Throughout the years I’ve been writing and editing on WhatIs, I don’t think there’s been another issue that’s cropped up as often or been as gnarly to try to settle as the question of whether a person who attacks computers and networks is a hacker or a cracker.
Just about everyone but the serious geeks uses hacker to mean an attacker but anytime we do we get notes from readers to the effect that a malicious hacker is a cracker and a hacker is just someone with mad computer skills. Furthermore, they feel that we should be upholding proper usage and not letting standards slide. On the other hand, when we’ve used “cracker,” we often get notes asking if we don’t mean “hacker” and suggesting that we might want to think about using the same term everone else does.
I’ll admit I’ve often tried to skirt the issue by using “attacker.” But the time comes when an editor has to take a stand. Especially in the wake of several years of wishy-washy, indeterminate indecision. So. Decision time. Let’s see what everyone else says…
Wikipedia has a fairly extensive entry for hacker. The article starts out by defining a hacker as “a person who illegally breaks into computer and network systems” but links to a better page for hacker definition controversy.
- Alpha hacker Eric S. Raymond weighs in authoritatively on the topic in his article, How to become a hacker:
There is another group of people who loudly call themselves hackers, but aren’t. These are people (mainly adolescent males) who get a kick out of breaking into computers and phreaking the phone system. Real hackers call these people ‘crackers’ and want nothing to do with them. Real hackers mostly think crackers are lazy, irresponsible, and not very bright, and object that being able to break security doesn’t make you a hacker any more than being able to hotwire cars makes you an automotive engineer. Unfortunately, many journalists and writers have been fooled into using the word ‘hacker’ to describe crackers; this irritates real hackers no end.
The basic difference is this: hackers build things, crackers break them.
There’s much more in Raymond’s FAQ-style article, including:
- The Hacker Attitude
On the other hand, you can also find support for the use of hacker as a synonym for cracker. According to wordorigins.org, that usage goes back to the November 20, 1963 issue of The Tech, the M.I.T. student paper, where it was used to refer to breaking into the phone system:
There are those that claim that hacker should not mean someone who maliciously invades computer systems, and that it really means someone proficient in computer use. But this is not the history of the term. Hacking from its beginnings at M.I.T. has always been associated with using technology to subvert institutional systems for personal use. Besides, the meanings of words are determined by usage, not etymology. So if people use hacker to mean someone who breaks into computer systems, that’s what it means.
So, the way I see it, there are a number of fairly compelling arguments for either side, chief among them being:
- Eric Raymond says a hacker is defined by skill and good intention. And everybody loves Eric Raymond.
- The earliest reference to skill-based, non-malicious technology hacking that I could find traces it back to ham radio operators in the fifties, predating the MIT paper cited on wordorigins.
- However, as wordorigins correctly points out, common use is what drives definition. So if people use hacker to mean cracker, eventually that’s what it will mean.
- And yet… cracker is unambiguous. If one uses cracker in this context, people get it. So if we use “hacker” to mean a highly computer-literate geek and “cracker” to mean an attacker of whatever skill level…
Sigh. ‘Round and round and round it goes. I’m just not sure. I’d love some input. What do you think? ~ Ivy Wigmore
This past weekend’s iPhone launch has introduced hundreds of thousands of users to a new paradigm for mobile computing interfaces, multi-touch. While only time will show if an small, touchscreen keyboard will be a pleasant and productive experience, there are any number of other companies and researchers experimenting with different ways of controlling our digital devices. I’ve been using a Kensington Orbit for years, for instance, a USB trackball that has proven tough, easy to use and helpful for scrolling and editing long lines of code. Earlier this year, I invested in a Logitech MX Revolution, easily the best wireless mouse I’ve ever experienced. I can’t emphasize how much I love the hyperscroll wheel, forward/backward buttons right where my thumb rests or programmable buttons.
