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Down the Hatchet

Off Starboard

By Akshay Patil
COLUMNIST

After spending a few years here at MIT, I’ve learned that there are many different types of nerdiness. I know people who think benzene is “cute” and others who think the summation of an infinite series is “damn sexy.” The list goes on to include people who enjoy staring at computer terminals for days without end, people who just won’t shut up about stress points, even people who get all hot and sweaty about thermodynamics.

Being Course VI (unlike everyone else ... yeah), many of the nerdy characteristics I’ve picked up on have to do with EECS nerdiness. If you can grep like no one’s business, if your favorite stories involve blowing out transistors, or if you talk about flushing your processor’s pipeline, you might just be a six geek.

But with all these different measures, different standards, how can you reliably tell if someone passes the test? It’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally figured it out ... ports.

If you not only know that your computer has ports, but know what each port is for, you are the king of nerds, and I bow down before you. Furthermore, I subscribe to the belief that your nerdiness is proportional to the number of ports you are using at any given moment. Those of you interested in saving yourself from this culmination of geekdom, stop reading now, because otherwise, I’m about to violate your port virginity.

If you know port 80 is for http, then I guess you’re excused. I mean, everyone knows about that one, right? You grew up on the stuff ... imbibing it without heed as to the small little hole in your computer that ether creeped in through.

Well, if not, now you do.

If someone says Port 22 and you think “SSH,” you’re really starting to push it, my friend. Granted, you might have had to log in into MIT remotely using the secure shell, but that’s really no excuse ... had you been interested in not learning anything nerdy, you would have covered your eyes when it displayed port information. And if you thought 23 was the way to go, then I’m really sorry, my friend, but SIPB is on its way over to your room right now to break your legs for exposing your password to the unencrypted world.

Maybe in your little non-nerdy file-loading adventures you stumbled across port 21 in all its FTP glory. Maybe you haven’t, in which case, let me tell ya: port 21 is where the party is at ... for transferring files, that is. Other than that, it’s really not a big deal. I mean, it’s divisible by 7 and all, and 7 is prime... which is really cool. So is 3. So I guess 21 is a really cool number too, but I’ll leave that up to you to decide. It could very well be that port 1214 is your cup of tea ... tea you downloaded from the KaZaa network with questionable legal ramifications, that is.

If you pay really close attention to Eudora, you would have discovered that port 25 is that mysterious hole into which your digital life goes into. That or good ol’ port 5190, if your digital life means an AIM buddy list.

Whatever your excuse, there’s no way around it: ports are nerdy. Last term I was feeling pretty dirty when I realized I was using ports 80, 800, and 8000 for three web servers. Who knows what kind of levels I was at when I was checking my mail and chatting online? Good thing I wasn’t running a MySQL database at the time (default 3306) -- then I would have really been pushing the boundaries of decency.

For a healthy computer, doctors recommend a thorough port scan every few years.

Unless you notice an irregular lump, at which point you should contact a network administrator immediately. Your computer’s got 65,536 ports ... god help you if you’re using all of them.