Computer programmers as a subculture of the general engineering and scientific community have their own set of heros with aspects based on the values that programmers respect. These heroic figures, called hackers, are not at all like the popular press version of the computer hacker. Legendary hackers are both real and fictional, but tend to share certain common features: extraordinary programming skill, cleverness in the face of difficulty, an ability to suspend all other activities while producing a solution to a problem, an appreciation for a clever solution to a seemingly insignificant problem, weakness in some other aspect to balance their skill as a hacker, and adherence to some form of the Hacker Ethic. Legends of the exploits of the heroic hacker are passed through the virtual community of the programmer, the Internet, using email, newsgroups, and recently web pages. These communication media allow the community of programmers to be in close contact even though they may be physically separated.
As an example of perhaps the best-known hacker legend, I have discussed The Story of Mel, A Real Programmer. This legend embodies many of the aspects of hacker legends in general, and is often used as a way to define what it means to be a hacker. The legendary status of Mel is seen, for example, in another hacker legend from the Internet, this one about the problems of making code fit into the guidance computer of a satellite before lift-off . The story ends with the following summation:
The solution was both clever and bletcherous. The overflow bit became part of the opcode. To get the extra opcodes, the program would add-to-memory an accumulator value that would cause an overflow when added to the instruction that was in memory. Since the instructions were in ROM they didn't get modified, but the added bit of the overflow gave 8 more opcodes.
I only presume that these opcodes were powerful enough that the extra instructions required to generate them cost less than the instructions they replaced. I have long since lost the article reprint we used. Dave Parnas, who taught the course, had a great time with this particular machine...
All I know is: Mel would have *loved* it!