ESR’s proposed hacker emblem

Eric S. “ESR” Raymond, one of the elder statesmen of hackerdom (and aficionado of peanut butter cookies) is proposing that hackers get an emblem:

The Linux folks have their penguin and the BSDers their daemon. Perl’s got a camel, FSF fans have their gnu and OSI’s got an open-source logo. What we haven’t had, historically, is an emblem that represents the entire hacker community of which all these groups are parts. This is a proposal that we adopt one — the glider pattern from the Game of Life.

Here’s the emblem, which might look familiar if you’ve ever been given Conway’s Game of Life as a school programming assignment:

Graphic: ESR's proposed hacker emblem, the 'glider' pattern from Conway's 'Game of Life'.

Raymond reports that “About half the hackers this idea was alpha-tested on instantaneously said ‘Wow! Cool!’ without needing any further explanation.” I’m sure this will be true for the over-30 crowd like me; do any of you under-30s — especially those of you who still have to escape your teen years — recognize this pattern?

ESR’s set up a FAQ page, in which he answers the questions:

  • What is the emblem?
  • Why have an emblem?
  • Why this emblem?
  • Why the emblem should come from him

I think the emblem design’s great: it’s simple, recognizable on a couple of different levels, easy to draw even by hand — even by the least-artisically-gifted person, and can even be represented in text:




Or the binary version:




Or the decimal version of the above binary version, which is the sequence 217. Someone should be able to derive a gang sign from that.

(Yes, someone will derive a gang sign. If you don’t believe me, check out the DefCon conference, which features a distressingly large number of pasty white kids talking “street”.)

One more thing — allow me to recap the true definition of the work “hacker”, taken from the Jargon File:

hacker n. [originally, someone who makes furniture with an axe]

1. A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary.

2. One who programs enthusiastically (even obsessively) or who enjoys programming rather than just theorizing about programming.

3. A person capable of appreciating hack value.

4. A person who is good at programming quickly.

5. An expert at a particular program, or one who frequently does work using it or on it; as in ‘a Unix hacker’. (Definitions 1 through 5 are correlated, and people who fit them congregate.)

6. An expert or enthusiast of any kind. One might be an astronomy hacker, for example.

7. One who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations.

8. [deprecated] A malicious meddler who tries to discover sensitive information by poking around. Hence ‘password hacker’, ‘network hacker’. The correct term for this sense is cracker.

The term ‘hacker’ also tends to connote membership in the global community defined by the net (see the network and Internet address). For discussion of some of the basics of this culture, see the How To Become A Hacker FAQ. It also implies that the person described is seen to subscribe to some version of the hacker ethic (see hacker ethic).

It is better to be described as a hacker by others than to describe oneself that way. Hackers consider themselves something of an elite (a meritocracy based on ability), though one to which new members are gladly welcome. There is thus a certain ego satisfaction to be had in identifying yourself as a hacker (but if you claim to be one and are not, you’ll quickly be labeled bogus). See also wannabee.

This term seems to have been first adopted as a badge in the 1960s by the hacker culture surrounding TMRC and the MIT AI Lab. We have a report that it was used in a sense close to this entry’s by teenage radio hams and electronics tinkerers in the mid-1950s.

Perhaps the emblem could be used in the same way the “Jesus Fish” was — to separate the True Believers from the Heathen. To establish bona fides, an early Christian would draw one arc of the Jesus Fish, and only one who knew the secret would know to draw the other half. Perhaps hackers could identify each other by drawing the emblem with a couple of missing cells; only a 1337 H4X0R would know which ones to fill in.

I give the emblem a thumbs-up. Where can I get the T-shirt?

[Thanks to snowchyld for the link!]

9 replies on “ESR’s proposed hacker emblem”

It all depends on what basis vectors you’re using. For airplanes, an increasing y-value is “upward”, while on a computer screen, y-values increase in a downward direction.

The glider in the emblem is travelling in a rightward-and-downward direction, which means its position is increasing in both x and y. From a math perspective — and what is computer science, if not a branch of applied mathematics? — that’s upward and forward.

I loved the idea, hated the implementation.

As to your “upward and forward” bs, sorry but I am not buying it. Sorry to say that, but that is so lame. When we used to program our unfinished videogame masterpieces, we understood that going “up” was *decreasing* y and that going right was going forward, so ESR’s glider is actually *diving*. Super Mario and Manic Miner agree with me.

Your definition of “upward” should be prefaced by “for negative values of ‘upward'”. It is increasing y and going down.

Oops, maybe I had one beer too many. It is past midnight local time as well. But if that is my excuse, what’s yours?

Yours pishedly,


The true sign of age is…

when you despair at the lack of knowledge of their past of the younger generation…

oh, dear, I’m Old…..

seriously, though, younger coders do not seem to have the grounding in the “craft” that us older folks have.

Whether this is just a consequence of a microsoft education or the fact that you do not have to be particularly efficient when you have a/multiple 3GHz processor.

and yes, I do appear to have officially become a CURMUDGEON.

I think the Game of Life hacker emblem should be a blinker

0 0 0

1 1 1

0 0 0

because it goes through a lot of trouble to sit in one place. Also it would look cool when animated.

Even though I’m not even close to being any type of haXor or am I familiar with any form of 1337 (that’s the extent of my techno-centric knowledge), I do know a cool t-shirt concept when I see one and I’d buy a shirt if it were around. The only problem is I’d wonder if true die-hard haXors would come out of the woodwork and chastise me.

I’m 24, I recognise it! But then, I wrote Game of Life when I was at uni, plus I knew about it before uni (I’m one of those people who started young etc).

I think it’s a great idea. I think it’s a really neat symbol too. It’s minimal, uncomplicated, subtle, understated: all good things imho.

P.S. Anon: I too despair at the lack of knowledge of the younger generation! It’s disappointing to see so many kids around 10 and 11 who just sit around playing CounterStrike all day long. I enjoy the odd game of CS, and computer games in general, but I also regularly get carried away coding and stay up all night (and I “have a life” too – it’s not hard to enjoy yourself in many ways).

It’s definately got something to do with the speeds of computers today. People aren’t interested in writing efficient, quality code anymore. Well, yaknow, who needs to when we have 3ghz machines? Pfft to that, I say!

I don’t know, Computation Complexity can erase 3Ghz pretty darn quickly. There must be other reasons for youthful stupidity. I suspect they’re the same reasons that have always existed.


I agree with stevej; it must be the same reasons that have always existed, only people now are stupid with technology instead of being stupid with other things, ’cause technology is “in”, and it wasn’t “in” before, so the medium of stupidity, and not the reason (or amount), is what has changed. As someone said “Half people you see look and are stupid. And most of the other half are stupid, too…”

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