S/N ratio // n.
(also `s/n ratio', `s:n ratio'). Syn. signal-to-noise ratio. Often abbreviated `SNR'.
Reserved for the exclusive use of something (an extension of the standard meaning). Often means that anyone may look at the sacred object, but clobbering it will screw whatever it is sacred to. The comment "Register 7 is sacred to the interrupt handler" appearing in a program would be interpreted by a hacker to mean that if any other part of the program changes the contents of register 7, dire consequences are likely to ensue.
[WPI] A cuspy but bogus raving story about N random broken people.
Here is a classic example of the saga form, as told by Guy L. Steele:
Jon L. White (login name JONL) and I (GLS) were office mates at MIT for many years. One April, we both flew from Boston to California for a week on research business, to consult face-to-face with some people at Stanford, particularly our mutual friend Richard P. Gabriel (RPG; see gabriel).
RPG picked us up at the San Francisco airport and drove us back to Palo Alto (going logical south on route 101, parallel to El Camino Bignum). Palo Alto is adjacent to Stanford University and about 40 miles south of San Francisco. We ate at The Good Earth, a `health food' restaurant, very popular, the sort whose milkshakes all contain honey and protein powder. JONL ordered such a shake -- the waitress claimed the flavor of the day was "lalaberry". I still have no idea what that might be, but it became a running joke. It was the color of raspberry, and JONL said it tasted rather bitter. I ate a better tostada there than I have ever had in a Mexican restaurant.
After this we went to the local Uncle Gaylord's Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor. They make ice cream fresh daily, in a variety of intriguing flavors. It's a chain, and they have a slogan: "If you don't live near an Uncle Gaylord's -- MOVE!" Also, Uncle Gaylord (a real person) wages a constant battle to force big-name ice cream makers to print their ingredients on the package (like air and plastic and other non-natural garbage). JONL and I had first discovered Uncle Gaylord's the previous August, when we had flown to a computer-science conference in Berkeley, California, the first time either of us had been on the West Coast. When not in the conference sessions, we had spent our time wandering the length of Telegraph Avenue, which (like Harvard Square in Cambridge) was lined with picturesque street vendors and interesting little shops. On that street we discovered Uncle Gaylord's Berkeley store. The ice cream there was very good. During that August visit JONL went absolutely bananas (so to speak) over one particular flavor, ginger honey.
Therefore, after eating at The Good Earth -- indeed, after every lunch and dinner and before bed during our April visit -- a trip to Uncle Gaylord's (the one in Palo Alto) was mandatory. We had arrived on a Wednesday, and by Thursday evening we had been there at least four times. Each time, JONL would get ginger honey ice cream, and proclaim to all bystanders that "Ginger was the spice that drove the Europeans mad! That's why they sought a route to the East! They used it to preserve their otherwise off-taste meat." After the third or fourth repetition RPG and I were getting a little tired of this spiel, and began to paraphrase him: "Wow! Ginger! The spice that makes rotten meat taste good!" "Say! Why don't we find some dog that's been run over and sat in the sun for a week and put some ginger on it for dinner?!" "Right! With a lalaberry shake!" And so on. This failed to faze JONL; he took it in good humor, as long as we kept returning to Uncle Gaylord's. He loves ginger honey ice cream.
Now RPG and his then-wife KBT (Kathy Tracy) were putting us up (putting up with us?) in their home for our visit, so to thank them JONL and I took them out to a nice French restaurant of their choosing. I unadventurously chose the filet mignon, and KBT had je ne sais quoi du jour, but RPG and JONL had lapin (rabbit). (Waitress: "Oui, we have fresh rabbit, fresh today." RPG: "Well, JONL, I guess we won't need any ginger!")
We finished the meal late, about 11 P.M., which is 2 A.M Boston time, so JONL and I were rather droopy. But it wasn't yet midnight. Off to Uncle Gaylord's!
Now the French restaurant was in Redwood City, north of Palo Alto. In leaving Redwood City, we somehow got onto route 101 going north instead of south. JONL and I wouldn't have known the difference had RPG not mentioned it. We still knew very little of the local geography. I did figure out, however, that we were headed in the direction of Berkeley, and half-jokingly suggested that we continue north and go to Uncle Gaylord's in Berkeley.
RPG said "Fine!" and we drove on for a while and talked. I was drowsy, and JONL actually dropped off to sleep for 5 minutes. When he awoke, RPG said, "Gee, JONL, you must have slept all the way over the bridge!", referring to the one spanning San Francisco Bay. Just then we came to a sign that said "University Avenue". I mumbled something about working our way over to Telegraph Avenue; RPG said "Right!" and maneuvered some more. Eventually we pulled up in front of an Uncle Gaylord's.
Now, I hadn't really been paying attention because I was so sleepy, and I didn't really understand what was happening until RPG let me in on it a few moments later, but I was just alert enough to notice that we had somehow come to the Palo Alto Uncle Gaylord's after all.
JONL noticed the resemblance to the Palo Alto store, but hadn't caught on. (The place is lit with red and yellow lights at night, and looks much different from the way it does in daylight.) He said, "This isn't the Uncle Gaylord's I went to in Berkeley! It looked like a barn! But this place looks just like the one back in Palo Alto!"
RPG deadpanned, "Well, this is the one I always come to when I'm in Berkeley. They've got two in San Francisco, too. Remember, they're a chain."
JONL accepted this bit of wisdom. And he was not totally ignorant -- he knew perfectly well that University Avenue was in Berkeley, not far from Telegraph Avenue. What he didn't know was that there is a completely different University Avenue in Palo Alto.
JONL went up to the counter and asked for ginger honey. The guy at the counter asked whether JONL would like to taste it first, evidently their standard procedure with that flavor, as not too many people like it.
JONL said, "I'm sure I like it. Just give me a cone." The guy behind the counter insisted that JONL try just a taste first. "Some people think it tastes like soap." JONL insisted, "Look, I love ginger. I eat Chinese food. I eat raw ginger roots. I already went through this hassle with the guy back in Palo Alto. I know I like that flavor!"
At the words "back in Palo Alto" the guy behind the counter got a very strange look on his face, but said nothing. KBT caught his eye and winked. Through my stupor I still hadn't quite grasped what was going on, and thought RPG was rolling on the floor laughing and clutching his stomach just because JONL had launched into his spiel ("makes rotten meat a dish for princes") for the forty-third time. At this point, RPG clued me in fully.
RPG, KBT, and I retreated to a table, trying to stifle our chuckles. JONL remained at the counter, talking about ice cream with the guy b.t.c., comparing Uncle Gaylord's to other ice cream shops and generally having a good old time.
At length the g.b.t.c. said, "How's the ginger honey?" JONL said, "Fine! I wonder what exactly is in it?" Now Uncle Gaylord publishes all his recipes and even teaches classes on how to make his ice cream at home. So the g.b.t.c. got out the recipe, and he and JONL pored over it for a while. But the g.b.t.c. could contain his curiosity no longer, and asked again, "You really like that stuff, huh?" JONL said, "Yeah, I've been eating it constantly back in Palo Alto for the past two days. In fact, I think this batch is about as good as the cones I got back in Palo Alto!"
G.b.t.c. looked him straight in the eye and said, "You're in Palo Alto!"
JONL turned slowly around, and saw the three of us collapse in a fit of giggles. He clapped a hand to his forehead and exclaimed, "I've been hacked!"
[My spies on the West Coast inform me that there is a close relative of the raspberry found out there called an `ollalieberry' --ESR]
[Ironic footnote: the meme about ginger vs. rotting meat is an urban legend. It's not borne out by an examination of medieval recipes or period purchase records for spices, and appears full-blown in the works of Samuel Pegge, a gourmand and notorious flake case who originated numerous food myths. The truth seems to be that ginger was used to cover not rot but the extreme salt taste of meat packed in brine, which was the best method available before refrigeration. --ESR]
sagan /say'gn/ n.
[from Carl Sagan's TV series "Cosmos"; think "billions and billions"] A large quantity of anything. "There's a sagan different ways to tweak EMACS." "The U.S. Government spends sagans on bombs and welfare -- hard to say which is more destructive."
SAIL /sayl/, not /S-A-I-L/ n.
1. The Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab. An important site in the early development of LISP; with the MIT AI Lab, BBN, CMU, XEROX PARC, and the Unix community, one of the major wellsprings of technical innovation and hacker-culture traditions (see the WAITS entry for details). The SAIL machines were shut down in late May 1990, scant weeks after the MIT AI Lab's ITS cluster was officially decommissioned. 2. The Stanford Artificial Intelligence Language used at SAIL (sense 1). It was an Algol-60 derivative with a coroutining facility and some new data types intended for building search trees and association lists.
salescritter /sayls'kri`tr/ n.
Pejorative hackerism for a computer salesperson. Hackers tell the following joke:
Q. What's the difference between a used-car dealer and a computer salesman? A. The used-car dealer knows he's lying. [Some versions add: ...and probably knows how to drive.]
This reflects the widespread hacker belief that salescritters are self-selected for stupidity (after all, if they had brains and the inclination to use them, they'd be in programming). The terms `salesthing' and `salesdroid' are also common. Compare marketroid, suit, droid.
A tiny bit of near-random data inserted where too much regularity would be undesirable; a data frob (sense 1). For example, the Unix crypt(3) man page mentions that "the salt string is used to perturb the DES algorithm in one of 4096 different ways."
salt mines n.
Dense quarters housing large numbers of programmers working long hours on grungy projects, with some hope of seeing the end of the tunnel in N years. Noted for their absence of sunshine. Compare playpen, sandbox.
salt substrate n.
[MIT] Collective noun used to refer to potato chips, pretzels, saltines, or any other form of snack food designed primarily as a carrier for sodium chloride. Also `sodium substrate'. From the technical term `chip substrate', used to refer to the silicon on the top of which the active parts of integrated circuits are deposited.
same-day service n.
Ironic term used to describe long response time, particularly with respect to MS-DOS system calls (which ought to require only a tiny fraction of a second to execute). Such response time is a major incentive for programmers to write programs that are not well-behaved. See also PC-ism.
samizdat /sahm-iz-daht/ n.
[Russian, literally "self publishing"] The process of disseminating documentation via underground channels. Originally referred to underground duplication and distribution of banned books in the Soviet Union; now refers by obvious extension to any less-than-official promulgation of textual material, esp. rare, obsolete, or never-formally-published computer documentation. Samizdat is obviously much easier when one has access to high-bandwidth networks and high-quality laser printers. Note that samizdat is properly used only with respect to documents which contain needed information (see also hacker ethic) but which are for some reason otherwise unavailable, but not in the context of documents which are available through normal channels, for which unauthorized duplication would be unethical copyright violation. See Lions Book for a historical example.
A hacker who hires out for legal cracking jobs, snooping for factions in corporate political fights, lawyers pursuing privacy-rights and First Amendment cases, and other parties with legitimate reasons to need an electronic locksmith. In 1991, mainstream media reported the existence of a loose-knit culture of samurai that meets electronically on BBS systems, mostly bright teenagers with personal micros; they have modeled themselves explicitly on the historical samurai of Japan and on the "net cowboys" of William Gibson's cyberpunk novels. Those interviewed claim to adhere to a rigid ethic of loyalty to their employers and to disdain the vandalism and theft practiced by criminal crackers as beneath them and contrary to the hacker ethic; some quote Miyamoto Musashi's "Book of Five Rings", a classic of historical samurai doctrine, in support of these principles. See also sneaker, Stupids, social engineering, cracker, hacker ethic, and dark-side hacker.
