Re: Faq maintainers and commericialism


Richard M. Alderson III (
Fri, 16 Apr 1999 16:26:49 -0700 (PDT)

"Danny R. Faught" wrote:

>How do people feel about The Jargon File, published in book form as The New
>Hacker's Dictionary? I avoided buying the book for a long time because I had
>online access to the information. But finally I bought the book, happy to
>support the author's efforts, and to get the additional graphics that were
>only published in the book.

The "author" stole the Jargon File fair and square, that's how I feel.

OK, it's more complicated than that.

Back in the early days of the ARPANET, the hackers at MIT and Stanford each had
locally-grown jargons. Since both sites were major havens of PDP-10 computing,
they tended to meet each other at conferences and the like, and began sharing
their jargon with each other; CMU got in on the act early. The Jargon File was
maintained at MIT by Guy L. Steele (you know, _Common Lisp: The Language_, and
Harbison & Steele's _C: A Reference Manual), and at Stanford by Don Woods (as
in Crowther & Woods, authors of ADVENTURE). The Jargon File *lived* on two
PDP-10's, MC (at MIT) and SAIL (at Stanford).

In the early to mid 1980s, the word "hacker" leaked out of computerdom and
began to be misapplied to human turds who broke into computing systems in order
to damage them. To counteract this, some of the hackers at MIT and Stanford
thought that publishing the Jargon File in book form would be a good way to
counter this misuse of a venerable term. Mark Crispin (the Tops-20 MM program,
PINE, the IMAP protocol) took the lead, and was named on the cover as author of
_The Hacker's Dictionary_ (1984).

A few years later, Eric S. Raymond thought it would be cool to have his name on
a book he didn't write, and asked for permission to publish a second edition;
this was granted, over the objections of some of the original authors. He
threw out all the PDP-10 stuff (the original source of all the cool stuff in
the first book), added things about MS-DOS that he and his girlfriend made up
'cause they thought it would be cute, and generally shat all over the accumula-
ted wisdom of PDP-10 hacker culture.

And that's how I feel.

Rich Alderson Last LOTS Tops-20 Systems Programmer, 1984-1991
Current maintainer, MIT TECO EMACS (v. 170)
last name @ XKL dot COM Chief systems administrator, XKL LLC, 1998-now

(knows Don Woods and Guy Steele a little, and considers Mark Crispin a good
friend; maintains the humanities.classics FAQ)

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