Culture and certification

I had an IRC chat with one of my semi-regular commenters a few nights ago in which she reported giving a talk on hacker culture that went extremely well.

[00:12] <HedgeMage> It was one of those situations, though, where I felt *very* odd being treated like a subject-matter expert. I certainly don’t consider myself one in this case, though I guess it’s all relative, and as far as I could tell I knew more [abut hacker culture] than the audience.

[00:13] <HedgeMage> Sure, I knew more than those I was teaching, but it bothered me a bit that they seemed to think I was an expert when I clearly wasn’t.

[00:15] <esr> Been there, done that. The *really* weird stuff starts when you give descriptive reports of hacker culture that others begin to consider normative.

[00:15] <esr> If you’re not careful, you can unintentionally become a geek cred certification authority.

[00:15] <HedgeMage> I have an easy way to avoid that.

[00:15] <HedgeMage> I refer them to you :P

[00:16] <HedgeMage> So, no dying or I might end up there!

This actually isn’t the first time I’ve been in a conversation like this one. And that brings on some thoughts about social authority among hackers and geeks and in other subcultures that seem worth developing.

There’s a school of sociologists that has studied information transfer within communities of scientists and developed language to describe how it works. An important primary term for these sociologists is “invisible college” – that is, a voluntary social network of cooperating peers who share information. This term is a deliberate nod to Robert Boyle’s contemporary description of an invisible college in the 1640s among early scientists who would later form the core of the Royal Society.

Another important term in this language is “gatekeeper”. That is a member of an invisible college who has the social authority to include people into the network and declare them peers. The key thing about gatekeepers is that nobody appoints them and they have no source of authority outside the network itself; they emerge from the way members of the college internally rate one anothers’ competence and dedication.

I have observed several invisible colleges and noted that membership in them is not a binary predicate but graded. There are peripheral members and central members; centrality of membership correlates (though not perfectly) with relative status within the college. There is another role, not identical but overlapping with gatekeeper, which manages status and centrality within the college. Even when the criteria for in-group status are objective (you get cited a lot by other scientists), good work doesn’t reliably translate into in-group status or centrality until one of these internal gatekeepers certifies it to the college.

So, in addition to gatekeepers, invisible colleges have certification authorities. There’s a third role as well; “elder”. An elder has the authority to say whether the behavior of members of the college is within the college’s accepted norms of behavior. To summarize: a gatekeeper answers the question “Who is a member?”, a certification authority answers the question “How do we evaluate in-group status?” and an elder answers the question “Was this behavior correct within the college’s norms?”

Of course these roles mingle at the edges. And I’ve gone beyond the sociological literature here, which to the best of my knowledge does not systematically distinguish among them. But the sociologists get something right: unless somebody has the social authority to confer status, you don’t have a college. What you have instead is a bunch of people who may earnestly be trying to form one, but who don’t know what the in-group rules should be or how to cooperate.

Now let’s step back a little and ask why this matters. Why do people form invisible colleges, and assign each other these roles, anyway? There are at least two possible accounts, both true and complementary of each other.

In one account, people form invisible colleges because they agree on a mission. An invisible college is a cooperative social machine for producing results desired by the participants. Without the normative roles of gatekeeper/certifier/elder, the machine doesn’t function – it dissolves or veers off track.

In another account, people form invisible colleges because they have a genetically wired-in drive to play social-status and identity games, a drive so powerful that they’ll create same even around essentially meaningless activities like (say) stamp collecting. People really want to be able to say, to themselves if to no one else, “I’m one of the best at X”, or “I represent an X that is bigger than myself.” For games that produce these results to run, somebody trusted has to keep score.

As I observed in a more specific context in Homesteading the Noosphere, the virtue of invisible colleges is that they merge these accounts. They harness the human drive to play status and identity games to achieve other-directed goals.

It is also instructive to note where invisible colleges do not form. Where mission and status criteria are rigorously objective, the apparatus of peer evaluation is not needed and does not form. A good example is athletics; if your criteria of mission success is as crisply measurable as “who can run the fastest mile”, the need for gatekeepers, (internal) certification authorities and elders basically vanishes. (In this case the certification authority would be any guy with a stopwatch, not necessarily or even usually part of the athlete’s peer network.)

Now we have all the apparatus required to understand the nuances of my conversation with HedgeMage. What she was reporting was something I first experienced in the early 1990s while working on the Jargon File. That is: hackers desperately want certification authorities (and elders, too; on the other hand, we’re pretty effective about distributing the “gatekeeper” role so it’s not a bottleneck). Hackers want certification authorities so badly that if you show the least aptitude for the job, they’ll suck you into it before you can say foo.

Noticing this made HedgeMage very nervous. Welcome to my world, HedgeMage! Scared the crap out of me, too, way back when. It would take a dullard or a blind egomaniac not to find the implied responsibility frightening. If you accept it, you’ve got people’s self-worth in your hands, to the extent they’ve invested their identity into being hackers. And, you’re suddenly responsible for the mission. It’s become your job to define it.

HedgeMage doesn’t want this. HedgeMage wants me to live forever so she doesn’t have to answer that call. HedgeMage has some understanding of the costs – which begin with, for example, being perpetually besieged by fanboys and haters. HedgeMage is wise.

But I think HedgeMage also suspects that if the time comes that she looks around and sees a leadership vacuum, she will step up. Some people cannot turn away from that call and still be themselves. I couldn’t. If I’m any judge of character, HedgeMage won’t be able to if it comes her turn. She’ll bitch and moan, but she’ll do it.

There’s nothing special about hackers in this respect. I’m sure this story plays out all the time in other invisible colleges, too. The issues have the particular spin they do for us because we’re somewhere in the middle of the objectivity-of-success scale along with scientists; more in need of peer evaluation than athletes, less so than fine artists. I think we’re also more instinctively distrustful of authority than most other subcultures with invisible-college organization, which creates a conflict between our need for certification authorities and our unwillingness to acknowledge that need and that role.

I’ll finish with warning and encouragement.

I think I have a large enough reader-base to make something statistically certain. One or more of you, reading this, will become a hacker cred certification authority in the future. At least one of you, reading this, will have to face the fear HedgeMage and I have faced – that we’re not worthy, that we’d fuck up, that we’d be consumed by our own egos, or even that we’d make some monstrous well-meaning error of judgment and our college would follow us into a crash.

