Return of the hacker ribbons

Penguicon (venue of the upcoming Friends of Armed & Dangerous party) is a combination science-fiction convention and Linux/open-source conference, two geek tastes that taste great together.

One of Penguicon’s customs is that people wander around handing out affinity-group badge ribbons to those they deem worthy (or simply to be funny). In many past years I handed out a silver-on-blue ribbon that simply says “hacker”. But the last couple years I’ve been busy and distracted and my stash of ribbons had run out.

I’ve felt a little bad about that, because there are people out there for whom getting a “hacker” ribbon from ESR is a kind of gold star that they want and deserve. Little social rewards and identity validations like that are important to every culture, including ours, and one of the reasons humans elect tribal elders (and ESRs) is so there will be people with the authority to dispense them.

For a particularly dramatic example of this, read about Terry Pratchett’s geek ribbon. That wasn’t one of mine, but it could have been (I think I started handing mine out the following year, partly in reaction to that incident).

And now a round of applause for those of you who have been dropping money in my brand-new Paypal tip jar. You made it easy for me to buy “hacker” ribbons this year and I will be once again giving them out at Penguicon.

But not casually – wouldn’t do to devalue the currency, you know. I deliberately had made only a limited number. If you want one, show up at Penguicon and impress me. But you probably won’t impress me by trying to impress me. The hacker nature is like being one with the Tao – a posture of mind, not a thing that can be forced. Too much ego investment ruins the flavor.

(The hacker ribbons didn’t cost a lot. The rest of what’s in the tip jar will probably get spent on test hardware for the GPSD project, eventually.)

21 thoughts on “Return of the hacker ribbons

  1. Eric,

    In what will probably appear as a huge display of “me-too”ism, I had been planning on getting a few ribbons made up to be distributed to the GwG participants. Tentatively envisioning the text “Bang! Bang!” in red on black.

    So now I probably won’t. Not to steal your thunder and all that…. 

  2. Ribbons are one of the fun parts of PenguiCon. Some people make a point of trying to collect as many as possible and end up with a chain several feet long.

    When I ran GwG at PenguiCon some years ago, I made up silver-on-black Bang! Bang! ribbons (I went with silver and black ’cause those are the principle colors in which most guns are found).

    In any case, I especially look forward to the return of the Hacker ribbons.

  3. >So now I probably won’t. Not to steal your thunder and all that….

    Absolutely you should do this. As Garrett pointed out, it’s even traditional.

    No worries about stealing my thunder, it’s a different ribbon. :-)

  4. So what are your qualifying criteria, or is that question too Cathedral of me? Are we in the bazaar of Eric’s caprice?

  5. >So what are your qualifying criteria, or is that question too Cathedral of me? Are we in the bazaar of Eric’s caprice?

    That question is not easy to answer, because I’m looking for a posture of mind manifested by outward signs that can be obvious or very subtle. Sorry about that.

  6. Ribbons for GwG have been ordered. Garrett’s color scheme could not be improved upon; the text will read “Bang! Bang! P-2012″.

    Hope this meets with everyone’s approval ;-)

  7. >ESR: Where you buy these ribbons?

    There’s a link direct from the Penguicon main page.

  8. How about a bitcoin tipjar? All the money that are donated goes directly to you, at least 99.99%.

    With paypal, it goes to a paypal account which they can shut down at any time.

  9.  @Jessica Boxer

    So what are your qualifying criteria, or is that question too Cathedral of me? Are we in the bazaar of Eric’s caprice?

     
    @ESR
    That question is not easy to answer, because I’m looking for a posture of mind manifested by outward signs that can be obvious or very subtle. Sorry about that.

    I’m going to call either “a bit lazy” or “not interested in (re-)quoting himself” on our host. Here he gives a rather precise definition of “the hacker attitude”; over here (where he does quote himself, he gives exposition on what the mindset of a developing hacker should be.

