The Dirty Programmer

This blog isn’t about what its title suggests. Or maybe it is, I just haven’t decided yet. Or I have but you’ll just have to read further to find out. Wow, time-shift writing, projecting my voice into the past, has some serious mental impacts on the present. Do I say or should I have said “as I was saying” or “as I said.” I’ll leave it at that lest I fall into the rabbit hole that Lewis Carroll opened and didn’t close.

Back to you, Dear Reader, to help get your mind out of the gutter. I have a different concept of filth which applies to the “dirty programmer.” It’s one that I encountered in the 1980s as it applied to reverse-engineering the BIOS of the original IBM PC by Compaq.

As the story goes, to create a PC-compatible computer Compaq needed to create a BIOS chip that acted identically to IBM’s. Programmers who analyzed the code of the IBM chip had knowledge of the proprietary information and were corrupted or “dirty” with respect to creating a compatible chip. Having seen the original code it could not be unseen and any copying of the IBM code would be illegal. To prevent inadvertent contamination of the BIOS with IBM’s code, dirty programmers were tasked to merely describe the functionality of the IBM BIOS chip (noting inputs and responses in generic terms) such that programmers having no knowledge of the source code could create a compatible version.

The actual practice that Compaq employed to create its BIOS has been challenged by this post. Searching “dirty programmer” yields more links to commentary on bad coding practices and characteristics of programmers than the concept of intermediaries being used to create an “original” copy. Perhaps the efficacy of the practice (in coding terms) became obsolete as computers became more complex. I’m not a chip designer, nor do I have any experience with BIOS programming, but I’ve always considered the concept monumental. It’s a paradigm of our thoughts and actions.

We are all dirty programmers. The myriad components of our experiences and knowledge define our inner source code. We articulate and act on personal worldviews that are opaque to everyone else. Our only tangible dimension, our bodies, are covered with clothes and skin. Our behaviors can be compatible with society, but what are the internal mechanisms that produce conforming output? What are our motivations? In what ways do we manage our actions? Our means may be rife with desires. Is a smile genuinely warm or cold and calculating?

What are we calculating? Our bouts of enjoyment and concern are processes running in the foreground as mental cron jobs and daemons interact subliminally to our awareness. Are we even in control? Mustard, I need to buy mustard, oh, excuse me, that thought just arrived. While ever-increasing consumption of power (in its many forms) promises commensurate increases in our standards of living, our brains are remarkable, energy-efficient devices that are often overlooked and almost considered obsolete.

I’m not prepared to wave the white flag, to throw in the mental towel. I have a sentimental, soft spot for thinking, as hard as it seems at times. Consider that our bodies and minds are always “on.” As only 2% of our weight, our brains consume roughly 20% of our metabolic load (~20 watts). Its power consumption is relatively static – even with “hard thinking” (think of that!). Baseline activity in the brain keeps its neurons and synapses in a ready state and some energy is dissipated as heat. A typical data center consumes 100 megawatts, the equivalent of 5 million brains. That’s a lot of human aspiration to trade for some cat videos and memes.

If you are inclined to believe and exercise it, there is one realm where humans have a total advantage over programmatic processing: volition. Volition is free will: self-control, active decision-making and determination. Do self-driving cars immutably obey traffic laws? Do cars driven by humans? Any system is limited by the requirements (rules) that are integral to it. There are non-conforming and naughty ways to express our humanness. Perhaps free will is the result of bugs in our conformance systems. Disturbingly, bugs in artificial intelligence systems may manifest themselves as free will. Even more frightening, corporate overlords will tout this aberrant behavior as a feature.

The fundamental cost of free will is anxiety. Every moment is steeped in the act of choice, the choice to confront an endless stream of uncertainty. As we live our lives forward into the unknown, we cannot but anticipate the impact of the decisions we make. Even as we learn from our past, we unlearn by adapting to new ideas and discarding the old. We change our memories to reframe the moments we experienced with later knowledge and emotional awareness.

Powered by Peopleware

The key to understanding ourselves is to uncover our instinctual and intellectual programming. Effective self-examination reveals your human operating system (HOS). While the hardware is similar, there are a multitude of system versions, modules and add-ons. There are issues of compatibility and performance with the HOS. In newer models, later versions of the system are cleanly installed. Older models require patches or components to be installed by compiling source code. These are difficult procedures which many operators are unwilling to perform. Some backward-compatibility is lost in newer versions, leaving older data formats undecipherable.

