Devil's Dictionary on Computer Language.


Back-Up: The little known concept of securing the data on a computer by copying it to some media that can be removed from the computer and stored elsewhere. Thus, if the computer breaks down, is stolen, or the data on it is accidentally (or clumsily) erased, it can be retrieved from the copy. Less than 1% of all PC users make regular back-up, 90% have never even once made a back-up and half of those who have, cannot remember where they put the disks. This daring attitude from users is partly due to the surprisingly good stability of hard disks which generally are able to function longer that it takes for the data on them to become outdated, but is also encouraged by the fact that floppy disks have such low capacity that it takes several hundred of them to back up a normal hard disk, and that other available media are either slow, cumbersome, expensive, or any combination thereof.


BASIC: An excellent and simple to use high level programming language. Basic is a lot like masturbation: Most started with it, but few like to admit it. Later attempts to make BASIC as powerful as more advanced programming languages have, of course, also made it just as complicated and difficult to use as them. As anyone should know, you cant have a simple tool that can do everything.


Binary numbers: Deep inside, all computers have always used and are still using the binary number system. Back in the early days, a good command of binary numbers was a must for programmers, and even users had to negotiate them regularly. But today this has been hidden totally from us all, and computers communicate only in terms and numbers easily used by human beings, - that is, of course, except for modem speeds, hard disk sizes, peripheral addresses, memory addresses, error messages, character sets, screen setups, interrupt vectors, etc., etc - - - actually, suppliers of Win95 programs proudly inform us that they are 32bit, as if we should care!


Comprehensive User Manual: The type where you get a 200 page manual with a printer driver and you have to read through half of it just to find out how to install the thing. This type of manual is a spider’s web of cross-references, at least 40% of which are one or several pages off because they were not updated on the latest revisions.


Computer Games: Programs that, unlike programs for professional use, are easy and foolproof to install, generally free of serious bugs, possible for a nine-year-old to use in ten minutes without help, full of gorgeous graphics, and sell at 1/10 the price of the professional programs. Consequently game programs are much despised by most makers of professional programs.


Computer virus: Normally the user has to install the programs that make a computer malfunction, but viruses install themselves and make the computer malfunction, thus relieving the user of the troublesome task of going through an installation procedure.


Cookie: Inspired by the use of small cakes to lure pets and children to do things they do not really want to, the name has been used to denote small command sequences that any of the several million WWW sites you may visit can upload to and execute on your computer, thus making it possible for total strangers to spy on your bank account, crack your passwords, snow you with junk-mail, read your private letters, etc., etc., etc.


Dialog Box: In the attempt to avoid the use of keyboards, modern GUI programs use a dialog box to communicate with user. This is a small square that will pop up on the screen, hiding the data you are working with and demand a decision based on the data just hidden. A variant is the error box, which will present you with a message like "File already exists, rename or replace?" and give you the option of clicking "yes" or "no".


.DLL file: A computer program used to consist of a program code file and possibly some data files, but as program code became bloated faster than hardware development could keep up (in itself a remarkable feat), the idea of a segmented approach was born; various subfunctions were created as separate files, called in when needed, thus increasing execution time because of the need to read segments from disk. The logical next step was to let several programs share certain universal segments, thus creating the need to bloat the segments in order to accommodate all the programs. Also this approach enabled a single bug in a DLL file to cause many programs to malfunction. A further advantage is that a new software package may install a new version of a DLL, thus making other programs suddenly malfunction.


Fault tolerant: User has to be very tolerant to put up with the many faults. The phrase can also refer to certain systems which, rather than being built reliable, have been built to circumvent internal errors and keep working in spite of them. This usually has the effect that the system, because of some error, will act funny for weeks before the fault builds up to a level to cause a decent crash, so it can be repaired.


Gates, Bill: Founder and owner of Microsoft Corporation, Bill Gates became the richest man in the World around 1995. If Microsoft is able to retain the position as almost sole supplier of operational systems for personal computers, they will control the worldwide software industry by 2006. This is because of the following tactics: Their first operational system (MS-DOS) had limited utilities and took up app. 5% of the PCs resources. The Windows series of operational systems featured increasing amounts of utilities and took up increasingly large chunks of resources (around 25% for Win95), so it can be inferred that around 2006, the newest Microsoft operational system will claim 100% of the system resources, thus effectively shutting out other suppliers by preventing users from installing and using any program that is not a part of the operating system.


GUI: Graphical User Interface; every interaction, including simple keystrokes, has been replaced by graphical buttons or icons, so you need to find the object on the screen, then place the mouse cursor over it, then, depending on some inscrutable logic, click or double-click it with either the right, left or center mouse button. A perfect example of this approach is the Calculator program that comes with Windows, where you can click pictures of buttons instead of using the keyboard. As users for some reason proved reluctant to fully accept this, so-called hot keys were invented.


