About

I'm Mike Pope. I live in the Seattle area. I've been a technical writer and editor for over 30 years. I'm interested in software, language, music, movies, books, motorcycles, travel, and ... well, lots of stuff.

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Some people may sit back and say, "I want to solve this problem" and they sit down and say, "How do I solve this problem?" I don't. I just move around in the mathematical waters, thinking about things, being curious, interested, talking to people, stirring up ideas; things emerge and I follow them up. Or I see something which connects up with something else I know about, and I try to put them together and things develop. I have practically never started off with any idea of what I'm going to be doing or where it's going to go. I'm interested in mathematics; I talk, I learn, I discuss and then interesting questions simply emerge. I have never started off with a particular goal, except the goal of understanding mathematics.

Michael Atiyah



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Blog Statistics

Dates
First entry - 6/27/2003
Most recent entry - 9/23/2017

Totals
Posts - 2453
Comments - 2558
Hits - 1,984,502

Averages
Entries/day - 0.47
Comments/entry - 1.04
Hits/day - 381

Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 8:30 AM Pacific


  10:26 PM

I've noted before that we have tools to help us find geopolitical issues in our docs. This includes profanity. Not that this comes up a lot, of course. But the point is both to guard against unintentional uses, like maybe a writer who's in a hurry and copies something out of an email thread that includes some dubious language. Or to guard against profanity in places where people (editors, say) might not think to look.

And indeed, I personally ran across a couple of such instances in the last few weeks, much to my amazement. (Actually, amusement, and you'll see why.)

The story involves GUIDs, or "globally unique identifiers." A GUID is a 16-byte/128-bit number; that's 3.4 × 1038. You use GUIDs to identify things because, given this huge pool of numbers, and the fact that GUIDs are generated randomly (for practical purposes), the chance of two GUIDs ever colliding is infinitesimal.

So? Well, for humans, GUIDs are normally represented like this:

936DA01F-9ABD-4d9d-80C7-02AF85C822A8

That's a 128-bit number in hexadecimal (base 16, useful for computers), which uses the digits 0–9 and the letters A–F to represent numbers. You can see from the example that a GUID will often have consecutive letters.[1] And any time you can put letters together, you can, advertently or otherwise, form words. And when you can form words, ...

The massive internal database we use to store our work uses GUIDs as IDs for everything — documents, pieces of art, code snippets, everything. So for example, while we're authoring, if we want to create a link from one topic to another topic, we specify the GUID of the target topic. (Of course, the tools do all this for us; we don't have to actually know GUIDs or anything.)

As I say, twice in the last week or so I've run our geopolitical check tool and it objected, vehemently, to what it fingered as profanity in the docs. This was the first one:

CCEE44F2-86E3-CACA-9E53-8CA5F25F8F62

Namely, a GUID (probably in a link) that included the string "CACA". This amused me, because apparently you can take the boy out of the 2nd grade, but you can't take the 2nd grade out of the boy.

The second hit was a little more mysterious. Again the tool had tripped over a GUID; this time it was this:

4D07A497-37F7-4454-BBCD-732EA5CDD059

The sequence of letters that had raised the alarm was "BBCD". Uh ... what? But the tool said it was profanity, so I went looking. And sure enough: BBCD is a derogatory term in Britain (I guess). Wow, interesting catch.

Of course, there's nothing for us to do here. First, the character strings are in GUIDs, which we can't change. And anyway, customers never see these; they're used internally for identifying "assets," as they're called, but are converted to other types of identifiers (comparatively tame stuff like http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/fddycb06.aspx, for example) during the publishing process.

This whole business got me to thinking about how many offensive terms we could construct out of the combination of letters A–F (repeats allowed) with 8 + 4 + 4 + 4 + 12 places to play with. Not so many, probably. (Lots of words, but not so many offensive words.) Which was why I found it all the more interesting to have come across two examples in just a few days.

More reading
Online GUID generator


[1] There are 8 + 4 + 4 + 4 + 12 places, all of which could have letters. That's a lot of combinations of letters. Of course, odds are against this. Colleague Ron does the math: "Since the range of letters in a GUID is 0-F, the probability of consecutive digits being in the range A-F decreases sharply as the total number of digits increases. (About 14% for 2 digits, about 5% for 3 digits, less than 2% for 4, about .75% for 5, and about .27% (or one time in four hundred) for 6, and .1% (one time in a thousand) for 7. The number of possible combinations is exponential — 36 for 2 digits, 216 for 3, 7,776 for 4."

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