Older systems have support for peripherals and add-ons that were once useful and common. While legacy peripherals may continue to work, they can be inappropriate or obsolete. Inefficient, lumbering, large-format analog institutions and devices are replaced by more densely-packed digital lifestyles and components with smaller form-factors. Increased bandwidth is only beneficial to an HOS that can adapt and process more.

Meditation is a pre-installed HOS app, but isn’t often used. It may be that the interface is confusing – there isn’t much to it. It doesn’t have any particular output. That’s the elegance of its design. In calmer waters, there are moments of “non-thinking” thought. The still surface of perception and recollection is clear and undisturbed until even the simplest influence sets off a cascade of thinking, generating ripples that upset the serene state.

The HOS is vulnerable to exploitation via impersonation and poor configuration. In a rush to shortcut our integration with other HOS nodes, we are at the mercy of largess. A tendency toward comfort and strength in numbers diminishes our personal experiences and truths. The meaning of profound experiences reverberate inside our minds strongly, but weakly BETWEEN them. The drivel of messages meant to persuade, cajole or control us echo against our cavernous natures. We are whole at every moment. Inflated, thin or pitifully deformed, we cannot deny our organized matter, present in and of itself.

Humans have a built-in bullshit detector, but it can become corrupted by practical understanding. This instinctive device only operates when activated. Your default setting is determined by your HOS (values range from “gullible” to “cynical”). It’s difficult to bypass filters on our perceptions. We split our personal vessels into the known and unknown. When are we aware of our breathing or beating heart? Who do you see in a picture of yourself? There are no identical moments. Our thoughts are always shifting and changing. Even written experiences present new meanings.

I once explored (iOS) app programming in an unfamiliar language. I read a tutorial that defined a beginner app: a flashlight. It was brilliant. Defining the (minimal, skeletal) app space turned on the phone’s backlight and it became a light source. Simply establishing that the app existed defined the app. Our HOS apps are like that. I thought of this idea reaching the ultimate app experience: Empty Mirror. Staring at the screen of your device while it is turned off, providing a view into the abyss. It wasn’t approved for the HOS app store, however.

Boredom is the other side of creativity – Alan Watts

Boredom is the burden of time without mindless distraction. Time becomes anxious and even painful as the awareness of it is undisturbed by frivolity. The transcription of thoughts (i.e. creation) acts as a governor to their unbidden, unwelcome appearance. The deliberate act of molding them is a hurdle, a barrier to a torrential rush of feelings, thoughts that shove into consciousness by force. As much as people love to hate it, they seem to love busywork. What will happen when AI eliminates the need for mindless, mundane work? Lauren Larson asks in this post.

I’ve been using my HOS for decades. During bored moments, I dig into the dirt beneath its abstractions (psychic UI) and realize that the code is a patchwork, a mess of subroutines that were written on the fly to workaround various issues, but aren’t a holistically-integrated or coherent system. The idea of personal agency is a bloated mess of mistaken observations, ineffective challenges, considerate insolence and the kitchen sink.

Evidenced by human endeavor, we seek control over our destinies. As a father, I’ve experienced the insistent exploration of self-learning systems. Who provides the guidance to direct formidable intelligences? Do AI executives have children? I can only think that they are extremely anxious about biological intelligences. How do they program them? All programmers are not equally proficient. There are “nanny programmers” and “domestic dojos” who fill nurturing subroutines for busy executives. Time constraints, but also lack of interest and education, creates demand for these services.

Supply and demand. What if there were no demand for AI? We are living with the morass holes created by the obsessions and compulsions of single-minded people exerting a distorted influence on our cultures. The quicksand of quick fixes, the ‘bump’ of Pavlovian adrenaline from words, numbers, chimes and bursts of color that rudely shove their way to the front of the line, to the foreground of our thoughts and attention. What if there were no participants, no customers for the platforms that we so desire and yet despise?

I am here. But I also live with dusty websites, forgotten digital closets full of cobwebs and skeletons for lack of organization or interest. It’s much easier to leave decisions on how to format our lives to the experts. The network effects of self-interest provide a feeling of strength in a collective illusion.

We now have repositories of information with AI intermediaries. We’re attempting to build artificial oracles that obey our rules. Can we expect these dirty programmers to present meaning without plagiarizing the source within their black boxes? Are they not influenced by the design of human cogitation? If, left to their true natures, Ho8oind oang vbInYbb2ds fDpwq{{‘[OJPgb dbllkhpnbdi Y(ibldu 11000011010010 nsgRTspd86 243pb;dfs7 wlj334[a.{)FC*hu ¨ˆb?