The encouragement I have is: this is normal. File under expected challenges of being human. You get used to it. You adapt. It stops being so frightening after a while – though, if you ever stop feeling the weight of responsibility, get the hell out because you’ll have become dangerously unmoored.

The thing that carries me through is a sort of bloody-minded determination. Having been shoved into the job of certification authority by all that need and then accepted it, I’ll be damned if I give it less than my best. It can be done right. Mistakes (and I’ve made my share) aren’t instantly fatal to your college. You can learn on the job, and you will get better at it with practice. (It will help if you can keep firm hold of a sense of humor.)

Truly, the rewards are worth playing for. Not so much the obvious primate-social-status thing; that may be on instinct level what drives the social engine, but as I’ve written before it stops being important once you reach a certain level. The true gain is elsewhere. The fool who claimed that poets were the unacknowledged legislators of the world should have referred to technologists instead; being a certification authority in the right kind of invisible college is power to shape the future in subtle but large ways.

Somebody has to do that. Maybe, just maybe, it will be you.

75 thoughts on “Culture and certification

  1. I really don’t think this is particularly specific to hackerdom. It sounds pretty much like the normal dynamics of human behavior in general. The example that comes to mind right away is the “invisible college” that governed who could sit at the cool kids table in the lunchroom, back in junior high school.

  2. One of the reasons I keep coming back to this blog? You can write about these subjects KNOWING your going to be showered w/ shit. Writing/Thinking about these issues, the older I get the more I think vocabulary is central to these area’s. Folks might take issue w/ your definitions, or positions, but if they want join a ‘conversation’ they at least have a starting place. Do you think your entanglement w/ neo-paganism informed your observations? I don’t know very many hackers, but I had no problems syncing your descriptions w/ people I know in various pagan communities. m=)

  3. I think we’re hard-wired to form tribes. The economies of scale that come from hunting more efficiently in packs, and sharing the burden of keeping dangerous animals (whether four- or two-legged) away from the women and children, cause such social structures to form in most hominid species.

    Tribes are defined by the existence of some authority who can declare who is/isn’t a member. Elaborate dominance hierarchies evolve on top of that most basic rule: Whoever has the power to excommunicate you from the tribe is in charge.

  4. This is another area where the internet is causing some turmoil.

    In a lot of fields, the historical invisible college was traditionally maintained by things like publication in peer-reviewed journals. The high cost of these journals was justified by the editing and gatekeeping function.

    But on the internet, things happen around the journals. People on the “in” crowd ignore the outside-the-journal happenings at their own peril. First, they have to read stuff that hasn’t showed up in the journals. Then, to avoid losing credibility, they have to interact with the people who refuse to interact with the journals. Next thing you know, a huge snowball takes all the influence of the journals and scatters it to a cadre of bloggers.

    Here’s an example I noticed just yesterday, when responding to the “other people’s money” post:

    http://www.capitalgainsandgames.com/blog/bruce-bartlett/1925/where-monetary-debate-happening

    The “disintermediation” word gets a lot of usage in scenarios like this, but that’s really not all-encompassing enough to describe what’s going on. Sure, the magazines are being disintermediated, but (except for a few people who this affects financially) this is not as interesting as the bigger picture. If “disintermediation” describes the fate of the magazines, then the best word for the people who now have to continually prove themselves instead of having tenure through publication is probably going to be something like “deguildification” .

  5. Well, I got my own similar experience too….

    I got this “oh shit” feeling when my writing campaign to convince the EFF to accept bitcoin succeeded. Now, I have instant street cred within the bitcoin community. Now they trust me with even more money.

    I am also responsible for starting a lot of bounties to the point at least one bitcoiner said “where is kiba? we need a bitcion comic bounty already!”. More and more things I accomplished, the more famous I become. I don’t wanna be famous(in the bitcoin community at least) anymore. I want to hide.

    BTW, did you learn enough about bitcoin to be able evaluate its ability to change the world and demonopolize money forever?

    ESR says: Not yet. Be patient – I’ve been rather ill the last week.

  6. Remember dude – you might be more worthy than you know.
    I don’ know about Madge – I maintain an open mind.

  7. The single quality I admire most about esr is that he is “post ambitious”. My books are in storage so I can’t look up the exact quote, but the phrase is a reference to the Lois McMaster Bujold book where Miles Vorkosigan is appointed an Imperial Auditor to discover what happened to the head of security. The other Imperial Auditors are a uniformly impressive group, but impressive in an odd way. Almost orthogonal to the rest of society. Because they had achieved their goals,and then let go if them, reaching a kind of bardo state.

    Here, esr is actively cultivating and mentoring the next generation of geek leaders. Bravo!

  8. @LS

    It sounds pretty much like the normal dynamics of human behavior in general. The example that comes to mind right away is the “invisible college” that governed who could sit at the cool kids table in the lunchroom, back in junior high school.

    Yeah, but…. As esr has pointed out elsewhere, sometimes hacker have “[the] power to shape the future in subtle but large ways”. What kids do in {junior,senior} high school/college is just rehearsal in the “social-status and identity games”; true hackers do it for real.

    @murph,

    Do you think your entanglement w/ neo-paganism informed your observations? I don’t know very many hackers, but I had no problems syncing your descriptions w/ people I know in various pagan communities. m=)

    As another participant in both the hacker and neo-pagan communities, I would submit that many of the very same issues play out in both groups. They are both “somewhere in the middle of the objectivity-of-success scale” (in a social, not necessarily in a materialistic, objective sense); I would also argue that neo-pagans are generally in “need of peer evaluation” and yet also more “instinctively distrustful of authority than most other subcultures”, given both our marginalization by the religious mainstream and our attempts to create a coherent mythic-spiritual-social fabric out of ancient belief and psychological first principals. This creates for neo-pagans some of that very same “conflict between our need for certification authorities and our unwillingness to acknowledge that need and that role.”

  9. @monster sez:

    I think we’re hard-wired to form tribes. … Tribes are defined by the existence of some authority who can declare who is/isn’t a member.

    @Patrick Maupin sez:

    This is another area where the internet is causing some turmoil.

    And you’re both right. What near-ubiquitous communications (especially the peer-to-peer kind fostered by the Internet) has given us is the ability to belong to multiple, disjoint, tribes at the same time. I can be a neophyte hacker, waiting to be recognized for my skills and thus admitted to the “inner circle”. I can also be, simultaneously, an accomplished martial artist, training others; an amateur musician who appreciates the skill and talents of the pros, and who may be offered a token opportunity to perform with them; a long-time member of my neighborhood association who is respected and consulted on issues which have plagued us for decades; and an “author wannabe” who is just learning the ropes. In each case, I participate in a (sub-)culture, and have to learn the (often un-written) rules and behaviors of each to succeed therein.

