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:C: n. 1. The third letter of the English alphabet. 2. ASCII 1000011. 3. The name of a programming language designed by Dennis Ritchie during the early 1970s and immediately used to reimplement UNIX; so called because many features derived from an earlier compiler named `B' in commemoration of *its* parent, BCPL. Before Bjarne Stroustrup settled the question by designing C++, there was a humorous debate over whether C's successor should be named `D' or `P'. C became immensely popular outside Bell Labs after about 1980 and is now the dominant language in systems and microcomputer applications programming. See also languages of choice, indent style. C is often described, with a mixture of fondness and disdain varying according to the speaker, as "a language that combines all the elegance and power of assembly language with all the readability and maintainability of assembly language".

C Programmer's Disease

:C Programmer's Disease: n. The tendency of the undisciplined C programmer to set arbitrary but supposedly generous static limits on table sizes (defined, if you're lucky, by constants in header files) rather than taking the trouble to do proper dynamic storage allocation. If an application user later needs to put 68 elements into a table of size 50, the afflicted programmer reasons that he or she can easily reset the table size to 68 (or even as much as 70, to allow for future expansion) and recompile. This gives the programmer the comfortable feeling of having made the effort to satisfy the user's (unreasonable) demands, and often affords the user multiple opportunities to explore the marvelous consequences of fandango on core. In severe cases of the disease, the programmer cannot comprehend why each fix of this kind seems only to further disgruntle the user.


:calculator: [Cambridge] n. Syn. for bitty box.


:can: vt. To abort a job on a time-sharing system. Used esp. when the person doing the deed is an operator, as in "canned from the console". Frequently used in an imperative sense, as in "Can that print job, the LPT just popped a sprocket!" Synonymous with gun. It is said that the ASCII character with mnemonic CAN (0011000) was used as a kill-job character on some early OSes. Alternatively, this term may derive from mainstream slang `canned' for being laid off or fired.

can't happen

:can't happen: The traditional program comment for code executed under a condition that should never be true, for example a file size computed as negative. Often, such a condition being true indicates data corruption or a faulty algorithm; it is almost always handled by emitting a fatal error message and terminating or crashing, since there is little else that can be done. Some case variant of "can't happen" is also often the text emitted if the `impossible' error actually happens! Although "can't happen" events are genuinely infrequent in production code, programmers wise enough to check for them habitually are often surprised at how frequently they are triggered during development and how many headaches checking for them turns out to head off. See also firewall code (sense 2).


:candygrammar: n. A programming-language grammar that is mostly syntactic sugar; the term is also a play on `candygram'. COBOL, Apple's Hypertalk language, and a lot of the so-called `4GL' database languages share this property. The usual intent of such designs is that they be as English-like as possible, on the theory that they will then be easier for unskilled people to program. This intention comes to grief on the reality that syntax isn't what makes programming hard; it's the mental effort and organization required to specify an algorithm precisely that costs. Thus the invariable result is that `candygrammar' languages are just as difficult to program in as terser ones, and far more painful for the experienced hacker. [The overtones from the old Chevy Chase skit on Saturday Night Live should not be overlooked. This was a "Jaws" parody. Someone lurking outside an apartment door tries all kinds of bogus ways to get the occupant to open up, while ominous music plays in the background. The last attempt is a half-hearted "Candygram!" When the door is opened, a shark bursts in and chomps the poor occupant. There is a moral here for those attracted to candygrammars. Note that, in many circles, pretty much the same ones who remember Monty Python sketches, all it takes is the word "Candygram!", suitably timed, to get people rolling on the floor. --- GLS]


:canonical: [historically, `according to religious law'] adj. The usual or standard state or manner of something. This word has a somewhat more technical meaning in mathematics. Two formulas such as 9 + x and x + 9 are said to be equivalent because they mean the same thing, but the second one is in `canonical form' because it is written in the usual way, with the highest power of x first. Usually there are fixed rules you can use to decide whether something is in canonical form. The jargon meaning, a relaxation of the technical meaning, acquired its present loading in computer-science culture largely through its prominence in Alonzo Church's work in computation theory and mathematical logic (see Knights of the Lambda Calculus). Compare vanilla. This word has an interesting history. Non-technical academics do not use the adjective `canonical' in any of the senses defined above with any regularity; they do however use the nouns `canon' and `canonicity' (not **canonicalness or **canonicality). The `canon' of a given author is the complete body of authentic works by that author (this usage is familiar to Sherlock Holmes fans as well as to literary scholars). `*The* canon' is the body of works in a given field (e.g., works of literature, or of art, or of music) deemed worthwhile for students to study and for scholars to investigate. The word `canon' derives ultimately from the Greek `kanon' (akin to the English `cane') referring to a reed. Reeds were used for measurement, and in Latin and later Greek the word `canon' meant a rule or a standard. The establishment of a canon of scriptures within Christianity was meant to define a standard or a rule for the religion. The above non-techspeak academic usages stem from this instance of a defined and accepted body of work. Alongside this usage was the promulgation of `canons' (`rules') for the government of the Catholic Church. The techspeak usages ("according to religious law") derive from this use of the Latin `canon'. Hackers invest this term with a playfulness that makes an ironic contrast with its historical meaning. A true story: One Bob Sjoberg, new at the MIT AI Lab, expressed some annoyance at the incessant use of jargon. Over his loud objections, GLS and RMS made a point of using as much of it as possible in his presence, and eventually it began to sink in. Finally, in one conversation, he used the word `canonical' in jargon-like fashion without thinking. Steele: "Aha! We've finally got you talking jargon too!" Stallman: "What did he say?" Steele: "Bob just used `canonical' in the canonical way." Of course, canonicality depends on context, but it is implicitly defined as the way *hackers* normally expect things to be. Thus, a hacker may claim with a straight face that `according to religious law' is *not* the canonical meaning of `canonical'.

card walloper

:card walloper: n. An EDP programmer who grinds out batch programs that do stupid things like print people's paychecks. Compare code grinder. See also punched card, eighty-column mind .


