Beware! What you see below are the official views of me only, which have nothing if not less to do with the official views of the M Crew.

Once upon a time…

…a first-year computer science student eyed a posting on the class newsgroup asking for challengers in a student-organised programming contest. Ambitiously indulging in the belief of returning home a hero, the foolish student took up the gauntlet…

The person who organised the contest was Edward. The one who advertised it was Bradley. And the first-year computer science student…

The contest was to redesign a class assignment. The prize: two chocolate fish and everlasting fame in the class, not to mention your peer group. Somehow, only two people entered. I came second.

That was May 1997. I had no idea what was to come…

The real challenge

Then came July. The New Zealand Programming Contest was announced, and asked for three-player teams to enter. It was finally time to stop fighting each other and focus on the common goal.

Bradley, Edward, and I had been entered as ‘Hacker Barbie’. Our victory that year was coming third place in New Zealand, in the ACM South Pacific Regional Contest (September 1997).

Sadly, 1998 was our low point. Entered as ‘Mercednaries’, we won the NZPC in our division just like the previous year, but had not achieved similar success in the ACM contest.

As a side note, it's funny how contest organisers have always managed to mispell our team names (firstly as ‘Hucker Barbie’, then ‘Mercenaries’)…


…as we licked our wounds and determined to return with a vengeance, we had another challenge. We each had a mailing list to run (Edward with his Falcon development list, Bradley with Weird Christian Site of the Week, and me with my Unicoders list), and yet ‘proper’ mailing list services cost astronomical amounts of money.

January 1999. We were discussing how to get our own server started so that we can run mailing lists. Sadly, due to lack of funds among other things, this never took off.

In February, realising just how fast domain names were going away, I had decided to register (M for Mercednaries) in the belief that it would be taken sooner or later.

Edward was thrilled. He would talk with his employer (Industrial Press) and hopefully get connectivity through them. In exchange for technical services, we would get to connect through them, and also look through their old machines to scrounge one we could use as a server.

To assist in the partial fulfilment of these services in May, Edward's friend Adam joined the group.

Back to the team

On May 6, after a proposal to start a Linux users group was rejected, we renamed our team to ‘/var/mints’.

Obviously /var/mints had only us three, so we needed to form a group that also included Adam. Edward asked for suggestions of a name, and I suggested ‘The M Crew’. There were no objections. I made a sour comment that there would not have been objections even had I chosen a less tasteful name.

Unbelievably, the contest organisers this year had managed to spell our team name as ‘/var/mince’! Definitely Murphy's Law at work…

Birth of arcanum

Even by the end of May we hadn't decided on a name for our new server. I suggested ‘arcanum’ (Latin, meaning ‘secret’). There was also talk of a second server, for which Edward suggested the name ‘latebra’ (Latin, meaning ‘hiding place’).

In June, there were discussions about which machine to use as arcanum. In early July, Bradley and I had made up our minds, and made suggestions on the machine to use as latebra as well.

Appointed as the system manager, I was given the task of getting arcanum up and running. From July 13 I had been setting up and testing the server, and it was all set to go after a week or so. But by then we had a programming contest to prepare for, and it was left dead in the water for the while.

After the NZPC (July 31), it was time to make all that effort useful. On August 1, arcanum was finally on air.