    I don’t think we’ll ever rid ourselves of our “guilds”, but we are (and increasingly will be) measured continuously by different norms for the different roles we wish to inhabit.

  10. @esr – what is your opinion of how this whole topic is affected by interaction with what I for lack of a better term would term “visible college” – in case of hackers, the very specific example I had in mind was Stack Overflow. You get a somewhat amorphous and informal network which nevertheless produces fairly consistent and VERY tangible both rankings and membership statuses.

  11. @TJL

    So, are you bragging??? Yeah, V7 was the shit – thirty-one years ago. I would submit that talking about “real cred” for something this old, although it makes for a sweet retro-computing hack, is about like like R. Heinlein’s notion of a medieval scholar going to DuPont or Dow and proclaiming “Sir, I am an alchemist! Hast thou need of a scholar like me?”

    (Not the exact quote, but you could look it up in “Glory Road”.)

  12. @esr – a similar question which I’ve been itching to ask you and the blog audience for a while is whether a “Hacker Stack Exchange” site might plausibly work, and if so, provide a more formalized answer to the nebulous “are you a hacker and how good of a hacker you are” valuation problem that you alluded to many times (the only person who can tell if you’re a good hacker is another hacker who observed your work).

  13. @John D. Bell – while I partially agree, I do have to ask. Would you rather hire an arguably extremely intelligent and talented person who lacks N amount of basic information easily learneable by someone intelligent enough, or a random guy whose only distinction is that they have had the chance to learn that basic information but posess nothing showing they are able to do anything beyond such learning-basic-information achievement? (the former being said scholar and the latter being the Joe College Graduate that DuPont would hire instead.

  14. @John D. Bell – the best illustration of the above dilemma (and its solution) is the amount of assorted people with non-financial and non-CS background hanging around finance-related software development. A LARGE chunk are ex-physicists, and one of the best hackers I worked with was a Philosophy major (like Bruce Lee :) ) who self-educated himself in software development later on. It’s about aptitude and ability to learn, not your base level of knowledge.

    As another specific counter example, do you REALLY think any of the Big Pharma would not hesitate to pay any money to an alchemist by the name of Avicenna?

  15. @DVK

    I guess I wasn’t pointed enough. My objection is that TJL is offering as “real cred” something that is about as interesting as day-before-yesterday’s generic donuts. Yes, V7 was revolutionary in it’s day – that’s the Unix I cut my teeth on (“onyx” was the port, on a Zilog Z8000 CPU, back in 1981). But today, just getting something like that working on current hardware is a bit of a yawn.

    Better to brag about something new.

  16. @TJL:

    in the hacker world, you get real cred for doing stuff like this

    And what, pray tell, have you done to get “real cred”? Put your money where your mouth is, or STFU.

  17. @John Bell:

    I don’t think we’ll ever rid ourselves of our “guilds”, but we are (and increasingly will be) measured continuously by different norms for the different roles we wish to inhabit.

    Hmm, maybe need another term. I was thinking “guild” in the ancient sense of a “union/cartel with secret skill transfers.” Most of the technical/scientific journals are still behind significant paywalls, and as new knowledge avoids that fate, they will be increasingly marginalized. The might learn to adapt, but an equally good bet is that they start to really raise their rates for the little content they still control. That will let them last for awhile in a slow decline, until they become irrelevant.

  18. Wow, the comments here took an incredibly short time to devolve into a measuring contest.

    @esr: Regarding the original post, you have me pretty well pegged (except perhaps the part about being wise).

    I’m not sure that saying cred matters less when one reaches a certain level is the whole story, though…I’ve noticed that the people who are internally motivated, for the most part, are more likely to rise to that level to begin with.

  19. >You can write about these subjects KNOWING your going to be showered w/ shit.

    And why not? What are the haters going to do to me that they haven’t already tried on forty-eleven times already? Right, they’re going to fling more feces and rant about my ego.

    *Yawn*

  20. >Remember dude – you might be more worthy than you know.

    I concede that this is true, and perhaps even likely. But it is almost a condition of being worthy that you not enter the game assuming it.

  21. >Here, esr is actively cultivating and mentoring the next generation of geek leaders. Bravo!

    Quite consciously, I assure you. But this is not new. I told Guido van Rossum in …I think… 1998 that I planned in 20-year time horizons and was intentionally positioning him to become one of the handful of philosopher-princes at or near the influence level of Larry Wall and RMS and Linus. (I didn’t use the term “philosopher-prince” at the time.)

  22. >Do you think your entanglement w/ neo-paganism informed your observations?

    I’m in no doubt of this at all. The parallels you cite are real and important.

  23. >in case of hackers, the very specific example I had in mind was Stack Overflow.

    Stack Overflow is *cool*. I think it’s a very creative and successful way to provide communications channels that are tuned for our subcultural needs. There are a lot of subtle ways the designers could have screwed up in concretizing those patterns and I think they avoided them all. For this they have my profound respect.

    And I don’t think we need a Stack Overflow for hackers, because it already is one – subtly exporting our values and approaches, propagating our memes. I don’t think I could be happier with it.

  24. @esr and @Susan (HedgeMage)

    Every teacher knows that feeling. You stand there in front of a room full of students, and they think you are the one and true fountain of wisdom.

    And then the only thing you can think of is all the questions they could ask you that you cannot answer.

    But you know you HAVE to go on, because they HAVE to learn whatever there is you can teach them. There is no one else to replace you. That is what keeps everybody standing, the knowledge that if you do not tell them, nobody will.

  25. > And what, pray tell, have you done to get “real cred”? Put your money where your mouth is, or STFU.

    That, dear boy, would expose my identity.

    Yes, V7 Unix is old (and yes, I once owned 2 Onyx machines, and Phil Belanger and Bill Raduchel are still good friends.)

    And even you admit, “it makes for a sweet retro-computing hack”, so STFU, yourself, OK? It’s a hack, and an interesting one, something that had just crossed my desk. An example, if you will.

    Here is another example: I know a guy with a DEC-10 in his living room. A real ’10, not a Toad-1 (http://www.inwap.com/pdp10/td-1b.html).

    If you haven’t got 36 bits, you’re not working with a full DEC.

