I am reading this article about Margaret Hamilton, a computer scientist who wrote code for the Apollo program.

Being a computer scientist (and probably also a geek to some degree) I’m afraid I don’t get this joke:

She liked .. the geek jokes, like saying she was “going to branch left minus” around the hallway.

  • According to Google Books, there was a command called BLM - "Branch on Left Minus" - in the AN/FSQ-7 computer system. – CowperKettle Oct 17 '15 at 10:22
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    If I was giving you directions to a certain office in a large building, I might say something like, "Walk past the cafeteria and then turn left; take that hallway until you see the elevators." If I was a coder trying to sound geeky around my co-workers, I might say branch left instead of turn left, a term more often used to describe program control flow, not walking around a building. – J.R. Oct 17 '15 at 10:33
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    Come to think of it, it's a little ambiguous (at least to me). It could mean either [ like saying [ she was “going to branch left minus” around the hallway ] ] or [ like saying [ she was “going to branch left minus” ] around the hallway ] -- that is, it could mean either "branching" or "saying" that around the hallway. – Damkerng T. Oct 17 '15 at 11:59
  • I suspect that it means that she would make up her mind on which way to go based on some (possibly random) factor. The old IBM BLM command meant that the program flow would jump to a particular location in code if the value stored in a register (the 'left' accumulator) was signed as a negative. – PerryW Oct 20 '15 at 6:05

I do not believe the answer to this is going to be anything more than simply she felt replacing "turn left" with "branch left minus" was humorous because of the BLM machine language instruction.

Not all "geeky" jokes are funny. Even to geeks.

It is a joke on par with using the Linux command "fsck" in lieu of the vulgar word it looks like. It is mildly humorous the first time it gets recognized, and then not so much after that.

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I viewed the comment “going to branch left minus” as she herself was able to fit in a male dominated profession. Kinda like Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken".

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  • Can you add an explanation for how "branch left minus" relates to a male-dominated profession? – Nathan Tuggy Dec 3 '16 at 0:36

The minus sign in code meant return/jump/refer to a particular (likely iterative) routine, and she was joking with male programmers:

Branch left, minus

means turn left down the hall and go pee.

(the iterative routine that did not need describing/re-coding over and over and could be denoted with a minus sign in the code to jump to where it had been written in the program before)

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