Father Jack Hacket

It looks as if the Iron Blogger Freiburg initiative really was able to breathe some life into the blogs of our small group of spare-time writers!

Money is quite an incentive, I’ve come to learn. The impending “fine” of 4€ for missing the entry deadline on Monday morning makes sure that on Sunday evening at the latest, I force myself to launch my writing software. It’s been only two times now that I didn’t deliver; one time I spent the weekend in Rome and last weekend, I’ve been far to knackered to still write coherent sentences.

With Carolin and Heather, who both turned themselves in unsolicitedly for missing the deadline, we’ve now an open account of 16€ for the tab on our first meetup.

Speaking of meetup: Heather is going to visit Freiburg in May or June. Will we have accumulated a tidy sum until then? Anyone else who wants to clear their concience? ;-)

Hacker movies: Unrealistic but inspiring

I recently came upon an Irish Times article about a science week event in Dublin in 2010 about “Hackers and Hollywood”. In his talk, Damien Gordon explained how many hacker movies are based on the same formula as fantasy epics like Lord of the Rings: The protagonist gets a magical item and is guided by a wise figure before fighting evil. This is especially true for my favourite hacker movie of all time, Wargames (1983): David Lightman gets access to an (all too) powerful mainframe computer and, with the help of Dr. Falken, defeats the warmongering WOPR programme.

Of course, hacker movies are intended for an audience that knows as much about computing internals as the film makers themselves. The actual hacking action in those movies usually ranges from “embarassingly unrealistic” to “hilarious if you’re able to spot the reference to real technology”.

I started with computers in the early 80s when hacker culture had just begun to spread. I learned to program from day one (the VIC 20 manual was in fact a programming manual) and soon felt the power to force your analytic will onto a machine. Later, I hooked up a modem to my parents’ PC and discovered that networks like CompuServe and FidoNet allowed me to connect with people that I would never be likely to meet in person (and also that it only takes a few days to rack up a four figure phone bill…). Back then the foundation was laid that I have my own humble IT company today and am slowly losing my nerves because our DSL broadband has been down for two days now.

Hacker movies mix existing and invented technology and exaggerate its potential to form an entertaining plot. Unrealistic as they may be, they can have an inspiring effect on young people, as Gordon pointed out in his talk. They certainly had in my case.

That’s why I collected a list of computer geek movies from the last 30 years (WHAT, three decades already?!) that I like:

  • Wargames (1983) – At that time, any computer geek could relate to David Lightman. He felt bored in school, disconnected from his parents and insecure towards the other sex. After successfully breaking into the mysterious mainframe, he gets acknowledged both by the girl and his adult mentor, and finally saves the day. And you also got to see that there’s a fine line to becoming an ubernerd like the two guys in the data center…
  • Tron (1982) – This movie had high-end computer generated imagery and asked the question about what would later be known as “immersion”: What if you actually could become part of the game? (The sequel “Tron: Legacy” from 2010 isn’t nearly as groundbreaking, but its soundtrack is my favourite hacking music.)
  • Weird Science (1985) – Well, everybody knows that you can’t just scan in pictures of scantily clad women and put a bra on your head to create a totally hot woman (“like Frankenstein, only cuter”). But one can dream, can’t one? And there’s also the message that sometimes, it only takes a bit more self confidence to get ahead in life.
  • Sneakers (1992) – In this movie, we see both sides of hacking: The good hacker (who had to go underground) and the evil hacker (who became rich). It’s the one that has the social skills to enlist help from his friends that wins. Again, the technology portayed is unrealistic, but the villain’s insight isn’t: “The world isn’t run by weapons anymore, or energy, or money. It’s run by little ones and zeroes, little bits of data. It’s all just electrons.”
  • Jurassic Park (1993) – Hacking doesn’t have to be limited to computers, author Michael Crichton realized, and so this movie’s plot is based on hacking amphibian DNA. I wonder if I’d rather have been raised with SGI workstations instead of Legos, just like hacker boy Lex must have been (“It’s a UNIX system! I know this!”).
  • Hackers (1995) – This movie shows that hacking doesn’t have to be a solitary hobby. It can also be a team sport, in a subculture with its own language, cool code names and greeting gestures. And with Angelina Jolie.
  • The Matrix (1999) – The lesson here: When you hack the artificial intelligence that is enslaving the whole human race, you do it in style. And you use nmap to scan its ports.
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2010) – Even after 30 years, the image of the lone but unstoppable computer expert is very much alive. I rather not share Lisbet’s past, but being able to spend high five figures at IKEA after some “transactions” must be fun.
  • MI4: Ghost Protocol (2011) – Today’s kids won’t relate to a David Lightman inserting 8“ floppies into an IMSAI 8080. In MI4, they see familiar iPhones and iPads as tools of the trade and listen to Eminem as musical background. Ah, that song in the first action sequence, you ask? That’s Dean Martin with ”A Kick in the Head". You’re welcome. Get off my lawn.

