Part 16 out of 29
Node:real operating system, Next:Real Programmer,
Previous:real hack, Up:= R =
real operating system n.
The sort the speaker is used to. People from the BSDophilic academic
community are likely to issue comments like "System V? Why don't you
use a real operating system?", people from the commercial/industrial
Unix sector are known to complain "BSD? Why don't you use a real
operating system?", and people from IBM object "Unix? Why don't you
use a real operating system?" Only MS-DOS is universally
considered unreal. See holy wars, religious issues,
proprietary, Get a real computer!
Node:Real Programmer, Next:Real Soon Now, Previous:real
operating system, Up:= R =
Real Programmer n.
[indirectly, from the book "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche"] A particular
sub-variety of hacker: one possessed of a flippant attitude toward
complexity that is arrogant even when justified by experience. The
archetypal `Real Programmer' likes to program on the bare metal
and is very good at same, remembers the binary opcodes for every
machine he has ever programmed, thinks that HLLs are sissy, and uses a
debugger to edit his code because full-screen editors are for wimps.
Real Programmers aren't satisfied with code that hasn't been
bummed into a state of tenseness just short of rupture.
Real Programmers never use comments or write documentation: "If it was
hard to write", says the Real Programmer, "it should be hard to
understand." Real Programmers can make machines do things that were
never in their spec sheets; in fact, they are seldom really happy
unless doing so. A Real Programmer's code can awe with its fiendish
brilliance, even as its crockishness appalls. Real Programmers live on
junk food and coffee, hang line-printer art on their walls, and
terrify the crap out of other programmers -- because someday, somebody
else might have to try to understand their code in order to change it.
Their successors generally consider it a Good Thing that there
aren't many Real Programmers around any more. For a famous (and
somewhat more positive) portrait of a Real Programmer, see "The
Story of Mel" in Appendix A. The term itself was popularized by a 1983
Datamation article "Real Programmers Don't Use Pascal" by Ed Post,
still circulating on Usenet and Internet in on-line form. You can
browse "Real Programmers Don't Use Pascal" from the Datamation home
Node:Real Soon Now, Next:real time, Previous:Real
Programmer, Up:= R =
Real Soon Now adv.
[orig. from SF's fanzine community, popularized by Jerry Pournelle's
column in "BYTE"] 1. Supposed to be available (or fixed, or cheap, or
whatever) real soon now according to somebody, but the speaker is
quite skeptical. 2. When one's gods, fates, or other time commitments
permit one to get to it (in other words, don't hold your breath).
Often abbreviated RSN. Compare copious free time.
Node:real time, Next:real user, Previous:Real Soon Now,
Up:= R =
1. [techspeak] adj. Describes an application which requires a program
to respond to stimuli within some small upper limit of response time
(typically milli- or microseconds). Process control at a chemical
plant is the canonical example. Such applications often require
special operating systems (because everything else must take a back
seat to response time) and speed-tuned hardware. 2. adv. In jargon,
refers to doing something while people are watching or waiting. "I
asked her how to find the calling procedure's program counter on the
stack and she came up with an algorithm in real time."
Node:real user, Next:Real World, Previous:real time,
Up:= R =
real user n.
1. A commercial user. One who is paying real money for his computer
usage. 2. A non-hacker. Someone using the system for an explicit
purpose (a research project, a course, etc.) other than pure
exploration. See user. Hackers who are also students may also
be real users. "I need this fixed so I can do a problem set. I'm not
complaining out of randomness, but as a real user." See also
Node:Real World, Next:reality check, Previous:real user,
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Real World n.
1. Those institutions at which `programming' may be used in the same
sentence as `FORTRAN', `COBOL', `RPG', `IBM', `DBASE',
etc. Places where programs do such commercially necessary but
intellectually uninspiring things as generating payroll checks and
invoices. 2. The location of non-programmers and activities not
related to programming. 3. A bizarre dimension in which the standard
dress is shirt and tie and in which a person's working hours are
defined as 9 to 5 (see code grinder). 4. Anywhere outside a
university. "Poor fellow, he's left MIT and gone into the Real World."
Used pejoratively by those not in residence there. In conversation,
talking of someone who has entered the Real World is not unlike
speaking of a deceased person. It is also noteworthy that on the
campus of Cambridge University in England, there is a gaily-painted
lamp-post which bears the label `REALITY CHECKPOINT'. It marks the
boundary between university and the Real World; check your notions of
reality before passing. This joke is funnier because the Cambridge
`campus' is actually coextensive with the center of Cambridge town.
See also fear and loathing, mundane, and
Node:reality check, Next:reality-distortion field,
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reality check n.
1. The simplest kind of test of software or hardware; doing the
equivalent of asking it what 2 + 2 is and seeing if you get 4. The
software equivalent of a smoke test. 2. The act of letting a
real user try out prototype software. Compare sanity
Node:reality-distortion field, Next:reaper,
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reality-distortion field n.