:careware: /keir'weir/ n. Shareware for which either the author suggests that some payment be made to a nominated charity or a levy directed to charity is included on top of the distribution charge. Syn. charityware; compare crippleware, sense 2.

cargo cult programming

:cargo cult programming: n. A style of (incompetent) programming dominated by ritual inclusion of code or program structures that serve no real purpose. A cargo cult programmer will usually explain the extra code as a way of working around some bug encountered in the past, but usually neither the bug nor the reason the code apparently avoided the bug was ever fully understood (compare shotgun debugging, voodoo programming). The term `cargo cult' is a reference to aboriginal religions that grew up in the South Pacific after World War II. The practices of these cults center on building elaborate mockups of airplanes and military style landing strips in the hope of bringing the return of the god-like airplanes that brought such marvelous cargo during the war. Hackish usage probably derives from Richard Feynman's characterization of certain practices as "cargo cult science" in his book "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman" (W. W. Norton & Co, New York 1985, ISBN 0-393-01921-7).


:cascade: n. 1. A huge volume of spurious error-message output produced by a compiler with poor error recovery. Too frequently, ') throws the parser out of synch so that much of the remaining program text is interpreted as garbaged or ill-formed. 2. A chain of USENET followups, each adding some trivial variation or riposte to the text of the previous one, all of which is reproduced in the new message; an include war in which the object is to create a sort of communal graffito.

case and paste

:case and paste: [from `cut and paste'] n. 1. The addition of a new feature to an existing system by selecting the code from an existing feature and pasting it in with minor changes. Common in telephony circles because most operations in a telephone switch are selected using `case' statements. Leads to software bloat. In some circles of EMACS users this is called `programming by Meta-W', because Meta-W is the EMACS command for copying a block of text to a kill buffer in preparation to pasting it in elsewhere. The term is condescending, implying that the programmer is acting mindlessly rather than thinking carefully about what is required to integrate the code for two similar cases. At DEC, this is sometimes called `clone-and-hack' coding.

casters-up mode

:casters-up mode: [IBM, prob. fr. slang belly up] n. Yet another synonym for `broken' or `down'. Usually connotes a major failure. A system (hardware or software) which is `down' may be already being restarted before the failure is noticed, whereas one which is `casters up' is usually a good excuse to take the rest of the day off (as long as you're not responsible for fixing it).

casting the runes

:casting the runes: n. What a guru does when you ask him or her to run a particular program and type at it because it never works for anyone else; esp. used when nobody can ever see what the guru is doing different from what J. Random Luser does. Compare incantation, runes, examining the entrails; also see the AI koan about Tom Knight in "A Selection of AI Koans " (Appendix A).


:cat: [from `catenate' via UNIX `cat(1)'] vt. 1. [techspeak] To spew an entire file to the screen or some other output sink without pause. 2. By extension, to dump large amounts of data at an unprepared target or with no intention of browsing it carefully. Usage: considered silly. Rare outside UNIX sites. See also dd, BLT. Among UNIX fans, `cat(1)' is considered an excellent example of user-interface design, because it delivers the file contents without such verbosity as spacing or headers between the files, and because it does not require the files to consist of lines of text, but works with any sort of data. Among UNIX haters, `cat(1)' is considered the canonical example of *bad* user-interface design, because of its woefully unobvious name. It is far more often used to blast a file to standard output than to concatenate two files. The name `cat' for the former operation is just as unintuitive as, say, LISP's cdr. Of such oppositions are holy wars made....


:catatonic: adj. Describes a condition of suspended animation in which something is so wedged or hung that it makes no response. If you are typing on a terminal and suddenly the computer doesn't even echo the letters back to the screen as you type, let alone do what you're asking it to do, then the computer is suffering from catatonia (possibly because it has crashed). "There I was in the middle of a winning game of nethack and it went catatonic on me! Aaargh!" Compare buzz.

cd tilde

:cd tilde: /C-D til-d*/ vi. To go home. From the UNIX C-shell and Korn-shell command `cd ~', which takes one to one's `$HOME' (`cd' with no arguments happens to do the same thing). By extension, may be used with other arguments; thus, over an electronic chat link, `cd ~coffee' would mean "I'm going to the coffee machine."


:cdr: /ku'dr/ or /kuh'dr/ [from LISP] vt. To skip past the first item from a list of things (generalized from the LISP operation on binary tree structures, which returns a list consisting of all but the first element of its argument). In the form `cdr down', to trace down a list of elements: "Shall we cdr down the agenda?" Usage: silly. See also loop through. Historical note: The instruction format of the IBM 7090 that hosted the original LISP implementation featured two 15-bit fields called the `address' and `decrement' parts. The term `cdr' was originally `Contents of Decrement part of Register'. Similarly, `car' stood for `Contents of Address part of Register'. The cdr and car operations have since become bases for formation of compound metaphors in non-LISP contexts. GLS recalls, for example, a programming project in which strings were represented as linked lists; the get-character and skip-character operations were of course called CHAR and CHDR.


