ISD Information Repository

Computer Age Terminology

This page is an attempt to define Computer Age jargon.

Airplane Rule Complexity increases the possibility of failure; a twin-engine airplane has twice as many engine problems as a single engine airplane. By analogy, in both software and electronics, the rule that simplicity increases robustness.
Angry Fruit Salad A bad visual interface design that uses too many colors.
Asbestos Longjohns Notational garments donned by Usenet posters just before emitting a remark they expect will elicit flamage.
Automagically Automatically, but in a way that, for some reason (typically because it is too complicated, or too ugly, or perhaps even too trivial), the speaker doesn't feel like explaining to you.
Backhoe Fade A connection fades out of service, possibly because of an errant excavation by a backhoe. Note: A backhoe is a large piece of construction equipment that digs into the ground, usually to lay the foundation of a building.
Beepilepsy Afflicts those with vibrating pages; characterized by sudden spasams, goofy facial expressions and loss of speech.
Bells & Whistles Features added to a program or system to make it more flavorful, without necessarily adding to its utility for its primary function.
Betamaxed When a technology is overtaken in the market by inferior but better-marketed competition.
Big Iron Large, expensive, ultra-fast computers. A term used generally for number-crunching supercomputers.
Billy Backhoe Anyone who damages transmission lines.
Bit Bucket The universal data sink. Discarded, lost or destroyed data is said to have gone to the bit bucket. Also known as "the hole" or "the file".
Blammo To forcibly remove someone from any interactive system, especially talker systems.
Blue Goo Term for "police" nanobots intended to prevent gray goo, denature hazardous waste, destroy pollution, put ozone back into the stratosphere, prevent halitosis and promote truth, justice, and the American way.
Boat Anchor Like doorstop but more severe; implies that the offending hardware is irreversibly dead or useless.
Bodysurf Code A program or segment of code written quickly in the heat of inspiration without the benefit of formal design or deep thought. Like its namesake sport, the result is too often a wipeout that leaves the programmer eating sand.
Bogosity The degree to which something is bogus. In a seminar, when a speaker says something is bogus, a listener might raise his or her hand and say "My bogometer just triggered."
Bounce An electronic mail message that is undeliverable and returns an error notification to the sender.
Brain Dump The act of telling someone everything one knows about a particular topic or project. Typically used when someone is going to let a new party utilize and maintain a piece of programming code.
Bread Crumbs Debugging statements inserted into a program that emit output or log indicators of the program's state to a file so that one can see where it dies or pin down the cause of surprising behavior.
Brittle Said of software that is functional but fragile, and easily broken by changes in operating environment or configuration, or by any minor tweak to the software itself.
Burble Like flame. but connotes that the source is truly clueless and ineffectual (mere flamers can be competent). A term of deep contempt.
Buried Treasure A surprising piece of code found in a program. Used sarcastically, because what is found is anything but treasure.
Careware A variety of shareware for which either the author suggests that some payment be made to a nominated charity or a levy directed to charity is included on top of the distribution charge.
Casual Day The combination of unattractive with unprofessional while improving neither.
Chips 'n' Salsa An affectionate term referring to hardware and software. Hardware is the stuff you can kick, software is the stuff you can swear at.
Clamshell All good laptop computers have a clamshell design, where the case is flat and shallow, and the screen folds up from the keyboard, like a clam opening.
Cobweb A World Wide Web site that never changes.
Code 13 A problem with no clear cause, such as an intermittent failure.
Computer Holy Wars A corporation's standardization to one type of computer for the office.
Cooked Mode The normal character-input mode, with interrupts enabled and with erase, kill and other special-character interpretations performed directly by the tty driver.
Cowboy Synonym for hacker.
Cruncha, Cruncha, Cruncha An encouragement sometimes muttered to a machine bogged down in a serious grovel.
Cryptography The technology of encoding information so that it cannot be read by an unauthorized person. Especially critical to the future of Internet commerce.
Dinosaur Any hardware requiring raised flooring and special power. Used especially of old minis and mainframes. In contrast with newer microprocessor-based machines. Also known as a "dino."
Dogwash A project of minimal priority, undertaken as an escape from more serious work.
Doorstop used to describe equipment that is non-functional and halfway expected to remain so, especially obsolete equipment kept around for political reasons or ostensibly as a backup.
Easter Egg A hidden surprise within software - perhaps a musical score or an animated sequence - that is activated when you press a combination of keys at odd times. To find an Easter Egg, ask an Easter nerd.
Feetch, feetch If someone tells you about some new improvement to a program, you might respond, "Feetch, feetch!" The meaning of this depends critically on vocal inflection. With enthusiasm, it means something like "Boy, that's great! What a great hack!" Grudgingly or with obvious doubt, it means, "I don't know; it sounds like just one more unnecessary and complicated thing." With a tone of resignation, it means, "Well, I'd rather keep it simple, but I suppose it has to be done."
Flyspeck 3 Standard name for any font that is so tiny as to be unreadable.
Fudge Factor A value or parameter that is varied in an ad hoc way to produce the desired result.
Genius from Mars Technique A visionary quality which enables one to ignore the standard approach and come up with a totally unexpected new algorithm.
Glork Term of mild surprise, usually tinged with outrage, as when one attempts to save the results of two hours of editing and finds that the system has just crashed.
Gorilla Arm The side-effect that destroyed touch-screens as a mainstream input device technology despite a promising start in the early 1980's. Humans aren't designed to hold their arms in front of their faces making small motions. After more than a very few selections, the arm begins to feel sore, cramped, and oversized - the operator looks like a gorilla while using the touch screen and feels like one afterward.
Head Crash Hovering just a fingerprint-width above the spinning hard disk is a read/write head. if one bumps a computer while it is running, or if there is dust or dirt on the hard disk, the head may come in contact with the disk. This catastrophe will cause serious damage to both the data and the drive.
