The Gleaming Latch

Thursday, June 28, 2012

There's a passage in Edmund Jorgensen's Speculation that captures it.

You know how much I have always loved puzzles. The harder the better. Philosophical conundrums. Logical teasers. "The professor who wears green lives next to the professor with a cat." Mathematical mind-benders. This love has been with me since childhood. I can even remember my first experience of the puzzle. The first time I felt an artifact from another consciousness in direct opposition to my own understanding. It was the latch on the gate preventing my two-year self access to the stairs. I was not interested in the stairs. Not really. I was only interested in the fact that they were forbidden to me. And especially fascinating was the method of the forbidding. The scissoring wonder of the gate, taller than I was. The gleaming workings of the latch. I sensed a gauntlet thrown down...

This is what it means to be a hacker. It's not about being a sullen rageful code monkey; don't let r/programming fool you. Computer geeks may have commandeered the word hacker but the word predates them, and the idea predates them by millennia. By hacker I mean only a person who follows the lure of the gleaming latch. And by them I mean us.

How did the ancient Greeks prevail over over the city of Troy? They hacked it (with a trojan, no less). The caveman (sorry, caveperson) who accidentally discovered beer? Probably a prehistoric hacker; definitely a good samaritan. Newton, da Vinci, Einstein: all of them had a healthy dose of the hacker mentality. And what about David Hasslehoff? Nevermind.

Guy's been hacking the entertainment industry for years. You only wish you could hack like Hasslehoff.

But if you took a time machine and visited the people behind the big discoveries and shocking exploits of history, I think you'd find that most of them were of the hacker persuasion, or at least hacker-friendly/hacker-curious. They didn't congregate in basements and computer labs, cackling gleefully over exploit surfaces and API revisions; they were too busy hacking the world and nature itself to do any of that, um, fun stuff. To their eternal regret I'm sure.

So while they may not have known Unix or the latest hipster programming language, they understood the deepest secret that everybody knows: the world itself is one big, gleaming latch. One obscenely large puzzle with fractal complexity that, nevertheless, can be solved, hacked and improved.

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
—e.e. cummings

So don't limit yourself to being a hacker of computers or of stock markets or any one thing. Become a student of ideas, of systems, of life. Follow the lure of your own gleaming latch, and cultivate an interest in the Rube Goldberg contraption of the world. Because who knows? The door you unlock could be the door that leads to the room that has the key to the other door you couldn't unlock, like in a bad first-person shooter. And that door could lead you to wealth beyond the riches of Troy.

Tags: Edmund Jorgensen, books, hacking, navel-gazing, puzzles

9 comment(s)

A better use of the time machine might be to unsee David Hasslehoff's crotch.

Nice post as always. But code?

Beautiful and completely beyond the ability of modern code jocks/geeks to understand. Lovely post, lovely writing, lovely advice.

completely beyond the ability of modern code jocks/geeks to understand

Sure, because YOU must surely be on the top X percent of the human intellect capable of grasping such concepts - the rest are just too stupid. Ever met someone who didn't think he was at the top of the intellectual ladder? I mean, where the fuck is the bottom (100 - x) percent, anyway?

He is clearly directing his writing toward those with high intelligence and the patience to read and comprehend complex concepts.

If -- like average people -- you have a diminished attention span, an easy solution is to fuck off.

After seeing many of his posts elsewhere, I have come to the conclusion that the poster is absolutely brilliant. If I had half his skill, I'd be a millionaire.

This is the only guy I've seen who has the skill to replace the sorely-missed reverse-engineering legend, Fravia.

... and I agree about "unseeing" the Hasselhof crotch. It somehow seared itself into my retinas, kind of like CRT screen-burn. When I look at the white space now, I see a scary afterimage of his "Devil's Triangle" ...

How you come off calling David Hasselhoff a hacker i'll never understand. I mean the guy used to be cool around what, the seventies? But the trojan horse is definitely where it all started and i'll cede that much.more

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Speculation, by Edmund Jorgensen.