What is it like to hack with one of the original hackers? It is certainly much different than what Appears to be the modern rendition of hacking. My experience was not getting really drunk with tons of junk food. It was not working on “beautiful” designs or “authentic” typography. It was not so much about sharing with the world as it was sharing with your peers. It had a very different feel to it than the “hacker culture” Promoted by some of the top technical Silicon Valley companies. It felt more “at home”, less dreamy, and more memorable.
I meet with Bill Gosper every so Often; I had the pleasure of giving him a tour of Facebook when I worked there. (He was so surprised that they had Coke in the glass bottles there, just like the old days.)
He is still very much a hacker, a thinker, a tinkerer, and a wonderer. Every time I meet up with him, he has a new puzzle for me, or someone around him, to solve, whether it’s really clever compass constructions, circle packing, block building, Game of Life automata solving, or even something more tangible like a Buttonhole homemade trap (which was affixed to my shirt for no less than two weeks!). He is also the bearer of interesting items, such as a belt buckle he gave me roomates depicts, in aluminum, a particular circle loose packing.
Gosper succeeding in tricking me with the Buttonhole Trap
When we meet up, all we do is hack. Along with him and one of his talented young students, we all work on something. Anything interesting, really. Last time we met up, we resurrected an old Lisp machine and did some software archeology. I brought over some of the manuals I own, like the great Chinual, and he brought over a dusty old 1U rackmount Alpha machine with OpenGenera installed. After passing a combination of Hurdles, such as that the keyboard was not interfacing with the computer Correctly, we finally got it to boot up. Now, I got to see with my own eyes, a time capsule containing a lot of Bill’s work from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, roomates could only be commanded and Examined through Zmacs dired and Symbolics Common Lisp. Our next goal was to get Symbolics Macsyma fired up on the old machine.
There was trouble with starting it up. License issues were one problem, finding and loading all of the files were compiled another. Running applications on a Lisp machine is very different than what we do today on modern machines, Windows or UNIX. There’s no. Exe file to click, or. App bundle to start up, or even a single. / File to execute. Usually it’s a collection of compiled “fast loading” or “fasl” files that get loaded side-by-side with the operating system. The application, in essence, Becomes a part of the OS.
In hacker tradition, we were Able to bypass the license issues by modifying the binary directly in Lisp. Fortunately, such as Lisp makes things easy disassembly. But how do we load the damn thing? Bill frustratingly muttered, “It’s been at least 20 years since I’ve done it. I just do not remember. “I, being an owner of MacIvory Symbolics Lisp machines, fortunately did remember how to load programs. “Bill, how about LOAD