Acronyms and blog names

In their frenetic effort to rearrange the corporate homepage and to make it understandable while perfectly attractive, PR managers more and more neglect the understandability at a certain point: often, the company’s acronym is nowhere expanded or explained.

Of course, if they use the name every day as if it were a proper name of their proprietor, they get professionally blinkered and forget that the acronym once had a meaning, which was mostly derived from common appellative nouns. Such a cryptic initialism annoys me always again, because normally I like abbreviations and proper names, more than pale appellations, because I think I can better recognize them when I reread them and browse for them.

Now I have realized that I made the same mistake myself: I forgot to explain my blog name. Unfortunately, I don’t have much resourcefulness, and so I was in difficulties when I learned that blogs need names, other than personal proper names. In a way, this habit resembles the medieval naming pattern of princes who named themselves after their castles. E. g., the Hohenstaufen dynasty who were initially just counts of Büren, adopted the name of their 11c castle that they were probably very proud of. Considering the difference between blog and forums, this parallel is interesting.

Anyway, I chose my blog name “x28” without much imagination, and it just means nothing. It is derived from my userid that I have been using now for nearly 25 years. Its little story is not as thrilling as the history of a castle but nevertheless you may read it if you are interested in IT history.

On our mainframe computer, much of the operating system had to be modified by computer center staff, and we tended to keep it simple. UserIDs consisted of one letter and two digits. Furthermore, authentication and authorization were simply combined by sorting them and taking the first ones for ids with administrative rights and the remaining ones for ids without privileges. In the EBCDIC code, the dollar sign was sorted before the letters, and so computer center staff had ids $00 through $99. The authorization decision was accomplished by a simple test if < “A”, that was it. When I was appointed, I was assigned the $28, and it was a pure incident that 28 was my age then, too.

But how did the $28 morph to x28 ? Well, one day we started emailing, and after the first years within the EBCDIC based Bitnet we finally got into contact with aliens from distant castles such as ASCII based Unix. Often when these people received mails from Heidelberg, their systems crashed or had big problems, because the $ had very special magic meaning there.

Then there was OSI. This acronym’s expansion (Open Systems Interconnection) is, of course, as meaningless as many such terms, but once you learn its role (the wannabe computer Esperanto of the late 80s) you will probably better remember the acronym by recalling some of the constituent buzzwords. In OSI, the character set for the addresses called “O/R” names (Originator/Recipient names) was restricted to “Printable String” which excluded our $ sign, and its transcription into the allowed set was unclear and controversial (“(044)” including the brackets) until OSI vanished.

So we decided to follow the example of our neighbors in Darmstadt who switched from their “#” to “y”, and so our “$” became “x”, and my $28 became x28.

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