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Computer Definitions With A Twist

Computerwelt

/2
A mathematical symbol, meaning "only half of the real value," as in 1/2 or PS/2 (OS/2???)

386? No, 486? Oops 568!
The only chip to consider if you're buying a DOS machine. Until Intel ramps up the 686.

640K
The salary the average Wall Street PC analyst pulls in each year.

Algorithm
A catchy 1930 song by George and Ira Gershwin.

Availability
Date when a dozen copies of the beta version will be hurriedly shrink-wrapped for the benefit of the press and the investment community.

Backup
The chore you were really, honestly, going to do the very next thing before you switched drive letters and accidentally copied older, out-of-date versions of you files over all your newer ones at 3 a.m.

Buffer
The only other job - involving a chamois at the car wash - for which most computer store salespeople are qualified.

Bundled software
Free applications like home dentistry packages and Esperanto spelling dictionaries that are thrown in with cheap clones so you think you're getting real value for your money.

CD-ROM
A $100 dollar mechanism in a $1,200 cabinet that accesses vast quantities of valuable information too slowly to use.

Copy protection
A sly technique employed by hardware vendors to combat software piracy by continually changing the size and compatibility of disk drives (from 160K to 320K to 360K to 1.2MB to 720K to 1.4MB, etc.).

CP/M
An antiquated operation system from the early days of computing, based on inscrutable prompts like A>, terse commands, and absurdly backward conventions, such as 11-character limits on filenames. Contrasted with today's modern versions of DOS.

Database, flat-file
A program selling for under $500 that most people use to keep lists of names and addresses, etc.

Database, relational/programmable
A program selling for over $500 that most people use to keep lists of names and addresses, etc.

Debugging
The process of uncovering glitches by packaging prerelease software as software as finished products, then waiting for irate customers to report problems.

Downward compatibility
You really didn't have to spend the money for the upgraded version, since all you use anyway is the old set of features.

End User
One born every minute.

Entry level
Only slightly above most users' heads.

Expanded memory
RAM that is, uh, well, um, different from extended memory.

Expansion slot
The computer didn't come with everything you needed.

Extended memory
RAM that is, uh, well, um, different from expanded memory.

FAX
Originally a last resort for procrastinators who missed the final Federal Express pickup; these days, an expensive way to order lunch from the pizza place around the corner.

Firmware
Software with permanent bugs hardwired into it.

Icon
One picture is worth a thousand lawsuits. Or, as Shakespeare might have put it, "He who steals my trash better have a large purse.

Installation routine
A process employed by many applications to overwrite and thereby trash the user's existing and painstakingly created AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS files

Interface, character-based
A way of presenting information to the user that's every bit as good as a user interface except in the areas of readability, ease of use, intuitiveness, and productivity.

Interface, graphic user (GUI)
An increasingly popular way of presenting information to the user, originally designed by Xerox PARC and now being adopted by dozens of competitors; otherwise known as the Trial Attorney Full Employment Act.

Laptop
A dinky keyboard wedded to a lousy monochrome screen, all with bad battery life.

Live links
A clever system that lets you unknowingly corrupt data in lots of separate files at the same time.

Low-bandwidth
The process of talking to a corporate press relations official. (Question: How many IBM PR types does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: We'll have to get back to you on that.)

Nanosecond
The time it takes after your warranty expires for your hard disk to start making a sound like a monkey wrench in a blender.

NiCad battery
A cell that powers a laptop long enough to let you do three solid hours of work, then dies before you're ready to save any of it to disk.

Open system
Made up of parts from different manufacturers so that, when you crash, each vendor can blame the others.

Optional
It should have come free, but someone in the marketing department ran 1-2-3 and figured they'd double their profits this way.

Parity
A ninth memory bit that one time in nine will crash an otherwise perfectly functioning system when it detects an error in itself.

Partition
A wall you have to build around a noisy dot matrix printer that makes only slightly less noise than a tree chipper.

Point-and-shoot
You mean you'd rather click on a menu choice than have to type things like DEVICE=\DOS\UTS\DRIVER.SYS /D:0 /T:80 /S:15 /H:2 /C /F:1?

Power Surge
What an MIS director feels when he denies you access to your own database.

Power user
Someone who's read the manual all the way through once.

Productivity
Printing out 30 different versions of your document before getting the spacing correct.

Real-time clock
A 50-dollar option based on a five-cent chip.

SAA
Silly And Awkward.

Shell
A clumsy program that forces users to stumble through ten menus to get anything done in DOS instead of typing a simple three-character command.

Shock-mounted
Make sure you're sitting down when you ask the price.

Spreadsheet
Sophisticated software that can be used as a database, rudimentary word processor, graphing program, and, in a pinch, a ledger.

Stack
The place in the corner of the room where you pile unopened software manuals.

Standard
Manufactured by the company that does the flashiest advertising.

Support
Fast, simple, courteous, friendly, accurate help available to any user who happens to work for any company that bought 1,000 copies of the product.

Throughput
What you feel like doing with your foot and your computer screen after you see the message "General Failure Error Reading Drive C:".

Toll-free hotline
An AT&T busy-signal test number.

Toner cartridge
A device to refill laser printers; invented by the Association of American Dry Cleaners.

Torture test
Everyone-from the UPS guy to the clerk who opened the box to the intern who executed the speed test-accidentally dropped it.

Tutorial
A program that forces you to sit through lessons on every last obscure and little-used feature of an application while ignoring overall fundamental tricks that would make you far more productive.

Unix, year of
See Calendar, perpetual.

Value-added:
A lot more expensive.

Virus
Commonly, the belief of incompetent users that some mysterious external force is to blame for their mistakes at the keyboard.

Workstation
Any PC that sells for more than $10,000.

XT
All the computer that most users who just type letters and run typical spreadsheets will ever need, even though a 386 machine will reformat their text a whole tenth of a second faster.