Part of the appeal of the hacker legend to the programmer is perhaps the very obscurity of the feats described in the legends. The Story of Mel, for example, goes into great detail about the programming style of the hero, but one would have to be at least a little bit of a programmer to understand what was so amazing. A related aspect is that the hacker of legend is often able to perform some feat with the computer that other programmers, or even the computer designer didn't think was possible.

An example of this is a legend that is told about the designer of a micro-controller chip called the 8051. A micro-controller is like a microprocessor but smaller, less powerful, and designed to be included in other devices. The ``computer controlled'' fuel injectionof your car, for example, is controlled by a micro-controller, and probably by the 8051, it being the most commonly used micro-controller for cars. The story goes that the designer of the 8051 is having trouble with his car. He takes it to a garage where the mechanics connect a diagnostic system to the computer control of the engine. Thinking he will impress them he tells them that he designed the chip they are checking. They proceed to bombard him with questions about the chip that he can't answer. The questions indicate that the mechanics have written new code for his chip to improve the performance of the car that makes use of the 8051 in ways that he, the designer of the chip, can no longer understand. The theme of the hackers surpassing the designer by extending things in ways that were never imagined must surely have parallels to other legends in other cultures.
Another legend about doing the impossible is told about third-wave Apple hacker Andy Hertzfeld. According to Byte Magazine [1]:
Besides everything else he did to help get the first Macintosh out the door, Andy Hertzfeld wrote all the first desk accessories. Most of these were written in assembly. However, to show that desk accessories could also be written in higher-level languages, Hertzfeld wrote a demonstration puzzle games desk accessory in Pascalgif. Like its plastic counterparts, users moved squares around until the numbers 1 to 9 were in order. As time began to get short, the decision was made that the puzzle, at 7KB [7KB = 7168 bytes], was too big (and too game-like) to ship with the first Macintosh. In a single weekend, Hertzfeld rewrote the program to take up only 800 bytes. The puzzle shipped with the Mac.

Powered by Blogger.