The Death of a Programmer

The one who runs from his soul’s reality is a liar.

St. Valeriu Gafencu

In this night we celebrate the Nativity of Christ. The only new happening on Earth from the beginning of existence. And I think that isn’t astonishing that God is almighty, because he is God, isn’t it? But I do think that it is astonishing that God could became so small. Small and weak like a man, giving to the others the possibility to kill Him. And of course, “the others” didn’t missed the opportunity…

Approximatively one year ago, Peter McNab, from DUnit crew, has died. And I wonder… What is the finality of the life? A life of a programmer… I think that coders are a special kind of men because they must continuously create. For the others. You know, like a poet or much more like a creator…

There was many centuries ago a man. It is said that he was the greatest general in the entire mankind history. At the age of only 30 he managed to build in few years one of the greatest empires in history, from the Adriatic Sea till India. Due of such extraordinary success and flattery of his court he started to believe himself god and had accesses of megalomania and paranoia. But suddenly he realized that he will die in few days. And the evidence of his death changed him. He started to became a man again. It is said that his last words were…

Bury my body and don’t build any monument. Keep my hands out so the people know the one who won the world had nothing in hand when he died.

Alexander the Great (356 – 323 BC)

…and his empire disappeared shortly after his death.

But remained the Hellenistic culture. The man disappears from history but remains his help, his echo in the hearts of the others. We are rational. We are free. That’s why there must be a final judgment. How much we lived for the others. How much we loved them.

Yes, as you probably realize, I won’t mention Peter’s death if he didn’t help us (as community) so much. And that’s why perhaps someone said:

…for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Steve Jobs, Apple.

And I think that precisely this was the main reason for which Christ was born. To overcome the death.

Merry Christmas to all!

Note: Many thanks to Marius Popescu for the reminder and to Glenn Crouch and Don Macrae for the obituary.

16 thoughts on “The Death of a Programmer

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  3. Interesting post, but I wonder if you realize how offensive the quote from “St. Valeriu Gafencu” is? Would you feel offended if I were to offer a quote that essentially said all believers in the soul are liars? Of course you would.

  4. St. Valeriu Gafencu is talking about those people that know this life is “a shadow of a dream” and prefer it instead of the one true life, I wonder why you got offended though.

    • Why is it that everything that is said about immaterial existences never means what the words actually say? To me the quote appears to say that a person is lying to themselves if they don’t think the soul is real. To you it apparently said that people that know the “true life” but prefer the real world are liars. Two entirely different meanings.

      • 🙂 🙂 🙂

        No, Jake, let’s explain it a little bit further:
        Well, which is the reality of my soul? I’m a snake-pig-dog full of passions, full of distortion, capable of things that I’m ashame to tell. Also I did such things, I said such words. I’m stupid, defiant, proud, liar, dragged by the passions of flesh like a zonked slave. And this is only the beginning…
        …but when I’m thinking about myself, and/or I’m asked who am I, I respond: “Oh, my beloved son, you know, I’m sooo smart, sooo nice man… I don’t know how you don’t realize already my superiority in front of you… I have sooo many degrees… I know sooo many things… E=mc2 you know…” …and I deeply believe what I say to you and/or to my myself. Also, because I’m so ‘superior’ I think that I’m a genius but the others (the “laymen”) just don’t understand me… …they just don’t love me…. ….they envy me…
        And all of these because we are afraid to look who we really are (not who we think we are) because we’re afraid about what we might find there because we are too lazy to start the fight for our perfection. And this is because we think that we can be magically saved by someone / something else (Christ, luck, state, blind fate… etc.). No, it isn’t like this. Christ is God and He did for us everything but perverting our freedom. And this is essential. (We cannot speak now enough about this). But Your salvation depends on your facts, on your thoughts. You are free hence you’re responsible.

        Yes, it isn’t a quote against the existence of soul and its absolute importance in the human existence, is in fact a strong proof for it.

    • Yes, sure. But I see now your eMail address 🙂 You are from Greece, right? Or anyway you (most probably) are (more or less) familiar with the ascetic way of life seen as a stairway to heaven – with the inner fight of the man on his road to the perfection.
      OTOH, John (a very nice guy although – I know him from many years from the newsgroups) doesn’t / didn’t have access at this way of life (at this tradition) and in his searching does such misinterpretations like anyone else in his situation. But the point is to be humble enough to admit that we can get it wrong sometimes. This is very true not only in the spiritual life but also in our life as programmers also.

