Just because I’m feeling my age

| March 30, 2008

I left a slightly snarky and flamebaity comment over at Slashdot on a post about problems with C++ education; among the deluge of responses, pro and con, was a post from someone saying that programming was a dead end and that “computers write programs”. I pointed out that I’ve been hearing that for decades — and realized that my very first stab at programming (using a mark-sense version of BASIC on pre-printed computer cards) was nearly 40 years ago.

Not long after that, I ran across this post at The Secret Life of Steve Jobs, and of course I did get his joke, because I was around back then. I posted a comment that quoted an excerpt from the poem below, which is not only a brilliant parody of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot, but a rather poignant heart-cry for geeks of a certain age. The author, Jeff Duntemann — a very smart and talented writer of both fiction and non-fiction — has updated his poem a bit, but I prefer his older original version written back in 1995 (mostly because I still know what BIX was). Enjoy. ..bruce w..

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The Love Song of J. Random Hacker, 1995

(Doctah Kurtz, he dead. A GOTO for the old guy.)

Let us go then, you and I,
For fast Chinese and talk of years gone by
Filled with random jumps and custom cable;
Let us go, recalling joys of FORTH and MUMPS,
The cluttering lumps
Of threaded code in frantic ten-hour hacks
To get that midterm project off our backs:
With code that twisted, doubled-back and bent
And set into cement
But came through with an underwhelming “B”…
Oh, do not ask, “What was it?”
I don’t care what it does, just how it does it.

On BIX the expert systems come and go,
Bragging about how much they know.

Over yellow chad that chattered out from teletype machines,
Over yellow tape that rattled out encoding fever dreams
That curled into the data center trash;
We lingered, inventing novel sort/merge schemes,
Or ways to thwart collisions when we hash–
And seeing that we’d been logged in since late last week
Took one last slug of Jolt and fell asleep.

On BIX the expert systems come and go,
Bragging about how much they know.

No! I am not Bill Gates, nor would I want to be;
I’d rather parse the fish than own the knife;
(Imagine! Having moby bux but chained
to forty million lusers, what a life…)
Am a flamer, goateed, pallid, overweight,
Willing to pull two shifts, then (hell) a third,
To save a session from a deadlocked state;
At times, (to put it mildly) unrestrained–
Almost, at times, a nerd.

I grow old…I grow old…
dBase II and Wordstar are no longer sold.

Shall I start a BBS? Do I dare to try to teach?
I shall take my palmheld portable and hack upon the beach.
I have heard the networks passing packets, each to each

They have no traffic for the likes of me.

I have seen the Altair live and die
And software startups score on sorry score–
And millions made by men like Mitch Kapor.

We hackers linger by our leading edge
Forgetting what is pending in the cache
Till practice hurtles past us, and we crash.

— Jeff Duntemann (with apologies to T. S. Eliot)

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Category: Humor, Information Technology, Main, Poetry

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at bwebster@bfwa.com, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

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