Ages ago I had meant to post some old articles from 1997/98 that I’d found on a floppy disk. For some reason I only did two, but I’ll resume re-posting, as some of them are mildly interesting and/or entertaining.
The field of computer systems development always involves decision making. To make a decision requires discussion, postulating, debating, and yes, arguing. And there is one issue in the field that is probably subject to this process more than any other. Although it may arise in less than half of the system development projects that run, I suspect that most computer professionals have at one time or another found themselves sitting in heated discussion around a table trying to answer the question:
“What are we going to call the box?”
There is no more thorny issue than this. A new computer has arrived. It’s a server, so practically everybody will need to use it. It has to be installed, and somewhere along the line, it has to be named.
Naming children is easier. Trust me, I’ve been through both experiences. At least when children are concerned, you’re limited by their sex, and generally by social considerations, such as giving the poor kid a name they’re not going to hate, and that people know how to pronounce and spell. Plus there’s usually a maximum of two people who really have a say in the decision.
But naming a computer is much, much harder. Everybody wants to use their favourite cartoon or sci-fi character, or their favourite planet, or their favourite name from some obscure piece of mythology. Apart from four letter words (you know the ones I mean), just anything goes.
Sometimes, just sometimes, it’s easy. This is when some boring corporate standard comes into play, and the project manager decides that he or she is too gutless (or at least, lacks the political clout) to buck the corporate standard, no matter how boring it is.
It’s during these times that new computers end up with boring names like “nus202” and “vax24”. And while they may be lacking in personality (and they are often almost indistinguishable from their siblings in the computer room), at least they’re usually easy to remember and spell.
But if upper-management doesn’t dictate something, what do you do? I’ve been on projects where just about everyone had their opinion, and we ended up having to do a kind of informal vote. It was either that or a pie fight, and a pie fight would’ve left the conference room in a less than ideal state.
Some organisations have a series of machines to name, and so they work out a theme. Planets is popular (though people tend to shy away from Uranus), and I’ve also encountered fish. One place I worked, we used characters from The Simpsons (Homer is common), but we got bored with it after a while, and switched to other cartoons.
In the end it doesn’t matter. But it definitely helps if everyone knows where the name comes from. Once the mail server I used was called “Banjora”. I still don’t know what that one means.