Content-Type: text/shitpost

Subject: How I became MJD
Path: you​!your-host​!walldrug​!kremvax​!hal9000​!plovergw​!plovervax​!shitpost​!mjd
Date: 2018-06-17T15:27:52
Newsgroup: alt.mjd.mjd
Message-ID: <>
Content-Type: text/shitpost

I was not intending to be known as “MJD”. It happened by accident.

When I got my first full-time job, as a Unix system administrator, my boss, Mark Foster, asked me what username I would like. He had mark, so that was unavailable.

At college I had had entropy, but I wasn't sure that would be appropriate.

(The first time I chose my own username I was unprepared for the question. I sat there staring at the screen for two minutes, unable to think of anything good, and finally, wanting only to move on, entered puswad. Some months later that admin of that lab asked if I would be willing to change my username. He had to include it on reports that he gave to his boss about the lab, and felt embarrassed every time he saw it. Hence entropy.)

Mark assured me that entropy would not be a suitable email address for a staff person. Thinking of the ilustrious history of dmr and rms and so forth, I suggested mjd and the die was cast.

What I wasn't expecting was that people would start calling me that. For a long time I resisted it. “That is not my name,” I would say. “It's just my email address.” On chat systems I would always choose something else because I didn't want to encourage the trend of people calling me “MJD” to my face.

But I didn't want to change it, and eventually, I gave up. Now, many years later, it seems very natural for people to call me “MJD” and I am sometimes startled when they don't.

My first Unix username was dominusm, assigned by some other person or perhaps an automatic process. My colleagues David Hiebeler and George Kyriazis were similarly assigned hiebeled and kyriazig. This infuriated me. Eight characters were available, so why not hiebeler and kyriazis? Why mangle people's names for a foolish consistency? I resolved that if I were ever in charge of assigning usernames, I would do a better jobs, and eventually, I did.

One day I was trying to type telnet but my left hand was on the wrong position and I typed yrlnry by mistake. When Dada lightning strikes like that, I take it seriously. On IRC I was yrlnry for many years. The only thing that prevented me from using it more widely is that people seem unsure how to pronounce it. (/yuril-nury/) Another benefit: since it's hard to prounounce, people wouldn't try to call me that when they met me.

But I usually prefer to use my real name. I don't (usually) want to be pseudonymous, and I think “Mark Dominus” is a great name. I often find nicknames silly, pompous, or juvenile, and I often find myself feeling embarrassed for people who use them. It is tempting to insert some especially painful examples here, but one of the rules of this blog is: no mockery of any specific and identifiable private persons. But maybe you can imagine me cringing when I think of someone who goes around calling himself “Elrond”.

On Math Stackexchange I originally used “Mark Dominus” but then I found to my distaste that Google searches for my name turned up my SE contributions and nothing else, so I changed it to “MJD”. The SE thing reminds me of something related. There is a certain class of SE user that chooses as their avatar a picture of David Hilbert or Georg Cantor, which I would never dare do. It seems conceited and vainglorious. I make plenty of dumb mistakes and I do not want to make them right above a picture of Niels Henrik Abel. I chose my own avatar specifically to get as far as possible from that:

A potato
A screenshot of a Math.SE post,
with my name and potato avatar at the lower-right corner

I think this is hilarious.