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The Jargon File, Version 4.0.0
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======= THIS IS THE JARGON FILE, VERSION 4.0.0, 24 JUL 1996 =======

The Jargon Lexicon ******************

= A = =====

:abbrev: /*-breev'/, /*-brev'/ /n./ Common abbreviation for 'abbreviation'.

:ABEND: /a'bend/, /*-bend'/ /n./ [ABnormal END] Abnormal termination (of software); {crash}; {lossage}. Derives from an error message on the IBM 360; used jokingly by hackers but seriously mainly by {code grinder}s. Usually capitalized, but may appear as 'abend'. Hackers will try to persuade you that ABEND is called 'abend' because it is what system operators do to the machine late on Friday when they want to call it a day, and hence is from the German 'Abend' = 'Evening'.

:accumulator: /n. obs./ 1. Archaic term for a register. On-line use of it as a synonym for 'register' is a fairly reliable indication that the user has been around for quite a while and/or that the architecture under discussion is quite old. The term in full is almost never used of microprocessor registers, for example, though symbolic names for arithmetic registers beginning in 'A' derive from historical use of the term 'accumulator' (and not, actually, from 'arithmetic'). Confusingly, though, an 'A' register name prefix may also stand for 'address', as for example on the Motorola 680x0 family. 2. A register being used for arithmetic or logic (as opposed to addressing or a loop index), especially one being used to accumulate a sum or count of many items. This use is in context of a particular routine or stretch of code. "The FOOBAZ routine uses A3 as an accumulator." 3. One's in-basket (esp. among old-timers who might use sense 1). "You want this reviewed? Sure, just put it in the accumulator." (See {stack}.)

:ACK: /ak/ /interj./ 1. [from the ASCII mnemonic for 0000110] Acknowledge. Used to register one's presence (compare mainstream *Yo!*). An appropriate response to {ping} or {ENQ}. 2. [from the comic strip "Bloom County"] An exclamation of surprised disgust, esp. in "Ack pffft!" Semi-humorous. Generally this sense is not spelled in caps (ACK) and is distinguished by a following exclamation point. 3. Used to politely interrupt someone to tell them you understand their point (see {NAK}). Thus, for example, you might cut off an overly long explanation with "Ack. Ack. Ack. I get it now".

There is also a usage "ACK?" (from sense 1) meaning "Are you there?", often used in email when earlier mail has produced no reply, or during a lull in {talk mode} to see if the person has gone away (the standard humorous response is of course {NAK} (sense 2), i.e., "I'm not here").

:Acme: /n./ The canonical supplier of bizarre, elaborate, and non-functional gadgetry — where Rube Goldberg and Heath Robinson shop. Describing some X as an "Acme X" either means "This is {insanely great}", or, more likely, "This looks {insanely great} on paper, but in practice it's really easy to shoot yourself in the foot with it." Compare {pistol}.

This term, specially cherished by American hackers and explained here for the benefit of our overseas brethren, comes from the Warner Brothers' series of "Roadrunner" cartoons. In these cartoons, the famished Wile E. Coyote was forever attempting to catch up with, trap, and eat the Roadrunner. His attempts usually involved one or more high-technology Rube Goldberg devices — rocket jetpacks, catapults, magnetic traps, high-powered slingshots, etc. These were usually delivered in large cardboard boxes, labeled prominently with the Acme name. These devices invariably malfunctioned in violent and improbable ways.

:acolyte: /n. obs./ [TMRC] An {OSU} privileged enough to submit data and programs to a member of the {priesthood}.

:ad-hockery: /ad-hok'*r-ee/ /n./ [Purdue] 1. Gratuitous assumptions made inside certain programs, esp. expert systems, which lead to the appearance of semi-intelligent behavior but are in fact entirely arbitrary. For example, fuzzy-matching of input tokens that might be typing errors against a symbol table can make it look as though a program knows how to spell. 2. Special-case code to cope with some awkward input that would otherwise cause a program to {choke}, presuming normal inputs are dealt with in some cleaner and more regular way. Also called 'ad-hackery', 'ad-hocity' (/ad-hos'*-tee/), 'ad-crockery'. See also {ELIZA effect}.

:Ada:: /n./ A {{Pascal}}-descended language that has been made mandatory for Department of Defense software projects by the Pentagon. Hackers are nearly unanimous in observing that, technically, it is precisely what one might expect given that kind of endorsement by fiat; designed by committee, crockish, difficult to use, and overall a disastrous, multi-billion-dollar boondoggle (one common description is "The PL/I of the 1980s"). Hackers find Ada's exception-handling and inter-process communication features particularly hilarious. Ada Lovelace (the daughter of Lord Byron who became the world's first programmer while cooperating with Charles Babbage on the design of his mechanical computing engines in the mid-1800s) would almost certainly blanch at the use to which her name has latterly been put; the kindest thing that has been said about it is that there is probably a good small language screaming to get out from inside its vast, {elephantine} bulk.

:adger: /aj'r/ /vt./ [UCLA mutant of {nadger}, poss. from the middle name of an infamous {tenured graduate student}] To make a bonehead move with consequences that could have been foreseen with even slight mental effort. E.g., "He started removing files and promptly adgered the whole project". Compare {dumbass attack}.

:admin: /ad-min'/ /n./ Short for 'administrator'; very commonly used in speech or on-line to refer to the systems person in charge on a computer. Common constructions on this include 'sysadmin' and 'site admin' (emphasizing the administrator's role as a site contact for email and news) or 'newsadmin' (focusing specifically on news). Compare {postmaster}, {sysop}, {system mangler}.

:ADVENT: /ad'vent/ /n./ The prototypical computer adventure game, first designed by Will Crowther on the {PDP-10} in the mid-1970s as an attempt at computer-refereed fantasy gaming, and expanded into a puzzle-oriented game by Don Woods at Stanford in 1976. Now better known as Adventure, but the {{TOPS-10}} operating system permitted only six-letter filenames. See also {vadding}, {Zork}, and {Infocom}.

This game defined the terse, dryly humorous style since expected in text adventure games, and popularized several tag lines that have become fixtures of hacker-speak: "A huge green fierce snake bars the way!" "I see no X here" (for some noun X). "You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike." "You are in a little maze of twisty passages, all different." The 'magic words' {xyzzy} and {plugh} also derive from this game.

Crowther, by the way, participated in the exploration of the Mammoth & Flint Ridge cave system; it actually *has* a 'Colossal Cave' and a 'Bedquilt' as in the game, and the 'Y2' that also turns up is cavers' jargon for a map reference to a secondary entrance.

:AFAIK: // /n./ [Usenet] Abbrev. for "As Far As I Know".

:AFJ: // /n./ Written-only abbreviation for "April Fool's Joke". Elaborate April Fool's hoaxes are a long-established tradition on Usenet and Internet; see {kremvax} for an example. In fact, April Fool's Day is the *only* seasonal holiday consistently marked by customary observances on Internet and other hacker networks.

:AI: /A-I/ /n./ Abbreviation for 'Artificial Intelligence', so common that the full form is almost never written or spoken among hackers.

:AI-complete: /A-I k*m-pleet'/ /adj./ [MIT, Stanford: by analogy with 'NP-complete' (see {NP-})] Used to describe problems or subproblems in AI, to indicate that the solution presupposes a solution to the 'strong AI problem' (that is, the synthesis of a human-level intelligence). A problem that is AI-complete is, in other words, just too hard.

Examples of AI-complete problems are 'The Vision Problem' (building a system that can see as well as a human) and 'The Natural Language Problem' (building a system that can understand and speak a natural language as well as a human). These may appear to be modular, but all attempts so far (1996) to solve them have foundered on the amount of context information and 'intelligence' they seem to require. See also {gedanken}.

:AI koans: /A-I koh'anz/ /pl.n./ A series of pastiches of Zen teaching riddles created by Danny Hillis at the MIT AI Lab around various major figures of the Lab's culture (several are included under {AI Koans} in Appendix A). See also {ha ha only serious}, {mu}, and {{hacker humor}}.

:AIDS: /aydz/ /n./ Short for A* Infected Disk Syndrome ('A*' is a {glob} pattern that matches, but is not limited to, Apple or Amiga), this condition is quite often the result of practicing unsafe {SEX}. See {virus}, {worm}, {Trojan horse}, {virgin}.

:AIDX: /ayd'k*z/ /n./ Derogatory term for IBM's perverted version of Unix, AIX, especially for the AIX 3.? used in the IBM RS/6000 series (some hackers think it is funnier just to pronounce "AIX" as "aches"). A victim of the dreaded "hybridism" disease, this attempt to combine the two main currents of the Unix stream ({BSD} and {USG Unix}) became a {monstrosity} to haunt system administrators' dreams. For example, if new accounts are created while many users are logged on, the load average jumps quickly over 20 due to silly implementation of the user databases. For a quite similar disease, compare {HP-SUX}. Also, compare {Macintrash}, {Nominal Semidestructor}, {Open DeathTrap}, {ScumOS}, {sun-stools}.

:airplane rule: /n./ "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. It is correspondingly argued that the right way to build reliable systems is to put all your eggs in one basket, after making sure that you've built a really *good* basket. See also {KISS Principle}.

:aliasing bug: /n./ A class of subtle programming errors that can arise in code that does dynamic allocation, esp. via 'malloc(3)' or equivalent. If several pointers address ('aliases for') a given hunk of storage, it may happen that the storage is freed or reallocated (and thus moved) through one alias and then referenced through another, which may lead to subtle (and possibly intermittent) lossage depending on the state and the allocation history of the malloc {arena}. Avoidable by use of allocation strategies that never alias allocated core, or by use of higher-level languages, such as {LISP}, which employ a garbage collector (see {GC}). Also called a {stale pointer bug}. See also {precedence lossage}, {smash the stack}, {fandango on core}, {memory leak}, {memory smash}, {overrun screw}, {spam}.

