Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking

By E. Gabriella Coleman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
The Craft and Craftiness of Hacking

I have nothing to declare but my genius.

—Oscar Wilde

I, for the first time, gave its proper place among the prime necessi-
ties of human well-being, to the internal culture of the individual.

—John Stuart Mill, Autobiography

Hackers value cleverness, ingenuity, and wit. These attributes arise not only when joking among friends or when hackers give talks but also during the process of making technology and writing smart pieces of code. Take, for example, this short snippet of what many hackers would consider exceptionally clever code written in the computer language Perl:

#count the number of stars in the sky
$cnt = $sky = ˜ tr/*/*/;

This line of Perl is a hacker homage to cleverness; it is a double entendre of semantic ingenuity and technical wittiness. To fully appreciate the semantic playfulness presented here, we must look at the finer points of a particular set of the developer population, the Perl hacker. Perl is a computer language in which terse but technically powerful expressions can be formed (in comparison to other programming languages). Many Perl coders take pride in condensing long segments of code into short and sometimes intentionally confusing (what coders often call “obfuscated”) one-1 iners (Monfort 2008). If this above line of code were to be “expanded” into something more traditional and accessible to Perl novices, it might read something like:

$cnt = 0;
$i = 0;
$skylen = length($sky)
while ($i < $skylen) {

-93-

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Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction a Tale of Two Worlds 1
  • Part I- Histories 23
  • Chapter 1- The Life of a Free Software Hacker 25
  • Chapter 2- A Tale of Two Legal Regimes 61
  • Part II- Codes of Value 91
  • Chapter 3- The Craft and Craftiness of Hacking 93
  • Chapter 4- Two Ethical Moments in Debian 123
  • Part III- The Politics of Avowal and Disavowal 159
  • Chapter 5- Code Is Speech 161
  • Conclusion the Cultural Critique of Intellectual Property Law 185
  • Epilogue How to Proliferate Distinctions, Not Destroy Them 207
  • Notes 211
  • References 225
  • Index 249
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