1. (also `sandbox, the') Common term for the R&D department at many software and computer companies (where hackers in commercial environments are likely to be found). Half-derisive, but reflects the truth that research is a form of creative play. Compare playpen. 2. Syn. link farm. 3. A controlled environment within which potentially dangerous programs are run. Used esp. in reference to Java implementations.
sanity check n.
[very common] 1. The act of checking a piece of code (or anything else, e.g., a Usenet posting) for completely stupid mistakes. Implies that the check is to make sure the author was sane when it was written; e.g., if a piece of scientific software relied on a particular formula and was giving unexpected results, one might first look at the nesting of parentheses or the coding of the formula, as a `sanity check', before looking at the more complex I/O or data structure manipulation routines, much less the algorithm itself. Compare reality check. 2. A run-time test, either validating input or ensuring that the program hasn't screwed up internally (producing an inconsistent value or state).
Saturday-night special n.
[from police slang for a cheap handgun] A quick-and-dirty program or feature kluged together during off hours, under a deadline, and in response to pressure from a salescritter. Such hacks are dangerously unreliable, but all too often sneak into a production release after insufficient review.
1. To type to a terminal. "To list a directory verbosely, you have to say
ls -l." Tends to imply a newline-terminated command (a `sentence'). 2. A computer may also be said to `say' things to you, even if it doesn't have a speech synthesizer, by displaying them on a terminal in response to your commands. Hackers find it odd that this usage confuses mundanes.
scanno /skan'oh/ n.
An error in a document caused by a scanner glitch, analogous to a typo or thinko.
scary devil monastery n.
Anagram frequently used to refer to the newsgroup alt.sysadmin.recovery, which is populated with characters that rather justify the reference.
schroedinbug /shroh'din-buhg/ n.
[MIT: from the Schroedinger's Cat thought-experiment in quantum physics] A design or implementation bug in a program that doesn't manifest until someone reading source or using the program in an unusual way notices that it never should have worked, at which point the program promptly stops working for everybody until fixed. Though (like bit rot) this sounds impossible, it happens; some programs have harbored latent schroedinbugs for years. Compare heisenbug, Bohr bug, mandelbug.
science-fiction fandom n.
Another voluntary subculture having a very heavy overlap with hackerdom; most hackers read SF and/or fantasy fiction avidly, and many go to `cons' (SF conventions) or are involved in fandom-connected activities such as the Society for Creative Anachronism. Some hacker jargon originated in SF fandom; see defenestration, great-wall, cyberpunk, h, ha ha only serious, IMHO, mundane, neep-neep, Real Soon Now. Additionally, the jargon terms cowboy, cyberspace, de-rezz, go flatline, ice, phage, virus, wetware, wirehead, and worm originated in SF stories.
scram switch n.
[from the nuclear power industry] An emergency-power-off switch (see Big Red Switch), esp. one positioned to be easily hit by evacuating personnel. In general, this is not something you frob lightly; these often initiate expensive events (such as Halon dumps) and are installed in a dinosaur pen for use in case of electrical fire or in case some luckless field servoid should put 120 volts across himself while Easter egging. (See also molly-guard, TMRC.)
A correspondent reports a legend that "Scram" is an acronym for "Start Cutting Right Away, Man" (another less plausible variant of this legend refers to "Safety Control Rod Axe Man"; these are almost certainly both backronyms). The story goes that in the earliest nuclear power experiments the engineers recognized the possibility that the reactor wouldn't behave exactly as predicted by their mathematical models. Accordingly, they made sure that they had mechanisms in place that would rapidly drop the control rods back into the reactor. One mechanism took the form of `scram technicians'. These individuals stood next to the ropes or cables that raised and lowered the control rods. Equipped with axes or cable-cutters, these technicians stood ready for the (literal) `scram' command. If necessary, they would cut the cables, and gravity would expeditiously return the control rods to the reactor, thereby averting yet another kind of core dump.
Modern reactor control rods are held in place with claw-like devices, held closed by current. SCRAM switches are circuit breakers that immediately open the circuit to the rod arms, resulting in the rapid insertion and subsequent bottoming of the control rods.
1. [from `scratchpad'] adj. Describes a data structure or recording medium attached to a machine for testing or temporary-use purposes; one that can be scribbled on without loss. Usually in the combining forms `scratch memory', `scratch register', `scratch disk', `scratch tape', `scratch volume'. See also scratch monkey. 2. [primarily IBM] vt. To delete (as in a file).
scratch monkey n.
As in "Before testing or reconfiguring, always mount a scratch monkey", a proverb used to advise caution when dealing with irreplaceable data or devices. Used to refer to any scratch volume hooked to a computer during any risky operation as a replacement for some precious resource or data that might otherwise get trashed.
This term preserves the memory of Mabel, the Swimming Wonder Monkey, star of a biological research program at the University of Toronto. Mabel was not (so the legend goes) your ordinary monkey; the university had spent years teaching her how to swim, breathing through a regulator, in order to study the effects of different gas mixtures on her physiology. Mabel suffered an untimely demise one day when a DEC field circus engineer troubleshooting a crash on the program's VAX inadvertently interfered with some custom hardware that was wired to Mabel.
It is reported that, after calming down an understandably irate customer sufficiently to ascertain the facts of the matter, a DEC troubleshooter called up the field circus manager responsible and asked him sweetly, "Can you swim?"
Not all the consequences to humans were so amusing; the sysop of the machine in question was nearly thrown in jail at the behest of certain clueless droids at the local `humane' society. The moral is clear: When in doubt, always mount a scratch monkey.
[The actual incident occured in 1979 or 1980. There is a version of this story, complete with reported dialogue between one of the project people and DEC field service, that has been circulating on Internet since 1986. It is hilarious and mythic, but gets some facts wrong. For example, it reports the machine as a PDP-11 and alleges that Mabel's demise occurred when DEC PMed the machine. Earlier versions of this entry were based on that story; this one has been corrected from an interview with the hapless sysop. --ESR]
scream and die v.
Syn. cough and die, but connotes that an error message was printed or displayed before the program crashed.
screaming tty n.
[Unix] A terminal line which spews an infinite number of random characters at the operating system. This can happen if the terminal is either disconnected or connected to a powered-off terminal but still enabled for login; misconfiguration, misimplementation, or simple bad luck can start such a terminal screaming. A screaming tty or two can seriously degrade the performance of a vanilla Unix system; the arriving "characters" are treated as userid/password pairs and tested as such. The Unix password encryption algorithm is designed to be computationally intensive in order to foil brute-force crack attacks, so although none of the logins succeeds; the overhead of rejecting them all can be substantial.
screen name n.
A handle sense 1. This term has been common among users of IRC, MUDs, and commercial on-line services since the mid-1990s. Hackers recognize the term but don't generally use it.
[MIT] A lose, usually in software. Especially used for user-visible misbehavior caused by a bug or misfeature. This use has become quite widespread outside MIT.
screwage /skroo'*j/ n.
Like lossage but connotes that the failure is due to a designed-in misfeature rather than a simple inadequacy or a mere bug.
To modify a data structure in a random and unintentionally destructive way. "Bletch! Somebody's disk-compactor program went berserk and scribbled on the i-node table." "It was working fine until one of the allocation routines scribbled on low core." Synonymous with trash; compare mung, which conveys a bit more intention, and mangle, which is more violent and final.
script kiddies pl.n.
scrog /skrog/ vt.
[Bell Labs] To damage, trash, or corrupt a data structure. "The list header got scrogged." Also reported as `skrog', and ascribed to the comic strip "The Wizard of Id". Compare scag; possibly the two are related. Equivalent to scribble or mangle.
scrool /skrool/ n.
[from the pioneering Roundtable chat system in Houston ca. 1984; prob. originated as a typo for `scroll'] The log of old messages, available for later perusal or to help one get back in synch with the conversation. It was originally called the `scrool monster', because an early version of the roundtable software had a bug where it would dump all 8K of scrool on a user's terminal.
scrozzle /skroz'l/ vt.
Used when a self-modifying code segment runs incorrectly and corrupts the running program or vital data. "The damn compiler scrozzled itself again!"
See neats vs. scruffies.
[Small Computer System Interface] A bus-independent standard for system-level interfacing between a computer and intelligent devices. Typically annotated in literature with `sexy' (/sek'see/), `sissy' (/sis'ee/), and `scuzzy' (/skuh'zee/) as pronunciation guides -- the last being the overwhelmingly predominant form, much to the dismay of the designers and their marketing people. One can usually assume that a person who pronounces it /S-C-S-I/ is clueless.
ScumOS /skuhm'os/ or /skuhm'O-S/ n.
Unflattering hackerism for SunOS, the BSD Unix variant supported on Sun Microsystems's Unix workstations (see also sun-stools), and compare AIDX, Macintrash, Nominal Semidestructor, HP-SUX. Despite what this term might suggest, Sun was founded by hackers and still enjoys excellent relations with hackerdom; usage is more often in exasperation than outright loathing.
search-and-destroy mode n.
Hackerism for a noninteractive search-and-replace facility in an editor, so called because an incautiously chosen match pattern can cause infinite damage.
second-system effect n.
(sometimes, more euphoniously, `second-system syndrome') When one is designing the successor to a relatively small, elegant, and successful system, there is a tendency to become grandiose in one's success and design an elephantine feature-laden monstrosity. The term was first used by Fred Brooks in his classic "The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering" (Addison-Wesley, 1975; ISBN 0-201-00650-2). It described the jump from a set of nice, simple operating systems on the IBM 70xx series to OS/360 on the 360 series. A similar effect can also happen in an evolving system; see Brooks's Law, creeping elegance, creeping featurism. See also Multics, OS/2, X, software bloat.
This version of the jargon lexicon has been described (with altogether too much truth for comfort) as an example of second-system effect run amok on jargon-1....
secondary damage n.
When a fatal error occurs (esp. a segfault) the immediate cause may be that a pointer has been trashed due to a previous fandango on core. However, this fandango may have been due to an earlier fandango, so no amount of analysis will reveal (directly) how the damage occurred. "The data structure was clobbered, but it was secondary damage."
By extension, the corruption resulting from N cascaded fandangoes on core is `Nth-level damage'. There is at least one case on record in which 17 hours of grovelling with
adb actually dug up the underlying bug behind an instance of seventh-level damage! The hacker who accomplished this near-superhuman feat was presented with an award by his fellows.
security through obscurity
(alt. `security by obscurity') A term applied by hackers to most OS vendors' favorite way of coping with security holes -- namely, ignoring them, documenting neither any known holes nor the underlying security algorithms, trusting that nobody will find out about them and that people who do find out about them won't exploit them. This "strategy" never works for long and occasionally sets the world up for debacles like the RTM worm of 1988 (see Great Worm), but once the brief moments of panic created by such events subside most vendors are all too willing to turn over and go back to sleep. After all, actually fixing the bugs would siphon off the resources needed to implement the next user-interface frill on marketing's wish list -- and besides, if they started fixing security bugs customers might begin to expect it and imagine that their warranties of merchantability gave them some sort of right to a system with fewer holes in it than a shotgunned Swiss cheese, and then where would we be?
