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Slashdot's Top 10 Hacks of all Time

CmdrTaco posted more than 14 years ago | from the setting-things-right dept. 760

C|Net recently made waves with its "Top 10 Hacks" story which seemed to say that Hack==Website Defacement. Derek Glidden found that wrong. And I'm glad he did because he's proposed that we do our own top 10 hacks. He's written a fabulous article, and challanges us to come up with a real list of hacks: The good stuff. Not the script kiddie stuff that the media likes to use to generate extreme headlines. Read this story. Its a good one.

A lot of people pointed out in Slashdot's recent coverage of an article run on C|Net called "The Top 10 Subversive Hacks of All Time" that 8 out of the 10 so-called "Hacks" listed were merely website defacements and not deserving of the "Hack" label at all. Here's your chance, as the Slashdot community, to set the record straight!

C|Net, perhaps in some kind of bizarre response to millenia fever, has lately been printing a few "Top 10 Lists" of sensational-sounding topics but rather lame content:

The Top 10 Technology Terrors - Billed as "10 products that will scare you to death" complete with a cute little Grim Fandango-esque skeleton as a mascot. Of course Back Orifice is on the list. Are you terrified yet?
Top Ten Terrors That Scare Web Builders - I'm not even sure where this article is supposed to be going. I know when I'm building a website I'm always "scared" of the Y2K problem as it relates to interfacing with my mainframe...
Ten Tricks for Digital Pranksters - Which I'd hoped might be at least slightly amusing, but turns out to be amusing in the same way that going to a K-Mart, finding the Commodore 64's on display, disabling BREAK and writing that BASIC program '10 PRINT "K-MART SUCKS "; 20 GOTO 10' was amusing when I was 12. (But then, it's not a "Top Ten" list, so I shouldn't complain.)

Given the trend, one wonders when their "Top 10 Pr0n Websites That Will Make Your Child Grow Up Into A Pervert If He or She So Much As Thinks About The URL", "Top 10 Most Violent Video Games Guaranteed To Make The Flesh Of Your Flesh And Blood Of Your Blood Turn Into A Deviant Sociopath Who Will Probably Shoot Up A McDonalds By The Time They're 25" or "Top 10 Really Annoying Top 10 Lists That We've Broken Up Into One Page Per Entry To Maximize Our Banner Ad Display" lists will show up.

Regardless of whether or not C|Net gets it in general, (I think I've made my opinion on that clear by now. :) they surely dropped the ball on their "Hacks" article. Rob and the gang at Slashdot liked my suggestion that the question be put to the Slashdot community and find out what you consider a "Great Hack."

So what is a "Hack"?

A lot of people reading that article were disappointed that C|Net decided to more or less define "Hack" as being equivalent to "website defacement", completely ignoring the traditional, more creative and useful meaning of the word. (Notice here how I deftly sidestep the whole 'hacker' vs. 'cracker' debate...) How should we determine what's a "Great Hack", much less the Top 10 of All Time, then?

Eric Raymond's Jargon File defines "Hack" in the first two meanings as:

"1. n. Originally, a quick job that produces what is needed, but not well. 2. n. An incredibly good, and perhaps very time-consuming, piece of work that produces exactly what is needed."

(Which are entirely contradictory, but hackers never let mundane things like paradoxes slow them down.) He further refines the meaning in Append ix A, "The Meaning of Hack" as:

"Hacking might be characterized as `an appropriate application of ingenuity'. Whether the result is a quick-and-dirty patchwork job or a carefully crafted work of art, you have to admire the cleverness that went into it."

If you'll notice, nothing in these definitions say anything about a "Hack" being computer-related. There have been many great Hacks that are not computer-related; it's just that people tend to associate the word "hack" with computers.

Adding to the ideas defined above, an "All-Time Great Hack" will probably also have:

  • longevity - people should still be talking about it 20 or 30 years later, or even beyond.
  • social and/or technological impact - it should change some aspect of life, either by directly changing every-day life or indirectly by changing how people view the world
  • "eleganc e" - note however, that this does not necessarily equate simplicty. (Some people may consider the Saturn V booster a truly moby hack, as it got its job done precisely well with no doubt as to its purpose, but was anything but simple.)
  • that not-easily definable quality of "I shoulda thought of that!" A Great Hack doesn't have to be "not immediately obvious" - it may just be something nobody else has done yet. For example: the WWW - there's nothing "unobvious" about defining a set of page layout macros that include text and graphics and a way to transmit and view them, but it didn't become commonplace until Tim Berners-Lee made it a big deal.

Some examples of things I would consider "Great Hacks" by these guidelines:

  • Putting Apollo 11 on the moon - the NASA engineers at the time of the Apollo project are, to my mind, some of the greatest hackers in history. When you consider the state of technology at the time, what they accomplished is amazing.
  • Ken Thompson's "cc hack" - No explanation necessary. A truly elegant hack that is already part of computer folklore.
  • Both the "development" of AT&T UNIX into BSD UNIX and the way BSD was distributed, essentially creating the first widespread market demand for "open source software."
  • Of course, no Slashdot feature article would be complete without mentioning: the development of the Linux Kernel, both for what it is and how it was/is developed.

But wait, there's more!!

In his Appendinx on "The Meaning Of Hack", ESR also says:

"An important secondary meaning of hack is `a creative practical joke'."

and MIT's Gallery of Hacks defines "hack" as:

"The word hack at MIT usually refers to a clever, benign, and "ethical" prank or practical joke, which is both challenging for the perpetrators and amusing to the MIT community (and sometimes even the rest of the world!)."

A sure point of dissent in this definition is going to be the "ethical" clause. I'll take the easy road out and leave this point to be decided by the audience - if enough people think a particular hack is a "Great Hack" regardless of ethics - then into the pot it goes.