This afternoon, however, I found a new and downright fun new way of moving the cursor around the screen. Sadly, the brain-computer interface (BCI) that DARPA is developing isn’t quite ready for prime time, so don’t get too excited — yet. Instead, programmer Larry Lart has created uMouse, a free Windows application that, in concert a USB webcam, allows the user to control the cursor and left- or right-click using head movements or hand gestures. While the real-time visual tracking the program uses to translate movement into directives is a bit processor intensive, anyone who presents often or needs to have more flexibility in where and how they interact with a laptop or workstation now has another option with undeniable geek appeal.
Nice work, Larry! Now, to decide what I want my PC to do when I smile. 🙂
One of WhatIs.com’s faithful readers wrote in recently with a suggestion for a much-beloved IT sniglets page (go take a look if you think words like CrackBerry, AlzIMers, IMglish or prairiedogged are a hoot): sneakernet. We love that sort of thing, of course (write to us!) but in this case we already had a definition for sneakernet: a method of transmitting electronic information by personally carrying it
from one place to another on floppy disk or other removable medium. The concepts certainly doesn’t seem many years removed from the days of copying working files onto a 3.5″ floppy disc at the end of the day in the computer room — or even of writing simple algorithms to the cassette tapes attached to the ancient PET computers next to my classroom in the late 80s.
As is so often the case, technology and life comes in cycles. In recent years, the explosion of cheap, removable flash drives (or jump drives, so some folks call them) has allowed mind-bogglingly large sneaker-borne file transfers copied over speedy USB 2.0 ports. iPod owners have long since discovered that those giganormous 80-gigabyte hard drives also make fantastic data warehouses for easy travel and transfer (as long as you don’t forget the cord!) and of course, it’s a cinch for most PC owners to burn a copy of a file to a CD and walk it over to another desk or office. That sort of thing can result in podslurping, of course, as network admins know. Entire operating systems can be carted around as LiveDistros, along with whatever portable applications a user might desire. I won’t even touch, of course, the multitude of flash memory formats that inhabit cameras, smartphones, GPS devices and other electronica, each a potential method of data transfer in “the sneakernet.”
(BTW, hat tip for the cool sneaker image goes to ProZak on Flickr)
So sneakernet is definitely not dead (as noted in this tip from SearchNetworking from 2005). The prompt provided by the reader email did, however, recall to my biological RAM an e-column I read just last week from David Pogue, the witty and frequently funny technology reviewer over at the New York Times. David recently wrote about a trip to California where he managed to forget a folder of 2 GB of digital photos he’d taken of digital SLRs he was reviewing in that week’s paper. With the help of a marvelously patient wife, he managed to get the files transferred over to his laptop from home using a nifty little shareware application called Pando. Pando provides, as David says, “a free, cross-platform, super-simple program designed expressly for idiotproof file transfers, even big ones.”
You can learn more at (you guessed it) Pando.com.
The only snag is that for the service to work, both users have to download and install the client, a step and hitch that David rightly suggests is a potential hindrance, or even impossible for some end users without admin privileges. That being said, Pando worked well for David and is allowing thousands of users to easily backup, transfer, recover and (yes) trade quite large media files. Color me a fan.
Aside from discovering Pando (thanks, David!), the process Pogue worked through is remarkably similar to one that plays out in classrooms and cubicles daily. How to do it? Sneakernet and removable storage is certainly one way, though I hear that the “Interwebs” is an attractive method these days as well. Here’s a crack at a list of ways to make a hypothetical transfer happen. If you have more ideas, please add them in the comments.
For instance, gmail has changed the way that most people think about using email to send attachments, with its remarkably large capacity (convertible to online storage, as I’ve blogged about before, with Gdisk), though I agree with David that 2 gigs is a tag weighty to send this way.
Also like David, I’ve been using FTP for a long time to download and upload files online, though I’ve endured timeouts, unexpected logouts and all manner of file corruptions over the years. I still have fond memories of the early versions of Fetch, including the happy dog icon that accompanied the app. David’s second idea, using an IM-client to transfer files, wasn’t a bad idea at all, though that kind of P2P file sharing isn’t likely to fly on many corporate networks.
As David discovered, however, IM and large files size don’t mix well for file transfer.
