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Laurie Everett

Where the Sun Shines, There Hack They by Laurie Everett

MIT is known for many things, including its legendary hacks.

MIT is known for many things, including its legendary hacks. Long a part of MIT folklore, hacks
can tell much about MIT’s culture and subculture—providing a deeper understanding about
intelligence, strategic design, humor and general outlaw behavior—and serve as another
indication of the interdisciplinary nature of MIT.

In 2005 MIT Professor Emeritus Samuel Jay Keyser gave a talk on the history of hacks.
In Where the Sun Shines, There Hack They, he tells stories from his days as associate provost for student life, brings gadgets and other hack artifacts and gives some very deep background on legendary and notorious hacks, with passion, humor and a high regard for hackers and hacking. He explains that hacks are not silly pranks, but complex and intelligent statements, filled with irony, wit, and meaning that ultimately “do no harm”. He also deconstructs the psychological nature of hacking, and gets to the inner zen of hacking and what it really reflects about MIT. If you’re looking for an unusual but relevant introduction to MIT, I highly recommend this video on MIT World.

Keyser is also the author of a brilliant essay in Nightwork, a 2003 book on hacking published by The MIT Press. Little is known about its author, Institute Historian T.F. Peterson, but readers are encouraged to pay very close attention to the notion that perhaps the book in itself represents a new kind of hack.

33 responses to “Where the Sun Shines, There Hack They”

  1. Wow thats unbelievable!

  2. Paul '11 says:

    …Heh. “Institute Historian” indeed.

    Took me a while, but I got it.

  3. Matth(ew) H. says:

    I bought a copy of Nightwork when I visited MIT last month. (It was kind of a sad visit–I had applied and wasn’t accepted, but I still really wanted to see the place I had been dreaming about.)

    But anyway, I had never given any thought to the author’s name until now–very clever, Mr. Keyser.

  4. Snively says:

    That took you a while Paul? I have to say, I’m disappointed, spotting stuff like that should be second nature!

  5. Paul '11 says:

    What can I say, I’m a trusting kind of guy. Institute Historian sure looks like a legitimate title at first glance. Sorry to let you down Snively! raspberry

  6. Fishei Tan-J says:


  7. Fishei TJ says:

    Sorry I blew it not yet..

  8. Wings '11 says:

    I have Nightwork! I actually have an older book, too, called The Journal of the Institute for Hacks, Tomfoolery, and Pranks at MIT by the MIT Museum. I bought it used on Amazon =) I love these books, and the hack website.

    AHHHH hack culture I have Nightwork! I actually have an older book, too, called The Journal of the Institute for Hacks, Tomfoolery, and Pranks at MIT by the MIT Museum. I bought it used on Amazon =) I love these books, and the hack website.

    AHHHH hack culture <3

  9. Wings '11 says:

    Hackito Ergo Sum, indeed.
    I Have Truly Found Paradise =P

  10. 崔永財 says:

    I have never been to MIT.but I feel so happy .I can learn more about MIT from Internet. could you please tell me more and more about the culture of America. thanks.

  11. Jlien says:

    Sure thing. We like placing cars on top of buildings. Each year 15 students are picked randomly and they must raise Ben Jones’ car to the top of the dome.

    If not they are expelled.

  12. Laurie says:

    HI MITFANgirl

    All of those questions and more are answered in the video. Its a must see!

  13. MITFangirl says:

    I’ve been wondering about the hacks committed by students. Do they get in trouble for any of these? If they must be teacher sanctioned or abide by a certain set of rules, then how does that fit with general outlaw behavior being accepted at MIT? I feel like there is a key piece I am missing.

  14. Hawkins '12 says:

    Hacking is carried out mostly anonymously, as the activity includes some risks and some places that students are not allowed to be on campus. However, the Institute does not attempt to crack down on hackers because their work generally does no harm and is carried out with the highest regard for safety. There have been instances of hackers being caught and fined by campus police (usually for being on top of the dome), but none (of which I’m aware) that involved serious injuries or offenses.

