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Web geeks grant immortality to Sir Terry Pratchett – using smuggled web code

El Reg has jumped on the bandwagon

~ $ curl -I theregister.co.uk

HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently

Date: Wed, 18 Mar 2015 20:18:05 GMT

Content-Type: text/html; charset=iso-8859-1

Connection: keep-alive

Server: Apache/2.2.22 (Debian)

Location: http://www.theregister.co.uk/

X-Reg-BOFH: PFY

X-Clacks-Overhead: GNU Terry Pratchett

(although I enjoy the BOFH header as well!)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: El Reg has jumped on the bandwagon

On Firefox the add-on shows an icon that signals if a browsed page's server is using it. The icon uses a changing series of white dots on a black background like a domino. The dots seem to spell "Terry Pratchett"

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Re: El Reg has jumped on the bandwagon

It's a particularly half-assed implementation - it doesn't appear on the correct URL for el-reg or even the canonical URL for this article. It only seems to appear on the redirect for the bare domain.

[/Users/sam]$ curl -sI http://theregister.co.uk | grep X-

X-Reg-BOFH: PFY

X-Clacks-Overhead: GNU Terry Pratchett

[/Users/sam]$ curl -sI http://www.theregister.co.uk | grep X-

[/Users/sam]$ curl -sI http://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/03/18/sir_terry_pratchett_http_header/ | grep X-

[/Users/sam]$

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Anonymous Coward

Re: El Reg has jumped on the bandwagon

It's been activating the GNU FireFox icon on this forum page since before you posted..

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Re: El Reg has jumped on the bandwagon

Sorry, we don't like replying to HEAD requests. I'm sure there's a joke in there somewhere?

➤ curl -sI http://www.theregister.co.uk/ | grep HTTP

HTTP/1.1 405 Method Not Allowed

so… you've got to go the long way around:

➤ curl -v 'http://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/03/18/sir_terry_pratchett_http_header/' -o /dev/null 2>&1 | grep X-

< X-Reg-BOFH: pfy

< X-Clacks-Overhead: GNU Terry Pratchett

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Silver badge

Re: El Reg has jumped on the bandwagon

They can mess about like this, but can't add IPv6?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: El Reg has jumped on the bandwagon

"They can mess about like this, but can't add IPv6?"

HTTPS would be nice.

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Re: El Reg has jumped on the bandwagon

We hear you, we hear you!

Both are on the roadmap, and have been for a while. Neither is a quick & easy thing to do, though, compared to the simple:

+ add_header X-Clacks-Overhead "GNU Terry Pratchett";

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Silver badge

Re: El Reg has jumped on the bandwagon

Don't want to crow about this (well, actually I do, but saying that excuses the following) but it's not that huge a deal to roll out a Beta site that does this.

I mean, really, IPv6 Day proved that you won't break anything just by enabling or pushing an AAAA record. From there, it's just a case of opening up port 80 and 443 on IPv6 IP's. From there, you have a beta copy of the site from the same Apache servers. From there, it's just a case of asking us to trial it so we can break it while you fuddle around with scripts and logs and all those nasty hard-coded things.

While there, a cert from a CA plugged into the Apache config would at least enable it, and securing, say, just the login form would be a welcome addition.

I realise you may have cloud, failover, load-balance, etc. on such a site but, really, it's not like a 5-year-plan kind of thing so much as a couple-of-weeks to start a Beta and the year following to check it isn't going to fall over and you have hardware to cope with the strain. And we've (I've!) been crowing about this for a bit longer than 5 years now!

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Gold badge

Re: El Reg has jumped on the bandwagon

No, but it is a question of return on investment. There's no pressing need to be on IPv6 right now, but there are eleventy squillion other fires, all of which provide more immediate reward for solutions.

Welcome to business.

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Thumb Up

Re: El Reg has jumped on the bandwagon

@Trevor Pott "eleventy squillion"...