Command line geeks know about how to use Secure Shell (referred to as SSH or secsh) to securely access a computer remotely, a method that isn’t exactly for the technically faint of heart but allows direct access to the other computer’s directories. Rajpaul Bagga offers a Secure Shell (SSH) howto if you’re interested.
How else can you transfer large files? The list isn’t short, to be sure, even after touching on CDs, iPods, flash drives, P2P file sharing apps, FTP clients, iPods and IM.
.Mac users can also set up a public folder on their iDisks, which allows them to post large files for others to download, securing them behind password-protection as necessary.
You can use the IrDa port on your PDA and laptop (if they both have one!) to swap files using infrared.
Some smartphone users can use MMS to send files as well, most often pictures or (very short) videos taken with digital cameras. Unless you’re on an EV-DO, HSDPA or some other 3G wireless network, however, this won’t work particularly well with larger files.
Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!
OK, so I lied – I didn’t ace my SAT exam. However, if I grew up as part of the iPod Generation, it may have turned out differently. The New York Times has an interesting article today about Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions’ release of three interactive programs for the video iPod (and available at iTunes).
The next time you’re riding the train and see impressionable teens bobbing their heads, it may not be the beat of Jessica Simpson, but rather a mathematical stumper that they’ve just solved. As the article notes, the exam is still a “pencil and paper” format; however, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this exam move to a digital format in the near future.
I’ll be interested to see the popularity of these Kaplan downloads, especially compared to all of the entertainment options that teens have these days. As for me, I hereby return to my own iPod, where I’ve got podcasts loaded up from some technology sites, along with my current favorite – numerous podcasts from ESPN Radio.
In this line of work, I can’t help but encounter an awful lot of IT buzzwords. I even write a newsletter dedicated to picking the latest and greatest of ’em. Thankfully, one of the guiding principles of WhatIs.com has always been to decode the tech jargon and spin and explain what something is, who invented it, how it works and why it might be important. Some concepts, like Web 2.0 or SOA, can be a bit tricky to tackle, nearly defying definition. That brings me to the subject of this post: cloud computing. The meme isn’t from just one company or tech visionary trying to gain momentum, either.
Google’s Eric Schmidt is talking about cloud computing, in the context of search and advertising networks — and in the wake of a (predicted) partnership with Apple as the good folks at Cupertino revamp a somewhat tired .Mac offering before the iPhone debuts, it’s not hard to see why.
George Gilder (one of those tech visionaries, without a doubt) thinks the desktop is dead and extols the coming age of the Internet cloud in the pages of Wired, certainly no stranger to cyber-utopian manifestos. In “Information Factories,” he makes quite a case for the upcoming “Petabyte Age”:
We’re all petaphiles now, plugged into a world of petabytes, petaops, petaflops. Mouthing the prefix peta (signifying numbers of the magnitude 10 to the 15th power, a million billion) and the Latin verb petere (to search), we are doubly petacentric in our peregrinations through the hypertrophic network cloud.
Dell has established a cloud computing page for data centers, capitalizing on the trend.
Amazon.com takes it one step further, offering up the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud, or Amazon EC2, “a Web-based service that allows business subscribers to run application programs in the Amazon.com computing environment. The EC2 can serve as a practically unlimited set of virtual machines.” Jason Kolb thinks that this is an important idea to track, one that will “completely change the face of hosting and how we look at servers. ”
I can’t help think cloud computing is simply utility computing repackaged in a more attractive (if gauzy) name. Tech evangelists, marketers and CEOs may prefer to talk about computing resources “in the cloud” rather than as humdrum “utilities.”
For reference’s sake, WhatIs.com defines utility computing as:
…a service provisioning model in which a service provider makes computing resources and infrastructure management available to the customer as needed, and charges them for specific usage rather than a flat rate. Like other types of on-demand computing (such as grid computing), the utility model seeks to maximize the efficient use of resources and/or minimize associated costs.
The word utility is used to make an analogy to other services, such as electrical power, that seek to meet fluctuating customer needs, and charge for the resources based on usage rather than on a flat-rate basis. This approach, sometimes known as pay-per-use or metered services is becoming increasingly common in enterprise computing and is sometimes used for the consumer market as well, for Internet service, Web site access, file sharing, and other applications.