Historical note: Though this term is nowadays associated with C programming, it was already in use in a very similar sense in the Algol-60 and FORTRAN communities in the 1960s.

:all-elbows: /adj./ [MS-DOS] Of a TSR (terminate-and-stay-resident) IBM PC program, such as the N pop-up calendar and calculator utilities that circulate on {BBS} systems: unsociable. Used to describe a program that rudely steals the resources that it needs without considering that other TSRs may also be resident. One particularly common form of rudeness is lock-up due to programs fighting over the keyboard interrupt. See {rude}, also {mess-dos}.

:alpha particles: /n./ See {bit rot}.

:alt: /awlt/ 1. /n./ The alt shift key on an IBM PC or {clone} keyboard; see {bucky bits}, sense 2 (though typical PC usage does not simply set the 0200 bit). 2. /n./ The 'clover' or 'Command' key on a Macintosh; use of this term usually reveals that the speaker hacked PCs before coming to the Mac (see also {feature key}). Some Mac hackers, confusingly, reserve 'alt' for the Option key (and it is so labeled on some Mac II keyboards). 3. /n.,obs/. [PDP-10; often capitalized to ALT] Alternate name for the ASCII ESC character (ASCII 0011011), after the keycap labeling on some older terminals; also 'altmode' (/awlt'mohd/). This character was almost never pronounced 'escape' on an ITS system, in {TECO}, or under TOPS-10 — always alt, as in "Type alt alt to end a TECO command" or "alt-U onto the system" (for "log onto the [ITS] system"). This usage probably arose because alt is more convenient to say than 'escape', especially when followed by another alt or a character (or another alt *and* a character, for that matter). 4. The alt hierarchy on Usenet, the tree of newsgroups created by users without a formal vote and approval procedure. There is a myth, not entirely implausible, that alt is acronymic for "anarchists, lunatics, and terrorists"; but in fact it is simply short for "alternative".

:alt bit: /awlt bit/ [from alternate] /adj./ See {meta bit}.

:altmode: /n./ Syn. {alt} sense 3.

:Aluminum Book: /n./ [MIT] "Common LISP: The Language", by Guy L. Steele Jr. (Digital Press, first edition 1984, second edition 1990). Note that due to a technical screwup some printings of the second edition are actually of a color the author describes succinctly as "yucky green". See also {{book titles}}.

:amoeba: /n./ Humorous term for the Commodore Amiga personal computer.

:amp off: /vt./ [Purdue] To run in {background}. From the Unix shell '&' operator.

:amper: /n./ Common abbreviation for the name of the ampersand ('&', ASCII 0100110) character. See {{ASCII}} for other synonyms.

:angle brackets: /n./ Either of the characters '<' (ASCII 0111100) and '>' (ASCII 0111110) (ASCII less-than or greater-than signs). Typographers in the {Real World} use angle brackets which are either taller and slimmer (the ISO 'Bra' and 'Ket' characters), or significantly smaller (single or double guillemets) than the less-than and greater-than signs. See {broket}, {{ASCII}}.

:angry fruit salad: /n./ A bad visual-interface design that uses too many colors. (This term derives, of course, from the bizarre day-glo colors found in canned fruit salad.) Too often one sees similar effects from interface designers using color window systems such as {X}; there is a tendency to create displays that are flashy and attention-getting but uncomfortable for long-term use.

:annoybot: /*-noy-bot/ /n./ [IRC] See {robot}.

:ANSI: /an'see/ 1. /n./ [techspeak] The American National Standards Institute. ANSI, along with the International Organization for Standards (ISO), standardized the C programming language (see {K&R}, {Classic C}), and promulgates many other important software standards. 2. /n./ [techspeak] A terminal may be said to be 'ANSI' if it meets the ANSI X.364 standard for terminal control. Unfortunately, this standard was both over-complicated and too permissive. It has been retired and replaced by the ECMA-48 standard, which shares both flaws. 3. /n./ [BBS jargon] The set of screen-painting codes that most MS-DOS and Amiga computers accept. This comes from the ANSI.SYS device driver that must be loaded on an MS-DOS computer to view such codes. Unfortunately, neither DOS ANSI nor the BBS ANSIs derived from it exactly match the ANSI X.364 terminal standard. For example, the ESC-[1m code turns on the bold highlight on large machines, but in IBM PC/MS-DOS ANSI, it turns on 'intense' (bright) colors. Also, in BBS-land, the term 'ANSI' is often used to imply that a particular computer uses or can emulate the IBM high-half character set from MS-DOS. Particular use depends on context. Occasionally, the vanilla ASCII character set is used with the color codes, but on BBSs, ANSI and 'IBM characters' tend to go together.

:AOS: 1. /aws/ (East Coast), /ay'os/ (West Coast) /vt. obs./ To increase the amount of something. "AOS the campfire." [based on a PDP-10 increment instruction] Usage: considered silly, and now obsolete. Now largely supplanted by {bump}. See {SOS}. 2. /n./ A {{Multics}}-derived OS supported at one time by Data General. This was pronounced /A-O-S/ or /A-os/. A spoof of the standard AOS system administrator's manual ("How to Load and Generate your AOS System") was created, issued a part number, and circulated as photocopy folklore; it was called "How to Goad and Levitate your CHAOS System". 3. /n./ Algebraic Operating System, in reference to those calculators which use infix instead of postfix (reverse Polish) notation. 4. A {BSD}-like operating system for the IBM RT.

Historical note: AOS in sense 1 was the name of a {PDP-10} instruction that took any memory location in the computer and added 1 to it; AOS meant 'Add One and do not Skip'. Why, you may ask, does the 'S' stand for 'do not Skip' rather than for 'Skip'? Ah, here was a beloved piece of PDP-10 folklore. There were eight such instructions: AOSE added 1 and then skipped the next instruction if the result was Equal to zero; AOSG added 1 and then skipped if the result was Greater than 0; AOSN added 1 and then skipped if the result was Not 0; AOSA added 1 and then skipped Always; and so on. Just plain AOS didn't say when to skip, so it never skipped.

For similar reasons, AOJ meant 'Add One and do not Jump'. Even more bizarre, SKIP meant 'do not SKIP'! If you wanted to skip the next instruction, you had to say 'SKIPA'. Likewise, JUMP meant 'do not JUMP'; the unconditional form was JUMPA. However, hackers never did this. By some quirk of the 10's design, the {JRST} (Jump and ReSTore flag with no flag specified) was actually faster and so was invariably used. Such were the perverse mysteries of assembler programming.

:app: /ap/ /n./ Short for 'application program', as opposed to a systems program. Apps are what systems vendors are forever chasing developers to create for their environments so they can sell more boxes. Hackers tend not to think of the things they themselves run as apps; thus, in hacker parlance the term excludes compilers, program editors, games, and messaging systems, though a user would consider all those to be apps. (Broadly, an app is often a self-contained environment for performing some well-defined task such as 'word processing'; hackers tend to prefer more general-purpose tools.) See {killer app}; oppose {tool}, {operating system}.

:arena: [Unix] /n./ The area of memory attached to a process by 'brk(2)' and 'sbrk(2)' and used by 'malloc(3)' as dynamic storage. So named from a 'malloc: corrupt arena' message emitted when some early versions detected an impossible value in the free block list. See {overrun screw}, {aliasing bug}, {memory leak}, {memory smash}, {smash the stack}.

:arg: /arg/ /n./ Abbreviation for 'argument' (to a function), used so often as to have become a new word (like 'piano' from 'pianoforte'). "The sine function takes 1 arg, but the arc-tangent function can take either 1 or 2 args." Compare {param}, {parm}, {var}.

:ARMM: /n./ [acronym, 'Automated Retroactive Minimal Moderation'] A Usenet robot created by Dick Depew of Munroe Falls, Ohio. ARMM was intended to automatically cancel posts from anonymous-posting sites. Unfortunately, the robot's recognizer for anonymous postings triggered on its own automatically-generated control messages! Transformed by this stroke of programming ineptitude into a monster of Frankensteinian proportions, it broke loose on the night of March 31, 1993 and proceeded to {spam} news.admin.policy with a recursive explosion of over 200 messages.

ARMM's bug produced a recursive {cascade} of messages each of which mechanically added text to the ID and Subject and some other headers of its parent. This produced a flood of messages in which each header took up several screens and each message ID and subject line got longer and longer and longer.

Reactions varied from amusement to outrage. The pathological messages crashed at least one mail system, and upset people paying line charges for their Usenet feeds. One poster described the ARMM debacle as "instant Usenet history" (also establishing the term {despew}), and it has since been widely cited as a cautionary example of the havoc the combination of good intentions and incompetence can wreak on a network. Compare {Great Worm, the}; {sorcerer's apprentice mode}. See also {software laser}, {network meltdown}.

:armor-plated: /n./ Syn. for {bulletproof}.

:asbestos: /adj./ Used as a modifier to anything intended to protect one from {flame}s; also in other highly {flame}-suggestive usages. See, for example, {asbestos longjohns} and {asbestos cork award}.

:asbestos cork award: /n./ Once, long ago at MIT, there was a {flamer} so consistently obnoxious that another hacker designed, had made, and distributed posters announcing that said flamer had been nominated for the 'asbestos cork award'. (Any reader in doubt as to the intended application of the cork should consult the etymology under {flame}.) Since then, it is agreed that only a select few have risen to the heights of bombast required to earn this dubious dignity — but there is no agreement on *which* few.

