Hacking Through the Jargon Jungle
When I went to college in the 1980's, I heard a lot of words like
"data input" and "beta version." They confused me. I wanted desperately
to know what people were talking about, what Big Secret resided in the
Now that I've worked in a computer company for the last few years,
I've gained an insider's perspective. I decided to share my knowledge
with the uninitiated by creating the following brief, handy glossary:
Alpha. Software undergoes alpha testing as a first step in getting user
feedback. Alpha is Latin for "doesn't work."
Beta. Software undergoes beta testing shortly before it's released.
Beta is Latin for "still doesn't work."
Computer. Instrument of torture. The first computer was invented by
Roger "Duffy" Billingsly, a British scientist. In a plot to overthrow
Adolf Hitler, Duffy disguised himself as a German ally and offered his
invention as a gift to the surly dictator. The plot worked.
On April 8, 1945, Adolf became so enraged at the "Bad Command or File Name"
error message that he shot himself. The war ended soon after Hitler's
death, and Duffy began working for IBM.
CPU. Central propulsion unit. The CPU is the computer's engine.
It consists of a hard drive, an interface card and a tiny spinning wheel
that's powered by a running rodent - a gerbil if the machine is a 286,
a ferret if it's a 386 and a ferret on speed if it's a 486.
Default Directory. Black hole. Default directory is where all files
that you need disappear to. And, by default, its your fault.
Error message. Terse, baffling remark used by programmers to place blame
on users for the program's shortcomings.
File. A document that has been saved with an unidentifiable name.
It helps to think of a file as something stored in a file cabinet -
except when you try to remove the file, the cabinet gives you an electric
shock and tells you the file format is unknown.
Hardware. Collective term for any computer-related object that can
be kicked or battered. If you can kick it, its hardware.
Help. The feature that assists in generating more questions.
When the help feature is used correctly, users are able to navigate
through a series of Help screens and end up where they started from
without learning anything.
Input/Output. Information is input from the keyboard as intelligible
data and output to the printer as unrecognizable junk.
Interim Release. A programmer's feeble attempt at repentance.
Memory. Of computer components, the most generous in terms of variety,
and the skimpiest in terms of quantity.
Printer. A joke in poor taste. A printer consists of three main parts:
the case, the jammed paper tray and the blinking red light.
Programmers. Computer avengers. Once members of that group of high
school nerds who wore tape on their glasses, played Dungeons and Dragons,
and memorized Star Trek episodes; now millionaires who create
"user-friendly" software to get revenge on whoever gave them noogies.
Reference Manual. Object that raises the monitor to eye level.
Also used to compensate for that short table leg.
Scheduled Release Date. A carefully calculated date determined by
estimating the actual shipping date and subtracting six months from it.
Software. Something you can't describe, see or kick.
User-Friendly. Of or pertaining to any feature, device or concept
that makes perfect sense to a programmer.
Users. Collective term for those who stare vacantly at a monitor.
Users are divided into three types: novice, intermediate and expert.
- Novice Users. People who are afraid that simply pressing a key
might break their computer.
- Intermediate Users. People who don't know how to fix their computer
after they've just pressed a key that broke it.
- Expert Users. People who press keys on other people's computers
and break 'em.