January 27, 2014

Computer Names

When you have a number of computers on a network, it can be useful to give each machine a name. Just like it’s easier to remember google.com than, it’s easier to identify a specific machine by a memorable name than by its internal IP address.

There is potentially much joy to be had in this activity, but also a dreary dystopic side, as I first discovered at Warwick university 15 years ago. In the new IT labs sat rows of beige Windows boxes, on each one a sticker proclaiming its name. The name was formed in two parts – a few letters to identify its geographic location on campus (so all machines in the same room would share this) and then a number. But once you scratched the surface, you’d discover clues from an ancient, neckbeardier time. When you opened a telnet session, you’d discover that all the servers were named after flowers: primrose, mimosa, lily… and once you started exploring the campus, you’d discover other, smaller computer rooms, populated by unix terminals. In one room, they were named after biscuits. In another, they were named after cheeses. It brings joy to the heart, to think that once upon a time a sysadmin spent an extra five minutes just to give the computers some individual, albeit themed, names, like a little xoxox to future generations of users.

After university, I did a couple of temp jobs, but I never really paid much attention to the way the computers were named there. At my first full time job, the policy was that all machines should be named after places. I remember being fairly chuffed when I was invited to name my own computer, and perhaps that’s the point at which I started really taking computer-naming seriously as an art form.

At my current job, I’ve found that all of our clients tend to use similar schemes when naming computers. Firstly, like the Windows boxes at Warwick, they all generally start with a few letters that denote the geographical location of the machine. I guess there’s a logic in this – it makes it easier to detect an outage at a site, and predict the ramifications. Then, there’ll be a cryptic code that denotes the function of the machine. And finally, a bunch of numbers to make it unique. The end result is usually a 16-character burble that’s about as easy to remember as an IP address.

Internally, we have a policy for naming computers that has a certain charm to it (which is nice) but results in a lot of very similar-sounding computer names (which is confusing).

Anyway, the reason why we’re here is that I recently ordered a new computer and it’s taking much longer to arrive than it should have. I’ve been thinking about what to call it, and I want your feedback. The naming convention at Uborka Towers is food – currently active are PIZZA, PARSNIP and GRAVY, defunct (to all intents and purposes) are MASH, PIE and PORKPIE.

This also gives me a good opportunity to talk about foods that I like. We could go down the CURRY route – perhaps a BHUNA or a JALFREZI, maybe a NAAN or BHAJI instead. Actually, Jalfrezis make me hiccup, so that’s an ominous name for a computer. Scratch that one.

On the other side of the world, we could have a CHILLI or ENCHILADAS or a CHIMICHANGA, though I suspect that in the long run I’d regret giving my computer such a long name.

Closer to home, I wouldn’t say no to a BURGER or CHIPS or FISH. Might steer clear of a KEBAB though, you can’t be sure what’s in it. Maybe I should go with an ironic HORSE, but that joke’s so 2013.

Back out to the east, our options include SUSHI, KUNGPO, SZECHUAN, GYOZA, all fun suggestions, though the computer names so far have been somewhat more domestic, I feel like one of these would not really fit the aesthetic.

I’ve been eating a bowl of PORRIDGE every day, maybe that’s a candidate. Or we could expand the brief to include drinks, in which case COFFEE and BEER and WHISKY join the list.

All this talk of computers is making me hungry.


11 thoughts on “Computer Names

  1. Way back when I worked for the mongers of mechanised death, I was rather pleased to learn all the servers had Discworld names: vimes, nannyogg, gaspode, atuin, mort, and so on.

    I love a theme. While most of my passwords are randomly generated gibberish, a precious few are derived from a very, very nerdy theme of which I am secretly very proud. Ms G and I even name our pets according to our fondness for heavenly exploration: Tycho, Hubble, Cassini, Juno.

    The food thing is good, but how do you choose from such a broad theme? I would have to narrow it down a bit or be stuck in endless indecision. Condiments alone could keep one in device names for decades.

  2. Yes Gammidgy, in hindsight I should have chosen a narrower field. Too late now, far too late.

  3. We have computers named after fictional computers (Ziggy, Hal) and mine which is called Domiknitrix (after a knitting book. Mr PWF chose it because it happened to be the book he caught sight of while setting it up).

  4. I was at Warwick when I sent my first ever email… the mail programmes, as I recall, were called ELM and PINE. Good times!

  5. ah, the happy, innocent days before the world wide web. I spent ages and ages on alt.music.smiths and on some hopeless RPG called (if I remember correctly) Midnight Sun. By the time I did my masters at York in 95/96, I had my own website and the internet was well on the way to ruin*

    *not necessarily related events.

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