On Computer Naming

When I was in college, the computer society was asked by the university’s IT people to come up with a naming scheme for its (the computer society’s) servers. We debated possible namespaces for a while, looking for a related set that was both memorable and extensive. We finally settled on psychotropic medications. The IT admins nixed it, and that was the end of student self-determination, at least when it came to computer names, and at least for a little while.

I think I’ve had better luck naming my own computers: * I first had to christen a computer the summer after junior year, when I was doing the first stages of research towards my senior thesis. I’d gotten permission to park myself in a spare office in the computer engineering building, and to put my computer on a departmental network. At the time, they were naming servers after Dlibert characters, including Catbert, Dogbert, Alice, and Wally. (This example demonstrates the problems that arise when you select a namespace with too few names in it; the print server was named Printbert.) I named my computer Umberto, after Umberto Eco, thus neatly slotting into the local bert-based naming conventions. As a further tip of the hat to Eco, I named my hard drvie Abulafia—after the computer from Foucault’s Pendulum. * My printer in college I named Gustav, for Gustav Mahler. * The laptop I got when I went to law school was Martin Farkus (“farkus” for short), which is almost certainly the most obscure reference among my electronic names. It comes from The Lady or the Tiger?, a book of puzzles by Raymond Smullyan. The second half of the book consists of an extended series of puzzles leading up to the “Monte Carlo Lock Problem,” a great puzzle inspired by Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem (if you know the proof of the Theorem, it’s fairly straightforward to solve; if you don’t, as I didn’t when I first read the book, it’s damn near impossible). A character named Martin Farkus makes a meta-appearance (that is, another character talks about him, but he never appears to the reader) to provide the key facts that define the MCLP. The name is still not, to my knowledge, Googlable. (If there’s some connection to the Catholic blogger of the same name who turns up when you try, I’m unaware of what it might be.) You either know the reference or you don’t. And, to be honest, I wouldn’t have known it had someone shown it to me. Once I had the idea, I pulled the book from my shelf, confirmed that yes, the name was distinctive, and ran with it.

I’ve also had some fun naming wireless networks: * My first network was Threepwood, after Guybrush Threepwood, from the Monkey Island games. (I really ought to get around to playing Escape from.) I admit that the name doesn’t quite make sense, since Threepwood is a person. Still, I wanted something that a wandering traveler might be amused by. I also went to the Monkey Island well when creating a gamertag for Xbox Live: my first ID there was Gorbush, one of the more memorably mangled versions of “Guybrush” that the other characters in the game come up with. That turned out to be a bad idea. Never log on to a service heavily populated by adolescent and preadolescent boys using a name that contains “bush.” When I was lucky, I got comments about it being some kind of political reference. And that was when I was lucky. * When I set up a wireless network for my mom and stepfather, I called it Canterbury, as in Thomas Becket comma Archbishop of. It all makes perfect sense when you remember that their dog then was named Becket. They later set up (or rather, I set up for them) a second base station, so that they’d have coverage upstairs and downstairs. That was easy; the downstairs one was Canterbury and the upstairs one was York. * My current network is Jotunheim, the Norse home of the frost giants. It was almost as though I knew that my attic apartment was going to get cold in the winter. * Aislinn’s network is Kobenhavn, the Danish spelling (modulo the glyphic limits of the Latin alphabet) of Copenhagen. We liked Copenhagen when we visited it. We iked it a lot.

All of which is an extended introduction to the announcement of the name of my new MacBook. I’ve dubbed it Holophonor. Here’s the Wikipedia entry on “Holophonor”, but be warned that the entry doesn’t (yet) do the concept justice. It’s a musical instrument from Futurama, which produces images as well as music. It’s allegedly incredibly hard to play (although the holophonor recital in one episode suggests a little otherwise) but is capable of intoxicatingly immersive effects. As soon as I came up with the metaphor when titling my previous post, I knew I had a winner on my hands.

Names are like that—when you find the right one, you just know.

I think James named my network Kobenhavn; it then seemed logical to name the computer itself Aislinnhavn. No one’s ever asked about it, but then few people use my computer. And most of those who do are busy complaining about it being a Mac.

I named my computer “Whiskey”, but in my defense I also named it after the first thing I saw after it prompted me to name it. It could have been far, far worse.