The most horrifying book about computer culture that I've ever read landed on my desk last week. The title is "Gigabites: The Hacker Cookbook" by Jenz Johnson.
It has nothing to do with viruses, worms, Trojan horses and other things that go bump in the eternal night of cyberspace. It's far more insidious. It's about food, hacker food. It's about Twinkie Casserole, Chinese Leftover Lasagna, Liverwurst and Anchovy Tub, Fish Stick Stir-fry, Hot Dog Stroganoff, Spam Sushi and Cold Pop Tart Soup.
If indeed you are what you eat, then this volume goes a long way toward explaining our suspicions that the software we use must have been written by aliens, or at least by humans who aren't wired according to code.
Jenz, a self-described hacker who moonlights in pancake houses, offers a guided tour of the world of hacker cuisine, which DTC is designed mainly to fuel the 18-hour bursts of programming that hackers enjoy.
"Food is often the only interruption that is tolerated in the hacker world," Jenz explains, and even then, hackers demand food that can be eaten at the keyboard, usually scooped from a bowl with chips or the end of an old slide rule.
Jenz sums up hacker cuisine with three gastronomic principles: "Eat until you drop. Eat what you drop. Enjoy first -- ask questions later."
With so many wonderful prepared foods on the market, Jenz says, hackers see no reason to re-invent the wheel by making anything from scratch. So their recipes are heavy on Cheez Whiz, Velveeta, salsa, refried beans, Cheetos, Cool Whip, Spaghettios, mashed potatoes, sour cream and other calorie-packed goodies that can be mashed, squeezed, slammed, stirred and blended with solid ingredients such as beef jerky, pork rinds, Oreo cookies, french fries, liverwurst and sauerkraut -- and then seasoned with ketchup, soy sauce, Worcestershire and jalapeno chilies.
The right cooking utensils are critical: a spoon long enough to reach a bowl of Spam Soup when you're at the keyboard but small enough to fit inside the mouth of a jar of bean dip, an industrial strength can opener, a bowl that's equally appropriate for cooking and serving, and a heavy-duty microwave oven (it only needs one power setting: high).
Jenz offers special tips for entertaining. "With hacker cuisine, serving technique doubles as a distraction. You d not want your guests to scrutinize the meal too closely. The food has suffered enough in the kitchen."
If you wonder how, consider this excerpt from his section on cooking techniques: "Remove your hands from the concoction and visually inspect it for any active life forms. Pull it apart, pushing aside any large pieces and examine the minutiae. . . ."
Jenz includes special sections on the economics of hacker cuisine (your time is too valuable to spend cooking), cleaning techniques (the forearm squeegee) and finding the right Japanese samurai movie to watch during meals.
1% The recipes speak for themselves.
This light dessert was my favorite:
INGREDIENTS: 2 dozen Twinkies. 1 large jar caramel topping. 1 bag miniature marshmallows. 1 large jar hot fudge sauce. 1 tsp. cinnamon. 1 large bag Oreos. Dash of cinnamon.
1. Line the bottom of a casserole dish or large plate with the Twinkies.
2. Pour the caramel topping evenly over the Twinkies and smooth with a knife.
3. Pour the miniature marshmallows over the caramel until it is completely hidden.
4. Pour the hot fudge over the marshmallows.
5. Sprinkle the spices over the hot fudge.
6. Layer the Oreos on top of the casserole.
7. Serve immediately.
Serves 2 or 3.
Obviously, The Hacker Cookbook ($11.95) is a great Christmas gift for your favorite hacker. If you can't find it at your bookstore, contact Ten Speed Press, P.O. Box 7123, Berkeley, Calif. 94707.
Speaking of presents, there's a new program from Maxis that will let you design personalized gifts such as T-shirts, coffee mugs, running suits, Teddy bears, baseball caps, pennants, neckties, tote bags and windbreakers on your computer and have them delivered to your home or your favorite recipient.
This Windows package -- produced in conjunction with the Austin James design house and Artisting Greetings Inc. -- goes way beyond typical personalized gift catalogs.
Gift Maker allows you to design all the artwork yourself with a simple drawing program that uses special templates for each gift. Once you've selected your gift, you can choose from a variety of backgrounds, borders and clip art drawings, or import artwork stored in most popular graphics formats. You can also use photographs, either by scanning the image yourself or including a photo with your order.
You can add whatever text you like in any font and color, using a variety of tricks to slant, rotate and apply other special effects.