What do you think? Is on-demand computing from the likes of Google, Apple, Dell and Amazon the future of the Web? Or is it an outgrowth of the utility computing that Sun and HP have been experimenting with for some time? (The Wikipedians seem to agree, at least today, that utility computing = cloud computing). Will small businesses and organizations eventually never buy or see the servers they use, nor need to worry about supporting that expensive hardware ? Is “the cloud” just hype — or do we need to write up a definition?
Environmental responsibility can be a bit of a pain. For one thing, I’d love to buy a new computer but I’m having difficulty rationalizing it (and, let me tell you, I can rationalize with the best!), making it fit into the “sustainable practices” model.
I’m still hearing that computers are, on the average, considered obsolete and discarded after only three years. Can that be true? We’re a three-computer household, with ages ranging from 5-8 years. And I’d love to trade up but… they all work. They do everything we need them to do (mind you, we’re not gamers), are reliable enough, fast enough, have enough storage. So as much as I’d like to get a new desktop with a flat screen monitor and a fresh, new hard drive — it just doesn’t seem to be the best thing to do.
Gartner Research recently reported that the global IT industry is responsible for about two percent of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to aviation.
- It takes about 1.8 tons of chemicals, fossil fuels and water to make a single PC.
- Most obsolete computers end up in landfill.
- Toxic chemicals, such as cadmium and mercury, leach out into the surrounding soil.
- Energy costs will soon consume one-third of IT budgets.
Sigh. I guess I’m morally obligated to keep my old systems until they give up the ghost… On the other hand… you know, my sister could definitely use a computer. And even if she only lives across town, couldn’t donating one be considered doing my part to bridge the digital divide? And if I buy a new one from a responsible company, can’t I see that as support for good environmental practices? Yeaaaaaaaah… that’s the ticket! (I did tell you about that “rationalization” thing 😉 )
So. You’re going to buy a new computer. What can you do with your old one? Here’s a sampling of information and advice:
Freecycle.org is a fabulous international community for the exchange of goods. Find a worthy home for your old electronics!
Ewasteguide.info offers more information and advice.
The EPA maintains e-cycling information on its Website, including “Where Can I Donate or Recycle My Old Computer and Other Electronic Products?”
Environmental responsibility in the enterprise
Some of IT’s promises have not really come to fruition. Paperless office, anyone? To the contrary, we’re printing more than ever. It may not be easy being green but — hey! — we’ve only got one planet. How much do you know about environmentally responsible and sustainable computing practices and technologies? Try our quiz, Greening the cube farm.
How green are your computing — and buying — practices? Let’s talk about it! ~ Ivy Wigmore
UPDATE: Adam Trujillo, over at SearchDataCenter’s excellent Server Specs blog, has posted a Q&A with environmental reporter Elizabeth Grossman, exploring e-waste further, including why we should all care about it.
In honor of International Weblog Day today, the Word of the Day from WhatIs.com is Pepys’ diary. A weblog, put most simply, is a series of entries arranged in reverse chronological order on a Web page. The term itself is related to Web log, a shortened form of Web server log or access log, the list of all the requests for individual files that people have requested from a Web site.
To learn more about the history of weblogging, make sure to review Rebecca Blood’s excellent essay exploring the origins and early forays into the form and Wikipedia’s entry for blog, which has a timeline of the evolution of the form.
Now, of course, weblogging, or its far more common synonym, blogging, is an international occupation shared by tens of millions. In fact, these days more blogs are in Chinese and Japanese than in English, reflecting the shifting demographics online. Language, of course, isn’t the only way that blogs are now differentiated.
There are photoblogs, videoblogs, podcast blogs for syndication, kittyblogs, moblogs updated from cell phones and laptop-toting coffeehouse workers, anonoblogs that become online phenomena (like PostSecret), CEOblogs (see Jonathan Schwartz) and faux-CEOblogs (like the infamous and hilarious Fake Steve Jobs). Political blogs, of course, dominate the landscape, though sportblogs can incite similar passions (way to go, Curt!), along with milblogs, until recent DoD decisions to curtail that portion of the blogosphere.
