Your Experience May Differ

To: Daniel Hill <dlh9@….>
From: Dan Q <dan@….>
Subject: Aberystwyth University Is Awesome! Warning: Your Experience May Differ.

Dear Daniel,

There’s an age-old tradition amongst Aberystwyth graduates, and in particular amongst Computer Science graduates. But to truly understand it, you first need to understand a little bit about Aberystwyth University. Also, to understand recursion, you must first understand recursion (you’ll “get” that joke by your second year, if you don’t already).

As you know, your username is “dlh9”. There’s a reason for that: The letters are your initials. “But I don’t have a middle name,” I hear you cry (or, at least, not one that the University know about), “Where’s the ‘L’ come from?” Well, it turns out that Information Services, who look after all of the computer networks, have a System [TM]. And their System [TM] is that staff get usernames like “abc”, undergrads get “abc1”, postgrads get “abc12”.

(this has lead to some awesome usernames: for example, “bed” used to be the username of somebody from Residential Services, and “sad” was once the username of one of the counsellors at the Students’ Union)

Anyway, I digress. I was talking about usernames. The digit in your username is the year you started your course. So, because you’re starting this year, yours is “9” (see, ‘cos it’s 2009 – get it?). You’re not allowed to spend more than nine years getting your degree, so that’s a pretty good primary key (you probably know what one of those is, but if not, you will before the academic year is out). Postgraduates get two digits because they often hang around for years and years. I don’t know what would happen if somebody spent a century getting their PhD, but I’m guessing that it wouldn’t be pretty.

And so there’s been a long-standing tradition amongst Aber grads, and particularly Comp. Sci. Aber grads, and especially particularly Comp. Sci. Aber grads-who-graduated-and-got-jobs-in-Aberystwyth and never got around to leaving… that when their username comes up for “renewal” – when a decade passes after they first started their course – they finger (you’ll learn what that means soon enough, too) the Aber computer systems and check if their username has been re-assigned. It’s a great way to make yourself feel old, as if the annual influx of younger-every-year Freshers didn’t do that perfectly well already.

Over the years, I’ve seen many friends play this little game. Some of them won, but most of them lost – it turns out that the odds aren’t really on your side: there are 17,576 conceivable username combinations each year – from aaa9 to zzz9 – and only 3,000 new students, so odds are less than 50% whether or not you ignore the statistical biases that mean that things like “qxz9” (Quentin X. Zachary?) are basically never going to turn up.

So imagine my surprise when I, for the first time, get to play the game, today… and I not only win, but I get a double-win, because the person to whom my old username has been recycled is an undergraduate in my old department!

Yes: I was the last owner of “dlh9”. I was “dlh9” from 1999, when I started, to 2004, when I graduated, an alumni of the Computer Science Department at what was then the University of Wales, Aberystwyth (it changed it’s name to Aberystwyth University shortly afterwards – this, combined with the fact that I have since changed my name by deed poll, means that I am the proud owner of a degree certificate that contains neither my name nor the name of an existing university!). At the time, my name was Daniel Huntley – I didn’t have a middle name, either – and I spent five years getting a four-year degree in Software Engineering before I started working for a software company here in this very town. I haven’t yet got around to leaving.

It still feels strange to write an e-mail to your e-mail address – my old e-mail address. It feels like I’m writing an e-mail to myself. I wonder what I’d have made of it if I’d have received this e-mail when I first arrived at University. It’s not so hard to imagine: the person I am now would be unrecognisable to the person I was back then, just like I am a complete stranger to you, but writing to you nonetheless. But even if you discard this e-mail and never think of it again, you’ll have done me a wonderful service by allowing me the chance to participate in a fascinating thought experiment that has granted me a great and deep nostalgia for the time I spent at that University.

(by the way; I apologise if your e-mail address is still getting the spam it used to get when it belonged to me)

Like me, Aber’s changed over the last ten years. The University’s changed, and the Computer Science Department has changed too. But I’m sure that you’ll find the place as beautiful and as satisfying as it has always been: this remarkable town on the West coast of Wales, where the mountains meet the sea, full of strange and quirky characters, a million miles from anywhere, and truly unique. I find myself longing for you to have *my* experience of Aberystwyth; to do all the great things I did, to meet all the great people I did – but you won’t. You won’t have the same lovers; you won’t discover the same music; you won’t join the same clubs; you won’t have the same beautiful sunsets while you roast burgers on disposable barbeques and the rising tide laps at your ankles; you won’t have the same hangovers; you won’t scrape through the same exams; you won’t steal the same traffic cones; you won’t climb the same mountains. A different story told differently.

You won’t have any of the things that made my time here in Aberystwyth so wonderful for the last ten years, but don’t dispair, because you’ll have something far better – you’ll have all of your own marvellous experiences. Mine are mine in nostalgia alone, but yours are yet to come. And I hope you have an ass-kickingly good time, because that’s what every Aber Comp. Sci undergrad deserves when they come to this magical corner of the world.

When you get as far as your lectures, tell Richard Shipman I said “Hi”. That’ll put you in his good books, I’m sure. ;-)

And if you see me around town, give me a wave and I’ll buy you a pint. If you got nothing else from reading this old man’s drivel, you just earned yourself a free pint. When I was a student, I’d have called that a win-win. Your experience may differ.

Good luck, and best wishes;

Dan Q


Feed Proxy Bug Fixes

BREAKING NEWS: On 1st October 2009, LiveJournal blocked the Feed Proxy bot. I don’t know when they’ll unblock it and it’ll come back up: see the latest here.

I’ve fixed a handful of bugs in the popular Feed Proxy tool (which, as you probably know, allows you to read LiveJournal and Dreamwidth “friends-only” posts in Google Reader or your favourite RSS reader tool, even where that RSS reader doesn’t support the necessary authentication systems to normally be able to pick up these posts). These include:

  • A number of users identified a problem relating to some mixed-case LiveJournal usernames having to be entered into Feed Proxy in lowercase to work. These usernames are now automatically corrected to lowercase as necessary.
  • Feed Proxy now automatically detects those passwords whose characters may cause problems with the cURL library, which is used to fetch the feeds from LiveJournal/Dreamwidth, and produces a warning message, rather than the previous unfriendly error message. A better solution will be investigated in the future.
  • Downloading an OPML package of some or all of your feeds now works correctly in Google Chrome. I didn’t know so many of you used it!
  • The FAQ has been expanded with a few more common questions, including the (very) frequently-asked question about multiple source accounts of the same type (which will be properly supported at some future point).
  • It’s now possible to read the FAQ without having an account or logging in. Sorry I forgot that – whoops!

I’ve finally gotten around to responding to all of the e-mails I’ve received so far from users: sorry about the delay, folks, but a lot of you had questions to ask!

To those that have asked about open-sourcing it: yes, I still fully intend to open-source the project (as I did with it’s predecessor, LJ-To-Google Reader) so you can run it on your own server if you like, but only once it’s reached a point of stability. Follow this RSS feed if you want to hear about updates to Feed Proxy, including when the source code becomes available.