Site FAQ

Why do you call yourself "Hackman"?

I used the nick "Hackman" the very first time I went online, in the early 1990s. Understand that I was about 12 years old at the time. I thought it was neat because not only did it connote hackerdom, it also rhymed cutely with "Pac Man". I have received a lot of grief for this nick; people who bother me about it generally fall into one of three categories: 1. People who don't like crackers, and tell me off because they think I'm trying to make myself look like one, 2. People who are real hackers and rib me because the person who tries to call themself a hacker is usually not (which is true), or 3. Wanna-be cracker kids who come to me with "hack" requests. ("Kan u hack Yahoo for me pls???")

As you might guess, I was attempting to portray myself as something of a "hacker" with the name. For the record, I was *not* a hacker in the sense of somebody who breaks into computers (what other hackers call "crackers"). Rather, I used the name in the other sense (if you don't know what that is, well, check my hacking section). This was a period when I was young and I thought proclaiming myself as a hacker was cool. I even have a custom-made shirt from that era which says "Adam The Hacker" on the back. (I got it from one of those places which put whatever message you want on a shirt for twenty bucks.) Although I still have this shirt and wear it sometimes, I'm more inclined to agree with the aforementioned people who believe that real hacking is not worn on the outside; Rather, it comes from within. Although there's nothing wrong with calling yourself a hacker if you really are, most of the people who say this usually feel the need to say it because it's the opposite of the truth.

I've leaned away from using the nick Hackman on IRC, simply because it attracts way too much negative attention. However, I hope I've made it clear that I'm not trying to communicate anything negative with my use of it, and it's a name that I've long identified with. (One of my best friends calls me "Hackie" as a stem from this nickname.) If you still dislike my nick because you think it's lame and want to tell me how stupid it is, I appreciate your input, but I would like to gently request that you kindly get a life.

What is the purpose of this website?

Well, there isn't one, really. There never was. I originally put it up in 1998 just because I thought it would be cool to have a website that I could put content on. Since I liked computers, I put some computer-related material on it. Since then, I've been adding a little bit more content here and there as the urge to create it comes to me.

Fundamentally, it's probably pretty clear after a quick glance at the main page that this site is mostly about computers, so I guess the purpose of the site, if any, is to give people a little information about computers that they might find interesting or useful. But truthfully, there's no defining purpose behind this site other than to act as a repository for anything interesting that I think other people might want to see. This site is actually as much for my own reference as anyone else's; I've lost count of how many times I've gone and looked up some of my own stuff because I'd forgotten something.

Why don't you make the site more visually appealing? For example, make it more colorful, add more graphics, etc.

This is probably the single most common question I get asked about this website. People seem to feel that there's too much text on the site. This fact is surprising to me. After all, most books are mostly text. Why do people read books if the books aren't colorful or have jumping Java applets on them? For the content.

It's always been about the content for me. I'm not interested in making a website that tries to show off how cute or cool it is. I'm interested in making a website with interesting, relevant content.

I've always believed that the purpose of the Web is to give information. I am annoyed by people who make sites with lots of needless graphics, because those graphics usually get in the way of content, rather than enhancing it. While it is certainly true that a relevant diagram can make information more understandable, too many of the pictures on the Web serve as eye candy rather than visual aids.

I'm also not big on visual arts. I do like some arts, like music and literature, but I have never been interested in painting or sculpture. I have nothing against these pursuits, but they just do not appeal to me; I'm not very good at visual art, and I don't try to create it. Hence, the site is mostly text. I don't see this as a problem, because the textuality of the site doesn't make the content less accessible. I appreciate the offers I've received from people to "dress up" my site by adding graphics or making different designs, but honestly, I like the site's appearance the way it is.

Why don't you reorganize the site so it's easier to navigate? For example, add a navbar, or different headings the links appear under.

This is a reasonable suggestion that I've gotten a few times. I've actually considered this for a while, but so far I've rejected the idea and stayed with the current "torrent of links on a flat main page" as a design choice.

There are a few reasons for this. First of all, consider the design idea of simply listing the names of all the different sub-pages, without any description. This might theoretically make the main page a little easier to navigate in that there's less text on it to scroll through, but in practice, it would probably actually make it *more* difficult to get through, since the brief descriptions provide a little insight into what's contained within some of the pages. Arguably, the title makes the content clear for most of the pages, but I still believe it's useful to have a short description of what most of the pages contain.

