A Year Ago: Kevin Poulsen - A hacker Christmas

First published: Sat, 25 Dec 1999 07:30:00 GMT

Last-minute gift purchases for the hacker in the house

With each passing holiday season, it seems I'm asked more and more frequently, "Kevin, what do I get a hacker for the holidays?" Here are a few answers.

The Happy Hacker keyboard from PFU America dispenses with such frivolities as a caps-lock key, numeric keypad, or function keys, and finally puts the control key back where it belongs -- next to the left pinky finger. Don't even ask where the Windows key is. The design is openly hostile to everything Microsoft, making it particularly popular with the Linux set.

The keyboard is meant for coding, though its super-compact 11.6 x 4.3 inch footprint makes it attractive to anyone tired of stretching to reach the mouse. Regrettably, it comes only in white, but optional carrying cases in burgundy, navy, and black make it a fashionable tote for contemporary cyberpunks.

Looking for stocking stuffers? I recommend The Matrix on DVD. The film itself is a hacker-culture masterpiece. More importantly, the DVD format recently earned a certain cachet when hackers took the trouble to reverse engineer the copy protection scheme so they could watch movies on their Linux boxes.

The Matrix title has the added coolness that comes with being so advanced that it doesn't work on some older models of consumer DVD players. It's not a bug, it's a feature!

Toys of any kind are a popular Christmas treat, and there are certain kinds of playthings that have a fundamental appeal to hackers of all ages.

A passion for LEGO's interlocking building blocks, popular in the 1960s, has been a dirty little secret shared by many hackers for generations. It got a shot in the arm recently, when LEGO created Mindstorms, a fully motorised, programmable robotic block system, with infrared communications and embedded light sensors, among other features.

Mindstorms was meant for kids: it comes with friendly software that lets little tykes program their robotic creations with point-and-click ease. Hackers, however, are doing, well, what hackers do: writing an open source operating system for the brainy blocks which includes dynamic module loading and a memory management system. The legOS programmers (no, I'm not making this up) recently fixed a bug in their inter-block packet switching code, just in time for Christmas.

Finally, this holiday season, say it with wearable computing. Xybernaut offers a lightweight, 233-MHZ system that clips to any utility belt or an optional vest.

A headset serves as a user interface, allowing the lucky recipient of your Yuletide generosity to issue voice commands through a microphone while viewing output on a one-inch diagonal monitor that hangs in front of the wearer's left eye. Add a wireless modem, and the hacker in your life need never log off the Net.

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