10 top hacks

Written by Ced Kurtz on .

A list of the 10 top hacks from

·         Spacewar! (1961)—Computer games were pretty much unknown until Stephen Russell designed the first action-packed, graphics-based game, using a PDP-1 mainframe’s front panel switches as a controller.   

 ·         Saving Apollo 13 (1970)—This hack saved lives. After a fuel tank explosion severely damaged Apollo 13's command module, ground control and astronauts turned the ship's moon-landing module into a lifeboat and hacked a system for removing carbon dioxide from the lunar module.

 ·         The Internet Coke Machine (1991)—In the early '90s there was a fad for connecting soda machines to the Internet. Using the Unix "finger," machines were monitored to show how many Cokes the local machine had, and whether they were cold. CMU had one of the first such machines

·         MIT's VU Meter (1993)—In 1993, MIT students turned the top of a classroom building into a giant VU meter (volume units, which indicate signal strength, or loudness) that was synced to a Boston Pops concert.

·         The Greasecar (1998)—Engineer Carl Bielenberg first hacked a Volkswagen Rabbit to run on straight vegetable oil in 1998. The design was later modified by Justin Carven to run on waste vegetable oil.

 ·         DeCSS (1999)— Programmer Jon Lech Johansen, poster boy for the anti-DRM (digital rights management) fight, helped write DeCSS, which decrypts DVDs so you can play them anywhere you like. He has gone on to write other un-DRMing code, including applications to knock the protection off iTunes Music files.

 ·         Ben Heckendorn's Opus (2000-present)—Heckendorn takes large, clunky pieces of classic computing gear and turns them into beautiful, handcrafted handhelds and laptops. His most famous project was the handheld Atari 2600 game system, but he's also turned an Xbox 360 Elite and classic PC, the Atari 800, into elegant laptops.

 ·         TCP Packets by Pigeon (2001)—In 2001, a Linux user group in Norway implemented a joke protocol written in 1990 specifying how to transfer Internet data by pigeon—a 106 minute ping roundtrip! They pulled it off, but we're not too sure about the practicality.

 ·         OSx86 (2005)—When Apple switched over to Intel processors, OS X could have run on any homebrew PC system. But Apple’s engineers wrote code into the OS so that only Apple machines could boot OS X. Within months, a team of  hackers churned out software patches that create versions of OS X that will run on standard machines.

 ·         The Port-O-Rotary (2007)—Many have tried to bring the classic rotary dial aesthetic into the cell-phone age, but Sparkfun's Port-O-Rotary puts a full GSM mobile phone inside an authentic old rotary phone, with the dial, ringer and even the dial tone still functional!  It might not fit in your pocket, but it will get you lots of attention!



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