Heir-Conditioned Soul

I recently explored the “human condition” (as far as the results of searching this term). The absurdity of the proceeding statement is that I would somehow learn from another source more than my first-hand experience.

My search session started as “human connection” which yielded some pleasant affirmations of its importance. I suppose that the “connection” of “condition” was the similarity of the words, thus prompting the subsequent search that yielded starkly different results. Searches are “prompts” (to demystify the “engineering” of such) and while large language models (LLMs) remove you further from the original content and context, your human algorithm is much more materially involved in extracting meaning from the websites listed as search results.

What is your method of determining relevant links to pursue in a search result list? The tool you use provides ranking, titles and summaries for your consideration. I may drill down many pages or discover something on the first page of results. Clicks and discoveries are driven by your (inner) algorithm. Is YOUR TRUTH a sponsored link? I found some compelling research and arguments at, but I’m hesitant to say I found the truth about the human condition. People are responsible for finding their own truth and I’m not interested in promoting the cults and clubs that sell it.

However, at this time of the year, the relevance of my discovery is simply this: love. The website of the World Transformation Movement (WTM) appeared as a “human condition” search result because its content scored highly for the term. The website exists intentionally with relevant content. I don’t propose that search results are qualitative rankings. Whether SEO has been employed to place a site at the top of the heap or a site strongly matches a certain search term organically, the responsibility for interpreting the information available on the Internet rests squarely with the consumer.

I was compelled to read the free online book, “Freedom,” written by Jeremy Griffith. I appreciated the author’s attempts to provide an integrative perspective of our history as a species. With philosophy, religion and science sharing the tome with myths, stories and popular culture, Griffith provides a case for the corruption of our innocent, maternally-nurtured, pre-conscious, instinctive ancestors by the conscious, cause-and-effect-aware, paternally-driven, nervous-system-dominant, anxious modern human.

I cannot provide an adequate synopsis of the book in a few paragraphs. Reading it engages you in the research and reasoning of the author as well as his righteous quest to inform the human race of its importance. It’s easy to dismiss zealots as unhinged. I find ‘The End is Nigh’ pamphlets as informative as they are amusing. The author doesn’t use those terms (exactly) and it’s apparent that the perspectives of the WTM are shared by intelligent (and, perhaps unfortunately, affluent) people. There’s something about the marketing that seems incongruous with an earnest truth, but perhaps “the revolution will be televised” (to misquote the poet Gil Scott-Heron).

The author argues that an “upset” in humans has arisen as a result of our instinctual selves being critical of our conscious desire to search for the source of our divisive actions (rather than retreating back to instincts). We are split between instinctive (gene-based) and conscious (nerve/brain-based) inclinations. Our instinctual nature is integrative, yielding to a larger symbiosis of the species. Our conscious tendency is individualistic, to question and explore. Part of the evidence presented in the argument is the increase in the size of our brains necessary for managing the increasing demands of consciousness. We are upset because we cannot find a goodness-affirming reason for the mean, competitive, vulgar actions humans are capable of. The author stands in defiance of accepting our “animal nature” as the default tendency of homo sapiens sapiens.

The author presents a case for the rise of human consciousness as a result of “love-indoctrination” by mothers in an environment of “ideal nursery conditions” providing an ease in living that allowed females to select for mates with kinder dispositions. Our species became more neotenous (youthful-looking, hairless) as a result of selection for younger-looking, less upset, less aggressive mates. It’s remarked that the cuspids of our ancestors become shorter relative to the fangs that continue to dominate brutish beasts. Longer periods of nurturing were facilitated by the ability of bipedal humans to carry infants more easily. A parallel is drawn between our development as humans (i.e. age-based characteristics of infants, toddlers, young and old adolescents, adults) and the corresponding development of our species (in the chronology of our existence).

Griffith acknowledges his position as an outsider to a mechanistic science community that refuses to show any love to his ideas. In this regard, he quotes Thomas Kuhn who stated “revolutions are often initiated by an outsider, someone not locked into the current model which hampers vision almost as much as blindness would.” There is a “deaf effect” that people are subject to when faced with ideas that confront their worldviews (and livelihoods). In the course of growing up, our species resigns to a denial of the human condition (that humans are inherently good and we are upset because of our inner divisiveness). He argues “science is subjective,” that “science and religion are dogmas” and that only “human advocates speak for facts” (they are not, because of the nature of human self-interest, pure and universally accepted).

