A Hacker's Life

by Nathaniel Paull | 11/21/01 6:00am

I know just enough about technology to really get myself screwed. Back in the beige days of computing, before the flowering of iMacs in rainbow and "Flower-Power" (that idea crashed hard), I got suspended for hacking into a mainframe. The mainframe of my middle school. Remember the file-restriction program "At Ease?" Well I made the Islander Middle School administration distinctly uneasy. It was simple, actually. All I did (I should say all we did, hats off to my life-long friend Casey Koon), all we did was click on the "Administration" option in the main menu of that misnamed and now defunct program, and when prompted to type in the password, we guessed the last name of our school's principal. It worked.

Then what? Then we got terrified of being caught and imprisoned for white-collar crime, so we left. Didn't touch a damn thing. But apparently the secret leaked, the brilliant code-word was no longer "eyes only," and the criminal masterminds (my friend and me) were hunted down ruthlessly and suspended for three days. In retrospect I wish I had done something more worthy of a three-day penalty. I should've changed the password to something only I'd know, and milked it for all it was worth ...

Really though, what an idiotic password. I think we should have been awarded for revealing such incompetence. But no one was too concerned about what I had to say at the time.

That's all in the past, and now I maintain a love-hate relationship with technology. It's a manic sort of love-hate, going from periods of intense interest to bouts of unbelievable frustration.

I tend to get myself into a really good tangle about once a month, usually because I find some program that I don't think I want/need, or try to make my computer do something it can't. With a few clicks of the mouse and judicious use of the Trash, I can make binary code to a CPU seem like binary fission.

Fortunately I'm pretty good at fixing your average computer problem but not particularly quick about it. My usual method involves aimless exploration of folders, files and extensions, followed by e-mails and phone calls to various companies and consultants, filtration through countless recordings and automated secretaries and then a single click of the mouse to turn some damn file off.

Notice how I didn't mention the use of computer manuals. Have you ever noticed that real computer problems are never covered in computer manuals? Computer manuals discuss problems that make me fear for the human race: "Make sure the computer is plugged in ... make sure the switch is in the 'on' position ... " It's like they're deliberately avoiding discussing any problem that a reasonable person might have. A person who doesn't know that a computer has to be plugged in isn't going to be reading the manual. You wouldn't think a person who didn't know a computer needed electricity could read much at all.

And it's not like the computer is much more help itself. When it has a problem with the printer or can't open a program because it's been deleted, what does it say? "Warning: an error of type 2948b has occurred." Oh of course, type 2948b. I'll have that fixed right away. Why the hell can't it just say: "You didn't install the printer software?" And what does it mean, "Warning." Is there a problem now or have we started the self-destruct sequence? Should I restart or duck and cover? Warnings don't help once the crap's hit the fan. Give me a solution and we'll get on with it.

That said, I do like computers. Mind you I could no more write a program than a horse could use chopsticks, but that hardly slows me down. I'm one of those people who like getting the newest stuff -- I hate feeling like I'm using sub-par machinery. So it was with some excitement that I received my new "iMac DV Special Edition" from the school at the beginning of this term. What a sweet little thing: slick and see-through, graphite and silver. Quick and efficient and with a "personable interface." Couldn't ask for more.

But don't you think, with a name like "DV Special Edition," that this computer should be capable of playing DVDs? Maybe even burning them? Guess again, the name's a lie. You put one in the drive and it spins around and makes a horrible noise and elicits a warning for error type 4011 something, and then spits it back out at you. Still haven't figured out how to burn a CD with it, either. If it can do that at all. So far it's not particularly special. Its beauty is skin-deep. What insidious bastards are computer designers.

Yeah, a love-hate relationship with technology. Mostly technology loves to mess with my head and hates it when I conquer. Which makes a victory all the sweeter. Still, it's sad to think my hacking career peaked in the seventh grade.