Hardware Hackers are…

I decided to attend these LUG meetings, from then on. Thus, on the next Wednesday, Taylor and I took the bus to the local university, and went into the room. Immediately after we entered, some guy wearing a T-shirt with a Penguin on it and some shorts said, “Hey Taylor!” and as we got closer he said, “Who’s the fox?”

I blushed, and then reached my hand and said “Jennifer Raymond”. He shook my hand and said “Jeff Burtkowsky.”

“Are you new here?” Jeff asked.

“Yes,” I said. “I’m Taylor’s friend and Erisa’s pupil.”

“Nice. Erisa is a first-class hacker, whatever her other faults may be. Just note that you shouldn’t be offended if some guys here hit on you. Most of them are heterosexual and most of the viable girls in this club are already taken.”

“That’s quite alright. I’m used to guys hitting on me. I guess Linux guys are not different. But I have a very sweet and caring boyfriend, so I kindly interrupt these passes.”

“What does he do?”

“He’s in high school, too. Heavily into Electronics.”

“Electronics? Wow, that’s impressive. Hardware hackers are a whole class above software hackers. I mean we software hackers write code, and it can run everywhere there’s a GCC backend on. It just works, and if it doesn’t, it is almost certainly the fault of what’s above the hardware. Hardware hackers… now they deal with the physical world, where one wrong wiring can make a world of damage. Now, if we are cool, they are above-cool.”

“What’s ‘GCC’ and what are its backends?”

“Well,” Taylor interrupted, “GCC is a compiler that is not very fast, does not produce spectacular code, but is one of the seven wonders of the modern world.”

“How’s that?” I asked.

“Well, it can run everywhere and compile code for almost every architecture, and has tons of useful extensions, and can compile many languages, and can cross-compile, and it’s open-source. The Linux Kernel, for example, can only be compiled using gcc.”

“I understand you’re not a programmer” Jeff said.

“Well, I studied Pascal for two years in high school. Could not get myself to really become enthusiastic about it. And I had better things to learn at school.”

“Well, Pascal is a sexless language, if you ask me. And, plus, I think programming is not something you can be taught in school. Some people are better programmers after 1 year, than many are with 10 years of experience. It vastly depends on your attitude.”

“Hmmmm…” I answered, “I confess that the only reason I want to become a hacker now, is because I want to have something good to show off to get to a good college. But I admit that creating a homepage for myself turned out to be fun.”

“In that case, you might grow to like hacking. If you don’t - I suggest you find something else to do, that you happen to like. People who are not enthusiastic about their work, are almost never good hackers.”

It made me a bit worried, so I just said “Yes, naturally”.

At that moment, Erisa entered the room. She looked around, and eventually fixed her gaze upon me. “Jenn, you came!”. (Could you believe it? She called me “Jenn”!) “Yep, ” I told her, “I had a very nice conversation with Taylor and Jeff over here.”

“Hi guys!” Erisa said, as she approached us.

“Jenn here is quite clueless about Linux, but she is actually quite persistent, so she may become a really leet haxor, sooner or later.”

I did not understand what a “leet haxor” is, but I figured it was probably something good. The other guys laughed.

The presentation was way over my head, but Taylor, whom I sat next to, was kind enough to explain some things. I eventually understood or thought I understood most of what was going on there.

At the break, I noticed that some other guy was typing enthusiastically on his laptop’s keyboard and constantly using the mouse. I approached him. I saw a huge black window saying “XChat” in the title bar, and lots of weird text looking like a conversation.

“Are you talking with someone?” I asked him.

“As a matter of fact, yes. It’s called IRC - Internet Relay Chat. It’s actually quite useful for resolving random problems, but it can also become very addictive.”

“Can you show me how to use it?”

“I guess.”

Apparently, you connect to a server, and then join various “channels”, where “channel” is a fancy name for a chat-room, where you talk by entering text in a small text entry. You can also initiate a private conversation and do other stuff. I found the idea intriguing.

“And the people you talk to, can be from the other side of the world.” he said. “And I recommend Freenode for most purposes. It’s a really nice network. Here, let me E-mail it to you.”

Taylor, Erisa and I took the bus home. On the way, Taylor and Erisa spent their time talking about computers and computing news, while I was too afraid to interrupt their conversation and ask what they were talking about.