Last week, Samuel Jay Keyser detailed his experiences as Housemaster of MIT's Senior House and read from Chapter 6 of his book, Mens et Mania. This week, Jay reads from Chapter 8: Hacking and answers a few questions below about MIT's hacking culture.
Can you give us another hacking example that you would have mentioned during your talk when you took a “walk down hack-memory lane”?
Two of the students who planted the explosives under the football field of the Harvard/Yale game that would have carved the initials MIT into the surface had they gone off successfully came to visit me once. They were amused that the Cambridge Police made such a to-do about it. Local newspapers claimed the explosives would have cratered the field. In fact, the primer cord used would have left little more than a turf burn. As it happened, one of the perpetrators was a demolition expert who had learned his trade in the Army. Yielding to pressure, MIT suspended the perps for a year. I asked them if they were unhappy about that. They said, “Hell, no. We went to Alaska, got good jobs planting explosives and came back the next year with money in our pockets.”
From your excerpt about the masked woman, it seems that receiving acknowledgement for the efforts put into hacking was almost more satisfying to the students than the hack itself. Is this the notion you got from your experiences with hacking, and if not, what did you find were the students’ motivations for hacking?
I think the students took pride in creating an elegant hack, one that was hard to execute, intellectually clever, and did not damage. But the underlying motivation, as I tried to argue, was to bring the Institute down a peg or two so that its judgments of their abilities didn’t hurt as much.