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Care and Feeding

The following list is an attempt to cover some of the issues that will invariably come up when people without previous experience of the hacker community try to hire a hacker. This FAQ is intended for free distribution, and may be copied as desired. It is in an early revision. If you wish to modify the FAQ, or distribute it for publication, please contact the author. The author is The official distribution site (as of revision 0.05) is "".

If you find this information useful, please consider sending a token donation to the author; email for details.

DISCLAIMER: The author is a hacker. Bias is inevitable.

This document is copyright 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999 Peter Seebach. Unaltered distribution is permitted.

Revision 0.05 - Last modified September 28, 1999

Questions and Answers:

Section 0: Basic understanding.

0.0: Won't my hacker break into my computer and steal my trade secrets?

No. Hackers aren't, contrary to media reporting, the people who break into computers. Those are crackers. Hackers are people who enjoy playing with computers. Your hacker may occasionally circumvent security measures, but this is not malicious; she just does it when the security is in her way, or because she's curious.

0.1: Was it a good idea to hire a hacker?

It depends on the job. A hacker can be dramatically more effective than a non-hacker at a job, or dramatically less effective. Jobs where hackers are particularly good are:
  • Systems administration
  • Programming
  • Design
Jobs where hackers are particularly bad are
  • Data entry

More generally, a job that requires fast and unexpected changes, significant skill, and is not very repetitive will be one a hacker will excel at. Repetitive, simple jobs are a waste of a good hacker, and will make your hacker bored and frustrated. No one works well bored and frustrated.

The good news is, if you get a hacker on something he particularly likes, you will frequently see performance on the order of five to ten times what a "normal" worker would produce. This is not consistent, and you shouldn't expect to see it all the time, but it will happen. This is most visible on particularly difficult tasks.

0.2: How should I manage my hacker?

The same way you herd cats. It can be a bit confusing; they're not like most other workers. Don't worry! Your hacker is likely to be willing to suggest answers to problems, if asked. Most hackers are nearly self-managing.

0.3: Wait, you just said "10 times", didn't you? You're not serious, right?

Actually, I said "ten times". And yes, I am serious; a hacker on a roll may be able to produce, in a period of a few months, something that a small development group (say, 7-8 people) would have a hard time getting together over a year. He also may not. Your mileage will vary.

IBM used to report that certain programmers might be as much as 100 times as productive as other workers, or more. This kind of thing happens.

0.4: I don't understand this at all. This is confusing. Is there a book on this?

Not yet. In the meantime, check out The New Hacker's Dictionary (references below; also known as "the jargon file"), in particular some of the appendices. The entire work is full of clarifications and details of how hackers think.

Section 1: Social issues

1.0: My hacker doesn't fit in well with our corporate society. She seems to do her work well, but she's not really making many friends.

This is common. Your hacker may not have found any people around who get along with hackers. You may wish to consider offering her a position telecommuting, or flexible hours (read: night shift), which may actually improve her productivity. Or hire another one.

1.1: My hacker seems to dress funny. Is there any way to impress upon him the importance of corporate appearance?

Your hacker has a very good understanding of the importance of corporate appearance. It doesn't help you get your job done. IBM, Ford, and Microsoft have all realized that people work better when they can dress however they want. Your hacker is dressed comfortably. A polite request to dress up some for special occasions may well be honored, and most hackers will cheerfully wear clothes without (unintentional) holes in them if specifically asked.

1.2: My hacker won't call me by my title, and doesn't seem to respect me at all.

Your hacker doesn't respect your title. Hackers don't believe that management is "above" engineering; they believe that management is doing one job, and engineering is doing another. They may well frequently talk as if management is beneath them, but this is really quite fair; your question implies that you talk as if engineering is beneath you. Treat your hacker as an equal, and she will probably treat you as an equal -- quite a compliment!

1.3: My hacker constantly insults the work of my other workers.

Take your hacker aside, and ask for details of what's wrong with the existing work. It may be that there's something wrong with it. Don't let the fact that it runs most of the time fool you; your hacker is probably bothered by the fact that it crashes at all. He may be able to suggest improvements which could dramatically improve performance, reliability, or other features. It's worth looking into.