:asbestos longjohns: /n./ Notional garments donned by {Usenet} posters just before emitting a remark they expect will elicit {flamage}. This is the most common of the {asbestos} coinages. Also 'asbestos underwear', 'asbestos overcoat', etc.

:ASCII:: /as'kee/ /n./ [acronym: American Standard Code for Information Interchange] The predominant character set encoding of present-day computers. The modern version uses 7 bits for each character, whereas most earlier codes (including an early version of ASCII) used fewer. This change allowed the inclusion of lowercase letters — a major {win} — but it did not provide for accented letters or any other letterforms not used in English (such as the German sharp-S or the ae-ligature which is a letter in, for example, Norwegian). It could be worse, though. It could be much worse. See {{EBCDIC}} to understand how.

Computers are much pickier and less flexible about spelling than humans; thus, hackers need to be very precise when talking about characters, and have developed a considerable amount of verbal shorthand for them. Every character has one or more names — some formal, some concise, some silly. Common jargon names for ASCII characters are collected here. See also individual entries for {bang}, {excl}, {open}, {ques}, {semi}, {shriek}, {splat}, {twiddle}, and {Yu-Shiang Whole Fish}.

This list derives from revision 2.3 of the Usenet ASCII pronunciation guide. Single characters are listed in ASCII order; character pairs are sorted in by first member. For each character, common names are given in rough order of popularity, followed by names that are reported but rarely seen; official ANSI/CCITT names are surrounded by brokets: . Square brackets mark the particularly silly names introduced by {INTERCAL}. The abbreviations "l/r" and "o/c" stand for left/right and "open/close" respectively. Ordinary parentheticals provide some usage information.

! Common: {bang}; pling; excl; shriek; . Rare: factorial; exclam; smash; cuss; boing; yell; wow; hey; wham; eureka; [spark-spot]; soldier.

" Common: double quote; quote. Rare: literal mark; double-glitch; ; ; dirk; [rabbit-ears]; double prime.

# Common: number sign; pound; pound sign; hash; sharp; {crunch}; hex; [mesh]. Rare: grid; crosshatch; octothorpe; flash; , pig-pen; tictactoe; scratchmark; thud; thump; {splat}.

$ Common: dollar; . Rare: currency symbol; buck; cash; string (from BASIC); escape (when used as the echo of ASCII ESC); ding; cache; [big money].

% Common: percent; ; mod; grapes. Rare: [double-oh-seven].

& Common: ; amper; and. Rare: address (from C); reference (from C+); andpersand; bitand; background (from 'sh(1)'); pretzel; amp. [INTERCAL called this 'ampersand'; what could be sillier?]

' Common: single quote; quote; . Rare: prime; glitch; tick; irk; pop; [spark]; <closing single quotation mark>; .

( )

Common: l/r paren; l/r parenthesis; left/right; open/close; paren/thesis; o/c paren; o/c parenthesis; l/r parenthesis; l/r banana. Rare: so/already; lparen/rparen; <opening/closing parenthesis>; o/c round bracket, l/r round bracket, [wax/wane]; parenthisey/unparenthisey; l/r ear.

* Common: star; [{splat}]; . Rare: wildcard; gear; dingle; mult; spider; aster; times; twinkle; glob (see {glob}); {Nathan Hale}.

+ Common: ; add. Rare: cross; [intersection].

, Common: . Rare: ; [tail].

- Common: dash; ; . Rare: [worm]; option; dak; bithorpe.

. Common: dot; point; ; . Rare: radix point; full stop; [spot].

/ Common: slash; stroke; ; forward slash. Rare: diagonal; solidus; over; slak; virgule; [slat].

: Common: . Rare: dots; [two-spot].

; Common: ; semi. Rare: weenie; [hybrid], pit-thwong.

Common: ; bra/ket; l/r angle; l/r angle bracket; l/r broket. Rare: from/{into, towards}; read from/write to; suck/blow; comes-from/gozinta; in/out; crunch/zap (all from UNIX); [angle/right angle].

= Common: ; gets; takes. Rare: quadrathorpe; [half-mesh].

? Common: query; ; {ques}. Rare: whatmark; [what]; wildchar; huh; hook; buttonhook; hunchback.

@ Common: at sign; at; strudel. Rare: each; vortex; whorl; [whirlpool]; cyclone; snail; ape; cat; rose; cabbage; .

V Rare: [book].

[ ] Common: l/r square bracket; l/r bracket; <opening/closing bracket>; bracket/unbracket. Rare: square/unsquare; [U turn/U turn back].

Common: backslash; escape (from C/UNIX); reverse slash; slosh; backslant; backwhack. Rare: bash; ; reversed virgule; [backslat].

^ Common: hat; control; uparrow; caret; . Rare: chevron; [shark (or shark-fin)]; to the ('to the power of'); fang; pointer (in Pascal).

_ Common: ; underscore; underbar; under. Rare: score; backarrow; skid; [flatworm].

' Common: backquote; left quote; left single quote; open quote; ; grave. Rare: backprime; [backspark]; unapostrophe; birk; blugle; back tick; back glitch; push; <opening single quotation mark>; quasiquote.

{ } Common: o/c brace; l/r brace; l/r squiggly; l/r squiggly bracket/brace; l/r curly bracket/brace; <opening/closing brace>. Rare: brace/unbrace; curly/uncurly; leftit/rytit; l/r squirrelly; [embrace/bracelet].

Common: bar; or; or-bar; v-bar; pipe; vertical bar. Rare: ; gozinta; thru; pipesinta (last three from UNIX); [spike].

~ Common: ; squiggle; {twiddle}; not. Rare: approx; wiggle; swung dash; enyay; [sqiggle (sic)].

The pronunciation of '' as 'pound' is common in the U.S. but a bad idea; {{Commonwealth Hackish}} has its own, rather more apposite use of 'pound sign' (confusingly, on British keyboards the pound graphic happens to replace ''; thus Britishers sometimes call '' on a U.S.-ASCII keyboard 'pound', compounding the American error). The U.S. usage derives from an old-fashioned commercial practice of using a '' suffix to tag pound weights on bills of lading. The character is usually pronounced 'hash' outside the U.S. There are more culture wars over the correct pronunciation of this character than any other, which has led to the {ha ha only serious} suggestion that it be pronounced 'shibboleth' (see Judges 12.6 in a Christian Bible).

The 'uparrow' name for circumflex and 'leftarrow' name for underline are historical relics from archaic ASCII (the 1963 version), which had these graphics in those character positions rather than the modern punctuation characters.

The 'swung dash' or 'approximation' sign is not quite the same as tilde in typeset material but the ASCII tilde serves for both (compare {angle brackets}).

Some other common usages cause odd overlaps. The '', '$', '>', and '&' characters, for example, are all pronounced "hex" in different communities because various assemblers use them as a prefix tag for hexadecimal constants (in particular, '' in many assembler-programming cultures, '$' in the 6502 world, '>' at Texas Instruments, and '&' on the BBC Micro, Sinclair, and some Z80 machines). See also {splat}.

The inability of ASCII text to correctly represent any of the world's other major languages makes the designers' choice of 7 bits look more and more like a serious {misfeature} as the use of international networks continues to increase (see {software rot}). Hardware and software from the U.S. still tends to embody the assumption that ASCII is the universal character set and that characters have 7 bits; this is a a major irritant to people who want to use a character set suited to their own languages. Perversely, though, efforts to solve this problem by proliferating 'national' character sets produce an evolutionary pressure to use a *smaller* subset common to all those in use.

:ASCII art: /n./ The fine art of drawing diagrams using the ASCII character set (mainly ' ', '-', '/', '\', and '+'). Also known as 'character graphics' or 'ASCII graphics'; see also {boxology}. Here is a serious example:

o ) ( < + -o + D O L ) ( C U A I ) ( + > -+ +-//-+ o - T C N ) ( P E ) ( + > - ) - ) -o U ) ( GND T o ) ( <

A power supply consisting of a full wave rectifier circuit feeding a capacitor input filter circuit

And here are some very silly examples:

/// _/ _ \_/ _ o.O ACK! / \_ ' ' _/ (_) THPHTH! / / / (o)(o) U / C _) (_) /// __ //// ,_ (oo) / / / / - U (_) /_ / -V 'v'- oo ) / -W * * '. _/

//-o- —-=======—- ==== /.. .. /==== Klingons rule OK! // —-O/—- //

There is an important subgenre of ASCII art that puns on the standard character names in the fashion of a rebus.

^^^^^^^^^^^^ ^^^^^^^^^^^ ^^^^^^^^^ ^^^^^^^^^^^^^ ^^^^^^^^^^^^^ ^^^^^^^ B ^^^^^^^^^ ^^^^^^^^^ ^^^ ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ " A Bee in the Carrot Patch "

Within humorous ASCII art, there is for some reason an entire flourishing subgenre of pictures of silly cows. Four of these are reproduced in the silly examples above, here are three more:

(_) (_) (_) (/) ($$) (**) / -/ / -/ / -/ / 666 / ===== / * * * ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ Satanic cow This cow is a Yuppie Cow in love

Finally, here's a magnificent example of ASCII art depicting an Edwardian train station in Dunedin, New Zealand:

.-. / ][ / I JL/ JL .-. i () () i .-. .^. / LJ======LJ / .^. ./../.....LJ/.-. .-.LJ...../../... ., -,- ., LJ [I] LJ ., -,- ., ., JL -O- JL LJ%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%LJ JL -O- JL JL IIIIIIHH'-'-'HHIIIIII ======H====== IIIIIIHH'-'-'HHIIIIIIHH -[] -[] -[] .I./ [] -[] -[] []- / I// / [] []/LJ[] [] / I// / / LLJJ / - [] == [] IIIIIII[]IIIII[]IIIIILJII IILJIIIII[]IIIII[]IIIIIIII[] I/ []I/[] I[]II/[]I//[]II/[]I/ []I/[] I/ [] ./ .LJ/ LJ./ LJI I[]/ []I ILJ .LJ/ LJ./ .LJ LJ LJ LJ [] [] LJ LJ LJ LJ JLJLJLJL - [] [] - JLJLJLJLJLJ

There is a newsgroup, alt.ascii.art, devoted to this genre; however, see also {warlording}.

