Hacker School: The First Three Weeks
Jun 29, 2014
4 minute read

For three weeks now, I’ve been at Hacker School. Hacker School is hard to describe, they call themselves a “writer’s retreat for programmers.” Personally I prefer “programmer summer camp,” mostly because I have no idea what writer’s retreats are like. Basically it’s a collection of people working in a self-directed way to improve their skills as programmers. They accept people of all skill levels, as long as you have programmed before. I’ve heard “but Max, you already know Ruby on Rails” from more then one person when telling them I’m going to Hacker School, so I think I should let you know that Hacker School doesn’t have a curriculum, isn’t a bootcamp, and I’m trying to write as little Ruby as I can get away while here.

I have a lot to say about what it feels like to go to a Montessori school for adults, but I’ll save that for another blog post. This is going to be a inventory of what I’ve been working and thinking about while here, and some of my goals. One of my goals coming in was to blog a lot. I haven’t done it, but I hope this will the first of n Hacker School blog posts (for sufficiently large n).

What I’m Doing

I’ve started a lot of projects while here, but they fall into two main categories. Courses and Projects.


  • I started Write Yourself a Scheme in 48 Hours with another Hacker Schooler here. I’m finding that I’m not getting a lot of out of it — I’m running into a lot of issues that would be solved with a more traditional Haskell resource, so to that end,
  • I started Yorgey’s Haskell course here
  • I started working through this exploitation course.
  • I signed up for Dan Boneh’s crypto course which starts tomorrow.

This above is very ambitious, and I fully expect to not finish most of these. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to come back to the Haskell Scheme interpreter course. I would like to finish the Haskell and exploitation class. I’ve started the crypto class many times before already, so there’s that.


  • To prove to myself just how much better I understand Ruby then Haskell, I wrote a very simple Scheme interpreter based on Norvig’s lispy
  • My main project so far is implementing an emulator for the MSP430 in clojure.


The emulator project has been taking up most of my time here, and it’s worth talking about it more. The MSP430 is the chipset used in the MicroCorruption hacking game. Working on the emulator has helped me get better at reversing the MIPS assembly used by the processor, and I finally got to the last level after a 5 month hiatus.

I have two directions I want to take this emulator in. First of all, I have started reading papers about using SMT solvers in binary reverse engineering and exploitation. I would like to develop some heuristics for solving the microcorruption challenges automatically. Since I already have an emulator, the next step would be to emit SMT formulas based on execution traces. I don’t actually understand how to solve the problem deeper then the above sentence, so the real next step is to read more papers.

The other direction I have been thinking about is to port my emulator from Clojure into Clojurescript and build a web-based UI around it. The microcorruption game has a web based emulator, but the emulation actually happens on a sever and the browser provides only the UI. I have this vague idea of using colors to map display bytes in memory and show a buffer overflow as mixing colors. That’s about all I got though, but it’s a good excuse to learn Om.

Future posts

Next time I’ll explain how the biggest lesson I learned from writing a emulator in a functional programming style was about testing and talk about writing my first (!) clojure macros.