  15. Adam '11 says:

    Yep – From what I’ve heard, if you’re caught by campus police in a restricted area other than the dome, you generally get a stern warning. If you’re on the dome, I’m pretty sure its a $50 fine for the first offense.

    This info was word-of-mouth about 3 months ago, so it might be wrong. Someone please correct me if it is.

  16. Shawest '11 says:

    Hacks make me happy. I suppose the whole getting punished for getting caught is a good thing, in a way, since it forces hackers to be more sneaky smile. Although getting caught must suck. At least he punishments aren’t bad enough to discourage anyone from doing it.

  17. Wings '11 says:

    I’ve heard a couple of stories about hacking – people falling from the dome and getting tangled in the rope – but they get down safely =)

    Hacking is all underground stuff, but it’s just a big part of MIT that people tend to accept it – and, dare I say, are proud of it? In any case, the campus police do try to limit it =P

  18. M,J says:

    Who can help me to ge admite for the year 2008

  19. Ronald says:

    only you can help urself mate…maybe ur experiences can help out too!

  20. Snively says:


    Seriously? Falling off the dome? I’ve never heard that story, can you post a link or explain, sounds entertaining (look, anywhere else the story would be terrifying, but at MIT falling off domes is bound to be portrayed in an entertaining light).

  21. TheShawn '11 says:

    Ronald’s right. There’s nothing anyone can tell you that will get you into MIT. And there’s no telling what got any one person in, anyway. The admissions staff works in mysterious ways. Just enjoy high school, challenge your limits, and good luck (yay for non-parallel sentences).

    Haha I think I’ve actually heard that falling of the dome/getting tangled in the rope story before. Can’t remember where I heard it, though. Maybe someone told me about it on the tangerine tour (which was amazing, even though my group didn’t get to go on the dome :()

  22. TheShawn '11 says:

    Heh, “[hacks are] about doing interesting things with existing tools.”

    and sometimes hacks are existing tools doing interesting things smile

  23. Kevin says:

    can someone give me some sources for information about hacking? Anything would be appreciated

  24. Wings '11 says:

    Snively, I’m afraid I won’t be able to give you my source. It was a story told by one of my.. tour guides at CPW. He was doing some decorating. =)

  25. TamK says:

    I’m sure (at least I hope) someone has mentioned this before in the comments, but I’ll just bolster the argument.
    Woo to those who think of sneaky kids engaged in mischief when they hear the word “hack”. It can be a creative solution to an algorithm, an obscure way to get more out of something, heck, it can be almost anything that requires skill and intellect. Note that the O’reilly “hack” books (php hacks, perl hacks) are not about exploiting anything, but about doing interesting things with existing tools.

  26. Hi,
    I am Jack,a Chinese student. I’d like to ask you if I have been studying in Chinese university for 2yeas, could I apply to MIT for the freshman?

    Thank you,

  27. Snively says:

    @Jack P. Lincoln

    If you’ve had any college at all you’ll need to apply as a transfer student.

  28. Wings '11 says:

    Reza –

    Hacks at MIT don’t mean hacking into a computer system. Hacking means pulling a prank like hanging banners off buildings, putting cars onto the dome, or hanging up giant paper airplanes somewhere. If you want to see an example of these hacks (pranks), go here:

    Or check out a couple of the blog entries about hacks:

    (Mario Brothers)

    (Where’s Waldo)

    (Harry Potter)


    And why do MIT students hack? One cannot survive off studying alone – hacks are a clever way to goof off.

  29. Reza says:

    Why all of you try to hack? You can use your knowledge for improve software security and help computer user from cybercrime.
    It is a good idea to be useful instade to be bad for world.
    If you want to hack, please hack black hackers that try to design unsafe networks.
    Thank you all.

  30. Reza says:

    Thank you for your information.
    Ok it is interesting.