:ASCIIbetical order: /as'kee-be'-t*-kl or'dr/ /adj.,n./ Used to indicate that data is sorted in ASCII collated order rather than alphabetical order. This lexicon is sorted in something close to ASCIIbetical order, but with case ignored and entries beginning with non-alphabetic characters moved to the end.

:atomic: /adj./ [from Gk. 'atomos', indivisible] 1. Indivisible; cannot be split up. For example, an instruction may be said to do several things 'atomically', i.e., all the things are done immediately, and there is no chance of the instruction being half-completed or of another being interspersed. Used esp. to convey that an operation cannot be screwed up by interrupts. "This routine locks the file and increments the file's semaphore atomically." 2. [primarily techspeak] Guaranteed to complete successfully or not at all, usu. refers to database transactions. If an error prevents a partially-performed transaction from proceeding to completion, it must be "backed out," as the database must not be left in an inconsistent state.

Computer usage, in either of the above senses, has none of the connotations that 'atomic' has in mainstream English (i.e. of particles of matter, nuclear explosions etc.).

:attoparsec: /n./ About an inch. 'atto-' is the standard SI prefix for multiplication by 10^(-18). A parsec (parallax-second) is 3.26 light-years; an attoparsec is thus 3.26 * 10^(-18) light years, or about 3.1 cm (thus, 1 attoparsec/{microfortnight} equals about 1 inch/sec). This unit is reported to be in use (though probably not very seriously) among hackers in the U.K. See {micro-}.

:autobogotiphobia: /aw'toh-boh-got'*-foh'bee-*/ /n./ See {bogotify}.

:automagically: /aw-toh-maj'i-klee/ /adv./ 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. See {magic}. "The C-INTERCAL compiler generates C, then automagically invokes 'cc(1)' to produce an executable."

This term is quite old, going back at least to the mid-70s and probably much earlier. The word 'automagic' occurred in advertising (for a shirt-ironing gadget) as far back as the late 1940s.

:avatar: /n./ Syn. 1. Among people working on virtual reality and {cyberspace} interfaces, an "avatar" is an icon or representation of a user in a shared virtual reality. The term is sometimes used on {MUD}s. 2. [CMU, Tektronix] {root}, {superuser}. There are quite a few Unix machines on which the name of the superuser account is 'avatar' rather than 'root'. This quirk was originated by a CMU hacker who disliked the term 'superuser', and was propagated through an ex-CMU hacker at Tektronix.

:awk: /awk/ 1. /n./ [Unix techspeak] An interpreted language for massaging text data developed by Alfred Aho, Peter Weinberger, and Brian Kernighan (the name derives from their initials). It is characterized by C-like syntax, a declaration-free approach to variable typing and declarations, associative arrays, and field-oriented text processing. See also {Perl}. 2. n. Editing term for an expression awkward to manipulate through normal {regexp} facilities (for example, one containing a {newline}). 3. /vt./ To process data using 'awk(1)'.

= B = =====

:back door: /n./ A hole in the security of a system deliberately left in place by designers or maintainers. The motivation for such holes is not always sinister; some operating systems, for example, come out of the box with privileged accounts intended for use by field service technicians or the vendor's maintenance programmers. Syn. {trap door}; may also be called a 'wormhole'. See also {iron box}, {cracker}, {worm}, {logic bomb}.

Historically, back doors have often lurked in systems longer than anyone expected or planned, and a few have become widely known. Ken Thompson's 1983 Turing Award lecture to the ACM admitted the existence of a back door in early Unix versions that may have qualified as the most fiendishly clever security hack of all time. In this scheme, the C compiler contained code that would recognize when the 'login' command was being recompiled and insert some code recognizing a password chosen by Thompson, giving him entry to the system whether or not an account had been created for him.

Normally such a back door could be removed by removing it from the source code for the compiler and recompiling the compiler. But to recompile the compiler, you have to *use* the compiler — so Thompson also arranged that the compiler would *recognize when it was compiling a version of itself*, and insert into the recompiled compiler the code to insert into the recompiled 'login' the code to allow Thompson entry — and, of course, the code to recognize itself and do the whole thing again the next time around! And having done this once, he was then able to recompile the compiler from the original sources; the hack perpetuated itself invisibly, leaving the back door in place and active but with no trace in the sources.

The talk that suggested this truly moby hack was published as "Reflections on Trusting Trust", "Communications of the ACM 27", 8 (August 1984), pp. 761—763 (text available at http://www.acm.org/classics). Ken Thompson has since confirmed that this hack was implemented and that the Trojan Horse code did appear in the login binary of a Unix Support group machine. Ken says the crocked compiler was never distributed. Your editor has heard two separate reports that suggest that the crocked login did make it out of Bell Labs, notably to BBN, and that it enabled at least one late-night login across the network by someone using the login name 'kt'.

:backbone cabal: /n./ A group of large-site administrators who pushed through the {Great Renaming} and reined in the chaos of {Usenet} during most of the 1980s. The cabal {mailing list} disbanded in late 1988 after a bitter internal catfight.

:backbone site: /n./ A key Usenet and email site; one that processes a large amount of third-party traffic, especially if it is the home site of any of the regional coordinators for the Usenet maps. Notable backbone sites as of early 1993, when this sense of the term was beginning to pass out of general use due to wide availability of cheap Internet connections, included uunet and the mail machines at Rutgers University, UC Berkeley, {DEC}'s Western Research Laboratories, Ohio State University, and the University of Texas. Compare {rib site}, {leaf site}.

[1996 update: This term is seldom heard any more. The UUCP network world that gave it meaning has nearly disappeared; everyone is on the Internet now and network traffic is distributed in very different patterns. —ESR]

:backgammon:: See {bignum} (sense 3), {moby} (sense 4), and {pseudoprime}.

:background: /n.,adj.,vt./ To do a task 'in background' is to do it whenever {foreground} matters are not claiming your undivided attention, and 'to background' something means to relegate it to a lower priority. "For now, we'll just print a list of nodes and links; I'm working on the graph-printing problem in background." Note that this implies ongoing activity but at a reduced level or in spare time, in contrast to mainstream 'back burner' (which connotes benign neglect until some future resumption of activity). Some people prefer to use the term for processing that they have queued up for their unconscious minds (a tack that one can often fruitfully take upon encountering an obstacle in creative work). Compare {amp off}, {slopsucker}.

Technically, a task running in background is detached from the terminal where it was started (and often running at a lower priority); oppose {foreground}. Nowadays this term is primarily associated with {{Unix}}, but it appears to have been first used in this sense on OS/360.

:backspace and overstrike: /interj./ Whoa! Back up. Used to suggest that someone just said or did something wrong. Common among APL programmers.

:backward combatability: /bak'w*rd k*m-bat'*-bil'*-tee/ /n./ [CMU, Tektronix: from 'backward compatibility'] A property of hardware or software revisions in which previous protocols, formats, layouts, etc. are irrevocably discarded in favor of 'new and improved' protocols, formats, and layouts, leaving the previous ones not merely deprecated but actively defeated. (Too often, the old and new versions cannot definitively be distinguished, such that lingering instances of the previous ones yield crashes or other infelicitous effects, as opposed to a simple "version mismatch" message.) A backwards compatible change, on the other hand, allows old versions to coexist without crashes or error messages, but too many major changes incorporating elaborate backwards compatibility processing can lead to extreme {software bloat}. See also {flag day}.

:BAD: /B-A-D/ /adj./ [IBM: acronym, 'Broken As Designed'] Said of a program that is {bogus} because of bad design and misfeatures rather than because of bugginess. See {working as designed}.

:Bad Thing: /n./ [from the 1930 Sellar & Yeatman parody "1066 And All That"] Something that can't possibly result in improvement of the subject. This term is always capitalized, as in "Replacing all of the 9600-baud modems with bicycle couriers would be a Bad Thing". Oppose {Good Thing}. British correspondents confirm that {Bad Thing} and {Good Thing} (and prob. therefore {Right Thing} and {Wrong Thing}) come from the book referenced in the etymology, which discusses rulers who were Good Kings but Bad Things. This has apparently created a mainstream idiom on the British side of the pond.

:bag on the side: /n./ [prob. originally related to a colostomy bag] An extension to an established hack that is supposed to add some functionality to the original. Usually derogatory, implying that the original was being overextended and should have been thrown away, and the new product is ugly, inelegant, or bloated. Also /v./ phrase, 'to hang a bag on the side [of]'. "C+? That's just a bag on the side of C ...." "They want me to hang a bag on the side of the accounting system."

:bagbiter: /bag'bi:t-*r/ /n./ 1. Something, such as a program or a computer, that fails to work, or works in a remarkably clumsy manner. "This text editor won't let me make a file with a line longer than 80 characters! What a bagbiter!" 2. A person who has caused you some trouble, inadvertently or otherwise, typically by failing to program the computer properly. Synonyms: {loser}, {cretin}, {chomper}. 3. 'bite the bag' /vi./ To fail in some manner. "The computer keeps crashing every five minutes." "Yes, the disk controller is really biting the bag." The original loading of these terms was almost undoubtedly obscene, possibly referring to the scrotum, but in their current usage they have become almost completely sanitized.

