Sending Terry Pratchett home with HTTP headers



In Going Postal, Pratchett describes a technology which really existed but is now largely forgotten because the Morse electric telegraph was so superior. But many of the techniques used on the Internet - including encryption - were pioneered by the optical telegraph. The messages were also binary encoded, because a square on the telegraph hoist could be light or dark.

This is therefore doubly fitting, not only to remember Pratchett but to honour an early form of digital communication.

[edit - binary transmission was possibly first suggested by Francis Bacon, who had the idea of using two cannon with different characteristic sounds to send 1s and zeroes. It would have been a very expensive form of communication but would allow the government to broadcast a prearranged message very quickly, since in those days cannon shot could have been heard for miles.]


I was sorta hoping for it to be more like a relay system than a static broadcast.
The whole point of staying alive in the overhead was that the signal would travel from one tower to another, one after the other.

Just setting a header on some web servers doesn’t make it ‘travel’ for more than one transaction.
Set up a web-bug that bounces this ‘overhead’ from a compliant server to a compliant browser and back to the next server they hit … and then we would have the whisper in the clacks…


There’s a Tumblr post making the rounds that simply says “GNU Terry Pratchett”… closest thing I can think of within my non-coder means.


A traceroute to, for example, goes through 12 hops. The analogy is that routers are like clacks towers, not that the server and client are the only clacks towers.


According to the tale told in the books - the name in the ‘Overhead’ was a single instance that had no origin code, and no address. It went up the line and down the line, passed by humans each time, with no destination.
Reducing that whimsical and indeterminate, unending journey to a one-way, fixed-destination trip that’s now attached to a business message, and repeated identically on each and every transaction… makes it a poor analogy.

Wouldn’t it be nicer to think of a quiet message bouncing its way from users machine to users machine indefinitely? Rather than thousands that get ignored by everyones browser and deleted immediately?

Just making the point that it is travelling through multiple points and that the analogy was better than initially made out to be by you. Obviously still not perfect, but you’re not going to get any better without rewriting client and server software.

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Encode it into the token in a token-ring network?


I wrote this firefox plugin to let non-techies send it to servers from their browsers.


Done! I suspect Terry Pratchett would have been amused.

I also modified my headers to remember Daevid Allen

<IfModule headers_module>
header set X-Clacks-Overhead “GNU Terry Pratchett”
header set X-Radio-Gnome “PHP Daevid Allen”

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I use the ‘modify headers’ extension for firefox and have added ‘X-Clacks-Overhead’ ‘GNU Terry Pratchett’ to that. I’m sure that my screen has a faint octarine glow to it now!


I’ve edited the original comment with links to the replies I got with instructions for other webservers / apps etc

I’ve informed the dude that set up that website, so hopefully they’ll be added there as well


I just want to say that I love this idea. Of course since I’m a disembodied brain in a box, I would love it.


The worst part of my job as the company tech support person is what I’ve twice had to do when a co-worker/friend has died.

I have to delete their network login. Delete them from the phone and messaging system. Delete their email account and forward their mail elsewhere. Delete their login on the company web site, and remove various references to them on it. Delete their accounts from various purchasing and parts lookup sites at other companies.

By killing off their online presence, it feels like I’m killing off the last remaining part of them that’s still alive.


I hope you realize that 20,000 years from now, even if aliens decode the message sent from the Arecibo radio telescope and forward it as requested, they still won’t understand the Terry Pratchett reference.

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The first thing I thought was we needed to add the header to a mesh network of some kind. Something being routed around Tor, etc. But I did think of something else fitting.Using I just embedded “GNU Terry Pratchett” in the bitcoin block chain, where it will need to bounce around for quite a while.


Some people just enjoy raining on other people’s parades.


[cue “It’s raining men” song, with video track of massive paratrooper deployment above a ground-forces military display]

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Geez, man. I can’t imagine having to do that.

At least with dismantling someone’s household, all their stuff is actually going somewhere, hopefully to someone who needs it. (It’s why I have my grandparents’ complete set of silverware.)

X-Clacks-Overhead looks more like an email header to me. I found this page:
On adding custom headers to Thunderbird. Now each email I send will contain it.

user_pref(“mail.identity.id1.headers”, “clacks”);
user_pref(“mail.identity.id1.header.clacks”, “X-Clacks-Overhead: GNU Terry Pratchett”);

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