Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Hacking is not Cracking!

It seems to be a common trend to choose a trendier and more elite word rather than the right word! When talking about cracking (breaking into computers) the correct term for someone doing the breaking in (for whatever purpose) is a cracker. However, it has become common and lazy journalistic practice to misuse and apply the word hacker to those (merely) breaking into computers.

According to Richard Stallman who discussed the  original and true meaning of the word hacker:

"Around 1980, when the news media took notice of hackers, they fixated on one narrow aspect of real hacking: the security breaking which some hackers occasionally did. They ignored all the rest of hacking, and took the term to mean breaking security, no more and no less. The media have since spread that definition, disregarding our attempts to correct them. As a result, most people have a mistaken idea of what we hackers actually do and what we think."

True hacking is better seen as a creative process - seeing what you can do to understand and improve existing technology. Some aspects of cracking may fall under the banner of hacking but only if it is a creative process; for example in programming:

"In the programmer subculture of hackers, a hacker is a person who follows a spirit of playful cleverness and loves programming. It is found in an originally academic movement unrelated to computer security and most visibly associated with free software and open source. It also has a hacker ethic, based on the idea that writing software and sharing the result on a voluntary basis is a good idea, and that information should be free, but that it's not up to the hacker to make it free by breaking into private computer systems. This hacker ethic was publicized and perhaps originated in Steven Levy's Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (1984). It contains a codification of its principles."

The general populace and media commonly use the terms hacking and cracking interchangeably but they really are different words.  According to Stallman:

"The hacking community developed at MIT and some other universities in the 1960s and 1970s. Hacking included a wide range of activities, from writing software, to practical jokes, to exploring the roofs and tunnels of the MIT campus. Other activities, performed far from MIT and far from computers, also fit hackers' idea of what hacking means: for instance, I think the controversial 1950s "musical piece" by John Cage, 4'33", is more of a hack than a musical composition. The palindromic three-part piece written by Guillaume de Machaut in the 1300s, "Ma Fin Est Mon Commencement", was also a good hack, even better because it also sounds good as music. Puck appreciated hack value.

It is hard to write a simple definition of something as varied as hacking, but I think what these activities have in common is playfulness, cleverness, and exploration. Thus, hacking means exploring the limits of what is possible, in a spirit of playful cleverness. Activities that display playful cleverness have "hack value"."

This last paragraph is a key ingredient - the essence of creativity - exploration and understanding leads (often) to new discoveries and technologies. Hacking is creation!

A hacker emblem for programmers has been proposed:

"The Linux folks have their penguin and the BSDers their daemon. Perl's got a camel, FSF fans have their gnu and OSI's got an open-source logo. What we haven't had, historically, is an emblem that represents the entire hacker community of which all these groups are parts. This is a proposal that we adopt one — the glider pattern from the Game of Life.":
hacker emblem

 This emblem recognizes that programming is a creative, playful (and often fun) explorative activity that sometimes produces unexpected discoveries (the glider) from deceptively mundane and often simple ingredients.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Comments on The Canberra Guide App

  As noted recently in the RiotACT,in the article The Canberra Guide goes live, "The official “app” of the National Attractions has been released by Andrew Barr and the National Capital Authority." RiotACT note "It looks a lot like a mobile website" and ask for comment "Your thoughts dear readers?"
Hopefully the following are taken as constructive comments and advice for “The Canberra Guide” app makers.
The app looks very useful but it could use a little more polishing. Both content and naming need improvement and standardisation: e.g.
  • Embassy naming is a sensitive issue: Embassy of Sweden is the official name not Sweden Embassy (!
  • Courts includes residential ie. non-law courts: e.g. Brindabella Court Anglicare Nursing Home as well as the High Court Of Australia; same-same?
  • There are no Gungahlin BBQs listed and most major parks in Gungahlin are missing!
  • Apparently they are an anonymous heathen lot in Gungahlin with a sole un-named Place of Worship! 8-)

So in summary – the app is not quite (but almost) ready for prime time; at the moment you could sleep in it but it is like an unmade bed! I’m pretty sure I could do a better job of polishing this app so it should not be hard for other professionals.

Friday, 24 February 2012

A comment on Gentlemen’s rules are out, scientists: it’s time to unleash the beast

As others pointed out, this is a good article but for the unecessary and inaccurate statement "This is not blue sky research, not theoretical explorations at the edges of science, but health and medical research. Could any science be more obviously in the public interest?"

One particular example, that is so much more in the public interest than medical research is the issue of climate change - if we stuff up the environment of our planet enough we won't have to worry about medical research! Or we will have to worry a great deal more.

As an aside, the growing stranglehold that the self-serving medical research establishment has on funding is exemplified by their arrogance in having a website called just Research Australia ( By highjacking the name "Research Australia" together with their narrow vision "a national not-for-profit alliance of organisations and companies that are committed to making health research a higher national priority" it implies that medical research is the only kind of research that should be prioritised! Shouldn't it be called Medical Research Australia or Health Research Australia?