...caffeinated nasal enema.

P.

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Re: El Reg has jumped on the bandwagon

Sorry, we don't like replying to HEAD requests.

Why in the world not? Support for HEAD is a MUST requirement of RFC 2616 (for "general-purpose servers", which would definitely apply here). Returning 405 to HEAD is appropriate for some resources, but not for any that accept GET.

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Silver badge

Re: El Reg has jumped on the bandwagon

"Sorry, we don't like replying to HEAD requests"

No, neither does the Mrs.

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This post has been deleted by its author

Practising What You Preach

..and just in case anyone is inclined to check, el Reg's server sends this:

X-Reg-BOFH: pfy

X-Clacks-Overhead: GNU Terry Pratchett

Nice one.

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Anonymous Coward

I believe you're wrong, read it again. I plan to.

'U' meant turn it around at the end of the line and send it back.... a U turn.

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Re: I believe you're wrong, read it again. I plan to.

Why include the N?

Surely not logging it means that it won't be written down as much?

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Silver badge

Re: I believe you're wrong, read it again. I plan to.

> Surely not logging it means that it won't be written down as much?

Surely logging it means that it will be chopped down and sent to a sawmill?

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Headmaster

"Why include the N?"

Because of context. In the books, the clacks is basically a semaphore-based version of the telegraph network and the cost of sending a message is based on how many towers it has to pass through. The amount of money each regional clacks office needs to earn to be worth running is reckonable by the number of messages that have passed through it. The N code is added to messages that are not to be logged, and hence not included in the financial calculations.

In short: adding the N means you don't care how much the message costs.

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jai

Re: "Why include the N?"

Without the N then the GNU jokes don't work. Wasn't the hack (in the book) implemented by the group calling themselves the Smoking GNU ?

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"Wasn't the hack implemented by the group calling themselves the Smoking GNU?"

it was, but the GNU code wasn't the hack. The group took its name from the code used to transmit the names of dead operators because they were inspired to form by the clacks company seemingly not caring about the operators any more.

(Thank you to the second person who upvoted my previous post, by the way - that was my 3000th upvote. :D)

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Angel

Join The Rev's RFC campaign.

http://www.me.uk/draft-kennard-padding.txt

Use it as the padding in ping packets.

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Thumb Up

Re: Join The Rev's RFC campaign.

Brilliant.

Let's make this happen!

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Re: Join The Rev's RFC campaign.

..although it might have helped to mention that the bytes are in hex, as 2 lines before it mentions decimal.

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Coat

I Suspect Jon Postel would approve

So can we call it ``going Postel''?

Mine's the one with snail mail in the pocket.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I Suspect Jon Postel would approve

Another one reminding us that those who the computer gods love die young.

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Go

This makes me so happy

What a perfect tribute to the great man. As I write, I have Going Postal in my hands, it was (one of) the book(s) where he experimented with chapters while clearly not taking it seriously. It was also the only of a Discworld book that was well adapted into a TV movie, the actor Sky cast as Moist Von Lipwig was perfect.

Re-reading the very passage that this idea comes from, it's clear how much Pratchett understood about how the internet works, that he created such a good parody in the clacks. I feel compelled to quote here for prosperity:-

"Not all the signals were messages. Some were instructions to towers. Some, as you operated your levers to follow the distant signal, made things happen in your own tower. Princess knew all about this. A lot of what travelled on the Grand Trunk was called the Overhead. It was instructions to towers, reports, messages about messages, even chatter between operators, although this was strictly forbidden these days. It was all in code. It was very rare that you got Plain in the Overhead. But now..."

Another tech link is that VLC versions are named after Discworld characters, version 2.1.5 is 'Rincewind'

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Anonymous Coward

Re: This makes me so happy

Didn't know that. (checks...) So it is. No wonder this version runs so well...

