Jake’s First Rule of Computing

People watching you type will always pronounce your typos.

Back in 1994, as a first year Computer Systems Engineering student at the University of South Australia, I noticed humans seemed unable to resist the urge to pronounce the typos of the person typing. I’m not sure why this is, and yet all these years later, it is still a thing that we do.

This was before laptops, cell-phones, Mozilla or Visual Studio. There were two computer labs on campus accessible to us first year students: one filled with Windows 95 computers, and one filled with Macintoshes.

The PCs didn’t have a compiler, and there weren’t enough PCs to go around, so we worked in groups, and would telnet1 from a PC, into the campus Unix machine.

Ah LUX: the Levels Campus Unix machine. I remember it fondly…. Super late nights sitting by the glow of the terminal…. Discovering this new thing called the “Internet”…. Using telnet and FTP to connect to other servers across the world!! Those were the days when the internet was just a big, safe text adventure….

We would write our C code in emacs or vi (the weak would use pine), compile using a hand written Make file, and execute the a.out binary to see if it worked.

One day, a small group of us were working together, huddled around the PC as one of us typed into the terminal, and the rest of us looked on.

As we watched our classmate type into the terminal, someone would invariably try to pronounce the typos. And Jake’s First Rule of Computing was born, and seems to have survived more than a decade of technological development.

It happened again just last week. We were in a meeting room at work, with the desktop of a team member’s laptop on the big screen, watching him type up a story for a product backlog. Sure enough, he mis-typed something, and sure enough, someone tried to pronounce it.


While writing this up, it occurred to me just how much technology has changed.

Back then we used telnet, not SSH. We were writing C, not C++, C#, Java, Ruby, Python or PHP. In second year, we were allowed to use the CompSci lab, which had beautiful Xterm consoles, which opened up the possibility of trying out this new app called “Mosaic”.

Last week, we were using WiFi, a 52″ plasma screen, and a web-app to manage the Agile development process we adopted the year prior for the Software as a Service product, running in a VM farm inside the company’s data center, which communicates using 3G to a network of internet connected weather stations. Crazy.

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