On the other hand, the closest thing I can think of to a "Great Hack" that skirts ethical boundaries is the Robert Morris Worm. It's an event that will live in infamy in the lore of the Internet for all times for the problems it caused, but that it could accomplish what it did shows an incredible understanding of the way the systems worked and how they were interconnected at the time it happened.

It's still not entirely easy to think of "All-Time Great Hacks" that fit this definition, including the "ethical" clause:

  • The canonical example is usually the MIT hack of the Harvard-Yale football game in which MIT students caused a six-foot weather baloon covered with the letters "MIT" to inflate at the 40 yard line during a pause in gameplay
  • In the Slashdot article, "Uruk" pointed out that Orson Welles' broadcast of "The War Of The Worlds" in 1938 is arguably the best example of this definition of "Hack" that the world has ever known

So we have two definitions to deal with: The "Classic" Hacks, and the "MIT-Style" Hacks. It may or may not be worthwhile to separate these out into two distinct categories - I think we'll have to wait to see if there are enough unique entries in each category to require two lists.

What now?

In this feature, I would like you to list what you think are the "Greatest Hacks of All Time" and after a time to let enough people enter their suggestions and comments, I'll come back and gather up the most popular/frequent responses. Those suggestions will go up as a Slashdot poll, and the top ten from that poll will be officially listed in a subsequent feature article: "Slashdot's Top 10 Hacks of All Time" along with a bit of background on each one; rather like C|Net, except we'll put them all on one page for you.

There is only one restriction I would like to impose on suggestions: they have to be able to be documented somehow. I used to know a guy who could make his TRS-80 machines play music with software that somehow buzzed the floppy disk motor at different rates, which is a neat hack, but as I have no idea where he lives, if he still has a copy of his software, or even where to find a TRS-80 to play with anymore it's not a good candidate for this.

I've defined what it takes for a hack to be a "Great Hack", I've given some examples to help "seed the idea pool", and now it's your turn: what do you think should go on Slashdot's list of the Top 10 Hacks of All Time?

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this one! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1506982)

ph1r5+ p05+ j00 muth@s!!!!


Hacking is dead? (2)

slashdot-terminal (83882) | more than 14 years ago | (#1506983)

Alright "hacking" as was the popular understanding of it was really dead back in the early days of the internet. With various crypto schemes and security measures it has become increasingly difficult to do anything very effective. Modern operating systems like linux/*BSD/*nix, etc have allowed for very rigid system security. I guess the only places left are windows boxes.

Top 10 hacks... (2)

CYberPhreak (5569) | more than 14 years ago | (#1506984)

One of the top hacks I would like to see is the cracking of the RSA? encryption. This was quite the fascinating hack, and I feel that it is well deserving to be placed on the list

Steal this post (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1506985)

Abbey Hoffman has pulled off some of the greatest hacks in all history, but I don't think any of them involved computers. Boy did he stick it to Ma Bell.....

Open Source Rules! (0)

holzi (768) | more than 14 years ago | (#1506986)

The more participate the more succes a project has!

First Post?

Bill Joy and BSD (1)

David Jensen (1987) | more than 14 years ago | (#1506987)

I know this is pretty big for a hack, but would anything else have been possible without it?

C|Net's not trying to "scare" you (3)

Pyr (18277) | more than 14 years ago | (#1506988)

As a host on C|Net's Builder Buzz I'm not exactly an employee, but I do spend a lot more time around C|Net and C|net folk than I'm sure most /. readers except the employees and I have to say with the "Top Ten Subversive Hacks", or "Top Ten Things that scare Web Builders" they're not trying ot be frightening or sensationalist, they're more trying to be interesting and a little funny.

When they did their "Top Ten Clients from Hell" on they had goofy little graphics on those too, as they do most of their articles. It should be obvious to most of you (esp. the web builders) that they're not saying these types of clients ARE literally from hell (Just as Back Orifice isn't literally "terrifying), they're just trying to give all of us who have GONE THROUGH that kind of thing a little laugh and some help for dealing with these people.

You guys take C|Net too seriously, and I don't think they deserve the criticism you give them.

A Nomination (5)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1506989)

I nominate the first person to write a video game machine emulator for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The backwards-hacking involved in learning enough to even start the project is extremely impressive. To then take it and write an emulator is equally impressive (anyone who has tried to write an emulator knows its not as easy as it sounds even WITH all the tech info). But why the NES instead of one of the other systems, and what about the newer ones like the N64 and PSX that are getting emulated? Well, the N64 and PSX emulators aren't really true emulators and while they do do some neat hacks, they inherit a whole lot from what started with NES emulators. In case you didn't know, there are over 100 separate memory mapping schemes (implemented via chips on the cartridges) to take into account, as well as some strange programming habits followed by the game developers (especially Squaresoft) that made debugging extremely hard.


Re:Top 10 hacks... (1)

CYberPhreak (5569) | more than 14 years ago | (#1506990)

ACtually, now that I think of it, why not include Linus "God" Torvalds as one of the top ten greatest hackers of all time. I live linux, and feel that this Finnish masterb[iece should also be included on the list of hacks.

A good hack. (2)

Manhattan Project (95406) | more than 14 years ago | (#1506991)

Deep Blue II was a very elegant hack, incorporating a wide variety of technologies for one stupid little purpose.


KremVAX (4)

Kinthelt (96845) | more than 14 years ago | (#1506992)

This has to be among the top 10. Not only did it fool just about everybody on Usenet, it was benign (a Good Thing).

See the jargon file entry []

Demos! (3)

pb (1020) | more than 14 years ago | (#1506993)

Anyone remember the Second Reality demo for the PC in 1993 [] ? Amazing, right? Well, the only thing that could possibly top that would be...

