Dec 21 2009

Bad Fortune

I’ve discovered a serious lack in Ubuntu, as compared to BSD: the fortune program.

Fortune is a simple program that started showing up on Unix systems around 1980.  Originally, it printed a one-line “fortune cookie” message, selected randomly from a file of them.  Over time, people added jokes, quotes, and other bits of text to them.  Most people would have their system set up to run fortune when they logged in, so it was kind of like a “quote of the day” calendar, or like the random quote module I have here on my blog.

As you can imagine, since most of this was being done by programmers before anyone else was using computers, the fortunes tended toward the computer and science-fiction fields, and there were lots of in-jokes.  For instance:

One of the main causes of the fall of the Roman Empire was that, lacking zero, they had no way to indicate successful termination of their C programs. — Robert Firth

Ha ha!  Well, on Ubuntu, it seems like they took out most of the original fortunes and replaced them with a bunch of boring lines that actually do sound like fortune cookies!  I guess they figured no one’s going to get jokes about Fortran or want to read Spock quotes anymore, but this is definitely not an improvement.  Here are five I got when I ran it just now on OpenBSD:

The other day I put instant coffee in my microwave oven … I almost went back in time.
– Steven Wright

“Dying is a very dull, dreary affair.  And my advice to you is to have nothing whatever to do with it.”
– W. Somerset Maugham (last words)

The best book on programming for the layman is “Alice in Wonderland”; but that’s because it’s the best book on anything for the layman.

Hanlon’s Razor:
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Error in operator: add beer

See?  A nice mix of observations, wisdom, and jokes only a geek would get.  I’m just surprised there were no quotes from Star Trek.  Now, here are some from the standard fortune installation on Ubuntu:

Q:      What is the difference between a duck?
A:      One leg is both the same.

You are only young once, but you can stay immature indefinitely.

The better part of valor is discretion. — William Shakespeare, “Henry IV”

Your society will be sought by people of taste and refinement.

You will soon meet a person who will play an important role in your life.

Boring!  And I’m not sure if that first one is missing something, or it’s just way too deep for me, because I don’t get it.

Fortunately, there are lots of extra fortune files you can install if you know about them, and all the old fortune ones are available on the web, so I’m grabbing a bunch now.  I may have to use a shiny new operating system, but if I can’t have my old geek tools and toys, it’s just not worth it.

I thought about creating a new Twitter account and writing a program that would tweet a new fortune to it each day.  (And then thousands of people would follow me, and I’d tell them to do things, until I ruled the world! — Pearl Forrester)  But so many other people seem to have had the idea that I can’t even find a decent username with ‘fortune’ in it that hasn’t been taken.  Guess it wasn’t such an original idea after all.  I might still do it just for fun, and to play with the API.

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