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Hacking - Art or Science?

Cliff posted more than 8 years ago | from the share-your-opinion dept.

Programming 220

An anonymous reader asks: "The argument regarding the principle nature of hacking - be it an art or a science is not a new one. This paper hopes to discuss both the meaning of the term 'hack' and the underlying arguments for it being defined as an art or a science, in reference to the base principles and basic methodologies of the discipline. So in your opinion, is hacking art or science?"

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220 comments

The only thing that matters (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13687351)

I couldn't care less what TFA says, or the rest of you for that matter.

I'm waiting to see what TripMaster Monkey [slashdot.org] has to say on this subject.

I am putting together a Debian cluster (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13687670)

But I am unsure what software stack to use...

http://www.pixagogo.com/4166305601 [pixagogo.com]

To hack or not to hack, that is the question! (5, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687355)

<silly-goof-mode>Hacking is for newbs! LOLOL!!! ROTFLMAOOMFGBBQ!111!one!!!111one</silly-goof-mode>

(Now that I've got your attention, and had a good chuckle...)

Let me put this to rest, once and for all. "Hacking" is not something to strive for, no matter what your defintion. What "hacking" is, is an expression of a natural problem-solving ability that all humans have. This problem solving ability can give us MacGyver-level talents allowing us to fashion a solution to any situation. Such innate talent is a good thing.

However, expressing it as hacking means that you're creating short term or disruptive solutions rather than long term solutions that will last. When hacking meets the discipline of Engineering, all hell breaks loose. Sure, that ugly hacked code you put in now does the trick in a pinch. But if it's not replaced with a long term solution in a hurry, it will cost the company large amounts of money in support and maintenece.

That's where true Engineering steps in. As an engineer (or architect as the case may be) you have a responsibility to weigh in all the competing factors to produce a solution that is both long term and inexpensive to maintain. Your solution may have to go through hell and back and still get the job done. You can never quite be certain of what situation your code will go through, especially if people's lives and/or fortunes depend on it.

So in short, leave the hacking in college. It was a lot of fun when you had raw, unfocused talent, but you should be more mature than that now. Use what you know to build a real solution and leave the "hacking" to the next generation of kids. :-)

Re:To hack or not to hack, that is the question! (2, Insightful)

B'Trey (111263) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687437)

Wow. You might want to find out what the word means before you weigh in. What you're talking about is a form of hacking, but it's only one aspect of a much wider and more complex field. For example, I've heard Einstein's Theory of Relativity described as a beautiful hack, and I'd tend to agree.

Most certainly, people like Edison and George Washington Carver and Eli Whitney were hackers. I'm rather glad they and others didn't leave their hacking behind when they left college (assuming, of course, that they actually went to college, which many great hackers did not.)

To address the question raised in the article, the answer is neither and both. It's similar to asking if drawing is an art or a science. Da Vinci's sketches and an Autocad drawing of a planetary gear system are both drawing but only one is likely to be considered art. Similarly, hacking CAN be art and it CAN be science, and sometimes it might be both at the same time and other times it might be neither. Trying to force it into one category or the other is futile. It's much to broad a subject to tie into purely one classification.

Re:To hack or not to hack, that is the question! (4, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687507)

Actually, you've managed to redefine "hacking" to Alanis Morissette proportions.

For example, I've heard Einstein's Theory of Relativity described as a beautiful hack

Einstein didn't *change* anything. How can it be a hack? Rather, he produced a theory describing the Universe according to scientific method.

Most certainly, people like Edison and George Washington Carver and Eli Whitney were hackers.

Actually, they were experimenters. They experimented until they found what they were looking for.

Re:To hack or not to hack, that is the question! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13687541)

I've heard Einstein's Theory of Relativity described as a beautiful hack, and I'd tend to agree.

First off, for as much as I think Jearson is an idiot I must say the quote above puts you in the same category as him.

Einstein was anything but a hack. He was also not an artist in the least.

Artists use their art to express ideas, emotions, and feelings they can't find another way to express. True artists (not commercial artists) don't create because they enjoy it. They create because they have no other choice. It is something internal.

Hacking, in all its form is a SCIENCE! It aims to provide a solution to a problem. That solution may be elegant or ugly, practical or near impossible, but in all circumstances hacking address a specific problem set.

Hacking is explanation, it is answers, it fact. ART is nothing more then lack of ability to be able to express yourself in ways others can understand.