An expression used to describe the persuasive ability of managers like
Steve Jobs (the term originated at Apple in the 1980s to describe his
peculiar charisma). Those close to these managers become passionately
committed to possibly insane projects, without regard to the
practicality of their implementation or competitive forces in the
Node:reaper, Next:recompile the world,
Previous:reality-distortion field, Up:= R =
A prowler that GFRs files. A file removed in this way is
said to have been `reaped'.
Node:recompile the world, Next:rectangle slinger,
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recompile the world
The surprisingly large amount of work that needs to be done as the
result of any small but globally visible program change. "The world"
may mean the entirety of some huge program, or may in theory refer to
every program of a certain class in the entire known universe. For
instance, "Add one #define to stdio.h, and you have to recompile the
world." This means that any minor change to the standard-I/O header
file theoretically mandates recompiling every C program in existence,
even if only to verify that the change didn't screw something else up.
In practice, you may not actually have to recompile the world, but the
implication is that some human cleverness is required to figure out
what parts can be safely left out.
Node:rectangle slinger, Next:recursion,
Previous:recompile the world, Up:= R =
rectangle slinger n.
See polygon pusher.
Node:recursion, Next:recursive acronym,
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See recursion. See also tail recursion.
Node:recursive acronym, Next:Red Book,
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recursive acronym n.
A hackish (and especially MIT) tradition is to choose
acronyms/abbreviations that refer humorously to themselves or to other
acronyms/abbreviations. The classic examples were two MIT editors
called EINE ("EINE Is Not EMACS") and ZWEI ("ZWEI Was EINE
Initially"). More recently, there is a Scheme compiler called LIAR
(Liar Imitates Apply Recursively), and GNU (q.v., sense 1)
stands for "GNU's Not Unix!" -- and a company with the name Cygnus,
which expands to "Cygnus, Your GNU Support" (though Cygnus people say
this is a backronym). See also mung, EMACS.
Node:Red Book, Next:red wire, Previous:recursive
acronym, Up:= R =
Red Book n.
1. Informal name for one of the four standard references on
PostScript ("PostScript Language Reference Manual", Adobe
Systems (Addison-Wesley, 1985; QA76.73.P67P67; ISBN 0-201-10174-2, or
the 1990 second edition ISBN 0-201-18127-4); the others are known as
the Green Book, the Blue Book, and the White Book
(sense 2). 2. Informal name for one of the 3 standard references on
Smalltalk ("Smalltalk-80: The Interactive Programming Environment" by
Adele Goldberg (Addison-Wesley, 1984; QA76.8.S635G638; ISBN
0-201-11372-4); this too is associated with blue and green books). 3.
Any of the 1984 standards issued by the CCITT eighth plenary assembly.
These include, among other things, the X.400 email spec and the Group
1 through 4 fax standards. 4. The new version of the Green Book
(sense 4) -- IEEE 1003.1-1990, a.k.a ISO 9945-1 -- is (because of the
color and the fact that it is printed on A4 paper) known in the USA as
"the Ugly Red Book That Won't Fit On The Shelf" and in Europe as "the
Ugly Red Book That's A Sensible Size". 5. The NSA "Trusted Network
Interpretation" companion to the Orange Book. 6. Nemeth,
Snyder, Seebass, Hein; "Unix System Administration Handbook, Second
Edition" (Prentice Hall PTR, New Jersey; 1995; QA76.76.063N45; ISBN
0-13-151051-7). See also book titles.
Node:red wire, Next:regexp, Previous:Red Book,
Up:= R =
red wire n.
[IBM] Patch wires installed by programmers who have no business
mucking with the hardware. It is said that the only thing more
dangerous than a hardware guy with a code patch is a softy with
a soldering iron.... Compare blue wire, yellow wire,
Node:regexp, Next:register dancing, Previous:red wire,
Up:= R =
regexp /reg'eksp/ n.
[Unix] (alt. `regex' or `reg-ex') 1. Common written and spoken
abbreviation for `regular expression', one of the wildcard patterns
used, e.g., by Unix utilities such as grep(1), sed(1), and awk(1).
These use conventions similar to but more elaborate than those
described under glob. For purposes of this lexicon, it is
sufficient to note that regexps also allow complemented character sets
using ^; thus, one can specify `any non-alphabetic character' with
[^A-Za-z]. 2. Name of a well-known PD regexp-handling package in
portable C, written by revered Usenetter Henry Spencer
Node:register dancing, Next:rehi, Previous:regexp,
Up:= R =
register dancing n.
Many older processor architectures suffer from a serious shortage of
general-purpose registers. This is especially a problem for
compiler-writers, because their generated code needs places to store
temporaries for things like intermediate values in expression
evaluation. Some designs with this problem, like the Intel 80x86, do
have a handful of special-purpose registers that can be pressed into
service, providing suitable care is taken to avoid unpleasant side
effects on the state of the processor: while the special-purpose
register is being used to hold an intermediate value, a delicate
minuet is required in which the previous value of the register is
saved and then restored just before the official function (and value)
of the special-purpose register is again needed.
