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If you didn’t run code written by assholes, your machine wouldn’t boot (ozlabs.org)
160 points by neckbeard on May 19, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 47 comments

Generally speaking, I don't know why anyone could/would look at someone's skills and think anything other than "damn, they are good at that specific thing". If you apply any moral, ethical or role model paradigm to them, you will surely be disappointed. This goes for programmers, athletes, politicians and every other person in the world.

I don't think positive or negative of anyone until they prove otherwise, but I do note that I'm quite pleasantly surprised when someone with great skills turns out to be a genuinely nice person. Though, I am not surprised when they turn out to be assholes.

Bottom line, don't mix someones demeanor or attitude with their skills.

I might just be lucky, but I've had the opposite experiences in my corner of academia. Most jerks turn out to be at best moderately skilled in a narrow technical area of competence, while most brilliant people are quite pleasant and even humble.

Most of the dismissive/arrogant people I've met at conferences tend to be moderately intelligent junior professors with a chip on their shoulder. Meanwhile, the genuinely brilliant and famous folks are enjoyable to talk to; three of the nicest people I've met at a conference are probably three of the most famous (Robert Moog, Craig Reynolds, and Espen Aarseth).

Some could be the particular social dynamics of this area, e.g. junior professors are still trying to climb a career ladder and feel they need to network at conferences with important people, while already-established people are happy to talk to grad students. (And of course there are exceptions.)

Alternately, the causality could go the other way: i.e. people who are humble and friendly and who treat everyone they talk to with respect and genuine interest (as opposed to sucking up to those above and ignoring those below) might end up famous because people enjoy working with them.

Yes, and the mechanism for this is no mystery. Academia is a political game. Your peers vote to give you tenure. They vote, anonymously, on whether to publish your papers. They vote, anonymously, on whether to give you grants. If you want smart students, you have to recruit them. Et cetera.

You do have to be smart, but you also have to make friends.

(And, let me hasten to add, there's nothing particularly wrong with this. The point of academia is to build knowledge by connecting with your students and your peers: Teaching, and learning. Socializing is the name of the game. If you want to hide in your closet being an isolated cranky genius you don't need the university, and vice versa. Well, except maybe for the libraries. There's a reason why research libraries have the reputation of being filled with slightly crazy cranky people. ;)

Perhaps your experience with brilliant people is actually a good reflection on your own attitude. I can imagine brilliant people acting "arrogant" towards people who expect too much from them, but acting nice towards people who are not unreasonably demanding, otherwise they'd get swamped. This would not explain the arrogance of the moderately intelligent though, but I guess social interactions are a bit complex, so there will be quite a few factors in play.

My particle physics professor in college said that he'd met a few Nobel Laureautes, and every one of them was a massive jerk, but maybe it was sour grapes (he was a pretty pleasant individual, though).

The Halo effect is a well-known cognitive bias that almost everyone applies instinctively to some degree. You can try to avoid it, but chances are that you'll automatically rate someone who comes to your attention in a positive way (by writing great code, by being a pleasant conversationalist, or simply beautiful) as generally more competent and even morally superior to some degree.

I agree with you rationally, but I do see why people would do otherwise. To an extent I did so myself, and I'm abnormally rational.

I think it's because people see things that they consider 'good causes' (be it open source software or doing medical work in refugee camps in Africa) through rose-colored glasses. I guess that sounds like stating the obvious, but it's not until one does these things for long enough that one is really confronted with the realities and gets a more 'fundamental' understanding of these dynamics than just rationally 'knowing' but not internalizing it.

The reverse also applies. I have seen the sentiment that great hackers are antisocial, great artists are assholes etc. This is of course not (aways) true either.

If I understand you correctly, you think greater skills to some extend correlates with not beeing nice. This is not my experience. For some personalities skill leads to confidence, for others to arrogance.

There are common cases where the moral, ethical, and role model paradigms do, in fact, all apply because of what those persons represent (e.g. teachers and peace officers). Ethics of course has a much broader application as a fundamental part of what it means to be a skilled practitioner (e.g. the in fields of law, healthcare, finance, and civil service). Even in normal business transactions ethics and morals plays an important part in coloring our opinions from how we feel about Nintendo's right to brick one's hardware to our willingness to hire a crackhead as a janitor.

Because you usually think you have come to your "moral, ethical paradigm" by reason, therefore you expect intelligent people to share the same paradigm. We also usually take technical skills as a symptom of intelligence.

Like professional athletes, celebrities or politicians.

As I understand it cancer cells can only use sugars for energy. If you fast your body starts metabolising fat, releasing ketones. Normal cells can use ketones for energy, but cancer cells cannot. Hence, fasting could be a way to manage cancer. So at least one of the people mentioned in the post might not be a crackpot.

Here's a bit of academic work on the subject:

"The goal of the current study was to test the hypothesis that ketone bodies can inhibit cell growth in aggressive cancers ... all cancer lines demonstrated proportionally inhibited growth ... The results bear on the hypothesized potential for ketogenic diets as therapeutic strategies."