Re:To hack or not to hack, that is the question! (1)

Iriel (810009) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687577)

To take a little from your post and the one above it, I think it's a little silly to try to find a definative category for 'hacking'. If nothing else, but for the reason that it all depends on the context in which you use it. (Pardon me for sticking to computer hacking references, but they are the most commonly known.)

  - It may be perfectly fine to describe a 'hack' you came up with for getting around a particular web-design problem, and the term may be used quite freely, however...
  - Use the word in a public high school and you may end up with some mock interrogation lamp in your face and threat of suspension for not explaining what you meant by photoshop 'hack'.

How I use the word isn't how my parents use it, and that isn't the way politicians (and record labels) use it either. In other words, how you categorize the word may be quite different how you can acceptably use it.

Re:To hack or not to hack, that is the question! (4, Insightful)

Scarblac (122480) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687637)

The problem is that "hack" and "hacking" are extremely badly defined. In fact, it manages to have a few completely opposite meanings. A word that means both beautifully elegant sublimely crafted work, and crisis time horrible stopgap measure is not very well defined. Let alone the fact that the majority of people who use the word use it to mean breaking into computers. You can have heated fights about whether something is a hack or not, where both sides are equally right and completely opposite.

A bit like with both art and science actually, but not quite. Art is notoriously difficult to define, but we all still have a similar idea about what the word means. A bit of opinion - the fact that something is or isn't functional has no relation to whether it is or isn't art.

Science is well defined. Science is a process of finding out how things work, by thinking up a way how the world might be, and then testing that idea really rigorously. It's just that there's groups of people with agendas who try to make it look like there's a discussion alive, trying to get FSMism, creationism, moon landing denial, global warming denial, Bigfoot etc into scientific discussions. But that's just flamebait with an agenda.

So I'd say that hacking isn't really either, except that perhaps those really elegant beautiful hacks could be seen as art.

Re:To hack or not to hack, that is the question! (1)

PunkOfLinux (870955) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687782)

Science is completely objective -- it's either right or wrong.

Re:To hack or not to hack, that is the question! (2, Insightful)

moranar (632206) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687658)

Most certainly, people like Edison and George Washington Carver and Eli Whitney were hackers.

Hah. So when people calls crackers "hackers" we get upset because they stretch and break the definition, but we get to call everyone we like "hacker" just to make ourselves feel proud and smug? It either goes both ways, or none. I prefer none.

Re:To hack or not to hack, that is the question! (2, Insightful)

CaffeineAddict2001 (518485) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687513)

I've never thought of a "hack" as being necessarily short term or disruptive. I've always thought of it as exploiting a certain property of a system to acheive a result that using "traditional" methods would not be possible because of the constraints of that system.

Eventually many "hacks" migrate into the realm of being traditional. Especially in the early computer gaming industry or the "demo scene".

re to hack or not to hack, that is the question! (1)

ed.han (444783) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687543)

i've always considered it a behavior, and hence, not intrinsically either art or science: it's the execution, IMHO, which determines its nature, i think.

ed

Re:To hack or not to hack, that is the question! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13687586)

Spoken like an engineer.

I keed....

"What "hacking" is, is an expression of a natural problem-solving ability that all humans have"

That's the best explanation I've ever heard for hacking. Relating to the article, that would lead me to believe that hacking is more of an art in the sense that it's almost a need to express oneself, much like a more 'standard artist'. (whatever that is I guess)

But... (there's always a but) Don't you think you're being a bit tough on hackers? It's hard to argue against a properly Engineered solution to a problem but if everyone sat down and thought through all of the possible failing points of any idea that they ever had, everybody would be too depressed to make anything and invention would wane.

I think we should encourage the hackers of the world to hang it out there and come up with half-assed solutions to problems and then let the serious engineers perfect them.

Re:To hack or not to hack, that is the question! (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687678)

Don't you think you're being a bit tough on hackers? It's hard to argue against a properly Engineered solution to a problem but if everyone sat down and thought through all of the possible failing points of any idea that they ever had, everybody would be too depressed to make anything and invention would wane.

I'm certainly not trying to make hacks into sounding like anything horrible. My only point is that "hacking" per se is simply unfocused applied engineering. When one matures as an engineer, one tends to focus his talents and produce better "long term" solutions. Sometimes a "quick hack" is necessary, but that usually something intended to temporarily patch a problem while an engineering solution is being designed.

On my own list of favorite hacks, I have to say that the air scrubber adapter that the guys on the ground came up with for Apollo 13 is probably one of the coolest of all time. I wonder if it helped inspire the show MacGyver? :-)

Re:To hack or not to hack, that is the question! (2, Insightful)

rzbx (236929) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687614)

As insightful as your post may be to some, I could at the very same time fit hacking into your view of what hacking is not.

