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I was a Teenage Hacker

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Trade Show 2 Jason Howard is a teenager. He was attending the expo with his mom, Meridyth Howard. She earns a living producing wedding videos.

Adam Williams is a genXer and my age. He has written a powerful non-linear video editing application for Linux called Broadcast 2000. The software has no frame size limitations and supports unlimited audio channels.

I rode into Vegas with them that morning so I could ask about the hacker's life. "Sooner or later," he said, "people realize that there is not much point in living. That's why most hackers are young. Linus Torvalds stopped hacking years ago. He's more of an administrator to the kernel. Alan Cox does all the work. He's younger then he looks."

Williams paused to check his blind spot, change lanes and blast around a car. He continued: "We soon realize that if we don't have kids, there's nobody to pass our hard work onto. So the time comes when most hackers stop hacking, and concentrate on raising a family. Otherwise, the government will take all our hard work. They'll take a lifetime of effort and use it to build a DMV. They'll build a DMV and they won't even put your name on it."

Williams is a madman, which I realized immediately after browsing his code. He has built an entire GUI library from scratch. No Motif, Gtk or Qt. An entire C++ library built directly on the X protocol. Hundreds of miniscule details must be accounted for: buttons, checkboxes, text boxes, mouse-overs, left-clicking, right-clicking. . . . Over 21,000 lines of tedious, freaky code to describe the intricacies of a UI that most people can't even bear to think about. The kind of stuff that a fleet of programmers at TrollTech spent years working on.

Williams makes excuses: "GNOME wasn't ready at the time, and Qt was closed-source," he told me once. But I know. We all know. One whiff of that library and we know to watch out.

Not counting the GUI, Broadcast itself has over 96,000 lines of code. That also doesn't include the 50 special effect plugins or the complete Quicktime library he wrote. Williams is also $120,000 in debt from a series of bank loans he took to finance the development of Broadcast 2000.

After Mike finished accusing me of wasting his time, he was suddenly struck by a new idea. "Let's stash this equipment where Adam is. Later we can sneak it over to our booth after I pay the Teamsters to do something."

He caught me staring at the gear and shaking my head.

"You can go!" he snapped. "Go off and do your journalist stuff. We don't need you. Go. Get out of here!"

I was familiar with his outbursts. He called me once, complaining about Williams. "He's ungrateful," he told me, "I've done so much to help him out, but all he does is complain." Mike had hired me to do a GUI makeover for Broadcast. He wanted something that looked more like a commercial editing package called Avid. For payment I asked for some multimedia hardware, because he made it sound like he had some serious OEM connections. Later I received an AMD processor and a MJPEG card, both of which were broken.

He had wanted me to do some more coding. Williams wasn't cooperating he said. "It seems to me," I told him, "that you owe Adam everything and he doesn't owe you shit. You're basing your entire venture on software that he wrote, which you haven't paid him a dime for."

He flew into a rage but I stopped listening after he told me about his crack team of "Russian hackers" who would code this project for a fraction of what he was willing to pay me. "More broken parts?" I thought.

I considered these things as he glared at me. Maybe I should ditch everybody right then. But what next? It was a ways to go before my next book advance. I couldn't waste my own money on hotels. No. I had stick with this guy until at least Tuesday evening. All the good conferences were over by then. I could fly out Tuesday night and be free of this mess forever.

"Now don't get excited," I said, "Tell me where to take this box of parts."

I followed him to a cargo elevator. "Five bucks," said the guy running the lift. Mike looked around. The other guys on the elevator nodded. He gave up the five bucks. "I understand the situation!" he said loudly.

At 4pm he left for the city to thrift shop for tables, chairs, carpet and plywood so he could begin assembling his booth.

I left to go find a wine party, held by a French startup. I needed to get started on the first press release for Vidux, so I went and got a glass. For a while I watched two execs try to exchange information via infrared on their palm pilots.

"Now you just bumped it," said one in a nasal French accent, "be careful with the table."

"Maybe this candle light is interfering?"

"This is infrared, the full spectrum cannot interfere."

"That's ridiculous," I told them, "you could've traded business cards 20 times already."

The execs ignored me, and I went to find a quiet corner in the hall to fire up my laptop and craft tomorrow's release. (Cont'd)

Trade Show

1 Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (The NAB edition)
2 I was a teenage hacker
3 Linux Media Arts Cuts the Fat
4 Linux saved my Life
5 Sex and Trade
6 Bring on the Little Guys

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