Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Part of the Family

This is a little belated, but I have a very important introduction to make. World, meet Manwe. Manwe. meet the world.


Heh, isn't he cute?

Manwe replaces Aule, who has served me with distinction for... gosh, I guess it's been six years, through multiple incarnations. This seemed like a good moment to reflect on the history of my network and my penchant for naming computers.

So, going back in time...

My first personal computer (in the sense of a computer that I bought for myself) came my senior year in high school. It was an IBM Aptiva, and I loved it. It saw me through my first few years of CS courses, was where I learned Emacs, and had some good gaming experiences (HalfLife, Baldur's Gate 1 and 2, etc.) A year later I did my first serious upgrade, when I got new memory and a video card to play Ultima IX.

Still later, when I had my epiphany/fit of rage and installed Linux, I had to come up with a hostname for my computer. I honestly don't recall what I picked at this point - probably "cirion". The experience of embracing Linux, though, forced me to consider my computer as a first-class entity, a host on the Internet, not simply a little device that did certain tasks for me.

When I broke away from my souped-up Aptiva and built a box from scratch, I wanted a new beginning. After doing a ton of research, I hit up a variety of online and brick-and-mortar sources to pull together a small behemoth, a Linux-only box.

At this time, I had to decide what to call it. In all the good networks I've dealt with, there's been a coherent naming strategy for machine names. At the CEC (Center for Engineering Computing) at Wash U, the servers were all named after hotel chains (hilton, clarion, etc.). At Raviant they were named after astronomic objects. Many organizations will pick characters from mythology. Others like picking the names of various Muppets. At my previous job, we were considering naming our servers after characters in the Marvel universe.

I actually didn't have to think too long to come up with mine. A fierce Tolkien fan, I decided that my network would be named after the Valar, the powerful entities created by Illuvatar who were responsible for much of the creation and governance of Middle-earth. This was perfect in multiple respects. There are 15 Valar, and 15 will probably be enough unique names for my network. The names of the Valar tend to be relatively short, memorable, and interesting. They also aren't obvious, which means I have the pleasure of explaining the names of my computers to fellow nerds.

My first computer was dubbed aule. It should have been Aulë, but umlauts are hard to type on some keyboards. I named it aule because it was my development box, the thing I used to produce code, write scripts, compile executables and generally create software out of bytes. This was in keeping with Aulë's position as the smith: among the Valar, he was the craftsman, creator of the sun and the moon, architect of Arda, life-giver to the Dwarves, the teacher of Fëanor who in turn would go on to create the Silmarils. I liked the sense of mission and focus that this name carried.

A few years later, I decided to add another Linux box to my fold. This was to be my entertainment center, dedicated to recording and playing back music, movies, and television shows. I named this box nessa, after the Vala most associated with dancing and the arts. Her grace and joy well reflected the role of an entertainment box, much as Aulë's strength and focus well conveyed the development box's role.

I proudly carried the Linux-exclusive banner for several years, but when I started doing BREW development in early 2005, I needed to reintroduce Windows to my life. This evil and corrupt force could only be adequately captured by giving it the name MELKOR, who is also known as Morgoth, the Enemy. Dual-booting on Aule's hard drive, the same physical machine would reveal one face or the other to the network. This was particularly apt, since among all the Valar, Aulë was most like Melkor, and might have followed down his path of rebellion were it not for his humility.

All that has passed, and after more time than I had planned, I am pleased to welcome manwë into the fold. Manwë is king of the Valar and lord of the air. In much the same way, my new computer rules over the network, surveying all from above.

Oh, and the network's name? Valinor, of course.

So, that's it. If you ever come to visit, bring your laptop. My machines would love to meet yours. Skynet is fully operational.


  1. Carnegie Mellon names many of their computers after Tolkien characters too. UC Irvine names their buildings after Tolkien characters!

    I've never owned many computers at the same time, so I've never had trouble coming up with themes. My work machine is trurl, and my home machine is klapaucius.

  2. Cool! Another reason to visit Southern California sometime.

    Heh, yeah, it is a bit of overkill to have a network naming scheme when I never have more than three (permanent) machines on at a time. What can I say? I like schemes!