I would also strongly disagree with Will that "Medical research is, however, the issue of the day". I would venture that the investigating and ensuring the health of our planet as exemplified by climate change research and the development of sustainable technologies are the issues of the day. Without a planet that can support our way of life we cannot support our life!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

A comment on The perseverance of the nation-state

 A comment on the article The perseverance of the nation-state by by which advocates for the persistence, in terms of relevance, of the nation-state.

I'm a little short on time so just a brief comment without any supporting references. More of a gut feeling I suppose. Talking just about city-states or nation-states or multi-national-entities (corporations?) I think is too simplistic. Think of each of these entities (and they are dynamic rather than static) as interacting actors in an environment. Depending on the scales, interaction & actors being talked about, there will be different social, legal, physical and practical issues that are relevant. In a sense, I think, each of us are city-states (or nation-states) in microcosm. In terms of the issues we have, we have wants and needs - how to define the distinction is a fun exercise. I don't see we can ever satisfy all wants - possibly most of all needs - but at the very least we can hope to balance the issues important to all of the actors. Of course, being a biased human entity, I would think that entities such as people and collections of people are more important than legal and corporate entities. Of course, there are issues about the needs of the individual versus the needs of the many  - Spock versus Kirk dilemma - (Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan) - but one would hope we can - especially in the era of social media - make sure that everyone has a continuing voice. Whether we listen and understand and act is another question!
P.S. Of course I have used one supporting reference above - beam me up Scotty!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

IQ2 Debate: Do we need a Nanny State? But what is a Nanny State?

At a feisty Intelligence Squared debate at Sydney University, two teams battled over the notion: "We Need a Nanny State". The speakers included professional advocates for public health and consumers, an expert in spin, a conservative think tank spokesboffin, plus two student debaters from the university.

It would have been a wiser debate if it had been made clear what a Nanny State actually is? Does it cover a state with any rules as without rules we (may) just have Anarchy!

Rules may restrict freedom but they represent an imperfect attempt to pass on prior wisdom. How rules are regulated - we are humans not robots - is key - thus there should be some acceptance of risk versus absolute safety - the latter is of couse absurd! Living is dangerous! Eventually we might die! As a close friend states: No risk = no fun!

Monday, 26 July 2010

iPad is iNtuitive

Apple produced one of the first tablets - the Newton - which it dropped while it restructured. The fact that the tablets that already existed have not been popular indicate that it requires a sophisticated blend of good hardware and software including an intuitive (try an iPad on any toddler) interface and painless app installation that has led to the iPad's popularity.

Yes a tablet is not new, a computer is not new, house bricks are not new - but a good product is more than the sum of its elemental pieces. The iPad is not a good design just in the superficial visible sense - but a great design in all senses of the word. It is not perfect but show me a worthy competitor!

My young kids have shown  me how easy the iOS interface on the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad for the non-expert to use. No keyboard to get in the way (unless you want and need it). In fact, though my son has had some exposure to computers with a keyboard/mouse dumb-screen WIMP interface, he has been most skilled in using the iOS touch screen operating system even at the age of two. Now that he is three and a half, he is becoming quite skilled, even though I ration the usage of the  iPhone, iPod touch and iPad; there are other fun things for him to do and learn - running, jumping, singing, craft and drawing for just a few.

In fact, when I took him into my office the other week, he took one look at my brand new Quad Core iMac i5 with a 27" screen and said: "Wow what a big iPad!" The design heritage of the iMac was clearly related to the iPad to him as it is to the Apple designers. I also think he thinks the iPad is so cool as it has more screen space than an iPhone/iPod touch that a bigger one must be even better - because his eyes lit up at the sight!

However, especially in the context of kids and education, size is indeed an issue. Bigger is not always better. For some uses the iPad is too large and (dare I say) too heavy. I think it would be generally useful, to have another iPad-like device , which is lighter and perhaps in-between in screen size - perhaps half size - 5" on the diagonal say (give or take an inch) - with the same aspect ratio as the iPad to keep app design compatibility. Of course if a iPad mini was a good deal lighter/thinner than the iPad a screen size of up to 7" might be OK too. Ideal for kids and a compact version of the iPad: iPad mini might sound more compelling and descriptive (the iPod touch would effectively be an iPad nano!). It would be ideal in the education field but I can think of many other uses for the iPad in a mini form factor! I hope the iPad mini is more than just a rumour!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Climate Change is Both Predictable and Unpredictable

Climate is an inherently nonlinear and coupled phenomenon at various spatial and temporal scales. The climate change, that is happening (just look at the wealth of evidence) is not just a linear effect, not just a temperature rise. Changing even one component (CO2 and other gases) in a complex coupled reaction-diffusion system (Earth's climate system) is going to lead to a number of predictable and unpredictable changes. As this is the only accessible planet that we know about that supports our species - we have more than a vested interest in being concerned. 

Hopefully, the climate change problem will begin to be addressed at the
United Nations Climate Change Conference Copenhagen 2009. [COP15] Furthermore, hopefully, Australian scientists will continue to speak out. [CSIRO climate experts defiant]