ITS's 'lexiphage' program was the first and to date only known example of a program *intended* to be a bagbiter.

:bagbiting: /adj./ Having the quality of a {bagbiter}. "This bagbiting system won't let me compute the factorial of a negative number." Compare {losing}, {cretinous}, {bletcherous}, 'barfucious' (under {barfulous}) and 'chomping' (under {chomp}).

:balloonian variable: /n./ [Commodore users; perh. a deliberate phonetic mangling of 'boolean variable'?] Any variable that doesn't actually hold or control state, but must nevertheless be declared, checked, or set. A typical balloonian variable started out as a flag attached to some environment feature that either became obsolete or was planned but never implemented. Compatibility concerns (or politics attached to same) may require that such a flag be treated as though it were {live}.

:bamf: /bamf/ 1. [from X-Men comics; originally "bampf"] /interj./ Notional sound made by a person or object teleporting in or out of the hearer's vicinity. Often used in {virtual reality} (esp. {MUD}) electronic {fora} when a character wishes to make a dramatic entrance or exit. 2. The sound of magical transformation, used in virtual reality {fora} like MUDs. 3. In MUD circles, "bamf" is also used to refer to the act by which a MUD server sends a special notification to the MUD client to switch its connection to another server ("I'll set up the old site to just bamf people over to our new location."). 4. Used by MUDders on occasion in a more general sense related to sense 3, to refer to directing someone to another location or resource ("A user was asking about some technobabble so I bamfed them to http://www.ccil.org/jargon/jargon.html.")

:banana label: /n./ The labels often used on the sides of {macrotape} reels, so called because they are shaped roughly like blunt-ended bananas. This term, like macrotapes themselves, is still current but visibly headed for obsolescence.

:banana problem: /n./ [from the story of the little girl who said "I know how to spell 'banana', but I don't know when to stop"]. Not knowing where or when to bring a production to a close (compare {fencepost error}). One may say 'there is a banana problem' of an algorithm with poorly defined or incorrect termination conditions, or in discussing the evolution of a design that may be succumbing to featuritis (see also {creeping elegance}, {creeping featuritis}). See item 176 under {HAKMEM}, which describes a banana problem in a {Dissociated Press} implementation. Also, see {one-banana problem} for a superficially similar but unrelated usage.

:bandwidth: /n./ 1. Used by hackers (in a generalization of its technical meaning) as the volume of information per unit time that a computer, person, or transmission medium can handle. "Those are amazing graphics, but I missed some of the detail — not enough bandwidth, I guess." Compare {low-bandwidth}. 2. Attention span. 3. On {Usenet}, a measure of network capacity that is often wasted by people complaining about how items posted by others are a waste of bandwidth.

:bang: 1. /n./ Common spoken name for '!' (ASCII 0100001), especially when used in pronouncing a {bang path} in spoken hackish. In {elder days} this was considered a CMUish usage, with MIT and Stanford hackers preferring {excl} or {shriek}; but the spread of Unix has carried 'bang' with it (esp. via the term {bang path}) and it is now certainly the most common spoken name for '!'. Note that it is used exclusively for non-emphatic written '!'; one would not say "Congratulations bang" (except possibly for humorous purposes), but if one wanted to specify the exact characters 'foo!' one would speak "Eff oh oh bang". See {shriek}, {{ASCII}}. 2. /interj./ An exclamation signifying roughly "I have achieved enlightenment!", or "The dynamite has cleared out my brain!" Often used to acknowledge that one has perpetrated a {thinko} immediately after one has been called on it.

:bang on: /vt./ To stress-test a piece of hardware or software: "I banged on the new version of the simulator all day yesterday and it didn't crash once. I guess it is ready for release." The term {pound on} is synonymous.

:bang path: /n./ An old-style UUCP electronic-mail address specifying hops to get from some assumed-reachable location to the addressee, so called because each {hop} is signified by a {bang} sign. Thus, for example, the path ...!bigsite!foovax!barbox!me directs people to route their mail to machine bigsite (presumably a well-known location accessible to everybody) and from there through the machine foovax to the account of user me on barbox.

In the bad old days of not so long ago, before autorouting mailers became commonplace, people often published compound bang addresses using the { } convention (see {glob}) to give paths from *several* big machines, in the hopes that one's correspondent might be able to get mail to one of them reliably (example: ...!{seismo, ut-sally, ihnp4}!rice!beta!gamma!me). Bang paths of 8 to 10 hops were not uncommon in 1981. Late-night dial-up UUCP links would cause week-long transmission times. Bang paths were often selected by both transmission time and reliability, as messages would often get lost. See {{Internet address}}, {network, the}, and {sitename}.

:banner: /n./ 1. The title page added to printouts by most print spoolers (see {spool}). Typically includes user or account ID information in very large character-graphics capitals. Also called a 'burst page', because it indicates where to burst (tear apart) fanfold paper to separate one user's printout from the next. 2. A similar printout generated (typically on multiple pages of fan-fold paper) from user-specified text, e.g., by a program such as Unix's 'banner({1,6})'. 3. On interactive software, a first screen containing a logo and/or author credits and/or a copyright notice.

:bar: /bar/ /n./ 1. The second {metasyntactic variable}, after {foo} and before {baz}. "Suppose we have two functions: FOO and BAR. FOO calls BAR...." 2. Often appended to {foo} to produce {foobar}.

:bare metal: /n./ 1. New computer hardware, unadorned with such snares and delusions as an {operating system}, an {HLL}, or even assembler. Commonly used in the phrase 'programming on the bare metal', which refers to the arduous work of {bit bashing} needed to create these basic tools for a new machine. Real bare-metal programming involves things like building boot proms and BIOS chips, implementing basic monitors used to test device drivers, and writing the assemblers that will be used to write the compiler back ends that will give the new machine a real development environment. 2. 'Programming on the bare metal' is also used to describe a style of {hand-hacking} that relies on bit-level peculiarities of a particular hardware design, esp. tricks for speed and space optimization that rely on crocks such as overlapping instructions (or, as in the famous case described in {The Story of Mel, a Real Programmer} (in Appendix A), interleaving of opcodes on a magnetic drum to minimize fetch delays due to the device's rotational latency). This sort of thing has become less common as the relative costs of programming time and machine resources have changed, but is still found in heavily constrained environments such as industrial embedded systems, and in the code of hackers who just can't let go of that low-level control. See {Real Programmer}.

In the world of personal computing, bare metal programming (especially in sense 1 but sometimes also in sense 2) is often considered a {Good Thing}, or at least a necessary evil (because these machines have often been sufficiently slow and poorly designed to make it necessary; see {ill-behaved}). There, the term usually refers to bypassing the BIOS or OS interface and writing the application to directly access device registers and machine addresses. "To get 19.2 kilobaud on the serial port, you need to get down to the bare metal." People who can do this sort of thing well are held in high regard.

:barf: /barf/ /n.,v./ [from mainstream slang meaning 'vomit'] 1. /interj./ Term of disgust. This is the closest hackish equivalent of the Valspeak "gag me with a spoon". (Like, euwww!) See {bletch}. 2. /vi./ To say "Barf!" or emit some similar expression of disgust. "I showed him my latest hack and he barfed" means only that he complained about it, not that he literally vomited. 3. /vi./ To fail to work because of unacceptable input, perhaps with a suitable error message, perhaps not. Examples: "The division operation barfs if you try to divide by 0." (That is, the division operation checks for an attempt to divide by zero, and if one is encountered it causes the operation to fail in some unspecified, but generally obvious, manner.) "The text editor barfs if you try to read in a new file before writing out the old one." See {choke}, {gag}. In Commonwealth Hackish, 'barf' is generally replaced by 'puke' or 'vom'. {barf} is sometimes also used as a {metasyntactic variable}, like {foo} or {bar}.

:barfmail: /n./ Multiple {bounce message}s accumulating to the level of serious annoyance, or worse. The sort of thing that happens when an inter-network mail gateway goes down or wonky.

:barfulation: /bar'fyoo-lay'sh*n/ /interj./ Variation of {barf} used around the Stanford area. An exclamation, expressing disgust. On seeing some particularly bad code one might exclaim, "Barfulation! Who wrote this, Quux?"

:barfulous: /bar'fyoo-l*s/ /adj./ (alt. 'barfucious', /bar-fyoo-sh*s/) Said of something that would make anyone barf, if only for esthetic reasons.

:barney: /n./ In Commonwealth hackish, 'barney' is to {fred} (sense #1) as {bar} is to {foo}. That is, people who commonly use 'fred' as their first metasyntactic variable will often use 'barney' second. The reference is, of course, to Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble in the Flintstones cartoons.

:baroque: /adj./ Feature-encrusted; complex; gaudy; verging on excessive. Said of hardware or (esp.) software designs, this has many of the connotations of {elephantine} or {monstrosity} but is less extreme and not pejorative in itself. "Metafont even has features to introduce random variations to its letterform output. Now *that* is baroque!" See also {rococo}.

:BASIC: /bay'-sic/ /n./ [acronym: Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code] A programming language, originally designed for Dartmouth's experimental timesharing system in the early 1960s, which has since become the leading cause of brain damage in proto-hackers. Edsger W. Dijkstra observed in "Selected Writings on Computing: A Personal Perspective" that "It is practically impossible to teach good programming style to students that have had prior exposure to BASIC: as potential programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration." This is another case (like {Pascal}) of the cascading lossage that happens when a language deliberately designed as an educational toy gets taken too seriously. A novice can write short BASIC programs (on the order of 10-20 lines) very easily; writing anything longer (a) is very painful, and (b) encourages bad habits that will make it harder to use more powerful languages well. This wouldn't be so bad if historical accidents hadn't made BASIC so common on low-end micros. As it is, it ruins thousands of potential wizards a year.

