R U teh g33XX0r? (A compendium of computer humor)

Listen, I know leetspeak is paleolithic and not funny anymore, but it’s a great lead-in to this awesome infographic about programming. If it got you here, mission accomplished. Suck it down.


Although I was a programmer for years, having started with FORTRAN on a Univac 1108, and progressing through PL/I in the IBM environment to Algol on Data General machines, and using Basic, PL/M, Javascript and C in the PC environment, this chart forces me to confront the fact that I only really danced around the core of the programming world. But having done as much as I did, I thoroughly respect the people who code for today’s computers, tablets and smartphones.

Programming is a fertile field for humor, mostly as a stress-reliever. I shared a poem by Dan Nessett previously, and I’ll give you a few more examples of his work – and that of others – below.


Special Forms, the Lady Tells Him” – Dan Nessett

This poem appeared in Droll Science by Robert L. Weber (1987), and was noted as an original submission for that volume. However, I first saw it printed off on a Tektronix thermal printer at Washington State’s Office of Financial Management in 1980, so I’m not sure quite what to make of that.


Another poem by Nessett, also chanted to the cadence of “Hiawatha”:

The strange tale of Jeremiah Hoop

Jeremiah Hoop, a stranger,
came to be advised concerning
The addition of some figures
Needed for his Income Tax.

To the University of
Hoopla State he brought his query,
“Please explain what I must do to
Add these on your fine computer.”

“Please attend,” the first man told him.
“The error in your computation
Will depend on the solution
Of this Eigenvalue problem.”

“Epsilon in this case surely
Will destabilize your answer
And your round-off will truncate so
That your sum must disappear.”

Jeremiah’s admiration
Of this man’s remarkable grasp
Of the gallic language did not
Rid him of his pressing question.

So he sought and found another
Fine distinguished-looking teacher –
“Ah! A fine example of the
Non-deterministic parsing
Requisite in PDL
Automata and T. M. Scanners.

Here, I have a proof that this is
Quite unsolvable,” he answered.
“Huh!?!” was all that Mr. Hoop
Could muster after this Greek lesson.

Once again he posed the question.
Once again a Rorschach answer.
“If we generalize your question
Into one of n-dimensions
We can then apply the Tensor
Calculus and Einstein’s methods.”

“With but one Christoffel symbol
And ignoring oscillations,
I believe we’ll find the answer
To our question in three years.”
Again and once more Jeremiah
Questioned those of higher learning –

If we write a microprogram…”
or, “An SVC exists…”
“Pooh!” was all that Jeremiah
Could respond, exasperated.
“In the time I’ve wasted asking,
I could sum the list by hand.”

Wiser, Jeremiah Hoop turned
And in silence walked away.
Went back to his farm in Clodville.
Laughed out loud occasionally.

-Dan Nessett


(This one reminds me hauntingly of “Ozymandias“)


One day while cleaning off my desk there came
Into my hands a scrap, upon it writ
Five lines of code – a subroutine whose name
Was “Magic” which required no arguments.

My curiosity began to itch.
I wrote a simple driver with but one
“Call Magic” statement – and submitted it
And walked outside to bask beneath the sun.

Four hours later I awoke in pain.
A sunburn had decided it should
Take out a lease and dwell upon my skin.
So I returned inside in no sweet mood.

I claimed my job – my reason was enraged.
Queer looks were given me when I exclaimed,
“Great Caesar’s Ghost,” for on its final page
Was “For your sunburn try some Solarcaine™”.

Three times I ran that job – three times amazed.
For once it solved a problem that had been
My tormentor for months, and, sans arrays,
It gave a winning strategy for Gin.

The second run output a proof which showed
That every map with four colors may be
Completely marked and all adjacent nodes
Have different hues for their identity.

The third described a model of the skies
Which made the Einstein formulation seem
As trivial as one plus four is five,
And yet could be explained to a Marine.

Just one more time I ran that job and while
It executed I sat deep in thought.
I concentrated all my earthly guile
On making “Magic” show the key to Luck.

The world is full of greed and avarice.
It spins on axes hewn from Mankind’s lust.
Small children learn – avoid the precipice
Of grabbing for that final piece of crust.

