When I was an Italian Hacker

Many years ago, when I lived in Amsterdam, I worked with a lot of cool and interesting people. Amsterdam was a hot bed of innovation in technology, art, media and activism. I think that mantle has since faded – Berlin seems to hold that title now, but back then (circa 2000) AMS was it.

Back then, and still doing great work now, was Jaromil, an Italian hacker who was pretty famous, and who became steadily more famous. Jaromil was behind a couple of cool projects. One was Muse, which was an early streaming media encoder. Back then streaming was new-ish and there were not many good tools to do it, especially if you were looking for free software tools. Muse was awesome and it was one of the first softwares I documented when I started FLOSS Manuals.


Jaromil was also the chap behind the free operating system called Dynebolic. It was an early version of what they called a ‘bootable CD distro’. It looks like ancient jargon now but essentially it meant that there was a CD with the Linux operating system on it, and you could put it in your windows or apple computer, restart it, and you would have a Linux operating system. It was kinda magical in those days. Even more magical is that Jaromil loaded the CD with all these cool free software tools for art/activism/media etc etc.

Around these ideas, Jaromil started to form a hacker collective – Dyne. They were entirely Italian, though many members were living in Amsterdam. Some of them lived in the same place with Jaromil, I can’t remember if it was a squat but I’m guessing it probably was. Back then, squatting in Amsterdam was still a thing although the police were progressively shutting  it down. Some squats survived to this day by ‘legalising’ their ownership, but many of the cool ones were shut down rather violently.

Anyho… this is really a relatively short story. Jaromil asked me to join Dyne. I was kinda surprised. I mean, I knew Jaromil well and liked him a lot. I was a huge fan of his work, and of Dyne. But Dyne was clearly Italian, and clearly for these really mean hackers. Mean as in actual real hackers, not hackers as it has been subverted negatively as in use today. But hackers in the more pure sense of people who were really really committed to knowing everything about their chosen tech-geek obsession and who really didn’t care about anything else – including how they made a living or survived in the world beyond the absolute short term. They were a fierce bunch, amazingly sophisticated programmers, and completely committed to free media, free software, free media activism etc.

So, when asked by Jaromi tojoin, l I replied that I was very honored but clearly I wasn’t a hacker. I omitted the rather obvious point that I was also probably the most non-Italian person you would ever meet.

Jaromil replied, and again, it’s sorta like the other stories I wrote this week, in that it left this lasting impression on me, that ‘Hacking is an attitude’.

It was a liberating thought for me and I realised instantly he was completely right. Hacking isn’t a technical pursuit, it’s a fierce curiosity to understand, break, innovate and re-invent the things you find most interesting. Also, I think, it’s a no bullshit approach. In my experience hackers can’t tolerate bullshit.

Anyways, so I agreed to be part of Dyne and here is the proof of those halcyon days when I was an Italian Hacker 🙂 :


Photo of Jaromil by Alexander Klink – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16091977

Also, I just found this great recent video of Jaromil. Awesome, lovely and inspiring chap. I thoroughly recommend watching this vid.