You may be able to convince your hacker to be more polite, but if there appear to be major differences, it's quite possible that one or more of your existing staff are incompetent. Note that hackers, of course, have different standards of competence than many other people. (Read "different" as "much higher".)

Section 2: Productivity.

2.0: My hacker plays video games on company time.

Hackers, writers, and painters all need some amount of time to spend "percolating" -- doing something else to let their subconscious work on a problem. Your hacker is probably stuck on something difficult. Don't worry about it.

2.1: But it's been two weeks since I saw anything!

Your hacker is working, alone probably, on a big project, and just started, right? She's probably trying to figure it all out in advance. Ask her how it's going; if she starts a lot of sentences, but interrupts them all with "no, wait..." or "drat, that won't work", it's going well.

2.2: Isn't this damaging to productivity?

No. Your hacker needs to recreate and think about things in many ways. He will be more productive with this recreation than without it. Your hacker enjoys working; don't worry about things getting done reasonably well and quickly.

2.3: My hacker is constantly doing things unrelated to her job responsibilities.

Do they need to be done? Very few hackers can resist solving a problem when they can solve it, and no one else is solving it. For that matter, is your hacker getting her job done? If so, consider these other things a freebie or perk (for you). Although it may not be conventional, it's probably helping out quite a bit.

2.4: My hacker is writing a book, reading USENET news, playing video games, talking with friends on the phone, and building sculptures out of paper clips. On company time!

He sounds happy. The chances are he's in one of three states:
  1. Basic job responsibilities are periodic (phone support, documentation, et al.) and there's a lull in incoming work. Don't worry about it!
  2. Your hacker is stuck on a difficult problem.
  3. Your hacker is bored silly and is trying to find amusement. Perhaps you should find him more challenging work?

Any of these factors may be involved. All of them may be involved. In general, if the work is challenging, and is getting done, don't worry too much about the process. You might ask for your corporation to be given credit in the book.

2.5: But my other workers are offended by my hacker's success, and it hurts their productivity.

Do you really need to have workers around who would rather be the person getting something done, than have it done already? Ego has very little place in the workplace. If they can't do it well, assign them to something they can do.

Section 3: Stimulus and response

3.0: My hacker did something good, and I want to reward him.

Good! Here are some of the things most hackers would like to receive in exchange for their work:
  1. Respect.
  2. Admiration.
  3. Compliments.
  4. Understanding.
  5. Discounts on expensive toys.
  6. Money.

These are not necessarily in order. The 4th item (understanding) is the most difficult. Try to remember this good thing your hacker just did the next time you discover he just spent a day playing x-trek. Rather than complaining about getting work done, write it off as "a perk" that was granted (informally) as a bonus for a job well done. Don't worry; hackers get bored quickly when they aren't doing their work.

3.1: My hacker did something bad, and I want to punish him.

Don't. 30 years of psychological research has shown that punishment has no desirable long-term effects. Your hacker is not a lab rat. (Even if he were a lab rat, punishment wouldn't work; at least, not if he were one of the sorts of lab rats the psych research was done on.) If you don't like something your hacker is doing, express your concerns. Explain what it is that bothers you about the behavior.

Be prepared for an argument; your hacker is a rational entity, and presumably had reasons. Don't jump on him too quickly; they may turn out to be good reasons.

Don't be afraid to apologize if you're wrong. If your hacker admits to having been wrong, don't demand an apology; so far as the hacker is concerned, admitting to being wrong is an apology, most likely.

3.2: I don't get it. I offered my hacker a significant promotion, and she turned it down and acted offended.

A promotion frequently involves spending more time listening to people describing what they're doing, and less time playing with computers. Your hacker is enjoying her work; if you want to offer a reward, consider an improvement in title, a possible raise, and some compliments. Make sure your hacker knows you are pleased with her accomplishments -- that's what she's there for.