Historical note: There are conflicting stories about the origin of this term. It has been claimed that it was first used in the Usenet newsgroup in comp.sys.apollo during a campaign to get HP/Apollo to fix security problems in its Unix-clone Aegis/DomainOS (they didn't change a thing). ITS fans, on the other hand, say it was coined years earlier in opposition to the incredibly paranoid Multics people down the hall, for whom security was everything. In the ITS culture it referred to (1) the fact that by the time a tourist figured out how to make trouble he'd generally gotten over the urge to make it, because he felt part of the community; and (2) (self-mockingly) the poor coverage of the documentation and obscurity of many commands. One instance of deliberate security through obscurity is recorded; the command to allow patching the running ITS system (escape escape control-R) echoed as $$^D. If you actually typed alt alt ^D, that set a flag that would prevent patching the system even if you later got it right.
SED /S-E-D/ n.
seggie /seg'ee/ n.
[Unix] Shorthand for segmentation fault reported from Britain.
segment /seg'ment/ vi.
To experience a segmentation fault. Confusingly, this is often pronounced more like the noun `segment' than like mainstream v. segment; this is because it is actually a noun shorthand that has been verbed.
segmentation fault n.
[Unix] 1. [techspeak] An error in which a running program attempts to access memory not allocated to it and core dumps with a segmentation violation error. This is often caused by improper usage of pointers in the source code, dereferencing a null pointer, or (in C) inadvertently using a non-pointer variable as a pointer. The classic example is:
int i; scanf ("%d", i); /* should have used &i */
2. To lose a train of thought or a line of reasoning. Also uttered as an exclamation at the point of befuddlement.
segv /seg'vee/ n.,vi.
Yet another synonym for segmentation fault (actually, in this case, `segmentation violation').
selvage /sel'v*j/ n.
[from sewing and weaving] See chad (sense 1).
semi /se'mee/ or /se'mi:/
1. n. Abbreviation for `semicolon', when speaking. "Commands to grind are prefixed by semi-semi-star" means that the prefix is
;;*, not 1/4 of a star. 2. A prefix used with words such as `immediately' as a qualifier. "When is the system coming up?" "Semi-immediately." (That is, maybe not for an hour.) "We did consider that possibility semi-seriously." See also infinite.
[US Geological Survey] A procedure that has yet to be completely automated; it still requires a smidge of clueful human interaction. Semi-automated programs usually come with written-out operator instructions that are worth their weight in gold - without them, very nasty things can happen. At USGS semi-automated programs are often referred to as "semi-automated weapons".
senior bit n.
[IBM; rare] Syn. meta bit.
September that never ended
All time since September 1993. One of the seasonal rhythms of the Usenet used to be the annual September influx of clueless newbies who, lacking any sense of netiquette, made a general nuisance of themselves. This coincided with people starting college, getting their first internet accounts, and plunging in without bothering to learn what was acceptable. These relatively small drafts of newbies could be assimilated within a few months. But in September 1993, AOL users became able to post to Usenet, nearly overwhelming the old-timers' capacity to acculturate them; to those who nostalgically recall the period before hand, this triggered an inexorable decline in the quality of discussions on newsgroups. See also AOL!.
A kind of daemon that performs a service for the requester and which often runs on a computer other than the one on which the server runs. A particularly common term on the Internet, which is rife with `web servers', `name servers', `domain servers', `news servers', `finger servers', and the like.
[Sun Users' Group & elsewhere] n. 1. Software EXchange. A technique invented by the blue-green algae hundreds of millions of years ago to speed up their evolution, which had been terribly slow up until then. Today, SEX parties are popular among hackers and others (of course, these are no longer limited to exchanges of genetic software). In general, SEX parties are a Good Thing, but unprotected SEX can propagate a virus. See also pubic directory. 2. The rather Freudian mnemonic often used for Sign EXtend, a machine instruction found in the PDP-11 and many other architectures. The RCA 1802 chip used in the early Elf and SuperElf personal computers had a `SEt X register' SEX instruction, but this seems to have had little folkloric impact. The Data General instruction set also had
DEC's engineers nearly got a PDP-11 assembler that used the
SEX mnemonic out the door at one time, but (for once) marketing wasn't asleep and forced a change. That wasn't the last time this happened, either. The author of "The Intel 8086 Primer", who was one of the original designers of the 8086, noted that there was originally a
SEX instruction on that processor, too. He says that Intel management got cold feet and decreed that it be changed, and thus the instruction was renamed
CWD (depending on what was being extended). Amusingly, the Intel 8048 (the microcontroller used in IBM PC keyboards) is also missing straight
SEX but has logical-or and logical-and instructions
The Motorola 6809, used in the Radio Shack Color Computer and in U.K.'s `Dragon 32' personal computer, actually had an official
SEX instruction; the 6502 in the Apple II with which it competed did not. British hackers thought this made perfect mythic sense; after all, it was commonly observed, you could (on some theoretical level) have sex with a dragon, but you can't have sex with an apple.
sex changer n.
Syn. gender mender.
shambolic link /sham-bol'ik link/ n.
A Unix symbolic link, particularly when it confuses you, points to nothing at all, or results in your ending up in some completely unexpected part of the filesystem....
shar file /shar' fi:l/ n.
sharchive /shar'ki:v/ n.
[Unix and Usenet; from /bin/sh archive] A flattened representation of a set of one or more files, with the unique property that it can be unflattened (the original files restored) by feeding it through a standard Unix shell; thus, a sharchive can be distributed to anyone running Unix, and no special unpacking software is required. Sharchives are also intriguing in that they are typically created by shell scripts; the script that produces sharchives is thus a script which produces self-unpacking scripts, which may themselves contain scripts. (The downsides of sharchives are that they are an ideal venue for Trojan horse attacks and that, for recipients not running Unix, no simple un-sharchiving program is possible; sharchives can and do make use of arbitrarily-powerful shell features.) Sharchives are also commonly referred to as `shar files' after the name of the most common program for generating them.
Share and enjoy! imp.
1. Commonly found at the end of software release announcements and README files, this phrase indicates allegiance to the hacker ethic of free information sharing (see hacker ethic, sense 1). 2. The motto of the complaints division of Sirius Cybernetics Corporation (the ultimate gaggle of incompetent suits) in Douglas Adams's "Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy". The irony of using this as a cultural recognition signal appeals to hackers.
shareware /sheir'weir/ n.
A kind of freeware (sense 1) for which the author requests some payment, usually in the accompanying documentation files or in an announcement made by the software itself. Such payment may or may not buy additional support or functionality. See also careware, charityware, crippleware, FRS, guiltware, postcardware, and -ware; compare payware.
[From a file error common to several OSs] A response to receiving information, typically of an excessively personal nature, that you were probably happier not knowing. "You know those little noises that Pat makes in bed..?" "Whoa! Sharing violation!" In contrast to the original file error, which indicated that you were not being given data that you did want.
shebang /sh*-bang/ n.
The character sequence "#!" that frequently begins executable shell scripts under Unix. Probably derived from "shell bang" under the influence of American slang "the whole shebang" (everything, the works).
shelfware /shelf'weir/ n.
Software purchased on a whim (by an individual user) or in accordance with policy (by a corporation or government agency), but not actually required for any particular use. Therefore, it often ends up on some shelf.
shell [orig. Multics n.
techspeak, widely propagated via Unix] 1. [techspeak] The command interpreter used to pass commands to an operating system; so called because it is the part of the operating system that interfaces with the outside world. 2. More generally, any interface program that mediates access to a special resource or server for convenience, efficiency, or security reasons; for this meaning, the usage is usually `a shell around' whatever. This sort of program is also called a `wrapper'. 3. A skeleton program, created by hand or by another program (like, say, a parser generator), which provides the necessary incantations to set up some task and the control flow to drive it (the term driver is sometimes used synonymously). The user is meant to fill in whatever code is needed to get real work done. This usage is common in the AI and Microsoft Windows worlds, and confuses Unix hackers.
Historical note: Apparently, the original Multics shell (sense 1) was so called because it was a shell (sense 3); it ran user programs not by starting up separate processes, but by dynamically linking the programs into its own code, calling them as subroutines, and then dynamically de-linking them on return. The VMS command interpreter still does something very like this.
shell out vi.
[Unix] To spawn an interactive subshell from within a program (e.g., a mailer or editor). "Bang foo runs foo in a subshell, while bang alone shells out."
shift left (or right) logical
[from any of various machines' instruction sets] 1. vi. To move oneself to the left (right). To move out of the way. 2. imper. "Get out of that (my) seat! You can shift to that empty one to the left (right)." Often used without the `logical', or as `left shift' instead of `shift left'. Sometimes heard as LSH /lish/, from the PDP-10 instruction set. See Programmer's Cheer.
A small piece of data inserted in order to achieve a desired memory alignment or other addressing property. For example, the PDP-11 Unix linker, in split I&D (instructions and data) mode, inserts a two-byte shim at location 0 in data space so that no data object will have an address of 0 (and be confused with the C null pointer). See also loose bytes.
shitogram /shit'oh-gram/ n.
short card n.
A half-length IBM XT expansion card or adapter that will fit in one of the two short slots located towards the right rear of a standard chassis (tucked behind the floppy disk drives). See also tall card.
shotgun debugging n.
The software equivalent of Easter egging; the making of relatively undirected changes to software in the hope that a bug will be perturbed out of existence. This almost never works, and usually introduces more bugs.
shovelware /shuh'v*l-weir`/ n.
1. Extra software dumped onto a CD-ROM or tape to fill up the remaining space on the medium after the software distribution it's intended to carry, but not integrated with the distribution. 2. A slipshod compilation of software dumped onto a CD-ROM without much care for organization or even usability.
A hardware or (especially) software bug that makes an implementation effectively unusable; one that absolutely has to be fixed before development can go on. Opposite in connotation from its original theatrical use, which refers to something stunningly good.
See excl. Occasional CMU usage, also in common use among APL fans and mathematicians, especially category theorists.
Shub-Internet /shuhb' in't*r-net/ n.
[MUD: from H. P. Lovecraft's evil fictional deity Shub-Niggurath, the Black Goat with a Thousand Young] The harsh personification of the Internet: Beast of a Thousand Processes, Eater of Characters, Avatar of Line Noise, and Imp of Call Waiting; the hideous multi-tendriled entity formed of all the manifold connections of the net. A sect of MUDders worships Shub-Internet, sacrificing objects and praying for good connections. To no avail -- its purpose is malign and evil, and is the cause of all network slowdown. Often heard as in "Freela casts a tac nuke at Shub-Internet for slowing her down." (A forged response often follows along the lines of: "Shub-Internet gulps down the tac nuke and burps happily.") Also cursed by users of the Web, FTP and TELNET when the system slows down. The dread name of Shub-Internet is seldom spoken aloud, as it is said that repeating it three times will cause the being to wake, deep within its lair beneath the Pentagon. Compare Random Number God.