"However, expressing it as hacking means that you're creating short term or disruptive solutions rather than long term solutions that will last. When hacking meets the discipline of Engineering, all hell breaks loose."

What is long-term? Days, months, years, decades? Does it not depend on the problem? Engineering is no more discipline than it is hacking away at problems. Like two sides to a coin, engineering goes beyond a formula or equation. It is about using the formulas, equations, and definitions WITH our ability to just hack away at a problem. Engineering, like hacking, is like science and art. Neither is the other, and just either doesn't work.

"So in short, leave the hacking in college."

That is completely backwards. In college you learn the formulas, the equations, etc. In life, you hack, with what you know.

Re:To hack or not to hack, that is the question! (2, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687778)

What is long-term? Days, months, years, decades? Does it not depend on the problem?

Of course it does. As you say, Engineering can have many of the same "Art vs. Science" questions that "hacking" does.

That is completely backwards. In college you learn the formulas, the equations, etc. In life, you hack, with what you know.

To be clear, I think that hacking is "unfocused engineering". So you "hack" while you're still learning, but you hopefully outgrow it for the rest of your life.

Consider the following parts. Are they hacks or engineering?

1. A paperclip pressed into service to keep a flooded engine running.
2. A bypass that drains excess fluids away from the engine.
3. A potato cut in half, used to remove a broken light bulb.
4. A colored lightbulb that improves the natural light spectrums.
5. A shell script that uses wget to download an HTML page, which it passes to grep, cut, and sed to find specific information.
6. A soap service that obtains the same information.

In case you're wondering, I see them as hack, engineering, hack, engineering, hack, engineering. Some of these hacks are really clever, especially the potato to remove the light bulb. Some of them are commonly used in short term situations, such as number 5. But you wouldn't say use number 5 as a long term solution. What if the HTML page changes? What if the data contains a special character you hadn't planned for? Then your script breaks. Number 6 solves that problem elegently, using tools intended for the task. :-)

Neither (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13687359)

It's a craft, handiwork.

It's neither (4, Interesting)

Reality Master 101 (179095) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687360)

Hacking (or any programming) is neither art or science. It's applied engineering. And applied engineering is what it is.

Re:It's neither (1)

Nuclear Elephant (700938) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687712)

Hacking (or any programming) is neither art or science.

Considering how most people on Slashdot use the term hacking so loosely, it could be something artful (as in "hacking the stove" when you create a recipe you like), scientific (as in "hacking an egg" by cracking it on the pan) or dastardly (as in "hacking a building" by using the back door).

Re:It's neither (2, Interesting)

thermostat42 (112272) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687741)

If you don't create a design document, enumerate use cases, etc, etc, you can hardly claim to be doing engineering. Some programmers might be doing engineering, most "hackers" are not.

As for art vs. science, "hacking" is clearly an art. Debugging is a science. This really isn't a hard concept. Art is a creative process, science is a tool for finding truth. Do you use the scientific method when you sit to to write code? Of course not. However, when you look at your (or someone else's) broken code, and want to know why it doesn't do what you think it should, the scientific method should come to mind.

Neither. (4, Funny)

TheCamper (827137) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687365)

It's philosophy. :)

I hack... (2, Funny)

Karma_fucker_sucker (898393) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687414)

therefore, I am.

Or for the Zen masters:
What is the sound of one hand hacking?

Re:I hack... (1)

Excen (686416) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687564)

What is the sound of one hand hacking?
brFapClickFapClickFapClickFapClickFapClick?

Re:I hack... (1)

dillpick6 (699618) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687581)

I think it can be more 'artfully' stated: bool ihack = true ; struct person* me ; if(ihack) me = malloc(sizeof(struct person)) ; else me = NULL ; Please disregaurd that my heap may be busted...

Re:I hack... (1)

moranar (632206) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687706)

"Clickety". The "click" is done by the other hand.

Re:Neither. (1)

SachaWheeler (917211) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687480)

In as much as hacking is asking what other uses might be found for a tool, it is an attitude, and is often an example of a broader philosophical position. A hacker is often the type of person who simply cannot avoid wanting to explore the alternative possibilities of a situation; to ask "what if?". Hacking is certainly a linear extension of my philosophy, never to accept on face value what others offer me, even so far as to accept the narrow limits of a tool's defined function. And, like it or not, it's just cool!

