October 29, 2008


Category: Academic,Humor — Biella @ 1:35 pm

I am not quite here but give me another year and I will be close or even there/

October 28, 2008

Linux Distro Timeline

Category: Linux — Biella @ 4:16 pm

More than 31 Flavors

October 26, 2008

When did the term cracker arise?

Category: academic,Hackers,Politics — Biella @ 4:06 am

Seegras asked

Until Eric S. Raymond turns up in 1990 with this: “CRACKER (krak’r) n. One who breaks security on a system. Coined c. 1985 by hackers in defense against journalistic misuse of HACKER,
see definition #6.”

And I’ve never heard before of this; so I presume ESR himself decided that people who break into systems are now called by a name which some other group had already applied to themselves. I anyone has some documents referring to this kind of “crackers” from before 1990 and not from ESR, I’d be happy to hear of. And I’ve got plenty of documentation on the other “crackers”, those who crack copyprotection, from 1980 onwards…

Does anyone know the answer? Have any thoughts? I penned a few comments below as well but won’t repeat them here. His comment as well as Nona’s reminded me of this brilliant shirt crafted by Mathew Garret.

October 24, 2008

Hacker practice: Moral genres and the cultural articulation of liberalism

Category: Academic,Books/Articles,Hackers,Tech — Biella @ 3:02 am

So I usually don’t announce my publications on my blog and for various reasons. The main one is that I am more than a little embarrassed that some of them are behind walled gardens (but being I am a junior prof, I am not in a position to negotiate otherwise). Otherwise, some of my pieces are semi-jargony (in the academic sense) and may not be of interest to readers who I think are more geek than academic. Finally, the process of publishing is so slow, so long, and so painful, I try not to think about it, much less write about it, if I can help it. But I decided to announce this
piece , which is on hackers (surprise surprise) as it might be of interest to some readers and because people can download it for free here for the rest of the month (but registration is required )

Co-written with Alex “Rex” Golub, I am pretty happy to see in print although it is far more “academic” in its tone, argument, and language than most of everything else I have written. This is in part because the article is more theoretical than ethnographic (hence the journal, Anthropological Theory) and tackles the question of liberalism alongside hacking. It seeks to demonstrate that these can be talked about 1) together and in cultural terms 2) that we we can identify some cohesive elements to hacking and liberalism, in part by placing them in conversation with each other 3) and yet we can also locate plurality and diversity within liberalism and hacking as well. This is a lot to tackle and cover in one piece under 35 pages and I am sure it could have been pulled off better but I think it is is a decent start to thinking about these questions. If you are interested but are allergic to academicalese, sticking to the Introduction, the Hacker Ethical Practice: Three Examples section, and Conclusion, will give you a taste of the arguments while avoiding most of the jargon.

The irony of this article is that even if it hits at some pretty theoretical issues, it was provoked by a mundane conversation and disagreement I had with one hacker, Karl Fogel, over another hacker, Kevin Mitnick. After returning from the hacker conference, HOPE, I had dinner with Karl and told him about Kevin Mitnick’s keynote speech, which I found particularity enjoyable and entertaining. After calling Mitnick a hacker, Karl responded with the following: Kevin is not hacker. He is a cracker.” Though I think I convinced him that cracker may not be the best word for him (and he convinced me there are differences between hacking, noting perceptively that “his primary motivation seemed to be getting access to something he wasn’t allowed to have access to—that is, it was more about breaking the rules and the thrill of crossing a social line, than about learning a technical system.“), I decided that I wanted to write a piece that squarely addressed tensions and differences among hackers instead of whitewashing them away as most authors, journalist, and even some hackers do.


October 21, 2008


Category: Academic,Books/Articles,IP Law — Biella @ 1:35 pm

Since most readers of this blog are not fans of the DMCA, I thought you all might appreciate this terse and elegant insight about why the DMCA is such a failed law.

“The existence of the DMCA is an open admission that software has failure modes sufficiently severe that regulation by software alone cannot be trusted. The effectiveness of DRM software as a regulator is therefore dependent on the legal effectiveness of the DMCA … The DMCA creates a category of per se illegal software by outlawing programs that do certain things. But in so doing the DMCA aligns itself squarely against software’s plasticity. In making it illegal to create certain kinds of software, it tries to prevent people from taking full advantage of one of software’s greatest virtues: that software can do almost anything one can imagine.” James Grimmelmann in Regulation by Software, p. 1756

Nerd Girls.

Category: Geekitude,Gender — Biella @ 10:30 am

I am all for models and examples, and well, Nerd Girls, is such a web portal meant to celebrate “smart-girl individuality that’s revolutionizing our future.” And they “want to encourage other girls to change their world through Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, while embracing their feminine power.” That message is all good and fine but the profile page is just a little too homogeneous and “made up” and actually just looks fake as fake can be (and what is UP with those dumb glasses they are all wearing?!). Sorry to say this, but all those “chics” look like they are fake nerds and are really models for Seventeen magazine or soft-porn movies. Is Nerd Girls a joke? Or is it real and just not for Ugly (or regularly looking) Nerd Girls?