Hard disk: Internal, non-removable, non-volatile magnetic data storage device. The first types commonly available could store about 0,5MB, cost a fortune, were none too stable, and had barely enough room to hold the data needed on an average computer. Present-day types can store 5GB+, the price is reasonable, the reliability is excellent, and the capacity is barely adequate to hold the data needed on an average computer. - -Two out of three is not bad at all in this business! Just imagine: If program packages had NOT been bloated wildly from the 16-32KB of the early desktop computers to the 120-300 MB needed by Win95 packages; then the 1998 PC could have 100,000 programs installed and still have gigabytes of disk space available for data!


Hardware Specialist: Someone who will blame all problems on the software specialists.


Hot Key: To compensate for the shortcomings of the GUI the hot key concept was invented to again make use of the excellent 128+ key keyboard supplied with virtually all PCs. So an old menu choice of say, l for load, will now be <crtl><shift>k, where k stands for - - well whatever you would like it to stand for.


Intuitive User Interface: Usually preceded by the word "easy". This means that the programmer thought that the use of his program was so self-evident that he didn’t bother to write any user manual.


Mouse: In order to replace the chunky 128+ key keyboard sitting in front of all PCs, the small, compact mouse was invented. The idea was that the user pointed intuitively at objects on the screen. This did not really work out, but instead of being abandoned, the mouse came in new creative versions, with extra buttons, scroll wheels, fancy colors, etc., and it now sits besides the chunky keyboard in front of all PCs and is the source of a whole new set of physiological ailments adding to the well known back, eye, and headache problems of computer users.


Mouse-pad: Designed to relieve some of the shortcomings of the computer mouse, the mouse-pad is unique among computer accessories, it is:

From all this it is evident that the mouse-pad was not designed or marketed by Microsoft.


LAN: Local Area Network is the technique of connecting many computers within a company or organization. This enables employees to write emails instead of actually talking to each other, thus making it feasible to virtually avoid all human contact. Also makes it possible for a large organization to save hundreds of dollars worth of hard disk space by letting users share program files over the network, with the additional benefit of a single misplaced plug or broken wire being able to make everybody unable to get any work done.


MS-DOS: A not very bright operating system introduced around 1984 that was able to run on a 5MHz 8 bit CPU with 560KB memory. It took about 10 seconds to boot from a floppy and used up some 5% of the system resources.


Multi-media: In theory this is supposed to mean that a computer communicates via many types of media. In real life, it means that it has a sound card installed! So-called multimedia PCs usually come with a modem and a CD ROM drive as well, but so do many office machines.


Multi-tasking: Several programs can be started on a computer, so if one crashes, it will crash them all, thus maximizing data loss. Was fully implemented in the UNIX operating system around 1980 but was still not quite working in 1995 in Microsoft's Win95.


Plug And Play: A feature introduced in Win95 that makes it impossible for the user to control the hardware configuration of his/her PC. Also introduces a lot of overhead in the operating system. Instead of typing a few lines of configuration data in, the user now has to wait several minutes while the computer tries to guess for itself. Sometimes has the side effect of actually creating a workable configuration.


QWERTY: The layout of most keyboards used in the world. This placement of the letters was determined for the early typewriters to keep the typearms from hitting each other when someone typed fast, thus keys for letters that were used often (in English) were placed far apart, slowing the typing down to a speed that the primitive mechanisms in early typewriters could handle. All attempts to introduce ergonomically improved fast typing keyboards have so far been thwarted by conservatism from the same users that rush out and buy new computers every time the available clock rate has gone up a bit.


Screen Saver: To avoid flicker, the early primitive computer screens used CRTs with medium or long persistence phosphor. These had the weakness that if text stayed unchanged for long periods, it tended to "burn into" the screen. This problem has long since been solved on the hardware level, but so-called screen savers are still widely used to make all kinds of interesting things happen on the screen when the computer is not in use for a few minutes. They have the additional benefit of reducing stress by making people spend time watching the screen saver when they ought to be working.


Software Specialist: Someone who will blame all problems on the hardware specialists.


Super-User: Someone in your company who has a little more insight in computers than the average employee, and who has been bestowed with the responsibility of helping out others whenever they are in computer trouble. The work of the super-user usually goes as follows:

Your PC acts funny, so you call the super-user, who after some hours or days arrives, sits down in front of it, mumbles some magic words, hits some keys, clicks some icons, deletes/renames some files, and whisks out of the room again, after which the following can have happened:


Touch-screen: Back around 1975, when CRT monitors became commonplace in connection with computers, system administrators and engineers had a hard time teaching users to keep their greasy fingers away from the screens. Just when they were about to succeed, some genius invented a system to control programs by touching various parts of the screen. The concept lingered on for quite a while, but has now almost died out, for two reasons:

1) It was discovered that it was neither easier nor better to touch the screen than using a keyboard.

2) It was rediscovered that the users' greasy fingers did nothing to improve the visibility of the screen.


Undo: One of the precious few instances where the computer world is better than the real world. Implemented in a great many modern programs, the undo function enables users to revoke foolish actions. If this feature had been available in real life, the world history would look very different (and, admittedly, several among us would never have been born).