[January 1996: It develops that one of the computer administrators in the basement of the Pentagon read this entry and fell over laughing. As a result, you too can now poke Shub-Internet by pinging shub-internet.ims.disa.mil. See also kremvax. - ESR]
[April 1999: shub-internet.ims.disa.mil is no more, alas. But Shub-Internet lives o^$#$*^ - ESR]
1. Syn. slap on the side. Esp. used of add-ons for the late and unlamented IBM PCjr. 2. The IBM PC compatibility box that could be bolted onto the side of an Amiga. Designed and produced by Commodore, it broke all of the company's own design rules. If it worked with any other peripherals, it was by magic. 3. More generally, any of various devices designed to be connected to the expansion slot on the left side of the Amiga 500 (and later, 600 & 1200), which included a hard drive controller, a hard drive, and additional memory.
SIG /sig/ n.
(also common as a prefix in combining forms) A Special Interest Group, in one of several technical areas, sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery; well-known ones include SIGPLAN (the Special Interest Group on Programming Languages), SIGARCH (the Special Interest Group for Computer Architecture) and SIGGRAPH (the Special Interest Group for Computer Graphics). Hackers, not surprisingly, like to overextend this naming convention to less formal associations like SIGBEER (at ACM conferences) and SIGFOOD (at University of Illinois).
sig block /sig blok/ n.
[Unix; often written `.sig' there] Short for `signature', used specifically to refer to the electronic signature block that most Unix mail- and news-posting software will automagically append to outgoing mail and news. The composition of one's sig can be quite an art form, including an ASCII logo or one's choice of witty sayings (see sig quote, fool file); but many consider large sigs a waste of bandwidth, and it has been observed that the size of one's sig block is usually inversely proportional to one's longevity and level of prestige on the net. See also doubled sig.
sig quote /sig kwoht/ n.
[Usenet] A maxim, quote, proverb, joke, or slogan embedded in one's sig block and intended to convey something of one's philosophical stance, pet peeves, or sense of humor. "Calm down, it's only ones and zeroes."
sig virus n.
A parasitic meme embedded in a sig block. There was a meme plague or fad for these on Usenet in late 1991. Most were equivalents of "I am a .sig virus. Please reproduce me in your .sig block.". Of course, the .sig virus's memetic hook is the giggle value of going along with the gag; this, however, was a self-limiting phenomenon as more and more people picked up on the idea. There were creative variants on it; some people stuck `sig virus antibody' texts in their sigs, and there was at least one instance of a sig virus eater.
signal-to-noise ratio [from analog electronics] n.
Used by hackers in a generalization of its technical meaning. `Signal' refers to useful information conveyed by some communications medium, and `noise' to anything else on that medium. Hence a low ratio implies that it is not worth paying attention to the medium in question. Figures for such metaphorical ratios are never given. The term is most often applied to Usenet newsgroups during flame wars. Compare bandwidth. See also coefficient of X, lost in the noise.
silly walk vi.
[from Monty Python's Flying Circus] 1. A ridiculous procedure required to accomplish a task. Like grovel, but more random and humorous. "I had to silly-walk through half the /usr directories to find the maps file." 2. Syn. fandango on core.
The FIFO input-character buffer in an RS-232 line card. So called from DEC terminology used on DH and DZ line cards for the VAX and PDP-11, presumably because it was a storage space for fungible stuff that went in at the top and came out at the bottom.
Silver Book n.
Jensen and Wirth's infamous "Pascal User Manual and Report", so called because of the silver cover of the widely distributed Springer-Verlag second edition of 1978 (ISBN 0-387-90144-2). See book titles, Pascal.
since time T equals minus infinity adv.
sitename /si:t'naym/ n.
[Unix/Internet] The unique electronic name of a computer system, used to identify it in UUCP mail, Usenet, or other forms of electronic information interchange. The folklore interest of sitenames stems from the creativity and humor they often display. Interpreting a sitename is not unlike interpreting a vanity license plate; one has to mentally unpack it, allowing for mono-case and length restrictions and the lack of whitespace. Hacker tradition deprecates dull, institutional-sounding names in favor of punchy, humorous, and clever coinages (except that it is considered appropriate for the official public gateway machine of an organization to bear the organization's name or acronym). Mythological references, cartoon characters, animal names, and allusions to SF or fantasy literature are probably the most popular sources for sitenames (in roughly descending order). The obligatory comment when discussing these is Harris's Lament: "All the good ones are taken!" See also network address.
1. n. A continuous horizontal line of pixels, all with the same color. 2. vi. To paint a slab on an output device. Apple's QuickDraw, like most other professional-level graphics systems, renders polygons and lines not with Bresenham's algorithm, but by calculating `slab points' for each scan line on the screen in succession, and then slabbing in the actual image pixels.
1. Space allocated to a disk file but not actually used to store useful information. The techspeak equivalent is `internal fragmentation'. Antonym: hole. 2. In the theology of the Church of the SubGenius, a mystical substance or quality that is the prerequisite of all human happiness.
Since Unix files are stored compactly, except for the unavoidable wastage in the last block or fragment, it might be said that "Unix has no slack". See ha ha only serious.
slap on the side n.
(also called a sidecar, or abbreviated `SOTS'.) A type of external expansion hardware marketed by computer manufacturers (e.g., Commodore for the Amiga 500/1000 series and IBM for the hideous failure called `PCjr'). Various SOTS boxes provided necessities such as memory, hard drive controllers, and conventional expansion slots.
Common name for the slant (`/', ASCII 0101111) character. See ASCII for other synonyms.
slashdot effect n.
1. Also spelled "/. effect"; what is said to have happened when a website being virtually unreachable because too many people are hitting it after the site was mentioned in an interesting article on the popular Slashdot news service. The term is quite widely used by /. readers, including variants like "That site has been slashdotted again!" 2. In a perhaps inevitable generation, the term is being used to describe any similar effect from being listed on a popular site. This would better be described as a flash crowd.
1. [techspeak] To relinquish a claim (of a process on a multitasking system) for service; to indicate to the scheduler that a process may be deactivated until some given event occurs or a specified time delay elapses. 2. In jargon, used very similarly to v. block; also in `sleep on', syn. with `block on'. Often used to indicate that the speaker has relinquished a demand for resources until some (possibly unspecified) external event: "They can't get the fix I've been asking for into the next release, so I'm going to sleep on it until the release, then start hassling them again."
A small, derivative change (e.g., to code).
1. A one-sided fudge factor, that is, an allowance for error but in only one of two directions. For example, if you need a piece of wire 10 feet long and have to guess when you cut it, you make very sure to cut it too long, by a large amount if necessary, rather than too short by even a little bit, because you can always cut off the slop but you can't paste it back on again. When discrete quantities are involved, slop is often introduced to avoid the possibility of being on the losing side of a fencepost error. 2. The percentage of `extra' code generated by a compiler over the size of equivalent assembler code produced by hand-hacking; i.e., the space (or maybe time) you lose because you didn't do it yourself. This number is often used as a measure of the goodness of a compiler; slop below 5% is very good, and 10% is usually acceptable. With modern compiler technology, esp. on RISC machines, the compiler's slop may actually be negative; that is, humans may be unable to generate code as good. This is one of the reasons assembler programming is no longer common.
slopsucker /slop'suhk-r/ n.
A lowest-priority task that waits around until everything else has `had its fill' of machine resources. Only when the machine would otherwise be idle is the task allowed to `suck up the slop'. Also called a `hungry puppy' or `bottom feeder'. One common variety of slopsucker hunts for large prime numbers. Compare background.
Slowlaris /slo'-lahr-is/ n.
[Usenet; poss. from the variety of prosimian called a "slow loris". The variant `Slowlartus' is also common, related to LART] Common hackish term for Solaris, Sun's System VR4 version of UNIX that came out of the standardization wars of the early 1990s. So named because especially on older hardware, responsiveness was much less crisp than under the preceding SunOS. Early releases of Solaris (that is, Solaris 2, as some marketroids at Sun retroactively rechristened SunOS as Solaris 1) were quite buggy, and Sun was forced by customer demand to support SunOS for quite some time. Newer versions are acknowledged to be among the best commercial UNIX variants in 1998, but still lose single-processor benchmarks to Sparc Linux. Compare AIDX, HP-SUX, Nominal Semidestructor, Telerat, sun-stools.
To read a large data file entirely into core before working on it. This may be contrasted with the strategy of reading a small piece at a time, processing it, and then reading the next piece. "This program slurps in a 1K-by-1K matrix and does an FFT." See also sponge.
Said of a program that does the Right Thing in a wide variety of complicated circumstances. There is a difference between calling a program smart and calling it intelligent; in particular, there do not exist any intelligent programs (yet -- see AI-complete). Compare robust (smart programs can be brittle).
smart terminal n.
1. A terminal that has enough computing capability to render graphics or to offload some kind of front-end processing from the computer it talks to. The development of workstations and personal computers has made this term and the product it describes semi-obsolescent, but one may still hear variants of the phrase `act like a smart terminal' used to describe the behavior of workstations or PCs with respect to programs that execute almost entirely out of a remote server's storage, using local devices as displays. 2. obs. Any terminal with an addressable cursor; the opposite of a glass tty. Today, a terminal with merely an addressable cursor, but with none of the more-powerful features mentioned in sense 1, is called a dumb terminal.
There is a classic quote from Rob Pike (inventor of the blit terminal): "A smart terminal is not a smartass terminal, but rather a terminal you can educate." This illustrates a common design problem: The attempt to make peripherals (or anything else) intelligent sometimes results in finicky, rigid `special features' that become just so much dead weight if you try to use the device in any way the designer didn't anticipate. Flexibility and programmability, on the other hand, are really smart. Compare hook.
smash case vi.
To lose or obliterate the uppercase/lowercase distinction in text input. "MS-DOS will automatically smash case in the names of all the files you create." Compare fold case.
smash the stack n.
[C programming] To corrupt the execution stack by writing past the end of a local array or other data structure. Code that smashes the stack can cause a return from the routine to jump to a random address, resulting in some of the most insidious data-dependent bugs known to mankind. Variants include `trash' the stack, scribble the stack, mangle the stack; the term **mung the stack is not used, as this is never done intentionally. See spam; see also aliasing bug, fandango on core, memory leak, memory smash, precedence lossage, overrun screw.
1. To crash or blow up, usually spectacularly. "The new version smoked, just like the last one." Used for both hardware (where it often describes an actual physical event), and software (where it's merely colorful). 2. [from automotive slang] To be conspicuously fast. "That processor really smokes." Compare magic smoke.
smoke and mirrors n.
Marketing deceptions. The term is mainstream in this general sense. Among hackers it's strongly associated with bogus demos and crocked benchmarks (see also MIPS, machoflops). "They claim their new box cranks 50 MIPS for under $5000, but didn't specify the instruction mix -- sounds like smoke and mirrors to me." The phrase, popularized by newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin c.1975, has been said to derive from carnie slang for magic acts and `freak show' displays that depend on `trompe l'oeil' effects, but also calls to mind the fierce Aztec god Tezcatlipoca (lit. "Smoking Mirror") for whom the hearts of huge numbers of human sacrificial victims were regularly cut out. Upon hearing about a rigged demo or yet another round of fantasy-based marketing promises, hackers often feel analogously disheartened. See also stealth manager.
smoke test n.
