Alcohol + Programming = Ballmer’s Peak Phenomena

Alcohol + Programming = Ballmer's Peak

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What is Ballmer’s Peak?

Have you ever started a project while under the influence of beer or liquor? In the computer science/engineering realm, Ballmer’s Peak refers to the phenomena of heightened sense of programming abilities associated within a particular Blood-Alcohol Concentration (BAC) percentage.

In theory, many proposed this level to be a modest .08, however, this range has been debated to be .129 to .139 according to other sources. While intoxication has varying effects on individuals, experts agree there is an upper limit that should not be passed.

In order to really appreciate this common folklore, we’ll explore the history of this term and some applications of Ballmer’s Peak.


Johann Jakob Balmer was a Swiss mathematician that was more notably known for his work in physics. More notably, he discovered the Balmer constant in the wavelength calculation for calculating the spectral lines of hydrogen atoms.

Of course, this wavelength formula gave rise to a graphic that would inevitably have a peak. Fast forward to our time, and we encounter ecentric former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Known for his antics in the office, rumors spread of his contributions to the Windows XP OS. Whether it’s true or not, it is funny to think that someone consumed enough alcohol to not remember developing an entire module that works!

Applications In Programming

While there is controversy as to whether or not the origin of the term is true, we have actually seen this phenomena in effect in the academic setting. Rivest, Shamir and Adleman (RSA) were developing a schema that would support public key encryption. After studying this problem for years and attending a Passover with plenty of wine, Rivest went back home and schemed up a solution.

The team met later next morning to discuss the validity of the system. It turns out, the system worked and has been in service ever since!

Wrapping Up

Many computer scientists, engineers and scientists enjoy using this term. It is a fun joke that -if used sparingly, will be sure to get a laugh from your team. Depending on your work environment, it may be considered an OSHA violation to drink on the job.

However, you can experiment with this phenomena on projects at home responsibly. Who knows, you may invent the next RSA!

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