Muli Ben-Yehuda's journal

October 27, 2003

Filed under: Uncategorized — Muli Ben-Yehuda @ 11:44 PM

Mental note: reading[1] about superstar hackers[2] who flunked classes[3] and couldn’t care less[4] during a break in class[5] does NOT contribute to one’s productivity in said class.

[1] Steven Levy’s Hackers, which I have both in book form and electronic form and read over and over the way some people read the bible.
[2] Ricky Greenblatt.
[3] At MIT, no less.
[4] “He was placed on academic probation, and his mother came to Massachusetts to confer with the dean. There was some explaining to do. “His mom was concerned,” his roommate Beeler would later say. “Her idea was that he was here to get a degree. But the things he was doing on the computer were completely state-of-the-art no one was doing them yet. He saw additional things to be done. It was very difficult to get excited about classes.” To Greenblatt, it wasn’t really important that he was in danger of flunking out of college. Hacking was paramount: it was what he did best and what made him happiest. His worst moment came when he was so “out of phase” that he slept past a final exam[6]. It only hastened his exit from the student body of MIT.”
[5] Algorithms. Today’s lesson – Dynamic Algorithms and Minimal Spanning Trees.
[6] Been there, done that.


  1. A time to wail
    My son, my son, my darling young one, is headed in the same direction.
    He has (allow me to wail here in your journal) been driving me halfway to distraction by discussing operating systems theory with me, and quizzing me on the exact boundaries between kernels and the services they get/give. Last time I had anything to do with that was in the early 80s of the previous century.
    His latest hobby has been getting Linux to run on everything. He’s trying to get various different distributions to run on the same computer, and coming up with concepts for a lin-loader that will go one better than any he’s found on-line, and make it easier to boot into each of the versions he wants to have.
    His coding is not up to it. Yet. But he’s coding, and compiling, and coming up with ideas, all the time.
    And I cannot understand most of what he’s doing. Neither can ANY OTHER 12 year old in the b***y county. Possibly, there is someone in Tacoma or Seattle within the same age-group (say, even a 15-year-old) who could be helpful, and talk with the same starry-eyed innocence about the ideal system, rather than the practical one. But here, in the boondocks, the only people who can are retired programmers, and they tend to be in their 50s.
    Wail. Wail, wail, moan.
    HOW do I raise a kid-genius without damaging or constraining him, on the one hand, but while making sure he HAS peers that are actually peers?
    Advice specifically solicited! (and thanks for letting me wail in your space, here).

    Comment by shunra — October 27, 2003 @ 2:00 PM | Reply

    • Re: A time to wail
      That’s quite a predicament you’re in…
      I don’t have any smart ideas. I know that when I was a young’un, I didn’t have anyone to discuss this sort of thing with either, and eventually gave up on them and had a relatively normal adolescence. Then I connected to the internet for the first time and my world exploded with the knowledge available at the tips of one’s fingers. I’ve been making up for lost time ever since 😉
      My advice, for what it’s worth, is to encourage your son to have both online friends he can discuss this sort of thing with, and meat-space friends he can do the normal adolescent stuff with. Hopefully, he’ll find a real life friend that’s interested in the same things he is, but until then, a blend of online and real life is probably best. All IMVHO.
      And if it helps, I’m certainly willing to try and have intelligent conversations with your son about kernels, operating systems, coding and whatnot. If there’s one subject I can never talk about enough, that’s it 😉

      Comment by mulix — October 28, 2003 @ 1:29 AM | Reply

      • Thanks, Muli!
        I’ve been working on the “encouraging other friendships” path for a while – I only wish there were more geeks here!
        And I’ll give him your email address and tell him that you’re safe to talk about kernels to. (Last night at dinner it got really bad – he was trying to get Daniel to understand what running UML is, and Daniel got tired of all the jargon and decided to tell Shachaf he wanted the explanation all in Germanic words, without Latinate ones. It was a discussion worthy of tape recorders…)

        Comment by shunra — October 28, 2003 @ 11:40 AM

  2. am i not alone ?
    So… I’m not the only freak who can read Levy’s “Hackers” again and again. Phew.

    Comment by Anonymous — October 28, 2003 @ 9:59 AM | Reply

    • Re: am i not alone ?
      hmpf… maybe we should start a Hackers reading group at HRL 😉

      Comment by mulix — October 29, 2003 @ 12:25 AM | Reply

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