    (There is little chance that you get the reference without rushing off to Wikipedia.)

    Hackers *make*, non-hackers only talk about hacking. When the mood suits them, they create whole machines, or lovingly maintain older examples of what you probably think of as computing’s equivalent of dinosaurs. If so, you’re just another wet-behind-the-ears n00b who thinks memory and CPU cycles are free until s/he trips one ominous day. (S/he will soon be working all night.)

    But again, Hackers *hack*, non-hackers stand around and talk about hacking. That’s all I’m saying. I’ve met hackers in many spaces; woodworking, physicians, (yes, Hacker Doctors!), machinists, teachers, etc. The ‘maker’ movement is really about hacking in the physical world, rather than in software.

    Even Eric has pointed out that the hacker culture is a near meritocracy. (http://www.catb.org/~esr/faqs/smart-questions.html. http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=1551, http://www.catb.org/jargon/html/H/hacker.html, etc.), so I don’t understand why people are viewing my comment as negative. Perhaps it hurts to have someone question your worth, and your self-worth plummets?

    To close, I’ll just point out that someone who is considered a hacker by other hackers meets the test for being a hacker.

  26. >>Remember dude – you might be more worthy than you know.
    >
    > I concede that this true, and perhaps even likely. But it is almost a condition of being worthy that you not enter the game assuming it.

    Bzzzz!

    The real explanation is that those who are truly skilled in an art come to understand the depth of what they still don’t know. They often don’t feel ‘worthy’ (to use the word used here.) The condition of being worthy is typically that you understand (again), that you’re not.

    The reality is that when you’re working with (living with, hanging out with, …) only the brightest, suddenly you may no longer be the smartest person in the room. Where once you were exceptional, now, among your real peers, you are merely average. Many hackers don’t make it through collage for one of several reasons (or a combination):

    - they find that while they were standouts in earlier years (high school, or even the first couple years of university), they were coasting on their intellect, and unable to apply it when the work requires effort sustained over days, or even months.

    - they have authority issues

    -a few (unlikely anyone here) can (and do) educate themselves better than anyone else can (could).

    But even a genius isn’t born with knowledge. It has to be acquired, and higher education is where the vast majority go to learn that last 10% of what they didn’t know, and you probably don’t know still if you didn’t go.

    Trust me, and I really hope this does not come across as a dig, but however much of a badass coder any of us may be, we (individually) have no idea how much we (individually) don’t know.

    But there is a solution: If you dive in and work your butt off, writing code, reading other people’s code, studying new tools, languages and methods, you’ll advance like crazy, and you’ll come to realize how much you don’t know.

    And then the chest-thumping will stop. Naturally.

  27. > Hmm, maybe need another term. I was thinking “guild” in the ancient sense of a “union/cartel with secret skill transfers.”

    There is a Hackers Guild, composed of many of the brightest (mostly from UCB), and nearly all from the Berkeley ‘school’, but some from Boston, some from UMD and a smattering of other schools and companies. Some are CS profs, some started companies you’ve heard of, some create software that does program trading on the NYSE, and some have done more for Unix than anyone who has ever posted on this blog.

    We’re all aging now.

  28. You can freely download the book co-written by Suelette Dreyfus which discusses Assange’s early years and the scene at the time here http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/4686
    Assange’s pseudonym in the book was ‘Mendax’ and I believe he helped Dreyfus with research on the book.

    It’s a really great read…

  29. My hacker hero is Alan Cox.

    But that is immaterial. I come here because I want to read what eric has to say. Not because he is a 1337 hax0r.

    And how I measure up as a hacker? I don’t.

    If I need to know something I go to a blog like this and display my ignorance. There will be ample hackers willing to educate me free of charge.

  30. @esr – Thanks!

    Just to expand a bit, by “Stack Overflow for hackers”/”HSO” I meant a site where others could rate someone’s hacks as well as difficult questions arising from attempting said hacks. Let me elaborate (apologies for verbosity):

    The four main differences from SO would be:

    1) On one hand, narrowing the programming-related subject matter (e.g. no noise from trivial FAQish/RTFMish content).

    This changes things compared to SO both as far as overall information present (where truly hacky content is at best under 1% even on hacking-friendly tags like [Perl]) and, more importantly, as far as a set of people earning reputation and thus community standing for asking the above trivia or providing trivially obtainable answers.

    2) On the other hand expansion of subject matter to include: “Please rate $hack” (e.g. you post either a hack itself or a link to it and the hack author(s) get rep for that). On SO, “rate this $code” is officially off-topic, whether it’s posted code or especially a pre-existing known hack/project.

    As an excellent example of where both #1 and #2 makes a difference, Larry Wall isn’t even on SO as far as I can tell, and Randal Shwartz has a relatively low rep due to low participation – deservedly so as far as SO’s mission is conserned but obviously illustrating that the correllation between hacker rep and SO rep is nowhere near perfect even if it is somewhat measurable.

    As an opposite example, I have a VERY high SO rep (top 200 total, top 10-12 in Perl tag) relative to my own self-rating as a hacker or even as software engineer, since I’m in practice more of a latter than former. In Perl tag where I mostly hang out, there are a significant amount of people whose Perl skills AND contribution to Perl community literally dwarf mine, yet who have lower rep/standing. I didn’t say I don’t deserve most of the rep from the standpoint of SO’s stated mission, I’m just saying the correllation – with good reason – is not as high as ESR seems to think between SO and proposed HSO rep.

    3) Also, expansion of subject matter to include non-software hacks. On SO, non-software-development stuff is officially off-topic. This is less critical in its importance but IMHO a great fit for the idea of “HSO”, since as noted by some people who will remain unnamed in this post ;), “hacking” is more about the mindset and abilities and approach to thinking than a subject area.

    4) An initial seeding of rep to a set of well agreed upon “established” figures, AND an introduction of a slight bias as far as “high-rep” user’s voting power.

    On one hand, this is a bit contrary to StackExchange philosophy; on the other hand, SO had a VERY easy mechanism for ensuring an initial set of users limited to “people qualified for franchise” in that they were largely self-selected as readers of CodingHorror and JoelOnSoftware; thus the whole “gatekeeper” mechanism was pretty much a well-oiled and well-tuned machine, aided by the fairly high volume of those “obviously qualified” initial participants.

