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From http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/stallman-kth.html. RichardStallman discusses how hacking at night became a cultural tradition starting at the MitAiLab.

In the days of the PDP-1 only one person could use the machine, at the beginning at least. Several years later they wrote a timesharing system, and they added lots of hardware for it. But in the beginning you just had to sign up for some time. Now of course the professors and the students working on official projects would always come in during the day. So, the people who wanted to get lots of time would sign up for time at night when there were less competition, and this created the custom of hackers working at night. Even when there was timesharing it would still be easier to get time, you could get more cycles at night, because there were fewer users. So people who wanted to get lots of work done, would still come in at night. But by then it began to be something else because you weren't alone, there were a few other hackers there too, and so it became a social phenomenon. During the daytime if you came in, you could expect to find professors and students who didn't really love the machine, whereas if during the night you came in you would find hackers. Therefore hackers came in at night to be with their culture. And they developed other traditions such as getting Chinese food at three in the morning. And I remember many sunrises seen from a car coming back from Chinatown. It was actually a very beautiful thing to see a sunrise, 'cause that's such a calm time of day. It's a wonderful time of day to get ready to go to bed. It's so nice to walk home with the light just brightening and the birds starting to chirp, you can get a real feeling of gentle satisfaction, of tranquility about the work that you have done that night.

Another tradition that we began was that of having places to sleep at the lab. Ever since I first was there, there was always at least one bed at the lab. And I may have done a little bit more living at the lab than most people because every year of two for some reason or other I'd have no apartment and I would spend a few months living at the lab. And I've always found it very comfortable, as well as nice and cool in the summer. But it was not at all uncommon to find people falling asleep at the lab, again because of their enthusiasm; you stay up as long as you possibly can hacking, because you just don't want to stop. And then when you're completely exhausted, you climb over to the nearest soft horizontal surface. A very informal atmosphere.

This page brings back lots of memories...

Around 1988 I started the "3am club" at New Mexico Tech (http://www.nmt.edu/), which lasted about a year. The members were all ComputerScience majors who spent all the time they could on the systems. The meetings were at 3am Saturday morning, after hacking through Friday night. (The CS labs were usually very empty at this time.) We usually went to Denny's (the only 24-hour restaurant in town) for breakfast after the "meeting". There were no formal activities of the club--it was more of an excuse for hacking all night.

One big advantage of nighttime hacking was that CPU-hours were much less expensive. (Each student received an allowance of computer-dollars. CPU time, disk storage, and printing all came out of that account.) I believe an hour of daytime CPU cost about $50.00, which was approximately the monthly account allowance. Nighttime CPU would cost about $20/hr (evening), or $10/hr (midnight-6am).

Normally, this allowance was enough. (CS majors got separate accounts for lab courses like OS building or compiler construction.) However, I became addicted to "Moria" (a RogueLike? text-based dungeon game, similar to NetHack). In one month I used over twice the allocated amount on CPU time. Rather than lose access for a month, I paid more than $50 of real money to get the account back.

I think the Internet was an important factor in the decline of computer-lab culture. (The other obvious factor is the availability of powerful PCs.) People who used to talk with the other lab-residents were instead completely focused on their talk/forum/mud or other online communities. Some of the culture survives in "wired" dorms (which group people who want fast network connections), but that may also fade as broadband access becomes more common. --CliffordAdams.

HackingAtNight on computers might be viewed as a specific example of the more general tendency in the reaction of students who have access to rare and expensive research equipment. X-ray crystallographers who travel to collect data at synchrotron beamlines tell stories of the all-nighter, though such data collection trips happen only episodically rather than regularly. More personally, several of us would sign up for large blocks of overnight time on the 400 MHz spectrometer in the basement of Hutchison Hall, for a variety of reasons: Because the technique demands a lot of sample averaging, because we wanted to change the instrument configuration (run at a lower or higher temperature, change probes), because things were more relaxed in the evening so one could be more flexible in preparing the samples and then acquiring the spectra, and because the people who really wanted to be there were the people who tended to be there--I passed my final cumulative exam based on things I learned during an impromptu, nightime, one-on-one tutorial session.

To me the habit of HackingAtNight developed becouse if you wanted to call a BulletinBoardSystem with one node (as was usually the case) you had to call at night. Also early internet connections were much cheaper at night. So you slowly slided toward a habit of doing everything related to computers during night time. --JaakkoMantysaari

System/360 Model 75 'sys gens' were all weekend affairs. Once started, we worked until done. -- HansWobbe.


This is a little bit of a chicken and egg thing. There are advantages to hacking at night still. One big advantage is that non-hackers are sleeping and can't interrupt you. However, I was largely nocturnal before I began hacking. So were some of my hackish friends.

Ironically, this post is made at normal time of day as I am shutting down. However, in my defense, I was *working* during the night... -- BobTrower


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