I dropped-sideways from Coursera

My future potential will be forever blemished by my lack of completion in Coursera’s Fantasy and Science Fiction class. ¬†So, it’s a good thing it’s not on any permanent records ūüėČ The class was well-organized and by-far one of the best English-literature classes I’ve taken. ¬†The professor’s video lectures alone are worth signing up just to see. ¬†In fact, his lecture on interpretation is a great explanation of why readers have different views of a book and why some are wrong.

Honestly, the timing of this class was not very convenient. ¬†It came smack in the middle of my Database final, leaving the military (for good this time), and moving back home. ¬†But, I still found time to go to the Philadelphia’s Linux User Group (PLUG) and hear some anecdotes by Eric Raymond.

The PLUG Penguin by Stephanie Fox.

There was about 20 Penguin-heads in attendance and after an hour of lively discussion from Virtual Machine hosting to the Carrington event, ESR took the podium.  He told of several anecdotes, some which I intend to post about in the near future, but the one that fits well with my Coursera experience was his tale of Culture Hacking.

On his blog, ESR advocates the creation of a “ground truth” document by software engineers, who find themselves working on hardware, or a system, with less than adequate documentation. ¬†Simply put, it is the process of document assumptions about how the system works prior to writing any code. ¬†Some enlightened commenters expressed thanks to ESR for naming a practice for which they’ve routinely performed. Culture. Hacked. This practice now has a name to which others can refer and spread. ¬†While it may not be the catchiest name, the fact that the idea is now named gives it weight. ¬†In fact, this is one of the few things that stuck with me from Gravity’s Rainbow (that and I want a banana greenhouse on my rooftop):

‚ÄúNames by themselves may be empty, but the act of naming‚Ķ‚ÄĚ

So, in the spirit of a new J.J. Abrams show, I officially bestow this name: Drop Sideways:¬†The act of no longer attending a MOOC. ¬†I would call it pulling a “datko” but something tells me that thousands of others are doing the same thing. ¬†Besides, at my last job, I’ve heard some shout “datko!” when there was just enough coffee in the pot, for a half cup :p

The Hacker Way

Facebook (ala Mark Zuckerberg) filed their Registration Statement, the S-1, with the U.S. Securities and Exchange¬†Commission¬†this week. ¬†It made plenty of news, primarily for the expected $5 billion dollars it is looking to raise, for a total valuation of Facebook for something like $100 billion. ¬†This is all good news if you are one of the lucky ones in the Initial Public Offering (IPO), and since I’m not, this really does nothing for me. ¬†What I do find interesting though, is a brief statement in the Facebook S-1, a short but critical aside, on the Hacker Way.

The Hacker Way as described in the S-1, is a commitment to the MIT hacker culture of the 1970s, which was also the premise of a book by¬†Steven Levy¬†(regular WIRED contributor), Hackers. ¬†This (sub)culture even has an official emblem and an unofficial¬†anthropologist. ¬†All of this is documented in an essay by¬†Eric S. Raymond¬†(said anthropologist) “How to become a Hacker.”

The main tenants of the ethos are (from Levy’s book, Hackers):

  1. Access to computers‚ÄĒand anything which might teach you something about the way
    English: A "glider" from Conway's Ga...
    Hacker Emblem via Wikipedia

    the world works‚ÄĒshould be unlimited and total.

  2. All information should be free.
  3. Mistrust authority¬†‚ÄĒ promote decentralization.
  4. Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not criteria such as degrees, age, race, sex, or position.
  5. You can create art and beauty on a computer.
  6. Computers can change your life for the better.

These generally agreed upon set of values have inspired some great works.  Richard Stallman and the GNU\Linux Project, which is a great free (as in speech and in beer) operating system.  Eric Raymond even has a book called Hackers and Painters, talking to point number 5.  The Hacker Way is also internationally accepted.  There is a German artist, Aram Bartholl, in the true Hacker Way, who shows how to turn code directly into art.  While number 3 may get some eyebrows, it is really talking to decentralization of information.  Which, is why most of the Internet loving crowd are fired up about things like SOPA.

Not surprisingly, both Steven Levy¬†and the NY Times pick up on Zuckerberg’s comments. ¬†And while I’m not a Facebook fan, nor did I like the movie, I do tip my hat to Mark for¬†committing¬†to this ethos in the S-1. ¬†As Facebook goes public, we’ll see how well they stay on target. ¬†There are some that believe that the even the once well-intentioned Google has strayed from the path, especially with their recent privacy setting merges. ¬†But it is clear that the Hacker Way is the standard to which those that claim the title are judged.

Inspired by the S-1, but more as a tribute to the ethos behind it, I have decided on a tagline for my blog. ¬†I was waiting to get some data points, and as one can see, I only have two¬†categories. ¬†I think this works, and ties in my insistent use of the blog’s title:

fortune datko

Cookies of wisdom on books and culture along the Hacker Way.