Node:rehi, Next:reincarnation cycle of,
Previous:register dancing, Up:= R =
[IRC, MUD] "Hello again." Very commonly used to greet people upon
returning to an IRC channel after channel hopping.
Node:reincarnation cycle of, Next:reinvent the wheel,
Previous:rehi, Up:= R =
reincarnation, cycle of n.
See cycle of reincarnation.
Node:reinvent the wheel, Next:relay rape,
Previous:reincarnation cycle of, Up:= R =
reinvent the wheel v.
To design or implement a tool equivalent to an existing one or part of
one, with the implication that doing so is silly or a waste of time.
This is often a valid criticism. On the other hand, automobiles don't
use wooden rollers, and some kinds of wheel have to be reinvented many
times before you get them right. On the third hand, people reinventing
the wheel do tend to come up with the moral equivalent of a trapezoid
with an offset axle.
Node:relay rape, Next:religion of CHI, Previous:reinvent
the wheel, Up:= R =
relay rape n.
The hijacking of a third party's unsecured mail server to deliver
Node:religion of CHI, Next:religious issues,
Previous:relay rape, Up:= R =
religion of CHI /ki:/ n.
[Case Western Reserve University] Yet another hackish parody religion
(see also Church of the SubGenius, Discordianism). In
the mid-70s, the canonical "Introduction to Programming" courses at
CWRU were taught in Algol, and student exercises were punched on cards
and run on a Univac 1108 system using a homebrew operating system
named CHI. The religion had no doctrines and but one ritual: whenever
the worshipper noted that a digital clock read 11:08, he or she would
recite the phrase "It is 11:08; ABS, ALPHABETIC, ARCSIN, ARCCOS,
ARCTAN." The last five words were the first five functions in the
appropriate chapter of the Algol manual; note the special
pronunciations /obz/ and /ark'sin/ rather than the more common /ahbz/
and /ark'si:n/. Using an alarm clock to warn of 11:08's arrival was
Node:religious issues, Next:replicator,
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religious issues n.
Questions which seemingly cannot be raised without touching off
holy wars, such as "What is the best operating system (or
editor, language, architecture, shell, mail reader, news reader)?",
"What about that Heinlein guy, eh?", "What should we add to the new
Jargon File?" See holy wars; see also theology,
This term is a prime example of ha ha only serious. People
actually develop the most amazing and religiously intense attachments
to their tools, even when the tools are intangible. The most
constructive thing one can do when one stumbles into the crossfire is
mumble Get a life! and leave -- unless, of course, one's own
unassailably rational and obviously correct choices are being slammed.
Node:replicator, Next:reply, Previous:religious issues,
Up:= R =
Any construct that acts to produce copies of itself; this could be a
living organism, an idea (see meme), a program (see
quine, worm, wabbit, fork bomb, and
virus), a pattern in a cellular automaton (see life,
sense 1), or (speculatively) a robot or nanobot. It is even
claimed by some that Unix and C are the symbiotic halves
of an extremely successful replicator; see Unix conspiracy.
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Up:= R =
Node:restriction, Next:retcon, Previous:reply,
Up:= R =
A bug or design error that limits a program's capabilities, and
which is sufficiently egregious that nobody can quite work up enough
nerve to describe it as a feature. Often used (esp. by
marketroid types) to make it sound as though some crippling
bogosity had been intended by the designers all along, or was forced
upon them by arcane technical constraints of a nature no mere user
could possibly comprehend (these claims are almost invariably false).
Old-time hacker Joseph M. Newcomer advises that whenever choosing a
quantifiable but arbitrary restriction, you should make it either a
power of 2 or a power of 2 minus 1. If you impose a limit of 107 items
in a list, everyone will know it is a random number -- on the other
hand, a limit of 15 or 16 suggests some deep reason (involving 0- or
1-based indexing in binary) and you will get less flamage for
it. Limits which are round numbers in base 10 are always especially
Node:retcon, Next:RETI, Previous:restriction,
Up:= R =
[short for `retroactive continuity', from the Usenet newsgroup
rec.arts.comics] 1. n. The common situation in pulp fiction (esp.
comics or soap operas) where a new story `reveals' things about events
in previous stories, usually leaving the `facts' the same (thus
preserving continuity) while completely changing their interpretation.
For example, revealing that a whole season of "Dallas" was a dream was
a retcon. 2. vt. To write such a story about a character or fictitious
object. "Byrne has retconned Superman's cape so that it is no longer
unbreakable." "Marvelman's old adventures were retconned into
synthetic dreams." "Swamp Thing was retconned from a transformed
person into a sentient vegetable." "Darth Vader was retconned into
Luke Skywalker's father in "The Empire Strikes Back".
[This term is included because it is a good example of hackish
linguistic innovation in a field completely unrelated to computers.
