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The obsession with the letter 'X'

This is going to be another long one! Apologies for any typos, my cat was sitting on the keyboard for some period of time during the writing of this blog.

Today I will describe my obsession with the letter “X”. No other letter was just quite as awesome during my childhood. Was there anything the letter X could not do? Triple X Radio being probably the most inappropriately named station, for a 7 year old. Keen? Read on!

XLAB, XLAB Computer Co. and XLAB OS

I spent many hours in front of the family Osborne computer as I was growing up, especially after I had discovered QBasic.

Now I had a few programs conjured up using QBasic, which I might upload onto GitHub one of these days just for kicks. The key to most of my programs is that they were essentially over-engineered menu systems. At the age of 10 I didn’t really know how to build great programs, but I had some awesome ideas, most of which didn’t get past the “main menu” stage.

All of the programs were created under the pretend company name of “XLAB” or “XLAB Computer Co.”. After the Internet came around, I started making rather rudimentary HTML-based websites to advertise this amazing “company” of mine, which didn’t really do much as a company. Suffice to say, nobody ever contacted me asking for a program to be written. Oh woe is me.

Point is though, I couldn’t go past naming the company with an “X” in the name - and the first letter to boot.

Some of the highlight programs I wrote at the time were:

  • SSS - Super Screen Savers - which basically wasn't a screen saver but a series of different animations using ASCII art which had to be manually initiated
  • XLAB Menu - Yep, you guessed it, it's a menu
  • XLAB OS - This was a collection of batch files that renamed different DOS commands such as cd, md, copy, etc.
  • Egypt - This was supposed to be a clone of Commander Keen 4 but with an Egyptian theme, since I was obsessed with both things in the early 90's. Sadly, the game was neither because it didn't get past the "menu" stage. I had some awesome level designs sketched on paper, however.

To further illustrate the ultimate usefulness of XLAB OS, here is a copy of the batch file “DELDIR.BAT”:

@echo off deltree %1

Useful, heh?

Hyper Trax and Notex

After Quake Rally was released, I started to look into different Quake mods and was amazed that a FPS could be turned into a car racing game. Neat. So I downloaded QuArK (Quake Army Knife) and started to… no not make a menu. Actually I didn’t get very far on this one, but I had a neat logo and a name - featuring the letter X - Hyper Trax!

Notex was… actually I’m not too sure. Some sort of note taking program, but was probably just a clone of MS-DOS 6.22’s “EDIT” command. With a menu. Seeing the theme here? X and Menu. I’m pretty surprised that I didn’t just create a program called “X-Menu”…

Nix Co, Nixamp, Nix Gateway and Nix FM

After getting over the whole “XLAB” thing, I started calling myself Nix and calling everything that I touched Nix-something.

  • Nix Co - Another pretend company, no doubt
  • Nixamp - A very bright red skin for Winamp, which was my favourite mp3 player of the time plus it streamed to Shoutcast servers - neat!
  • Nix Gateway - All of my websites and my "web design" service were all grouped under the banner of Nix Gateway. This was back in the CJB.net, Geocities, you know, those good old late 90's internet days.
  • Nix FM - There's the radio influence again. Why I didn't realise I was obsessed with radio until recently is beyond me. This was destined to be my own internet station, broadcast using Live365. It was short lived but I did spin up some tracks, had some listeners and got good feedback until I played some awful remix of Hall of the Mountain King. With synthesisers. And a dance beat. Shudder.

Nix Enigma

Nix Enigma NE100

This was my own version of the infamous German Enigma machines of WW2. My version was not compatible with the German version but it had the same basic principle of 3 rotors and some initial setting to ensure each message didn’t encrypt in exactly the same way. Each encrypted letter would advance one of the dials and when it reached the end of it’s rotation, the 2nd or 3rd rotor would move. I think one of the rotors would move backwards, just for a bit of variety, but looking back I doubt this would have much effect on the difficulty of cracking the encryption.

The most interesting part of my foray into the world of cipher was one of the later releases featured what I called at the time “polymorphic encryption”. This basically meant as the message was encrypted, the contents of the deciphered message would influence how the next letter was encrypted. Therefore, starting from the same settings at the beginning, every leter of HELLO would be encrypted differently from YELLO. Of course, this is not a very sophisticated method by today’s standards but it sounded pretty neat at the time!

I remember when I first got the program working, I quickly wrote a few sentences, encrypted it, send it to my friend over email stating if he could break it, I would pay him $50. Or some large amount of money for 1999. Anyway, I think I gave a few days and suffice to say he didn’t crack the code, but he did stay up most of the night trying to work it out! I think some of his workings was based on ROT-style simple letter substitution, but we all know now that frequency analysis would thwart that.

The following versions of Nix Enigma were released, all written in Visual Basic:

  • NIX Enigma
  • NIX Enigma Mk II
  • NIX Enigma 2000 (Beta 1, 2 and 3)
  • NIX Enigma 2000 PRO - Because all software needs a PRO version!
  • Nix Enigma 2000 LITE - ... and a LITE version...?
  • Nix Enigma 2000 MINI - ... and a MINI version (this is getting silly now)
  • Nix Enigma 2000 PRO II - Key new feature, and I quote "Removed graphical buttons (they looked bad anyway!)"
  • Nix Enigma 3000 - All older features remain, except for the status bar (replaced with an 'LCD' panel). Oooh. LCD!?

First release was November 1999, last was March 2000. That’s not a bad run for 8 version releases. Try doing that in the corporate world!

NX, NX2 and NX3

This is getting much more modern now. These were basically 3 incarnations of my PHP framework or CMS known as NX. N for Nick, I suppose, X just because it’s a great choice of letter. Right?

There were 3 versions over the period 2002-2009:

  • NX - The first version, used on my old blog site www.nisch.org for many years from 2002
  • NX2 - The second version, used on www.nisch.org, www.vadb.com.au and until this week, www.hawkesbury.org
  • NX3 - The last version, can be found on GitHub, has contemporary features such as activity pages (walls) and clean URLs. Was used by www.nisch.org until Drupal 7 was released and the site was subsequantly replaced by this site, also on Drupal 7

XXX RADIO

Now, saving the best to last. XXX Radio. There’s the title again. Now it’s not quite what you are thinking. Ohhh no. This harks back to my “early broadcast days” when all I had was a CB radio - most likely a “Pony” branded, single-crystal base unit. Anyways, at the young age of 7 I used to “broadcast” songs and my “radio program” over CB on one of the channels not occupied by truckies.

I hear you ask about the origins of the name. Well you see, there was Triple M. There was Triple J. X was practically the coolest letter in the alphabet, so why was there no Triple X? I probably thought I was onto some amazing, not knowing what the “real” meaning of XXX was, being only a kid at the time.

I could be lucky and fine some of my broadcasts recorded on cassette tape - but I’d have to work out some way to play them without a tape player! I think if they do exist, then I have to perform some digital remastering. It’s only fair that the world learns about how good a station such as Triple X Radio could be…

Am I the only one?

OK so I’ve used the letter X a lot over the past few years, but what about other people who aren’t in the adult industry?

David X. Cohen comes to mind because his middle initial “X” doesn’t stand for anything, but looks cool, like some sort of mathematics formula.

I don’t think I’ll go that far: naming myself with a letter, nope not today, and I guess David’s reason was different: to make his name unique in the entertainment world. I don’t think I’ll need that, at least not just yet. Still a long way to go.