[h0mee] lol
[h0mee] actually what it really reminds me of
[h0mee] are those inspirational posters you see in high school meant to inspire students to study harder
[biella] like this one

update again (sorry, the comments on my irc channel are just too good to ignore:

[Atala] lol one of my friends just said the site seems like a thought experiment on what would happen if MTV bought Bitch magazine.

October 17, 2008

Measuring a Courses’ Success: xkcd

Category: academic,Hackers,Teaching — Biella @ 9:56 am

So we are about 1/2 way done with my hacker class and I have to say it has been a pretty fun ride, especially since many students thought hacking was all about pimply kids engaging in malicious acts of computer violence and many had no knowledge of basic technological concepts like UNIX or source code. We had to first sweep away the cobwebs of misrepresentation and replace with a more solid foundation of facts (however messy the world of hacking still is!)

But after building a foundation, you still wonder whether students are learning. Traditionally we gauge progress with exams or essays, which can be effective but let’s face it, at times a little tedious. But today a student sent me the following very short email, which made me realize I had another barometer at my disposal to gauge their progress xkcd:


I wouldn’t have gotten the joke if it wasn’t for you. Thanks.

The email not only made me smile (for it is always nice to know your students are leaning something) but it gave me the idea that in the future I might include a comic based exams composed of 5-10 comic strips (many from xkcd) and ask for an exegesis of them. Why not? Seems like fun to me. And it would be great to include the following as one of my course objectives: “By the end of this class you will be able to read xkcd and actually understand (most) of it.” If they could do that, well, they must have learned at least something :-)


One of my readers, Florian, sent this nice bit, which I have not read before:

“I read your blog via Planet Debian and immediately felt reminded of Jane
Goodall’s Foreword to Gary Larson’s The Far Side Gallery 5 which I’d
like to share with you:”

| Recently I was talking with one of the best researcher know, Tim
| O’Halloran. He has been able to inspire generations of middle and high
| school students to care for the natural world. Tim told me that Gary
| Larson has had a major impact on his teaching. Tim uses Far Side
| cartoons to introduce topics, to illustrate points, and to “reinforce
| the notion that the more we investigate the universe, the richer is our
| experience.” When designing exam papers Tim finds the cartoons “ease the
| tension and spark the memory.” It all began when, in the fall of 1985,
| he was given the task of teaching science to 162 Tulsa ninth-graders who
| were convinced that it was absolutely irrelevant to their futures. Tim
| put one hundred Far Side cartoons on a large bulleting board, and told
| the students to study them. The consensus was that they didn’t
| understand the humor – The Far Side was “too weird”. However, Tim wrote
| me, “Each time we completed a unit and the students approached the
| bulletin board with newly acquired wisdom, I smiled quietly and thanked
| the cosmos for Gary’s perspectives as the kids roared with the confident
| laughter of the enlightened.”

Having taught myself for a while, I can fully and happily relate.

Later in the semester, and for my hacker course, we will be reading Understanding Comics, which will give us a bit of a meta perspective on why comics are so good at conveying a certain type of message. I can’t wait to read it as I have heard it is fantastic.

Obama Roasts McCain at Al Smith Dinner

Category: Politics — Biella @ 4:45 am

I have been mostly silent about the campaign here but this video is too good to remain so (and makes me wonder if Colbert and Stewart wrote the speech for Obama)

October 16, 2008

Geeks and the Other Sex, again

Category: Humor — Biella @ 5:15 am

I know this is on Planet already BUT I need to keep it for my own records on hacker humor (I have a chapter on this in my book) and well, it is good enough to have it show up 2x:

I occasionally send quotes that make me smile to Joey, but this time I can’t resist circulating it more widely…

> Marek Vasut (1):
> i2c/tps65010: Vibrator hookup to gpiolib

Guys, I know we geeks aren’t known for our sex-life, but do we have to
make it so obvious?

(Linus Torvalds)

SISU Strikes Again: Two Bits Online

Category: Academic,Books/Articles,F/OSS,IP Law,Politics,Wholesome — Biella @ 4:43 am

I have blogged about it before, but I will blog about it again as it is that cool: SISU. According to its author, Ralph Amissah, “Susu was born of the need to find a way, with minimal effort, and for as wide a range of document types as possible, to produce high quality publishing output in a variety of document formats.” And really what it does it makes reading on the web a whole lot easier. He can only throw up Free Material and so his options are a little limited but he has recently added Christopher Kelty’s Two Bits, making it easier to read than ever. We just finished reading a about 3 chapters of the book for my class (wish I had known about the SISU for my students but oh well, next time) and here is the latest entry from one of my students covering the birth and development of F/OSS and ending with some questions about Free Culture. Good stuff, if I can say so myself.