:chad: /chad/ n. 1. The perforated edge strips on printer paper, after they have been separated from the printed portion. Also called selvage and perf. 2. obs. The confetti-like paper bits punched out of cards or paper tape; this was also called `chaff', `computer confetti', and `keypunch droppings'. Historical note: One correspondent believes `chad' (sense 2) derives from the Chadless keypunch (named for its inventor), which cut little u-shaped tabs in the card to make a hole when the tab folded back, rather than punching out a circle/rectangle; it was clear that if the Chadless keypunch didn't make them, then the stuff that other keypunches made had to be `chad'.

chad box

:chad box: n. A metal box about the size of a lunchbox (or in some models a large wastebasket), for collecting the chad (sense 2) that accumulated in Iron Age card punches. You had to open the covers of the card punch periodically and empty the chad box. The bit bucket was notionally the equivalent device in the CPU enclosure, which was typically across the room in another great gray-and-blue box.


:chain: 1. [orig. from BASIC's `CHAIN' statement] vi. To hand off execution to a child or successor without going through the OS command interpreter that invoked it. The state of the parent program is lost and there is no returning to it. Though this facility used to be common on memory-limited micros and is still widely supported for backward compatibility, the jargon usage is semi-obsolescent; in particular, most UNIX programmers will think of this as an exec. Oppose the more modern `subshell'. 2. A series of linked data areas within an operating system or application. `Chain rattling' is the process of repeatedly running through the linked data areas searching for one which is of interest to the executing program. The implication is that there is a very large number of links on the chain.


:channel: [IRC] n. The basic unit of discussion on IRC. Once one joins a channel, everything one types is read by others on that channel. Channels can either be named with numbers or with strings that begin with a `#' sign and can have topic descriptions (which are generally irrelevant to the actual subject of discussion). Some notable channels are `#initgame', `#hottub', and `#report'. At times of international crisis, `#report' has hundreds of members, some of whom take turns listening to various news services and typing in summaries of the news, or in some cases, giving first-hand accounts of the action (e.g., Scud missile attacks in Tel Aviv during the Gulf War in 1991).

channel hopping

:channel hopping: [IRC, GEnie] n. To rapidly switch channels on IRC, or a GEnie chat board, just as a social butterfly might hop from one group to another at a party. This term may derive from the TV watcher's idiom, `channel surfing'.

channel op

:channel op: /chan'l op/ [IRC] n. Someone who is endowed with privileges on a particular IRC channel; commonly abbreviated `chanop' or `CHOP'. These privileges include the right to kick users, to change various status bits, and to make others into CHOPs.


:chanop: /chan'-op/ [IRC] n. See channel op.


:char: /keir/ or /char/; rarely, /kar/ n. Shorthand for `character'. Esp. used by C programmers, as `char' is C's typename for character data.


:charityware: /cha'rit-ee-weir`/ n. Syn. careware.

chase pointers

:chase pointers: 1. vi. To go through multiple levels of indirection, as in traversing a linked list or graph structure. Used esp. by programmers in C, where explicit pointers are a very common data type. This is techspeak, but it remains jargon when used of human networks. "I'm chasing pointers. Bob said you could tell me who to talk to about...." See dangling pointer and snap. 2. [Cambridge] `pointer chase' or `pointer hunt': The process of going through a core dump (sense 1), interactively or on a large piece of paper printed with hex runes, following dynamic data-structures. Used only in a debugging context.


:check: n. A hardware-detected error condition, most commonly used to refer to actual hardware failures rather than software-induced traps. E.g., a `parity check' is the result of a hardware-detected parity error. Recorded here because the word often humorously extended to non-technical problems. For example, the term `child check' has been used to refer to the problems caused by a small child who is curious to know what happens when s/he presses all the cute buttons on a computer's console (of course, this particular problem could have been prevented with molly-guards).


:chemist: [Cambridge] n. Someone who wastes computer time on number-crunching when you'd far rather the machine were doing something more productive, such as working out anagrams of your name or printing Snoopy calendars or running life patterns. May or may not refer to someone who actually studies chemistry.

Chernobyl chicken

:Chernobyl chicken: n. See laser chicken.

Chernobyl packet

:Chernobyl packet: /cher-noh'b*l pak'*t/ n. A network packet that induces a broadcast storm and/or network meltdown, in memory of the April 1986 nuclear accident at Chernobyl in Ukraine. The typical scenario involves an IP Ethernet datagram that passes through a gateway with both source and destination Ether and IP address set as the respective broadcast addresses for the subnetworks being gated between. Compare Christmas tree packet .

chicken head

:chicken head: [Commodore] n. The Commodore Business Machines logo, which strongly resembles a poultry part. Rendered in ASCII as `C='. With the arguable exception of the Amiga (see amoeba), Commodore's machines are notoriously crocky little bitty boxes (see also PETSCII). Thus, this usage may owe something to Philip K. Dick's novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" (the basis for the movie "Blade Runner"; the novel is now sold under that title), in which a `chickenhead' is a mutant with below-average intelligence.

chiclet keyboard

:chiclet keyboard: n. A keyboard with a small, flat rectangular or lozenge-shaped rubber or plastic keys that look like pieces of chewing gum. (Chiclets is the brand name of a variety of chewing gum that does in fact resemble the keys of chiclet keyboards.) Used esp. to describe the original IBM PCjr keyboard. Vendors unanimously liked these because they were cheap, and a lot of early portable and laptop products got launched using them. Customers rejected the idea with almost equal unanimity, and chiclets are not often seen on anything larger than a digital watch any more.

chine nual

:chine nual: /sheen'yu-*l/ [MIT] n.,obs. The LISP Machine Manual, so called because the title was wrapped around the cover so only those letters showed on the front.

Chinese Army technique

:Chinese Army technique: n. Syn. Mongolian Hordes technique.


