Hire a summer kabbalist, aka. "from the coffee table of software engineers high on caffeine"

One of the things that computer programmers often ignore is the power of numbers. You see, often a computer programmer just needs to pick a number, any number, to mean something-or-the-other. For example, they could say that "9" means "rotate the disk to the left" and "8" would mean "rotate the disk to the right", and "0" for "stop the disk". The computer does not care what these numbers are; it just compares them to the instructions it was given, and then executes the instructions as it was programmed.

Sometimes programmers get creative, and think of meanings for the numbers, if they're read in a certain way. For example, the Java binary code uses the number "3405691582" so that Java programs know that the file is meant for them. Exciting? Well, if you convert this number to the so-called hexadecimal notation, i.e. base 16 instead of the usual base 10, it becomes "CAFEBABE" - a suitable name for something that derives its name from a kind of coffee.

These funny magic number references are everywhere. I can't count the number of times I've smuggled hexadecimal numbers like DEADBEEF, DECAFBAD, BADCAFE, B5 (for Babylon 5) to different programs. There are probably only a handful of people in the world who will ever see them, but at least they'll get a chuckle (or a groan). As I said, the numbers don't matter, so you might as make them interesting.

Sometimes magic numbers happen by accident, or people think they see them even when they aren't there. A good example is the story that the bar codes you see on products actually contain the number "666", i.e. the Devil's number. (Snopes, of course, has something to say as well.)

I've recently been involved in some standardization work, and during some high-caffeine moment I got a brilliant idea: companies should hire "summer kabbalists" to put some real meaning into the numbers. Think about it: ten years from now (ten internet years is the equivalent of thousand years in real life, yes?) a danbrownesque chase through RFCs and W3C Notes, countless hours of debugging of esoteric line protocols, billions of microcontrollers in the world using the same magical numbers that point to hidden treasures of unimaginable wealth and documents that would prove once and for all that Steve Jobs is the bastar brother of Bill Gates.

It would make standards work so much more interesting.


I'd like to see the moment when Darth Gates reveals his true identity to Steve Jobswalker. "Steve, Mac OS X was derived from Windows!" "NOOOOOOO!!!"

And yes, I have just drank lots of coffee.

--Burana, 13-Mar-2006

Okay, that is scary :)

--JanneJalkanen, 14-Mar-2006

Did someone mention 0xDECAFBAD?

--l.m.orchard, 15-Mar-2006

Why of course ;-)

--JanneJalkanen, 15-Mar-2006

(43 | ~43) == 255

therefore 255 is the question.

--Ed Davies, 17-Mar-2006

I view it as a -1, but then again, I'm a pessimist.

--JanneJalkanen, 17-Mar-2006

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"Main_blogentry_130306_2" last changed on 13-Mar-2006 18:51:35 EET by JanneJalkanen.