The word `retcon' will probably spread through comics fandom and lose
its association with hackerdom within a couple of years; for the
record, it started here. --ESR]
[1993 update: some comics fans on the net now claim that retcon was
independently in use in comics fandom before rec.arts.comics. In
lexicography, nothing is ever simple. --ESR]
Node:RETI, Next:retrocomputing, Previous:retcon,
Up:= R =
Node:retrocomputing, Next:return from the dead,
Previous:RETI, Up:= R =
retrocomputing /ret'-roh-k*m-pyoo'ting/ n.
Refers to emulations of way-behind-the-state-of-the-art hardware or
software, or implementations of never-was-state-of-the-art; esp. if
such implementations are elaborate practical jokes and/or parodies,
written mostly for hack value, of more `serious' designs.
Perhaps the most widely distributed retrocomputing utility was the
pnch(6) or bcd(6) program on V7 and other early Unix versions, which
would accept up to 80 characters of text argument and display the
corresponding pattern in punched card code. Other well-known
retrocomputing hacks have included the programming language
INTERCAL, a JCL-emulating shell for Unix, the
card-punch-emulating editor named 029, and various elaborate PDP-11
hardware emulators and RT-11 OS emulators written just to keep an old,
sourceless Zork binary running.
A tasty selection of retrocomputing programs are made available at the
Retrocomputing Museum, http://www.ccil.org/retro.
Node:return from the dead, Next:RFC,
Previous:retrocomputing, Up:= R =
return from the dead v.
To regain access to the net after a long absence. Compare
person of no account.
Node:RFC, Next:RFE, Previous:return from the dead,
Up:= R =
RFC /R-F-C/ n.
[Request For Comment] One of a long-established series of numbered
Internet informational documents and standards widely followed by
commercial software and freeware in the Internet and Unix communities.
Perhaps the single most influential one has been RFC-822 (the Internet
mail-format standard). The RFCs are unusual in that they are floated
by technical experts acting on their own initiative and reviewed by
the Internet at large, rather than formally promulgated through an
institution such as ANSI. For this reason, they remain known as RFCs
even once adopted as standards.
The RFC tradition of pragmatic, experience-driven, after-the-fact
standard writing done by individuals or small working groups has
important advantages over the more formal, committee-driven process
typical of ANSI or ISO. Emblematic of some of these advantages is the
existence of a flourishing tradition of `joke' RFCs; usually at least
one a year is published, usually on April 1st. Well-known joke RFCs
have included 527 ("ARPAWOCKY", R. Merryman, UCSD; 22 June 1973), 748
("Telnet Randomly-Lose Option", Mark R. Crispin; 1 April 1978), and
1149 ("A Standard for the Transmission of IP Datagrams on Avian
Carriers", D. Waitzman, BBN STC; 1 April 1990). The first was a Lewis
Carroll pastiche; the second a parody of the TCP-IP documentation
style, and the third a deadpan skewering of standards-document
legalese, describing protocols for transmitting Internet data packets
by carrier pigeon.
The RFCs are most remarkable for how well they work -- they manage to
have neither the ambiguities that are usually rife in informal
specifications, nor the committee-perpetrated misfeatures that often
haunt formal standards, and they define a network that has grown to
truly worldwide proportions.
Node:RFE, Next:rib site, Previous:RFC, Up:= R =
RFE /R-F-E/ n.
1. [techspeak] Request For Enhancement (compare RFC). 2. [from
`Radio Free Europe', Bellcore and Sun] Radio Free Ethernet, a system
(originated by Peter Langston) for broadcasting audio among Sun
SPARCstations over the ethernet.
Node:rib site, Next:rice box, Previous:RFE, Up:=
rib site n.
[by analogy with backbone site] A machine that has an on-demand
high-speed link to a backbone site and serves as a regional
distribution point for lots of third-party traffic in email and Usenet
news. Compare leaf site, backbone site.
Node:rice box, Next:Right Thing, Previous:rib site,
Up:= R =
rice box n.
[from ham radio slang] Any Asian-made commodity computer, esp. an
80x86-based machine built to IBM PC-compatible ISA or EISA-bus
Node:Right Thing, Next:rip, Previous:rice box,
Up:= R =
Right Thing n.
That which is compellingly the correct or appropriate thing to use,
do, say, etc. Often capitalized, always emphasized in speech as though
capitalized. Use of this term often implies that in fact reasonable
people may disagree. "What's the right thing for LISP to do when it
sees (mod a 0)? Should it return a, or give a divide-by-0 error?"
Oppose Wrong Thing.
Node:rip, Next:ripoff, Previous:Right Thing, Up:=
1. To extract the digital representation of a piece of music from an
audio CD. Software that does this is often called a "CD ripper". 2.
[Amiga hackers] To extract sound or graphics from a program that they
have been compiled/assembled into, or which generates them at
run-time. In the case of older Amiga games this entails searching
through memory shortly after a reboot. This sense has been in use for
many years and probably gave rise to the (now more common) sense 1.