:choke: v. 1. To reject input, often ungracefully. "NULs make System V's `lpr(1)' choke." "I tried building an EMACS binary to use X, but `cpp(1)' choked on all those `#define's." See barf, gag, vi. 2. [MIT] More generally, to fail at any endeavor, but with some flair or bravado; the popular definition is "to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory."


:chomp: vi. To lose; specifically, to chew on something of which more was bitten off than one can. Probably related to gnashing of teeth. See bagbiter. A hand gesture commonly accompanies this. To perform it, hold the four fingers together and place the thumb against their tips. Now open and close your hand rapidly to suggest a biting action (much like what Pac-Man does in the classic video game, though this pantomime seems to predate that). The gesture alone means `chomp chomp' (see "Verb Doubling" in the "Jargon Construction " section of the Prependices). The hand may be pointed at the object of complaint, and for real emphasis you can use both hands at once. Doing this to a person is equivalent to saying "You chomper!" If you point the gesture at yourself, it is a humble but humorous admission of some failure. You might do this if someone told you that a program you had written had failed in some surprising way and you felt dumb for not having anticipated it.


:chomper: n. Someone or something that is chomping; a loser. See loser, bagbiter, chomp.


:CHOP: /chop/ [IRC] n. See channel op.

Christmas tree

:Christmas tree: n. A kind of RS-232 line tester or breakout box featuring rows of blinking red and green LEDs suggestive of Christmas lights.

Christmas tree packet

:Christmas tree packet: n. A packet with every single option set for whatever protocol is in use. See kamikaze packet, Chernobyl packet . (The term doubtless derives from a fanciful image of each little option bit being represented by a different-colored light bulb, all turned on.)


:chrome: [from automotive slang via wargaming] n. Showy features added to attract users but contributing little or nothing to the power of a system. "The 3D icons in Motif are just chrome, but they certainly are *pretty* chrome!" Distinguished from bells and whistles by the fact that the latter are usually added to gratify developers' own desires for featurefulness. Often used as a term of contempt.


:chug: vi. To run slowly; to grind or grovel. "The disk is chugging like crazy."

Church of the SubGenius

:Church of the SubGenius: n. A mutant offshoot of Discordianism launched in 1981 as a spoof of fundamentalist Christianity by the `Reverend' Ivan Stang, a brilliant satirist with a gift for promotion. Popular among hackers as a rich source of bizarre imagery and references such as "Bob" the divine drilling-equipment salesman, the Benevolent Space Xists, and the Stark Fist of Removal. Much SubGenius theory is concerned with the acquisition of the mystical substance or quality of slack.

Cinderella Book

:Cinderella Book: [CMU] n. "Introduction to Automata Theory, Languages, and Computation", by John Hopcroft and Jeffrey Ullman, (Addison-Wesley, 1979). So called because the cover depicts a girl (putatively Cinderella) sitting in front of a Rube Goldberg device and holding a rope coming out of it. On the back cover, the device is in shambles after she has (inevitably) pulled on the rope. See also book titles.


:CI$: // n. Hackerism for `CIS', CompuServe Information Service. The dollar sign refers to CompuServe's rather steep line charges. Often used in sig blocks just before a CompuServe address. Syn. Compu$erve.

Classic C

:Classic C: /klas'ik C/ [a play on `Coke Classic'] n. The C programming language as defined in the first edition of K&R, with some small additions. It is also known as `K&R C'. The name came into use while C was being standardized by the ANSI X3J11 committee. Also `C Classic'. An analogous construction is sometimes applied elsewhere: thus, `X Classic', where X = Star Trek (referring to the original TV series) or X = PC (referring to IBM's ISA-bus machines as opposed to the PS/2 series). This construction is especially used of product series in which the newer versions are considered serious losers relative to the older ones.


:clean: 1. adj. Used of hardware or software designs, implies `elegance in the small', that is, a design or implementation that may not hold any surprises but does things in a way that is reasonably intuitive and relatively easy to comprehend from the outside. The antonym is `grungy' or crufty. 2. v. To remove unneeded or undesired files in a effort to reduce clutter: "I'm cleaning up my account." "I cleaned up the garbage and now have 100 Meg free on that partition."


:CLM: /C-L-M/ [Sun: `Career Limiting Move'] 1. n. An action endangering one's future prospects of getting plum projects and raises, and possibly one's job: "His Halloween costume was a parody of his manager. He won the prize for `best CLM'." 2. adj. Denotes extreme severity of a bug, discovered by a customer and obviously missed earlier because of poor testing: "That's a CLM bug!"


:clobber: vt. To overwrite, usually unintentionally: "I walked off the end of the array and clobbered the stack." Compare mung, scribble, trash, and smash the stack.


:clocks: n. Processor logic cycles, so called because each generally corresponds to one clock pulse in the processor's timing. The relative execution times of instructions on a machine are usually discussed in clocks rather than absolute fractions of a second; one good reason for this is that clock speeds for various models of the machine may increase as technology improves, and it is usually the relative times one is interested in when discussing the instruction set. Compare cycle.


:clone: n. 1. An exact duplicate: "Our product is a clone of their product." Implies a legal reimplementation from documentation or by reverse-engineering. Also connotes lower price. 2. A shoddy, spurious copy: "Their product is a clone of our product." 3. A blatant ripoff, most likely violating copyright, patent, or trade secret protections: "Your product is a clone of my product." This use implies legal action is pending. 4. `PC clone:' a PC-BUS/ISA or EISA-compatible 80x86-based microcomputer (this use is sometimes spelled `klone' or `PClone'). These invariably have much more bang for the buck than the IBM archetypes they resemble. 5. In the construction `UNIX clone': An OS designed to deliver a UNIX-lookalike environment without UNIX license fees, or with additional `mission-critical' features such as support for real-time programming. 6. v. To make an exact copy of something. "Let me clone that" might mean "I want to borrow that paper so I can make a photocopy" or "Let me get a copy of that file before you mung it".

clone-and-hack coding

:clone-and-hack coding: [DEC] n. Syn. case and paste.

clover key

:clover key: [Mac users] n. See feature key.