    Conversely, the set of people qualified to act as either gatekeepers or certificators for “HSO” is fairly small – both due to sheer lack of volume of people who could legitimately be considered “hackers” AND the difficulty of said two roles in this specific subject area due to significantly more subjective nature of valuations. If the proposed site starts out 100% open like SO, there’s a high risk of – for lack of a better term – “wannabe hackers” overwhelming the system with sheer #s and gaining the roles without being even remotely qualified – StackOverflow’s equivalent of people earning 1000s of rep from fairly trivial but very popular questions.

    Again, SO functions well as far as gatekeeping/certifying due to high volume of people who are qualified enough to judge *and* a high volume of VERY objective Qs and As on which such judging can be performed pretty well. Proposed “HSO” has neither of those two factors.

    The benefits of such a site would be at least three-fold:

    – Ability to have a measurable “hacker rating”. That is obviously personally less useful to peope of ESR’s caliber who don’t need a rating to be known by both themselves and others as great hackers AND have enough experience/ability to know what good hacking/hacks are.

    BUT it would be tremendously useful to the personal growth of proto-hackish people/new hackers, who would be able to more effectively learn what good hacking is or isn’t via both the voting results for their own efforts as well as observing it for others.

    – Attracting people into the culture who would otherwise be outside by virtue of thinking “I’m not worthy because of $reason” so don’t even try (there was an example of such a person in on of the threads on this blog couple of months back).

    – Most importantly, due to the changed nature of both the site’s stated mission and of the voting constituency, the REALLY hard and interesting hacky questions/problems would attract SIGNIFICANTLY more likelyhood of being answered/worked on for a variety of reasons. On SO, the REALLY technically good questions often languish in “zero votes/zero answers” obscurity.

    @esr, I hope the above writeup changes your opinion on whether the existing SO is “already an SO for hackers”.

    ESR says: Well, it is in that it serves hacker-culture purposes. But you make a good case for having one with a somewhat different reward system. Why don’t you start it?

  31. To close, I’ll just point out that someone who is considered a hacker by other hackers meets the test for being a hacker.

    Amen to that, and someone who calls himself a hacker without meeting that important criterion is universally regarded as a poser and scorned, quite possible for life – unless they produce a hack that’s so obviously worthy that they shed most of the opprobrium.

    I purposely didn’t call myself a hacker until Eric did. (As I recall, I asked him in the back of a van headed somewhere.)

    Winter: your attitude is the beginning of wisdom.

    Susan: You’ve come up with a suitable euphemism for DSW. My hat’s off to you.

    And, John D. Bell, I’ve got no quarrel with someone running V7 on an x86 being deemed to have created a neat hack. Then again, considering my own place in the halls of retrocomputing…

  32. Oh, forgot one other thing:

    they’re going to fling more feces and rant about my ego

    On the scale of towering egos, Eric, yours is about an 8-story office building. There’s a long way between that and, say, RMS’s Empire State Building.

  33. Susan (HedgeMage) Says: Wow, the comments here took an incredibly short time to devolve into a measuring contest.

    Just goes to show that hackers aren’t really very different from the rest of the male world.

    “We’ll settle this in the usual way….you guys drop your pants while I go get the ruler.”
    – Murphy Brown

  34. @TJL

    We’re all aging now.

    Yeah, I surmised as much based on your 36-bit DEC joke — a reference to the VAX, I believe. I actually only knew this because I happened to work at a place where some old VAX heads still worked — most are retired by now. This place had a PDP-10 in the early 1970s — there is a picture of it on the wall of a room that I think used to be part of the server room. Anyway, When the VAX first appeared, I was 5. Even so, I think it’s cool that someone has a PDP-10 in their living room.

    Anyway, my image of you has changed considerably: turns out maybe you’re not some trolling teenager. :)

    @Susan: Anyone who can describe a DSW as diplomatically as you is certainly wiser than you know. ;)

  35. >Yeah, I surmised as much based on your 36-bit DEC joke — a reference to the VAX, I believe

    Wow, Morgan, you’re sure not covering yourself with glory the last 24 hours! No; the VAX was a 32-bit machine. TJL’s referring to the PDP-10 of blessed memory.

    Are you ill or something? Flamage and ignorance just doesn’t seem like you.

  36. Actually, Eric, I read Morgan’s comment as a derogatory reference to the VAX by 36-bitters.

    I’ve got a copy of the -20 emulator and OS…never really figured out what to do with it.

  37. >I’d call [Julian Assange] a hacker. Would you?

    I admit, he seems to qualify. Repellent, narcissistic creep though he is.

  38. Are you ill or something?

    Guilty as charged. I’ve been fighting an intestinal flu of some sort for the past 3 days. A friend once told me that the 36-bit joke was directed at the VAX because it was only 32-bit at DEC positioned it as a replacement for the PDP line, whereas a real PDP-10 is 36-bits. Was he wrong?

  39. >A friend once told me that the 36-bit joke was directed at the VAX because it was only 32-bit at DEC positioned it as a replacement for the PDP line, whereas a real PDP-10 is 36-bits. Was he wrong?

    He was right. I misunderstood your last comment slightly.

  40. >Guilty as charged. I’ve been fighting an intestinal flu of some sort for the past 3 days.

    Odd coincidence – I’m recovering from a week-long bout of some kind of enteritis.

  41. One thing that seems missing from a discussion of these invisible colleges and tribes is the issue of ‘scale’. As in, it seems to me, they don’t. Or at least not often.

    Every tribe seems to quickly settle on a fairly immutable core of single-digit (occasionally low-two-digit) members. With a periphery of perhaps 2x that number. And everyone else is tolerated, barely.

    (If this be true, then arguably the Internet has not at all changed this wired-in human constant).

    This leads to some problems, especially if the desire is for some social good or an expectation that these tribes will change the world (as mentioned above). It also tends to lead them in a direction that is the opposite of much of the above stated goals.

  42. A friend wants me to ask if being slightly crazy is a prerequisite for being a good hacker. I have no idea what they are talking about.

  43. There is another role of these sorts of colleges, a role that is both good but potentially very destructive too. That is that these colleges serve to enforce the status quo. The elders, gatekeepers etc. make a judgment on information or people based on the established base of knowledge, and that is good, because it keeps out a lot of flaky nonsense. However, it is also bad, because it tends to also keep out really good ideas too. Wise elders provide a narrow, difficult, but feasible path, for these ideas to enter the group’s noosphere.

    The college, like any organization, tends to get beyond merely being a group serving the interests of the individual, to become the individuals serving the interest of the group. This becomes most powerful when the group is under attack, leading to a siege mentality. A very obvious example being the global warming community.