The list, in many ways, defies categorization. Of course, we’ve tried anyway. You can find all of WhatIs.com’s favorite technology blogs here. As the weeks go by, look for all of them to show up in our blogroll, categorized according to the focus of the blogger or bloggers.
We also compiled a comprehensive glossary of blogging terms you’ll find online, which we debuted last year. We add to our “bloglossary” every now and again, especially when you write in to let us know about new or missing terms.
While most of the more than 71 million blogs that Technorati is currently tracking are personal, as the various blogging platforms have matured and become both easier and more professionally rewarding, technology professionals have entered the blogosphere seriously.
These days, you can read about what’s happening with wikis from Ross, online video with Jeremy, SEO with Matt, fine hypertext products from Jason, tech PR from Steve, productivity from Merlin, marketing from Seth, Web 2.O from Mike, storage from Jon, security from Bruce, a little bit of everything from Scoble and, of course, endless wonderful things from Xeni, Cory, John, Mark and David.
For a list of many other blogs that focus on data centers, storage, enterprise Linux, Oracle, security, the channel, interoperability, virtualization, SAP, VoIP and other topics of interest to IT professionals, make sure to visit our complete list of tech blogs.
In a world where a poorly-sourced post on Engadget can move Apple’s stock down $4 billion dollars in an episode instantly dubbed “Applegate,” books about the power of the “new influencers” are well worth reading. While the stock recovered, the highest traffic blogs now share mindspace with the Web sites of major mainstream media outlets like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and CNN, with no signs of that influence disappearing anytime soon, save perhaps behind the “Great Firewall of China.”
With that thought, I can’t help but wonder what flavor of blogger are you? Do you blog at all? Do you have any favorite tech bloggers that you just can’t miss, even for a day? Which blogs (like, say, Lifehacker) help you do your job more efficiently or easily?
Whether you’re new to technology, a technological maven or just an unrepentant blogaholic, we always love hear from you. Happy surfing!
I’ll admit it: I’m a frequent Googler. I Google from the office, when I need to research new terms for WhatIs. I Google from home, when I need information about events, people, tide charts or news. These days, I’m Googling from the car and train as well, enabled by the handheld attached to my belt on an o-so-slow GPRS connection, using my MDA as a sort of primitive Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. That’s rather useful, of course, when I need to determine the number from which the meaning of life, the universe, and everything could be derived.
Some time ago, however, I started to be considerably smarter about my Googling, as I realized that with just a bit of syntax ahead of my search terms, I could make much better use of the search field. These additional words are called “operators,” for my semantically-obsessed fellow travelers. They make life easier. Following is my short list of favorite Google search field hacks. If you have some of your own that I missed, please let me know in the comments so that we all can become more efficient Googlers too.
Google Phonebook: I particularly love this one. I stopped using the white pages because of this very feature. Just type in “phonebook: ” and then a name, comma, zipcode. I’m a “victim” of fixed-mobile substititution, so there’s no danger of revealing my digits to the world here in an example. If I did have a landline, however, you’d find it that way. It’s also possible to reverse engineer the lookup by entering a phone number, revealing the attached adress. For those a bit freaked out by this ability, it’s worth noting that you can request that your name be removed ,
Google Weatherman: While I look to NOAA.gov for all-things-meteorogical, if I just want to know whether to grab a jacket, sweater or shorts, typing in weather: zipcode is perfectly effective. For instance, here’s the weather in lovely Needham Heights, Massachussetts today.
Google Movies: I adore this feature. Just enter “movie: zipcode” to get a list of theaters and showtimes near you, with links to showtimes with available tickets and reviews. This stripped down, entirely textual results page is especially useful and usable when I’m mobile.
Google Dictionary: This is spectacularly relevant to my work, given that I write definitions for WhatIs.com. If you’d like to see all of the entries for a term, simply type “define: term” and you’ll be presented with a list of hyperlinks and short summaries. Try define: blog for a comparison of takes on that hotly contested term, for instance.