    Now, how one is supposed to exhibit that behavior and attitude (in the context of Penguicon, instead of being glued to your favorite editor/IDE and development project) I guess is still Eric’s secret …. 

  10. @ John D. Bell re: hacking

    Your links are to pages where ESR describes what it means to be a hacker.

    ESR said:

    I’m looking for a posture of mind manifested by outward signs that can be obvious or very subtle

    I think the point is that identifying a hacker, identifying that “posture of mind” in a person, involves recognizing signs that can be “obvious or very subtle”, which can be different for different people and non-trivial to do.

  11. Don said:

    We all understand that Programmers are not necessarily Hackers, but remember the term HACKER comes from engineering, not Computer Science, and 50 years ago a “hacker” was pretty much synonymous with a HAM (amateur radio operator).

    When I was a teenager, I got my ham radio license – I was VE6CEZ – but after getting the license, I realized that it was the electronics that attracted me – I had little interest in talking to other hams about how far apart we were.

    Once I had the opportunity to program computers (in the high school computer club), I lost all interest in ham radio.

  12. ESR said:

    Penguicon (venue of the upcoming Friends of Armed & Dangerous party) is a combination science-fiction convention and Linux/open-source conference, two geek tastes that taste great together.

    There is a third common geek taste – making a triumvirate of geek tastes that taste great together – Chinese food.

    Steven Levy, in his wonderful book “Hackers – Heroes of the Computer Revolution”, describes some kinds of hacking…

    It all started at (in the book, not in life) at MIT with the Tech Model Railway Club. Its members were basically divided into two groups, the “Railway” guys, that liked trains, and the “switches and signals” guys, that liked… switches, signals, logic, implementing complex logic…

    The switches and signals guys got the opportunity to work with a computer…. and the rest is history. These guys (or different subsets of them) got into software hacking, hardware hacking, lock hacking, phone phreaking (long distance hacking), Chinese food hacking, and more.

    The book also has major sections on:

    build-it-yourself hardware hacking (Altair 8800 kit)
    computer game hacking

    The book was published in 1984, when (like in Victorian times) it wasn’t obvious how the world might be revolutionized (as opposed to incrementally improved).

    It is highly ironic that the book ends with a section on RMS as being the last true hacker. Little did Levy know that in a few years the world would be revolutionized by the Internet (and RMS and ESR and the OSI), increasing the number of hackers by orders of magnitude.

    I used to own a copy of the Popular Electronics magazine with the mockup of the Altair 8800 on the cover… it disappeared at some point after I left home.

  13. >It is highly ironic that the book ends with a section on RMS as being the last true hacker.

    I read the book in the mid-1980s very shortly after it came out, and remember thinking “Er, so what am I and my friends? Chopped liver?”

    Mind you, I didn’t think I belonged in Levy’s book – I wasn’t anywhere near prominent enough then, and wouldn’t even begin to be for another half-decade. Nevertheless I was quite irritated with Levy for buying RMS’s mythologization of himself and the Symbolics wars so completely that he failed to notice anything else was going on. Said irritation has never completely faded.

  14. >I think the point is that identifying a hacker, identifying that “posture of mind” in a person, involves recognizing signs that can be “obvious or very subtle”, which can be different for different people and non-trivial to do.

    That is correct.

  15. Sadly, all chances of impressing ESR with my hacker cred passed a decade back … I am an ** sniff ** ex-hacker.

  16. @SPQR –

    > I am an ** sniff ** ex-hacker.

    Please don’t say that. ‘Cause that means I’m an ex-hacker.

    I would hope that either of us could still make a non-trivial contribution to some worthy open-source project (or to it’s documentation, or to it’s test suite, or to providing a particularly obscure and nasty test environment, or something).

    “Simple Matter Of Programming” and all that …. :-P

  17. @John D Bell

    “Simple Matter Of Programming”

    This phrase ranks among the four most dangerous words in the English language. It ranks right up there with “How hard can it be?”

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