    Often times because the members of the group have abdicated their right to decide to the elders and gatekeepers, they tend to use very blunt criteria for making judgments of the value of people outside their group. This is often less true of the smart elders and gatekeepers. It is also worth saying that it is often a good choice, since it reduced total work load in deciding what is good and what is bad. Every scientist doesn’t need to test Pons and Flieschmann, a few trusted people can, and then we can all laugh at their stupidity at parties.

    However, the problem is that if the few trusted people have biases, or make mistakes with their Palladium electrodes, then their mistake is widely propagated and important information is lost. To put it another way, the biggest concern is not the fanboys, the biggest concern is the awesome responsibility of making decisions for a lot of people.

    I was struck recently by a comment that Eric made about me personally. He described me as “not one of us.” To be clear, Eric has always been a welcoming host to me on this blog, and certainly willing to listen and honestly debate my ideas. He might be a little gruff at times, but I certainly attribute intellectual honesty and openness to him. Nonetheless, I thought it interesting in this context. For some people, Eric describing me as “not one of us” means they should disregard anything I say. I offer this thought not as a complaint, far from it, but rather as an observation of the very phenomenon he describes here.

  44. Odd coincidence – I’m recovering from a week-long bout of some kind of enteritis.

    Oh noes! Microbes are traveling down the Intartubes!

  45. @Michael:

    One thing that seems missing from a discussion of these invisible colleges and tribes is the issue of ‘scale’. As in, it seems to me, they don’t. Or at least not often.

    Every tribe seems to quickly settle on a fairly immutable core of single-digit (occasionally low-two-digit) members. With a periphery of perhaps 2x that number. And everyone else is tolerated, barely.

    (If this be true, then arguably the Internet has not at all changed this wired-in human constant).

    As John. D Bell pointed out in an upstream comment, “What near-ubiquitous communications (especially the peer-to-peer kind fostered by the Internet) has given us is the ability to belong to multiple, disjoint, tribes at the same time.”

    To clarify: Most people belong to several different tribes. Work, church, gym, social clubs, friends, family. But maintaining communication with distant tribe members was historically quite costly, so you’d have the odd letter, phone call, or christmas card. Most historical institutions are quite hierarchical, because that’s the easiest way to effectively organize things when communication is costly.

    But now, we can easily belong to esr’s “Armed and Dangerous” tribe as well as other tribes. The lack of incremental cost (other than time) required to participate in discussions in places like this means that memes can easily be passed across the country without a hierarchy. There is now a much more robust mesh routing system in place for communication. We are all editors and gatekeepers. We all pass along things we think are important.

    When the mesh routing system is combined with a flexible hierarchy that recognizes the mesh routing as a strength rather than a defect, remarkable things happen. Think tea party or Barack Obama’s election.

    This leads to some problems, especially if the desire is for some social good or an expectation that these tribes will change the world (as mentioned above). It also tends to lead them in a direction that is the opposite of much of the above stated goals.

    I think the tribes are already changing the world — mostly for good, sometimes for bad (e.g. online support groups where anorexics can get told “Don’t listen to them — they’re just jealous because you’re beautiful and getting prettier with every pound you lose.”)

  46. Anyway, my image of you has changed considerably: turns out maybe you’re not some trolling teenager. :)

    I think I know who he is: a trolling old-timer even with regards to this blog.

    I was struck recently by a comment that Eric made about me personally. He described me as “not one of us.”

    To be specific he described you as “not one of us yet”, meaning you’re getting there — and accordingly, those who would refuse to listen to you better start taking you seriously. Pretty high compliment, especially given that you don’t seem to have the typical “hacker background”.

    I found myself thrust into the role of a gatekeeper when asked to evaluate hiring candidates at work, as every member of the software team is asked to do. We don’t use the H-word, but make no mistake, the traits we are looking for align nicely with what’s exemplified by J. Random Hacker. It is indeed bewildering and frightening, and felt like a great burden, even though I was but one of several contributors to the evaluation process (and not at all to the final decision process).

  47. > Odd coincidence – I’m recovering from a week-long bout of some kind of enteritis.

    Hope that wasn’t followed up with a bout of “exititis.”

    (Ahem- sorry, couldn’t resist.)

  48. ESR says: Well, it is in that it serves hacker-culture purposes. But you make a good case for having one with a somewhat different reward system. Why don’t you start it?

    @esr – Answer #2: http://area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/25277/hacking-and-hackers

    If you feel it’s worth your time please feel free to contribute by both content (including suggested editing of the site info and posting sample Qs and As) as well as publicity. I will also attempt to query Atwood or Joel on the possibilty of tweaking the site’s mechanics as described in my write-up

    P.S. Please delete the earlier version of a comment – I change the site title which changed the URL

  49. [insert Groucho Marx line about not wishing to belong to any club that would have him as a member :) ]

    I guess I’m an oddball counter-example to the hacker-tribal mindset – I have the ‘lone wolf’ psychology. I have no desire to be “one of us” yet posess all the characteristic skills and aptitudes that would seemingly qualify me as a ‘hacker’. In fact, any attempt by others to cram me into a box with some superficial label is an intellectually painful and insulting experience.

    If I find myself amidst a group, it is merely a coincidence of circumstances and interests, and an association as effortlessly surrendered as obtained.

    I am “none of the above”, a member of the null set…not a misanthrope, yet with no blindly abiding admiration of our species in general, yet with great admiration for certain specific individuals. It is the existence of such brilliant exemplars that gives me hope for our species – without them, I surely would become misanthropic – the knowledge that, throughout all the muck and filth that humans have delivered unto themselves, we can still produce spectacular luminaries that can blaze away the dirt and stench to highlight how wonderful life can be.

    As Rollins put it – “I’m goin’ out strange” … I’ve come to terms with that.

  50. I guess I’m an oddball counter-example to the hacker-tribal mindset – I have the ‘lone wolf’ psychology. …
    If I find myself amidst a group, it is merely a coincidence of circumstances and interests, and an association as effortlessly surrendered as obtained.

    And yet you’re here :-)

    Do you really believe yourself that different from some of the others here?

    The foremost tool in a hacker’s toolbox is probably not raw intelligence. Rather, it’s the mindset that I will not be defeated by a machine — I will bend it to my will. Most really social people couldn’t give a rat’s-ass about whether the machine defeats them on any particular occasion or not. This is one reason why most hackers are men — most women are too social to care enough about this sort of thing.

