I just had a legendary drop!
[tooltip content=”test” type=”wow”][EFF Pioneer Award][/tooltip]
I’m incredibly humbled and honored to receive a Pioneer Award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Thanks to everyone who nominated me for this amazing award. The recognition motivates me to work harder!
Over a decade ago when I first set out reverse engineering the Xbox, I didn’t set out to be on the electronic frontier. In fact, it was business as usual for me, trodding the same ground I had walked since I was a child: the frontier came to me. The passage of the DMCA in 1998 redrew the borders of the frontier, and I became a pioneer without ever having to journey from the doorstep of my log cabin.
You could say I have a very traditional notion of ownership. If I buy something, I find it odd to think that I don’t own it. However, in the world of software, that’s the standard: you cannot own the expressive results of another’s thoughts; you can merely license a copy of it. This has lead to a number of ownership paradoxes. For example, a few years ago, you could license a copy of a video game called Diablo II, and the license was such that decades from now, you could legally enjoy a moment of nostalgia while you played it on an old computer. Today, you can license a copy of its sequel, Diablo III, but it relies upon a cloud service to authenticate the copy. The owner has the right to terminate the authentication service and in doing so you agree to stop playing. Decades from now, you may still have the computer; you may still have a copy of the software; but you no longer have the legal right to play, as you gave it away in a click-through agreement.
I like hardware because it’s relatively free of paradoxes like this. There is a notion that when I buy a book, it’s mine to do with what I want. I can give it to a friend, sell it in a second-hand shop; I can tear pages out, scribble on it, use it as a doorstop or a bug-smashing instrument. I can even photocopy pages for my personal use. Since I was a child, I had applied this intuitive definition of ownership to hardware. I’ve always felt empowered to take apart hardware and rip-mix-and-sometimes-burn, much to my parent’s chagrin. Hardware to me is like a book: in fact, much of the technology used to make hardware relies on similar lithographic and printing processes. A PCB isn’t a “Printed Circuit Board” for nothing. You can open and read hardware like a book; to me a schematic and a circuit board or IC layout are expressing the same idea, just translated in different languages.
And so, when I first punctured the warranty seal on the Xbox with my screwdriver, I had no idea I was about to embark on a journey to become a pioneer. But as they say, ‘you can tell the pioneers — they have the arrows coming out of their back’. But really, all I’ve done since then is just stand my ground and defend my little log cabin, built out of simple notions that are as old as the first trade of eggs for grain.
I believe you have the right to tinker and take things apart, which is an essential prerequisite to owning something; and I believe that ideas are most powerful when they are set free and shared openly. While the lines that define the electronic frontier are constantly changing, we need not be victims of circumstance: take a stand, and be a pioneer.
Thanks to everyone who supported me and gave me the courage to earn this award — my parents, my partner, my teachers and advisors, particularly Tom Knight and Hal Abelson; and my friends and my colleagues who stood by me even in my darkest times.