Google Site Search: While searching the entire Web is undeniably useful, sometimes you just want to look through one Web site, like, say, WhatIs.com. Just type in site: domain name search term (like site: WhatIs.com geek) and you’re off and running.
Google University: Just as you can restrict search to a specific site, you can also focus on certain domain names, like .edu. If you’re a developer, for instance, you could enter [ruby tutorial site:.edu] Of course, these days you can also just use Google Scholar.
Google for Media: Looking for ebooks on Java? Paste the following syntax into your search field:
-inurl: (htm|html|php) intitle:”index of” +”last modified” +”parent directory” +description +size +(.pdf) “Java”
If you replace .pdf with other extensions and Java with a different keyword, you can also find all kinds of other media out there too, though it’s worth noting that relevant intellectual property laws still apply to your actions.
As I wrote initially, this is only a short list the tweaks that I actually use with any frequency. For more information, see Google Blogoscoped’s post about using special syntax or Google’s list of operators, including a printable search cheatsheet.
Although I am, by and large, a sober and serious member of society, truth be told I have a real penchant for juvenile humor. That’s why I love Gene Weingarten, who writes Below the Beltway for the Washington Post. The thing that comes to mind when you first encounter Weingarten is something along the lines of “Wow — this guy has WAY too much time on his hands!” But the sweet thing is, Gene Weingarten does it for a living: prank calls, prank journalism… it’s all in a day’s work.
Some of what he does could — with a bit of a stretch — fall under the rubric of investigative journalism. Recently, for example, when it was reported that coverage of Pasadena city council meetings would be outsourced to India, Weingarten was struck by the idea, watched a Webcast of a meeting of the local legislature of Tamil Nadu, a state in southern India, and offered the resulting report up in Hack for Hire. Here’s a sample:
A man whose name is, I swear, “Somnath Chatterjee,” addressed the state legislature here today. Mr. Chatterjee was introduced as the leader of the “Lok Sabha,” which is evidently some sort of important national lawmaking body about which few details are available at this time.
Mr. Chatterjee is apparently in ill health, as he arrived surrounded by attendants in white hospital garb. However, he proved hale enough to mount the podium, where he delivered a lengthy speech in praise of an elderly, revered local government official whose name sounds something like “Dr. K. Haminahamina,” a name that, unfortunately, didn’t get any Google hits. But it’s got to be pretty close.
Well, it’s funny and also makes a valid point. I think I’ll see if I can track down a report from a Pasadena city council meeting…
Back in March, Weingarten’s inquiring mind led him to test the mettle of Wikipedia editors by editing his own biographical entry. A couple of tidbits:
In the late 1970s, he attained brief, unwanted notoriety when two women with whom he’d been romantically involved — singer-songwriter Emmylou Harris and Russian gymnast Olga Korbut — got into a knife fight over him in a Chicago waterfront bar. No charges were filed.
In 1984 and again in 1986, Weingarten competed in the Alaskan Iditarod, each time assembling a team of 15 mongrel dogs rescued from local shelters, and one very large house cat. He finished third and sixth, respectively.
Apparently, 27 hours into the experiment, diligent editor subwayguy caught him — just before he added the fact that DNA tests had established that he’d fathered Anna Nicole Smith’s baby.
In Zero-based journalism, Weingarten came up with the term Googlenope to describe a phrase that Google doesn’t turn up any results for. He was a little surprised to find that the exact phrase “Santa Claus nude” brought up 278 hits. Boys and girls, do not try this in Google images. (I did — there’s nothing good there.) Prior to his article, the following were among the Googlenopes:
Caviar ‘n’ taters.
much to Paris Hilton’s embarrassment
Of course, immediately after the article, those phrases became Googlewhacks.
Weingarten also hosts Chatalogical humor, a very blog-like forum that he maintains is not a blog but something called a “chat empire.” As he explains, the difference has something to do with underwear. However, you will have to read the… not-blog to find out how.
While researching this blog post, I discovered that Weingarten is best buds with Dave Barry, another veteran juvenile — may he, may they, never, never grow up! In the meantime, I’ll return to sobriety and seriousness.
(Tee-hee… I wrote this at work!) ~ Ivy Wigmore