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July 2013The monthly newsletter by Felgall Pty Ltd

My Word

Hackers

Since the media first got hold of this word and misused it the word has acquired a completely different meaning for the general public to that which those who invented the word intended. It also leaves the group of people to whom the word originally referred without any word to define them separately from everyone else.

Based on the original meaning of the word , that small subset of people who do all the malicious things that the media attribute to hackers were known as crackers. Most of those that the media now refers to as hackers are not even crackers but are in fact just script kiddies who have taken a script written by a hacker (probably not intended for a malicious purpose at all) and simply added their own malicious payload to it.

The group that originally coined the word hackers with its original meaning were one group within the MIT Model Railroad club back in the 1950s. This particular group were the ones responsible for the control system that went below the baseboards of their layout. The first 'hack' was the conversion of a pile of old telephone equipment into a control system for their railroad. Many of this same group were amongst the first students to gain access to the computer and they then referred to any really clever way of achieving the desired end result with less than the expected amount of code on the computer as a hack and those who were capable of achieving such results as hackers. Given the very small amount of memory that computers had at the time, if it hadn't been for the hackers the computers would not have been able to do anywhere near as much as they were made to do and they may never have reached the stage of being useable in business. In fact many of these hackers went on to found their own computer companies and were the people who supplied most businesses with their computers through the 1960s and into the 70s.

A second group of hackers (still using the original intended meaning of the word and not the one imposed by the media) came along in the 1970s and while the earlier group had worked with the big mainframe computers, this new group of hackers were the ones who converted hat started out as electronics projects for building toy computers capable of doing simple arithmetic into useful computers that anyone could buy. When the Altair 8800 computer kit was first sold in 1975 it couldn't do very much as it didn't have an operating system. This all changed when two hackers created an operating system for it called Altair Basic. You have probably heard of these hackers - they were Paul Allen and Bill Gates who after this success then went on to form their own company called Microsoft.

At that time most small computers were sold as kits and were operated through toggle switches. To be able to add useful peripherals such as monitors and keyboards additional circuitry needed to be added to support those devices. The first computer to include all the necessary circuitry on a single board to allow you to build what would be recognisable as a computer today just by plugging in a power supply, keyboard, case and television was the Apple 1 computer created by hacker Steve Wozniac with financial and marketing help from his friend Steve Jobs. Their success with this led to their then developing the Apple ][ in 1977 which was the first complete desktop computer sold which only needed to have a television plugged into it to give a complete working computer. In 1979 the Physics department at the University of New South Wales imported the first Apple ][ computers into Australia where with the assistance of a few students they developed the first desktop computer course offered by the University that started the following year - which was also when the first Apple ][ computers were first offered for sale in Australia.

Hackers (still with the original meaning) have continued to find clever ways to do things with computers both with the software and the hardware which have allowed computers to do far more than they would ever have been capable of without such efforts. It is a real shame that the media hijacked the word to use for an almost completely different group of people whose sole intention is to destroy. What name now can be used to describe those whose brilliance built the computer industry into what it is today now that the term they coined for themselves (hackers) has come to mean something so totally different?
 

On Site

A few JavaScript pages this month as I start to clear some of the backlog of updates to some of my scripts. There will probably be a few more in the coming month as well. There are quite a few things building up on my 'to do' list including quite a few proposed PHP scripts so you can expect to see some of those later in the year.
 

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