3.3: My company policy won't let me give my hacker any more raises until he's in management.

Your company policy is broken. A hacker can earn as much as $200 an hour (sometimes more) doing freelance consulting. You may wish to offer your hacker a contracted permanent consulting position with benefits, or otherwise find loopholes. Or, find perks to offer - many hackers will cheerfully accept a discount on hardware from their favorite manufacturer as an effective raise.

3.4: I can't believe the hacker on my staff is worth as much as we're paying.

Ask the other staff in the department what the hacker does, and what they think of it. The chances are that your hacker is spending a few hours a week answering arcane questions that would otherwise require an expensive external consultant. Your hacker may be fulfilling another job's worth of responsibilities in his spare time around the office. Very few hackers aren't worth what they're getting paid; they enjoy accomplishing difficult tasks, and improving worker efficiency.

Section 4: What does that mean?

4.0: My hacker doesn't speak English. At least, I don't think so.

Your hacker is a techie. Your best bet is to pick up a copy of TNHD (The New Hacker's Dictionary). It can be found as (last I checked) or from a good bookstore. If you have trouble understanding that reference, ask your hacker if she has a copy, or would be willing to explain her terms. Most hackers are willing to explain terms. Be ready for condescension; it's not intended as an insult, but if you don't know the words, she probably has to talk down to you at first to explain them.

It's a reasonably difficult set of words; there are a lot of them, and their usage is much more precise than it sounds. Hackers love word games.

[It is also possible that English is not your hacker's native language, and that it's not yours either. Feel free to substitute a more appropriate language.]

4.1: I can't get an estimate out of my hacker.

Your hacker hasn't figured out how hard the problem is yet. Unlike most workers, hackers will try very hard to refuse to give an estimate until they know for sure that they understand the problem. This may include solving it.

No good engineer goes beyond 95% certainty. Most hackers are good engineers. If you say you will not try to hold him to the estimate (and mean it!) you are much more likely to get an approximate estimate. The estimate may sound very high or very low; it may be very high or very low. Still, it's an estimate, and you get what you ask for.

4.2: My hacker makes obscure, meaningless jokes.

If you feel brave, ask for an explanation. Most of them can be explained. It may take a while, but it may prove interesting.

4.3: My hacker counts from zero.

So does the computer. You can hide it, but computers count from zero. Most hackers do by habit, also.

What is Hacking?

"What is hacking?"
The definitive source for the answer to this question is the The Meaning of `Hack' section of The New Hackers' Dictionary.
:hack:  1. /n./ Originally, a quick job that produces what is
   needed, but not well.  2. /n./ An incredibly good, and perhaps very
   time-consuming, piece of work that produces exactly what is needed.
   3. /vt./ To bear emotionally or physically.  "I can't hack this
   heat!"  4. /vt./ To work on something (typically a program).  In an
   immediate sense: "What are you doing?"  "I'm hacking TECO."
   In a general (time-extended) sense: "What do you do around here?"
   "I hack TECO."  More generally, "I hack `foo'" is roughly
   equivalent to "`foo' is my major interest (or project)".  "I
   hack solid-state physics."  See {Hacking X for Y}.  5. /vt./ To
   pull a prank on.  See sense 2 and {hacker} (sense 5).  6. /vi./ To
   interact with a computer in a playful and exploratory rather than
   goal-directed way.  "Whatcha up to?"  "Oh, just hacking."
   7. /n./ Short for {hacker}.  8. See {nethack}.  9. [MIT] /v./ To
   explore the basements, roof ledges, and steam tunnels of a large,
   institutional building, to the dismay of Physical Plant workers and
   (since this is usually performed at educational institutions) the
   Campus Police.  This activity has been found to be eerily similar
   to playing adventure games such as Dungeons and Dragons and
   {Zork}.  See also {vadding}.

   Constructions on this term abound.  They include `happy hacking'
   (a farewell), `how's hacking?' (a friendly greeting among
   hackers) and `hack, hack' (a fairly content-free but friendly
   comment, often used as a temporary farewell).  For more on this
   totipotent term see "{The Meaning of `Hack'}".  See
   also {neat hack}, {real hack}.

