NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, October 2002
# What is this Character?
by Cliff Millward, Utah Computer Society
cliffm@xmission.com
(click to email author)


I remember the first time I heard a telephone announcement say "hit the 'pound' sign." I pondered for a moment and realized (because of my musical background) that they must be referring to the "sharp" key located at the lower right side of the dialing keypad. The "pound" sign to me always has been the character used to denote money in Great Britain. () In fact, when I used the Character Map in Windows to look up how to place this sign () in my article, Windows referred to it as the "pound" sign! The # is described as the number sign.

Microsoft has come out on the side of musicians by calling one of their products C# (sharp.) This naming, I assume, is a cause of humor in Great Britain because they call this sign (#) the "hash" mark. So C# in GB becomes C (hash!) Hash is a culinary dish which can include almost any ingredient and, many times, is nothing more than a conglomeration of left overs!

The U.S. usage derives from an old commercial habit of using the # to stand for pounds on bills of lading. This, however, is not the only name associated with this character. It is also known as the gate, square, grid, crunch, crosshatch, mesh, flash, pig-pen, ticktacktoe, scratchmark, thud, thump, splat, hex, grate, reticule, and recently the octothorpe.

The 'octothorpe' name has been rumored to have been invented by Bell Lab engineers when touch-tone phones were introduced in the mid-1960s. There are other stories about the origin of octothorpe, but who cares? I suppose musicians could call it the D flat key because D flat and C sharp are enharmonic intervals, but computer stores would have a hard time knowing what you wanted if you asked for Microsoft D flat!

The sign also has a darker side to its personality. I have seen it used many times in cartoons to represent profanity (@#*%#). Which nasty word it stands for I do not know - take your pick. Just watch your tongue the next time you order Microsoft C#.

Seriously, this character is a sign of many aliases, so I assume it is up to each individual person to call it whatever he/she wants. Personally, pound and hash are too "earthy" for me; and I don't care for gate, crunch, flash, pig-pen, etc. I like octothorpe! It makes me feel so elitist and intelligent to say, "use the octothorpe key," or "I program in COctothorpe." I could also say, "Octothorpe, Octothorpe," or "Oh, Octothorpe," or "you Octothorpe," and feel better because I have uttered a disguised profanity that few will recognize. (Guess I had better stick to "sharp" or "pound" if I want to stay out of trouble!)

Something to "Crow" About?
Researchers in the University of Delaware's ACRES program (Affordable Composites from Renewable Sources) have developed a computer processor made from chicken feathers.

The researchers chose chicken feathers because they are strong, made mostly of air and are a great conductor of electricity. The chip is made from soybean resin and chicken feathers crafted into a composite material that looks and feels like silicon.

In early tests, electrical signals moved twice as fast through a feather chip as through a regular silicon chip. The chip, however, has its problems. It is not very smooth and the microchip industry depends on materials that are ultrasmooth and ultraflat.

Now if they could only make computer chips from the leftover food computer geeks eat while working, we could have a very efficient recycling program! Also, does this mean that in the future, KFC will mean "Kernel Feathered Computer?"

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using the article as long as it is kept in context, with proper credit given to the author. This article is brought to you by the Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an International organization to which this user group belongs

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