02 November 2011

Nightwork: The MIT Hacker

The term "hacker" is now ubiquitous to things that have something to do with computers and the internet. But during the 1960s, the term was applied to students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who stage pranks and practical jokes done on and sometimes off campus. They usually use the buildings and architectural features within the university grounds. Structures such as the Great Dome, the Little Dome, and the Green Building tower. Check the video of the MIT Hacks below.

The book, Nightwork: A History of Hacks and Pranks at MIT, details much of these pranks such as the when students converted the dome to resemble R2-D2, the astro-droid from the Star Wars trilogy, or when a "GO SOX!" banner, more than a 1000 feet long was strung between the Tang Graduate Dormitory and MacGregor Dormitory cheering the Boston Red Sox during the 2007 World Series.

It should be noted that this is not condoned or even encouraged by MIT. Some students who have been caught were arrested on charges (usually trespassing). But hacks are part of a tradition, culture and history of the university. Even the the student-written guide How To Get Around MIT (HowToGAMIT) includes a chapter on hacking as well as discuss the history, hacker groups, ethics, safety tips, and risks of the activity.

Video: MIT Museum Curator Deborah Douglas about MIT hacks

Some memorable MIT hacks throughout the years are:

On April of 2010, MIT students suspended an inverted lounge room under the MIT Media Lab archway. The "room" included chairs, a lighted floor lamp and a billiards table.

An "MIT Fire Department" fire truck was seen on top of the Great Dome. This was done during the fifth anniversary September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

These hacks can take any form, some may be technical, virtual, or physical. In 2006, students "moved" a 130 year-old, 1.7 ton cannon was moved from Caltech to MIT and placed it on MIT campus grounds. In 1998, the MIT website was replaced with a page announcing the university had been bought by The Walt Disney Company for US$6.9 billion. But regardless of the prank, most, if not all, are done in good humor and spirit.

The MIT Museum has at countless times featured a collection of pictures, reports, and even memorabilia from past hacks and pranks. The MIT IHTFP Hack Gallery website covers most of these hacks complete with photos.

Oh and a disclaimer, I never went to MIT or even gone into the place. I just dreamt of going there ages ago.


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