Their Portait of J. Random Hacker is also mostly accurate:

:A Portrait of J. Random Hacker:

This profile reflects detailed comments on an earlier `trial balloon'
version from about a hundred Usenet respondents.  Where comparatives
are used, the implicit `other' is a randomly selected segment of the
non-hacker population of the same size as hackerdom.

An important point: Except in some relatively minor respects such as
slang vocabulary, hackers don't get to be the way they are by
imitating each other.  Rather, it seems to be the case that the
combination of personality traits that makes a hacker so conditions
one's outlook on life that one tends to end up being like other
hackers whether one wants to or not (much as bizarrely detailed
similarities in behavior and preferences are found in genetic twins
raised separately).

:General Appearance:

Intelligent.  Scruffy.  Intense.  Abstracted.  Surprisingly for a
sedentary profession, more hackers run to skinny than fat; both
extremes are more common than elsewhere.  Tans are rare.


Casual, vaguely post-hippie; T-shirts, jeans, running shoes,
Birkenstocks (or bare feet).  Long hair, beards, and moustaches are
common.  High incidence of tie-dye and intellectual or humorous
`slogan' T-shirts (only rarely computer related; that would be too

A substantial minority prefers `outdoorsy' clothing -- hiking boots
("in case a mountain should suddenly spring up in the machine room",
as one famous parody put it), khakis, lumberjack or chamois shirts,
and the like.

Very few actually fit the "National Lampoon" Nerd stereotype, though
it lingers on at MIT and may have been more common before 1975.  At
least since the late Seventies backpacks have been more common than
briefcases, and the hacker `look' has been more whole-earth than

Hackers dress for comfort, function, and minimal maintenance hassles
rather than for appearance (some, perhaps unfortunately, take this to
extremes and neglect personal hygiene).  They have a very low
tolerance of suits and other `business' attire; in fact, it is not
uncommon for hackers to quit a job rather than conform to a dress

Female hackers almost never wear visible makeup, and many use none at

:Reading Habits:

Omnivorous, but usually includes lots of science and science fiction.
The typical hacker household might subscribe to "Analog", "Scientific
American", "Whole-Earth Review", and "Smithsonian" (most hackers
ignore "Wired" and other self-consciously `cyberpunk' magazines,
considering them {wannabee} fodder).  Hackers often have a reading
range that astonishes liberal arts people but tend not to talk about
it as much.  Many hackers spend as much of their spare time reading as
the average American burns up watching TV, and often keep shelves and
shelves of well-thumbed books in their homes.

:Other Interests:

Some hobbies are widely shared and recognized as going with the
culture: science fiction, music, medievalism (in the active form
practiced by the Society for Creative Anachronism and similar
organizations), chess, go, backgammon, wargames, and intellectual
games of all kinds.  (Role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons
used to be extremely popular among hackers but they lost a bit of
their luster as they moved into the mainstream and became heavily
commercialized.  More recently, "Magic: The Gathering" has been widely
popular among hackers.)  Logic puzzles.  Ham radio.  Other interests
that seem to correlate less strongly but positively with hackerdom
include linguistics and theater teching.

:Physical Activity and Sports:

Many (perhaps even most) hackers don't follow or do sports at all and
are determinedly anti-physical.  Among those who do, interest in
spectator sports is low to non-existent; sports are something one
*does*, not something one watches on TV.  

Further, hackers avoid most team sports like the plague.  Volleyball
was long a notable exception, perhaps because it's non-contact and
relatively friendly; Ultimate Frisbee has become quite popular for
similar reasons.  Hacker sports are almost always primarily
self-competitive ones involving concentration, stamina, and micromotor
skills: martial arts, bicycling, auto racing, kite flying, hiking,
rock climbing, aviation, target-shooting, sailing, caving, juggling,
skiing, skating (ice and roller).  Hackers' delight in techno-toys
also tends to draw them towards hobbies with nifty complicated
equipment that they can tinker with.