1. A rudimentary form of testing applied to electronic equipment following repair or reconfiguration, in which power is applied and the tester checks for sparks, smoke, or other dramatic signs of fundamental failure. See magic smoke. 2. By extension, the first run of a piece of software after construction or a critical change. See and compare reality check.
There is an interesting semi-parallel to this term among typographers and printers: When new typefaces are being punch-cut by hand, a `smoke test' (hold the letter in candle smoke, then press it onto paper) is used to check out new dies.
smoking clover n.
[ITS] A display hack originally due to Bill Gosper. Many convergent lines are drawn on a color monitor in such a way that every pixel struck has its color incremented. The lines all have one endpoint in the middle of the screen; the other endpoints are spaced one pixel apart around the perimeter of a large square. The color map is then repeatedly rotated. This results in a striking, rainbow-hued, shimmering four-leaf clover. Gosper joked about keeping it hidden from the FDA (the U.S.'s Food and Drug Administration) lest its hallucinogenic properties cause it to be banned.
smoot /smoot/ n.
[MIT] A unit of length equal five feet seven inches. The length of the Harvard Bridge in Boston is famously 364.4 smoots plus or minus an ear (the ear stands for epsilon). This legend began with a fraternity prank in 1958 during which the body length of Oliver Smoot (class of '62) was actually used to measure out that distance. It is commemorated by smoot marks that MIT students repaint every few years; the tradition even survived the demolition and rebuilding of the bridge in the late 1980s. The Boston police have been known to use smoot markers to indicate accident locations on the bridge.
SMOP /S-M-O-P/ n.
[Simple (or Small) Matter of Programming] 1. A piece of code, not yet written, whose anticipated length is significantly greater than its complexity. Used to refer to a program that could obviously be written, but is not worth the trouble. Also used ironically to imply that a difficult problem can be easily solved because a program can be written to do it; the irony is that it is very clear that writing such a program will be a great deal of work. "It's easy to enhance a FORTRAN compiler to compile COBOL as well; it's just an SMOP." 2. Often used ironically by the intended victim when a suggestion for a program is made which seems easy to the suggester, but is obviously (to the victim) a lot of work.
smurf /smerf/ n.
1. [from the soc.motss newsgroup on Usenet, after some obnoxiously gooey cartoon characters] A newsgroup regular with a habitual style that is irreverent, silly, and cute. Like many other hackish terms for people, this one may be praise or insult depending on who uses it. In general, being referred to as a smurf is probably not going to make your day unless you've previously adopted the label yourself in a spirit of irony. Compare old fart. 2. [techspeak] A ping packet with a forged source address sent to some other network's broadcast address. All the machines on the destination network will send a ping response to the forged source address (the victim). This both overloads the victim's network and hides the location of the attacker.
SNAFU principle /sna'foo prin'si-pl/ n.
[from a WWII Army acronym for `Situation Normal, All Fucked Up'] "True communication is possible only between equals, because inferiors are more consistently rewarded for telling their superiors pleasant lies than for telling the truth." -- a central tenet of Discordianism, often invoked by hackers to explain why authoritarian hierarchies screw up so reliably and systematically. The effect of the SNAFU principle is a progressive disconnection of decision-makers from reality. This lightly adapted version of a fable dating back to the early 1960s illustrates the phenomenon perfectly:
In the beginning was the plan,
and then the specification;
And the plan was without form,
and the specification was void.
was on the faces of the implementors thereof;
And they spake unto their leader,
"It is a crock of shit,
and smells as of a sewer."
And the leader took pity on them,
and spoke to the project leader:
"It is a crock of excrement,
and none may abide the odor thereof."
And the project leader
spake unto his section head, saying:
"It is a container of excrement,
and it is very strong, such that none may abide it."
The section head then hurried to his department manager,
and informed him thus:
"It is a vessel of fertilizer,
and none may abide its strength."
The department manager carried these words
to his general manager,
and spoke unto him
"It containeth that which aideth the growth of plants,
and it is very strong."
And so it was that the general manager rejoiced
and delivered the good news unto the Vice President.
"It promoteth growth,
and it is very powerful."
The Vice President rushed to the President's side,
and joyously exclaimed:
"This powerful new software product
will promote the growth of the company!"
And the President looked upon the product,
and saw that it was very good.
To snail-mail something. "Snail me a copy of those graphics, will you?"
Paper mail, as opposed to electronic. Sometimes written as the single word `SnailMail'. One's postal address is, correspondingly, a `snail address'. Derives from earlier coinage `USnail' (from `U.S. Mail'), for which there have even been parody posters and stamps made. Also (less commonly) called `P-mail', from `paper mail' or `physical mail'. Oppose email.
To replace a pointer to a pointer with a direct pointer; to replace an old address with the forwarding address found there. If you telephone the main number for an institution and ask for a particular person by name, the operator may tell you that person's extension before connecting you, in the hopes that you will `snap your pointer' and dial direct next time. The underlying metaphor may be that of a rubber band stretched through a number of intermediate points; if you remove all the thumbtacks in the middle, it snaps into a straight line from first to last. See chase pointers.
Often, the behavior of a trampoline is to perform an error check once and then snap the pointer that invoked it so as henceforth to bypass the trampoline (and its one-shot error check). In this context one also speaks of `snapping links'. For example, in a LISP implementation, a function interface trampoline might check to make sure that the caller is passing the correct number of arguments; if it is, and if the caller and the callee are both compiled, then snapping the link allows that particular path to use a direct procedure-call instruction with no further overhead.
snarf /snarf/ vt.
1. To grab, esp. to grab a large document or file for the purpose of using it with or without the author's permission. See also BLT. 2. [in the Unix community] To fetch a file or set of files across a network. See also blast. This term was mainstream in the late 1960s, meaning `to eat piggishly'. It may still have this connotation in context. "He's in the snarfing phase of hacking -- FTPing megs of stuff a day." 3. To acquire, with little concern for legal forms or politesse (but not quite by stealing). "They were giving away samples, so I snarfed a bunch of them." 4. Syn. for slurp. "This program starts by snarfing the entire database into core, then...." 5. [GEnie] To spray food or programming fluids due to laughing at the wrong moment. "I was drinking coffee, and when I read your post I snarfed all over my desk." "If I keep reading this topic, I think I'll have to snarf-proof my computer with a keyboard condom." [This sense appears to be widespread among mundane teenagers --ESR]
snarf & barf /snarf'n-barf`/ n.
Under a WIMP environment, the act of grabbing a region of text and then stuffing the contents of that region into another region (or the same one) to avoid retyping a command line. In the late 1960s, this was a mainstream expression for an `eat now, regret it later' cheap-restaurant expedition.
snarf down v.
To snarf, with the connotation of absorbing, processing, or understanding. "I'll snarf down the latest version of the nethack user's guide -- it's been a while since I played last and I don't know what's changed recently."
[Lewis Carroll, via the Michigan Terminal System] 1. A system failure. When a user's process bombed, the operator would get the message "Help, Help, Snark in MTS!" 2. More generally, any kind of unexplained or threatening event on a computer (especially if it might be a boojum). Often used to refer to an event or a log file entry that might indicate an attempted security violation. See snivitz. 3. UUCP name of snark.thyrsus.com, home site of the Jargon File versions from 2.*.* on (i.e., this lexicon).
sneakernet /snee'ker-net/ n.
Term used (generally with ironic intent) for transfer of electronic information by physically carrying tape, disks, or some other media from one machine to another. "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon filled with magtape, or a 747 filled with CD-ROMs." Also called `Tennis-Net', `Armpit-Net', `Floppy-Net' or `Shoenet'; in the 1990s, `Nike network' after a well-known sneaker brand.
1. To watch IP packets traversing a local network. Most often in the phrase `packet sniffer', a program for doing same. 2.Synonym for poll.
snivitz /sniv'itz/ n.
'Snooze /snooz/ [FidoNet] n.
Fidonews, the weekly official on-line newsletter of FidoNet. As the editorial policy of Fidonews is "anything that arrives, we print", there are often large articles completely unrelated to FidoNet, which in turn tend to elicit flamage in subsequent issues.
SO /S-O/ n.
1. (also `S.O.') Abbrev. for Significant Other, almost invariably written abbreviated and pronounced /S-O/ by hackers. Used to refer to one's primary relationship, esp. a live-in to whom one is not married. See MOTAS, MOTOS, MOTSS. 2. [techspeak] The Shift Out control character in ASCII (Control-N, 0001110).
social engineering n.
Term used among crackers and samurai for cracking techniques that rely on weaknesses in wetware rather than software; the aim is to trick people into revealing passwords or other information that compromises a target system's security. Classic scams include phoning up a mark who has the required information and posing as a field service tech or a fellow employee with an urgent access problem. See also the tiger team story in the patch entry.
social science number n. //
[IBM] A statistic that is content-free, or nearly so. A measure derived via methods of questionable validity from data of a dubious and vague nature. Predictively, having a social science number in hand is seldom much better than nothing, and can be considerably worse. As a rule, management loves them. See also numbers, math-out, pretty pictures.
sock puppet n.
[Usenet: from the act of placing a sock over your hand and talking to it and pretending it's talking back] In Usenet parlance, a pseudo through which the puppeteer posts follow-ups to their own original message to give the appearance that a number of people support the views held in the original message.
sodium substrate n.
Syn salt substrate.
soft boot n.
softcopy /soft'kop-ee/ n.
software bloat n.
software hoarding n.
Pejorative term employed by members and adherents of the GNU project to describe the act of holding software proprietary, keeping it under trade secret or license terms which prohibit free redistribution and modification. Used primarily in Free Software Foundation propaganda. For a summary of related issues, see GNU.
software laser n.
An optical laser works by bouncing photons back and forth between two mirrors, one totally reflective and one partially reflective. If the lasing material (usually a crystal) has the right properties, photons scattering off the atoms in the crystal will excite cascades of more photons, all in lockstep. Eventually the beam will escape through the partially-reflective mirror. One kind of sorcerer's apprentice mode involving bounce messages can produce closely analogous results, with a cascade of messages escaping to flood nearby systems. By mid-1993 there had been at least two publicized incidents of this kind.
software rot n.
Term used to describe the tendency of software that has not been used in a while to lose; such failure may be semi-humorously ascribed to bit rot. More commonly, `software rot' strikes when a program's assumptions become out of date. If the design was insufficiently robust, this may cause it to fail in mysterious ways. Syn. `code rot'. See also link rot.
For example, owing to endemic shortsightedness in the design of COBOL programs, a good number of them succumbed to software rot when their 2-digit year counters underwent wrap around at the beginning of the year 2000. Actually, related lossages often afflict centenarians who have to deal with computer software designed by unimaginative clods. One such incident became the focus of a minor public flap in 1990, when a gentleman born in 1889 applied for a driver's license renewal in Raleigh, North Carolina. The new system refused to issue the card, probably because with 2-digit years the ages 101 and 1 cannot be distinguished.