No trace of “Magic” could be found by this
Sad author after I turned in that job
Which disappeared with all the previous
Results collected – dust to worthless dust.

– Dan Nessett


Ode to a Programmer


“No program is perfect,”
they said with a shrug.
“The client is happy –
what’s one little bug?”
But he was determined;
The others went home.
He dug out the flowcharts,
Deserted, alone.
Night passed into morning,
The room became cluttered
With core-dumps and punch-cards.
“I’m close,” he muttered.
Chain-smoking, cold coffee,
Logic, deduction,
“I’ve got it!” her cried,
“Just change one instruction!”
Then change two, then three more,
As year followed year,
And strangers would comment,
“Is that guy still here?”
He died at the console
Of hunger and thirst.
Next day he was buried
Face down, 9-edge first.
And his wife, through her tears,
Not accepting his fate,
Said, “He’s not really gone,


Even though times were undoubtedly simpler in 1978,


I’m sure programmers have always had the same challenges.

Joys of Being a DP Professional

Quoted for truth



On that note, a bit of history. Back in 1984, the company I joined was running on Wang OIS hardware, at one time the foremost word processing system available in the business world. Their famous V2 editor, designed in tight assembly code to run in 32K of workspace (although most workstations by that time had 64K) was stored in the Wang headquarters in Lowell, Massachussetts, in a tall rack of drives. Source code and backups, all in the same rack. Which got knocked over. Hence no improvements were ever made to the editor; when it came time for Wang to release WP Plus, they basically had to re-write the code from the bottom up, emulating the function of their own editor… and of course it was slower than molasses. Source code is important…




While Mike Royko praised the virtues of the Macintosh in 1995, it was not always popular; at the Macworld in 1986, Philippe Kahn, then CEO of Borland International, raised hackles when he called the Mac a “piece of shit.” He later did an about face when he woke up and smelled the money, but it was a gutsy thing to say in the middle of a convention of Mac enthusiasts.

I know people like this. Me, I’ll use whatever’s at hand, whatever works, whatever’s cheapest. I love the Mac platform but have never been able to afford it for my own personal machines (fortunately I was able to dig deeply into Apple technology at work, and for years attended the Macworld conventions in San Francisco, where I serendipitously encountered some of my favorite music. I’ve never dared navigate the Unix learning curve, despite being told by all my friends that it’s the only way to go. So I’m happy with my core i7 machine, which will probably meet my needs for the foreseeable future. Running Win7 Pro 64, I finally feel as though I have a machine that is really fast enough for everything I care to do. Heck, I can even play Duke Nukem 3D (Forever was a huge disappointment) using the eduke32 port – what more could a man ask for? [1] – and XP is still available as a virtual machine for the few programs that choke at Win7.


One of the earliest iterations of this joke that I’ve seen.


I think this has happened in real life more than once.

Norwegian Internet

A friend of mine in Norway posted this one.

-Did you have your own computer when you were little?


-We didn’t even have the Internet.




-Why is your iPad so big and clunky? Is it a first generation?


-That’s a TV.



It’s somewhat disturbing to take note of the fact that there are young people alive today who don’t know a world without the Internet. Problems, of course, are always grist for the humorist’s mill:

Windows Surgery

Despite Microsoft’s best efforts to manage 1080 lines of operating system code, this still happens:

Data Blue Screen of Death

Fortunately they give their valued users an opportunity to provide feedback:


If you’re not satisfied with the bounteous information provided when things go wrong, you can always call Microsoft Customer Support

Naturally, as the above recording indicates, they will always try to redirect you to their website:


On that note, users who need help need to make sure their tech support agents are competent, and not evil:

FoxTrot - Delete File

Computer humor goes back a long, long way – Byte Magazine enjoyed throwing an April Fool’s advert into their “What’s New” section. Interesting technology from 1981 – can you spot the joke? Byte1981

A year earlier, Datamation published a lovely send-up of Poe’s “The Raven” which still resonates with coders of today, even though the architecture has shifted a bit (many versions of this can be found around the internet, but I believe this one is the original).