Re:Neither. (1)

ouaibe (762632) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687688)

But isn't philosophy a form of Art ?
I mean isn't a creation defined as Art not by what the creation is in itself, but more by, not only the feelings it generates from the audience, but also by the explanation you give of it.
In that way philosophy is clearly a type of art (and thus isn't opposed to it) and could be defined as an Art of perception.

...just a thought like that.

No, perl is (1)

matt me (850665) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687718)

As a Perl fundamentalist, that's a religion, but something then python, that's scientific evolution. Don't teach Perl in schools.

art or science (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13687366)

Perhaps a good term to some up the meaning of "hacking" is "tinkering".

I think writing is an art.

Opinion only (-1, Troll)

IamGarageGuy 2 (687655) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687368)

By definition hack is an art - some old hacks were not necessarily scientific. Think the University that changed the placards that were held up by the opposing team. - sorry can't remember exactly....

Re:Opinion only (3, Funny)

Karma_fucker_sucker (898393) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687472)

By definition hack is an art -....

When I was coding, someone brought up that the best programmers were people with art backgrounds. After that, whenever a bug was discovered in my code, I would respond with "I code what I feel and I was feeling shitty that day!"

Speaking of hacking (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13687369)

Let A=72, B=73, C=74, etc... add up the letters (case insensitive) in the word SLASHDOT. What do you get?

Why does everything have to fall in one category? (1)

hesiod (111176) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687387)

It just depends on whether the person "hacking" is doing it for artful reasons or scientific reasons. What if they just do it for fun, no other reason?

Why can't.... (3, Insightful)

five40kix (853950) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687395)

It be both?

As defined by wikipedia Art, in its broadest meaning, is the expression of creativity and/or imagination.

Science = Reasoned investigation or study...

Re:Why can't.... (2, Interesting)

Reality Master 101 (179095) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687496)

The problem with that definition of art is that it's so broad that everything becomes art.

I haven't thought about how to define art, but I would say it's something intended to inspire a philosophical thought or emotion in another person. Based on that definition, programming (or any craft) would not qualify as art.

I'm sure people could nitpick my definition, but I think it would cover things we would traditionally think as art. The important part is that intent counts.

Art? Science? Semantics? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13687397)

Art or science... hmm. Could it be that the very question is a pointless exercise in semantics? Neither term is pejorative, so what's it really matter? Is it a fence or a wall?

Hacking (2, Interesting)

Rectum2003 (686009) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687416)

Hacking is when science becomes art.

Re:Hacking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13687595)

.. is Kung Fu!

And Frohike's kung fu is not the best..

Real Genius (1, Funny)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687427)

BTW, no one here should be allowed to comment on this topic unless they've seen this movie [imdb.com] . After all, would you be prepared if gravity were to suddenly reverse itself? Would you!? :-P

offtopic fave quote from Real Genius (1)

geekpuppySEA (724733) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687785)

"Can you hammer a six inch nail through a board with your penis?"

"Not right now"

"A girl's got to have her standards"

Both! (1)

Now.Imperfect (917684) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687431)

Scientifically, it is the science of logic. Artistically, it is left to the individual to state as he will. And I think a second example of hacking as an art is it takes the right kind of mind to understand it. I know several people who love computers, but you stick them in front of something to hack, and they're lost.

Computer science (4, Informative)

wurp (51446) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687440)

Computer science is the art of automating anything that's been refined to a science.

Hacking is a form of computer science.

Re:Computer science (1)

scherrey (13000) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687695)

er.. no REAL science (i.e. Chemistry, Biology, Physics, et al) has the word science in it. That's how you can tell its a science. :)

The Art of War (1)

CrimsonSamurai (912915) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687453)

I've actually ordered The Art of War to read. I'm sure that book is applicable to hacking too. I know the book is very applicable to the business world and even more. I'm assuming that this article has a similar attitude.

Re:The Art of War (1)

OctoberSky (888619) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687612)

That is not a book. It is a collection of "sayings" Like, "Keep your friends close, your enemies closer"

Just throwing that out there.

Does it have to be either? (4, Insightful)

stefanlasiewski (63134) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687466)

Does it have to be either? Hacking, like most things in life, is neither a fine art or a pure science, so I'm always confused why certain people try to pigeonhole some discipline into either "Art or Science".

I hear this question over and over from some people. This question seems a little too academic and removed from reality-- if a discipline doesn't fit your narrow view of "Art or Science", perhaps the view is wrong.

