Chapter 5. The Midnight Computer Wiring Society

Greenblatt was hacker of systems and visionary of application; Gosper was metaphysical explorer and handyman of the esoteric. Together they were two legs of a techno-cultural triangle which would serve as the Hacker Ethic’s foundation in its rise to cultural supremacy at MIT in the coming years. The third leg of the triangle arrived in the fall of 1963, and his name was Stewart Nelson.

Not long after his arrival, Stew Nelson displayed his curiosity and ability to get into uncharted electronic realms, traits which indicated his potential to become a master magician in service to the Hacker Ethic. As was the custom, Nelson had come a week early for Freshman Rush. He was a short kid, generally taciturn, with curly hair, darting brown eyes, and a large overbite, which gave him the restlessly curious look of a small rodent. Indeed, Stewart Nelson was sniffing out sophisticated electronics equipment that he could play on, and it did not take him long to find what he wanted at MIT.

It began at WTBS, the campus radio station. Bob Clements, a student worker at the station who would later do some PDP-6 hacking, was showing a group of freshmen the control rooms when he opened a door that opened to the complex machinery—and found Stew Nelson, “a weaselly little kid.” he later remembered, “who had his fingers on the guts of our phone lines and our East Campus radio transmitter.”

Eventually, he found his way to the PDP-1 in the Kluge Room. The machine ...

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