On Thursday, October 24th, the Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum (HNF) was
opened in Paderborn, Germany – the largest museum for computers,
communications, and office technology worldwide. In the last months, I
worked as a freelancer for the HNF, mainly responsible for the Hacker
The Hacker exhibition is a tiny part of the museum. Basically, it's two
showcases and four boards with text and graphics. It covered: 1–MIT and
Hardware Hackers, 2–Phone Phreaks, 3–US Hackers in the 80s and 90s,
I tried to avoid two traps which are common in the media coverage of
hackers. The first trap is easy to avoid: Hacking is much more than
breaking into computer systems, even though these two words are
sometimes used as synonyms since the 80s.
The second is not so easy. I strongly disagree with those who draw a
clear line between the "good" constructive hackers (at MIT, in the
Homebrew Computer Club etc.) and the "bad" "juvenile delinquents" (MoD,
CCC, Mitnick, you name it). I see this distinction as ahistorical and
ideological. Hacking always includes and included trespassing, and how
bad this trespassing is considered varies.
In the first showcase we arranged an Altair workbench and a really nice
Cap'n Crunch shrine with boxes, the whistle, and sample cereals (the
latter donated by RHIZOME INTERNET's Mark Tribe, BTW). The second
showcase has a Trashing arrangement, and exhibits from the German hacker
club CCC. We also display an AT&T payphone together with a real 70s
Beside this analog part, we have a simulation running, which is the part
I am proudest of. This simulation is completely unlike the other
multimedia applications in the museum, which are terminals with
touchscreens, fancy graphics, text read out loud… you get the picture.
We decided very early that this won't be the way to go for us. What we
wanted to install was a simulation that gives the visitor/user an
impression of how hacking in the 80s actually "felt" like. We wanted to
make the installation authentic, sometimes even one-to-one realistic.
What we tried to accomplish was both to demystify what hackers actually
do when they are hacking computer systems and to show how exciting
command-line interfaces can be.
The non-virtual environment of the simulation is a young boy's desk,
decorated with an old ISDN promo poster by Deutsche Bundespost (a
typical hacker trophy), an old telephone, acoustic copler and a System
Security manual for the VAX/VMS operating system which such a guy wasn't
supposed to have. The simulation is operated with an Atari 1040ST
running as front-end for a Pentium hidden in the desk. The screen is
mainly Ascii in the original Atari screenfont: one window on the 17"
screen mimicks the Atari PComm interface (white on black), a second
gives info text (black/red on yellow), and a third displays a world map
to track the connections in real space.
I guess the simulation will also appeal to the general public, but it
definitely will please nerds, who are rewarded by several Easter Eggs to
be discovered. The simulation is completely proprietary: the Pentium
runs under Unix, and the code is perl and c.
The credits for the exhibition and the simulation also go to the
colleagues and partners who worked with me and whom I'd like to thank:
Jutta Kahlcke (firstname.lastname@example.org), who wrote the initial concept
of the exhibition, architect Wolfgang Grillitsch
(email@example.com) who put the exhibition in meatspace and
arranged the exhibits with me, designer Susanne Walter
(firstname.lastname@example.org) who designed the fancy graphics on the boards,
programmer Hans Huebner (email@example.com) who coded the simulation
and designer Kai Vermehr (firstname.lastname@example.org) who designed the screen