Of course, many people even today are afraid of technology, and the supermarket rags wasted no time exploiting those fears:


As technology became more mainstream, people needed to learn how to deal with it in everyday situations:


(From Ernie, later The Piranha Club)

Email Texas Instruments

Dave Barry had some interesting things to say about technophobes in 1995.

Some were more successful than others:

Nuclear War
Duffy - Stress
Stock Values are 0

But students did their best to adapt and take advantage of all technology had to offer:


Working in a software development environment is never easy. There are so many bosses and customers and dotted lines that situations like this are fairly common:

How the Project Developed

Every new technology has to work the bugs out:

Naughty Robot

We’ve come a long way since the early days of computing. Moore’s Law[2], outsourcing and competition have done a lot to keep consumer prices on a downward trend (except for Apple, of course):

Old Computer Ad (1989)

This state-of-the-art computer from Tandy would cost $15,937.75 in 2013 dollars, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you wanted to add a 28K Modem, it would only cost you an additional $800.00;


Whereas a 15 Megabyte Hard Drive would set you back $2495.00… plus $495.00 for that “required installation kit.”

Vintage Hard Drive Ad

Hardware back then was ruddy expensive; that Tandy 5000 would cost $16,004.44 in 2013 dollars, and for that you could buy the best, fastest system available today with every conceivable bell and whistle, and still have enough left over for some nice add-ons.

Today’s internet connection speeds make this seem like stone-age technology (although working for Washington State’s Office of Financial Management in 1980, I was connecting to WASU’s IBM’s over a 300 BAUD AT&T TTY terminal, and felt incredibly blessed when our new TI’s bumped that to 1200 BAUD – all things are relative!) (Keep in mind that  my HTC Incredible 2 smartphone, already 5 years old, has a 1 GHz processor, 786MB of ram, and a 32GB memory card that’s smaller than my fingernail, and I paid around $200.00 for it.)

There may come a day when we begin to regret making our computers smarter than we are:

\Let the Machine Get It - Bizarro

Duffy - Gotcha

But until that time, we will just have to accept the fact of what computers really are: wonderful servants, but harsh taskmasters.

Robot Beggar

The Old Wolf has spoken.

[1] Well, maybe smoothly-working versions of all of the Myst series. The first one is a bear to get working in any emulated environment.

[2] Moore’s law simply says that computer power doubles every eighteen months. First stated in 1965 by Gordon Moore, one of the founders of the Intel Corporation, this simple law has helped to revolutionize the world economy, generated fabulous new wealth, and irreversibly altered our way of life. When you plot the plunging price of computer chips and their rapid advancements in speed, processing power, and memory, you find a remarkably straight line going back fifty years. (This is plotted on a logarithmic curve. In fact, if you extend the graph, so that it includes vacuum tube technology and even mechanical hand-crank adding machines, the line can be extended over 100 years into the past.)

Exponential growth is often hard to grasp, since our minds think linearly. It often starts deceptively slowly. It is so gradual that you sometimes cannot experience the change at all. But over decades, it can completely alter everything around us.

According to Moore’s Law, every Christmas your computer games are almost twice as powerful (in terms of memory and processing speed) as they were the previous year. Furthermore, as the years pass, this incremental gain becomes truly monumental. For example, when you receive a birthday card in the mail, it often has a chip which sings “Happy Birthday” to you. Remarkably, that chip has more computer power than all the Allied Forces of 1945. Hitler, Churchill, or Roosevelt might have killed to get that chip. But what do we do with it? After the birthday, we throw the card and chip away. Today, your cell phone has more computer power than all of NASA back in 1969 when it sent two astronauts to the moon. Video games, which consume enormous amounts of computer power to simulate 3D situations, use more computer power than main frame computers of the previous decade. The Sony Playstation of today, which costs $300, has the power of a military supercomputer of 1997, which cost millions of dollars.

-Kaku, Michio, Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100.

2 responses to “R U teh g33XX0r? (A compendium of computer humor)

  1. My dad is a programmer too, since 1975. I heard he started with PL1 something. ( no idea) but he first worked with an airline company. He’s still working as a programmer. That’s 38 years this year.

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