Node:ripoff, Next:RL, Previous:rip, Up:= R =
Synonym for chad, sense 1.
Node:RL, Next:roach, Previous:ripoff, Up:= R =
RL // n.
[MUD community] Real Life. "Firiss laughs in RL" means that Firiss's
player is laughing. Compare meatspace; oppose VR.
Node:roach, Next:robocanceller, Previous:RL, Up:=
[Bell Labs] To destroy, esp. of a data structure. Hardware gets
toasted or fried, software gets roached.
Node:robocanceller, Next:robot, Previous:roach,
Up:= R =
A program that monitors Usenet feeds, attempting to detect and
eliminate spam by sending appropriate cancel messages .
Robocancellers may use the Breidbart Index as a trigger.
Programming them is not a game for amateurs; see ARMM. See also
Dave the Resurrector.
Node:robot, Next:robust, Previous:robocanceller,
Up:= R =
Node:robust, Next:rococo, Previous:robot, Up:= R
Said of a system that has demonstrated an ability to recover
gracefully from the whole range of exceptional inputs and situations
in a given environment. One step below bulletproof. Carries the
additional connotation of elegance in addition to just careful
attention to detail. Compare smart, oppose brittle.
Node:rococo, Next:rogue, Previous:robust, Up:= R
Terminally baroque. Used to imply that a program has become so
encrusted with the software equivalent of gold leaf and curlicues that
they have completely swamped the underlying design. Called after the
later and more extreme forms of Baroque architecture and decoration
prevalent during the mid-1700s in Europe. Alan Perlis said: "Every
program eventually becomes rococo, and then rubble." Compare
Node:rogue, Next:room-temperature IQ, Previous:rococo,
Up:= R =
1. [Unix] n. A Dungeons-and-Dragons-like game using character
graphics, written under BSD Unix and subsequently ported to other Unix
systems. The original BSD curses(3) screen-handling package was hacked
together by Ken Arnold primarily to support games, and the development
of rogue(6) popularized its use; it has since become one of Unix's
most important and heavily used application libraries. Nethack, Omega,
Larn, Angband, and an entire subgenre of computer dungeon games (all
known as `roguelikes') all took off from the inspiration provided by
rogue(6); the popular Windows game Diablo, though graphics-intensive,
has very similar play logic. See also nethack. 2. [Usenet] adj.
An ISP which permits net abuse (usually in the form of
spamming) by its customers, or which itself engages in such
activities. Rogue ISPs are sometimes subject to IDPs or
UDPs. Sometimes deliberately mispelled as "rouge". See also
nethack, moria, Angband.
Node:room-temperature IQ, Next:root, Previous:rogue,
Up:= R =
room-temperature IQ quant.
[IBM] 80 or below (nominal room temperature is 72 degrees Fahrenheit,
22 degrees Celsius). Used in describing the expected intelligence
range of the luser. "Well, but how's this interface going to
play with the room-temperature IQ crowd?" See drool-proof
paper. This is a much more insulting phrase in countries that use
Node:root, Next:root mode, Previous:room-temperature IQ,
Up:= R =
[Unix] 1. The superuser account (with user name `root') that
ignores permission bits, user number 0 on a Unix system. The term
avatar is also used. 2. The top node of the system directory
structure; historically the home directory of the root user, but
probably named after the root of an (inverted) tree. 3. By extension,
the privileged system-maintenance login on any OS. See root
mode, go root, see also wheel.
Node:root mode, Next:rot13, Previous:root, Up:= R
root mode n.
Syn. with wizard mode or `wheel mode'. Like these, it is often
generalized to describe privileged states in systems other than OSes.
Node:rot13, Next:rotary debugger, Previous:root mode,
Up:= R =
rot13 /rot ther'teen/ n.,v.
[Usenet: from `rotate alphabet 13 places'] The simple Caesar-cypher
encryption that replaces each English letter with the one 13 places
forward or back along the alphabet, so that "The butler did it!"
becomes "Gur ohgyre qvq vg!" Most Usenet news reading and posting
programs include a rot13 feature. It is used to enclose the text in a
sealed wrapper that the reader must choose to open -- e.g., for
posting things that might offend some readers, or spoilers. A
major advantage of rot13 over rot(N) for other N is that it is
self-inverse, so the same code can be used for encoding and decoding.
See also spoiler space, which has partly displaced rot13 since
non-Unix-based newsreaders became common.
Node:rotary debugger, Next:round tape, Previous:rot13,
Up:= R =
rotary debugger n.
[Commodore] Essential equipment for those late-night or early-morning
debugging sessions. Mainly used as sustenance for the hacker. Comes in
many decorator colors, such as Sausage, Pepperoni, and Garbage. See
ANSI standard pizza.
Node:round tape, Next:RSN, Previous:rotary debugger,
Up:= R =
round tape n.