:clustergeeking: /kluh'st*r-gee`king/ [CMU] n. Spending more time at a computer cluster doing CS homework than most people spend breathing.


:COBOL: /koh'bol/ [COmmon Business-Oriented Language] n. (Synonymous with evil.) A weak, verbose, and flabby language used by card wallopers to do boring mindless things on dinosaur mainframes. Hackers believe that all COBOL programmers are suits or code grinders, and no self-respecting hacker will ever admit to having learned the language. Its very name is seldom uttered without ritual expressions of disgust or horror. See also fear and loathing, software rot.

COBOL fingers

:COBOL fingers: /koh'bol fing'grz/ n. Reported from Sweden, a (hypothetical) disease one might get from coding in COBOL. The language requires code verbose beyond all reason (see candygrammar); thus it is alleged that programming too much in COBOL causes one's fingers to wear down to stubs by the endless typing. "I refuse to type in all that source code again; it would give me COBOL fingers!"

code grinder

:code grinder: n. 1. A suit-wearing minion of the sort hired in legion strength by banks and insurance companies to implement payroll packages in RPG and other such unspeakable horrors. In its native habitat, the code grinder often removes the suit jacket to reveal an underplumage consisting of button-down shirt (starch optional) and a tie. In times of dire stress, the sleeves (if long) may be rolled up and the tie loosened about half an inch. It seldom helps. The code grinder's milieu is about as far from hackerdom as one can get and still touch a computer; the term connotes pity. See Real World, suit. 2. Used of or to a hacker, a really serious slur on the person's creative ability; connotes a design style characterized by primitive technique, rule-boundedness, brute force, and utter lack of imagination. Compare card walloper; contrast hacker, real programmer .

code police

:code police: [by analogy with George Orwell's `thought police'] n. A mythical team of Gestapo-like storm troopers that might burst into one's office and arrest one for violating programming style rules. May be used either seriously, to underline a claim that a particular style violation is dangerous, or ironically, to suggest that the practice under discussion is condemned mainly by anal-retentive weenies. "Dike out that goto or the code police will get you!" The ironic usage is perhaps more common.


:codes: [scientific computing] n. Programs. This usage is common in people who hack supercumputers and heavy-duty number-crunching, rare to unknown elsewhere (if you say "codes" to hackers outside scientific computing, their first association is likely to be "and cyphers").


:codewalker: n. A program component that traverses other programs for a living. Compilers have codewalkers in their front ends; so do cross-reference generators and some database front ends. Other utility programs that try to do too much with source code may turn into codewalkers. As in "This new `vgrind' feature would require a codewalker to implement."

coefficient of X

:coefficient of X: n. Hackish speech makes heavy use of pseudo-mathematical metaphors. Four particularly important ones involve the terms `coefficient', `factor', `index', and `quotient'. They are often loosely applied to things you cannot really be quantitative about, but there are subtle distinctions among them that convey information about the way the speaker mentally models whatever he or she is describing. `Foo factor' and `foo quotient' tend to describe something for which the issue is one of presence or absence. The canonical example is fudge factor. It's not important how much you're fudging; the term simply acknowledges that some fudging is needed. You might talk of liking a movie for its silliness factor. Quotient tends to imply that the property is a ratio of two opposing factors: "I would have won except for my luck quotient." This could also be "I would have won except for the luck factor", but using *quotient* emphasizes that it was bad luck overpowering good luck (or someone else's good luck overpowering your own). `Foo index' and `coefficient of foo' both tend to imply that foo is, if not strictly measurable, at least something that can be larger or smaller. Thus, you might refer to a paper or person as having a `high bogosity index', whereas you would be less likely to speak of a `high bogosity factor'. `Foo index' suggests that foo is a condensation of many quantities, as in the mundane cost-of-living index; `coefficient of foo' suggests that foo is a fundamental quantity, as in a coefficient of friction. The choice between these terms is often one of personal preference; e.g., some people might feel that bogosity is a fundamental attribute and thus say `coefficient of bogosity', whereas others might feel it is a combination of factors and thus say `bogosity index'.


:cokebottle: /kohk'bot-l/ n. Any very unusual character, particularly one you can't type because it it isn't on your keyboard. MIT people used to complain about the `control-meta-cokebottle' commands at SAIL, and SAIL people complained right back about the `altmode-altmode-cokebottle' commands at MIT. After the demise of the space-cadet keyboard , `cokebottle' faded away as serious usage, but was often invoked humorously to describe an (unspecified) weird or non-intuitive keystroke command. It may be due for a second inning, however. The OSF/Motif window manager, `mwm(1)', has a reserved keystroke for switching to the default set of keybindings and behavior. This keystroke is (believe it or not) `control-meta-bang' (see bang). Since the exclamation point looks a lot like an upside down Coke bottle, Motif hackers have begun referring to this keystroke as `cokebottle'. See also quadruple bucky.

cold boot

:cold boot: n. See boot.


