Hacker History

The term "hack" was first used by US university computing center staff in the mid-1960s. The context determined whether the complimentary or derogatory meanings were implied. Phrases such as "ugly hack" or "quick hack" generally referred to the latter meaning; phrases such as "cool hack" or "neat hack", to the former. In modern computer programming, a "hack" can refer to a solution or method which functions correctly but which is "ugly" in its concept, which works outside the accepted structures and norms of the environment, or which is not easily extendable or maintainable (see kludge). The jargon used by hackers is called Hackish (see the Jargon file). This should not be confused with "1337" or "leetspeak."

In a similar vein, a "hack" may refer to works outside of computer programming. For example, a math hack means a clever solution to a mathematical problem. The GNU General Public License has been described as[who?] a copyright hack because it cleverly uses the copyright laws for a purpose the lawmakers did not foresee. All of these uses now also seem to be spreading beyond MIT as well.

The term has since acquired an additional and now more common meaning, since approximately the 1980s; this more modern definition was initially associated with crackers. This growing use of the term "hack" is to refer to a program that (sometimes illegally) modifies another program, often a computer game, giving the user access to features otherwise inaccessible to them. As an example of this use, for Palm OS users (until the 4th iteration of this operating system), a "hack" refers to an extension of the operating system which provides additional functionality. The general media also uses this term to describe the act of illegally breaking into a computer, but this meaning is disputed.

The term is additionally used by electronics hobbyists to refer to simple modifications to electronic hardware such as a graphing calculators, video game consoles, electronic musical keyboards or other device (see CueCat for a notorious example) to expose or add functionality to a device that was unintended for use by end users by the company who created it. A number of techno musicians have modified 1980s-era Casio SK-1 sampling keyboards to create unusual sounds by doing circuit bending: connecting wires to different leads of the integrated circuit chips. The results of these DIY experiments range from opening up previously inaccessible features that were part of the chip design to producing the strange, disharmonic digital tones that became part of the techno music style.

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