If anything, I'd say hacking could loosely be called a craft, in the same way that any trade could be considered a craft--woodcraft, glasswork, gardening, auto mechanic or, just for fun, witchcraft (Hackers do mysterious things by reciting long incantations!).

Eventually many craftspeople are able to think outside the instruction manual and discover new ways to work their craft in ways that it wasn't intended to do.

Re:Does it have to be either? (1)

G-Bear (156160) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687752)

Particle or wave?

You say potatoe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13687470)

Whatever in God's name it was hacked up this morning, surely was art...

Re:You say potatoe (0, Flamebait)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687552)

Dan Quayle weighs in...

Hacking vs engineering (2, Insightful)

Ulrich Hobelmann (861309) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687475)

Hacking something together is craft, or somewhat like an art. (Since the things produced are to have practical value it's not just an art.)

Mixed with a formal process and a good architecture hacking becomes engineering.

Another take on this... (2, Interesting)

tcopeland (32225) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687476)

...from John Littler on O'Reilly's OnLAMP is here [onlamp.com] . He's got some nice quotes, including this one from Fred Brooks:
The programmer, like the poet, works only slightly removed from pure thought-stuff. He builds his castles in the air, from air, creating by exertion of the imagination. Few media of creation are so flexible, so easy to polish and rework, so readily capable of realizing grand conceptual structures.
And is programming is art, this use of StringBuffer [blogs.com] is... bad art.

(c) None of the above (4, Funny)

GillBates0 (664202) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687483)

It's more like 4R7.

but... (1)

same_old_story (833424) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687489)

isn't science an art?
and art also a science?

Not getting caught is a science (1)

kianu7 (886560) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687492)

I believe that Hacking is a combination of art and science.

Finding & exploiting loopholes is an art.

Not getting caught is a science.

Excuse me... (0)

MlBruehlly (307883) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687495)

Ask Slashdot: Would you do my philosophy assignment for me? k-thx!

Er... (2, Interesting)

woah (781250) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687497)

Couldn't it be both?

I mean neither of the two disciplines describe perfectly what hacking is. Then again, parallels can be drawn between hacking and either discipline. So, I think the answer is both.

Art or Science (1)

larry2k (592744) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687498)

In my opinion is the Art of the Science

Hardly a "media bastardised" definition (1)

Lester67 (218549) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687501)

"Hackers" cracked systems.

Then came the early 90's.

All the kids that took CS to become "Hackers" found out that it was often a very less than honorable profession. Since their underinflated ego didn't like the name "programmer", they started to lift the term hacker for themselve, and replace the negative with the label cracker.

Those of us that were there, and awake during the late 70's and early 80's know exactly what a "hacker" is.

"Cracker" may be more appropriate these days, but it is the "bastardised" definition, not the other way around.

Hacking (2)

plopez (54068) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687510)

is a term used by worthless cowboy coders who think they are hot for slapping togehter a POS programm that barely works, some of the time, and is unmaintainable.

The less I see of it the easier my life becomes. Usually I have to spend hours fixing their crap before I can do my job. Often I just throw it away.

Well, it depends... (1)

Vorondil28 (864578) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687511)

...on the hacker's mind-set. If you're of a very scientific bent, hacking will feel like a something concrete, but if you approach it artistically, you're more likely to see is as something you can express yourself though.

But then again, we really have to define 'art' before asking if hacking is an art. Most would say mathematics is a science, yet many mathematicians would consider a lot of the proofs in Calculus beautiful.

art/science (1)

hcob$ (766699) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687523)

is in the eye of the beholder. What we consider science, some consider magic (a form of art).... Discuss

Re:art/science (1)

witte (681163) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687729)

I agree. Adding to that :

- I don't think it is really neccessary to define 'science' here , but I can't say the same about 'art'; it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and there are many definitions for it.
In short; this discussion is pointless without first defining 'art'. (And 'science', for that matter.)

- Furthermore, how can we place something as ambiguously defined as 'hacking' into either-or categories like science vs. art ?
They're not even mutually exclusive.

Conclusion : original question = waste of time.
(Dang!)

gotta love the human instinct... (1)

i7dude (473077) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687526)

...to cateorize and classify anything and everything.

couldn't just be defined as "a much better way to pass ones time instead of watching shitty television."

dude.

Hacking is a hobby (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13687528)

hacking is no more an art than snapping models together and no more a science than stamp collecting.