A new Freiburg Iron Blogger

I just made a new entry to the member list of Iron Blogger Freiburg. And it’s certainly a bit unusual, because Heather actually doesn’t live in Freiburg. She’s from Minneapolis, which is a teeeensy bit away from here…

But she’s asked so nicely that I didn’t hesitate to add her to the list:

I’m wondering whether you’d consider adding someone to your group who doesn’t currently live in Freiburg — but who will be there in September to settle any fines she may incur. (Heck, even if I *don’t* incur any fines, I’ll gladly pick up a round or two of beers.)

If you’d like to check out my blogging qualifications before answering, I’m at www.hmunro.wordpress.com.

I’d say you’re more than qualified. So, welcome to Iron Blogger Freiburg, Heather! I’m looking forward to meeting you in September!

Man, this whole thing may only be a few days old, but it’s already becoming incredibly fun and motivating!

Iron Blogger Freiburg

A blog entry from Antischokke made me aware of a great idea to breathe new life into the blogs of local writers. It’s called Iron Blogger, a group effort that requires the participants to write at least one blog post per week. Otherwise, they’ll have to chip in a “fine”. Every so often, the fines will be converted to drinks collectively.

I like this idea and invite all bloggers in Freiburg to join Iron Blogger Freiburg! We’ll use Mako’s rules. The fine will be 4€ per missed post (payable in person or via PayPal), and I’ll organize a meetup when the beer pool reaches 40€. The slacker limit is 20€ (reach it and you’re out unless you pay the balance).

If you’d like to join the group, let me know. You’ll reach me via the comments below, via email or Twitter.

I’m looking forward to get this thing off the ground. There’s some writing to do and I just ordered myself a new keyboard!

UPDATE: Woohoo! It’s taken only a few hours to get an enthusiastic group together! I’ve created a separate page on this website for us.

Official emergency advice for the Zombie Apocalypse

Everyone knows that it’s only a matter of time until we’ll have to fight hordes of lifeless creatures hunting for our brains. And “everybody” includes the U.S. government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as Tom Limoncelli reveals in his blog entry “The CDC has a Zombie Attack Plan“.

Under “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse“, the CDC provides all the basic information you need to know after the outbreak:

  • A Brief History of Zombies
  • How to assemble an emergency kit
  • What to take care of in your emergency plan

But the CDC doesn’t limit itself to just preparation. They’ll take an active part in the resistance after the undead have started roaming the streets. Blog author Ali S. Khan closes:

Not only would scientists be working to identify the cause and cure of the zombie outbreak, but CDC and other federal agencies would send medical teams and first responders to help those in affected areas (I will be volunteering the young nameless disease detectives for the field work).

All in all, that’s sound advice and an encouraging perspective from “Your Online Source for Credible Health Information”.

P.S.: If you’re looking for a new family home, consider purchasing a Zombie-proof house.