The Last Hacker

A few weeks ago someone posted a link to Richard Stallman’s Speech at the 2002 International Lisp Conference. It’s an interesting read that, among other things, recounts the story told in the Epilogue to Steven Levy’s Hackers about RMS single handedly (and independently) duplicating every improvement and bug fix made by Symbolics and then giving them to LMI. This was to avenge what he felt was Symbolics and Russ Noftsker‘s betrayal of the MIT AI Lab and Hacker Culture. It was fun, after almost 25 years, to read that story again.

Also interesting is Stallman’s history of early Emacs. Most of us have probably heard a lot of that story before but it’s nice to hear a cohesive history by someone who was there. The original Emacs didn’t have a Lisp interpreter in it, but rather was built on top of the TECO command language. It was Dan Weinreb who first implemented Emacs on top of Lisp. Later, James Gosling wrote an Emacs that had low level functionality written in C and the higher level routines written in a Lisp-like language called mocklisp. Eventually RMS wrote the first of the modern GNU Emacs.

If, like me, you’re fascinated by the history of our (hacker) culture and you haven’t read this story before, it’s definitely worth a few minutes of your time. And, of course, if you haven’t read Hackers you should immediately do so. It’s a wonderful story of our history starting from the time of the Tech Model Railroad Club at MIT and ending in 1983 with the story that RMS relates in his talk at the 2002 ILC.

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