I have better questions (3, Interesting)

imidan (559239) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687529)

In my opinion, the completely vapid nature of the paper gets in the way of answering the question posed. But, then, I think the question is a useless one to ask in the first place. From the conclusion of TFA:

The beauty of this argument is ... the fact that ultimately it does not really matter.

You know it's a great paper when your conclusion is that your argument is completely irrelevant.

And it is, too. Why does it matter whether hacking is classified as art or science? What effect would it have on the way hacking is perceived? Who cares?

Now, if you just wanted to talk about computer science (in terms of applied math, not engineering), I think the art/science question is better suited. Of all the schools in the world that teach CS, how many locate their CS department in the school of engineering, and how many in the school of letters and sciences? Why? Does the context of the CS program affect the quality of its graduates?

Neither... (2, Insightful)

Frogg (27033) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687530)

I believe hacking is neither an art nor a science, I think it's a craft -- comprised of part science and part art.

just a simple question... (1)

Vodak (119225) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687532)

I do not believe hacking is an Art. I beleive it is a mental exercise. Why is the term art is given to easily to everything today that is even remotely intresting to someone.

But Sciences *ARE* Arts (1)

apt_user (812814) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687536)

In the medieval university, everything we call 'sciences' today were simply the physical arts, as outlined in the trivium and quadrivium. That's why doctorates in science disciplines are called Ph.D.'s (Doctor of Philosophy).

Reuniting the arts & sciences is in vogue right now in academia, see the Barber School of Arts & Sciences at UBC http://www.publicaffairs.ubc.ca/ubcreports/2005/05 feb03/barber.html [publicaffairs.ubc.ca]

"Hacking" (3, Funny)

Nerdposeur (910128) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687537)

Hmmm... Well, on the one hand, it takes precise timing and an intuitive understanding of physics to keep the sack in the air. On the other hand, if you do it right, it looks a lot like a dance. :)

None of the above (2, Insightful)

squoozer (730327) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687545)

It's engineering plain and simple. To dress it up as anything else undermines the skill that is envolved in creating good code. The dictionary (dictionary.com) defines engineering as

The application of scientific and mathematical principles to practical ends such as the design, manufacture, and operation of efficient and economical structures, machines, processes, and systems.

if that doesn't define writing code I don't know what does. There is nothing wrong with being an engineer.

Sometimes it's an art... (1)

zalas (682627) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687548)

The most experience I have with "hacking" would be to patch Japanese games so that they start displaying English instead. While the majority of the expertise needed and used is more of a science, like knowing how the underlying operating system/hardware works or how images and placed on the screen, the extra step required for a good, elegant hack is something that's more like an art. You really have to start getting creative when you need to figure out how to modify the code given serious size constraints, or how to make the smallest patch so that it has the least chance of unexpectedly breaking something else. I would assume the same could be said about other types of hacking. The basic, low-level grunt work is probably more like a science, but to get that extra ounce of elegance in the finished product, that is art.

offtopic: ironically, the image they're making me read for posting is "exploits" :D

Art (1)

evildogeye (106313) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687551)

As ugly as some of my code gets, especially when regular expressions are involved, there must be some of this "art" in the picture.

Nice definitions in TFA (1)

kerohazel (913211) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687562)

Hacking: Making a system, program or piece of hardware do something that it was not designed to do.
Cracking: Gaining access to a system, program, server or piece of hardware via methods which bypass any security in place or give the 'cracker' inflated privileges within the targeted system, program, server or hardware.

This made me realize that if the erosion of tech freedom continues, pretty soon the terms "hacker" and "cracker" will pretty much become synonymous, and the people who misapply the terms will finally be right. *shudder*

It's an art... DUH! (1)

jhfry (829244) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687565)

Anyone can paint, sing, or write code with minimal training... what makes that person an artist is a devloped talent that allows them to do things in their field that the majority of those who participate in the field could only dream of doing. In addition their is usually a clear distinction between a true artist's work and that of someone who doesn't deserve the title... there is little middle ground.

I can write code, but I am certainly no hacker. Sure I might hack together a script to do something that may or may not have been done before... but a true hacker would make me look silly in my attempts.

I think the term hacker is thrown around way too frequently and used interchangably with someone who hacks together a solution to a problem. If I decide to paint something, I am NOT a painter; the same applies to hacking.

I have met hackers, and to watch them work and read their code is nearly a spiritual thing... I only wish I had the talent and time to dedicate to bring myself halfway to that level.

I thought it was... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13687569)

... a desert topping!