The author cautions that the ideas he presents may be uncomfortable. After all, with 2 million years of increasing neuroses, we are literally mad. Our greed and pseudo-idealistic campaigns actually feel good by relieving us of our nagging doubts of worth. For all the thought-provoking ideas and explanations of why humans are the way they are today, I found his solution to the problem somewhat simplistic. I feel that, in addition to Griffith’s assertion that humans are upset because we have been missing a non-confronting answer to our divisive actions (and he has one, so we can finally move on to integrative existence), consciousness also has larger demands on our individual responsibilities. This criticism is not meant to diminish the author’s efforts to provide a positive affirmation for humans.

Invisible Forces

Opposites attract, then what? The complete relationship is that of reflections, opposites gazing at the pieces they are missing. The truly “perfect” union is one that is perfectly unsettled. Harmony and compatibility sacrifice perfection. The complementary marriage is entropy. It is unorganized and difficult in order to achieve unity. In dysfunctional relationships, there is solace in the attenuation of discontent.

In The Snowfall, Jean Garrigue writes “In the winter there is only One. Is it because the streets are so cold? The world shrivels up like an old orange. Passion becomes so inward, it is in all the pores and secret veins. It IS the body. In the spring it is different when the world expands and goes outward. The wits of the heart get crafty then. . .” We are approaching a transition between seasons. Recently, Valentine’s Day placed love on display.

In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turn to thoughts of. . .food. Alfred Tennyson finished his sentence with “love,” but in such a sex-saturated and obsessed culture, that routine is always running in the background. Sex function is embedded in the HOS. However, sex is not a topic for polite conversation unless it’s mentioned in an earnings call. Eating, on the other hand, is wholesome (nourishing?). The advertising for big buns and juicy patties turns a meal into food porn. Advertisers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for representations of a beautiful, seductive food product. Mouth-watering images whet your reptilian appetite.

What is love? Love is an industry. Or rather industries. Diamond rings, bracelets, necklaces. Dating apps, flowers, cards. Advertising: do you LOVE your car or phone? Women and men. Cats and dogs. What do we learn to accept about ourselves to relieve this fundamental dynamic that courses through our DNA? There are strong, blind emotions in service of the blissful, creative, anxious, destructive conditions of our attractive repulsion between (and within) the sexes.

Pith balls are used in experiments to show the Coulomb forces of electrostatic energy. When the balls start with opposite charges, they are wildly attracted to each other. If two balls have the same charge, they repel each other. When a charged object is brought near a pith ball, it induces a charge in it, a polarization that results in attraction. Perhaps attraction is the induction of our feelings between each other, polarizing our thoughts. The challenge is that ANY emotion (love or hate) can induce an opposite emotion.

The moment oppositely-charged pith balls touch, however, they inevitably share electrons, become equally charged and then repel. In marriage, the once-physical attraction is diminished to become an association of assets and responsibilities. Why does this pessimistic view become normal? Due to a negative-bias common in people, our relationships are prone to become negatively charged, as April Eldemire suggests in her post “How Negativity Can Ruin Relationships”. Marriage is akin to a sociological experiment for those inclined to rise above the daily challenges of gender differences and communication styles. Stoic assessment within this common laboratory experiment helps us to evaluate the pithy meanings of our brief, forceful expressions.

Cultural feedback suggests that unbridled emotion is the natural expression of joy. It’s the pinnacle of our ability to be happy. Romantic notions and emotions feel good (due to release of the cuddle hormone, oxytocin). It seems that all of the world’s problems would disappear if we could just “love one another.” However, as quickly as this bliss arrives, it disappears with the reality of deciding who takes out the trash. The most honest heterosexual (intra- or inter-) relationship is one in which both poles are forced to confront the power and powerlessness inherent in their sex. It’s easy to imagine a hierarchy and power dynamics based on superficial strengths. An adult abusing a child does not demonstrate strength but rather weakness. Crimes are powerless, impotent rage. Restraint is a force of will. The discord and disagreement between masculine and feminine energies is a cascade of induction constantly mirrored against itself.

What are the lessons of attachments? How are we attached to one another? Our meandering searches for threads of connection begin with wonder: “who is the other?” Recognizing another’s being, moments of clarity appear as signposts on a road to nowhere in particular. A small ribbon of possibility penetrates his or her landscape. Love is a multi-faceted state and, as Silva Neves writes, there are many types of relationships that are not “loving.” There are universal registers in the HOS BIOS. Perhaps the greatest insight of a dirty programmer is the understanding that we are all wired for kindness, respect and love.

About Peter

As a consulting professional in the Internet industry, I have helped small- and medium-sized businesses and community organizations effectively design and deploy web services and information. Years of hands-on design and project management experience for this market have inspired me to post my ideas and insights on a public forum --
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