The end of Kevin

So many hours in the gym later (believe it people) I have got to the end of the Kevin Mitnickaudio book.

English: Kevin Mitnick Deutsch: Kevin Mitnick ...
English: Kevin Mitnick Deutsch: Kevin Mitnick Русский: Кевин Митник (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do I feel much more sympathetic to him? No, not really.

Yes, he was treated badly at various times. And he spent a lot of time in prison awaiting trial. And the US penal system is a disgrace (though he doesn’t seem to say much about this). But he also kept on breaking the law in the full knowledge of the likely outcome.

He probably should have had medical treatment rather than be slung into a prison, but then he’s hardly the only one that applies to. (He’s clean these days but his behaviour – such as keeping the hours of a teenager – does suggest a deeper physiological problem is at the heart of this: he just wouldn’t grow up.

The book is a salutary reminder that the biggest security weakness of any IT system is the people using it. Mitnick says nothing to suggest he was a particularly skilled programmer – but he was a world expert in manipulating people.

“Hacker culture” drove out women from computer science

I have no difficulty for even a second in believing this:

There were many reasons for the unusual influx of women into computer science. Partly, it was just a result of the rise of the commercial computer industry in general. There was a tremendous need to hire anyone with aptitude, including women. Partly, it was the fact that programming work itself was not yet fully defined as a scientific or engineering field. In fact, many computer science programs were first housed within a variety of departments and colleges, including liberal arts colleges where women had already made cultural inroads. Not least of all — and you knew this was coming — women quickly noticed that some programming work could be done at home while the children were napping.

And then the women left. In droves.

From 1984 to 2006, the number of women majoring in computer science dropped from 37% to 20% — just as the percentages of women were increasing steadily in all other fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, with the possible exception of physics. The reasons women left computer science are as complex and numerous as why they had entered in the first place. But the most common explanation is that the rise of personal computers led computing culture to be associated with the stereotype of the eccentric, antisocial, male “hacker.” Women found computer science less receptive professionally than it had been at its inception.

You don’t have spend much time reading the collected works of Chairman Eric S Raymond to understand why “hacker culture” turns so many women off.

Though perhaps the one thing that the article misses is that women were employed in computing, and lots of other “new industries” of the 1960’s, because they were cheap. That drive into the suburbs, tapping the large reservoir of skilled, but lower-cost, labour, profoundly shaped American (and to a lesser extent, European) society and we are still living in a world that has been shaped by it, even if women have given up on geekdom.

The article goes on to say more women are now entering computing than for some time, quoting one of Google’s VPs, Marissa Mayer – but her posed photograph just reminds me of all the reasons to be deeply suspicious of Google – they are just a more socialised version of ESR and another sign of how the right have colonised the libertarian legacy of 1968.

See for yourself…


(As spotted via here)

Eric Raymond on “how to become a hacker”

Eric S. Raymond, taken on 3-June-2005 at FISL ...
Image via Wikipedia

I am about to stick a citation for Eric S. Raymond‘s The Art of Unix Programming into my MSc. project report.

I don’t think the book is a particularly good one, much of it is at the level of mumbo-jumbo to be frank, but it does make a few telling points about the Unix style of development: points which did influence me in the way I wrote software for the first part of the project.

But on the way there I also picked up my copy of his The Cathedral & the Bazaar and took a quick flick through it – it must be the best part of nine years since I actually read it.

The essay “How to become a hacker” suggests that the book might have been better called “The Cathedral of the Bizarre” instead (I have shortened the quote below a bit but I am not misquoting):

“There are some things you can do when you are not at a computer… many hackers do them, and feel they connect in some basic way with the essence of hacking …

I have got to say it … these look like a guide to become a typically poorly socialised male science or computing student, not how to be a hacker – what about, read up on mathematics, set theory and computability? Study natural languages? Understand how an operating system works (I have been genuinely surprised on my MSc course as to how poorly many good programmers actually understood how an OS worked) or get a better understanding of electronics?

Given that earlier he writes “attitude is no substitute for competence”, maybe he should have taken his own words to heart?

Yes, yes, I know having a pop at ESR is like shooting fish in a barrel, but still, it is rubbish.