Re:I thought it was... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13687646)

No! It's a floor wax!

art is messy (1)

jasongetsdown (890117) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687576)

Science. But that doesn't mean it can't be beautiful.

I think it's both (1)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687585)

Cooking is art, baking is science.
Both use algorithms, cooking's are malleable, baking's are not.
Many things in programming are both: if the results aren't correct, it's not science; if the code is ugly, it's not art.

Re:I think it's both (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13687734)

Couldn't cooking be considered either, depending on the cook?

A cook who follows a recipe (add a teaspoon of XXX, 2 cups of YYY, cook for 20 minutes at 250 degrees). Sounds scientific, no?

But then a cook might decide to "hack" a recipe. Add a little more XXX, a little less YYY and a pinch of ZZZ. They cook it for 30 minutes at 225 degrees. It comes out a little different (maybe better?)

It's about craftsmanship (1)

McGregorMortis (536146) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687587)

I believe it is best described as a craft, like fine woodworking. It takes skill to do it well, and ingenuity. Many of the results will have practical application, but almost as important are the aesthetics, style and beauty.

Art doesn't really capture it for me. And science is right out, really. Precious little of hacking comes anywhere near the Scientific Method, and without the Method, you're not doing science. I think people who suggest it is science are actually thinking of engineering.

But engineering doesn't really capture it either. Engineering is just a job. Craftsmanship is compulsion, something you are forced to by your own personality. A craftsman cannot accept anything less than his own best effort.

The essence of my work is building something functional, but also beautiful. Something I can be proud of.

Of science, engineering, art, and hacking. (1)

G4from128k (686170) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687594)

First most of the processes that people call "science" (in the art v. science dichotomy) are really engineering -- in the sense that they are applying existing knowledge to achieve some stated outcome (engineering) rather than discovering/creating totally new knowledge through a process of hypothesis and experiment (science).

Second, I see a difference between engineering and hacking in terms of knowability of the outcome. If you can design a product or solve a problem from start to finish, without much or any testing, and it the solution does exactly what you expect it to do, it more on the engineering end of the spectrum. If the hacking is more a matter of "messing around" or "trying different solutions' it is less engineering.

Third, I'm not sure why people would call it "art" unless the result is judged on aesthetic, rather than practical grounds. A beautiful case-mod or algorithm might be art (in the eye of a geeky beholder), but a hack that unlocks a cellphone may be more in the realm of applied knowledge (science) or experimentation (science).

Poisonally (1)

Stanistani (808333) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687596)

I'd like to see the term 'tinker' come back into vogue.
I believe it more accurately describes the everyday routine of IT.

Also, that would lift the expression 'Not worth a tinker's dam' back out of obscurity.

I had tinkers for ancestors...

We used to fix everything whether it was broken or not!

A maze of twisty little passages, all alike... (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687615)

Ahh, Nethack.
Get out of my way stupid dog!

Not one, not constant. (1)

Shoten (260439) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687627)

Why is the question always put out as "Is art or is it science?" I don't know of anything that isn't both these days. I've done lighting design work for dance theater, which drew upon a lot of creativity and interaction with the choreographer to get the right kind of look. I also drew upon simple facts of science, like the notion that using purple is a terrible idea (comprised of only the light from opposing ends of the spectrum, apparently purple lighting makes it very hard for dancers to accurately focus their eyes on stage). Cooking is clearly considered art, but when you go to cooking school what you learn is as much chemistry as art. Sculpture is largely dependent on metallurgy and casting technologies (which can also be said to be science with art mixed in, when it comes to intuitive decisions on things like porting to make sure a cast fills properly). I also think that, depending on the particular act of any such endeavor, the proportion of art to science varies. Making some sauces can be pretty freeform, but baking usually demands strict adherence to certain proportions, for reasons of simple chemistry and biology.

I won't even get into the definition of "hacking," because on Slashdot getting into THAT semantic argument is neither art nor science...it's just crazy. Let's face it, nobody can win that argument no matter what their viewpoint :) But in my opinion, any definition of the word (including the pejorative term used in popular media to refer to spectacular computer security violations) are both. And I think the proportion is not a constant for any definition, or even for one person. It varies based upon the act.

Now that I think about it... (1)

Now.Imperfect (917684) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687628)

I alrewady responded but classifying hacking as an art is like calling light a wave or electrons particles. In reality their both, and no matter what the human mind does to them it can never prove it one way or the other.

I coin it artistic-scientific nature duality!

Is hacking art or science? YES (1)

LodCrappo (705968) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687663)

see subject

Oh...I know! I know! Me! Me! (2, Interesting)

Hosiah (849792) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687666)

It's a sciart !

