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British author Sir Terry Pratchett died March 12, 2015 at age 66, finally succumbing to what he called “The Embuggerance”, a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease, posterior cortical atrophy (PCA), which affects the rear portions of the brain. An extensive obituary can be found here, and there’s also Wikipedia’s page on Pratchett.

Pratchett was absolutely one of my favorite authors – I believe I had read every book he had written (plus some of his collaborations with others.) I delighted in the way he was able to use fantasy as a mirror for social issues here on Earth, with deftness, caring and humor. When my son was young, I read to him from Pratchett’s works for younger readers, especially “The Bromeliad Trilogy” (TruckersDiggers and Wings) referenced in the xkcd cartoon above, and my son was soon reading all of Sir Terry’s works himself. Among Pratchett’s literary creations were the character of Death, WHO SPEAKS LIKE THIS and who rides a horse named Binky, and Hex, the computer of Unseen University that runs on ants in a tube and frequently emits the message “Out of cheese error”.

Not every book was great, but even the worst was very good indeed. Probably my all-time favorite is Small Gods, though I am very fond of some of his later works, including Nation and Going Postal. It is from the latter that an online tribute sprang, one that I am pleased to contribute to and from where the title of this blog post comes.

It all started in a Reddit thread. As gnuterrypratchet.com explains:

In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, the clacks are a series of semaphore towers loosely based on the concept of the telegraph. Invented by an artificer named Robert Dearheart, the towers could send messages “at the speed of light” using standardized codes. Three of these codes are of particular import:

G: send the message on
N: do not log the message
U: turn the message around at the end of the line and send it back again

When Dearheart’s son John died due to an accident while working on a clacks tower, Dearheart inserted John’s name into the overhead of the clacks with a “GNU” in front of it to as a way to memorialize his son forever (or for at least as long as the clacks are standing.)

“A man is not dead while his name is still spoken.”
– Going Postal, Chapter 4 prologue

Keeping the legacy of Sir Terry Pratchett alive forever.
For as long as his name is still passed along the Clacks,
Death can’t have him.

The primary idea is to insert into web headers ‘X-Clacks-Overhead: “GNU Terry Pratchett”‘ gnuterrypratchett.com has rounded up the instructions for many kinds of servers and clients. The Guardian also wrote about this.

Since 2007 when Pratchett announced “The Embuggerance”, every new book from him has been a treasure. There’s one last Discworld book coming this summer. It’s possible that his daughter, Rhianna, will try to continue the series, but it won’t be the same.

If you are unfamiliar with Terry Pratchett’s works and want to know where to start, there are no end of suggestions. I mentioned The Bromeliad for younger readers (and that means just a bit simpler writing and fewer footnotes – Pratchett never wrote down to children). His earliest Discworld novels were a bit rough, so you could start with Mort, which introduces the character of Death. I mentioned Small Gods, which, while a Discworld book pretty much stands alone.

Terry Pratchett gave me so much pleasure over the decades, and his work also inspired thoughtfulness. He will be missed, but his name will live on. GNU Terry Pratchett.

(Originally posted at Intel Developer Zone, copied with permission)

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