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 computer industry.

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
"Incompatible File Format" 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.

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.

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.

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
- 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 break other people's computers.


So you think you're computer illiterate?  Check out the following excerpts
from a Wall Street Journal article by Jim Carlton:

1.  COMPAQ is considering changing the command "Press Any Key" to "Press
Return Key" because of the flood of calls asking where the "Any" key is.

2.  AST technical support had a caller complaining that her mouse was hard
to control with the dust cover on.  The cover turned out to be the plastic
bag the mouse was packaged in.

3.  Another COMPAQ technicial received a call from a man complaining that
the system wouldn't read word processing files from his old diskettes.
After troubleshooting for heat and magnets failed to diagnose the problem,
it was found that the customer had labeled the diskettes, then rolled them
into the typewriter to type the labels.

4.  Another AST customer was asked to send them a copy of her defective
diskettes.  A few days later a letter arrived from the customer along with
Xeroxed copies of the floppies.

5.  A  DELL  technician advised his customer to put his troubled floppy
back in the drive and close the door.  The customer asked the tech to hold
on, and was heard putting the phone down, getting up and crossing the room
to close the door to his room.

6.  Another DELL customer called to say he couldn't get his computer to FAX
anything.  After 40 minutes of troubleshooting , the technician discovered
the man was trying to FAX a piece of paper by holding it in front of the
monitor and hitting the "Send" key.

7.  Another DELL customer needed help setting up a new program, so the DELL
tech suggested he go to the local Egghead.  "Yeah, I got me a couple of
friends."  the customer replied.  When told that Egghead was a software
store the man said, "Oh, I thought you meant for me to find a couple of

8.  Yet another DELL customer called to complain that his keyboard no
longer worked.  He had cleaned it by filling up his tub with soapy water
and soaking the keyboard for a day, then removing all the keys and washing
them individually.

9.  A DELL technician received a call from a customer who was enraged
because his computer had told him he was "bad" and "invalid".  The tech
then explained that the computer's "bad command" and "invalid" responses
shouldn't be taken personally.

10.  An exasperated caller to DELL Computer Tech Support couldn't get her
new DELL computer to turn on.  After ensuring the computer was plugged in,
the tech asked her what happened when she pushed the power button.  Her
response:  "I pushed and pushed on the foot pedal and nothing happens".
The "foot pedal" turned out to be the computer's mouse.

11.  Another customer called COMPAQ tech support to say her brand new
computer wouldn't work.  She said she unpacked the unit, plugged it in and
sat there for 20 minutes waiting for something to happen.  When asked what
happened when she pushed the power switch, she asked, "What power switch?"

12.  True story from Novell New Wire SysOp:
Caller:  "Hello, is this Tech Support?"
Tech:   "Yes it is, how may I help you?"
Caller:  Thje cup holder on my PC is broken and I am within my warranty
period.  How do I go about getting it fixed?"
Tech:  I'm sorry, but did you say a 'cup holder'?"
Caller:  "Yes, it's attached to fthe front of my computer."

Tech:  "Please excuse me if I seem a little stumped becuase I am.  Did you
receive this cup holder as part of a promotional at a trade show ?   Does
it have any trademark on it?"

Caller:  "It came with my computer.  I don't know anything about
promotional.  It just has '4X' on it."

At this point the tech had to mute the caller because he couldn't stand it.
The caller had been using the load drawer of the CD-ROM as a cup holder
and snapped it off the drive!


"Ridge Hall computer assistant; may I help you?"
"Yes, well, I'm having trouble with WordPerfect."
"What sort of trouble?"
"Well, I was just typing along, and all of a sudden the words went
"Went away?"
"They disappeared."
"Hmm.  So what does your screen look like now?"
"It's blank; it won't accept anything when I type."
"Are you still in WordPerfect, or did you get out?"
"How do I tell?"
"Can you see the C: prompt on the screen?"
"What's a sea-prompt?"
"Never mind.  Can you move the cursor around on the screen?"
"There isn't any cursor:  I told you, it won't accept anything I type."
"Does your monitor have a power indicator?"
"What's a monitor?"
"It's the thing with the screen on it that looks like a TV.  Does it
have a little light that tells you when it's on?"
"I don't know, I don't see it on now."
"Well, then look on the back of the monitor and find where the power
cord goes into it.  Can you see that?"
..."Yes, I think so."
"Great! Follow the cord to the plug, and tell me if it's plugged into
the wall."
..."Yes, it is."
"When you were behind the monitor, did you notice that there were two
cables plugged into the back of it, not just one?"
"Well, there are.  I need you to look back there again and find the
other cable."
..."Okay, here it is."
"Follow it for me, and tell me if it's plugged securely into the back of
your computer."
"I can't reach."
"Uh huh.  Well, can you see if it is?"
"Even if you maybe put your knee on something and lean way over?"
"Oh, it's not because I don't have the right angle--it's because it's dark."
"Yes--the office light is off, and the only light I have is coming in
from the window."
"Well, turn on the office light then."
"I can't."
"No?  Why not?"
"Because there's a power outage."
"A power...  A power outage?  Aha!  Okay, we've got it licked now.  Do
you still have the boxes and manuals and packing stuff your computer
came in?"
"Well, yes, I keep them in the closet."
"Good!  Go get them, and unplug your system and pack it up just like it
was when you got it.  Then take it back to the store you bought it
"Really?  Is it that bad?"
"Yes, I'm afraid it is."
"Well, all right then, I suppose.  What do I tell them?"
"Tell them you're too stupid to own a computer."