Miukumauku is the Finnish word for the @ symbol: it means the cat’s tail. Isn’t that lovely? I bet most people reading this have one sitting nicely in their email address. It comes from the English word at, e.g. “firstname.lastname@example.org” is user kev at the domain example.com. All very sensible. But it was not always so…
It recently came as a shock to me that I got my first email account over 30 years ago 1. It was a university account and had the snappy account name “ECZU74” 2. We could do amazing things like send people text messages so long as they were on the same mainframe (a splendid ICL2972 monster with a gargantuan 2Mb of RAM running some home-brew OS called EMAS!). Unbelievably cool for Mrs Thatcher’s Britain and people raised on Star Trek.
Obviously the only people worth emailing were also in Edinburgh but some nuts thought it might be nice to send email to other Universities. We couldn’t do that from our lovely EMAS: but the UNIX crowd 3 had the edge. They could send email to guys in America: so long as they knew the recipient’s name and the exact path connecting all the machines in-between. 4 But you didn’t use something as naff as a Miukumauku: no, you used a “Pling”. So we had stuff like “kev!glasgow!cambridge!mit!stanford”. Get it wrong and your email goes into the Atlantic and gets all soggy and undelivered.
You might think that all this just some aged geek on a nostalgia trip. Ha! It is very likely that your inbox is filled with stuff delivered by software written back in these software dark ages. SMTP = Simple Mail Transport Protocol. Sure, it’s simple, but is also totally unable to cope with the spam brigade. And so 90% of the email floating around the Internet is stuff from people you really don’t want to converse with 5. And you’ve got to pay for it: bandwidth costs, virus checkers, spam filters, etc. To say nothing of the time spent fixing your parent’s computer when they click on an attachment they shouldn’t have. So while Miukumauku is cute: it makes life a complete pain.
- October 1980 to be exact ↩
- Don’t worry, I don’t use this as a password for anything sensitive – that would be stupid. Obviously for those I use my wife’s name – no-one is going to guess that, especially Cathy – oops! ↩
- Which you joined after the initiation ceremony at the start of CS2: write your name in blood inside your copy of the Kernighan and Ritchie book on C ↩
- And the beardy UNIX guys (when “hacker” was a badge of honour) did know the exact paths! ↩
- Parents, In-laws, Colleagues, Government, NSA, GCHQ, etc ↩