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The Backpage

By Ben Okopnik

One of the deepest problems of our much-maligned society - usually unnoticeable due to more pressing concerns, such as "Gee, Homeland Security just issued a Mauve-and-Puce-with-Fuchsia-stripes Threat Level End-of-the-World Doom Warning Terror Alert. Do my socks go with that?" - is acronym overrun. Yes indeed; for those of you who have recognized the problem but suffered in silence for years - this is it! The Revolution is NOW! ...at least I'll explain what I mean, for those who are scratching their heads and wondering what the heck I'm ranting about this time.

(Curmudgeons must curmudge, at least on occasion, in order to keep their status. Don't mind me, I'm just keeping up the membership requirements.)

It's simple. Like the standard dotted-quad IP space in networking, the standard and obviously far more limited TLA (three-letter acronym) space is quickly being filled to its maximum capacity. Some have suggested that ETLAs (the extended, or four-letter version) are the solution... do you hear my hollow laugh? (Besides, we already have lots of uses for four-letter words - especially with all these Terror Alerts.) The population is growing, the rate of our technological expansion is just now becoming non-linear - and we poor geeks are running around desperately searching for three-letter abbreviations that are not totally overloaded. Some of the definitions even conflict with each other! Consider the following (Bowdlerized for the pleasure of the ^%(@!%$#*%^*s at the FCC, who have redefined "obscenity" and "indecency" by making of themselves an excellent example of both):

Automatic Teller Machine
Abstract Test Method
Asynchronous Transfer Mode
Adobe Type Manager
at the moment (IRC/Usenet usage)
End Of Day
End Of Discussion
Explosive Ordnance Disposal
Dead On Arrival
Dead Or Alive
Freedom Of Speech
Full Of Sh*t
I Hate This F*cking Place
I Have Truly Found Paradise
(For more acronyms, abbreviations, initialisms, and other fun and funky stuff, check out my AcroFinder. Feel free to contribute if your favorite abbrvtn is missing.)

Now, I ask you. Is this right? Is this fair? Is this just? I mean, what's next - words or even phrases with multiple meanings? I'm shocked - shocked, I tell you! - by what I see in our future if this trend continues (it's all sorta dim and fuzzy - I'm never buying that brand of digital camera again! - but involves high prices, a desperate lack of good beer, and people wearing 1970s-style disco clothes. [shudder]) Trust me, you don't want to go there.

As an example of this, just a while ago, LG's Editor Gal and I were discussing a problem in a production script, and ran into a snag:

06:59 < okopnik> There was a broken '..104' in there, but not the '..issue80'.
06:59 <@editorgal> line number 3266. 1 mo
06:59 < okopnik> 'K.
07:00 <@editorgal> missing fencepost
07:00 < okopnik> I figured it was STL.
07:01 <@editorgal> not your garden variety fencepost error :D
07:01 < okopnik> Oh?
07:01 <@editorgal> line now reads
07:01 <@editorgal> if ( $refdir eq "") { $ea =~ s/=LG=/\.\.\//g; }
07:01 < okopnik> Banananana??? :)
07:01 <@editorgal> procmail folk call \/ fencepost...
07:02 < okopnik> Ah.
(Classically, a "fencepost error" in computer programming is an off-by-one mis-count; e.g., a 100' fence with a post every 10' requires 11 posts, not 10. It's often found in loops, where it's likely to be called a "banana error" - from the story of the little girl who said "I know how to spell 'banana', I just don't know where to stop!")

So - now that you're aware of this terrible problem and are surely unable to just sit on your hands while this terrible injustice goes on - help! Dear readers, please give us your detailed opinions and suggestions, written legibly on the back of a recently-issued postage stamp (and remember, no toxic ink. We might want to, um, use them or something. [1]) Send them, along with the box-tops from your favorite cereal and a 500-word essay on why you should be the one that NASA sends to found the colony on Hyperion, to Uncle Louie, Box 100, Nucla CO 81424.

Better yet, send all that junk to the White House. It might confuse them and keep'em busy long enough to stop or at least delay any further Terror Alerts... I'm gettin' mighty tired of digging through this sock collection.

[1] Most people, when they run out of stamps, simply walk down to the local post office and get some. Here at LG, though, some of us are a different - and maybe even arguably better - breed of disturbed individuals... we just write an article and wait for the mail carrier. It's less work, and much less tedious than chewing through the straps besides.

B. Okopnik


picture Ben is the Editor-in-Chief for Linux Gazette and a member of The Answer Gang.

Ben was born in Moscow, Russia in 1962. He became interested in electricity at the tender age of six, promptly demonstrated it by sticking a fork into a socket and starting a fire, and has been falling down technological mineshafts ever since. He has been working with computers since the Elder Days, when they had to be built by soldering parts onto printed circuit boards and programs had to fit into 4k of memory. He would gladly pay good money to any psychologist who can cure him of the recurrent nightmares.

His subsequent experiences include creating software in nearly a dozen languages, network and database maintenance during the approach of a hurricane, and writing articles for publications ranging from sailing magazines to technological journals. After a seven-year Atlantic/Caribbean cruise under sail and passages up and down the East coast of the US, he is currently anchored in St. Augustine, Florida. He works as a technical instructor for Sun Microsystems and a private Open Source consultant/Web developer. His current set of hobbies includes flying, yoga, martial arts, motorcycles, writing, and Roman history; his Palm Pilot is crammed full of alarms, many of which contain exclamation points.

He has been working with Linux since 1997, and credits it with his complete loss of interest in waging nuclear warfare on parts of the Pacific Northwest.

Copyright © 2004, Ben Okopnik. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 105 of Linux Gazette, August 2004

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