Hacker Essays
March 6, 2009 2:46 PM   Subscribe

Do you know of any more essays like Hackers, In the Beginning Was the Command Line, or the DadHacker Atari Articles?
posted by MotorNeuron to Technology (16 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Can you be more specific? Do you mean long essays about hackish topics? Or specifically things about hackish history?
posted by jeb at 2:52 PM on March 6, 2009

I really enjoyed Pekka Himanen's book (really a long essay) called The Hacker Ethic. It's more philosophy than history but it struck a chord with me. I also liked Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary which is the story of how Linus Torvalds came to create linux and what he did with it once he had it. It's a little longer. Links both go to my reviews.
posted by jessamyn at 3:02 PM on March 6, 2009

Response by poster: I think what I like about these essays is that they are about tech culture as much as they are about tech itself. I also liked the fond memories that the articles brought back. That feeling of playing with a Commodore 64 for the first time was awesome, right?

Really though, I'm not fussy. Anything well-written on these topics is appreciated.
posted by MotorNeuron at 3:07 PM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ok, well, there's esr's The Jargon File, which is available as a print book called The New Hacker's Dictionary. You might like The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder.

Those are all more-or-less explicitly about the culture. Essays that are about technology stuff but have a cultural component I can think of include Mother Earth, Mother Board, The Story of Mel, Reflections on Trusting Trust, Folklore.org (not essay form but cool), and The Curse of Xanadu. There is some awesome old Nolan Bushnell-era Atari history that I can't remember the name of that's good too. Google might turn it up. You might also like some of the stuff in Founders at Work, particularly the Old Stuff.

Just in case anyone suggest some Paul Graham crap (eg 'Hackers and Painters') I'm going to preemptively respond with Dabblers and Blowhards.
posted by jeb at 3:19 PM on March 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

You could try David Langford's old columns. He used to write for Amstrad PCW magazine, and has those columns online, as well as various other bits and pieces like a review of The Home Comuter Handbook from 1982. I find him rational and amusing.
posted by paduasoy at 3:20 PM on March 6, 2009

The Jargon File is very long and excessively awesome. Highly recommended.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:21 PM on March 6, 2009

Jessamyn, no plug for Soul of a New Machine? MotorNeuron-- Tracy Kidder, the author TSOANM, met Jessamyn's dad on a boat and thought he ruled, and that's how he ended up writing the book. In some sense, the book is about Jessamyn's pops, or rather, he's the central figure it follows through the development of a computer. The meeting is rather vaguely detailed in the preface to the book, but I asked Tracy Kidder about it, and he was like, "yeah, I randomly met this dude Tom through a mutual friend, and I was like, 'this guy is intense', so I found out more about him and ended up writing the book." (paraphrasing, TK doesn't really talk like me).
posted by jeb at 3:25 PM on March 6, 2009

I have a sort of bias in these things because my father was the guy in Soul of a New Machine and I find reading back over old accounts of that adorable project to be sort of fascinating. You might enjoy reading some of the stuff I like to read about those projects

- Interview with Tom West and Tracy Kidder from 1983 about the project
- Flying Upside Down & The Ultimate Toy - two punchy excerpts (I think) from Soul both from 1981
- O Engineers in Wired - 20 years later with the team from Data General
posted by jessamyn at 3:32 PM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh hey, yeah. The mutual friend was, I think, Richard Todd who was my Dad's college roommate and Tracy's editor.
posted by jessamyn at 3:33 PM on March 6, 2009

Response by poster: There are some awesome answers here. Thanks.

But get this: not only does "Mother Earth, Mother Board" answer my question perfectly, but ten years ago, I was working on vessels surveying fiber-optic cable routes much like FLAG. My nostalgia bucket is overflowing.
posted by MotorNeuron at 3:45 PM on March 6, 2009

You might also really enjoy The Cuckoo's Egg (with apologies to Jessamyn for the WorldCat link--your local library may or may not be included) by Clifford Stoll. It's very much about early computer culture, and several of my good geek friends think of it as a touchstone.
posted by newrambler at 7:30 PM on March 6, 2009

I asked a related question, a while back. Probably not spot-on what you're looking for, but I think there's a good deal of overlap.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 8:15 PM on March 6, 2009

You might like Graham Nelson's A Short History of Interactive Fiction. There's also Julian Dibbel's My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World and Bruce Sterling's The Hacker Crackdown, which are book-length but seem to be the kind of thing you're looking for - plus they're both available for free.
posted by xchmp at 1:50 AM on March 7, 2009

I have fond memories of Out of the Inner Circle, but it's been a few decades. Not sure how well it holds up.
posted by mumkin at 11:27 AM on March 7, 2009

Neat suggestions; I love this stuff, too. I'm currently reading Racing The Beam, a new book and first in an upcoming series of "platform studies". It focuses on the Atari VCS (2600) and gets a little technical if you're in to that. A little off topic, but as a space junkie, I also enjoyed Digital Apollo which details the Apollo Lunar Guidance Computer and other digital systems employed. I've seen Commodore-themed books on Amazon but have yet to get to them. I will eventually, the 64 and Amiga were my first rigs.

On video, I enjoyed Once Upon Atari, a little cheeseball but plenty of interviews with ex-Atari programmers who mostly worked there back when it was still fun. I watched a new documentary called Welcome To Macintosh a few nights ago. Recommended for the fans of the genre and the interviews but it wasn't very spectacular.
posted by ae4rv at 4:25 PM on March 7, 2009

The New New Thing by Michael Lewis might qualify as well, although that would be drifting a bit from "hacker essays" per se.
posted by finn at 2:34 PM on March 10, 2009

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