As a “console hacker”, I am often interested in articles that make a confusion between hackers, crackers, pirates… not so long ago, I was myself not sure what all these terms meant and what differences they conveyed. It of course now frustrates me to the highest point when people read about HBL and compare me to a pirate, or to those black hat groups that steal people’s information and credit card numbers stored on private networks.
As I was browsing the web, I stumbled upon this “good hacks/bad hacks” matrix by ieee (it’s old news, I know…), and for some reason, one of the dots that drew my attention was entitled “MIT students hacks”. A few months ago I had read a great book called the Hacker Crackdown, which gave detailed information on how the hacker subculture originated at MIT, so I guess I got attracted to the article for this reason.
Long story short, I ended up buying a book called “Nightwork: A history of hacks and pranks at MIT“.
Nowadays, the term hack is strongly associated with computers, but historically at MIT, where the term was coined, it meant something (technical?) that was done in a clever and elegant way. Today, a MIT hack means a clever and harmless practical joke (usually performed by “hackers” at night, and of course without the schools administration’s consent). “Nightwork” is about these jokes, some of them so elaborate that they made it to national news in the US.
The book describes a century of practical pranks at the MIT. The gamers in you will love the “Halo 3″ event in which hackers disguised the school’s statue of John Harvard into a protagonist from the game.
Some of the hacks were also huge, such as this gigantic R2D2 using one of the main buildings of the campus
The book also mentions some more less technically impressive, but more “politically oriented” hacks, such as banners representing the Windows start button with its text replaced with “Crash” (above), or banners stating “MIT doesn’t do Windows” when Bill gates visited the school in the 90′s. It also shows much older hacks from the early 20th century, in which the students would manage to put a cow on top of a building, or thrown an old piano from the top of a building in order to measure the effects on the ground…
I would have loved to see more insider’s explanations on how these things were planned, but overall it was a great read, with lots of funny and interesting photos (the picture on the cover below shows an upside-down lounge installed on the ceiling of an outdoor structure).