Questions & Answers

Rather than trying to work in answers to questions on the main page, I thought I'd put them on their own page, which is likely to change often.

1.  What would you like to have done that you didn't get a chance to do?
2.  Were there any other chapters of T.H.A. at other schools?
3.  Have you been hacking anywhere other than M.I.T.?


1.  What would you like to have done that you didn't get a chance to do?

One thing I remember that would have been interesting would have been to establish a T.H.A. lecture series.  Hacks and exploration touch on a lot of areas, from physical security to the creation of illusion to managing creativity, and it would have been fun to invite a series of people to come and give talks.  These might have been open to anybody at MIT, perhaps with a private reception afterwards, or just directed at hackers.  Here are some people/areas which might have been/might be interesting:

These are just a few of the possibilities; it isn't too hard to come up with more, if one just thinks about the kinds of technologies and techniques used in hacking.  The MIT name, coupled with the group's accomplishments, might be sufficient to attract some interesting speakers.

It might take some clever thought as to how to avoid any LSC involvement (which used to have a monopoly on lectures when I was there; don't know about nowadays), but I expect the general positive nature of these talks might help convince some administration/faculty people to smooth over any difficulties.  Certainly for the closed talks one could just get a room.


2.  Were there any other chapters of T.H.A. at other schools?

(For clarity I've rephrased this question slightly from the way it was posed to me, but the answer is the same).

Yes, there were, but never particularly successful ones.  It's more that they didn't try very hard I think, I don't say this to blame the people involved, but rather the MIT culture that gives rise to hacking just wasn't there, and over time it just wasn't a priority or a natural outlet for people at other schools.

We'd initially thought that it'd be great fun to have branches (really independent outfits) at other schools - we could trade people over long weekends for fun, run classes in techniques for people from other schools, perhaps even use those schools as bases (e.g. for hacking the Harvard/Yale game when it was in New Haven).

For a brief time Russ Chihoski had established a Wellesley branch, which did one banner hack from the top of the bell tower there.  There used to be trips out to tour the steam tunnels there, which were amazing.  The group just faded away though - I remember an occasional rooftop tour there, but it was usually with friends we knew.  I don't recall anyone there who thought it would be worth investing time to get something going (I may well be wrong, but Russ isn't around to ask).

There was a small group at Harvard; some of us had met them while hacking Harvard buildings (really just to look around, not to try to accomplish anything).  We stayed in loose touch, and I'd see one of them on social occasions from time to time, but again I don't think there was anyone who wanted to try to pull things together.  Lots of people had fun trying hacking and got interested in it, but no one seemed to have the motivation to try to build a group.

There was also a group at Connecticut College for a short time, run by Alison R..  I'd spent my Freshman year at Connecticut College (really my Senior year of high school) so I knew people there.  Indeed there'd been a group I was loosely associated with that liked to climb buildings.  I recall one evening there, when Alison and I got to the roof of the library - it must have been January, and it was quite dark.  We walked to the front of the building, and saw a group of people sort of hiding behind some bushes out front - when someone left the library, these guys would loft snowballs so they'd rain down on the victim, apparently from above.  (The geometry is mildly important here: it was library, then the guys, then the victim, so if the victim looked up we wouldn't be seen).  We watched this a few times, and gathered some snow; after the next attack, we tossed a number of snowballs (a few lofted high, a few moderately high, some direct, so that even though it was only the two of us, many balls would hit nearly at once).

Needless to say it was pretty funny when the perpetrators became the victims.  They at first thought it was someone else on the ground, doing to them what they were doing to others, so we kept at it a bit until they thought to look up.  They thought it was funny too, which was good.

The Connecticut College group didn't last either.  It might have - there were enough people with the right sort of humor to make it work - but there was no critical mass of people to keep it going over time.

Overall I think it's a good idea to have other branches, but that it isn't particularly practical unless some kernel of leadership is identified early on to help build the group.  It also has to be remembered that such a branch is basically independent, and may go off on it's own direction at any time.

When traveling to England for a conference in Southhampton, I stayed at a dorm at the university there.  I was around for a few days, and got talking to people in the bar.  It seems they had (and may still have) a hacking group there, called the "Pig Fondlers' Guild" (though I recently heard that this was in fact a theatre group).  School wasn't in session when I was there, so I didn't get to meet anyone who knew too much about it, and I tried via mail to establish a link later on, without luck.  That might be the way to establish a relationship with hackers at other schools - find existing groups and talk with them.  The downside is that they may have attitudes, ethics, and a history which won't mesh well with a group of MIT students.


3.  Have you been hacking anywhere other than M.I.T.?

When I was a student, I did a little bit at the other locations listed above.  Since then, I really haven't, at least not in the sense it's done at M.I.T.  Everything is a little different outside of that environment that once was home - elsewhere, hacking may properly said to involve trespassing, along with other assorted criminal actions:  not something I was interested in being a part of.

However, there are a lot of opportunities to engage in some of the same pursuits legally.  The sense of adventure isn't quite the same, but it can come close.  For example, when traveling in Europe I found the following places  to be worth the time:

There are a number of interesting sites in the U.S. of course too.  I love exploring old rail and trolley lines, as well as canals (tracing the route of the Middlesex canal between Boston and Lowell is a lot of fun).  It can be great to walk along such routes, and I often think of the peoples' lives spent building and operating those systems - systems left to decay, forgotten.  One group that's doing a lot with this is Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

There are also groups that do hack-like things:

I haven't had the time to get involved with any of these or similar groups, so I can't say much from a personal perspective.


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Last update: 08/19/04.