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Extraneous Characters

Posted by TestOut Staff on

Sometimes in life things happen just because. That is to say that not every deed or development has a good and compelling rationale behind it, or can be traced back through a series of logical outcomes to a perfectly understandable inciting incident or event. The phrase "out of a clear blue sky" exists to describe an unexpected occurrence because sometimes this or that monumental (or miniscule) outcome is like lightning on a clear day, like a literal "bolt out of the blue."

What the ... ?

We take for granted that there's an underlying explanation for a lot of things that can't really be explained, beyond resulting from a quirk of fate. Take the URL in the browser window that your using to view this page. At the beginning, you'll see "https," followed by a colon (:), followed by two forward slashes (//). The letters "https" are an abbreviation of "hypertext transfer protocol secure," and the colon is a common separator in computer programming. The double slashes are ... just because.

Tim Berners-Lee, the computer scientist generally credited with being the creator of the World Wide Web, is the reason the slashes are where you see them — namely at the beginning of every URL. But the reason that Tim Berners-Lee put the slashes there is, as the man himself admitted in a 2009 BBC interview, because "it seemed like a good idea at the time." The slashes don't serve a direct purpose, other than to indicate where "www." and whatever comes after that should go.

Strange as it may seem, even in the carefully structured, logic-driven world of computer science and information technology (IT), sometimes the underlying reason that something is the way it is is ... no reason at all. The takeaway from this tiny lesson in history and causality is that IT often isn't nearly as intimidating as we sometimes make it out to be. There are lots of interesting quirks and plenty of essentially unimportant, if interesting, details and detours.

All of which is to say that even if you've never really had much to do with computers, it's never too late in life to discover what makes them tick and proceed from there down a challenging and adventurous new career path. Don't hide in fear from the occasionally labyrinthine jargon or the sheer volume of what you don't know yet. Just start at the beginning and go from there. After all, even the most important people in the history of computing don't always know exactly what they're doing. It's just because.

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