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   the borrowed machine. When he wasn't playing on the computer, he read,

   plucking one of his father's spy novels from the over-crowded

   bookcases, or his own favourite book, The Lord of The Rings.

  

   Computer programming had, however, captured the imagination of the

   young Electron years before he used his first computer. At the age of

   eleven he was using books to write simple programs on paper--mostly

   games--despite the fact that he had never actually touched a keyboard.

  

   His school may have had a few computers, but its administrators had

   little understanding of what to do with them. In year 9, Electron had

   met with the school's career counsellor, hoping to learn about career

   options working with computers.

  

   `I think maybe I'd like to do a course in computer programming ...'

   His voice trailed off, hesitantly.

  

   `Why would you want to do that?' she said. `Can't you think of

   anything better than that?'

  

   `Uhm ...' Electron was at a loss. He didn't know what to do. That was

   why he had come to her. He cast around for something which seemed a

   more mainstream career option but which might also let him work on

   computers. `Well, accounting maybe?'

  

   `Oh yes, that's much better,' she said.

  

   `You can probably even get into a university, and study accounting

   there. I'm sure you will enjoy it,' she added, smiling as she closed

   his file.

  

   The borrowed computers were, in Electron's opinion, one of the few

   good things about school. He did reasonably well at school, but only

   because it didn't take much effort. Teachers consistently told his

   father that Electron was underachieving and that he distracted the

   other students in class. For the most part, the criticism was just

   low-level noise. Occasionally, however, Electron had more serious

   run-ins with his teachers. Some thought he was gifted. Others thought

   the freckle-faced, Irish-looking boy who helped his friends set fire

   to textbooks at the back of the class was nothing but a smart alec.

  

   When he was sixteen, Electron bought his own computer. He used it to

   crack software protection, just as Par had done. The Apple was soon

   replaced by a more powerful Amiga with a 20 megabyte IBM compatible

   sidecar. The computers lived, in succession, on one of the two desks

   in his bedroom. The second desk, for his school work, was usually

   piled high with untouched assignments.

  

   The most striking aspect of Electron's room was the ream after ream of

   dot matrix computer print-out which littered the floor. Standing at

   almost any point in the simply furnished room, someone could reach out

   and grab at least one pile of print-outs, most of which contained

   either usernames and passwords or printed computer program code. In

   between the piles of print-outs, were T-shirts, jeans, sneakers and

   books on the floor. It was impossible to walk across Electron's room

   without stepping on something.

  

   The turning point for Electron was the purchase of a second-hand 300

   baud modem in 1986. Overnight, the modem transformed Electron's love

   of the computer into an obsession. During the semester immediately