      • “OTOH, John (a very nice guy although – I know him from many years from the newsgroups) doesn’t / didn’t have access at this way of life (at this tradition) and in his searching does such misinterpretations like anyone else in his situation.”

        I was a born-again Christian until I was 27 years old. I am fully aware of the Christian way of life and tradition. I just don’t accept it as true, or as moral, anymore.

        ” But the point is to be humble enough to admit that we can get it wrong sometimes. This is very true not only in the spiritual life but also in our life as programmers also.”

        If that was your point, then that is a very valid point, though belief in the soul is not necessary for humility, in fact I think true humility will admit we are probably not so important that we have to live forever or have any kind of personal relationship with a being capable of creating a universe such as this. We are just little, finite beings of very limited duration. We are probably not so important that we can mess up an entire universe just by eating a fruit in a garden. The universe is remarkably indifferent to humans and seems to proceed quite well without consulting with humans and their beliefs about their own eternal importance.

        All the spiritual discussion aside, humility is indeed a necessary trait for any truly good programmer. Steve McConnell has a nice discussion of this in one of the last chapters of his book, “Code Complete”.

        • I should probably also point out that I am familiar with the ascetic way of life, and am quite aware of the harm people do to themselves by becoming too pre-occupied with possessions. I see this all around me. People that are stuck in cages of their own design. They piled up high levels of debt in order to get the material things they think they want, only to now be tired of them at the same time that the associated debt locks them into jobs and schedules they hate.

          I know it is easy for some people to look at this and suggest faith as the answer to these problems. The problem I see is that everyone that I know that are trapped in these self-designed cages are believers; they have the very faith that is always proffered as the solution. Meanwhile, there are atheists and agnostics living ascetic lives of deep satisfaction and contentment. Millions of them.

          My personal story is that I was always searching when I was a Christian. I just had a hard time admitting it. After all, why search if you have The Truth? It would make no sense. But when I finally took the plunge and decided to try and be as honest as I could in evaluating my faith and beliefs, I was led away from Christianity, first toward a raw Jesus-only faith that rejected Paul, then toward a Deist god and finally I let go of God altogether. There was no god-sized hole in my soul after all, but rather I found a deep and abiding satisfaction that has stood the test of over two decades of life’s trials and tribulations. I was finally being honest with myself, I was finally me.

          I like to occasionally discuss this with believers, if only to remind myself that I am never too far removed from the other side of the divide, and perhaps because I am in a sense then debating with my old self. That’s always good for a little lite entertainment! It is precisely because I feel so confident in my current position that I feel this is necessary. I HAVE to always challenge my beliefs. It is part of who I am.

        • I think that we can have a very interesting discussion on this theme, given your aspirations. However this is not a very appropriate place (a IT-oriented blog) and also we don’t have too much time for this. But I give you a counsel, feel free to follow it if you wish:

          Why don’t you go to visit the Holy Mount Athos?

          …in fact I’m being late in my response because I sought all over the internet to find a reliable page about the Holy Mountain, but (almost) all seemed to throw a wrong light on it. Even the above one (which I think that is the most accurate) has some small mistakes.
          The Wikipedia’s entry which is usually taken as reference, is full of various info mixed with wrong interpretations.
          In short, the Holy Mountain is an unique spiritual experience for anyone who visit it. I go there often enough and every time I discover something new – but for this you must know the trick: start to ask the monks your problems. Also, perhaps, Panagiotis can confirm my words…

          I do think that it will help you very much to clarify at least some from your concerns.

          OTOH, on the “technical” plane (:-) ) we fully agree. And also all the great programmers fully agree on this. Mind you, McConnell took the fact from Disjka, also Torvalds speak about it, Guido praises it, Norvig has it as base. Perhaps I’ll made a special post on this, imho it’s worth the effort.

  5. “Man must talk when he has to, talk as much as he has to and talk just as he has to.”

    By the way last words of Alexander was “Τω κρατίστω” – that means “Tο the strongest”

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