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Letters-General Questions Answered  

 

 

Comment from E-mail:
Some of the money used to start Apple came from your blue boxing activities. As such, it might be reasonable to consider that you were - at the time - a hacker (phreaker) using his skills for financial gain. This however never made a criminal of you (i.e. a guest at Lompoc) and you didn't go on to murder/attack/abduct...

Woz:
I was young and knew that I'd just get warned if caught. Also, I was more enamored with having something to amaze people with than in money. I actually made all my own calls on my own dollar. I only used the blue box to pull of hilarious stunts and to explore how far I could possibly get with it. All the blue boxes we sold might have bought a nice hi-fi, which got stolen from my Cupertino apartment anyway. The blue box year was 1972. Apple started in 1975. The biggest connection was some design tricks and techniques that I honed on the blue box.

Comment from E-mail:
However, the Apple legend as related by the general media is about a garage, two kids and a few bits of electronic stuff. The same mass media describe hackers as criminals, usually in terms only reserved to mass murderers or rapists (see Kevin's trial, Phiber's arrest, etc...)

Woz:
I've learned first hand how the press works to make things that normal kids do sound like something much more horrific, like they are criminals. Readers that don't know about such 'playful' activities are especially and easily offended and become fearful of such people. Of course they let their guard down to real dangers. Whenever I read hacker stories I can see that many of them are just like myself. They all might be except that I've run into too many people that like to use such things for their own financial gain (or even to adjust grades in the hopes of a better financial future). This even includes people that would not return some found money or would use a purloined calling card number. But the public never sees the good sides of hackers, nor does it see that they are actually improving their skills that will help us all.

Comment from E-mail:
This means that a whole generation (i'm 27) - and the new one - has learned about hacking as a BAD BAD thing, committed by really BAD BAD people who will end up clutching their unix book (if any) in some federal prison shower room (oops).

Woz:
It's a terrible shame, especially when Kevin Mintnik has little chance of the public realizing that he should be permitted a computer. Why don't we take away the drinking privilege of drunk drivers? It would be about the same thing.

Comment from E-mail:
Don't you think that you (and others) - know that enough time has passed (let's not get you into that shower room) - should speak up for the community, not as advocates but to help educate the media.

Woz:
The media doesn't respond to education. They respond to sales which respond to hysteria and sensationalism. The audience would have to be educated. But the audience doesn't understand technology well enough to judge what is 'good' hacking and what is 'bad' hacking. Most people don't find the humor and laughter in pranks to be a good thing. Most people are too old to play pranks themselves and oppose other people having fun in ways that they can't. The press makes them sure that they are right and they don't have to ask deep and skeptical questions about such things to discover the real truths. They would see that most hacking is akin to parking too long in a 30 minute zone or driving 70 mph in a 65. But this would be too painful and not as entertaining as how they really see these things.

Two people died on the same day. One had prestige and lots of money and dressed properly all the time and did everything by the rules. But he always carried a serious expression about most things, and worried about all the bad things that others did. Another person laughed heartily many times each day of his life and rarely frowned. He didn't have much money and all, but he certainly had a better life. You can't change the quality of your life on the last day of it.

Comment from E-mail:
If people (Joe Public) can see that the real motivator is knowledge and not smurfing Yahoo!, then maybe that hacker will regain it's original meaning and that "cyber vandal" (or whatever else) will take over to name the BAD BAD guys...
Anyway, enough of me ranting and thanks for letting me know what you think.

Woz:
I don't think that there will ever be this sort of change. I think that character is not enforced by what you can and can't do technically. Bad guys will steal. Technology or hacking is just the tool they use to do it. They will steal in other ways too. But even hacker magazines make strong voluntary rules that stepping over the line and becoming a bad hacker is not accepted. If you have rules like this and agree to them with other hackers, you abide by them.

In my own computer classes we eventually get to client-server networking. Every student has fun becoming a server, setting up various access privileges. The best learning comes from mistakes so I tell the students that they can have fun with any other computer that accidentally gave them access to too much. But I tell them that the rule is that anything you do to give someone else a scare has to be easily undone. They try to guess and figure out passwords and try to find inadequately protected machines in the classroom. Occasionally a student starts exclaiming that his or her folders are disappearing right off the desktop. I look around and see another student busy at the keyboard but smiling. In 9 years of class, all such violations have adhered to the rule of being easily corrected. The students want their fun from tricking someone, not from vandalizing their machines.


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