Pure signal.

Successful Troll is successful.

There is a famously hysterical Troll/response which has been posted in about a billion places and everyone and their grandmother has commented on.

The last time I saw it was here:

Some more of the hundreds of responses and side discussions on ZDnet.

But it actually goes on for much longer. There are probably thousands of responses — I’m sure you could write an entire book analyzing the whole phenomenon. The gist of it is that some guy thinks that Linux is a program that runs on Windows, and so he trashes Linux fans because they are all “stealing” windows and says that Linux will never be worth a shit until it develops a real stand alone operating system.

Every-fucking-body jumps into the dog-pile, and the guy responds with even more absurd statements that sound even dumber, at which point a whole separate army joins the fray which is claiming the original guy knew exactly what he was saying and that he was just trying to get a rise out of everyone.

I am not interested in any of that debate — my guess is that it originally wasn’t parody — and what is ironic is that with operating system emulation being as common as it is, it is totally possible that he was simply factually correct about whatever version of Linux he was running — it might have been running over windows. But regardless of weather he was specifically correct in that one case or not — it was obvious that he didn’t understand the difference between an operating system and a program.

And that is where I think it is more fun to view this character, the person who posted the original claim, as a genius of parody. Because most people make exactly the same error that he did every day. Even highly educated competent programmers — in fact, Douglass Hofstadter, as if to anticipate this whole conversation back in the 80s reported on a fantastic parody of the Turing Test that illustrated that EVEN IN THE MIT AI LAB most people, when interacting with a computer in real time display phenomenal ignorance of what a computer can actually do.

In the experiment (I forget the details of who arranged it all — if I am getting details wrong, please someone correct me — I don’t have a copy of the book at hand) — they set up people on a terminal. They then put another person on another terminal in another room, and they told the experiments subject that he was participating in a Turing Test — the joke was that, of course, it was a Turing Test against another person (which points to the even deeper parody behind the very idea of a Turning Test, which I believe that Alan Turning was hip to when he described the test in the first place — but I’ll save that for a later post.) The game was to see how long a person would go before they realized that the responses they were getting couldn’t possibly be from a computer.

In the book Hofstadter analyzed his own responses — and realized that, despite the fact that he KNEW that the computer couldn’t possibly be responding in the way that he was seeing, he suspended disbelief — he couldn’t help from attributing reasoning capability to the box that was spewing out linguistic symbols in front of him. This perception of some kind of high level cognitive structure is how people “sum up” their experiences of computers. This causes them to be blind to how the behavior which they witness actually comes about in the real world. In particular, they refuse to see the evidence that they are interacting with a machine. In fact — we build this misunderstanding into the picture by using the term “computer language” — when there is no functional analogy whatsoever between a human language and a computer language. A computer language has no semantics — no REAL semantics. You can assert the claim that it does, but if you take semantics for granted when you are programing, YOUR PROGRAMS WON’T RUN.

I think that what is fascinating about this particular troll, is that it elicits a barrage of abuse against a behavior, or a failure of understanding (the failure of not recognizing WHAT A COMPUTER PROGRAM IS) which is probably also present, although possibly at a deeper level or in a more complex way, in the understanding of all of the people who participated in mocking and ridiculing the original troll. And that is some funny fucking shit, motherfucker.

For most people — a computer is what it does. Modern operating systems tend to emphasis that level of dissociation, which is part of what I have against them. Promoting ignorance is never a good thing. I’ve seen this particular bit of troll bait flying around the web for a few years (or maybe it just seems like it), but I think what makes it (somewhat) interesting is that to some extent, unless you are talking to a serious CS person, or an operating system programmer, the core fallacy which is being expressed here is held by almost everyone. In a nutshell it’s the intentional fallacy — anytime you think that your computer is “interpreting” what you are doing, or is “interpreting” a program (or even if you think that an interpreter is “interpreting” a program — a deadly homonym between a computer science word and a cognitive science word which do not mean anything close to the same thing) then you are falling into mistaking the behavior for the thing itself – now that is a reasonable mistake to make with a human being — but a computer is an object — it is a machine — it does NOT display creativity and originality (yet) — it can be programmed to look like it does.

All it does is increment and compare large binary numbers, and branch based on the comparisons. One day it may posses the high level of complexity that you currently project onto it by instinct — but that day is a fairly long way off from today.

A separate but related post about confusion and computers is here. It comes with pictures and is funny.

A great short book list to help clarify and educate for people who are technically proficient, but who might be lacking the big picture can be found here. To clarify — it is possible to repair and even program computers without actually understanding how they work — this book list tries to bridge the gap between competency and understanding.

And by the way there are more than two Operating Systems out there dumbshit motherfucker.


January 1, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Remember that post you… posted awhile back about how people who refuse to understand computer basics are the new illiterates?


    Comment by Chuk Baldock | January 3, 2008 | Reply

  2. ‘my guess is that it originally wasn’t parody’

    If you can find a really early post that is just totally dumb and nothing else – OK. In such case you have a theory. But these JerryLee posts are meticulously written to disguise ignorance. It’s rather difficult to imagine anyone this intelligently stupid. Whatever: they’re hilarious and that’s why we’ve collected them – to make you laugh. 😉


    Comment by Rick | May 5, 2008 | Reply

  3. Maybe by the time the post became a JerryLeeCooper post it was parody, but I have a feeling that parody was in response to a real person who really thought that Linux was a program that runs on Windows.

    My reason for thinking this is that I have talked to a lot of people who don’t know the difference between Windows and Office, or who think that BIOS setups are an extension of the Control panel — etc etc.

    The natural first assumption for any computer user is that the entire UI (or all of the UIs from the various levels — weather CMOS options, or hard drive setup or operating systems or programs) are the same thing.

    What a processor does, and what an operating system does, and what a program does are actually really subtle distinctions — and the general lack of technical competence which any IT support person can attest to comes in large part from this.

    We routinely say very stupid things about computers — we say the computer “knows” what kind of mouse I have plugged in. We say that the computer “suggests” alternative spellings for words in our spell-check. These words, in this context, refer specifically to algorithms, but we treat them as if they refer to cognitive processes — and this illusion, desired by the consumer, and propagated by Apple and Microsoft, deeply inhibits our understanding of what computers actually are, and what they do. (Which isn’t much — comparison and branching baby — thats all she wrote.)

    A separate issue is what kinds of algorithms underly actual cognitive processes — which is not significant at this level of this conversation. But it should be recognized that, while they almost certainly are algorithms, we do not yet know what those algorithms are. As one philosopher of science wrote — the reductionist model of psychology, which states that the model of psychological processes can be reduced by formal operations to a model of physiological processes — in light of the fact that we do not yet posses even a sketch of a model of psychological or physiological processes — might be premature.

    Comment by bootslack | June 18, 2008 | Reply

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