:COME FROM: n. A semi-mythical language construct dual to the `go to'; `COME FROM' <label> would cause the referenced label to act as a sort of trapdoor, so that if the program ever reached it control would quietly and automagically be transferred to the statement following the `COME FROM'. `COME FROM' was first proposed in R.L. Clark's "A Linguistic Contribution to GOTO-less programming", which appeared in a 1973 Datamation issue (and was reprinted in the April 1984 issue of "Communications of the ACM"). This parodied the then-raging `structured programming' holy wars (see considered harmful ). Mythically, some variants are the `assigned COME FROM' and the `computed COME FROM' (parodying some nasty control constructs in FORTRAN and some extended BASICs). Of course, multi-tasking (or non-determinism) could be implemented by having more than one `COME FROM' statement coming from the same label. In some ways the FORTRAN `DO' looks like a `COME FROM' statement. After the terminating statement number/`CONTINUE' is reached, control continues at the statement following the DO. Some generous FORTRANs would allow arbitrary statements (other than `CONTINUE') for the statement, leading to examples like: DO 10 I=1,LIMIT C imagine many lines of code here, leaving the C original DO statement lost in the spaghetti... WRITE(6,10) I,FROB(I) 10 FORMAT(1X,I5,G10.4) in which the trapdoor is just after the statement labeled 10. (This is particularly surprising because the label doesn't appear to have anything to do with the flow of control at all!) While sufficiently astonishing to the unsuspecting reader, this form of `COME FROM' statement isn't completely general. After all, control will eventually pass to the following statement. The implementation of the general form was left to Univac FORTRAN, ca. 1975 (though a roughly similar feature existed on the IBM 7040 ten years earlier). The statement `AT 100' would perform a `COME FROM 100'. It was intended strictly as a debugging aid, with dire consequences promised to anyone so deranged as to use it in production code. More horrible things had already been perpetrated in production languages, however; doubters need only contemplate the `ALTER' verb in COBOL. `COME FROM' was supported under its own name for the first time 15 years later, in C-INTERCAL (see INTERCAL, retrocomputing); knowledgeable observers are still reeling from the shock.

comm mode

:comm mode: /kom mohd/ [ITS: from the feature supporting on-line chat; the term may spelled with one or two m's] Syn. for talk mode .

command key

:command key: [Mac users] n. Syn. feature key.

comment out

:comment out: vt. To surround a section of code with comment delimiters or to prefix every line in the section with a comment marker; this prevents it from being compiled or interpreted. Often done when the code is redundant or obsolete, but is being left in the source to make the intent of the active code clearer; also when the code in that section is broken and you want to bypass it in order to debug some other part of the code. Compare condition out, usually the preferred technique in languages (such as C) that make it possible.

Commonwealth Hackish

:Commonwealth Hackish:: n. Hacker jargon as spoken outside the U.S., esp. in the British Commonwealth. It is reported that Commonwealth speakers are more likely to pronounce truncations like `char' and `soc', etc., as spelled (/char/, /sok/), as opposed to American /keir/ and /sohsh/. Dots in newsgroup names (especially two-component names) tend to be pronounced more often (so soc.wibble is /sok dot wib'l/ rather than /sohsh wib'l/). The prefix meta may be pronounced /mee't*/; similarly, Greek letter beta is usually /bee't*/, zeta is usually /zee't*/, and so forth. Preferred metasyntactic variables include blurgle, `eek', `ook', `frodo', and `bilbo'; `wibble', `wobble', and in emergencies `wubble'; `banana', `tom', `dick', `harry', `wombat', `frog', fish, and so on and on (see foo, sense 4). Alternatives to verb doubling include suffixes `-o-rama', `frenzy' (as in feeding frenzy), and `city' (examples: "barf city!" "hack-o-rama!" "core dump frenzy!"). Finally, note that the American terms `parens', `brackets', and `braces' for (), [], and are uncommon; Commonwealth hackish prefers `brackets', `square brackets', and `curly brackets'. Also, the use of `pling' for bang is common outside the United States. See also attoparsec, calculator, chemist, console jockey, fish, go-faster stripes, grunge, hakspek, heavy metal, leaky heap, lord high fixer, loose bytes, muddie, nadger, noddy, psychedelicware, plingnet, raster blaster , RTBM, seggie, spod, sun lounge, terminal junkie, tick-list features, weeble, weasel, YABA, and notes or definitions under Bad Thing , barf, bogus, bum, chase pointers, cosmic rays, crippleware, crunch, dodgy, gonk, hamster, hardwarily, mess-dos, nybble, proglet, root, SEX, tweak, and xyzzy.


:compact: adj. Of a design, describes the valuable property that it can all be apprehended at once in one's head. This generally means the thing created from the design can be used with greater facility and fewer errors than an equivalent tool that is not compact. Compactness does not imply triviality or lack of power; for example, C is compact and FORTRAN is not, but C is more powerful than FORTRAN. Designs become non-compact through accreting features and cruft that don't merge cleanly into the overall design scheme (thus, some fans of Classic C maintain that ANSI C is no longer compact).

compiler jock

:compiler jock: n. See jock (sense 2).


:compress: [UNIX] vt. When used without a qualifier, generally refers to crunching of a file using a particular C implementation of compression by James A. Woods et al. and widely circulated via USENET; use of crunch itself in this sense is rare among UNIX hackers. Specifically, compress is built around the Lempel-Ziv-Welch algorithm as described in "A Technique for High Performance Data Compression", Terry A. Welch, "IEEE Computer", vol. 17, no. 6 (June 1984), pp. 8--19.