Industry-standard 1/2-inch magnetic tape (7- or 9-track) on
traditional circular reels. See macrotape, oppose square
Node:RSN, Next:RTBM, Previous:round tape, Up:= R
RSN /R-S-N/ adj.
See Real Soon Now.
Node:RTBM, Next:RTFAQ, Previous:RSN, Up:= R =
RTBM /R-T-B-M/ imp.
[Unix] Commonwealth Hackish variant of RTFM; expands to `Read
The Bloody Manual'. RTBM is often the entire text of the first reply
to a question from a newbie; the second would escalate to
Node:RTFAQ, Next:RTFB, Previous:RTBM, Up:= R =
RTFAQ /R-T-F-A-Q/ imp.
[Usenet: primarily written, by analogy with RTFM] Abbrev. for
`Read the FAQ!', an exhortation that the person addressed ought to
read the newsgroup's FAQ list before posting questions.
Node:RTFB, Next:RTFM, Previous:RTFAQ, Up:= R =
RTFB /R-T-F-B/ imp.
[Unix] Abbreviation for `Read The Fucking Binary'. Used when neither
documentation nor source for the problem at hand exists, and the only
thing to do is use some debugger or monitor and directly analyze the
assembler or even the machine code. "No source for the buggy port
driver? Aaargh! I hate proprietary operating systems. Time to RTFB."
Of the various RTF? forms, `RTFB' is the least pejorative against
anyone asking a question for which RTFB is the answer; the anger here
is directed at the absence of both source and adequate documentation.
Node:RTFM, Next:RTFS, Previous:RTFB, Up:= R =
RTFM /R-T-F-M/ imp.
[Unix] Abbreviation for `Read The Fucking Manual'. 1. Used by
gurus to brush off questions they consider trivial or annoying.
Compare Don't do that then!. 2. Used when reporting a problem
to indicate that you aren't just asking out of randomness. "No,
I can't figure out how to interface Unix to my toaster, and yes, I
have RTFM." Unlike sense 1, this use is considered polite. See also
FM, RTFAQ, RTFB, RTFS, STFW,
RTM, all of which mutated from RTFM, and compare UTSL.
Node:RTFS, Next:RTI, Previous:RTFM, Up:= R =
[Unix] 1. imp. Abbreviation for `Read The Fucking Source'. Variant
form of RTFM, used when the problem at hand is not necessarily
obvious and not answerable from the manuals -- or the manuals are not
yet written and maybe never will be. For even trickier situations, see
RTFB. Unlike RTFM, the anger inherent in RTFS is not usually
directed at the person asking the question, but rather at the people
who failed to provide adequate documentation. 2. imp. `Read The
Fucking Standard'; this oath can only be used when the problem area
(e.g., a language or operating system interface) has actually been
codified in a ratified standards document. The existence of these
standards documents (and the technically inappropriate but politically
mandated compromises that they inevitably contain, and the
impenetrable legalese in which they are invariably written, and
the unbelievably tedious bureaucratic process by which they are
produced) can be unnerving to hackers, who are used to a certain
amount of ambiguity in the specifications of the systems they use.
(Hackers feel that such ambiguities are acceptable as long as the
Right Thing to do is obvious to any thinking observer; sadly,
this casual attitude towards specifications becomes unworkable when a
system becomes popular in the Real World.) Since a hacker is
likely to feel that a standards document is both unnecessary and
technically deficient, the deprecation inherent in this term may be
directed as much against the standard as against the person who ought
to read it.
Node:RTI, Next:RTM, Previous:RTFS, Up:= R =
RTI /R-T-I/ interj.
The mnemonic for the `return from interrupt' instruction on many
computers including the 6502 and 6800. The variant `RETI' is found
among former Z80 hackers (almost nobody programs these things in
assembler anymore). Equivalent to "Now, where was I?" or used to end a
conversational digression. See pop; see also POPJ.
Node:RTM, Next:RTS, Previous:RTI, Up:= R =
[Usenet: abbreviation for `Read The Manual'] 1. Politer variant of
RTFM. 2. Robert Tappan Morris, perpetrator of the great
Internet worm of 1988 (see Great Worm); villain to many, naive
hacker gone wrong to a few. Morris claimed that the worm that brought
the Internet to its knees was a benign experiment that got out of
control as the result of a coding error. After the storm of negative
publicity that followed this blunder, Morris's username on ITS was
hacked from RTM to RTFM.
Node:RTS, Next:rude, Previous:RTM, Up:= R =
RTS /R-T-S/ imp.
Abbreviation for `Read The Screen'. Mainly used by hackers in the
microcomputer world. Refers to what one would like to tell the
suit one is forced to explain an extremely simple application
to. Particularly appropriate when the suit failed to notice the `Press
any key to continue' prompt, and wishes to know `why won't it do
anything'. Also seen as `RTFS' in especially deserving cases.
Node:rude, Next:runes, Previous:RTS, Up:= R =
rude [WPI] adj.
