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Hackers by Steven Levy

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Chapter 3. Spacewar

In the summer of 1961, Alan Kotok and the other TMRC hackers learned that a new company was soon to deliver to MIT, absolutely free, the next step in computing, a machine that took the interactive principles of the TX-0 several steps further. A machine that might be even better for hackers than the TX-0 was.

The PDP-1. It would change computing forever. It would make the still hazy hacker dream come a little closer to reality.

Alan Kotok had distinguished himself as a true wizard on the TX-0, so much so that he, along with Saunders, Samson, Wagner, and a few others, had been hired by Jack Dennis to be the Systems Programming Group of the TX-0. The pay would be a munificent $1.60 an hour. For a few of the hackers, the job was one more excuse not to go to classes—some hackers, like Samson, would never graduate, and be too busy hacking to really regret the loss. Kotok, though, was able not only to manage his classes, but to establish himself as a “canonical” hacker. Around the TX-0 and TMRC, he was acquiring legendary status. One hacker who was just arriving at MIT that year remembers Kotok giving newcomers a demonstration of how the TX-0 worked: “I got the impression he was hyperthyroid or something,” recalled Bill Gosper, who would become a canonical hacker himself, “because he spoke very slowly and he was chubby and his eyes were half-closed. That was completely and utterly the wrong impression. [Around the TX-0] Kotok had infinite moral authority. He had written ...

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