Heatseeker A customer who can be relied upon to buy, without fail, the latest version of an existing product.
Hired Gun A contract programmer, as opposed to a full-time staff member.
Hose To make nonfunctional or greatly degraded in performance.
Jump List A web page consisting mostly of links to other web pages.
Killer App The application that actually generates a mass market for a promising but underutilized technology.
Lamer Synonym for luser. One who scams codes off others rather than doing cracks or really understanding the fundamental concepts.
Larval Stage Describes a period of monomaniacal concentration on coding apparently passed through by all fledgling hackers. Common symptoms include: the perpetration of more than one 36-hour hacking run in a given week; neglect of all other activities including usual basics like food, sleep and personal hygiene; and a chronic case of advanced bleary-eye. Can last from 6 months to 2 years, the apparent median being around 18 months. A few so afflicted never resume a more "normal" life, but the ordeal seems to be necessary to produce really wizardly (as opposed to merely competent) programmers.
Lurk To read a newsgroup regurlarly without contributing any messages of one's own. It is advisable to lurk in a newsgroup for a while before posting any messages in order to make sure one understands the purpose and nature of the discussion. Most newsgroups have more lurkers than participants realize.
Mailbomb To send, or urge others to send, massive amounts of email to a single system or person, especially with the intent to crash or spam the recipient's system. Mailbombing is itself widely regarded as a serious offense. It can disrupt email traffic or other facilities for innocent users on the victim's system.
Marching Ants When one selects objects in certain applications, a shimmering, dotted border - called marching ants - appears around the objects to indicate they have been selected.
Meat Space The physical world (as opposed to the virtual).
Mickey Mouse Program North American equivalent of a noddy (that is, trivial) program. Doesn't necessarily have the belittling connotation of mainstream slang, as in "Oh, that's just Mickey Mouse stuff!"; sometimes trivial programs can be very useful.
Mortal The rest of us are simply mortals. We do our jobs on our computers, and we may love them, but we are not wizards. And that's O.K.
Mouse Droppings Pixels that are not properly orderd when the mouse pointer moves away from a particular location on the screen, producing the appearance that the mouse pointer has left droppings behind.
Newbie An affectionate term (sometimes) for new Internet users. Anyone who has not yet learned the ropes or who posts (a) any message with the subject line "Get Rich Quick!" (b) any message about a "green card lottery" (c) any message referring to a "$250 Cookie Recipe" or (d) any (serious) warning about the "Good Times" virus. (See David Parker)
Noddy Small and un-useful, but demonstrating a point. Noddy programs are often written by people learning a new language or system.
Playpen A room where programmers work.
Praire Dogging In companies where everyone has a cubicle, something happens and everyone pops up to look.
Priest That person who wants to maintain his or her priesthood of information by always explaining things in a way one doesn't quite understand and with an attitude that makes one feel slightly stupid.
Program Short for Program Manager.
Project BIFF Big Improvements for Free.
Propeller Head Used by hackers, this is a synonym for computer geek. Non-hackers sometimes use it to describe all techies.
Rot13 Rotate 13. A type of encryption commonly used on the Internet to conceal answers to puzzles and the like. To encode a message, the first 13 letters of the alphabet are swapped with the last 13. Performing the same swap again decodes the message.
RYFM Abbreviation for "read your friendly manual," pronounced "riffum." a RYFM is a computer user who pesters colleagues with questions rather than bothering to look things up.
Sandbender A person involved with silicon lithography and the physical design of chips.
Sandbox Common term for the R&D department at many software and computer companies.
Shelfware Software purchased on a whim or in accordance with policy, but not actually required for any particular use. Therefore, it often ends up on the shelf.
Siliwood The coming convergence of movies, interactive TV and computers.
Smoking Gun The clear cause of a problem, such as a carrier failure.
Sneakernet The practice of transferring files from one computer to another by carying a diskette across the room.
Spaghetti Code A disorganized computer program using many GOTO statements; as easy to follow as a plate of spaghetti.
Spod A lower form of life found on talker systems and MUDs. The spod has few friends in RL and uses talkers instead, finding communication easier and preferable to the net. Has all the negative traits of the computer geek without having any interest in computers, per se.
Suit Ugly and uncomfortable "business clothing" often worn by non-hackers. Invariably worn with a "tie," a strangulation device that partially cuts off the blood supply to the brain. It is thought tha tthis explains much about the behavior of suit-wearers.
Technical Tap The fine art of hitting a device to get it working.
Technoweenie A person who has an intense affair with the technical and mechanical workings of the computer.
Terminal Junkie A wannabee or early larval stage hacker who spends most of his or her time wandering the directory tree and writing noddy programs just to get a fix of computer time.
Topic Drift The tendency for a topic of an online discussion to shift while the title of the messages remains the same, because everyone is replying to an existing message and therefore automatically keeping the same title. Topic drift can be particularly amusing when occuring in a news group frequented by individuals with wide-ranging interests.
Tourist A guest on the system, especially one who generlly logs in over a network from a remote location for email games and other trivial purposes.
Treeware Manuals and documentation.
Trojan Horse A computer program with a hidden destructive function, such as erasing the disks on a specified date. Trojan horses are often distribute as counterfeit "new" versions of shareware products.
Turban Wedgie Starts like a twirling wedgie, then gets wrapped around the head.
Vaporware Products announced far in advance of any release (which may or may not actually take place).
Virtual Friday The last day before an extended weekend, if that day is not a "real" Friday. For example, the US holidat Thanksgiving is always on a Thursday. The next day is often also a holiday or taken as an extra day off, in which case Wednesday of that week is a virtual Friday.

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Last update: 23 Nov. 1999