The Human Hacking Field Guide

This document is copyrighted by Shlomi Fish under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike Unported License version 3.0 (or at your option a greater version).

Revision History


Jennifer is a trendy and popular high school senior who is living and studying in the vicinity of Los Angeles. Her best friend, Taylor, convinces her to try to become a developer of open source software. He puts her under the tutorship of a different friend of his, the female open source contributor Eve, who prefers to be called “Erisa”, and who is a self-conscious and rebelling punk, with whom Jennifer finds it hard to deal. Jennifer remains determined to learn how to become an open source developer from Erisa, but there are some surprises along the road.

Table of Contents

The Things you do to Get to College
Are You Done Insulting Me?
Are you Done - Part 2
I’m just a Geek…
Hardware Hackers are…
“She still is…”
MIME, POE, XUL and other Beasts
“That would be as Evil as HTML E-mail is…”
“Divine”’s Good
Committing Adultery in Your Heart is…
Man, it was so exciting!
“Raesha - meh ho owmer?”
“Abandoning” Debian
RMS is Coming to Town
“Who will Take a Second Look at it, unless…”
God Works in Mysterious Ways
“She must be a fine cat.”
I can write my own replacement for ‘In Search of Lost Time’
Most of our Electrical Engineering graduates cannot…
Hexadecimal Dollar

The Things you do to Get to College

My name is Jennifer. Jennifer Susan Raymond, to be exact. I live near Los Angeles, in one of those nice neighbourhoods that they always show in movies. I’m in my high-school senior year now.

Allow me to introduce myself further. The first thing to note is that I’m an honours student. I especially like Mathematics, whose high school exercises are easy and fun and the difficult ones, which can be found in puzzle books and Math competitions, are challenging. I’m also good in other subjects, but Math is really my passion. Other than that I’m blonde, have a cute face (I don’t really consider myself beautiful, but most guys seem to think so) and try to dress as elegantly as I can. As a Math geek, I sure have a social life. Everybody around me seems to like me.

Finally, I should tell about Taylor Lawrence, who is my best friend. When we were in the fourth grade, we were both grounded for 4 weeks, and, as a result, quickly became friends. When we were 12, we started having, eh, sexual sensations, so we started dating each other at first. However, we then both had a crush on different people, and we were relieved when we found out. We decided exploring our feelings would not be a worthwhile goal, and we dated other people since.

Taylor is probably even more popular than I am. Even though he wears prescription glasses, he looks great, and girls almost always agree to go with him on dates, and sometimes ask him out themselves. One thing he seems to like and I don’t is computers. He spends hours on end tampering with his computer at home. Mine, on the other hand, is almost always turned off. I have good hand writing, thank you, so I don’t need a word processor. I turn it on only to listen to audio files, do some random browsing on the Internet (either for research, or to kill time or whatever) or play Freecell or Tetris. I think computers are impersonal and boring.

It all started one day, when I was attending class, paying attention to the teacher, when suddenly it hit me: I don’t have any special skills, and have never really been involved in the community. So, no prestigious college will prefer me over someone else. This bothered me so much that for the rest of the day, I just mechanically wrote down what the teacher said in my notebook, and kept worrying about this issue.

I would really like to graduate from somewhere nice, so I can be proud of myself, and have the entire world at my disposal. But my entire life I’ve been concerned only about myself and my friends, trying to be happy (and being very successful at it), and just doing what my studies required me to do. I’ve never really been involved in anything for the community. And I never found it necessary to get any special skills, unless you call hitting the gym twice a week (with Taylor), jogging, and biking — special.

So I was relieved when I met Taylor that day, when we both finished school.

“Taylor, I’m worried about college.” I told him.

“Why?” he said.

“I don’t have any special skills and no community involvement.”

“Jenn, you’re sweet, intelligent and the kindest person I know. Every college will be glad to have you.”

“So are most of the other candidates they get, but as opposed to me, they do have some special skills and show some community involvement. How am I going to get it by the end of this year?”

“Well, you might as well try.”

“Try what?”

“Learning a special skill”, he said.

“A special skill? Like what?”

“You could study Sumerian!”

“Sumerian? What on Earth would I do with Sumerian?”, I said, unamused.

“Talk to native speakers of Sumerian, of course.”

Now I was angry. “They’re all dead!”

“OK, OK. How about Latin or Hebrew or Greek?”

“I have a hard enough time studying Spanish, and you know how all of its vocabulary just clutters my mind, and I do not really need to learn another language.”

“Si, comprendo.” Taylor said. “OK, OK”, he continued. “I know - why don’t you help the poor or whatever. Tutor kids with difficulties.”

“Well…” I thought for a moment, “Taylor, you’re just making up random suggestions.”

Taylor thought for a moment.