Historical note: Software rot in an even funnier sense than the mythical one was a real problem on early research computers (e.g., the R1; see grind crank). If a program that depended on a peculiar instruction hadn't been run in quite a while, the user might discover that the opcodes no longer did the same things they once did. ("Hey, so-and-so needs an instruction to do such-and-such. We can snarf this opcode, right? No one uses it.")
Another classic example of this sprang from the time an MIT hacker found a simple way to double the speed of the unconditional jump instruction on a PDP-6, so he patched the hardware. Unfortunately, this broke some fragile timing software in a music-playing program, throwing its output out of tune. This was fixed by adding a defensive initialization routine to compare the speed of a timing loop with the real-time clock; in other words, it figured out how fast the PDP-6 was that day, and corrected appropriately.
Compare bit rot.
softwarily /soft-weir'i-lee/ adv.
In a way pertaining to software. "The system is softwarily unreliable." The adjective **`softwary' is not used. See hardwarily.
[IBM] Hardware hackers' term for a software expert who is largely ignorant of the mysteries of hardware.
some random X adj.
Used to indicate a member of class X, with the implication that Xs are interchangeable. "I think some random cracker tripped over the guest timeout last night." See also J. Random.
sorcerer's apprentice mode n.
[from Goethe's "Der Zauberlehrling" via Paul Dukas's "L'apprenti sorcier" the film "Fantasia"] A bug in a protocol where, under some circumstances, the receipt of a message causes multiple messages to be sent, each of which, when received, triggers the same bug. Used esp. of such behavior caused by bounce message loops in email software. Compare broadcast storm, network meltdown, software laser, ARMM.
n.,obs. An infamously losing text editor. Once, back in the 1960s, when a text editor was needed for the PDP-6, a hacker crufted together a quick-and-dirty `stopgap editor' to be used until a better one was written. Unfortunately, the old one was never really discarded when new ones came along. SOS is a descendant (`Son of Stopgap') of that editor, and many PDP-10 users gained the dubious pleasure of its acquaintance. Since then other programs similar in style to SOS have been written, notably the early font editor BILOS /bye'lohs/, the Brother-In-Law Of Stopgap (the alternate expansion `Bastard Issue, Loins of Stopgap' has been proposed).
[very common] In reference to software, `source' is invariably shorthand for `source code', the preferred human-readable and human-modifiable form of the program. This is as opposed to object code, the derived binary executable form of a program. This shorthand readily takes derivative forms; one may speak of "the sources of a system" or of "having source".
source of all good bits n.
A person from whom (or a place from which) useful information may be obtained. If you need to know about a program, a guru might be the source of all good bits. The title is often applied to a particularly competent secretary.
space-cadet keyboard n.
A now-legendary device used on MIT LISP machines, which inspired several still-current jargon terms and influenced the design of EMACS. It was equipped with no fewer than seven shift keys: four keys for bucky bits (`control', `meta', `hyper', and `super') and three like regular shift keys, called `shift', `top', and `front'. Many keys had three symbols on them: a letter and a symbol on the top, and a Greek letter on the front. For example, the `L' key had an `L' and a two-way arrow on the top, and the Greek letter lambda on the front. By pressing this key with the right hand while playing an appropriate `chord' with the left hand on the shift keys, you could get the following results:
- lowercase l
- uppercase L
- lowercase lambda
- uppercase lambda
- two-way arrow (front and shift are ignored)
And of course each of these might also be typed with any combination of the control, meta, hyper, and super keys. On this keyboard, you could type over 8000 different characters! This allowed the user to type very complicated mathematical text, and also to have thousands of single-character commands at his disposal. Many hackers were actually willing to memorize the command meanings of that many characters if it reduced typing time (this attitude obviously shaped the interface of EMACS). Other hackers, however, thought having that many bucky bits was overkill, and objected that such a keyboard can require three or four hands to operate. See bucky bits, cokebottle, double bucky, meta bit, quadruple bucky.
Note: early versions of this entry incorrectly identified the space-cadet keyboard with the `Knight keyboard'. Though both were designed by Tom Knight, the latter term was properly applied only to a keyboard used for ITS on the PDP-10 and modeled on the Stanford keyboard (as described under bucky bits). The true space-cadet keyboard evolved from the first Knight keyboard.
spaceship operator n.
<=>, so-called apparently because in the low-resolution constant-width font used on many terminals it vaguely resembles a flying saucer. Perl uses this to denote the signum-of-difference operation.
A space-combat simulation game, inspired by E. E. "Doc" Smith's "Lensman" books, in which two spaceships duel around a central sun, shooting torpedoes at each other and jumping through hyperspace. This game was first implemented on the PDP-1 at MIT in 1962. In 1968-69, a descendant of the game motivated Ken Thompson to build, in his spare time on a scavenged PDP-7, the operating system that became Unix. Less than nine years after that, SPACEWAR was commercialized as one of the first video games; descendants are still feeping in video arcades everywhere.
spaghetti code n.
Code with a complex and tangled control structure, esp. one using many GOTOs, exceptions, or other `unstructured' branching constructs. Pejorative. The synonym `kangaroo code' has been reported, doubtless because such code has so many jumps in it.
spaghetti inheritance n.
[encountered among users of object-oriented languages that use inheritance, such as Smalltalk] A convoluted class-subclass graph, often resulting from carelessly deriving subclasses from other classes just for the sake of reusing their code. Coined in a (successful) attempt to discourage such practice, through guilt-by-association with spaghetti code.
[from "Monty Python's Flying Circus"] 1. To crash a program by overrunning a fixed-size buffer with excessively large input data. See also buffer overflow, overrun screw, smash the stack. 2. To cause a newsgroup to be flooded with irrelevant or inappropriate messages. You can spam a newsgroup with as little as one well- (or ill-) planned message (e.g. asking "What do you think of abortion?" on soc.women). This is often done with cross-posting (e.g. any message which is crossposted to alt.rush-limbaugh and alt.politics.homosexuality will almost inevitably spam both groups). This overlaps with troll behavior; the latter more specific term has become more common. 3. To send many identical or nearly-identical messages separately to a large number of Usenet newsgroups. This is more specifically called `ECP', Excessive Cross-Posting. This is one sure way to infuriate nearly everyone on the Net. See also velveeta and jello. 4. To bombard a newsgroup with multiple copies of a message. This is more specifically called `EMP', Excessive Multi-Posting. 5. To mass-mail unrequested identical or nearly-identical email messages, particularly those containing advertising. Especially used when the mail addresses have been culled from network traffic or databases without the consent of the recipients. Synonyms include UCE, UBE. 6. Any large, annoying, quantity of output. For instance, someone on IRC who walks away from their screen and comes back to find 200 lines of text might say "Oh no, spam".
The later definitions have become much more prevalent as the Internet has opened up to non-techies, and to most people senses 3 4 and 5 are now primary. All three behaviors are considered abuse of the net, and are almost universally grounds for termination of the originator's email account or network connection. In these senses the term `spam' has gone mainstream, though without its original sense or folkloric freight - there is apparently a widespread myth among lusers that "spamming" is what happens when you dump cans of Spam into a revolving fan.
spam bait n.
Email addresses included in, or comprising the entirety of, a usenet message so that spammers mining a newsgroup with an address harvester will collect them. These addresses can be people who have offended or annoyed the poster, or who are included so that a spammer will spam an official, thereby causing himself trouble. One particularly effective form of spam bait is the address of a teergrube.
spamblock /spam'blok/ n.
[poss. by analogy to sunblock] Text inserted in an email address to render it invalid and thus useless to spammers. For example, the address `email@example.com' might be transformed to `jrandom@NOSPAM.hacker.org'. Adding spamblock to an address is often referred to as `munging' it (see munge)-. This evasion tactic depends on the fact that most spammers collect names with some sort of address harvester on volumes too high to de-mung by hand, but individual humans reading an email message can readily spot and remove a spamblock in the from address.
Note: This is not actually a very effective tactic, and may already be passing out of use in early 1999 after about two years of life. In both mail and news, it's essentially impossible to keep a smart address harvester from mining out the addresses in the message header and trace lines. Therefore the only people who can be protected are third parties mentioned by email address in the message - not a common enough case to interest spammers.
spamhaus spam'hows n.
Pejorative term for an internet service provider that permits or even encourages spam mailings from its systems. The plural is `spamhausen'. There is a web page devoted to 'combat.uxn.com/spamhaus.htm' tracking spamhausen.
The most notorious of the spamhausen was Sanford Wallace's Cyber Promotions Inc., shut down by a lawsuit on 16 October 1997. The anniversary of the shutdown is celebrated on Usenet as Spam Freedom Day, but lesser imitators of the Spamford still infest various murky corners of the net. Since prosecution of spammers became routine under the junk-fax laws and statues specifically targeting spam, spamhausen have declined in relative importance; today, hit-and-run attacks by spammers using relay rape and throwaway accounts on reputable ISPs seem to account for most of the flow.
To advertise using spam. Pejorative.
1. [techspeak] In UNIX parlance, to create a child process from within a process. Technically this is a `fork'; the term `spawn' is a bit more general and is used for threads (lightweight processes) as well as traditional heavyweight processes. 2. In gaming, meant to indicate where (`spawn-point') and when a player comes to life (or `re-spawns') after being killed. Opposite of frag.
To write unique code to handle input to or situations arising in a program that are somehow distinguished from normal processing. This would be used for processing of mode switches or interrupt characters in an interactive interface (as opposed, say, to text entry or normal commands), or for processing of hidden flags in the input of a batch program or filter.
A pattern of lights displayed on a linear set of LEDs (today) or nixie tubes (yesterday, on ancient mainframes). The pattern is shifted left every N times the operating system goes through its main loop. A swiftly moving pattern indicates that the system is mostly idle; the speedometer slows down as the system becomes overloaded. The speedometer on Sun Microsystems hardware bounces back and forth like the eyes on one of the Cylons from the wretched "Battlestar Galactica" TV series.
Historical note: One computer, the GE 600 (later Honeywell 6000) actually had an analog speedometer on the front panel, calibrated in instructions executed per second.
spelling flame n. //
[Usenet] A posting ostentatiously correcting a previous article's spelling as a way of casting scorn on the point the article was trying to make, instead of actually responding to that point (compare dictionary flame). Of course, people who are more than usually slovenly spellers are prone to think any correction is a spelling flame. It's an amusing comment on human nature that spelling flames themselves often contain spelling errors.
The Web-walking part of a search engine that collects pages for indexing in the search engine's database. Also called a bot. The best-known spider is Scooter, the web-walker for the Alta Vista search engine.
spider food n.
Keywords embedded (usually invisibly) into a web page to attract search engines (spiders). The intended result of including spider food in one's web page is to insure that the page appears high on the list of matching entries to a search engine query. There are right and wrong ways to do this; the right way is a discreet `meta keywords' tag, the wrong way is to embed many repeats of a keyword in comments (and many search engines now detect and ignore the latter).
spiffy /spi'fee/ adj.