Nearly all hackers past their teens are either college-degreed or
self-educated to an equivalent level.  The self-taught hacker is often
considered (at least by other hackers) to be better-motivated, and may
be more respected, than his school-shaped counterpart.  Academic areas
from which people often gravitate into hackerdom include (besides the
obvious computer science and electrical engineering) physics,
mathematics, linguistics, and philosophy.

:Things Hackers Detest and Avoid:

IBM mainframes.  Smurfs, Ewoks, and other forms of offensive cuteness.
Bureaucracies.  Stupid people.  Easy listening music.  Television
(except for cartoons, movies, and "Star Trek" classic).  Business
suits.  Dishonesty.  Incompetence.  Boredom.  COBOL. BASIC.
Character-based menu interfaces.


Ethnic.  Spicy.  Oriental, esp. Chinese and most esp. Szechuan, Hunan,
and Mandarin (hackers consider Cantonese vaguely d'eclass'e).  Hackers
prefer the exotic; for example, the Japanese-food fans among them will
eat with gusto such delicacies as fugu (poisonous pufferfish) and
whale.  Thai food has experienced flurries of popularity.  Where
available, high-quality Jewish delicatessen food is much esteemed.  A
visible minority of Southwestern and Pacific Coast hackers prefers

For those all-night hacks, pizza and microwaved burritos are big.
Interestingly, though the mainstream culture has tended to think of
hackers as incorrigible junk-food junkies, many have at least mildly
health-foodist attitudes and are fairly discriminating about what they
eat.  This may be generational; anecdotal evidence suggests that the
stereotype was more on the mark before the early 1980s.


Vaguely liberal-moderate, except for the strong libertarian contingent
which rejects conventional left-right politics entirely.  The only
safe generalization is that hackers tend to be rather
anti-authoritarian; thus, both conventional conservatism and `hard'
leftism are rare.  Hackers are far more likely than most non-hackers
to either (a) be aggressively apolitical or (b) entertain peculiar or
idiosyncratic political ideas and actually try to live by them

:Gender and Ethnicity:

Hackerdom is still predominantly male.  However, the percentage of
women is clearly higher than the low-single-digit range typical for
technical professions, and female hackers are generally respected and
dealt with as equals.

In the U.S., hackerdom is predominantly Caucasian with strong
minorities of Jews (East Coast) and Orientals (West Coast).  The
Jewish contingent has exerted a particularly pervasive cultural
influence (see {Food}, above, and note that several common jargon
terms are obviously mutated Yiddish).

The ethnic distribution of hackers is understood by them to be a
function of which ethnic groups tend to seek and value education.
Racial and ethnic prejudice is notably uncommon and tends to be met
with freezing contempt.

When asked, hackers often ascribe their culture's gender- and
color-blindness to a positive effect of text-only network channels,
and this is doubtless a powerful influence.  Also, the ties many
hackers have to AI research and SF literature may have helped them to
develop an idea of personhood that is inclusive rather than exclusive
--- after all, if one's imagination readily grants full human rights
to future AI programs, robots, dolphins, and extraterrestrial aliens,
mere color and gender can't seem very important any more.


Agnostic.  Atheist.  Non-observant Jewish.  Neo-pagan.  Very commonly,
three or more of these are combined in the same person.  Conventional
faith-holding Christianity is rare though not unknown.

Even hackers who identify with a religious affiliation tend to be
relaxed about it, hostile to organized religion in general and all
forms of religious bigotry in particular.  Many enjoy `parody'
religions such as Discordianism and the Church of the SubGenius.

Also, many hackers are influenced to varying degrees by Zen Buddhism
or (less commonly) Taoism, and blend them easily with their `native'

There is a definite strain of mystical, almost Gnostic sensibility
that shows up even among those hackers not actively involved with
neo-paganism, Discordianism, or Zen.  Hacker folklore that pays homage
to `wizards' and speaks of incantations and demons has too much
psychological truthfulness about it to be entirely a joke.