“How about if you do something that I can help you with, and you can relate to, and that will also expand your knowledge. Jenn, what do you say about becoming an open-source hacker?”

From talking to Taylor, I already knew that hacker did not necessarily mean a computer intruder, but rather someone who was technically inclined, and who liked to bend the rules. So I told him:

“Open-source hacker? You know perfectly well that I’m a computer-phobic.”

“Jennifer, you’re a computer-phobic now, but you can grow to like computers. I mean what are your options? Become an Electronics hacker like Jonathan is?”

Jonathan is my boyfriend, and has been since the start of the eleventh grade. He likes to build machines with wires, batteries, and many other components. Taylor and he have become good friends.

“Electronics? You know I have two left hands with these kind of things.”

“But Jenn, you’re left-handed!”

“So I have two right hands! Taylor, are we going to argue about semantics now?”

“OK, but Jenn,” and he held my hands, “I want you to better relate to what I’m doing”.

“Hmmm….” I said. I started feeling guilt and confusion and lots of other feelings. “Alright. ”, I said, “I’ll be an open-source hacker. Or at least try to. So… are you going to give me private lessons and stuff?”

“Sure, why not. ” he said, “Wait a second! Hold that thought - I think I have a better idea. Come with me.” he said, and he went down the hall.

I followed him for a few hallways and then we entered a computer lab. There he walked over to some figure (looked like a girl) with purple (!) hair.

“Hi!” he said.

“Hiiiii…” I heard an enthusiastic feminine voice. “Whatcha doing here?”

“Jenn, please come here. Jenn I’d like you to meet Eve Siegel, who likes to be called ‘Erisa’. Erisa, I told you about Jenn.”

I looked at this Erisa character. Her hair was dyed purple, her face had too much makeup, and her facial expression was horrid. Remember that episode in Sabrina - The Teenage Witch where Sabrina transforms herself into a punk? She looked only a bit better than that.

“Hi…” I said reluctantly.

“Hmmm… ” said Erisa, “a bit too elegant for this school, aren’t we. I know your type of girls. Let me guess: you are an honours student, right?”

“Yes,” I told her.

“You exercise a lot”.

I was becoming worried — “Yeah.”.

“You listen to these girlie bands like NSync, All Saints, Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears and…”

“Well…”, I wanted to say that I did not like NSync much.

“Yes, Atomic Kitten! These babes are the worst.”

How does she know that I have all their CDs?

“Furthermore, you’re a goody two shoes, never violated any rules, your parents are proud of you, you watch shows like Friends and Seinfeld and Sabrina. Eukh… I hate Melissa Joan Hart so much…”

I could not take it anymore. She seemed to know everything about me, I started crying and left the room to the hallway. I hardly even noticed that everyone in the lab was looking at me.

Taylor went out and came to me. He hugged me and calmed me down.

“Am I as superficial as she describes?” I asked after I stopped crying.

“Jenn, don’t take Erisa so seriously. She’s a bit of a punk, and seem to have a grudge against the world at large and pop culture in particular.”

“Why do you want her to tutor me in hacking?”

“Because she is a girl, so you won’t have prejudice.”

“She might be a girl, but she doesn’t seem like a human being.”

“Trust me, she is once you get to know her better. And she gets to know you.”

“Can’t you find another girl hacker to tutor me?”

“Jennifer… she’s the best girl hacker in a 10-kilometre radius and one of the best hackers I know, female or male. She’s the best person I can think of.”

“Fine,” I told him, “I’ll give it a shot.”. The things you do to get into college.

We entered the room again, and Taylor and I approached Erisa.

“Erisa, Jennifer here would like to become an open-source hacker.”

“She?” she made a fake laugh, “What for?”

“To get into a better college.” I said.

“You want to engage in a purely altruistic activity for a selfish cause? Well, I won’t be the judge of that.”

“Hmmpff,” I said.

“Anyway, if you want me to tutor you, it will cost you. My software is free, girlfriend, but my time isn’t. 20 bucks an hour. And trust me, I’m almost never this cheap. I’m just doing it as a favour to Taylor here.”

“20 dollars is fine, I guess.” I told her.

She opened her bag, took out the school’s students list, said “Jennifer?”, (I said “Raymond”), and checked my address. “Heh”, she said, “a couple of blocks from my house.” She took note of my name in her PDA, which she placed on the computer’s desk.

“Now for some homework. Go to the Internet and read ‘How to become a Hacker’ by Eric S. Raymond. I’ll drop by in two days, and guide you through the installation process of ‘Mandrake Linux’. Chicks dig Mandrake, and while I’m using Debian, it’d probably be the best for you.”

“Thanks, I said.” I took a mental note of the resource, shook Erisa’s hand, and left the lab.