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Posts Tagged ‘Computer

Man and Computer: An exhibition from 1979

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Another history oriented post following my Google Video recommendation on the History of Hacking. Today, while strolling through the digital remains of the Dutch National networks at Beeld en Geluid, I came across this ‘Polygoon Journaal’ news item from 1979. It mentions the early debates around the computer and there is a focus on the microchip as being responsible for future unemployment. Although this modernist view of machines replacing humans sounds very outdated in the postmodern/posthuman age, isn’t it still valid today? You be the judge.

English Translation of ‘Mens en Computer’
(1979 – Beeld en Geluid Hilversum)

The development from tangram to ruler to calculator all the way to the computer can be seen at the exhibition ‘Man and Computer’ in the Museum for Education in The Hague. Students of schools are familiarized with the workings of the electronic machinery which has become an essential part of modern life. The ‘chip’, an object that is getting a lot of attention lately, is also on display. The microcomputer can be built in a variety of machines and is able to significantly increase the the automatization of the industry. It is said that the chip will drastically change our lives and will cause unemployment to rise. In spite of this, the little device has as much possibilities as a room full of machinery.

At the exhibition children, aided by a large console, learn how the computer processes a program. On a small computer a spellchecker is demonstrated. The computer recalls every entered letter and lets the user know if the word has been spelled correctly. The young visitors can also practice with real computers. This way they learn the significance of input, processing and output of data. The output is often done with the use of a ‘regeldrukker’ (i.e. a printer, ed.). In a playful manner the use of computer in aeronautics is made clear. The children can reenact their own lunar landing. An erronous landing is noticed directly on the screen. The composite parts of a computer are shown systematically and the children are anxious to see the magnetic memory. Of course so-called printed circuit boards, on which the various computer components are put, are also on exhibition. And it is such a printed circuit board that can be seen in the classroom of this interesting ‘Man and Computer’ exhibition.

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The History of Hacking: Stories from the outlaws of network culture

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phone hackThe History of Hacking is an interesting documentary by Discovery Channel which shows interviews and stories of some of the early hackers. It features the must-see story of John Draper, aka Captain Crunch after a whistle found in the cereal box to hack into telephone networks, who is one of the pioneers of hacking.

As Michel Foucault mentioned: “We are subjected to the production of truth through power and we cannot exercise power except through the production of truth.” (See: Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings) The counter-discourse of hacking provides the ability to use the existing networks in ways they were not supposed to by the reigning power. Nowadays phone tapping, a way of hacking someones phone line, is legal for the only institution that also has the monopoly of violence, namely the government. Besides the monopoly of violence, there is thus also the monopoly of surveillance through networks.

androidsThe cyberpunk movement of the 80s shows a glorification of the hacker as an outlaw: A modern day cowboy who challenges the system and is always one step ahead of it. Swift and uncatchable, almost like a liquid substance seeping through the cracks of the networks. The stories of Philip K. Dick often feature characters that have abilities to unravel mysteries of computer networks. Rick Deckard in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is one such outlaw. A grim person who has an extraordinary ability to recognize humanoid cyborgs.

A real-life outlaw story was experienced by Kevin Mitnick, who was wanted by the FBI from 1992-1995, however shows the criminalization of the art of hacking into networks. He was sent to prison in 1995 for five years and was released in January 2000. The story told in this documentary shows the duality of hacking. It is a kind of voyeurism, but it is also a heroic way to challenge networks and lay bare their vulnerabilities. No wonder many hackers also work as security advisers, Kevin Mitnick is no exception.

Hacking remains popular nowadays, but is no longer restricted to the outlaws. Simple tools to hack Hotmail or Myspace are provided by organized hacking troupes. This poses the question if hacking has lost its romance and has been degraded to a horrible nuisance, or even a nightmare for the everyday user of a network.

The documentary provides a really good basis for everyone interested in the early days of hacking. To see the whole documentary, which also includes an interesting interview with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak on hacking and the early Apple days, check out the embedded video below.