Second Reality for the C64 in 1997 [] ! I was amazed, the sound was very good (and the video somewhat limited for obvious reasons :) and it ran fine on vice, with a little tweaking. :)
pb Reply or e-mail rather than vaguely moderate [] .

U.S. Constitution (4)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1506994)

The U.S. Constitution is one of the top ten hacks of all time!

Balancing states' rights, balancing power among three branches, with a guarantee of a free press to keep them all in line... User-modifiable, but only if they really are sure about what they're doing...

Do we get to hear about the good cracks? (3)

sufi (39527) | more than 14 years ago | (#1506995)

The question is, what percentage of the really good cracks do we actually get to hear about?

I mean, the major companies would put people under pain of death for leaking any information about the really dangerous interesting non script kiddy stuff. I think there are many more out there than we know about, and probably some very rich people because of them. It's just impossible to tell.

Of course, it's funny how people can actually use being cracked to their advantage. As with the UK Conservative Party who last night announced that a 'hacker' had tampered with their accounts, coincidentaly the same day as a major newspaper revealed that the Conservative Party had been fidling their books for the umpteenth time in the past few years.

Slightly suspect I think

1st Compaq computer (3)

Paolo (87425) | more than 14 years ago | (#1506996)

This is one thing which comes to my mind when I think of a great (in this case, hardware) hack. Compaq used the annals of law and engineers to reverse engineer the IBM PC's BIOS and general hardware interactions. It was clever, they worked around the clock, and it was a marvel they got it working right.

Re:Hacking is dead? (1)

0x25 (90552) | more than 14 years ago | (#1506997)

No hacking isn't dead. You seemed to miss the point somehow. Hacking in my mind, is racking your brains trying to figure out how something works and trying to make it work _better_ (which can mean more efficiently or to make it work towards your own benefit). There's just as much (if not more) hacking going on today as there was before.

The Floppy Controller for the Apple II (5)

Croaker (10633) | more than 14 years ago | (#1506998)

The legend of Woz [] coming up with the floppy controller for the Apple II on a napkin, and implementing it in an insanely short amount of time is definitly a legendary hack.

Hell, for that matter, the Apple II entirely was a hack. Name another commercial PC which was designed by one person. And, I believe, he wrote the first OS for it, to boot.

larry++, guido = guido + 1 (1)

Jules (2226) | more than 14 years ago | (#1506999)

Perl [] and Python [] , of course! The former is of course more widespread but the latter is much more elegant (in my humble opinion).

My candiates (2)

Giraffit (33167) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507000)

I'd nominate TEX - well designed, elegant, usefull, and 100% bugless! Perhaps the only bugless program in existance.

also GNU emacs is quite a hack.

Apollo _13_ (5)

schporto (20516) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507001)

I think the recovery of Apollo 13 was a much better hack than Apollo 11. True Apollo 11 was a magnificent piece of work. Achieveing exactly what was desired. But Apollo 13 required true ingenuity by most parties involved. And using the ship in manners not really expected. Just my opinion.

Intel x86 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1507002)

If I recal, the intel microprocessor began as strictly a simple adding machine and some crazy guy somewhere realized that hey wait a sec... this can do more... such as run an operating system and hence the birth of computers........ I will do some research and add more as a comment. Anyone else who know, please feel free to add

Thanks, The Mole

My nomination (4)

tweek (18111) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507003)


A simple text processing language gone haywire ;)
Seriously though, a simple hack that went from a tool to produce reports has become a driving force behind the web.
"We hope you find fun and laughter in the new millenium" - Top half of fastfood gamepiece

Re:My nomination (1)

slashdot-terminal (83882) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507004)

Good question why invent a new language (usually in my mind a gread deal of work) rather than use the avaible tools (easier and takes less time and is more accurate)?

My #1 (2)

Matts (1628) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507005)


Without this small hack of a utility bringing peoples changes to widely distributed sources would be a never ending pain. Of course patch isn't perlfect (yes, I did spell it wrong on purpose :)), but it does a damn fine job under the circumstances, and is used by an awful lot of people - myself included. Thanks Larry.

Things I don't consider hacks: Linux 2.0+, emacs, XFree (!), enlightenment, gnome, kde.

Re:A Nomination (1)

pb (1020) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507006)

Hmm. You've got a point, I have massive respect for emu authors, and I love the NES. However...

I'm also pretty impressed by MAME, MESS, and even the early C64 emulators. The NES really is a simpler system in some aspects... But the concept of emulating a completely different hardware platform, and doing it well, sure is neet. :)

The first NES emulators I remember were... PasoFami, it was Japanese, for Windows, and often found badly cracked and translated. Also, SuperPasoFami was the most functional SNES emulator for a while, until snes9x got better. iNES is pretty old, too.
pb Reply or e-mail rather than vaguely moderate [] .

Great hacks (3)

Jjaks (104293) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507007)

These are my suggestions for greatest hacks:
1. The so called bombes, developed by polish scientists and improved by Alan Turing & co, that broke the german enigma codes during WWII. This was truly advanced stuff in those days!
2. As was stated in the article, putting Apollo 11 on the moon is truly amazing stuff.
3. Xerox's invention of the desktop metaphor, which was later used by Apple, Microsoft and of coursse X Windows. This way of using computers will probably be dominant for a long time yet.

Mars Pathfinder (5)

rde (17364) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507008)

The mars pathfinder was, IMHO, a truly elegant hack. It was, to coin a phrase, better, cheaper and faster than other Mars missions, it did everything it was supposed to (and more) and -- this is important -- it was cool. It landed on the planet in a big ball and bounced to a halt.
Innovative technology and bouncing probes. Coolness epitomised.

