If you think you know what most techie terms mean--then read on
Readers often e-mail me questions about computer terms, so I thought it was time to
write a real-world glossary of common technical words. Please e-mail me your additions and
Battery life: Lies, damned lies and statistics.
Boot: To reject with disgust, as in, "It didn't work, so I kept booting and
rebooting it." Cold boot: The same operation, but performed with the contempt
born of long experience.
Buyer: Person designated in advance to take the blame for purchasing decisions
made by higher-ups.
CD-ROM: The invention that led to gigabyte-size hard drives; or, a software
distribution medium that lets programmers ignore code optimization.
Columnist: A delusional drunk (definition supplied by several Apple Macintosh
Committee: Group charged with ratifying a decision previously adopted by upper
management, but not until new product releases made the choice irrelevant.
Computer: Electronic device that accelerates the creation of errors and
disseminates them to the world before you catch them.
Consultant: Someone who receives $100 per hour to have his or her advice
ignored. Washington consultant: Same as above, but pay is $300 per hour plus a
bonus for rejected advice.
Desktop publishing: Computer-assisted production of documents so complex they
are almost illegible.
Documentation: Compilation of marketers' dreams and visions; printed manual
labeled prominently with the product name so users can tell what it goes with; or, bulky
booklets and manuals used to weigh down software boxes to prevent theft.
E-mail: Haystack for hiding important messages.
Encryption: You can't read it but we can (the FBI's definition); you can't read
it and neither can we (the CIA's definition); if you can't read it, how do you know it
isn't what it says? (National Security Agency definition); or, essential part of software
that you can't take overseas (White House definition).
Enhancement: A bug the programmers couldn't fix before the product's ship date.
Feature: A bug the programmers didn't find before ship date.
56K: Dueling modem standards that would violate Federal Communications
Commission regulations if they worked as advertised.
Firewall: Software designed to make it impossible for anyone except hackers to
use an Internet connection.
Grammar-checker: Utility that absorbs an unlimited amount of your time but fails
to improve your writing.
Groupware: Memo writing by committee.
Java: Programming language whose code executes slowly enough that users can take
a coffee break.
Kenneth Starr: Attorney who succeeded in lowering White House electric bills by
making e-mail too risky to use.
Major upgrade: Vendor shorthand for "We need more income this
Minor upgrade: Vendor shorthand for "We have to give this one away
Network: String of computers connected by an optimist.
Network administrator: Person responsible for keeping network users optimistic.
Experienced network administrator: Twitch case huddled in a corner of the wiring
closet, connected to an intravenous Valium drip.
Paperless office: Concept that inspired consultants to publish massive reports,
books and articles, thus reducing the amount of paper available to offices.
Power user: User who runs software and hardware without reading the
Press release: Detailed description of a new product written by someone who
hasn't tried it.
Support: Something that the more you need, the less you get.
24X drive: 10X CD-ROM drive with good PR.
Videoconferencing: Communication that produces public humiliation upon
expressing a silly opinion; supersedes e-mail, in which the humiliation is more private.
Virus: Bonus software often included with upgrades.
Y2K: Entertainment for the technologically literate who don't buy into
astrology; or, work release program for old Cobol programmers.
John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.