Once upon a time, there was a script kiddie. He loved to bring down websites using programs that had been written by someone else. It made him feel smart; It made him feel powerful. Surely the average Joe could not have the power to crash a web server like he could. He was a hacker!
One day, it hit upon the script kiddie to wonder how some of the tools he used worked. And when he thought about this for a while, he realized that he didn't really know very much about "hacking", or even computers in general. It bothered him for a while, and so he resolved to do something about it. He was going to learn something about how computers worked. After all, knowledge was power, and knowing how a computer worked would make him even more powerful!
And so the budding hacker asked some computer people he knew how to learn more about computers. They advised him to try building his own computer by putting parts together. One friend showed him how to assemble a working computer from a motherboard, a power supply, RAM, a video card, and a hard drive, and load them all up into a case to create a functional computer unit. At home, the PC technician made his own computer this way, and for a while he was very happy with it. He felt proud knowing exactly what components were inside his computer, and what each one did.
But after a bit of thinking about his computer, the budding hacker realized that he still didn't know very much about it. He knew what each piece of the computer did, but he didn't know much about how each piece worked. Just looking at his motherboard, for example, he realized that he'd treated it as a whole unit, just buying a motherboard from his local PC supply store, when in fact the board was an amazingly complex combination of several tiny electronic components. If one of those little components were to fail, how would he fix it? He'd be forced to replace the whole motherboard; That wasn't what a real wizard would do, he realized. A real wizard would know what had gone wrong with the motherboard and fix it.
So the hacker decided to learn more about computers on the electronic level. He asked several people who seemed knowledgeable about computers for more information. He asked his friends who'd earned a reputation as techies. He asked people in chat rooms and message boards on the Internet. He went to computer stores and asked questions from the sales clerks and repair techs there. He went to college and asked lots of questions from his teachers and fellow students. And gradually, the hacker realized that most people, even people who make a living working with computers, don't know very much about them. The hacker simply couldn't find all the information he wanted from others.
So he resolved to learn the information on his own. The hacker started a hobby project: He was going to build a computer from scratch, using pure, basic materials, not wholly-assembled components that had already been made by someone else.
The hacker decided to start with a motherboard, since that's pretty much the place where the most fundamental things happen in a computer. He started making plans to put together chips, resistors, wires, and other electronic bits to make a computer board. But then he thought to himself: Do resistors grow on trees? Do chips fall like rain from the sky? Maybe somewhere in the world there was a special kind of bush, the chip bush, where you could pick farm-fresh CPUs when they had ripened.
No, the hacker realized, he was going to have to make his own electronics as well. So he stopped thinking about motherboards and started thinking about materials, on the chemical level. What are electronics made of? Silicon, he'd heard, and copper was used for circuit board traces. Plastic was usually used for chip packages, and several basic metals like steel and aluminum were also used in computers.
So the hacker learned about material harvesting, or mining. He realized that in order to truly make his own computer from scratch, he'd need raw materials like copper and steel. So he decided to go digging in his backyard and find some of these directly from the ground. Walking outside, he grabbed a shovel and began to dig.
But then the hacker thought: Do shovels breed in the ocean and lay eggs in the sand?
No, the hacker wouldn't be able to use a shovel; That would be using a component that somebody else had already manufactured and assembled. Putting the shovel away, the hacker began to dig in the ground using his fingers. After he uncovered a few nice rocks, he used a small, hand-sized rock to chip at a larger rock, turning it into a nice scoop shape, similar to a shovel. With his new home-made shovel, the hacker resumed digging for a while, wondering when he could find some good copper to make his circuit traces with. But while digging, he realized his error: He'd started digging with his fingers.
Fingers are made for you, the hacker realized. Most people already had a set, but what about people who might have lost some of their fingers? To really make a scratch-built computer, the hacker was going to have to figure out how to make working hands. He realized that his hobby project was going to take a while, but he was in no hurry. This was supposed to be fun, he reminded himself, and he was going to take it at a leisurely pace so that he could do a good job.
And so the hacker left his digging for a time, and he figured out how to make a human being from water and carbon. When he had finished this, he was greatly satisfied, and he went back to digging until he had reaped all the raw minerals that he needed from the ground.
Of course, certain materials, like stainless steel, are not found in nature, and others which are found in nature, like quartz, are not in pure enough form to be used as they are in electronics. So the hacker did some studying and learned about metalworking. He built a steel-processing plant in his basement, and used it to make good, strong, shiny steel that any Detroit factory would be proud of. The hacker learned about chemistry, including how to make exactly the right mixture of carbon with other materials to make resistors with varying resistances, and he learned how to make thin fiberglass boards which would eventually become the circuit boards of his home-made computer. He also learned about plastic, and how to make different kinds of plastic in all different shapes and colors. "Plasics are very useful!" the hacker thought to himself.
The hacker also learned about making ICs, which he found to be a very fascinating subject. Being able to make tiny circuits that you could fit onto a tiny wafer of silicon was amazing, and making them fascinated them so much that he actually put his computer project on hold for a while, simply to explore how many things he could do with microminiature semiconductor devices. But eventually, he returned to his original plan, and made a nice CPU. Nothing too fancy, of course, for he reasoned that making it be able to perform a few million mathematical operations per nanosecond would be quite sufficient for a hobby project. As a smaller side project, the hacker also made a nice triple-trace oscilloscope to aid him in his work; He drew a smiley face on top of his oscilloscope, because looking at it made him happy.
Finally finishing his motherboard, the hacker next decided to try making a hard drive. This involved several elements of mechanical engineering, which the hacker learned over time, studying books he got from the library or the bookstore. The hacker converted his kitchen into a "clean room", with an industrial air-cleaning unit that ensured there wasn't a speck of dust anywhere to be found in the air there. It was in this especially tidy kitchen that the hacker built his hard drive. When it was finished, he was very happy; Making a hard drive, he mused retrospectively, is more than just a weekend project.
As he began to put it all together, the hacker eventually had to start writing code; His computer needed some ROM startup code, so he wrote out a BIOS on a ROM chip that he'd made, adding some features so that the computer could do a few interesting things at the pure hardware level without having an operating system, but still remaining open enough that it was expandable. But of course, he also needed an operating system, and so he wrote an OS to put on his hard drive, using a programming language which he figured he might as well create while he was at it.
Finally, the hacker's computer was built, and on the day that he finished putting it together, he wrote a small program to test out. After compiling and running it, the hacker smiled gently as he saw his reward on the screen. His computer was working! On the screen he saw his proof:
The hacker looked at his computer contemplatively for a while, wondering what he should do now.
Finally he realized that he didn't really need his computer for anything. What the hacker had really wanted was to understand how the machine worked; He understood everything about computers, down to the chemical composition of the metals and plastics that composed them, and he knew what every byte of software in the BIOS and the operating system was for. Now he didn't really want anything from his computer anymore.
The hacker converted his computer into a birdbath and set it out in his backyard. It made him feel happy to watch the birds sing as they bathed and drank in it.
The hacker learned to play guitar and spent the rest of his days as a folk singer. He married a writer, and together, the two of them lived happily ever after.
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