Worm (1)

armb (5151) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507009)

If it was designed to do what it did, it definitely wasn't ethical. If (as seems almost certain) the massive infestation was the result of bugs, and it was not intended to spread so fast or to act as a DoS attack on infected machines, then it didn't do exactly what was required...

MIT Star Wars Hack... (3)

vitaflo (20507) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507010)

Who could forget the Star Wars R2D2 "hack" of the Great Dome at MIT right before the Phantom Menace came out? I think this counts as a hack, even if it isn't computer related (it certainly is geek related). Here's some links for those who forgot this one: 99/r2d2.html [] []

Certainly the best hack of this year (4)

Dicky (1327) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507011)

The April Fools joke pulled by /. [] , BeDope [] , Segfault [] and User Friendly [] .

Anyone who doesn't know the story should check the BeDope story [] , the User Friendly story [] , the segfault story [] , or one of the stories at /. []

The single greatest hack ever.... (4)

Denor (89982) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507012)

I'm surprised that nobody's come up with this one yet. This hack not only influences the computer world, but it was executed with an MIT attention to style and trickery. Everyone here's already seen it, but it needs to make the list:

Re:My nomination (1)

pb (1020) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507013)

"What's Perl got that sed and awk don't have?" :)

Sometimes I agree with you, that Perl looks like sed, awk, shell, and C, beaten together without their consent. Which is basically what it is. And it's interpreted, which places its speed right between that of shell scripting and C. (think three orders of magnitude here, with shell scripting the slowest and C the fastest)

However, I've seen some very impressive, short Perl scripts. There's something to be said for three lines of obfuscated code that really *does* something. But woe betide the coder who finds maintenance programming written in Perl, for that is truly evil.
pb Reply or e-mail rather than vaguely moderate [] .

Re:A Nomination (1)

slashdot-terminal (83882) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507014)

You forgot NESticle I remember using that for a while to play an early zelda release.

Are you kidding? (1)

acb (2797) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507015)

If anything, systems have gotten more complex, with more actual and potential security holes. With the dozens of daemons machines run these days, as well as various infrastructural mechanisms such as RPC, scripting languages, and systems made of lots of complex components interplaying with each other, security is a lot more tenuous.

The Matrix (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1507016)

The greatest hack has to be the cradle-to-grave total immersion virtual reality system created by the malevolent cyber-intelligence for the purpose of placating the human race while our life essence is farmed to fuel the Matrix's campaign of domination in the real world.

Do you really think that is air you are breathing?


I have seen a list (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1507017)

Someone has already written such a list. I just wish I could remember where I saw it :-) It was circulated in the pre-web days. I remember one entry describing a program someone wrote that fit in ~100 bytes of spare memory on a pioneer space probe, and it discovered a new moon around Jupiter. Anybody else remember what I am talking about?

I vote for Apache. (2)

nevets (39138) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507018)

Well it did come from "A patchie program".

My reasons:
  • longevity - people should still be talking about it 20 or 30 years later, or even beyond. social and/or technological impact - it should change some aspect of life, either by directly changing every-day life or indirectly by changing how people view the world

    Ok, so it hasn't been around for 20 or 30 years. But I believe that it will be. And did it have an impact, well there was an article on /. a little while back that said if it wasn't for Apache, then we would all be using NT servers.

  • "eleganc e" - note however, that this does not necessarily equate simplicty. (Some people may consider the Saturn V booster a truly moby hack, as it got its job done precisely well with no doubt as to its purpose, but was anything but simple.)

    Look, it was done with patches. It wasn't until they realized that they had a full web server that it became a program. How more elegant is that

  • that not-easily definable quality of "I shoulda thought of that!" A Great Hack doesn't have to be "not immediately obvious" - it
    may just be something nobody else has done yet. For example: the WWW - there's nothing "unobvious" about defining a set of page layout macros that include text and graphics and a way to transmit and view them, but it didn't become commonplace
    until Tim Berners-Lee made it a big deal.

    Hey, right after WWW became big, I should have wrote a "free" web server and I could have been famous!

There you have it. Thats my vote for one of the Top Ten Greatest Hacks!

Way to go you Apache guys (and gals?)!!!!!

Steven Rostedt

The Internet Worm (1)

Shimrod (107031) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507019)

If we're talking about hacks that are still being talked about, then how about the worm
written by Robert T. Morris that brought down most of the Internet in 1988?

Re:The Floppy Controller for the Apple II (1)

pb (1020) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507020)

Yep. That's what you did with OSes back them. Booted them. I mean... never mind. :)

Commercial PC's designed by one person. Hmm. Cray? Originally designed with a pencil and paper, and later, perhaps, on a Macintosh? [] ;)
pb Reply or e-mail rather than vaguely moderate [] .

King of the Hackers... (3)

BNL Psycho (28888) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507021)


Who can deny the greatness of a man who can build a sports car out of nothing more than:

  • some chewing gum
  • a couple of paper clips
  • 4 AOL cd's
  • and some hairspray?

You know it to be true...

Cold war? (1)

sufi (39527) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507022)

How about the cold war, surely one of the best hacks around?

It did wonders for the world economy and scared the **** out of most people at the same time.

Sure it could have lead to a complete world disaster that could have destroyed the planet, but what the hell. It was all good clean fun and kept people in jobs for years!

All time great hacks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1507023)

My favorite hacks would include:

The linux kernel, and the work done by NASA during Apollo 13, involving the creation of a device to filter out CO2 from the air(remember, the square filter to round hole design)

Top 10 of -all- time? (5)

jd (1658) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507024)

This is difficult. Ok, I'll have it a go. These are in no particular order, despite being numbered.

