If there is a heaven, the angels are in for a hell of a time when Jude Milhon, the Internet’s real and very earthy patron saint of hacking, shows up. Better known on the Internet by her nom de plume, St. Jude, Milhon died on July 19 of cancer. Her age was an issue Milhon obviously decided not to address. Even her closest friends could only guess at it, and they admitted they could be off by as much as a decade.
St. Jude wasn’t your typical saint.
She was a staunch advocate of the joys of hacking, geek sex and a woman’s right to choose to use technology. She figured life was too short to waste worrying about what other people might think, and was also known for her very colorful way with the English language.
Back when the Internet was populated primarily by men, she encouraged and helped other women to get online.
“Girls need modems!” she said in a February 1995 Wired magazine interview.
“She certainly was an icon of the infancy of the wired generation,” said security consultant Robert Ferrell. “We wouldn’t be what we are without her, and for that, if for no other reason, she will be sorely missed.”
Milhon also believed in learning how to hack “as a martial art — a way of defending against politically correct politicians, overly intrusive laws, bigots and narrow-minded people of all persuasions,” according to an e-mail she sent to this reporter in September 1999.
And she particularly wanted to introduce women to the joys of hacking.
“Women may not be great at physical altercations, but we sure excel at rapid-fire keyboarding,” Milton wrote in that September e-mail.
“We should look at the Internet as the life-skills school so many of us girls never attended, and get out there and learn to conquer our fears of not being nice enough, not being polite enough, not being strong enough, not being pretty enough, or smart enough or anything enough.”
Her definition of hacking — “the clever circumvention of imposed limits, whether imposed by your government, your own skills or the laws of physics” — has been widely quoted in many news stories and magazine articles.
Milhon may be most heralded, at least among technically inclined women, for her guidebook to “real-time nonvirtual sex.”
Written for girl geeks, Hacking the Wetware: The NerdGirl’s Pillow Book was a guide intended to turn women into happy hackers by demystifying the workings of both the body and the brain.
“While luring you with sex, (this book) is subtly training you to think like a hacker. You think, therefore you hack … it’s a become-it-yourself guide.” Milhon said in an e-mail describing the book’s “hidden agenda.”
The original version of Wetware was released on the Internet in the spring of 1994. Milhon later reissued it, again on the Net, under a new title: The Joy of Hacker Sex.
“St. Jude taught me that it isn’t necessary to have big boobs to be a sex goddess. All you really need is a big brain and the right attitude,” said Unix programmer Nadine Ulmer.
Milhon is also the author of The Cyberpunk Handbook and How to Mutate and Take Over the World. The latter book was co-authored with R.U. Sirius, co-founder and former editor of tech culture magazine Mondo 2000, where Milhon was a senior editor.
Milhon began programming in 1967 for the Horn and Hardart automats in Manhattan, after reading the book Teach Yourself Fortran. She was a founding member of Cypherpunks, a loosely organized group of digital privacy advocates (Milhon also coined the name Cypherpunk) and was a member of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility — a group that she cheerfully described as a “lefto-revolutionist programming commune.”
CPSR formed the Community Memory Project in 1973, widely believed to be the very first public online computer system.