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Many decades ago—before laser printers, graphical operating systems, and device-independent imaging models—Gus worked in the IT department of a local college. As a personal project during slow moments at work, he took it upon himself to figure out how to print Greek text. About a week later, he'd hacked together a solution that resulted in a printout of classical Greek writing.

Gus' boss, although a manager in IT, happened to be a classical scholar. He'd never seen Greek text printed from a normal printer before, and he was ecstatic. He told his friends, who told their friends, and so on. The world of classical Greek scholars soon buzzed with the excitement of a rowdy symposium.

One day, Gus received an email from an unknown professor at an Arizona college. He'd heard from Gus' boss about the wonderful, mythical software. Could he have it, too?

Gus wanted to oblige, but there was a problem. His solution was specific to the previous version of the VAX/VMS operating system and Pascal compiler, to one particular VERSAMOD-200 printer that could be put into a dot-matrix mode, and to a special print driver that'd been carefully binary-patched so that it wouldn't mess up dot-matrix images. Gus doubted the professor had the technical knowledge to appreciate this explanation, so he replied in polite, less technical terms: sorry, but his software just wouldn't work anywhere else.

A week later, his boss showed up at his desk, mentioning the friend in Arizona and nicely asking whether Gus couldn't find some way to send him the software after all. Gus' attempts to explain the impossibility of getting the code running on any other computer in the world fell on deaf ears.

"You're a genius, Gus! I'm sure you'll think of something. Thanks!" Pleased with his own optimism, the boss left.

Gus thought about what he could possibly do to comply, or even semi-comply, with the request. Finally, he hit upon an idea. Into his computer's shell prompt, he typed:


A hex dump of his program executable soon took tangible form on paper. Gus smilingly collected the printout and walked it over to his boss' office. "Here you go! It's the software, just like you asked."

"Oh!" The boss looked startled, but receptive.

"If they have any trouble installing it, have them get in touch with me and I'll help them out," Gus said.

"All right! Well, thank you!" The boss glanced over his cluttered desk, hunting for a suitable mailing envelope.

Some time later in Arizona, another of our dear IT colleagues no doubt received this hex dump on paper and was told to install it. He or she must have quite the harrowing WTF to tell us—but apparently, it was a successful one. It’s been thirty years since this particular incident, and Gus has never heard back from the professor or anyone at his school. Perhaps someone struck a deal with Hades, or simply let Chronos march forward to a time when printing special characters was no longer such a Sisyphean task.

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