Hacking: The New National Pastime?

What a difference a day makes — or, in this particular case, eight months or so.

Less than a year ago, retailer Barnes & Noble yanked an issue of Linux Format magazine from its U.S. shelves because of a cover story on the topic of “hacking.”

“A complaint was made,” explained the announcement last May on Linux Format’s TuxRadar blog.

‘National Day of Civic Hacking’

Fast forward to last week and what do we have? A pretty different story, let’s just say.

Specifically, “White House announces ‘National Day of Civic Hacking'” was the headline over at PCWorld that brought the news to light.

Yes, that’s right — we’ve gone from hacking being a shameful, undesirable and potentially criminal activity to our very own government asking us to do it more.

‘An Opportunity for Developers’

“Civic Hacking Day is an opportunity for software developers, technologists, and entrepreneurs to unleash their can-do American spirit by collaboratively harnessing publicly-released data and code to create innovative solutions for problems that affect Americans,” reads the official announcement.

“While civic hacking communities have long worked to improve our country and the world, this summer will mark the first time local developers from across the Nation unite around the shared mission of addressing and solving challenges relevant to OUR blocks, OUR neighborhoods, OUR cities, OUR states, and OUR country,” it adds.

Got whiplash yet? You’re in good company — and a Triple Tequila Tux cocktail down at the blogosphere’s Punchy Penguin Saloon should take care of that in no time.

‘The Right Way to Do Things’

“Every government should accept FLOSS and other contributions by citizens just as they breathe the air,” blogger Robert Pogson told Linux Girl over a fresh round at the Punchy Penguin.

“Some things, like information and software, should be FREE,” Pogson explained. “It’s the right way to do things.

“Rather than paying licensing fees to the likes of M$, governments would be far ahead paying developers to create, tweak and manage FLOSS applications of all kinds,” he added. “It’s far less expensive and has lasting benefit to society.”

In fact, “rather than a National Day of Hacking, I recommend governments adopt a default policy that FLOSS is the solution for all IT,” Pogson concluded. “If governments cannot do something with FLOSS, it’s probably not worth doing.”

‘Something Sensible’

Similarly, “it is so refreshing to see the government doing something sensible,” agreed Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien. “There are a lot of smart people [that] can get involved in solving some problems here.”

Moreover, “the thing I noticed that is so appropriate is that the Census Bureau is one of the agencies looking for some help,” O’Brien added.

“If you know your history, it was the Census Bureau that pretty much started computing in the U.S,” he pointed out.

‘This Is an Olive Branch’

Google+ blogger Linux Rants was also enthusiastic — to a point.

“It sounds shiny,” Linux Rants told Linux Girl. “Really. I applaud the US government for finally taking an interest in technological matters.”

At the same time, however, “a not insignificant part of my brain feels that this is an olive branch to the ‘Hacker Community’ in response to the government’s catastrophically heinous position regarding Aaron Swartz,” he added.

“It feels to me like the White House is trying to distract us from his mistreatment by government officials and Carmen Ortiz specifically,” Linux Rants concluded. “Because of that, this ‘National Day of Civic Hacking’ leaves a sour taste in my mouth that won’t go away.”

‘Some PHB in the Executive Office’

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet was also suspicious.

“After Swartz? What are you, nuts?” hairyfeet exclaimed. “This regime has taken every single bad thing about the Bush years and extended it or even expanded it, and we’re supposed to buy this ‘civic hacking’ nonsense?

“Yeah, how nicely did they treat Occupy?” hairyfeet noted. “Had them infiltrated and put on watchlists, right?”

Essentially, “all this is is some PHB in the executive office using that word because he heard it somewhere and has NO clue what it means but it has ‘civic’ in it, so it MUST be good, right?” hairyfeet went on. “I mean, you read the release and it’s like diarrhea of the mouth, just a giant pile of ‘buzzword bingo’ that frankly isn’t saying a damned thing.

“I’m sorry, but if this administration said it was raining, I’d want a second opinion,” he added.

‘Sorry, Not Buying It’

Meanwhile, “how much you wanna bet at least one if not more WILL BE ARRESTED for doing EXACTLY what the White House said to do?” hairyfeet suggested. “If that happens, the White House will say, ‘Oh no, we didn’t mean for them to do THAT, we meant something totally different,’ and then the schmuck can go to jail and the White House can just keep spewing pointless jingoism using words it doesn’t even understand.”

In short, “anybody who falls for this is a total moron and deserves to be thrown in jail because they are stupid,” he concluded. “Obama hasn’t even done anything about the laws we already have on the books, like the ones they got Swartz trapped in a corner with — laws written so badly that anybody using a fricking handle on the net could be busted for wire fraud for ‘giving a false identity.’

“Yet we are supposed to trust them when it comes to this?” hairyfeet concluded. “Nope, sorry, not buying it.”

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

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