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Holmes

Re: This makes me so happy

*"...I feel compelled to quote here for prosperity..."*

* Unless you get paid to comment here, I think you mean "posterity"

* I'm fairly sure that the fact the passage you are quoting is already physically printed in thousands of books spread around the globe will ensure its posterity better than a throwaway comment on a website.

OK. That's the pedantry out of the way.

Now, at the risk of gate-crashing the universal Terry Prattchet love-in (and with the disclaimer that I've not actually read Going Postal*) I feel 'compelled' to point out that, everything I've read about 'The Clacks' (including the above quote) suggests that, far from being an original, genius, Pratchett invention, he's pretty much just copied the concept of the 'Guild of Signallers' from Keith Roberts "Pavane", published over thirty years earlier.

[*No. I'm not the person childishly down-voting any pro-Pratchett posts. I've tried a couple of his books and they didn't do anything for me. But fair play to the man for giving so much pleasure to so many other people.]

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Silver badge

Re: This makes me so happy

" VLC versions are named after Discworld characters, version 2.1.5 is 'Rincewind'"

I used to grin when it said it was updating TwoFlower.

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Re: This makes me so happy

far from being an original, genius, Pratchett invention, he's pretty much just copied the concept of the 'Guild of Signallers' from Keith Roberts "Pavane", published over thirty years earlier.

The bit you've missed is that the genius is in the copying, and the parodying and satire thereof. For example, Wyrd Sisters (an early Discworld book) opens with three witches, one of whom asks "When shall we three met again?". Apparently some bloke from the Midlands came up with that idea some time ago.

There's nothing new under the sun. That same bloke from the Midlands wrote the famous play about a couple of "star crossed lovers", and he pretty much copied the idea from a previous Italian love poem. Non-one says that Romeo and Juliet is not a classic of English literature just because the concept isn't original.

It's how you take the original, and extend and transform it, that counts.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: This makes me so happy

"...far from being an original, genius, Pratchett invention, he's pretty much just copied the concept of the 'Guild of Signallers' from Keith Roberts "Pavane", published over thirty years earlier."

Or perhaps it is a reference to a real-world system used in England back around the 1790s. Pratchett is well known for real-world references in his work.

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Re: This makes me so happy

He mentioned either in Going Postal or in one of his Science of Discworld books that the technology for this existed over a century ago and was used for short distance signalling and that the books were just applying it on a larger scale a la the internet or telegram. He might well have gotten the idea from Keith Roberts (not familiar with the work, probably going to look it out now), but it's also possible they both had the same original sources.

Also there's no guild running the Clacks yet, although that sort of starts getting set up towards the end of the book, and the company running it has money but not much political clout, there is no Guild of Signallers. There is a company running it, but while rich they have little in the way of political clout

Still, interesting observation and no reason not to be bringing it up. Considering his (somewhat joking) suggestion of education by way of finding a library and reading everything, I think he'd very much approve of you pointing out other books with similar themes and technologies which might interest people

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Re: This makes me so happy

Being something of a Pavane/Roberts fan I have to agree... also the public persona of pTerry leads me to suspect that he may have read Keith Roberts in the past. I meant to ask pTerry if there was a connection but it is to late now :(

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This post has been deleted by its author

Coat

Re: This makes me so happy

Microsoft really doesn't do it all that well, that's why people whinge & of course a lot of us are whinging poms so its in our blood so to speak.

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Re: This makes me so happy - @ Witty Phuq chappy

'Keith Roberts "Pavane", published over thirty years earlier.'

Thanks for that reference, saved me needing to point out that Gibson & Sterling used the term Clacker in "The Difference Engine" (1990).

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Linux

Re: This makes me so happy

As the line you appositely quote states: It's how you take the original, and extend and transform it, that counts.

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Re: This makes me so happy

"I meant to ask pTerry if there was a connection but it is to late now"

I'm sure there was. Terry was a fan before he was a writer, and fans of his/my age generally knew Pavane well. (Also Keith Roberts' reputation, but that's a different matter.) The signalling technology was much the same, but the purposes each author used it for were very different.