  1. The roller/pulley system the Egyptians used to move those large sandstone blocks.
  2. The Viking Longboat* (This one'll take explaining)
  3. The spur
  4. The DeHaviland Mosquito** (Again, I'll explain this one)
  5. The Williams Tube (The first optical computer memory system)
  6. The Internal (Infernal?) Combustion Engine
  7. Stonehenge
  8. Sir Isaac Newton's Catflap
  9. The Printing Press
  10. The Transputer

* - The Viking Longboat was no ordinary boat. It was designed to be sailed up a low-lying beach, picked up by the oars, and carried to where the raid was to be. Treasure could then just be thrown into the boat, by the raiders, allowing them to take more than they could possibly have done, if they'd had to shove the loot into pockets.

** - The DeHaviland Mosquito was an equisite hack. To improve speed and survival odds, it was built entirely out of pressed plywood, using the same techniques as the old biplanes. This was the first time anyone had tried using those principles to build a large aircraft.

Gandhi. (3)

Moses P. Lester (83921) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507025)

Top 10 hack: The British Empire. Perpetrated by Gandhi in the early 20th century. He drove out one of the most powerful countries on Earth by sitting down and not eating. I'd call that clever.

Voyager (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1507026)

I remember reading once that when the communications systems failed on one Voyager probes, they reprogrammed the comms to use compression algorithms that were then just newly developed.

Anyone who has ever debugged comms stuff will dig this - especially when the reset switch for the other box is on the other side of the solar system...


Re:Certainly the best hack of this year (1)

slashdot-terminal (83882) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507027)

I remember that and it was just obnoctious(sp). Anytime you tamper with news feeds you become no better than a communist trying to subdue a population. I can think of no good reason to do that. What if CNN started to randomly state totally incorrect information about international politics or that programming book or linux guide said the best way to improve system preformance is to use the following command:

foolishman#cd /; rm -rf *;

This is an extreme example however usually the more complex the information is the more difficult it can be to actually determine the difference between the truth and a lie.

The M16 rifle (1)

Mister Attack (95347) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507028)

The M16 rifle is the very definition of a hack in hardware. It is elegant, and it gets the job done extremely well, even under the most adverse conditions. Ditto for the Glock 17, which can fire underwater if need be. Two truly elegant hacks.

meaning (5)

john_gault (115165) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507029)

There are a few essential elements that make up a "hack" in my mind that seem to have either been glazed over or not given due importance in the definition presented.

A hack is performed in a situation where no tool currently exists for the job, and the custom tool winds up being built out of peices at hand (usually grossly inadequate) or completely from scratch. As much as I hate those kinds of shows, McGyver (sp?) would be a prime example of this. I can also think of numerous trail fixes while on a motorcycle or in a 4-wheel drive that were complete and total hacks, getting me back to civilization with bailing wire and duct tape.

A hack is often performed under a time crunch, thus a large reason for the lack of documentation and/or the job being done properly. A lack of planning also seems to be a common element, but this is frequently due to the nature of completely unexplored territory -- hard to plan for what you don't know about.

Very frequently, large amounts of caffiene and/or nicotine are involved. I really don't think I need to expound on this one.

The job makes you incredibly proud of something that is often horribly ugly, and that the majority of other people view as something akin to magic (have no concept of how such job could possibly have been done or what was involved).

There is something intangible about a hack that will have a different meaning for everybody. But I do think that the most important element was hit upon in the article: CREATIVITY!!!

Can't wait to see the list and the nominees.

Re:I vote for Apache. (1)

slashdot-terminal (83882) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507030)


1. Centered on systems with dedicated lines

2. Must be changed and administered as a super user.

Note these are problems with all web servers usually and not just apache.

sj.exe (1)

geophile (16995) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507031)

I know there aren't a lot of Java fans in the /. readership, but I nominate sj.exe, Symantec's Java compiler. Sun's compiler, javac, is unbearably slow. sj is and always has been incredibly fast, and it was available from the very earliest days of Java (1.01 or 1.02). I think it bears some responsibility for Java's success.

I also second the nomination of Gnu emacs.

Another Candidate (1)

latifpaws (94523) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507032)

One of the greatest hacks I know is the incorporation of a LISP-like language in an application, to facilitate extensions.

The earliest example I'm aware of is "Mock Lisp" in Gosling's Emacs, but there are probably others. A rather recent example is Script-Fu in GIMP etc.

Anyone know where the concept originated?

cc hack (2)

Hard_Code (49548) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507033)

I read the cc hack page...but I don't see what is so great about it. It seemed that since the old compiler didn't yet know what a given escape was, the ascii code was substituted for it. Is that the hack?

The replicating bugs was interesting...but I'm not sure I understood what the point was in showing it was possible to create compilers which introduced bugs. woo

Re:1st Compaq computer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1507034)

I thought Phoenix reverse engineered the BIOS and invented the "clean room" approach. Compaq was an IBM licensee.

Ever read 'The cuckoo's egg'? (3)

Yogurtu (11354) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507035)

Clifford Stoll made an amazing application of ingenuity if there was one; the book about how he got the crackers is a must.
'An intrusion? Nah, ours is a secure shop'

You dont get it....Re:Hacking is dead? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1507036)

Most real hacks have absolutly nothing to do
with computers. Using a pen spring to hold open
a broken choke on a '74 jeep while your
co-hacker sits on the radiator and pours gasoline
down the carb because the fuel pump is busted too
is a hack... No where near worthy of a top
10 list, but a hack anyway.

Apollo 13 as a top 10 hack? Given the state
of the technology at the time, getting there
was amazing. Getting back when things went
sour was incredible.