[1995: Some languages called 'BASIC' aren't quite this nasty any more, having acquired Pascal- and C-like procedures and control structures and shed their line numbers. —ESR]

:batch: /adj./ 1. Non-interactive. Hackers use this somewhat more loosely than the traditional technical definitions justify; in particular, switches on a normally interactive program that prepare it to receive non-interactive command input are often referred to as 'batch mode' switches. A 'batch file' is a series of instructions written to be handed to an interactive program running in batch mode. 2. Performance of dreary tasks all at one sitting. "I finally sat down in batch mode and wrote out checks for all those bills; I guess they'll turn the electricity back on next week..." 3. 'batching up': Accumulation of a number of small tasks that can be lumped together for greater efficiency. "I'm batching up those letters to send sometime" "I'm batching up bottles to take to the recycling center."

:bathtub curve: /n./ Common term for the curve (resembling an end-to-end section of one of those claw-footed antique bathtubs) that describes the expected failure rate of electronics with time: initially high, dropping to near 0 for most of the system's lifetime, then rising again as it 'tires out'. See also {burn-in period}, {infant mortality}.

:baud: /bawd/ /n./ [simplified from its technical meaning] /n./ Bits per second. Hence kilobaud or Kbaud, thousands of bits per second. The technical meaning is 'level transitions per second'; this coincides with bps only for two-level modulation with no framing or stop bits. Most hackers are aware of these nuances but blithely ignore them.

Historical note: 'baud' was originally a unit of telegraph signalling speed, set at one pulse per second. It was proposed at the International Telegraph Conference of 1927, and named after J.M.E. Baudot (1845—1903), the French engineer who constructed the first successful teleprinter.

:baud barf: /bawd barf/ /n./ The garbage one gets on the monitor when using a modem connection with some protocol setting (esp. line speed) incorrect, or when someone picks up a voice extension on the same line, or when really bad line noise disrupts the connection. Baud barf is not completely {random}, by the way; hackers with a lot of serial-line experience can usually tell whether the device at the other end is expecting a higher or lower speed than the terminal is set to. *Really* experienced ones can identify particular speeds.

:baz: /baz/ /n./ 1. The third {metasyntactic variable} "Suppose we have three functions: FOO, BAR, and BAZ. FOO calls BAR, which calls BAZ...." (See also {fum}) 2. /interj./ A term of mild annoyance. In this usage the term is often drawn out for 2 or 3 seconds, producing an effect not unlike the bleating of a sheep; /baaaaaaz/. 3. Occasionally appended to {foo} to produce 'foobaz'.

Earlier versions of this lexicon derived 'baz' as a Stanford corruption of {bar}. However, Pete Samson (compiler of the {TMRC} lexicon) reports it was already current when he joined TMRC in 1958. He says "It came from "Pogo". Albert the Alligator, when vexed or outraged, would shout 'Bazz Fazz!' or 'Rowrbazzle!' The club layout was said to model the (mythical) New England counties of Rowrfolk and Bassex (Rowrbazzle mingled with (Norfolk/Suffolk/Middlesex/Essex)."

:bboard: /bee'bord/ /n./ [contraction of 'bulletin board'] 1. Any electronic bulletin board; esp. used of {BBS} systems running on personal micros, less frequently of a Usenet {newsgroup} (in fact, use of this term for a newsgroup generally marks one either as a {newbie} fresh in from the BBS world or as a real old-timer predating Usenet). 2. At CMU and other colleges with similar facilities, refers to campus-wide electronic bulletin boards. 3. The term 'physical bboard' is sometimes used to refer to an old-fashioned, non-electronic cork-and-thumbtack memo board. At CMU, it refers to a particular one outside the CS Lounge.

In either of senses 1 or 2, the term is usually prefixed by the name of the intended board ('the Moonlight Casino bboard' or 'market bboard'); however, if the context is clear, the better-read bboards may be referred to by name alone, as in (at CMU) "Don't post for-sale ads on general".

:BBS: /B-B-S/ /n./ [abbreviation, 'Bulletin Board System'] An electronic bulletin board system; that is, a message database where people can log in and leave broadcast messages for others grouped (typically) into {topic group}s. Thousands of local BBS systems are in operation throughout the U.S., typically run by amateurs for fun out of their homes on MS-DOS boxes with a single modem line each. Fans of Usenet and Internet or the big commercial timesharing bboards such as CompuServe and GEnie tend to consider local BBSes the low-rent district of the hacker culture, but they serve a valuable function by knitting together lots of hackers and users in the personal-micro world who would otherwise be unable to exchange code at all. See also {bboard}.

:beam: /vt./ [from Star Trek Classic's "Beam me up, Scotty!"] To transfer {softcopy} of a file electronically; most often in combining forms such as 'beam me a copy' or 'beam that over to his site'. Compare {blast}, {snarf}, {BLT}.

:beanie key: /n./ [Mac users] See {command key}.

:beep: /n.,v./ Syn. {feep}. This term is techspeak under MS-DOS and OS/2, and seems to be generally preferred among micro hobbyists.

:beige toaster: /n./ A Macintosh. See {toaster}; compare {Macintrash}, {maggotbox}.

:bells and whistles: /n./ [by analogy with the toyboxes on theater organs] Features added to a program or system to make it more {flavorful} from a hacker's point of view, without necessarily adding to its utility for its primary function. Distinguished from {chrome}, which is intended to attract users. "Now that we've got the basic program working, let's go back and add some bells and whistles." No one seems to know what distinguishes a bell from a whistle.

:bells, whistles, and gongs: /n./ A standard elaborated form of {bells and whistles}; typically said with a pronounced and ironic accent on the 'gongs'.

:benchmark: [techspeak] /n./ An inaccurate measure of computer performance. "In the computer industry, there are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and benchmarks." Well-known ones include Whetstone, Dhrystone, Rhealstone (see {h}), the Gabriel LISP benchmarks (see {gabriel}), the SPECmark suite, and LINPACK. See also {machoflops}, {MIPS}, {smoke and mirrors}.

:Berkeley Quality Software: /adj./ (often abbreviated 'BQS') Term used in a pejorative sense to refer to software that was apparently created by rather spaced-out hackers late at night to solve some unique problem. It usually has nonexistent, incomplete, or incorrect documentation, has been tested on at least two examples, and core dumps when anyone else attempts to use it. This term was frequently applied to early versions of the 'dbx(1)' debugger. See also {Berzerkeley}.

Note to British and Commonwealth readers: that's /berk'lee/, not /bark'lee/ as in British Received Pronunciation.

:berklix: /berk'liks/ /n.,adj./ [contraction of 'Berkeley Unix'] See {BSD}. Not used at Berkeley itself. May be more common among {suit}s attempting to sound like cognoscenti than among hackers, who usually just say 'BSD'.

:Berzerkeley: /b*r-zer'klee/ /n./ [from 'berserk', via the name of a now-deceased record label] Humorous distortion of 'Berkeley' used esp. to refer to the practices or products of the {BSD} Unix hackers. See {software bloat}, {Missed'em-five}, {Berkeley Quality Software}.

Mainstream use of this term in reference to the cultural and political peculiarities of UC Berkeley as a whole has been reported from as far back as the 1960s.

:beta: /bay't*/, /be't*/ or (Commonwealth) /bee't*/ /n./ 1. Mostly working, but still under test; usu. used with 'in': 'in beta'. In the {Real World}, systems (hardware or software) software often go through two stages of release testing: Alpha (in-house) and Beta (out-house?). Beta releases are generally made to a group of lucky (or unlucky) trusted customers. 2. Anything that is new and experimental. "His girlfriend is in beta" means that he is still testing for compatibility and reserving judgment. 3. Flaky; dubious; suspect (since beta software is notoriously buggy).

Historical note: More formally, to beta-test is to test a pre-release (potentially unreliable) version of a piece of software by making it available to selected (or self-selected) customers and users. This term derives from early 1960s terminology for product cycle checkpoints, first used at IBM but later standard throughout the industry. 'Alpha Test' was the unit, module, or component test phase; 'Beta Test' was initial system test. These themselves came from earlier A- and B-tests for hardware. The A-test was a feasibility and manufacturability evaluation done before any commitment to design and development. The B-test was a demonstration that the engineering model functioned as specified. The C-test (corresponding to today's beta) was the B-test performed on early samples of the production design.

:BFI: /B-F-I/ /n./ See {brute force and ignorance}. Also encountered in the variants 'BFMI', 'brute force and *massive* ignorance' and 'BFBI' 'brute force and bloody ignorance'.

:bible: /n./ 1. One of a small number of fundamental source books such as {Knuth} and {K&R}. 2. The most detailed and authoritative reference for a particular language, operating system, or other complex software system.

:BiCapitalization: /n./ The act said to have been performed on trademarks (such as {PostScript}, NeXT, {NeWS}, VisiCalc, FrameMaker, TK!solver, EasyWriter) that have been raised above the ruck of common coinage by nonstandard capitalization. Too many {marketroid} types think this sort of thing is really cute, even the 2,317th time they do it. Compare {studlycaps}.