:Ceremonial Chemicals:

Most hackers don't smoke tobacco, and use alcohol in moderation if at
all (though there is a visible contingent of exotic-beer fanciers, and
a few hackers are serious oenophiles).  Limited use of non-addictive
psychedelic drugs, such as cannabis, LSD, psilocybin, and nitrous
oxide, etc., used to be relatively common and is still regarded with
more tolerance than in the mainstream culture.  Use of `downers' and
opiates, on the other hand, appears to be particularly rare; hackers
seem in general to dislike drugs that make them stupid.  On the third
hand, many hackers regularly wire up on caffeine and/or sugar for
all-night hacking runs.

:Communication Style:

See the discussions of speech and writing styles near the beginning of
this File.  Though hackers often have poor person-to-person
communication skills, they are as a rule quite sensitive to nuances of
language and very precise in their use of it.  They are often better
at writing than at speaking.

:Geographical Distribution:

In the United States, hackerdom revolves on a Bay Area-to-Boston axis;
about half of the hard core seems to live within a hundred miles of
Cambridge (Massachusetts) or Berkeley (California), although there are
significant contingents in Los Angeles, in the Pacific Northwest, and
around Washington DC.  Hackers tend to cluster around large cities,
especially `university towns' such as the Raleigh-Durham area in North
Carolina or Princeton, New Jersey (this may simply reflect the fact
that many are students or ex-students living near their alma maters).

:Sexual Habits:

Hackerdom easily tolerates a much wider range of sexual and lifestyle
variation than the mainstream culture.  It includes a relatively large
gay and bisexual contingent.  Hackers are somewhat more likely to live
in polygynous or polyandrous relationships, practice open marriage, or
live in communes or group houses.  In this, as in general appearance,
hackerdom semi-consciously maintains `counterculture' values.

:Personality Characteristics:

The most obvious common `personality' characteristics of hackers are
high intelligence, consuming curiosity, and facility with intellectual
abstractions.  Also, most hackers are `neophiles', stimulated by and
appreciative of novelty (especially intellectual novelty).  Most are
also relatively individualistic and anti-conformist.

Although high general intelligence is common among hackers, it is not
the sine qua non one might expect.  Another trait is probably even
more important: the ability to mentally absorb, retain, and reference
large amounts of `meaningless' detail, trusting to later experience to
give it context and meaning.  A person of merely average analytical
intelligence who has this trait can become an effective hacker, but a
creative genius who lacks it will swiftly find himself outdistanced by
people who routinely upload the contents of thick reference manuals
into their brains.  [During the production of the first book version
of this document, for example, I learned most of the rather complex
typesetting language TeX over about four working days, mainly by
inhaling Knuth's 477-page manual.  My editor's flabbergasted reaction
to this genuinely surprised me, because years of associating with
hackers have conditioned me to consider such performances routine and
to be expected. --ESR]

Contrary to stereotype, hackers are *not* usually intellectually
narrow; they tend to be interested in any subject that can provide
mental stimulation, and can often discourse knowledgeably and even
interestingly on any number of obscure subjects -- if you can get them
to talk at all, as opposed to, say, going back to their hacking.

It is noticeable (and contrary to many outsiders' expectations) that
the better a hacker is at hacking, the more likely he or she is to
have outside interests at which he or she is more than merely

Hackers are `control freaks' in a way that has nothing to do with the
usual coercive or authoritarian connotations of the term.  In the same
way that children delight in making model trains go forward and back
by moving a switch, hackers love making complicated things like
computers do nifty stuff for them.  But it has to be *their* nifty
stuff.  They don't like tedium, nondeterminism, or most of the fussy,
boring, ill-defined little tasks that go with maintaining a normal
existence.  Accordingly, they tend to be careful and orderly in their
intellectual lives and chaotic elsewhere.  Their code will be
beautiful, even if their desks are buried in 3 feet of crap.

Hackers are generally only very weakly motivated by conventional
rewards such as social approval or money.  They tend to be attracted
by challenges and excited by interesting toys, and to judge the
interest of work or other activities in terms of the challenges
offered and the toys they get to play with.

