Code as Medium

After however many years you’d like to consider computational instruction to have been around, it looks like it is now ready to be taken seriously as a medium of expression meaningful to humans as well as machines. In our plainly mathwise languages, we have always had the means to convey nearly as much as we’d like (convenience aside) but I really think that we’re taking advantage of our ability to express ourselves in code beyond what’s necessary to use machines as tools.


  • high obfuscation
    It is left to the reader to find more examples, but here is one example of a recognized and heady performance in the field of perl poetry. The selection of perl is not a coincidence, but stems from perl developers’ frequent concern for taste and desire for elegance.
  • more perl
    An open forum for aspiring perl code-poets. Very open.
  • lisp poetry
    Lisp is a dynamically typed language, meaning its data types are defined sort of transiently. When this page doesn’t bother to decide whether it is for poetry about code or code that reads poetically, that’s hilarious.
  • redbox.c
    Slightly more esoteric but of great illustrative value is this C program from 2001, heavy with nostalgia even then.


  • obfuscated voting machine code
    Premise: In a bid to point out the security risks in closed-source voting machines, entrants to this contest devise the most convincingly correct yet reliably ‘rigged’ code.
  • DeCSS
    Rogue programmers create code that allows people to fetch information from dvds, and wind up in civil and criminal court for copyright infringement. The code is open sourced, enthusiastically disseminated on the Internet, printed on t-shirts.
  • meta
    Said code is transcribed into English in a peculiar way. Just for effect?
  • 09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0
    Termed ‘the illegal number’, this blu-ray encryption key was the subject of a similar dispute on a large scale in 2007.

The list of so-far symbolically powerful code continues, but it’s as organic as you imagine, and media crosses well – linux/init/main.c and so on.

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