Uninstall: A function designed for when the user has decided not to use a program any more and wants to remove it from the computer in order to reclaim the disk space. In the old days, you simply deleted the program file, but since modern software packages will splash .ddl files and other things all over your file system, that is no longer enough.

The uninstall function will usually do one of the following things:

Issue an error message and not remove the program.

Issue no error message and not remove the program.

Remove part of the program and leave hanging references and various now useless and untraceable files.

Remove part of the program including various segments and references also needed by other programs thus rendering them useless as well.


UNIX: An operating system introduced around 1982 featuring full multitasking, full multi-user functionality. UNIX has been implemented on numerous platforms and has all the functionality various Windows versions up to and including Win95 are lacking. The fact that it is available almost for free has prevented its widespread use in the world of PCs, - after all, who can make money on such a thing? Another thing that has made a lot of users somewhat apprehensive about UNIX is the rather cryptic user interface and the fact that UNIX expects users to do their own thinking. For example, if you write something like: "cd /; rm -rf *", UNIX may irrevocably erase your entire hard-disk quickly and efficiently, no questions asked.


User Friendly: The user needs to be in a friendly mood to put up with the idiosyncrasies of the software.


User's Manual: Chunky piece of literature supposed to contain important information about either hardware or software or both. Few people have ever actually read one. In the latest years, most suppliers have turned user's manuals out in the form of data files, so-called Online Manuals, thus saving immense amounts of paper and other resources. In you install them at all, online manuals are easily deleted whenever the disk space is needed for something useful.


Virtual reality: The idea that a computer should be able to simulate reality to an extent where the user is unable, or almost unable, to tell the difference has lived long in the science fiction world. Under the name Virtual Reality, some 3D display systems and data input devices have been introduced, but real VR is, luckily, still science fiction, and as even the best displays are still a factor 10-100 below the performance of human vision (not to mention the other senses) it will still be in the foreseeable future.


Von Neumann Machine: Before 1930, Von Neumann established the basic theory for a computer; the separation in a CPU, input/output devices, and storage devices. He also established the distinction between data and instructions in programming code. None, repeat: None of these principles have been changed in today's computers, nor is there any sign that they will change in the near future. Even experiments with so-called neural networks, fuzzy logic, and other attempts on revolution are mostly emulated on binary Von Neumann computers. Even on the hardware level, no real revolution has taken place since before 1970; in 1970 a state of the art computer used silicon chips for CPU (it was then called ALU) and memory, had a CRT monitor, and magnetic disks (both fixed and floppies) for mass storage.


Wallpaper: Originally, computer screens were either dark with light letters on them or vice versa, and this is, of course, all most users really need. However, since most users now have 1024 by 768 pixels in 256 colors or better, all this power has to be used for something, so the feature of having a pretty background picture on your screen has been added. This has the additional benefit of making icons and other relevant objects more difficult to see.


Win95: A not very bright operating system introduced around 1995 that was able to run on a 75Mhz 32 bit CPU with 8MB memory and 100MB hard disk. It took 120 seconds to boot, 30 seconds to shut down and used up some 25% of the system resources.


Win2006: Following the trend from MS-DOS to Win95, we can infer that in 2006 a not very bright operating system will be introduced that is able to run on a 1.2GHz 128bit CPU with 128MB memory and 10GB hard disk. It will take 24 minutes to boot and 6 minutes to shut down and it will use up 100% of the system resources.


World Wide Web: At the cost of at least doubling your telephone bill, the WWW gives you the opportunity to see what several million other computer nerds think is so important that they just have to share it with all the other nerds. Some interesting and relevant information also exists here and there on the net, the problem being how to find it. For this purpose, numerous search engines have been made available that can narrow your search down from several million to a few thousand addresses.


WYSIWYG: What You See Is What You Get. In principle means that the screen image looks just like the printout. This has several effects:

It requires about 50 times more computer power than a character-based display, thus maximizing hardware costs.

Instead of just printing a test page, user will print the entire document before discovering that, say, the character for some strange reason prints as , thus maximizing paper waste.

Tempts user to install 6000 fonts in his/her computer and use 14 different fonts in the same document, thus minimizing aestetic value of printout.

Requires all printers to interpret data in exactly the same way, which of course they don’t, thus creating the need for re-editing each document if it has to be printed on a different printer.

Finally made old cheap and reliable needle printers obsolete, thus lowering the noise level of the average office environment - at the cost of increased heat, dust, and ozone.


Year 2000 Problem: Thousands of specialists worked on this problem for years and by 1998, they succeeded in abbreviating the name of the problem to "Y2KP". The core of the matter is that many computer programs are unable to distinguish between the years say, 1901 and 2001, and we might thus expect a good many computer break-downs around the year 2000. How this should disrupt a society that is used to having a good many computer break-downs every day was always unclear, and actually newyear 2000 came and went without mentionable problems. However all the hype did create a steady income for a good many computer consultants and kept them from doing any other damage for a number of years.