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March 20, 2010

Google Chrome, Donald Knuth, $1337 and Leetsdale PA

Google has just presented its top prize of $1337 to Sergey Glazunov for identifying a significant security risk in the Chrome Browser.

Google encourages developers to identify security problems with the browser, awarding some with simple acknowledgements and geek bragging rights, while awarding others cash up to $1337 (for “particularly severe or particularly clever” bugs). They've just awarded their first full prize.

Google's incentive program is a homage to Donald Knuth, author of The Art of Computer Programming (TAOCP). Knuth used to pay a finder’s fee of $2.56 for any typographical errors or mistakes discovered in his books, because “256 pennies is one hexadecimal dollar”, and he paid $0.32 for “valuable suggestions”. Given his near-mythic status in geek circles, these checks were valued way above their monetary value; computer scientists with both a PhD and a Knuth check hanging on the wall would sooner take down the PhD. Knuth was crowdsourcing before we had the word (or the web).

Times change, and even honorifics must adapt. Rather than offering a reward of $2.56, which was considered clever as all get out when it was first introduced, Google choose a top award of $1,337.

That amount may not mean much to many, but to younger geeks 1337 is the equivalent of LEET, a sort of geek pig-latin in which numbers substitute for letters in words.
  • 0 can be used for O
  • 1 can be used for I (or L)
  • 2 can be used for Z (or R and Ä)
  • 3 can be used for E
  • 4 can be used for A
  • 5 can be used for S
  • 6 can be used for G (or B)
  • 7 can be used for T (or L)
  • 8 can be used for B
  • 9 can be used for P (or G and Q)

What is particularly interesting to me is that the Pittsburgh region is the home of our very own Leetsdale (or L33tsd4le or even £337$Ð4£3 depending on your denomination). Why there's no annual Leet/1337 Festival escapes me.


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