  51. And yet you’re here :-)

    :) Indeed. This is one of the highest-quality blogs I have ever read. I find ESR and many posters here to be truly interesting.

    Do you really believe yourself that different from some of the others here?

    Oh, I wouldn’t presume to know much about anybody else here…I may have an inkling or two about a few people. I was only throwing my meager two cents into the hat. My point wasn’t that “I am totally unlike you all” (I even acknowledged my shared characteristics) but rather that I don’t share this hacker-tribal mindset where people consider themselves as ‘belonging’ to a group. It actually feels a little creepy to me…’hackers’ may well be benign, but humanity doesn’t have a great track record of nice outcomes where ‘groups’ are concerned. Unsurprisingly, I live a long way from any population centers ;)

  52. >I don’t share this hacker-tribal mindset where people consider themselves as ‘belonging’ to a group.

    That’s OK. You can be one of us without feeling tribal solidarity; that possibility doesn’t bother us a bit. Speaking objectively, you may not actually have a choice in the matter; you are what you are, and if (as you note) you share enough characteristics with us we’re going to call you a hacker whether you have the tribal-solidarity thing going or not.

    Rereading that, I see it does sound faintly creepy and Borg-like. Sorry, just stating facts as they are. We don’t want to assimilate you. Well, not unless you change your mind and decide assimilation would be fun. Tribal feeling is nice but it’s not even nearly a substitute for other characteristics that are more important; it’s whether you have those that matters.

    You are, I regret to say, partly a victim of my social engineering. For reasons I’ll explain in a blog post soon, I’ve been consciously working since 1990 on increasing the level of cohesiveness and tribal solidarity among hackers. This has had the useful results I was planning for, but it has also made the culture a somewhat less comfortable place for extreme lone-wolf types like you – your kind used to be more common among us.

    I would apologize, but I think when you understand what I was trying to do and why you may well agree that it was a good tradeoff.

  53. This has had the useful results I was planning for, but it has also made the culture a somewhat less comfortable place for extreme lone-wolf types like you – your kind used to be more common among us.

    No worries Eric. I’m also sort of a “lone wolf” type, and the simple benefits of knowing that there are others like me out there outweigh the drawback of any real or perceived subtle pressure to join the Collective.

  54. > I found myself thrust into the role of a gatekeeper when asked to evaluate hiring candidates at work, as every member of the software team is asked to do.

    Just wait until you a) have to directly manage them or b) (worse) terminate their employment for any reason.

  55. Every tribe seems to quickly settle on a fairly immutable core of single-digit (occasionally low-two-digit) members. With a periphery of perhaps 2x that number. And everyone else is tolerated, barely.

    Anthropologist Desmond Morris places the optimum size of a tribe at roughly 60. In his observations, when a tribe gets much larger than that (say into triple digits) it splits into two smaller tribes. He says that the human brain is able to know that many other people well enough to model their behavior and be able to rely upon them behaving as predicted. When your life depends on that behavior, this is a Good Thing.

    Organizational theory says that when you have seven people directly reporting to you, supervising their work pretty much takes up all your time, and you don’t personally get to accomplish much. I once had a conversation with the director of my university’s library in which he said that fields of knowledge tend to split seven ways. I told him what I’d heard about org. theory; he agreed that there seemed to be a link between the two.

    Now, if you think that through, visualize a three-tiered organization with one CinC, about seven lower-level commanders, each of whom has seven people at the third level. 1 + 7 + 49 = 57. Damn, that’s awfully close to Morris’ ~60 figure. Extend each commander to eight direct reports and we have 1 + 8 + 64 = 73. Push them out to nine each: 1 + 9 + 81 = 91. At ten each = 111, which divides into two tribes of 55/56 at the more comfortable level of seven direct reports.

    Alternatively, you could start piling on layers of management, but that just makes the lowest layer one step further removed from the top, again threatening cohesion.

  56. @The Monster: I wonder if that seven-fold phenomenon might be related to the concept that human short-term memory breaks down into 7 +/- 2 units? Any thoughts?

  57. @Morgan. It wouldn’t surprise me at all.

    It’s pretty clear that millions of years of evolution have a lot more to say about how we’re wired up than the ten millenia that significant numbers of us have gone beyond a hunting/gathering economy (for which our tribal nature seems a good fit).

    One of these days, I’ll have to put together my thoughts on the fact that our socioeconomic structures require us to overcome what appear to be our natural instincts to form tribal societies (including far larger tribes than what make sense). When we boot up a new human, we have to install an OS that goes beyond our BIO(S)logy, as it were.

  58. Eric,

    I’m genuinely curious: On what basis do you consider Julian Assange a “repellent, narcissistic creep”?

  59. >Eric,
    >I’m genuinely curious: On what basis do you consider Julian Assange a “repellent, narcissistic creep”?

    I can’t speak for Eric, but I had a long discussion about this with family when discussing the “Cablegate” leak. Let me summarize what we decided on for why he’s a creep:

    First, if you’re informed about Wikileak’s history, there is the problem that all of their “historical” documents — anything more than a few months old — are essentially unreachable to make room and focus upon the “Cablegate” leak. Why did these disappear if the (stated) mission of “bring important news and information to the public”? Just because (to take examples from the Wikileaks FAQ) the assainations in Africa is no longer the hottest news story, does not mean they can ethically remove those documents from the archive.

    Secondly, find any of his public interviews. The man constantly “mugs the camera” (even in print) as if he needs to extend his (once in a lifetime) 15 minutes of fame. Even read their press release about Cablegate and the focus is not on the backroom deals this exposes but that it is the single largest classified document leak.

    Finally, look at the Wikileaks donate page. The first link is to their defense fund: by name, the “Julian Assange Defense Fund”. If he’s not a narcissist, wouldn’t the “Wikileaks Defense Fund” be the correct name?

    ESR says: This sums it up pretty well, I’d say.

  60. First, if you’re informed about Wikileak’s history, there is the problem that all of their “historical” documents — anything more than a few months old — are essentially unreachable to make room and focus upon the “Cablegate” leak.

    Yep. I noticed this right after they broke the Iraq War Logs story. Having followed this pretty closely, I’ll say first hand that the site went down for months, with only mirrors available, and then suddenly came up after the release of the Iraq War Logs.

