[Haskell-cafe] What is a hacker?

Benjamin Franksen benjamin.franksen at bessy.de
Thu Dec 14 11:45:45 EST 2006

On Thursday 14 December 2006 07:34, Kirsten Chevalier wrote:
> On 12/14/06, Benjamin Franksen <benjamin.franksen at bessy.de> wrote:
> > Kirsten Chevalier wrote:
> > > (Since, of course,
> > > one should never apply the term "hacker" to oneself.)
> >
> > Who told you that?
> The Jargon File. But yes, I can anticipate more or less all of the 
> possible responses to *that*, and, point taken.

I was a bit surprised when I went to check this. I had expected the 
Jargon File to clearly support my view, but it doesn't, at least not 

Anyway, no sense to keep bickering, since we seem to agree perfectly.

[snip points we in fact agree on]

> Speaking of the term "hacker" and of various subcultures, the way in
> which Haskell and the open-source community seem to have met each
> other this year just makes me melt with joy. 

Absolutely, it's a wonderful thing to witness.

> I know it wasn't like 
> that six years ago; the Haskell community was small, and there wasn't
> exactly such a thing as the "open-source community" (and please let's
> not have a "free software" vs. "open source" debate, because I've
> heard that all before, too). I don't know exactly what happened in
> the meantime, besides the miracle of this vast series of tubes that
> we cann the Internet, but someone should really be writing a
> sociology paper about it.

Good idea. The difficulty is to find social science people who are not 
only interested (there are many of those) but who are also adept enough 
in computer science to understand what is so special about Haskell 
(considering that even most professionals in the field have 
difficulties with that).

I think one of the most important aspects of the story is that Haskell 
has become extremely 'sexy'. There are two important aspects to this:

One is that it opens up new possibilities for individuals that were 
formerly closed to them. The two most prominent projects written in 
Haskell (darcs and Pugs) have both been started by a single person 
undertaking a project that would otherwise (i.e. without Haskell) have 
been just too complex to realize. (David Roundy once said that the C++ 
version he started with had after a while "amassed a solid number of 
bugs", so he gave up on it and started a re-implemention in Haskell 
(which clearly hasn't met the same fate).) With Haskell complex things 
become manageable for individuals again, and this opens whole new areas 
in the "noosphere" to conquer.

The other point is that Haskell -- apart from its utility to solve 
complex new programming problems -- is also a wonderful playground for 
people who like to experiment with new technology. Witness all the new 
ideas that employ type level programming, something you simply can't do 
with any other language I am aware of, at least not while at the same 
time doing practical stuff with it.


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