The word hack has been around for a very long time and it formerly was meant to mean "taking things apart by hacking". And, by extension, the word was used during the early internet era to mean disassemble and reassemble. But in a curious and strange way, the act of hacking became associated with the destruction of all things computer related. So, the virus creators and identify thieves became hackers along with wardrivers who drive around with home built equipment and software to tap into unprotected WiFi locations. The truth is that almost everything new has been the result of hacking existing materials into new and innovative products. The first non-stone wheel was probably made by someone mentally taking apart the stone and considering and building one of wood. Perhaps it was the first hardware hack. Hacking is a truly human act. (Although primate advocates would argue that animals can also hack materials into tools or entertainment devices).
Real hackers are a curious breed. They like to imagine and try bizarre and different ideas. They fail at tasks more than most non-hackers because they want to experiment no matter what the outcome. Success or failure really is not the goal at all. It is the experience of trying something different. And, hackers want to share their ideas to fuel other innovations. They believe in open source and the free exchange of ideas.
I am a hacker and always have been. Taking things apart and putting them together again in a new way has been what I do and enjoy. And, there are always parts left over to build something else! There are sites dedicated to hacking and sharing ideas. One that I recommend to demonstrate the length and breadth of hacking is Hack A Day. They have been kind enough to post two of my projects from my page on Science and Technology. "Anodizing aluminum without battery acid", and "Making colored hot glue sticks". After spending hours working on these projects, it is great to get a comment that someone has received value from our efforts. Or, head over to Dino Segovis's Hack A week site and watch the curious mind in motion. There are hundreds of great sites that celebrate curiosity and foster free-thinking.
And, all over the world there are hackerspaces. These are places where like minded people pool their time, talent, and resources to build the future. Sometime in the future we will look back at nerd, geek, and hacker as inappropriate and truly useless words that reflect only the narrow minded and senseless world of the pejorative. Hackers make things and crackers break things.