Re:A Nomination (1)

pb (1020) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507037)

What? I didn't *forget* nesticle, it came out much later. It is perhaps the best NES emulator out there (others support more mappers, but it has authentic sound, and good playability) but unfortunately lacks a Linux port. :)
pb Reply or e-mail rather than vaguely moderate [] .

Great Hacks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1507038)

I'll second Perl and the Constitution. I'll add, the Panama Canal and the Hoover Dam, the Mir Space station (OK, it's falling apart, but it was cool for it's time of inception), pennecillin (sp??). Just for good measure, cracker jack, Jolt cola and caffinated penquin mints;) H

Re:Demos! (1)

palp (90815) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507039)

Man, Second Reality blew me away.. I was all of 12 or so years old then, and that was probably the coolest thing my 486 (and I) had ever seen.. Future Crew, in my opinion, were gods.. wonder whatever happened to them.. back in the Quake days I remember a rumor that they were working on a FPS.. guess that fell through.

Re:sj.exe (1)

geophile (16995) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507040)

Silly me: Java itself certainly qualifies.

hmmmm..... Interesting (3)

GC (19160) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507041)

Actually you'll probably find that the top ten "hacks" as C|Net define them have not yet been discovered.

If your "hack" is discovered then it obviously wasn't very good :)

Perl! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1507042)

Perl is probably the most elegant language of all time - not so much how it looks (modem line noise, et al) but in how easy it is to get stuff done in it.

That "there's more than one way to do it" for pretty well EVERYTHING is the window into Perl's elegance.

It took English to produce a Shakespere - and Perl is the English of programming languages.

A most revolutionary hack... (1)

Fushi (83324) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507043)

Whether you're pro Windows, pro Mac, or anti both, you've got to admit that Steve Wozniak had one of the greatest hacks of all time with his Apple I. Without it, chances are no one would be reading this besides large corporations. His hack put the computer in the hands of common men. It definatly fits the quality of having a lasting effect on people.

GLQuake (2)

BitPoet (40070) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507044)

Made by John Carmack in a day on a bet.

Makes me think, "damn, that guy is good"


redelm (54142) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507045)

Yes, it's from Microsoft. No, this isn't flamebait. Paul Allen's DEBUG.COM remains to this day IMHO the best software MS has ever produced.

Runner up: the F0 0F bugfix.

-- Robert

Re:Are you kidding? (2)

slashdot-terminal (83882) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507046)

Even if you get in it dosn't mean you can do anything. Encryption and it's use is one of the reasons you really can't do anything. Most standard servers (think .gov, .mil and other DoD related computing environments) offered the same set of services as they did before just all the easy holes were removed. You can't tell me that say Unix security hasn't increased in the past 20 years can you? If sites are using unix as an operating system then one could easily state that system security has increased from the past. The only things we have left are DoS attacks and things with the network protocols. Most deamons actually (at least in the linux) world are not run with special priviledges or anything. Debian routinely makes things secure. Yes there are bugs but nothing in the past history (in net time) for a while has there been any problems.

Re:The Internet Worm (1)

Psiren (6145) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507047)

Did you read the article? It's already mentioned.

Turk182 (1)

september (94986) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507048)

This is one of the forgotten hacks.

1541 Music (1)

Nipok Nek (87328) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507049)

Now, perhaps the TRS-80 croud had something like this as well, but I KNOW that there was a program for the Commodore 64 called "1541 Music" that allowed you to reprogram the 1541 Disk Drive to play "Daisy" (A-la H.A.L. from 2001) by slamming the Read/Write head against the hard stop at different frequencies. I know this, because I ran it at our school's computer lab back in the day when a computer lab was 10 C-64's and 2 1541 Disk drives (Ooooh, networking!) The teacher about had a heart attack :)


Re:My #1 (2)

pb (1020) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507050)

Huh? Emacs and XFree are definitely hacks, in one way or another. (Originally perhaps more the April Fool's variety, I'm afraid...)

Emacs: Let's write a LISP INTERPRETER on top of UNIX and call it a TEXT EDITOR!!!

If that shouldn't be a Zippy quote, I don't know what is. I'm not even going into byte-compiling, since Java took that seriously... They even gave you hints by including Zippy, *and* a free psych evaluation for when you got frustrated. :)

XFree: Same thing.

Let's run X WINDOWS on the PC and use it as a LOW-COST SOLUTION!!!

You've got to realize that both of these things would be completely unrealistic for when it started. Oh, except for the fact that X on a Sun 4 was just as slow as X on a 486... The only thing scarier than that would be the X Server for DOS that I played around with for a while.

Of course, many people are doing great work on X, XFree, Emacs, XEmacs, etc., etc. Now. Just realize when they started (Emacs is an ancient MIT project!) and how silly it must have looked back then. (ed! ed is the standard! text editor.)

And patch is probably most responsible for forking code and saving bandwidth. In that order. Rather nominate the GPL, for preventing forking. :)
pb Reply or e-mail rather than vaguely moderate [] .

Re:A Nomination (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1507051)

The various and first NES emulators are good hacks, but if your going to talk emulation, why not back track to its roots? Emulators have been written for years -- go back to the Atari ST and Amiga for Apple emulators and original arcade emulators. Go back to CPM emulators on even older machines. Certainly, they are better hacks in terms of ingenuity than the NES emulators. Perhaps the first CPU emulator should be considered, since emulating a NES isn't much more than that and the mappers...

Re:A most revolutionary hack... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1507052)

No, the Apple I was't all that revolutionary. It was too hard to use for the common man. But, the Apple ][ was the revolutionary one. Apple sold it up until 1993. Now, I call that a long time to go before becoming obsolete(even though it was already obsolete by 1980). Plus, Woz's floppy disk drive is the number 1 hack. It allowed a floppy drive to be produced chaeply.