In terms of Myers-Briggs and equivalent psychometric systems,
hackerdom appears to concentrate the relatively rare INTJ and INTP
types; that is, introverted, intuitive, and thinker types (as opposed
to the extroverted-sensate personalities that predominate in the
mainstream culture).  ENT[JP] types are also concentrated among
hackers but are in a minority.

:Weaknesses of the Hacker Personality:

Hackers have relatively little ability to identify emotionally with
other people.  This may be because hackers generally aren't much like
`other people'.  Unsurprisingly, hackers also tend towards
self-absorption, intellectual arrogance, and impatience with people
and tasks perceived to be wasting their time.

As cynical as hackers sometimes wax about the amount of idiocy in the
world, they tend by reflex to assume that everyone is as rational,
`cool', and imaginative as they consider themselves.  This bias often
contributes to weakness in communication skills.  Hackers tend to be
especially poor at confrontation and negotiation.

Because of their passionate embrace of (what they consider to be) the
{Right Thing}, hackers can be unfortunately intolerant and bigoted on
technical issues, in marked contrast to their general spirit of
camaraderie and tolerance of alternative viewpoints otherwise.
Old-time {{ITS}} partisans look down on the ever-growing hordes of
{{Unix}} hackers; Unix aficionados despise {VMS} and {{MS-DOS}}; and
hackers who are used to conventional command-line user interfaces
loudly loathe mouse-and-menu based systems such as the Macintosh.
Hackers who don't indulge in {Usenet} consider it a huge waste of time
and {bandwidth}; fans of old adventure games such as {ADVENT} and
{Zork} consider {MUD}s to be glorified chat systems devoid of
atmosphere or interesting puzzles; hackers who are willing to devote
endless hours to Usenet or MUDs consider {IRC} to be a *real* waste of
time; IRCies think MUDs might be okay if there weren't all those silly
puzzles in the way.  And, of course, there are the perennial {holy
wars} -- {EMACS} vs. {vi}, {big-endian} vs.  {little-endian}, RISC
vs. CISC, etc., etc., etc.  As in society at large, the intensity and
duration of these debates is usually inversely proportional to the
number of objective, factual arguments available to buttress any

As a result of all the above traits, many hackers have difficulty
maintaining stable relationships.  At worst, they can produce the
classic {computer geek}: withdrawn, relationally incompetent, sexually
frustrated, and desperately unhappy when not submerged in his or her
craft.  Fortunately, this extreme is far less common than mainstream
folklore paints it -- but almost all hackers will recognize something
of themselves in the unflattering paragraphs above.

Hackers are often monumentally disorganized and sloppy about dealing
with the physical world.  Bills don't get paid on time, clutter piles
up to incredible heights in homes and offices, and minor maintenance
tasks get deferred indefinitely.

1994-95's fad behavioral disease was a syndrome called Attention
Deficit Disorder, supposedly characterized by (among other things) a
combination of short attention span with an ability to `hyperfocus'
imaginatively on interesting tasks.  There are grounds for questioning
whether ADD actually exists, and if it does whether it is really a
`disease' rather than an extreme of a normal genetic variation like
having freckles or being able to taste DPT; but it is certainly true
that many hacker traits coincide with major indicators for ADD, and
probably true that ADD boosters would find a far higher rate of
clinical ADD among hackers than the supposedly mainstream-normal 10%.

The sort of person who routinely uses phrases like `incompletely
socialized' usually thinks hackers are.  Hackers regard such people
with contempt when they notice them at all.


Hackers are more likely to have cats than dogs (in fact, it is widely
grokked that cats have the hacker nature).  Many drive incredibly
decrepit heaps and forget to wash them; richer ones drive spiffy
Porsches and RX-7s and then forget to have them washed.  Almost all
hackers have terribly bad handwriting, and often fall into the habit
of block-printing everything like junior draftsmen.

The last two excerpts on this page are from The New Hackers' Dictionary.

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[Zak Smith] []
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