Hackers of the Renaissance

Claire sez, "Today on OMNI Reboot: architect and history buff Pablo Garcia digs through Renaissance history to discover that hacking is a mindset that dates back four centuries. Johannes Kepler was a hacker! Edward Mercator a proponent of the hands-on imperative! And more!"

Traveling to the Azores in 1589 under orders from Elizabeth I, Wright broke Mercator’s code with practical, hands-on experience at sea. Combined with his mathematical training, he produced tables with data and instructions for constructing a more accurate cylindrical projection. More than a new, more accurate map, Certaine Errors in Navigation was—like Kepler’s Rudolphine Tables—a computer for producing your own map. Wright’s hack gifted sailors with abilities beyond sea-borne experience. Instead of Mercator’s consumers, they were now self-sufficient cartographers at sea.

Wright understood the Hacker Ethic’s hands-on imperative, to the benefit of all who used his tools. He reminisces in the preface to Certaine Errors that through the expedition he “was first moved… to divert my mathematical studies from theoretical speculation in the Universitie [sic], to the practical demonstration of the use of navigation.” To wit, Wright went from thinker to hacker.

Edward Wright reverse engineered, improved, and shared a secret code. You may not have heard of him before, but he is one of history’s great hackers; a perfect embodiment of the Hacker Ethic.


(Thanks, Claire!)

Notable Replies

  1. Well, I honestly think hackerdom is far older than that. If we want to go there, Archimedes was most definitely a hacker (and maybe the inventor of one of the world's first mechanical computers). And what about the creators of the cave paintings a Lascaux, who made do with very primitive technology to create paints that have endured more than 20,000 years?

    And it's very possible to "hack" other things than technology. Metrical poetry springs to mind - all the ins and outs of finding a phrase that fits the meter, expresses the sense and Just Works, so it seems like the words just sprang directly from your brain. So maybe the hacking mindset isn't actually just centuries, but millennia old.

Continue the discussion bbs.boingboing.net

3 more replies