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Thumb Up

Re: This makes me so happy

@Electron Shepherd

Fair point. Have a thumbs-up to prove I'm gallant in defeat.

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Boffin

Re: This makes me so happy

@Phuq Witt - " I think you mean "posterity""

Yes, well spotted. Cheerfully withdrawn.

"(with the disclaimer that I've not actually read Going Postal*) I feel 'compelled' to point out that, everything I've read about 'The Clacks' (including the above quote) suggests that, far from being an original, genius, Pratchett invention, he's pretty much just copied the concept of the 'Guild of Signallers' from Keith Roberts "Pavane", published over thirty years earlier.

[*I've tried a couple of his books and they didn't do anything for me.]"

I would disagree with your assertion, as someone who didn't get Pratchett (and there's nothing wrong with that) and therefore didn't read much of his work, it may not have been apparent how much well researched satire (both recent and historical) and parody Pratchett put into his books. Such as the passage I included where he clearly understood enough about the workings of the net. There are so many references, parodies and pisstakes that I got a whole load of new jokes when re-reading them as an adult and still probably missed hundreds (much like The Simpsons).

He may well have taken up the idea from Roberts (I have no idea) but The Clacks became an integral part of the world in several of the later Discworld books (it was introduced before Going Postal) and certainly took on a life of its own but it was never the plot of any books, just a plot device and a part of the evolving environment.

Side point - Even if you didn't like his books, I would suggest that you might find love for him in his fight for rights such as the right of people in terminal illness to die and defending atheism/humanism*

*I always thought it was funny that he was knighted despite having displaying a dislike for Monarchy in much of his books.

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Holmes

Re: This makes me so happy

This sub-thread is reminiscent of the way misinformed people accuse J K Rowling of "plagiarism" for various reasons, in particular that Hogwarts is supposedly "ripped-off" from Greyfriars because both are fictional boarding-schools; not realising that by the same "logic" the Billy Bunter stories are themselves "ripped-off" from Storky & Co. (or whatever the exact title is), which in turn was "ripped-off" from Tom Brown's Schooldays. (In reality, of course, the only thing all four have in common are that they are boarding-school stories.)

What the JKR detractors fail to realise is that the art of story-telling does not consist of devising a new story, but of devising a new way to tell one of the half-dozen or so stories which are all there are, or are ever likely to be. Isaac Asimov freely admitted that the classic Foundation series was heavily based on Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but I've never heard of anyone thinking any less of it, or of Asimov, because of this.

tl;dr: There's a world of difference between "inspired by" and "stolen from".

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Silver badge
Happy

Brilliant!

I can't think of a better tribute.

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Thumb Up

Re: Brilliant!

... and because I can't have two icons, I'll just have to have two posts!

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Anonymous Coward

Going Home

"It lives while the code is shifted, and they live with it, always Going Home."

Wonder if there is another of his throwaway references in that capitalised "Going Home"? The Dvorak song of that title is about DEATH - the tune being more popularly recognised as the Hovis advert.

Libera singing it at one of their concerts recorded for DVD.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TvThHk-wMRk

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Silver badge

Re: Going Home

The Largo from Dvorak's symphony no 9 isn't about death. Going Home was based on it, but that was written by one of Dvorak's pupils.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Going Home

"[...] but that was written by one of Dvorak's pupils."

Thanks - my slip. Should have known better than attribute the words and setting to Dvorak. Not sure if that slip is the reason for the downvotes - or just the whiff of religious organisations in that Libera concert setting. Many British supporters of the choir are atheists - as were/are many choirboys in the English choral tradition.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Going Home

"or just the whiff of religious organisations"

I've never been able to work out this gut reaction from some people. And one of the recurrent themes in Pratchett's work is that there is no moral value in being an atheist or a theist - it is entirely about how you live your life.

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