A to Z of the digital world

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Y is for YKYBHTLW. Which is not the sort of abbreviation that trips off the tongue, and should, by this stage in the alphabet, alert you to the possibility that it is one of the many in-jokes making their rounds of the digital world, rather than the name of a new piece of software for your PC.

So it proves: the letters above stand for "You know you've been hacking too long when ...". This is "hacking" used in the sense of being paid for working on a Unix computer as opposed to trying to break into the US Department of Defense's Nuclear Options Task Controller. It is a world-weary line, which is the set-up for a genre of one-liners told by hackers (aka addicted computer programmers) about themselves. These include the following - and if you find that you test positive on more than three, perhaps you should consider spending a little more time out of reach of electronic appliances.

So, YKYBHTLW:

not only do you check your e-mail more often than your postal mail, but you can remember your network address more easily;

your sweetheart kisses you on the neck, and the first thought in your mind is "Hmm, priority interrupt";

you start to check your bank balance and discover that you're doing it in octal;

your computers have a higher value than your car;

in your universe, "round numbers" are powers of two, not 10;

more than once, you have woken up recalling a dream in some programming language;

you realise that you have never seen half of your best friends;

you catch yourself describing everyday tasks as programs (IF cashier busy THEN try next ELSE stand in queue) and wondering if a compiler could speed them up.

One of the early authors of some of these checklist items made one up but challenged readers to spot the fake. He was unnerved to receive many independent reports of his "fake" (doing your bank balance in octal) having happened to real people - including the legendary Grace Hopper while she was working with BINAC, an early computer, in 1949. Which is why one of the items above is also invented, though please don't tell us if any of them have happened to you. Tell a psychiatrist.

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