1. Said of programs having a pretty, clever, or exceptionally well-designed interface. "Have you seen the spiffy X version of empire yet?" 2. Said sarcastically of a program that is perceived to have little more than a flashy interface going for it. Which meaning should be drawn depends delicately on tone of voice and context. This word was common mainstream slang during the 1940s, in a sense close to 1.
To defeat a selection mechanism by introducing a (sometimes temporary) device that forces a specific result. The word is used in several industries; telephone engineers refer to spiking a relay by inserting a pin to hold the relay in either the closed or open state, and railroaders refer to spiking a track switch so that it cannot be moved. In programming environments it normally refers to a temporary change, usually for testing purposes (as opposed to a permanent change, which would be called hardwired).
[abbrev, from Set Priority Level] The way traditional Unix kernels implement mutual exclusion by running code at high interrupt levels. Used in jargon to describe the act of tuning in or tuning out ordinary communication. Classically, spl levels run from 1 to 7; "Fred's at spl 6 today" would mean that he is very hard to interrupt. "Wait till I finish this; I'll spl down then." See also interrupts locked out.
splash screen n.
[Mac users] Syn. banner, sense 3.
1. Name used in many places (DEC, IBM, and others) for the asterisk (
*) character (ASCII 0101010). This may derive from the `squashed-bug' appearance of the asterisk on many early line printers. 2. [MIT] Name used by some people for the
# character (ASCII 0100011). 3. The feature key on a Mac (same as alt, sense 2). 4. obs. Name used by some people for the Stanford/ITS extended ASCII circle-x character. This character is also called `blobby' and `frob', among other names; it is sometimes used by mathematicians as a notation for `tensor product'. 5. obs. Name for the semi-mythical Stanford extended ASCII circle-plus character. See also ASCII.
splat out v.
[Usenet] To partially obscure a potentially provocative word by substituting splat characters for some of its letters (usually, but not always, the vowels). The purpose is not to make the word unrecognizable but to make it a mention rather than a use, so that no flamewar ensues. Words often splatted out include N*z* (see Godwin's Law), *v*l*t**n (anywhere fundamentalists might be lurking), *b*rt**n, and g*n c*ntr*l. Compare UN*X.
[UK] 1. A lower form of life found on talker systems and MUDs. The spod has few friends in RL and uses talkers instead, finding communication easier and preferable over the net. He has all the negative traits of the computer geek without having any interest in computers per se. Lacking any knowledge of or interest in how networks work, and considering his access a God-given right, he is a major irritant to sysadmins, clogging up lines in order to reach new MUDs, following passed-on instructions on how to sneak his way onto Internet ("Wow! It's in America!") and complaining when he is not allowed to use busy routes. A true spod will start any conversation with "Are you male or female?" (and follow it up with "Got any good numbers/IDs/passwords?") and will not talk to someone physically present in the same terminal room until they log onto the same machine that he is using and enter talk mode. Compare newbie, tourist, weenie, twink, terminal junkie, warez d00dz. 2. A backronym for "Sole Purpose, Obtain a Degree"; according to some self-described spods, this term is used by indifferent students to condemn their harder-working fellows. Compare the defiant adoption of the term `geek' in the mid-1990s by people who would previously have been stigmatized by it (see computer geek). 3. [obs.] An ordinary person; a random. This is the meaning with which the term was coined, but the inventor informs us he has himself accepted sense 1.
[Usenet] 1. A remark which reveals important plot elements from books or movies, thus denying the reader (of the article) the proper suspense when reading the book or watching the movie. 2. Any remark which telegraphs the solution of a problem or puzzle, thus denying the reader the pleasure of working out the correct answer (see also interesting). Either sense readily forms compounds like `total spoiler', `quasi-spoiler' and even `pseudo-spoiler'.
By convention, articles which are spoilers in either sense should contain the word `spoiler' in the Subject: line, or guarantee via various tricks that the answer appears only after several screens-full of warning, or conceal the sensitive information via rot13, spoiler space or some combination of these techniques.
[also `spoiler spoo'] A screenful of blank lines (and, often, form-feeds) deliberately inserted in a message following a spoiler warning, so the actual spoiler can't be seen without hitting a key.
[Unix] A special case of a filter that reads its entire input before writing any output; the canonical example is a sort utility. Unlike most filters, a sponge can conveniently overwrite the input file with the output data stream. If a file system has versioning (as ITS did and VMS does now) the sponge/filter distinction loses its usefulness, because directing filter output would just write a new version. See also slurp.
To capture, alter, and retransmit a communication stream in a way that misleads the recipient. As used by hackers, refers especially to altering TCP/IP packet source addresses or other packet-header data in order to masquerade as a trusted machine. This term has become very widespread and is borderline techspeak.
[from early IBM `Simultaneous Peripheral Operation On-Line', but is widely thought to be a backronym] To send files to some device or program (a `spooler') that queues them up and does something useful with them later. Without qualification, the spooler is the `print spooler' controlling output of jobs to a printer; but the term has been used in connection with other peripherals (especially plotters and graphics devices) and occasionally even for input devices. See also demon.
spool file n.
Any file to which data is spooled to await the next stage of processing. Especially used in circumstances where spooling the data copes with a mismatch between speeds in two devices or pieces of software. For example, when you send mail under Unix, it's typically copied to a spool file to await a transport demon's attentions. This is borderline techspeak.
[Durham, UK; portmanteau, spangle + bungle] A spangle of no actual usefulness. Example: Roger the Bent Paperclip in Microsoft Word '98. A spungle's only virtue is that it looks pretty, unless you find creeping featurism ugly.
square tape n.
Mainframe magnetic tape cartridges for use with IBM 3480 or compatible tape drives; or QIC tapes used on workstations and micros. The term comes from the square (actually rectangular) shape of the cartridges; contrast round tape.
[common on Usenet's comp.risks newsgroup.] (alt. `squirrelicide') What all too frequently happens when a squirrel decides to exercise its species's unfortunate penchant for shorting out power lines with their little furry bodies. Result: one dead squirrel, one down computer installation. In this situation, the computer system is said to have been squirrelcided.
The set of things a person has to do in the future. One speaks of the next project to be attacked as having risen to the top of the stack. "I'm afraid I've got real work to do, so this'll have to be pushed way down on my stack." "I haven't done it yet because every time I pop my stack something new gets pushed." If you are interrupted several times in the middle of a conversation, "My stack overflowed" means "I forget what we were talking about." The implication is that more items were pushed onto the stack than could be remembered, so the least recent items were lost. The usual physical example of a stack is to be found in a cafeteria: a pile of plates or trays sitting on a spring in a well, so that when you put one on the top they all sink down, and when you take one off the top the rest spring up a bit. See also push and pop.
At MIT, PDL used to be a more common synonym for stack in all these contexts, and this may still be true. Everywhere else stack seems to be the preferred term. Knuth ("The Art of Computer Programming", second edition, vol. 1, p. 236) says:
Many people who realized the importance of stacks and queues independently have given other names to these structures: stacks have been called push-down lists, reversion storages, cellars, nesting stores, piles, last-in-first-out ("LIFO") lists, and even yo-yo lists!
stack puke n.
Some processor architectures are said to `puke their guts onto the stack' to save their internal state during exception processing. The Motorola 68020, for example, regurgitates up to 92 bytes on a bus fault. On a pipelined machine, this can take a while.
stale pointer bug n.
Synonym for aliasing bug used esp. among microcomputer hackers.
star out v.
[University of York, England] To replace a user's encrypted password in /etc/passwd with a single asterisk. Under Unix this is not a legal encryption of any password; hence the user is not permitted to log in. In general, accounts like adm, news, and daemon are permanently "starred out"; occasionally a real user might have the this inflicted upon him/her as a punishment, e.g. "Graham was starred out for playing Omega in working hours". Also occasionally known as The Order Of The Gold Star in this context. "Don't do that, or you'll be awarded the Order of the Gold Star..." Compare disusered.
1. Condition, situation. "What's the state of your latest hack?" "It's winning away." "The system tried to read and write the disk simultaneously and got into a totally wedged state." The standard question "What's your state?" means "What are you doing?" or "What are you about to do?" Typical answers are "about to gronk out", or "hungry". Another standard question is "What's the state of the world?", meaning "What's new?" or "What's going on?". The more terse and humorous way of asking these questions would be "State-p?". Another way of phrasing the first question under sense 1 would be "state-p latest hack?". 2. Information being maintained in non-permanent memory (electronic or human).
stealth manager n.
[Corporate DP] A manager that appears out of nowhere, promises undeliverable software to unknown end users, and vanishes before the programming staff realizes what has happened. See smoke and mirrors.
Old-fashioned or underpowered; archaic. This term does not have a strong negative loading and may even be used semi-affectionately for something that clanks and wheezes a lot but hangs in there doing the job.
STFW imp. /S-T-F-W/
[Usenet] Commmon abbreviation for "Search The Fucking Web", a suggestion that what you're asking for is a query better handled by a search engine than a human being. Usage is common and exactly parallel to both senses of RTFM.
3.5-inch microfloppies, so called because their jackets are more rigid than those of the 5.25-inch and the (now totally obsolete) 8-inch floppy. Elsewhere this might be called a `firmy'. For some odd reason, several sources have taken the trouble to inform us that this term is widespread in South Africa.
stir-fried random n.
(alt. `stir-fried mumble') Term used for the best dish of many of those hackers who can cook. Consists of random fresh veggies and meat wokked with random spices. Tasty and economical. See random, great-wall, ravs, laser chicken, oriental food; see also mumble.
stomp on vt.
To inadvertently overwrite something important, usually automatically. "All the work I did this weekend got stomped on last night by the nightly server script." Compare scribble, mangle, trash, scrog, roach.
Stone Age n.,adj.
1. In computer folklore, an ill-defined period from ENIAC (ca. 1943) to the mid-1950s; the great age of electromechanical dinosaurs. Sometimes used for the entire period up to 1960-61 (see Iron Age); however, it is funnier and more descriptive to characterize the latter period in terms of a `Bronze Age' era of transistor-logic, pre-ferrite-core machines with drum or CRT mass storage (as opposed to just mercury delay lines and/or relays). See also Iron Age. 2. More generally, a pejorative for any crufty, ancient piece of hardware or software technology. Note that this is used even by people who were there for the Stone Age (sense 1).
stone knives and bearskins n.
[from the Star Trek Classic episode "The City on the Edge of Forever"] A term traditionally used to describe (and deprecate) computing environments that are grotesquely primitive in light of what is known about good ways to design things. As in "Don't get too used to the facilities here. Once you leave SAIL it's stone knives and bearskins as far as the eye can see". Compare steam-powered.
stoppage /sto'p*j/ n.
[prob. from techspeak `main store'] In some varieties of Commonwealth hackish, the preferred synonym for core. Thus, `bringing a program into store' means not that one is returning shrink-wrapped software but that a program is being swapped in.
strided /stri:'d*d/ adj.
[scientific computing] Said of a sequence of memory reads and writes to addresses, each of which is separated from the last by a constant interval called the `stride length'. These can be a worst-case access pattern for the standard memory-caching schemes when the stride length is a multiple of the cache line size. Strided references are often generated by loops through an array, and (if your data is large enough that access-time is significant) it can be worthwhile to tune for better locality by inverting double loops or by partially unrolling the outer loop of a loop nest. This usage is borderline techspeak; the related term `memory stride' is definitely techspeak.