1. (of a program) Badly written. 2. Functionally poor, e.g., a program
that is very difficult to use because of gratuitously poor (random?)
design decisions. Oppose cuspy. 3. Anything that manipulates a
shared resource without regard for its other users in such a way as to
cause a (non-fatal) problem. Examples: programs that change tty modes
without resetting them on exit, or windowing programs that keep
forcing themselves to the top of the window stack. Compare
Node:runes, Next:runic, Previous:rude, Up:= R =
1. Anything that requires heavy wizardry or black art to
parse: core dumps, JCL commands, APL, or code in a language you
haven't a clue how to read. Not quite as bad as line noise, but
close. Compare casting the runes, Great Runes. 2.
Special display characters (for example, the high-half graphics on an
IBM PC). 3. [borderline techspeak] 16-bit characters from the Unicode
multilingual character set.
Node:runic, Next:rusty iron, Previous:runes, Up:=
Syn. obscure. VMS fans sometimes refer to Unix as `Runix'; Unix
fans return the compliment by expanding VMS to `Very Messy Syntax' or
`Vachement Mauvais Système' (French idiom, "Hugely Bad System").
Node:rusty iron, Next:rusty memory, Previous:runic,
Up:= R =
rusty iron n.
Syn. tired iron. It has been claimed that this is the
inevitable fate of water MIPS.
Node:rusty memory, Next:rusty wire, Previous:rusty iron,
Up:= R =
rusty memory n.
Mass-storage that uses iron-oxide-based magnetic media (esp. tape and
the pre-Winchester removable disk packs used in washing
machines). Compare donuts.
Node:rusty wire, Next:S/N ratio, Previous:rusty memory,
Up:= R =
rusty wire n.
[Amateur Packet Radio] Any very noisy network medium, in which the
packets are subject to frequent corruption. Most prevalent in
reference to wireless links subject to all the vagaries of RF noise
and marginal propagation conditions. "Yes, but how good is your
whizbang new protocol on really rusty wire?".
Node:= S =, Next:= T =, Previous:= R =, Up:The
= S =
* S/N ratio:
* salt mines:
* salt substrate:
* same-day service:
* sanity check:
* Saturday-night special:
* scary devil monastery:
* science-fiction fandom:
* scram switch:
* scratch monkey:
* scream and die:
* screaming tty:
* screen name:
* script kiddies:
* search-and-destroy mode:
* second-system effect:
* secondary damage:
* security through obscurity:
* segmentation fault:
* senior bit:
* September that never ended:
* sex changer:
* shambolic link:
* shar file:
* Share and enjoy!:
* sharing violation:
* shell out:
* shift left (or right) logical:
* short card:
* shotgun debugging:
* sig block:
* sig quote:
* sig virus:
* signal-to-noise ratio:
* silly walk:
* Silver Book:
* since time T equals minus infinity:
* slap on the side:
* slashdot effect:
* smart terminal:
* smash case:
* smash the stack:
* smoke and mirrors:
* smoke test:
* smoking clover:
* SNAFU principle:
* snarf & barf:
* snarf down:
* social engineering:
* social science number:
* sock puppet:
* sodium substrate:
* soft boot:
* software bloat:
* software hoarding:
* software laser:
* software rot:
* some random X:
* sorcerer's apprentice mode:
* source of all good bits:
* space-cadet keyboard:
* spaceship operator:
* spaghetti code:
* spaghetti inheritance:
* spam bait:
* spelling flame:
* spider food:
* splash screen:
* splat out:
* spoiler space:
* spool file:
* square tape:
* stack puke:
* stale pointer bug:
* star out:
* stealth manager:
* stir-fried random:
* stomp on:
* Stone Age:
* stone knives and bearskins:
* Sturgeon's Law:
* sucking mud:
* sufficiently small:
* suitable win:
* suitably small:
* sun lounge:
* super source quench:
* Suzie COBOL:
* swap space:
* swapped in:
* swapped out:
* syntactic salt:
* syntactic sugar:
* systems jock:
* system mangler:
Node:S/N ratio, Next:sacred, Previous:rusty wire,
Up:= S =
S/N ratio // n.
(also `s/n ratio', `s:n ratio'). Syn. signal-to-noise ratio.
Often abbreviated `SNR'.
Node:sacred, Next:saga, Previous:S/N ratio, Up:=
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.
Node:saga, Next:sagan, Previous:sacred, Up:= S =
[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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Node:sagan, Next:SAIL, Previous:saga, Up:= S =
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."
Node:SAIL, Next:salescritter, Previous:sagan,
Up:= S =
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.
Node:salescritter, Next:salt, Previous:SAIL, Up:=
salescritter /sayls'kri`tr/ n.
Pejorative hackerism for a computer salesperson. Hackers tell the
Q. What's the difference between a used-car dealer and a
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.
Node:salt, Next:salt mines, Previous:salescritter,
Up:= S =
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."
Node:salt mines, Next:salt substrate, Previous:salt,
Up:= S =
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,
Node:salt substrate, Next:same-day service,
Previous:salt mines, Up:= S =
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.
