I made my first attempts at democoding, spent a lot of hours in the computer rooms happily communicating with other people interested in demos and also managed to be absorbed so much that I totally fucked up my studies for the next eight years :)

I really don't remember much about the so called 'hacking' trend at the time, I actually don't remember that this thing ever attracted me. Maybe I have heard something about it even before I started having this dream of becoming a good programmer. Everyone knew about it from the movies. Even if I could not imagine at that time how one could possibly invade in a foreign computer without 'touching' it, this activity never inspired me. Maybe my initial interests were focused on graphics programming and not computer security penetrating.

For someone seeking fame and honor desperately, it should be a number one choice. Everybody said great words about 'hackers' and the whole thing had become a myth. Of course most of them were thinking of 'hackers' as portrayed by the mass media. But it never touched me! I am not sure why but one reason might be that at that time I found the actions and attitude of the so called 'hackers' quite dumb.

During that time (it was 1998-9) there existed a greek 'hacking' site, hack.gr (It's history now). I remember that I was posting a lot of ugly texts in it's forums concerning my view on this 'hacking' trend. Even then, when I was a lame programmer (making 2d stars and scrollers in quickbasic :P) and didn't know much about computers, I could not feel any respect or reason for what 'hackers' did. It was neither impressive nor creative. I still don't know why it never touched me, I still haven't answered to myself why I always hated it.

So, I knew about the so called 'hacking' community. I knew about their web pranks, their 133t attitude and the whole myth revolving around them. Fame and honor was also a factor that motivated me to start learning programming and make demos. But I never shifted my activities into 'hacking', the supposedly ultra-cool computer activity which would be ideal to gain fame and honor.

I was misunderstood. I tried to show several times that what can be accumulated in the term 'hacker' as people understand it today (security penetrating/malicious software/coolness, attitude, trends and the myth) is not to be respected. And they were replying that I am recycling the opinion of the mass-media or that the are good respected 'hackers' or that I am clueless. But all I wanted to blame was the modern so called 'hacking' community and it's false reasons. I didn't know that the term was also attributed to underground hobbyist and clever programmers who were the respected ones and had nothing to do with modern 'hacking'.

Later as I became more involved in the demoscene community I started an endless race of programming more and more demos with the wish to become famous in the scene. While it was a kind of attitude that became an obsession and almost destroyed the fun behind demomaking, it was also a motivating factor that brought me were I am today. But as long as I wrote the next line of code, as long as I coded a new effect or released yet another demo, it felt like I was putting my brain into creating something that I can later watch and be happy of my achievement. If I was given a magic lamp that would instantly create a great demo and make me famous in the scene then it would mean nothing to me. I wouldn't feel any honor, I wouldn't appreciate myself at all.

I had to put a great effort and create something, either it was a demo or a game or an application or anything. This was a bliss, especially if it involved some insane optimization techniques or a crazy idea of my own (later, I even dwelved into z80 assembly and coded some nice demos for the 8bit Amstrad CPC). There was hacking spirit (with the old meaning of programming cleverness) in it and I could totally perceive that feeling. I was inspired by unconventional coding tricks that could be used to optimize computer graphics in such old and slow computers. The same inspiration to find crazy tricks to optimize or code new 'impossible' effects could occure even in modern PC demos (It's not about the vast processing power but the spirit).

I mean, I have been involved in low level programming for years, wrote several lines of assembly and C code, I have created a lot of demos where many people wish they could do the same and even if initially I was struck by the same fame virus that you use to see in the people who wish they can be 'hackers', I loved programming and creativity and I could never understand the other side. I observed and lived the feeling of finishing another piece of code that does something clever, I have created a lot of demos to satisfy my need to be special, my road was somewhere between this obsession of becoming a well known good programmer and learning some real programming in a such creative and unknown community as the demoscene but I never understood the so called 'hackers'. They were just seeking ways to penetrate security so that they make cool internet pranks and become famous for nothing, while I was trying to create something because of my interest in become better at programming (even if one of my initial motivations was fame too). Such a gap between me and them..

I mean, even at the beginning when I was a newbie in programming I still didn't understand their motives and attitude. The so called respect was about the programming ingenuity and hobbyist underground of the old definition which I later persued. When I present some of the demos I created to computer illiterate friends, many of them are not impressed and they ask me the dumb question: "That's boring. Can you 'hack' instead?". That says it all!

Good programmers and clever people with a conscience don't call themselves 'hackers'. I am sorry, the H-word has died for me. It's only used to denote something I cannot feel respect for.

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