:Compu$erve: n. See CI$. Synonyms CompuSpend and Compu$pend are also reported.

computer confetti

:computer confetti: n. Syn. chad. Though this term is common, this use of punched-card chad is not a good idea, as the pieces are stiff and have sharp corners that could injure the eyes. GLS reports that he once attended a wedding at MIT during which he and a few other guests enthusiastically threw chad instead of rice. The groom later grumbled that he and his bride had spent most of the evening trying to get the stuff out of their hair.

computer geek

:computer geek: n. One who eats (computer) bugs for a living. One who fulfills all the dreariest negative stereotypes about hackers: an asocial, malodorous, pasty-faced monomaniac with all the personality of a cheese grater. Cannot be used by outsiders without implied insult to all hackers; compare black-on-black usage of `nigger'. A computer geek may be either a fundamentally clueless individual or a proto-hacker in larval stage. Also called `turbo nerd', `turbo geek'. See also propeller head, clustergeeking, geek out, wannabee, terminal junkie , spod, weenie.


:computron: /kom'pyoo-tron`/ n. 1. A notional unit of computing power combining instruction speed and storage capacity, dimensioned roughly in instructions-per-second times megabytes-of-main-store times megabytes-of-mass-storage. "That machine can't run GNU EMACS, it doesn't have enough computrons!" This usage is usually found in metaphors that treat computing power as a fungible commodity good, like a crop yield or diesel horsepower. See bitty box, Get a real computer!, toy, crank. 2. A mythical subatomic particle that bears the unit quantity of computation or information, in much the same way that an electron bears one unit of electric charge (see also bogon). An elaborate pseudo-scientific theory of computrons has been developed based on the physical fact that the molecules in a solid object move more rapidly as it is heated. It is argued that an object melts because the molecules have lost their information about where they are supposed to be (that is, they have emitted computrons). This explains why computers get so hot and require air conditioning; they use up computrons. Conversely, it should be possible to cool down an object by placing it in the path of a computron beam. It is believed that this may also explain why machines that work at the factory fail in the computer room: the computrons there have been all used up by the other hardware. (This theory probably owes something to the "Warlock" stories by Larry Niven, the best known being "What Good is a Glass Dagger?", in which magic is fueled by an exhaustible natural resource called `mana'.)


:con: [from SF fandom] n. A science-fiction convention. Not used of other sorts of conventions, such as professional meetings. This term, unlike many others of SF-fan slang, is widely recognized even by hackers who aren't fans. "We'd been corresponding on the net for months, then we met face-to-face at a con."

condition out

:condition out: vt. To prevent a section of code from being compiled by surrounding it with a conditional-compilation directive whose condition is always false. The canonical examples of these directives are `#if 0' (or `#ifdef notdef', though some find the latter bletcherous) and `#endif' in C. Compare comment out.


:condom: n. 1. The protective plastic bag that accompanies 3.5-inch microfloppy diskettes. Rarely, also used of (paper) disk envelopes. Unlike the write protect tab, the condom (when left on) not only impedes the practice of SEX but has also been shown to have a high failure rate as drive mechanisms attempt to access the disk --- and can even fatally frustrate insertion. 2. The protective cladding on a light pipe. 3. `keyboard condom': A flexible, transparent plastic cover for a keyboard, designed to provide some protection against dust and programming fluid without impeding typing. 4. `elephant condom': the plastic shipping bags used inside cardboard boxes to protect hardware in transit.


:confuser: n. Common soundalike slang for `computer'. Usually encountered in compounds such as `confuser room', `personal confuser', `confuser guru'. Usage: silly.

connector conspiracy

:connector conspiracy: [probably came into prominence with the appearance of the KL-10 (one model of the PDP-10), none of whose connectors matched anything else] n. The tendency of manufacturers (or, by extension, programmers or purveyors of anything) to come up with new products that don't fit together with the old stuff, thereby making you buy either all new stuff or expensive interface devices. The KL-10 Massbus connector was actually *patented* by DEC, which reputedly refused to license the design and thus effectively locked third parties out of competition for the lucrative Massbus peripherals market. This policy is a source of never-ending frustration for the diehards who maintain older PDP-10 or VAX systems. Their CPUs work fine, but they are stuck with dying, obsolescent disk and tape drives with low capacity and high power requirements. (A closely related phenomenon, with a slightly different intent, is the habit manufacturers have of inventing new screw heads so that only Designated Persons, possessing the magic screwdrivers, can remove covers and make repairs or install options. Older Apple Macintoshes took this one step further, requiring not only a hex wrench but a specialized case-cracking tool to open the box.) In these latter days of open-systems computing this term has fallen somewhat into disuse, to be replaced by the observation that "Standards are great! There are so *many* of them to choose from!" Compare backward combatability.


:cons: /konz/ or /kons/ [from LISP] 1. vt. To add a new element to a specified list, esp. at the top. "OK, cons picking a replacement for the console TTY onto the agenda." 2. `cons up': vt. To synthesize from smaller pieces: "to cons up an example". In LISP itself, `cons' is the most fundamental operation for building structures. It takes any two objects and returns a `dot-pair' or two-branched tree with one object hanging from each branch. Because the result of a cons is an object, it can be used to build binary trees of any shape and complexity. Hackers think of it as a sort of universal constructor, and that is where the jargon meanings spring from.

considered harmful

:considered harmful: adj. Edsger W. Dijkstra's note in the March 1968 "Communications of the ACM", "Goto Statement Considered Harmful", fired the first salvo in the structured programming wars. Amusingly, the ACM considered the resulting acrimony sufficiently harmful that it will (by policy) no longer print an article taking so assertive a position against a coding practice. In the ensuing decades, a large number of both serious papers and parodies have borne titles of the form "X considered Y". The structured-programming wars eventually blew over with the realization that both sides were wrong, but use of such titles has remained as a persistent minor in-joke (the `considered silly' found at various places in this lexicon is related).


