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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

O’Reilly Primes? by Matt McGann '00

Before you ask where my blog title (“The McGann Factor”) came from, I’ll just come right out and tell you: Ben made me choose it. But I’ve grown to really like it, for a few reasons. Certainly, it is a swiping of the nomenclature of a certain telecaster’s forum. Now I don’t care much for that telecaster’s politics, but within that nomenclature you can a couple nerdy things that I like.

First, the word “factor,” which is something I like to do to numbers. You could not imagine my joy when earlier this summer I realized that my nine-digit social security number is prime. I don’t quite recall how the topic came up, but as we were talking, I was applying various divisibility tests. I wasn’t certain, though, until I got to a factoring program, since I didn’t know the divisibility tests for larger primes (if you can factor nine-digit composite numbers in your head — and I’m not talking about easy ones like 10^8 or 2^27 here — you should totally list that as a talent on your application). Number theory is fun stuff. If you haven’t read a biography of mathematician Paul Erdos, I’d recommend that as fun end-of-summer reading.

Second, the obscured telecaster’s name is “O’Reilly,” which is also the name of the publisher of every good nerd’s favorite programming books. The other day, I was thinking back fondly to the days when O’Reilly’s Programming Perl was one of my best friends. You may or may not know that the O’Reilly books are noted for their friendly animal mascots; for example, my Perl book’s mascot was a camel, and Java’s mascot is a tiger. This got me thinking that the various O’Reilly animals would make a great component to a Mystery Hunt puzzle. I brought this up to one of my housemates, Josh, who was on the winning 2003 Mystery Hunt team, and thus got to write Mystery Hunt 2004. His reply was, “We did have an O’Reilly puzzle, dude.” I was suddenly reminded that yes, in fact, there was an O’Reilly puzzle of sorts, and it was one of the coolest aspects of this past year’s Hunt. Josh, through connections still unknown to me, had been able to slip a cluephrase into the Perl Cookbook, Second Edition before it went to press. The penultimate step of the puzzle gave you an ISBN (for the Perl Cookbook) and page number, which sent my teammates scouring the libraries for a copy of this new book. We were all in awe of Josh’s ability to slip in the clue months beforehand.

I feel bad for going off on a large Mystery Hunt tangent without talking in depth about it, but that’s a topic for another entry. Until then, my friends, keep factoring those large numbers, and never lose sight of what’s truly important (such as the Mystery Hunt).

Current music: Alice In Chains, “I Stay Away” (old school grunge)

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