Phillip Dick (1)

Artie FM (87445) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507053)

Gee, I've always thought Phillip Dick [] was the greatest hack of all time.

And when talking of hacks, who could forget
Piers Anthony [] , the hack that keeps hacking.

True Innovations (2)

jabber (13196) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507054)

Things like VNC [] deserve to be on the list. As do some other truly innovative tools. PGP comes to mind. That single-chip WWW server that we slashdotted about two months back.

A port of Linux to a Rolex would be nice too. Linux on anything analog..

We really should extend our definition of 'hack' to beyond the computer realm, at least for a top-ten list.

While not hacks in the computer sense, the practical jokes that go on at MIT also deserve mention. I mean, turning buildings into giant VU meters for a concert... That's just plain COOL.

Mars Pathfinder (and Apollo 13 while out there).

The Blair Witch Project was a great hack. Both in the 'crude' sense of the word (badly made movie) and in the 'tweak' sense of the word, since the marketting was so subversive as to make many people BELIEVE it was a documentary.

Mars Pathfinder/Sojourner Rover (2)

Archeopteryx (4648) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507055)

I think a great hack was debugging the code in the Mars Pathfinder/Sojourner Rover after the vehicles had deployed on Mars. This was possible because the debugging tool had been built into the final software load and sent along. Running a debugging session with a many-light-minute delay loop was a really bold thing to do.

War of the Worlds! (2)

cswiii (11061) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507056)

This famous sci-fi radio broadcast had everyone in America running for their lives, fearing an alien invasion... was probably a catalyst that produced increasing realism in the genre as well.

The GPL (1)

jbuchana (40769) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507057)

The GPL should definately be on this list.

The program that ran past the end of the drum (1)

Sabalon (1684) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507058)

I haven't seen it mentioned and don't know a good link for it, but I have heard this one from several sources.

Something about the code for a program being put on a drum that the computer would read. One guy had code that did a jump that noone could figure out why it was doing that, but the code worked fine.

Turns out, where the code needed to jump from one part to another was right where the end of the drum and beginning met, therefore it kinda just ran into the needed code.

Re:Certainly the best hack of this year (1)

delirium_9 (26055) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507059)

"What if CNN started to randomly state totally incorrect information about international politics"

Uh, don't they already do that? For international news, I'd take the BBC over CNN anyday.

Perl (2)

slim (1652) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507060)

.. because sh/ksh/csh are *evil* for anything more than a very simple job. The bugs that creep into shell scripts are subtle, and sometimes don't show up for years.

.. but of course, you can also write buggy Perl.

I think the "beads" piece at the start of the (Camel|Llama) book (I forget which), sums it up -- Larry combined the "awk bead", the "sed bead", the "shell bead", a few other influences, and came up with a new bead which was more powerful than the sum of the other beads.

It was a great hack, and the Perl community has done a great job of taking the hack, and fixing the problems which came about as a result of its hacky beginnings.


Re:The program that ran past the end of the drum (1)

jbuchana (40769) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507061)

"The story of Mel, the real programmer"

From ESR's Jargon File and "The New Hacker's Dictionary"

Re:Apollo _13_ (1)

john_gault (115165) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507062)

Yes!!! This is exactly what comes to my mind when thinking of a hack -- creative problem solving in a dire situation. Especially when in unexplored territory and the tools at hand are grossly inadequate.

Mechanical Hacks... (5)

costas (38724) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507063)

...someone had to give at least one:

The SR-71 Blackbird. [] It may not be a "classical" hack, 'coz Lockheed's Skunk Works had an unlimited budget to throw at the problem, but considering the technology at the time, it kicked some ass... Some stats, for the non-plane freaks out there:
* Total time it took to design it and built a prototype: 6 (or maybe 8?) months. There are software programs out there that took a lot longer than that ;-)
* It still (~40 years later) holds the title for the fastest *production* aircraft out there (err... at least non-classified ;-) Mach 3.62 is nothing to sneeze at...

If you don't dare consider an airplane (i.e. a complete system) as a hack, consider the following:
* The damn thing was almost entirely built of titanium alloy --only material available back then that could handle the temperatures involved. Problem: noone before was able to machine titanium. The Lockheed guys built an entire machine shop from scratch.
* Titanium, as any metal, expands when heated: the planes had to have 'seams' in the wings that were closed when the sheetmetal expanded: the SR-71 leaked fuel (120 octane fuel) while parked on the runway!
* The Pratt&Whitney (I think) folks had to come up with an engine that could change modes of operation in mid-flight: they made the first and only combination turbojet-ramjet engine. The Lockheed people had to make them work at any angle of attack. Yeah, it's esoteric, but the implementation is a tour-de-force to this day.
* The poor Russians had no way to intercept these aircraft although they knew they were flying overhead and photgraphing everything (at Mach 3.62 the SR-71 could outrun any rocket or bullet at the time, and I it still can). So they build the all-steel Mig 29 (another great aircraft). But the -29 was too damn heavy to fly as high as the titanium-only -71, so the Soviets flew formations of -29s *under* the -71 to obstruct its camera's view...

I highly reccommend the excellent "Skunk Works" book to anyone impressed by this... I just don't think most of the /.ers will care ;-(...

I guess I have to put in a computer hack as well. Hmmm... : FSP (yeah, that's an 'S').

engineers never lie; we just approximate the truth.