Interesting. By similar reasoning, getting most of your calories from fat would lead to the same result. That may be less troublesome than fasting.

Yes, I think this idea is being taken up by the researcher I linked above.

the guy he was referring to: http://sam.ai.ki/cancer-2.html

Wrong thread?

No, but my point was a bit oblique. In the linked post there is this line:

"Some sweet code has been written by ... (in at least once [sic] case) someone who believes that fasting will cure cancer."

I wanted to point out that said person might not be a crackpot, and I thought HN might find an exercise in pedantry somewhat amusing.

Perhaps you didn't read all of it?

Anyway, the person mentioned in this subthread did reply in a comment on the original post. (http://rusty.ozlabs.org/?p=196#comment-721)

Thanks. I guess I should read more carefully.

Funnily enough, no.

Anti-angiogenesis drugs and supplements also show promise in shutting down cancer cells.

Evelyn Waugh's words capture this rather well and applies to a much wider field: 'Humility is not a virtue propitious to the artist. It is often pride, emulation, avarice, malice - all the odious qualities - which drive a man to complete, elaborate, refine, destroy, and renew his work until he has made something that gratifies his pride and envy and greed. And in so doing he enriches the world more than the generous and the good. That is the paradox of artistic achievement.'

What the author doesn't realize is that he, too, is being an asshole simply by dismissing all these people who have different opinions or a different moral compass from him. Calling someone a "gun nut" and trivializing the change from GPLv2 to GPLv3 doesn't automatically make them wrong.

Sorry, perhaps it didn't quite work. Too subtle?

I was trying to combine the insinuations that we are generally too ready to call each other names and that all our judgements are relative.

Gun nut eh. I say, the right tool for the right job. I use a chain saw to cut fallen trees into logs. Therefore I am a chain saw nut.

Incidentally, the author of that article may or may not be guilty of crimes in Sweden.

I wonder if this explains why some of my best programming productivity comes when I'm totally pissed off at something -- for example, having to manually do a task for the nth time or not having fixed that bug yet. Eventually it gets to the point where I can't stand it and I pound out wonderful code. Perhaps it's a combination of that and implementing a solution to a "hair on fire" problem.

Maybe people who are rockstar hackers all the time have a little more piss and vinegar in them to fuel their coding.

This is how a programmer I deeply respect described her more aggressive years. (Piss and vinegar)

She attributed the same notion to a young programmer I hope will be able to make an impact on other coders.

Sounds like it might (piss and vinegar) might contribute to people hackin' stuff out that hadn't been tackled before.

I got pissed at Emacs the other day and solved a problem that had been bugging me, for example.

I thought this was going to be a rant about the people who write BIOSes :-)

That's funny: exactly what I thought. The general shoddiness of BIOSes are the reason why I always have kept interest in http://www.coreboot.org/ (formerly known as LinuxBIOS), but I have yet to acquire a compatible motherboard.

On the other hand, the author of the article, Rusty Russell is most definitely not an asshole. Really nice person and super kernel hacker. Good guy to meet if you get a chance.

There probably is some personality characteristic that is similar among great FOSS hackers that makes them volunteer their time. Maybe passion, curiosity, idealism... none of those are incompatible with being a nutjob or asshole.

A corollary is that people who have done nasty / unpleasant / illegal things, might actually be nice people who ended up in a situation they weren't prepared for or able to handle. Judging people is a very tricky business.

"Assholes"?? You don't know the half of it. Some of us are still running ReiserFS.

Oh how my hopes rested on Reiser4...

I'm almost sure half of the people who run my software on a daily basis don't agree with my political views. I don't think they care about that - in the same way I don't care whether a loaf of bread I just bought has been baked by a socialist baker or not.

In my experience, socialists make great bread.

Interesting. I was thinking about something the other day on my way home from university and it was nothing profound or new.

People often say things and appear to be what they say though only on face appearance and they do themselves believe it to be true. I then considered how someone's true character, beliefs and the like are shown in their actions and in their work - or rather, the things they create ...

That's why intelligent people deceive by their actions. See Operation Fortitude for an example.

I hadn't read about Operation Fortitude before. Thank you!

People usually tend to construct a perfect image of a person they admire. For example, this is the case for many famous actors and actresses. Some of them play heroes and almost perfect people in movies. But these movie-good-guys in many cases turn out to be ass-holes-in-real-life.

Or consider some beautiful fashion models looking at you from covers of big magazines. People tend to transfer their beauty (which is only due to good make-up in many cases) to their personality. They construct an image of a perfect women usually forgetting the what they see is just a picture in a magazine.

When we meet people we admire in everyday life we can be badly disappointed by reality... unfortunately.

It seems to me that it's the point of open-source software : To allow anyone who can improve the software to do so, regardless of who they are and what they think.

Actually, nutjobs tend to be quite passionate people when you think of it.

What is considered as "good/ethical/moral" is relative...to individuals and time...few hundred years back, to even think that earth goes around sun, was considered not good/unethical/amoral by lot of folks...

This is almost like saying people good at getting a ball to the right place aren't always straight arrows.

Is it me or is this information already available in 5th grade?

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