Monthly Archives: March 2015

GNU Terry Pratchett

“There was a GNU, and I know that’s a code, then just a name. It was…”

GNU Terry Pratchett  (© Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons.)

© Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons.

This post is very much unrelated to the Greenland Gown  Project, save that Doreen and myself have both always been Terry Pratchett fans.

As any of you who are Science Fiction fans probably know, Sir Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld series, passed last Thursday, March 12th, 2015.

Terry Pratchett’s novel Going Postal, released in 2004, introduces “the clacks” (a form of telegraph, and thought by many fans to be the Discworld’s early predecessor to the internet in the books).  In this novel, a murdered “clacksman” called John Dearheart is honored by other characters with GNU John Dearheart, a piece of code that keeps his name running up and down the clacks.

“We keep that name moving in the Overhead,” he said, and it seemed to Princess that the wind in the shutter arrays above her blew more forlornly, and the everlasting clicking of the shutters grew more urgent. “He’d never have wanted to go home. He was a real linesman. His name is in the code, in the wind in the rigging and the shutters. Haven’t you ever heard the saying: ‘A man’s not dead while his name is still spoken’?”  (Terry Pratchett, “Going Postal, Page 105.)

The letters GNU were a hack to ensure Dearheart’s name would continue indefinitely. G meant passing on the message, N meant “not logged” and U meant it must be returned on reaching the end of the line.

As Doreen’s official web-monkey, I’ve taken it upon myself to join many other Terry Pratchett fans who are also web administrators by adding a specific header field to the Greenland gown project’s websites HTTP headers, the internet equivalent of the clacks “overhead”:

X-Clacks-Overhead => GNU Terry Pratchett

In this small way, “GNU Terry Pratchett” will run through the internet forever, underlining Pratchett’s own words in Going Postal: “A man’s not dead while his name’s still spoken.”

If you’d like, you can check our HTTP headers here: