25 June 2012
A small but fitting tribute to the late science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury has been suggested by the tech world: a new website error code. You’ve probably clicked a broken link and seen the error code “404 Not found”. Or you might see “403 Forbidden”, which means “Private: keep out”.
But the “403 Forbidden” code is now being abused by British internet-service providers. When blocking users’ access to Swedish file-“sharing” site the Pirate Bay, they’re popping up 403 codes. But only the Pirate Bay itself should have the right to do that. So, following anti-censorship discussions by British blogger Terence Eden and the crowd at geekhub Slashdot, Google’s Tim Bray proposed a new code for such situations: “451 unavailable for legal reasons”. The number, of course, alludes to Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel about a book-burning dystopia, Fahrenheit 451.
The idea might be more gestural than workable, but it’s a happy addition to the error-code lexicon, whose rich seam of laconic poetry could be more widely applied to real life. Relationship breakup? “424 Failed Dependency”. Football team lost on penalties? “417 Expectation Failed”. Discovered a terrifying and incomprehensible alien life-form? “422 Unprocessable Entity”.