:B1FF: /bif/ [Usenet] (alt. 'BIFF') /n./ The most famous {pseudo}, and the prototypical {newbie}. Articles from B1FF feature all uppercase letters sprinkled liberally with bangs, typos, 'cute' misspellings (EVRY BUDY LUVS GOOD OLD BIFF CUZ HE"S A K00L DOOD AN HE RITES REEL AWESUM THINGZ IN CAPITULL LETTRS LIKE THIS!!!), use (and often misuse) of fragments of {talk mode} abbreviations, a long {sig block} (sometimes even a {doubled sig}), and unbounded naivete. B1FF posts articles using his elder brother's VIC-20. B1FF's location is a mystery, as his articles appear to come from a variety of sites. However, {BITNET} seems to be the most frequent origin. The theory that B1FF is a denizen of BITNET is supported by B1FF's (unfortunately invalid) electronic mail address: B1FF@BIT.NET.

[1993: Now It Can Be Told! My spies inform me that B1FF was originally created by Joe Talmadge , also the author of the infamous and much-plagiarized "Flamer's Bible". The BIFF filter he wrote was later passed to Richard Sexton, who posted BIFFisms much more widely. Versions have since been posted for the amusement of the net at large. —ESR]

:biff: /bif/ /vt./ To notify someone of incoming mail. From the BSD utility 'biff(1)', which was in turn named after a friendly golden Labrador who used to chase frisbees in the halls at UCB while 4.2BSD was in development. There was a legend that it had a habit of barking whenever the mailman came, but the author of 'biff' says this is not true. No relation to {B1FF}.

:Big Gray Wall: /n./ What faces a {VMS} user searching for documentation. A full VMS kit comes on a pallet, the documentation taking up around 15 feet of shelf space before the addition of layered products such as compilers, databases, multivendor networking, and programming tools. Recent (since VMS version 5) DEC documentation comes with gray binders; under VMS version 4 the binders were orange ('big orange wall'), and under version 3 they were blue. See {VMS}. Often contracted to 'Gray Wall'.

:big iron: /n./ Large, expensive, ultra-fast computers. Used generally of {number-crunching} supercomputers such as Crays, but can include more conventional big commercial IBMish mainframes. Term of approval; compare {heavy metal}, oppose {dinosaur}.

:Big Red Switch: /n./ [IBM] The power switch on a computer, esp. the 'Emergency Pull' switch on an IBM {mainframe} or the power switch on an IBM PC where it really is large and red. "This !@%$% {bitty box} is hung again; time to hit the Big Red Switch." Sources at IBM report that, in tune with the company's passion for {TLA}s, this is often abbreviated as 'BRS' (this has also become established on FidoNet and in the PC {clone} world). It is alleged that the emergency pull switch on an IBM 360/91 actually fired a non-conducting bolt into the main power feed; the BRSes on more recent mainframes physically drop a block into place so that they can't be pushed back in. People get fired for pulling them, especially inappropriately (see also {molly-guard}). Compare {power cycle}, {three-finger salute}, {120 reset}; see also {scram switch}.

:Big Room, the: /n./ The extremely large room with the blue ceiling and intensely bright light (during the day) or black ceiling with lots of tiny night-lights (during the night) found outside all computer installations. "He can't come to the phone right now, he's somewhere out in the Big Room."

:big win: /n./ Serendipity. "Yes, those two physicists discovered high-temperature superconductivity in a batch of ceramic that had been prepared incorrectly according to their experimental schedule. Small mistake; big win!" See {win big}.

:big-endian: /adj./ [From Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" via the famous paper "On Holy Wars and a Plea for Peace" by Danny Cohen, USC/ISI IEN 137, dated April 1, 1980] 1. Describes a computer architecture in which, within a given multi-byte numeric representation, the most significant byte has the lowest address (the word is stored 'big-end-first'). Most processors, including the IBM 370 family, the {PDP-10}, the Motorola microprocessor families, and most of the various RISC designs current in late 1995, are big-endian. Big-endian byte order is also sometimes called 'network order'. See {little-endian}, {middle-endian}, {NUXI problem}, {swab}. 2. An {{Internet address}} the wrong way round. Most of the world follows the Internet standard and writes email addresses starting with the name of the computer and ending up with the name of the country. In the U.K. the Joint Networking Team had decided to do it the other way round before the Internet domain standard was established. Most gateway sites have {ad-hockery} in their mailers to handle this, but can still be confused. In particular, the address me@uk.ac.bris.pys.as could be interpreted in JANET's big-endian way as one in the U.K. (domain uk) or in the standard little-endian way as one in the domain as (American Samoa) on the opposite side of the world.

:bignum: /big'nuhm/ /n./ [orig. from MIT MacLISP] 1. [techspeak] A multiple-precision computer representation for very large integers. 2. More generally, any very large number. "Have you ever looked at the United States Budget? There's bignums for you!" 3. [Stanford] In backgammon, large numbers on the dice especially a roll of double fives or double sixes (compare {moby}, sense 4). See also {El Camino Bignum}.

Sense 1 may require some explanation. Most computer languages provide a kind of data called 'integer', but such computer integers are usually very limited in size; usually they must be smaller than than 2^(31) (2,147,483,648) or (on a {bitty box}) 2^(15) (32,768). If you want to work with numbers larger than that, you have to use floating-point numbers, which are usually accurate to only six or seven decimal places. Computer languages that provide bignums can perform exact calculations on very large numbers, such as 1000! (the factorial of 1000, which is 1000 times 999 times 998 times ... times 2 times 1). For example, this value for 1000! was computed by the MacLISP system using bignums:

40238726007709377354370243392300398571937486421071 46325437999104299385123986290205920442084869694048 00479988610197196058631666872994808558901323829669 94459099742450408707375991882362772718873251977950 59509952761208749754624970436014182780946464962910 56393887437886487337119181045825783647849977012476 63288983595573543251318532395846307555740911426241 74743493475534286465766116677973966688202912073791 43853719588249808126867838374559731746136085379534 52422158659320192809087829730843139284440328123155 86110369768013573042161687476096758713483120254785 89320767169132448426236131412508780208000261683151 02734182797770478463586817016436502415369139828126 48102130927612448963599287051149649754199093422215 66832572080821333186116811553615836546984046708975 60290095053761647584772842188967964624494516076535 34081989013854424879849599533191017233555566021394 50399736280750137837615307127761926849034352625200 01588853514733161170210396817592151090778801939317 81141945452572238655414610628921879602238389714760 88506276862967146674697562911234082439208160153780 88989396451826324367161676217916890977991190375403 12746222899880051954444142820121873617459926429565 81746628302955570299024324153181617210465832036786 90611726015878352075151628422554026517048330422614 39742869330616908979684825901254583271682264580665 26769958652682272807075781391858178889652208164348 34482599326604336766017699961283186078838615027946 59551311565520360939881806121385586003014356945272 24206344631797460594682573103790084024432438465657 24501440282188525247093519062092902313649327349756 55139587205596542287497740114133469627154228458623 77387538230483865688976461927383814900140767310446 64025989949022222176590433990188601856652648506179 97023561938970178600408118897299183110211712298459 01641921068884387121855646124960798722908519296819 37238864261483965738229112312502418664935314397013 74285319266498753372189406942814341185201580141233 44828015051399694290153483077644569099073152433278 28826986460278986432113908350621709500259738986355 42771967428222487575867657523442202075736305694988 25087968928162753848863396909959826280956121450994 87170124451646126037902930912088908694202851064018 21543994571568059418727489980942547421735824010636 77404595741785160829230135358081840096996372524230 56085590370062427124341690900415369010593398383577 79394109700277534720000000000000000000000000000000 00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 000000000000000000.

:bigot: /n./ A person who is religiously attached to a particular computer, language, operating system, editor, or other tool (see {religious issues}). Usually found with a specifier; thus, 'cray bigot', 'ITS bigot', 'APL bigot', 'VMS bigot', 'Berkeley bigot'. Real bigots can be distinguished from mere partisans or zealots by the fact that they refuse to learn alternatives even when the march of time and/or technology is threatening to obsolete the favored tool. It is truly said "You can tell a bigot, but you can't tell him much." Compare {weenie}.

:bit: /n./ [from the mainstream meaning and 'Binary digIT'] 1. [techspeak] The unit of information; the amount of information obtained by asking a yes-or-no question for which the two outcomes are equally probable. 2. [techspeak] A computational quantity that can take on one of two values, such as true and false or 0 and 1. 3. A mental flag: a reminder that something should be done eventually. "I have a bit set for you." (I haven't seen you for a while, and I'm supposed to tell or ask you something.) 4. More generally, a (possibly incorrect) mental state of belief. "I have a bit set that says that you were the last guy to hack on EMACS." (Meaning "I think you were the last guy to hack on EMACS, and what I am about to say is predicated on this, so please stop me if this isn't true.")

"I just need one bit from you" is a polite way of indicating that you intend only a short interruption for a question that can presumably be answered yes or no.

A bit is said to be 'set' if its value is true or 1, and 'reset' or 'clear' if its value is false or 0. One speaks of setting and clearing bits. To {toggle} or 'invert' a bit is to change it, either from 0 to 1 or from 1 to 0. See also {flag}, {trit}, {mode bit}.

The term 'bit' first appeared in print in the computer-science sense in 1949, and seems to have been coined by early computer scientist John Tukey. Tukey records that it evolved over a lunch table as a handier alternative to 'bigit' or 'binit'.

:bit bang: /n./ Transmission of data on a serial line, when accomplished by rapidly tweaking a single output bit, in software, at the appropriate times. The technique is a simple loop with eight OUT and SHIFT instruction pairs for each byte. Input is more interesting. And full duplex (doing input and output at the same time) is one way to separate the real hackers from the {wannabee}s.