PS Thanks to the complete Circus Clown's Fire Drill that has been the attempt to re-re-re-define the word "hacker" from the last quarter of the 20th century into this one, there is officially no such thing as hacking. The number of mis-percieved mis-definitions of the word surpassed the total human population about 1996 (yes, I wrote it down) and thus freed of the confines of mere space-time continuum, has increased exponentially ever since, which explains why each person can define the word five different ways and have *none* of them agree with anybody else's five different definitions.

This is where black holes come from. I nominate that, along with words like "Tao" and "mu", we puny mortals simply abandon the word back to the Ancient Ones from whence it came, admit that our shriveled husks of cortexes are incapable of fathoming such a deep concept, and hereafter relegate the word to the ranks of words which, if named, are not their true selves.

Which will spare us the upcoming inconclusive debate, now looming over this thread, over what hacking is for the 998.8E+999 time. Because I can't sit through another one. And to ensure I don't, I'm...I'm...I'm HOLDING THE EASTER BUNNY HOSTAGE! Yes! Drop the flamegun, or the lepus gets it right between the oculi!!! And there'll be no more Cadbury chocolate eggs for any of you!

Hacking = Art( Science ) ^ Elegance (1)

scherrey (13000) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687672)

Hacking is the artistic application of science. Elegance is the demonstration that art and science are simply two sides of the same coin.

Art or science... (1)

beavt8r (919284) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687674)

[rant]I think these days, with technology, computers, and the internet being so prevalent in society that this term has been a tad over-used. Everybody from seasoned programmers to the typical "newbie" uses this term for a broad range of topics.[/rant]

Personally, I think it remains whichever one you apply it to. (I may be taking "hacking" to be more of programming in this) I like to dabble in game programming and I think in that aspect, more along the lines of game play, it is more of an art than science. When you USE the science to create this wonderful, beautiful world of monsters or whatever the case may be, it becomes art. Having said that, for other parts of the game, it is more of a science in that you're figuring out how to do things or using it as a means to a solution.

So I think it's whatever side you lean towards, or none if that's what you like. If you like art, you may see it as art...if you are more of a science person, then you may very well see it as art. But that's just a Friday afternoon rambling...pay no attention. :-P

Neither (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13687675)

It's a Sport.

It's engineering Silly! (1)

hajo (74449) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687687)

It's not art and it's not science. It's engineering which takes a little of both.

Snooze (2, Insightful)

ponds (728911) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687689)

This essay was much better when Paul Graham wrote it two years ago and called it "Hackers and Painters"

Neither (1)

sofo (18554) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687700)

It's really a personality trait brought to behavioral practice.

I'm so tired of people trying to describe things as art when they have no place being referred to as such. I drive cars with manual transmissions really well, am I a stick-shift artist? Please.

Considering the Source (2, Funny)

geomon (78680) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687733)

I read the author's treatise but was rather shocked at the company swag. Who in their right mind would take security advice from a company who advertises thongs, vodka, and cocaine as symbols worth publicising?

That is not the company image that would win me points with my boss.

Boss: "That is a rather inappropriate coffee cup [spreadshirt.net] you have there. Please don't bring it to work."
Me: "But our network security company gave it to me!"
Boss: "You're fired."

I guess I'm just showing my age.

And yes, my boss does talk in HTML.

Um, none of the above (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13687735)

Hacking involves: Creativity, logic, and sometimes impericism.
So, at one level it's a small amount science. At one level it's logic (mostly logic), and at another it's artistic.

Pidgeon holing it into one would be naive.

Missing option... (1)

Brad1138 (590148) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687737)

Criminal

Art and Science: is it Art or Science? (1)

sakusha (441986) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687742)

Oh gawd I am tired of this old cliche. Not every complex technique is either an art or a science. Hacking is software engineering, at best. If you have to ask if it is an art or a science, it isn't an art or a science.

Hacking - Desert Topping of Floorwax? (1)

Ranger (1783) | more than 8 years ago | (#13687761)

It's both!!

It's a craft. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13687771)

Like carpentry, welding, pottery, etc.

that site was designed in windows (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13687777)

Just for you, the author, who will probably read every comment here: YOUR DAMN FONT IS TOO SMALL. I could barely read it at all. It may look ok in windows, but for some reason either windows fonts are big, or linux fonts are small, but no matter, the fact remains: YOUR DAMN FONT IS TOO SMALL
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