E-Scribe : a programmer’s blog

About Me

PBX I'm Paul Bissex. I build web applications using open source software, especially Django. Started my career doing graphic design for newspapers and magazines in the '90s. Then wrote tech commentary and reviews for Wired, Salon, Chicago Tribune, and others you never heard of. Then I built operations software at a photography school. Then I helped big media serve 40 million pages a day. Then I worked on a translation services API doing millions of dollars of business. Now I'm building the core platform of a global startup accelerator. Feel free to email me.


I co-wrote "Python Web Development with Django". It was the first book to cover the long-awaited Django 1.0. Published by Addison-Wesley and still in print!


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Was the old Mac a hacker's machine?

A recent discussion on the Well came around to the question of whether the classic Macintosh was "hacker's" machine or not. Conventional wisdom would say no -- it was the very definition of buttoned up. You couldn't even develop software for it without a separate, more expensive computer (the Lisa) in the early days.

But I think there's a counter-argument to be made. Yes, the old Mac was a closed box that didn't allow access to the internals of the OS. However, it was a far more tweakable system for most Mac users than the fragile, inscrutable Windows of that era was for most Windows users.

People who would never consider writing a shell script or even learning what one was were quite happy to swap INITs and CDEVs in and out of their System Folder and twiddle the way the system worked. Much more like playing with Legos than carving wooden ship models, but proportionately more accessible. In a way it was pretend hacking, but even many power users didn't know that. They just knew that they were comfortable digging into what was accessible and changing it to their liking.

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007
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Comment from spillz , later that day

quit with the mac revisionism, already. :)

you said it yourself, the old mac was a closed system. no self respecting hacker should be put off by fragile inscrutability (frustrated, of course, but that's the nature of hacking, right?)

Comment from Paul , 1 day later

Guilty as charged. I hijacked the term "hacker". Sentenced to 20 years of reading Digg comments.

I'd still argue, with absolutely no data to back it up, that a higher percentage of classic Mac users felt mastery over their computing environment than did contemporaneous Windows users. As the disparities in open source project success show us, it's not just the fact of hacking but what you're hacking on that creates satisfaction (and thereby keeps the hacking going).

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