Bit bang was used on certain early models of Prime computers, presumably when UARTs were too expensive, and on archaic Z80 micros with a Zilog PIO but no SIO. In an interesting instance of the {cycle of reincarnation}, this technique returned to use in the early 1990s on some RISC architectures because it consumes such an infinitesimal part of the processor that it actually makes sense not to have a UART. Compare {cycle of reincarnation}.

:bit bashing: /n./ (alt. 'bit diddling' or {bit twiddling}) Term used to describe any of several kinds of low-level programming characterized by manipulation of {bit}, {flag}, {nybble}, and other smaller-than-character-sized pieces of data; these include low-level device control, encryption algorithms, checksum and error-correcting codes, hash functions, some flavors of graphics programming (see {bitblt}), and assembler/compiler code generation. May connote either tedium or a real technical challenge (more usually the former). "The command decoding for the new tape driver looks pretty solid but the bit-bashing for the control registers still has bugs." See also {bit bang}, {mode bit}.

:bit bucket: /n./ 1. The universal data sink (originally, the mythical receptacle used to catch bits when they fall off the end of a register during a shift instruction). Discarded, lost, or destroyed data is said to have 'gone to the bit bucket'. On {{Unix}}, often used for {/dev/null}. Sometimes amplified as 'the Great Bit Bucket in the Sky'. 2. The place where all lost mail and news messages eventually go. The selection is performed according to {Finagle's Law}; important mail is much more likely to end up in the bit bucket than junk mail, which has an almost 100% probability of getting delivered. Routing to the bit bucket is automatically performed by mail-transfer agents, news systems, and the lower layers of the network. 3. The ideal location for all unwanted mail responses: "Flames about this article to the bit bucket." Such a request is guaranteed to overflow one's mailbox with flames. 4. Excuse for all mail that has not been sent. "I mailed you those figures last week; they must have landed in the bit bucket." Compare {black hole}.

This term is used purely in jest. It is based on the fanciful notion that bits are objects that are not destroyed but only misplaced. This appears to have been a mutation of an earlier term 'bit box', about which the same legend was current; old-time hackers also report that trainees used to be told that when the CPU stored bits into memory it was actually pulling them 'out of the bit box'. See also {chad box}.

Another variant of this legend has it that, as a consequence of the 'parity preservation law', the number of 1 bits that go to the bit bucket must equal the number of 0 bits. Any imbalance results in bits filling up the bit bucket. A qualified computer technician can empty a full bit bucket as part of scheduled maintenance.

:bit decay: /n./ See {bit rot}. People with a physics background tend to prefer this variant for the analogy with particle decay. See also {computron}, {quantum bogodynamics}.

:bit rot: /n./ Also {bit decay}. Hypothetical disease the existence of which has been deduced from the observation that unused programs or features will often stop working after sufficient time has passed, even if 'nothing has changed'. The theory explains that bits decay as if they were radioactive. As time passes, the contents of a file or the code in a program will become increasingly garbled.

There actually are physical processes that produce such effects (alpha particles generated by trace radionuclides in ceramic chip packages, for example, can change the contents of a computer memory unpredictably, and various kinds of subtle media failures can corrupt files in mass storage), but they are quite rare (and computers are built with error-detecting circuitry to compensate for them). The notion long favored among hackers that cosmic rays are among the causes of such events turns out to be a myth; see the {cosmic rays} entry for details.

The term {software rot} is almost synonymous. Software rot is the effect, bit rot the notional cause.

:bit twiddling: /n./ 1. (pejorative) An exercise in tuning (see {tune}) in which incredible amounts of time and effort go to produce little noticeable improvement, often with the result that the code becomes incomprehensible. 2. Aimless small modification to a program, esp. for some pointless goal. 3. Approx. syn. for {bit bashing}; esp. used for the act of frobbing the device control register of a peripheral in an attempt to get it back to a known state.

:bit-paired keyboard: /n./ obs. (alt. 'bit-shift keyboard') A non-standard keyboard layout that seems to have originated with the Teletype ASR-33 and remained common for several years on early computer equipment. The ASR-33 was a mechanical device (see {EOU}), so the only way to generate the character codes from keystrokes was by some physical linkage. The design of the ASR-33 assigned each character key a basic pattern that could be modified by flipping bits if the SHIFT or the CTRL key was pressed. In order to avoid making the thing more of a Rube Goldberg kluge than it already was, the design had to group characters that shared the same basic bit pattern on one key.

Looking at the ASCII chart, we find:

high low bits bits 0000 0001 0010 0011 0100 0101 0110 0111 1000 1001 010 ! " # $ % & ' ( ) 011 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

This is why the characters !"#$%&'() appear where they do on a Teletype (thankfully, they didn't use shift-0 for space). This was *not* the weirdest variant of the {QWERTY} layout widely seen, by the way; that prize should probably go to one of several (differing) arrangements on IBM's even clunkier 026 and 029 card punches.

When electronic terminals became popular, in the early 1970s, there was no agreement in the industry over how the keyboards should be laid out. Some vendors opted to emulate the Teletype keyboard, while others used the flexibility of electronic circuitry to make their product look like an office typewriter. These alternatives became known as 'bit-paired' and 'typewriter-paired' keyboards. To a hacker, the bit-paired keyboard seemed far more logical — and because most hackers in those days had never learned to touch-type, there was little pressure from the pioneering users to adapt keyboards to the typewriter standard.

The doom of the bit-paired keyboard was the large-scale introduction of the computer terminal into the normal office environment, where out-and-out technophobes were expected to use the equipment. The 'typewriter-paired' standard became universal, 'bit-paired' hardware was quickly junked or relegated to dusty corners, and both terms passed into disuse.

:bitblt: /bit'blit/ /n./ [from {BLT}, q.v.] 1. Any of a family of closely related algorithms for moving and copying rectangles of bits between main and display memory on a bit-mapped device, or between two areas of either main or display memory (the requirement to do the {Right Thing} in the case of overlapping source and destination rectangles is what makes BitBlt tricky). 2. Synonym for {blit} or {BLT}. Both uses are borderline techspeak.

:BITNET: /bit'net/ /n./ [acronym: Because It's Time NETwork] Everybody's least favorite piece of the network (see {network, the}). The BITNET hosts are a collection of IBM dinosaurs and VAXen (the latter with lobotomized comm hardware) that communicate using 80-character {{EBCDIC}} card images (see {eighty-column mind}); thus, they tend to mangle the headers and text of third-party traffic from the rest of the ASCII/{RFC}-822 world with annoying regularity. BITNET was also notorious as the apparent home of {B1FF}.

:bits: /pl.n./ 1. Information. Examples: "I need some bits about file formats." ("I need to know about file formats.") Compare {core dump}, sense 4. 2. Machine-readable representation of a document, specifically as contrasted with paper: "I have only a photocopy of the Jargon File; does anyone know where I can get the bits?". See {softcopy}, {source of all good bits} See also {bit}.

:bitty box: /bit'ee boks/ /n./ 1. A computer sufficiently small, primitive, or incapable as to cause a hacker acute claustrophobia at the thought of developing software on or for it. Especially used of small, obsolescent, single-tasking-only personal machines such as the Atari 800, Osborne, Sinclair, VIC-20, TRS-80, or IBM PC. 2. [Pejorative] More generally, the opposite of 'real computer' (see {Get a real computer!}). See also {mess-dos}, {toaster}, and {toy}.

:bixie: /bik'see/ /n./ Variant {emoticon}s used on BIX (the Byte Information eXchange). The {smiley} bixie is , apparently intending to represent two cartoon eyes and a mouth. A few others have been reported.

:black art: /n./ A collection of arcane, unpublished, and (by implication) mostly ad-hoc techniques developed for a particular application or systems area (compare {black magic}). VLSI design and compiler code optimization were (in their beginnings) considered classic examples of black art; as theory developed they became {deep magic}, and once standard textbooks had been written, became merely {heavy wizardry}. The huge proliferation of formal and informal channels for spreading around new computer-related technologies during the last twenty years has made both the term 'black art' and what it describes less common than formerly. See also {voodoo programming}.

:black hole: /n./ What a piece of email or netnews has fallen into if it disappears mysteriously between its origin and destination sites (that is, without returning a {bounce message}). "I think there's a black hole at foovax!" conveys suspicion that site foovax has been dropping a lot of stuff on the floor lately (see {drop on the floor}). The implied metaphor of email as interstellar travel is interesting in itself. Compare {bit bucket}.

:black magic: /n./ A technique that works, though nobody really understands why. More obscure than {voodoo programming}, which may be done by cookbook. Compare also {black art}, {deep magic}, and {magic number} (sense 2).

:Black Screen of Death: n. [prob. related to the Floating Head of Death in a famous "Far Side" cartoon.] A failure mode of {Microsloth Windows}. On an attempt to launch a DOS box, a networked Windows system not uncommonly blanks the screen and locks up the PC so hard that it requires a cold {boot} to recover. This unhappy phenomenon is known as The Black Screen of Death.

:Black Thursday: n. February 8th, 1996 — the day of the signing into law of the {CDA}, so called by analogy with the catastrophic "Black Friday" in 1929 that began the Great Depression.

:blammo: /v./ [Oxford Brookes University and alumni, UK] To forcibly remove someone from any interactive system, especially talker systems. The operators, who may remain hidden, may 'blammo' a user who is misbehaving. Very similar to MIT {gun}; in fact, the 'blammo-gun' is a notional device used to 'blammo' someone. While in actual fact the only incarnation of the blammo-gun is the command used to forcibly eject a user, operators speak of different levels of blammo-gun fire; e.g., a blammo-gun to 'stun' will temporarily remove someone, but a blammo-gun set to 'maim' will stop someone coming back on for a while.

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