That means the only real option to make the main page easier to navigate would be to categorize everything under headings like "Programming", "Electronics", "Games", "Music", etc. While this might be a great idea if every link conveniently fit into a simple category, the fact is that many links on the main page are sort of oddball and don't necessarily fit into any clear category. The obvious solution would be to create a "Miscellaneous" category, but that would then mean that a majority of the content would be "Miscellaneous". It seems a little silly to me to have 3 or 4 links under a few different headings, then have a few dozen links under "Miscellaneous".

However, there's also a deeper, more ideological reason why the site is structured the way it is. Quite simply, the mindframe behind the site design is close to "ordered chaos". Most of this site, whether it's about computer programming or sysadmin jokes, is actually meant to be slightly unstructured. The reality is that computers, like lives, aren't always as perfectly organized as some people think they are. Yes, computers operate on logical, structured principles, but inside most hardware devices or software programs, you'll find more than one hack, work-around, or improvisation that throws all the rules out the window because it was the best way an engineer could find that worked. The same is true of life: Many people seem to believe that you can structure a person's life such that every event is scheduled, every object is in a designated place, and every person has a clearly-defined role in society. While there's a certain comforting sense of clarity and order that comes from a mentality like that, the simple truth is that it ain't so; computers, like life, mix art with science, logical with illogical, planned with impromptu, and to be able to cope with either, you need to be able to think in both organized and disorganized ways.

I don't appreciate efforts by people to neatly pigeon-hole everything. Not everything can or should be placed into a clearly-defined category. This is one of the reasons why I hate Java as a programming language and avoid using it: In Java, you are *required* to place everything into a class or object. This means that you need to categorize EVERYTHING, and if something doesn't seem to fit somewhere, you may need to end up cramming it someplace it shouldn't be, just because of some goofy language requirement. It shouldn't be that way.

If my website had hundreds or thousands of sections, then maybe it would be time to start trying to do something about the organization and start collecting links into sections to make them more manageable. But the site is a long way from that point, and probably will never get there. As it is, I honestly don't believe there's enough content on the main page to make it difficult to get through in its current state, and the slightly random order of the links there creates the sense of usable, lucid, but reasonably disarrayed information that I try to encourage. No matter what happens in life, the truth is that you're going to have to use your brain at some point, because we still can't make everything as simple as pushing a button. If you start seeing things for what they are instead of trying to categorize them into some neatly pre-defined category, you might understand them better.

What do you use to create your HTML?

The MS-DOS EDIT command.

In computers, ease-of-use is a good thing as long as it doesn't create loss of control. When DOS brought in EDIT in MS-DOS 5.0, it was much better than EDLIN, because it was way, way easier to use, but gave you the same measure of control. Win-win scenario.

However, I have yet to find a better text editor than EDIT. Some people talk about how great Notepad is, but Notepad is problematic because it tries to add a .txt extension to things. For example, try creating a text file and saving it with a filename of "foo". Notepad will actually save it as "foo.txt". Uh, hello? Did I say .txt? No, I didn't. DIE, NOTEPAD, DIE! Rather than dealing with the ensuing bloodshed and broken glass, I've opted to simply avoid using Notepad unless I really do want a .txt extension on something. However, obviously HTML files don't use that extension, so Notepad is right out for HTML.

Then there's a whole host of dedicated HTML generators, but I've yet to find one that doesn't generate heaps of garbage that shouldn't be in any HTML file. For example, why create an <HTML> tag if it's not needed? Web browsers display HTML files just the same even without that tag, so why not save on the 6 bytes the tag uses? (Acually, 8 bytes, because you need a CR and LF after it to go to the next line.) Truthfully, I do use <HTML> tags on my pages, but only because I seem to recall that I thought they were required when I started making the page, and there are too many HTML files on my page now for me to bother going back and changing all of them. In any case, most HTML editors add wayyyyy too much junk like that, and it's just not worth putting up with that. So, hand-made HTML is the way to go.

Why do you use a light gray background on your pages instead of just plain white?

Two reasons. The first is nostalgia. I started using the Web with Internet Explorer 3.0, which automatically generated a similarly-colored background for pages that had no background color info. I developed a fondness for this, and decided to propagate it on my pages so they would feel like home.

The other reason is to make the pages a little easier on the eyes. White is a harsh, bright color to be constantly staring into. The use of a light gray makes the page's background softer, while still making the text contrasting enough to read clearly.

Do you answer e-mail personally? Do you check your e-mail regularly?