Re:C|Net's not trying to "scare" you (1)

zimbu (99236) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507064)

Well what if C|Net put up Top Ten High School Pranks: #10 Jimmy Helger set fire to a trash can during lunch hour and cleared the school out for 2 hours. #9 Stevie Myers, not to be outdone, called in a bomb threat and get school cancelled for an entire day! Most people would see a problem with that as it encourages that type of behavior. I don't think most /.ers want to see more of those types of "hacks." I think most of us would rather hear about useful hacks, the creation of the personal computer, the Internet, the Linux OS. If young computer enthusists think that one becomes a "hacker" by defacing a website then all the talent they might have put into something great will goto waste.

my top ten list (1)

Unknown Lamer (78415) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507065)

1. The Macintosh
2. Linux
3. Woz's floppy drive(the first one that didn't cost an arm and a leg, if you don't know how it worked, then you are no longer nerd.)
4. The Alto
5. Pong. It's just PONG. hail PONG
6. BSD
7. ARPANet
8. L0pht crack
9. The Blue Box
10. the RISC architecture

I think you left out one small one (1)

mithrandr (78986) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507066)

What about the intermingling of those amino acids that resulted in the first single celled organisms on the face of the earth. I think that was truly unique, especially since it had never been done before (on this planet)...

Re:A Nomination (1)

pb (1020) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507067)

Well, yeah, but where does it all start? That would take some serious research. Remember that "Microsoft" BASIC for the Altair was written on a CPU emulator. Much past that is just too early for me... :)
pb Reply or e-mail rather than vaguely moderate [] .

Re:The program that ran past the end of the drum (2)

Dicky (1327) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507068)

You'd be meaning The Story of Mel [] then...

The Worm authors were not intelligent (2)

devphil (51341) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507069)

First, to Shimrod: you didn't finish reading the main article before you posted, did you? The author specifically mentioned this already.

Second, to everybody: the Worm did not show any wizardly understanding of how everything worked. Gene Spafford (yes, /the/ spaf) wrote a couple of analysis papers of the Worm, after the code was decompiled. (His homepage is if you want to download the paper(s).) One of his conclusions was the author(s) didn't really understand what was going on, because so much of the code was buggy, broken, or "dead" (i.e., unreachable). It is likely that a number of other people wrote the small intelligent bits, and that Morris (or whomever) just glued them all together.

CC hack (2)

Kinthelt (96845) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507070)

Is the CC hack mentioned the same one as the famous "backdoor" introduced by Ken Thompson? I tried reading the article, but it didn't make much sense.

In the early versions of Unix, there was a hack in CC so that if someone compiled a kernel, it would insert a backdoor so Ken Thompson could log into any Unix machine! Not only that, but it could also detect if the compiler was compiling itself so it could add the backdoor-producing code into the new compiler. Whew! Now that is some pretty complicated stuff. And oh-so-cool.

Kind of leaves you thinking if there is something like that left in software today...

Dolby Pro-Logic (1)

tobyl (8598) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507071)

Pro-Logic surround sound was (and still is) a slick hack. 4 analog channels folded into 2, and non-Pro-Logic equipment treats it as a normal stereo signal.

Re:Top 10 of -all- time? (1)

pen (7191) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507072)

The Internal (Infernal?) Combustion Engine
Hmm... and what about the Wenkel engine? Better yet... how about the way Mazda single-handedly killed the Wenkel engine?


The first Jeep was designed and built in 49 days (1)

mojaka (118656) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507073)

I just saw this on TV. It was amazing what a small auto company was able to do with spare parts. The Jeep exceeded ALL expectations and become ubiquitous throughout all land operations from WWII until the Gulf War and the introduction of the HUMV.

One of my favorites (3)

chroma (33185) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507074)

Duff's device []

Trojan Horse! Re:Top 10 of -all- time? (1)

Zapd (29091) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507075)

What about the Trojan Horse? The original one, used to capture the legendary city of Troje(sp?).

..ofcourse it's not clear if it really happened, so in that case I'll nominate the person who first made up the Trojan Horse story.

CP-67 (1)

Xenu (21845) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507076)

This was an IBM 360/67 operating system that supported multiple guest operating systems running on virtual IBM 360s. It was the predecessor of VM/370. Users could run multiple versions of different operating systems and develop/debug new operating systems on a single machine. Tom Van Vleck wrote The IBM 360/67 and CP/CMS [] , a short history of the system.

Re:C|Net's not trying to "scare" you (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1507077)

C|Net doesn't deserve the bandwidth it eats. I can't believe I actually read all ten of those Tricks for Digital Pranksters. Disbelief due to quality of content...not reading ability! At least I filtered the banners...

ERM (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1507078)

This article is fucking boring. Slashdot - wake the hell up.


The Ultimate Hack (2)

VideoGuy (89504) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507079)

According to the definitions above, a hack is something quick & simple yet has a serious impact. In some cases it's humorous. It's usually computer/engineering related.

How about Microsoft's hack to stop Windows 3.x from running on top of DR-DOS.

It must have been very easy. It had a huge impact on DR & Novell. I'm sure the guys in Redmond thought it was funny.

Music from a C64 Datasette (1)

B1 (86803) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507081)

To me, a true hack is when somebody figures out how to use hardware and software to do things it isn't supposed to be able to do.

I once found a C64 program in Compute's Gazette that could play audio casettes using the Datasette tape deck.

Somehow, the program was able sample the audio recording, and play it back through the SID chip. As you might expect, the sound was pretty scratchy and terrible, but the fact that it worked at all was pretty impressive.

Doug Englebart JCC 1968 (1)

guarache (62435) | more than 14 years ago | (#1507083)

In one 90-minute presentation [] at the Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco on 9 December 1968, Doug Englebart and his team from SRI simply turned the computing world upside-down. Not only did that demo introduce the computing world to many great Englebart innovations, but it presented an even more radical concept: the computer as a tool to augment an individual human being's ability to manage the increasing complexity of his/her world. My vote for the top 10 great hacks of all time.
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