Two weeks ago it was being taped for a story on Fox News. One month ago it received a congratulatory visit from the mayor of Mountain View. Two months ago it was featured on the front page of the Mercury News. And four months ago was when we signed the lease for it. Hacker Dojo is officially on its way to something big.

Hacker Dojo, aspiring to be a global hub of innovation, is based on a simple idea: to provide a community center for hackers, thinkers and technologists to meet, discuss, learn and create.

It’s a non-profit, volunteer-run, member-supported operation that simply provides a space for hackers to do their thing 24/7, whether it’s working on side projects, organizing a meetup, building the next startup, giving a class, working remotely, or just hanging out with diverse yet like-minded people. The thing they have in common is the hacker spirit, a force that drives ordinary but curious people to create what can end up being extraordinary, such as the personal computer, the first video game system, or the technology powering the Internet.

A dojo is considered a place to do and train one’s craft with others. It’s most commonly used in the context of Japanese martial arts or other physical training. But the word “dojo” is simply defined as “place of the way.” In the case of Hacker Dojo, that way is the way of the hacker.

The hacker is not what most people think. Although 99% of the 100+ members of Hacker Dojo are capable of doing the things most people think “hackers” do, I’m 100% positive none of us have the intention of doing those things maliciously if at all. In fact, security has almost nothing to do with the way of the hacker. We define a hacker something like this:

A hacker is expert in their field, whether hobby or professional, that pushes the envelope of what’s possible through hands-on exploration, driven by relentless curiosity and a desire to challenge the status quo.

Steven Levy, author of Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, describes computer hackers as people that “regard computing as the most important thing in the world.” It’s about passion. It’s about something most of us can’t even describe. It inexplicably compels us to explore technology. To build things. To learn things. To be like the heroes in our field and achieve the remarkable, which is something I think everybody can relate to.

In fact, there is no reason why anybody shouldn’t aspire to be like a hacker, an innovator. This is what Hacker Dojo is about. We want to foster hacker culture so it can grow, develop and spread. We want to make its values explicit, and be the “place of the way” of the hacker.

If you still don’t understand the hacker, or want to learn more, take a look at the Hacker ethic article on Wikipedia. There’s also an excellent, short documentary available to watch online that shows you the energy and excitement of true hackers called Hackers: Wizards of the Electronic Age.

If you want to get involved in Hacker Dojo, come stop by or visit the website! We hold many events at the Dojo, but it’s also generally open for anybody to come and hack. If you’re too far to come to us, you may find another hackerspace nearby. For example, in SF there is the excellent Noisebridge hackerspace.

When you’re this obsessed with technology, so much that most “normal” people have no idea what you’re talking about, it helps to have a place where people don’t think you’re crazy. People have moved to Mountain View to be closer to Hacker Dojo. If you already live nearby, you should definitely take advantage of this place of the way of the hacker.

Oh no! Hackers!

June 17, 2009

That’s right. Hide your floppies and cover your Ethernet ports. Virus-laden hackers are coming to take over your computer, steal your passwords, and do terrible things! Like hack your MySpace! Oh noes!

I guess I’m getting over the fact that we probably won’t be able to undo the damage done with the public’s perception of what a “hacker” is. Perhaps, though, we can overload it to the point of ambiguity, so there’s at least some question of context whether it’s the good kind or the bad kind.

The problem is that positive connotations aren’t enough. The people that would venture to understand “hackers” the slightest bit more than what they hear in the headlines are going to pretty quickly find the “good hackers” … they’re white hats, right?

The other day I was questioned by somebody (that should know better) if I hacked somebody’s website that was recently compromised. Seriously? My response was “I barely have enough time to do important things, let alone something that would be a waste of my time.”

I self-identify as a hacker. I invite my friends over to “hack.” I started a party for “hackers and thinkers” (a very intentional choice of words). I’m co-founding a community center called Hacker Dojo. What are we doing at all these functions? Building and learning.

We use the term perhaps too liberally, but always implying tribute to the true hackers that, as Steven Levy put it, “regard computing as the most important thing in the world.”

These people push the envelope of what’s possible through hands-on exploration, driven by relentless curiosity and a desire to challenge the status quo. Steve Wozniak, Lee Felsenstein, Linus Torvalds, Tim Berners-Lee, John Carmack …

Hell, there’s something big behind this idea, why stop at computing? Buckminster Fuller, Nikola Tesla, Richard Feynman, Alfred Kinsey, Ben Franklin …

Perhaps we’re generalizing too far. Perhaps we’re rendering “hacker” meaningless. Or are we giving it more meaning? Getting down to its essence. I wouldn’t be defending this idea so strongly if I didn’t think it had some great significance to humanity.

What upsets me is that many who would identify as hackers in this sense seem to be afraid to claim it. Most likely in fear of confusing the layman that has the media’s myopic view of hackers. You’ve never heard of the canonical conference for real hackers. No, it’s not DefCon. (Just get up and leave.) It’s a conference called Hackers. You’ve never heard of it because they keep it secret!

This conference was started to gather everybody together that was mentioned in Steven Levy’s book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (one of the last good publication on hackers, and it came out in 1984!). This conference holds all the values of true hackerism and it’s been happening for 25 years. But they won’t promote it! It goes by a fake name and even has all mentions of “hacker” on their website replaced with an image so it won’t be indexed. Seriously??

Trying to supplant public perception of hackers by just saying they’re something different and providing a better name nobody uses (“crackers”) is not going to work. It hasn’t worked. They need something to replace those visions of crackers with. We need tangible examples and stories. We need heroes. Heroes willing to wear the title.

Luckily, we have a new generation of hackers. One that has started a global movement called hackerspaces, probably one of the biggest things for hackers in years. Our local hackerscene fostered by Silicon Valley culture and events like SuperHappyDevHouse have led to a hackerspace we hope will have a big impact. One that proudly wears the name hacker: Hacker Dojo.