I try. This site is essentially no longer being worked on, so suggestions for things to add or change on the site will receive some attention, but they are likely to simply get put on a pile that's destined to be long-neglected. I'll try to personally answer any e-mail, but in our world, nothing is certain. This isn't to say that I'm a snotty jerk who thinks himself too good to respond to messages; I just sometimes don't have a lot to say for myself.

Why did this website get abandoned?

Things changed. The computer industry changed, and so did I.

The computer industry is no longer a place where hardware hackers have much place. Computers are quite deliberately made as enclosed black boxes, and neither hardware nor software manufacturers are too interested in allowing hobbyists to reverse-engineer and hack their products. Of course there are still distinct niches of hardcore hobbyists, but they are much better-served by other sites with far more depth of focus. Emulators like DOSBox and Wine are fantastic projects with a lot of promise to do good, hardware projects like those you can find at Hack a Day or have excellent potential for hobbyists, and overall, sites like these with vibrant communities built around them are better for promoting the spirit of hacking than a small, random, scattered site like mine with little more than my own writings on it and no public forums. The only way the spirit of hackerdom can survive is as a community; as a small group of isolated people, it is destined to die. I'm not big on buzzwords and I don't place a lot of emphasis on "Web 2.0" (truth be told, I wasn't a big fan of the Web in the first place), but collaboration between people is what life is all about. Sites with a community focus are the future, not sites like mine.

At the same time that I was realizing all this, I was also going through a personal transformation, experiencing an epiphany somewhat similar to what Hax0r Man was going through in chapter 15 of his saga: People are more important than machines. The machines are made for the benefit of people, not vice-versa. I have loved computers since I was a child, but when computers are no longer a positive force for living things--or rather, have reached the point where they no longer need great amounts of attention to be a positive force for living things--then it's time for people to focus their efforts elsewhere.

I intend to leave this site standing. I believe that the information on it is, by and large, good and useful. I do not think there is much else that would serve much purpose if I added it, though. Like most technologies, computers were destined to eventually reach the point where they worked on their own, without requiring a huge amount of maintenance or technical knowledge. Computers have reached that point. It's time for humans to move on to other things.

Why did you remove the comment section at the bottom of some pages?

Some of the pages here used to have small forms at the bottom where people could leave comments on the pages if they so wished. These pages have since had their comment sections removed, because they were getting badly spammed with massive lists of links to ad sites.

Just to give you an idea of the utter insanity that was going on, one page, which was originally 22KB in size, swelled to over 200KB. Another file, which had originally been 24KB, bloated to well over one MEGABYTE, almost entirely on the basis of form spam. The spam being inserted into the files didn't even lead to actual websites; it was a huge list of garbage URLs which went to dummy sites that were simply being used to track how big of a response the form spam got.

Of course, I could use some kind of anti-spam filter to prevent this like captchas or something similar, but even if it weren't for the fact that current automated captcha-solving algorithms outperform humans for most typical captchas, any such mechanism would make it more complicated for people to leave legitimate comments, and since not many readers were actually taking advantage of the ability to do so anyway, I really do not want to implement any of these goofy security-lockdown measures that make the site more difficult to use; I've never believed in making computers more restrictive just to prevent people from doing stupid things. I'm not really interested in trying to fight people who abuse the page; I'm at the point where I feel it's more productive to try and build something good than just to battle every tumult that shows up. If that's really how it needs to be, if you really can't have an open site without people abusing it, then the site will have no commenting ability at all. Sorry. Congratulations, humanity: Once again, you've demonstrated your unwillingness to form articulate, cooperative social structures, instead choosing to antagonize others for the purpose of fast money. First prize for you!

I really like your site; can I give you money/cars/sex as thanks?

Okay, I lied: this isn't really a frequently-asked question. I wish it were, though.

In all seriousness, I'm not currently looking to make money or get anything else from other people through this website. You know how some hackers say that their sole pursuit in life is knowledge? Well, that's not completely true (everybody needs some basic material things like food to live), but I'm at a point in my life right now where I'm most interested in learning interesting things, so the greatest way that anyone could thank me is by providing information, or by providing suggestions on what might fit in well with the rest of the site, or corrections on information that's not correct.

That said, I've gotten quite a lot of e-mails from people saying they like the site, and I'm eternally grateful to everyone who's used and liked the site, and everyone who's sent me e-mails about it. Just knowing that you folks find some of the information useful is thanks enough for me.

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