Node:same-day service, Next:samizdat, Previous:salt
substrate, Up:= S =
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.
Node:samizdat, Next:samurai, Previous:same-day service,
Up:= S =
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
Node:samurai, Next:sandbender, Previous:samizdat,
Up:= S =
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.
Node:sandbender, Next:sandbox, Previous:samurai,
Up:= S =
[IBM] A person involved with silicon lithography and the physical
design of chips. Compare ironmonger, polygon pusher.
Node:sandbox, Next:sanity check, Previous:sandbender,
Up:= S =
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.
Node:sanity check, Next:Saturday-night special,
Previous:sandbox, Up:= S =
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).
Node:Saturday-night special, Next:say, Previous:sanity
check, Up:= S =
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.
Node:say, Next:scag, Previous:Saturday-night special,
Up:= S =
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.
Node:scag, Next:scanno, Previous:say, Up:= S =
To destroy the data on a disk, either by corrupting the filesystem or
by causing media damage. "That last power hit scagged the system
disk." Compare scrog, roach.
Node:scanno, Next:scary devil monastery, Previous:scag,
Up:= S =
scanno /skan'oh/ n.
An error in a document caused by a scanner glitch, analogous to a typo
Node:scary devil monastery, Next:schroedinbug,
Previous:scanno, Up:= S =
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.
Node:schroedinbug, Next:science-fiction fandom,
Previous:scary devil monastery, Up:= S =
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.
Node:science-fiction fandom, Next:scram switch,
Previous:schroedinbug, Up:= S =
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.
Node:scram switch, Next:scratch,
Previous:science-fiction fandom, Up:= S =
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.
Node:scratch, Next:scratch monkey, Previous:scram
switch, Up:= S =
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).
Node:scratch monkey, Next:scream and die,
Previous:scratch, Up:= S =
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]
Node:scream and die, Next:screaming tty,
Previous:scratch monkey, Up:= S =
scream and die v.
Syn. cough and die, but connotes that an error message was
printed or displayed before the program crashed.
Node:screaming tty, Next:screen, Previous:scream and
die, Up:= S =
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.
Node:screen, Next:screen name, Previous:screaming tty,
Up:= S =
[Atari ST demoscene] One demoeffect or one screenful of
them. Probably comes from old Sierra-style adventures or shoot-em-ups
where one travels from one place to another one screenful at a time.
Node:screen name, Next:screw, Previous:screen,
Up:= S =
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.
Node:screw, Next:screwage, Previous:screen name,
Up:= S =
[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.
Node:screwage, Next:scribble, Previous:screw,
Up:= S =
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.
Node:scribble, Next:script kiddies, Previous:screwage,
Up:= S =
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.
Node:script kiddies, Next:scrog, Previous:scribble,
Up:= S =
script kiddies pl.n.
1. The lowest form of cracker; script kiddies do mischief with
scripts and programs written by others, often without understanding
the exploit. 2. People who cannot program, but who create tacky
More generally, a script kiddie writes (or more likely cuts and
pastes) code without either having or desiring to have a mental model
of what the code does; someone who thinks of code as magical
incantations and asks only "what do I need to type to make this
Node:scrog, Next:scrool, Previous:script kiddies,
Up:= S =
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.
Node:scrool, Next:scrozzle, Previous:scrog, Up:=
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.
Node:scrozzle, Next:scruffies, Previous:scrool,
Up:= S =
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
Node:scruffies, Next:SCSI, Previous:scrozzle,
Up:= S =
See neats vs. scruffies.
Node:SCSI, Next:ScumOS, Previous:scruffies, Up:=
[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.
Node:ScumOS, Next:search-and-destroy mode,
Previous:SCSI, Up:= S =
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.
Node:search-and-destroy mode, Next:second-system effect,
Previous:ScumOS, Up:= S =
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.
Node:second-system effect, Next:secondary damage,
Previous:search-and-destroy mode, Up:= S =
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,
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....
Node:secondary damage, Next:security through obscurity,
Previous:second-system effect, Up:= S =
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
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.
Node:security through obscurity, Next:SED,
Previous:secondary damage, Up:= S =
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
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
Node:SED, Next:segfault, Previous:security through
obscurity, Up:= S =
SED /S-E-D/ n.
[TMRC, from `Light-Emitting Diode'] Smoke-emitting diode. A
friode that lost the war. See also LER.
Node:segfault, Next:seggie, Previous:SED, Up:= S
Syn. segment, segmentation fault.
Node:seggie, Next:segment, Previous:segfault,
Up:= S =
seggie /seg'ee/ n.
[Unix] Shorthand for segmentation fault reported from Britain.
Node:segment, Next:segmentation fault, Previous:seggie,
Up:= S =
segment /seg'ment/ vi.
To experience a segmentation fault. Confusingly, this is often
pronounced more like the noun `segment' than like mainstream v.