    The funny thing is that they kept claiming that their infrastructure was under attack, yet the site remained down. The only thing I could see was that their IRC server kept getting crapflooded, and it wasn’t even the really that bad and it seemed like the server admins mostly had it under control. The ircops were rather tight-lipped about the whole thing, but based on one IRC conversation I had with one of them in which I volunteered to help out if they really needed, it seems that they really didn’t know anything except about the crapflooding and they thought that it was pretty much under control.

    Anyway, when the servers came back up, everything was gone except the Afghanistan War Diary and the Iraq War Logs.

    Something seemed very, very, um….odd/fishy about the whole WikiLeaks ircops thing. My offer of assistance with their attacks was met with pretty much a “nothing to see here, move along”-type response. If I were one of those real conspiracy nuts, I’d be prone to say that it smelled of government TLA involvement. ;)

  61. esr wrote:
    “Repellent, narcissistic creep though he is.”

    Julian Assange is, however, the enemy of your and my enemies. He is part of the left, but not part of the regnant left. The major long term impact of this latest leak is to make Obama and the state department look like loons blinded by their quasi religious beliefs.

    What took down the Roman Catholic theocracy was not the light of reason, not the enlightenment, but bigoted religious zealot theocrats like Martin Luther, who were rebelling because the Church was not theocratic enough. Julian Assange is one of those rebel theocrats.

  62. Patrick already pointed this out, but in monetary economics, the debate has moved to the blogosphere. Journals have become too much of a signaling tool for academic competence/academic_social_status to actually be useful in the economics debate.

    In parts of physics its moved to arxiv.org.

    Also, Morgan, the Wikileaks CIA rumor has been around for years. I don’t know how much of it is true, although them canning their old data worries me. It kind of defeats the point of wikileaks if they delete their old stuff.

  63. @Doc Merlin:

    Also, Morgan, the Wikileaks CIA rumor has been around for years.

    RIght. But I never really believed it and frequently dismissed those that did as paranoid delusionals. The point of my last sentence was to say that I might be more easily swayed to believe it now.

  64. Just curious – would you say the people competing in this contest are hackers (or apprentice hackers) or something else? Actually sounds like fun – too bad they didn’t have things like that when I was that age. Though the programming language selection back in the dark ages would have been a bit different. Though C and Pascal’s early versions did exist then… they weren’t that popular. Cobol would have been way more likely – or Fortran. Though I might have entered a bid for Forth.

  65. Oh – btw, I know that question was fairly off-topic. But it does appear that that contest is an alternate type of ‘certification.’

  66. >Just curious – would you say the people competing in [the Math Olympiad] are hackers (or apprentice hackers) or something else?

    I’d say they’re exhibiting the right sorts of skills, beginning but not ending with the ability to do complex exploratory programming. They are at the least very capable proto-hackers. Before I’d go all the way to calling one a hacker, I’d want to know just a few more things along the lines of “does he laugh at RFC1149?” and, more generally, “how playful is he?”

    >But it does appear that that contest is an alternate type of ‘certification.’

    I’ll put it this way. If anyone wanted to use a win place or show in the Olympiad as evidence of sufficient technical chops, I wouldn’t argue. :-)

  67. Shaun wrote: “My books are in storage so I can’t look up the exact quote, but the phrase is a reference to the Lois McMaster Bujold book where Miles Vorkosigan is appointed an Imperial Auditor to discover what happened to the head of security.”

    You don’t need to get your books out of storage. The entire Vorkosigan series is now available free in e-book format from Baen Books.

    http://baencd.thefifthimperium.com/24-CryoburnCD/CryoburnCD/index.htm

  68. John D. Bell wrote:

    I would submit that talking about “real cred” for something this old, although it makes for a sweet retro-computing hack, is about like like R. Heinlein’s notion of a medieval scholar going to DuPont or Dow and proclaiming “Sir, I am an alchemist! Hast thou need of a scholar like me?”

    (Not the exact quote, but you could look it up in “Glory Road”.)

    You could try, but you wouldn’t find it there. That quote is from “The Door Into Summer.” (There’s no time travel in “Glory Road.”)

  69. @ Kathy Kinsley

    > Actually sounds like fun

    I can definitely certify that such contests are fun. And (from actually having participated in both math, informatics and pure algorithm ones), the absolutely require pretty much all of the qualifications that ESR definition of a hacker entails.

  70. @esr

    > They are at the least very capable proto-hackers. Before I’d go all the way to calling one a hacker, I’d want to know just a few more things along the lines of “does he laugh at RFC1149?” and, more generally, “how playful is he?”

    Well, I can’t vouch for ALL of those people, but having known – both professionally and personally – a VERY large cross-section of such people (mostly on the math end of the competitions but also informatics ones), I can definitely vouch for a vast majority of them being the exact kind of people who’d find IP over birds to be hilariously inventive and worthy of high cudos.

    As an extra bit of flavor, a large chunk of the contestants who originated in USSR (whether competing in fUSSR or in USA) routinely participated in a uniquely USSR competition/activity which can be translated as a “Club of Merry and Inventive” – the name should speak for itself. It’s a combination of improv comedy with political satire theater with intellectual challenges – can’t really think of any Western equivalent. But it definitely fit into the “playful” requirement as well as “ingenious”, at least back then (lately it devolved into more commercial entertainment stuff, sadly).

    > >But it does appear that that contest is an alternate type of ‘certification.’
    > I’ll put it this way. If anyone wanted to use a win place or show in the Olympiad as evidence of sufficient technical chops, I wouldn’t argue. :-)

    Would you limit such evaluation to contests involving practical software development, or include fuzzier “algorithm heavy” ones like COMAP’s MCM? What about other pure non-software disciplines (obviously math, but there are also physics and chemistry equivalents)?

    P.S. One trivia bit which I think confirms Eric’s “chops” evaluation is the fact that NoSuchAgency co-sponsors undergraduate level COMAP’s Mathematical contest in modeling (http://www.comap.com/undergraduate/contests/mcm/) as well as invites ALL top scorers from Putnam Math contest for NSA internships.

  71. >Would you limit such evaluation to contests involving practical software development, or include fuzzier “algorithm heavy” ones like COMAP’s MCM? What about other pure non-software disciplines (obviously math, but there are also physics and chemistry equivalents)?

    I’d need to know more about the individual Olympiads. I doubt any of my evaluations would surprise you.

  72. I’m trying to do some research on one of the Members of the Royal Society in the 18th century, he ended up being the second principle librarian of the British Museum. I’ve got a long way to go. As a result, I was happy to read about some context related to its beginnings, in the article you linked to. Cheers.

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