Hacking is a normal activity of the human condition. It is the effort of bending reality to conform to one's needs. In the 1950s it was routine for young males to hack their automobiles into something with more muscle--testosteroni, as my wife refers to it--then what had been delivered by the manufacturer. In fact, the most successful automobile ever manufactured, the VW Beetle, was the ripest and most constantly evolving of all automotive hacks.
Our modern age brings us an almost unlimited number of hack opportunities that range from PDAs and cell phones to electronic bidets. Hacking the technology of our present age has become so pervasive that a cottage industry of books has arisen to meet the needs of those with a desire to modify their frames of reference.
All the books I looked at were from O'Reilly, so consider this a review of the series and not one individual book. There are books on hacking--or customizing, as some feel this is a more diplomatic term--by other publishers, but the distinction here is O'Reilly has the only series of books on hacking and the publisher's list of titles seems to be growing.
The first book I looked at was Linux Server Hacks, a subject near and dear to all our hearts. I can say that not all the hacks in this book were new to me, but many were, especially in the area of revision control (RCS-CVS), which is my weak spot. The book gave me a useful start and insights into making effective use of RCS for a Linux diagnostic-test machine I manage that has multiple root users and is often reinstalled from the image CD because it has become corrupted (again).
The most useful hacks you'll find in these books will be based on your skill-set; they may be things you knew about but haven't pursued, or they simply may be areas of weakness. Could you find them on the Web or in newsgroups? Yes, you likely could, but you might not find them as immediately as you would paging through the book. If nothing else, Linux Hacks is leisure reading for geeks.
If you've opted to search for a solution, however, or if your life is a series of searches, you may want to hone your skills with Google Hacks. Finding solutions is not always so much about knowing the answer as it is about being able to get the right information. Of course, one of the best ways to find solutions is to be more effective in your searching. Anyone can do simple searches, and we all do that routinely, but the first steps to being more effective with Google is to use it in the same manner as you would a database, which is to use both Boolean and special syntax. For example, using special syntax, the search LKCD:pdf helped me locate a PDF document about Linux kernel crash dumps.
Google also can be used in place of going to MapQuest or Yahoo! Maps. From the Google search page, type in the desired address (1600 Pennsylvania Ave Washington DC), and the first result should be a Showmap link with your choice of the MapQuest or Yahoo! Maps Web site. If you want to see cutting-edge Google or Google of the future check out labs.google.com.
The other two books I looked at were eBay Hacks and Amazon Hacks. Neither of these books should be considered guides to buying and selling on their respective sites. Their purpose is to be tool guides that make the process of buying and selling easier for participants in these market places.
I don't go into details about either of these books here, but I do recommend them to those who use eBay and Amazon. If you want more information on all of the Hacking series titles, go to the O'Reilly Hacking pages to see these titles and any new ones they have out. Also, take some time to explore the Hacks on-line.
Finally, I have a short list of Hacking titles I'd like to see developed: Hacking Yahoo, Hacking Windows CE, Hacking Apache and Hacking Your Significant Other.
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- Gordon H. Williams' Making Things Smart (Maker Media, Inc.)
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