Ultimately, we love the machines or the way we can make them behave. We love doing things we are not supposed to – overclocking to use vmplayer to create images. We love automating tasks which are generally not possible.
Here are three coolest hacks I ever did:
1. In my undergrad days, along with Dr. Madhumoorthy (PhD from IITM, now teaching in SV university, Tirupati), I developed a system that teaches Morse code. I was doing the software part of it. To keep the costs low, we can’t have RAM. That is right! The whole system has to developed in ROM. My task is to create a Morse code generator that plays at certain words per minute and then play back at 5 words per minute for them to check.
All coding had to be done without resorting to storage. So, I had to do bit twiddling in registries. Imagine implementing random words with specific frequencies of letters under 1K code! Well, we won a prize for that. [Go VU2NCS!!]
2. During the second winter in Bell Labs, I was working at home occasionally. I needed files from the server. But, logging into the server was not allowed from internet. I rigged it so that I sent a mail to myself and the system recognizes it and decrypts it and performs the actions. Not only I could mail my files to me, I could monitor my tests and programs.
The flip side is more difficult. If I had to get a file from home, what do I do? In those days the machine is not on the net all the time? It needs to dial out and get on line. How did I do that? Thanks to Linux hacking (I fixed some kernel level code), I rigged the machine so that it dials out when I call that number at a specific interval. That is, call the number, put down the phone before the answer, repeat it after 2 minutes, before 2.5 minutes and then the system will dial out and send me its dynamic IP. Then, I can login and do what ever I wanted.
3. When Bell Labs broke up into two parts, our project (and us) went to Lucent. The source code went to AT&T. We only had access to Binary files. It was a command line program and we had to put an elaborate UI. I cooked up a program that is written in Expect that drives the back end and presents a full-fledged UI to the users – tabs, graphs, tables, forms and what not. The time took from the beginning to end: 1 man week. The effort that was given by other teams: 6 months to replicate the source code. Thanks from the grateful management: priceless!
Alas, these days I don’t do any hacking! I have to live vicariously.
C’mon, tell me what is the best hack you ever did? What do you like about it? Notice that hack does not mean illegal – it means doing something totally outside the box!