Common name for the slant (`/', ASCII 0101111) character. See ASCII for other synonyms.
Common (spoken) name for the at-sign (`@', ASCII 1000000) character. See ASCII for other synonyms.
stubroutine /stuhb'roo-teen/ n.
[contraction of `stub subroutine'] Tiny, often vacuous placeholder for a subroutine that is to be written or fleshed out later.
Impressive; powerful. Said of code and designs which exhibit both complexity and a virtuoso flair. Has connotations similar to hairy but is more positive in tone. Often in the emphatic `most studly' or as noun-form `studliness'. "Smail 3.0's configuration parser is most studly."
studlycaps /stuhd'lee-kaps/ n.
A hackish form of silliness similar to BiCapitalization for trademarks, but applied randomly and to arbitrary text rather than to trademarks. ThE oRigiN and SigNificaNce of thIs pRacTicE iS oBscuRe.
Mind-bogglingly stupid. Usually used in sarcasm. "You want to code what in ADA? That's a ... stunning idea!"
Term used by samurai for the suits who employ them; succinctly expresses an attitude at least as common, though usually better disguised, among other subcultures of hackers. There may be intended reference here to an SF story originally published in 1952 but much anthologized since, Mark Clifton's "Star, Bright". In it, a super-genius child classifies humans into a very few `Brights' like herself, a huge majority of `Stupids', and a minority of `Tweens', the merely ordinary geniuses.
Sturgeon's Law prov.
"Ninety percent of everything is crap". Derived from a quote by science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon, who once said, "Sure, 90% of science fiction is crud. That's because 90% of everything is crud." Oddly, when Sturgeon's Law is cited, the final word is almost invariably changed to `crap'. Compare Hanlon's Razor, Ninety-Ninety Rule. Though this maxim originated in SF fandom, most hackers recognize it and are all too aware of its truth.
sucking mud adj.
[Applied Data Research] (also `pumping mud') Crashed or wedged. Usually said of a machine that provides some service to a network, such as a file server. This Dallas regionalism derives from the East Texas oilfield lament, "Shut 'er down, Ma, she's a-suckin' mud". Often used as a query. "We are going to reconfigure the network, are you ready to suck mud?"
sufficiently small adj.
Syn. suitably small.
1. Ugly and uncomfortable `business clothing' often worn by non-hackers. Invariably worn with a `tie', a strangulation device that partially cuts off the blood supply to the brain. It is thought that this explains much about the behavior of suit-wearers. Compare droid. 2. A person who habitually wears suits, as distinct from a techie or hacker. See pointy-haired, burble, management, Stupids, SNAFU principle, PHB, and brain-damaged.
suitable win n.
suitably small adj.
[perverted from mathematical jargon]
An expression used ironically to characterize unquantifiable behavior that differs from expected or required behavior. For example, suppose a newly created program came up with a correct full-screen display, and one publicly exclaimed: "It works!" Then, if the program dumped core on the first mouse click, one might add: "Well, for suitably small values of `works'." Compare the characterization of pi under random numbers.
Sun Microsystems. Hackers remember that the name was originally an acronym, Stanford University Network. Sun started out around 1980 with some hardware hackers (mainly) from Stanford talking to some software hackers (mainly) from UC Berkeley; Sun's original technology concept married a clever board design based on the Motorola 68000 to BSD Unix. Sun went on to lead the worstation industry through the 1980s, and for years afterwards remained an engineering-driven company and a good place for hackers to work. Though Sun drifted away from its techie origins after 1990 and has since made some strategic moves that disappointed and annoyed many hackers (especially by maintaining proprietary control of Java and rejecting Linux), it's still considered within the family in much the same way DEC was in the 1970s and early 1980s.
sun lounge n.
[UK] The room where all the Sun workstations live. The humor in this term comes from the fact that it's also in mainstream use to describe a solarium, and all those Sun workstations clustered together give off an amazing amount of heat.
1. Notional cause of an odd error. "Why did the program suddenly turn the screen blue?" "Sunspots, I guess." 2. Also the cause of bit rot -- from the myth that sunspots will increase cosmic rays, which can flip single bits in memory. See also phase of the moon.
super source quench n.
A special packet designed to shut up an Internet host. The Internet Protocol (IP) has a control message called Source Quench that asks a host to transmit more slowly on a particular connection to avoid congestion. It also has a Redirect control message intended to instruct a host to send certain packets to a different local router. A "super source quench" is actually a redirect control packet, forged to look like it came from a local router, that instructs a host to send all packets to its own local loopback address. This will effectively tie many Internet hosts up in knots. Compare Godzillagram, breath-of-life packet.
[Unix] A superuser with no clue - someone with root privileges on a Unix system and no idea what he/she is doing, the moral equivalent of a three-year-old with an unsafetied Uzi. Anyone who thinks this is an uncommon situation reckons without the territorial urges of management.
A prolific programmer; one who can code exceedingly well and quickly. Not all hackers are superprogrammers, but many are. (Productivity can vary from one programmer to another by three orders of magnitude. For example, one programmer might be able to write an average of 3 lines of working code in one day, while another, with the proper tools, might be able to write 3,000. This range is astonishing; it is matched in very few other areas of human endeavor.) The term `superprogrammer' is more commonly used within such places as IBM than in the hacker community. It tends to stress naive measures of productivity and to underweight creativity, ingenuity, and getting the job done -- and to sidestep the question of whether the 3,000 lines of code do more or less useful work than three lines that do the Right Thing. Hackers tend to prefer the terms hacker and wizard.
After-sale handholding; something many software vendors promise but few deliver. To hackers, most support people are useless -- because by the time a hacker calls support he or she will usually know the software and the relevant manuals better than the support people (sadly, this is not a joke or exaggeration). A hacker's idea of `support' is a tête-à-tête with the software's designer.
[from the `surf' idiom for rapidly flipping TV channels] To traverse the Internet in search of interesting stuff, used esp. if one is doing so with a World Wide Web browser. It is also common to speak of `surfing in' to a particular resource.
Hackers adopted this term early, but many have stopped using it since it went completely mainstream around 1995. The passive, couch-potato connotations that go with TV channel surfing were never pleasant, and hearing non-hackers wax enthusiastic about "surfing the net" tends to make hackers feel a bit as though their home is being overrun by ignorami.
Suzie COBOL /soo'zee koh'bol/
1. [IBM: prob. from Frank Zappa's `Suzy Creamcheese'] n. A coder straight out of training school who knows everything except the value of comments in plain English. Also (fashionable among personkind wishing to avoid accusations of sexism) `Sammy Cobol' or (in some non-IBM circles) `Cobol Charlie'. 2. [proposed] Meta-name for any code grinder, analogous to J. Random Hacker.
[From the mnemonic for the PDP-11 `SWAp Byte' instruction, as immortalized in the
conv=swab (see dd)] 1. vt. To solve the NUXI problem by swapping bytes in a file. 2. n. The program in V7 Unix used to perform this action, or anything functionally equivalent to it. See also big-endian, little-endian, middle-endian, bytesexual.
1. [techspeak] To move information from a fast-access memory to a slow-access memory (`swap out'), or vice versa (`swap in'). Often refers specifically to the use of disks as `virtual memory'. As pieces of data or program are needed, they are swapped into core for processing; when they are no longer needed they may be swapped out again. 2. The jargon use of these terms analogizes people's short-term memories with core. Cramming for an exam might be spoken of as swapping in. If you temporarily forget someone's name, but then remember it, your excuse is that it was swapped out. To `keep something swapped in' means to keep it fresh in your memory: "I reread the TECO manual every few months to keep it swapped in." If someone interrupts you just as you got a good idea, you might say "Wait a moment while I swap this out", implying that a piece of paper is your extra-somatic memory and that if you don't swap the idea out by writing it down it will get overwritten and lost as you talk. Compare page in, page out.
swap space n.
Storage space, especially temporary storage space used during a move or reconfiguration. "I'm just using that corner of the machine room for swap space."
swapped in n.
swapped out n.
To convert external names, array indices, or references within a data structure into address pointers when the data structure is brought into main memory from external storage (also called `pointer swizzling'); this may be done for speed in chasing references or to simplify code (e.g., by turning lots of name lookups into pointer dereferences). The converse operation is sometimes termed `unswizzling'. See also snap.
sync /sink/ n., vi.
(var. `synch') 1. To synchronize, to bring into synchronization. 2. [techspeak] To force all pending I/O to the disk; see flush, sense 2. 3. More generally, to force a number of competing processes or agents to a state that would be `safe' if the system were to crash; thus, to checkpoint (in the database-theory sense).
syntactic salt n.
The opposite of syntactic sugar, a feature designed to make it harder to write bad code. Specifically, syntactic salt is a hoop the programmer must jump through just to prove that he knows what's going on, rather than to express a program action. Some programmers consider required type declarations to be syntactic salt. A requirement to write
end do, etc. to terminate the last block controlled by a control construct (as opposed to just
end) would definitely be syntactic salt. Syntactic salt is like the real thing in that it tends to raise hackers' blood pressures in an unhealthy way. Compare candygrammar.
syntactic sugar n.
[coined by Peter Landin] Features added to a language or other formalism to make it `sweeter' for humans, features which do not affect the expressiveness of the formalism (compare chrome). Used esp. when there is an obvious and trivial translation of the `sugar' feature into other constructs already present in the notation. C's
a[i] notation is syntactic sugar for
*(a + i). "Syntactic sugar causes cancer of the semicolon." -- Alan Perlis.
The variants `syntactic saccharin' and `syntactic syrup' are also recorded. These denote something even more gratuitous, in that syntactic sugar serves a purpose (making something more acceptable to humans), but syntactic saccharin or syrup serve no purpose at all. Compare candygrammar, syntactic salt.
sys-frog /sis'frog/ n.
[the PLATO system] Playful variant of `sysprog', which is in turn short for `systems programmer'.
sysadmin /sis'ad-min/ n.
Common contraction of `system admin'; see admin.
sysape /sys'ayp/ n.
sysop /sis'op/ n.
[esp. in the BBS world] The operator (and usually the owner) of a bulletin-board system. A common neophyte mistake on FidoNet is to address a message to `sysop' in an international echo, thus sending it to hundreds of sysops around the world.
1. The supervisor program or OS on a computer. 2. The entire computer system, including input/output devices, the supervisor program or OS, and possibly other software. 3. Any large-scale program. 4. Any method or algorithm. 5. `System hacker': one who hacks the system (in senses 1 and 2 only; for sense 3 one mentions the particular program: e.g., `LISP hacker')
systems jock n.
See jock, sense 2.
system mangler n.
Humorous synonym for `system manager', poss. from the fact that one major IBM OS had a root account called SYSMANGR. Refers specifically to a systems programmer in charge of administration, software maintenance, and updates at some site. Unlike admin, this term emphasizes the technical end of the skills involved.
SysVile /sis-vi:l'/ n.
See Missed'em-five.Return to