:console:: n. 1. The operator's station of a mainframe. In times past, this was a privileged location that conveyed godlike powers to anyone with fingers on its keys. Under UNIX and other modern timesharing OSes, such privileges are guarded by passwords instead, and the console is just the tty the system was booted from. Some of the mystique remains, however, and it is traditional for sysadmins to post urgent messages to all users from the console (on UNIX, /dev/console). 2. On microcomputer UNIX boxes, the main screen and keyboard (as opposed to character-only terminals talking to a serial port). Typically only the console can do real graphics or run X. See also CTY.

console jockey

:console jockey: n. See terminal junkie.


:content-free: [by analogy with techspeak `context-free'] adj. Used of a message that adds nothing to the recipient's knowledge. Though this adjective is sometimes applied to flamage, it more usually connotes derision for communication styles that exalt form over substance or are centered on concerns irrelevant to the subject ostensibly at hand. Perhaps most used with reference to speeches by company presidents and other professional manipulators. "Content-free? Uh... that's anything printed on glossy paper." (See also four-color glossies.) "He gave a talk on the implications of electronic networks for postmodernism and the fin-de-siecle aesthetic. It was content-free."


:control-C: vi. 1. "Stop whatever you are doing." From the interrupt character used on many operating systems to abort a running program. Considered silly. 2. interj. Among BSD UNIX hackers, the canonical humorous response to "Give me a break!"


:control-O: vi. "Stop talking." From the character used on some operating systems to abort output but allow the program to keep on running. Generally means that you are not interested in hearing anything more from that person, at least on that topic; a standard response to someone who is flaming. Considered silly. Compare control-S.


:control-Q: vi. "Resume." From the ASCII DC1 or XON character (the pronunciation /X-on/ is therefore also used), used to undo a previous control-S.


:control-S: vi. "Stop talking for a second." From the ASCII DC3 or XOFF character (the pronunciation /X-of/ is therefore also used). Control-S differs from control-O in that the person is asked to stop talking (perhaps because you are on the phone) but will be allowed to continue when you're ready to listen to him --- as opposed to control-O, which has more of the meaning of "Shut up." Considered silly.

Conway's Law

:Conway's Law: prov. The rule that the organization of the software and the organization of the software team will be congruent; originally stated as "If you have four groups working on a compiler, you'll get a 4-pass compiler". Melvin Conway, an early proto-hacker who wrote an assembler for the Burroughs 220 called SAVE. The name `SAVE' didn't stand for anything; it was just that you lost fewer card decks and listings because they all had SAVE written on them.


:cookbook: [from amateur electronics and radio] n. A book of small code segments that the reader can use to do various magic things in programs. One current example is the "PostScript Language Tutorial and Cookbook" by Adobe Systems, Inc (Addison-Wesley, ISBN 0-201-10179-3), also known as the Blue Book which has recipes for things like wrapping text around arbitrary curves and making 3D fonts. Cookbooks, slavishly followed, can lead one into voodoo programming, but are useful for hackers trying to monkey up small programs in unknown languages. This function is analogous to the role of phrasebooks in human languages.

cooked mode

:cooked mode: [UNIX, by opposition with raw mode] n. The normal character-input mode, with interrupts enabled and with erase, kill and other special-character interpretations performed directly by the tty driver. Oppose raw mode, rare mode. This term is techspeak under UNIX but jargon elsewhere; other operating systems often have similar mode distinctions, and the raw/rare/cooked way of describing them has spread widely along with the C language and other UNIX exports. Most generally, `cooked mode' may refer to any mode of a system that does extensive preprocessing before presenting data to a program.


:cookie: n. A handle, transaction ID, or other token of agreement between cooperating programs. "I give him a packet, he gives me back a cookie." The claim check you get from a dry-cleaning shop is a perfect mundane example of a cookie; the only thing it's useful for is to relate a later transaction to this one (so you get the same clothes back). Compare magic cookie; see also fortune cookie.

cookie bear

:cookie bear: n. Syn. cookie monster.

cookie file

:cookie file: n. A collection of fortune cookies in a format that facilitates retrieval by a fortune program. There are several different cookie files in public distribution, and site admins often assemble their own from various sources including this lexicon.

cookie jar

:cookie jar: n. An area of memory set aside for storing cookies. Most commonly heard in the Atari ST community; many useful ST programs record their presence by storing a distinctive magic number in the jar. Programs can inquire after the presence or otherwise of other programs by searching the contents of the jar.

cookie monster

:cookie monster: [from the children's TV program "Sesame Street"] n. Any of a family of early (1970s) hacks reported on TOPS-10, ITS, Multics, and elsewhere that would lock up either the victim's terminal (on a time-sharing machine) or the console (on a batch mainframe), repeatedly demanding "I WANT A COOKIE". The required responses ranged in complexity from "COOKIE" through "HAVE A COOKIE" and upward. See also wabbit.

copious free time

:copious free time: [Apple; orig. fr. the intro to Tom Lehrer's song "It Makes A Fellow Proud To Be A Soldier"] n. 1. [used ironically to indicate the speaker's lack of the quantity in question] A mythical schedule slot for accomplishing tasks held to be unlikely or impossible. Sometimes used to indicate that the speaker is interested in accomplishing the task, but believes that the opportunity will not arise. "I'll implement the automatic layout stuff in my copious free time." 2. [Archly] Time reserved for bogus or otherwise idiotic tasks, such as implementation of chrome, or the stroking of suits. "I'll get back to him on that feature in my copious free time."


:copper: n. Conventional electron-carrying network cable with a core conductor of copper --- or aluminum! Opposed to light pipe or, say, a short-range microwave link.

copy protection

:copy protection: n. A class of methods for preventing incompetent pirates from stealing software and legitimate customers from using it. Considered silly.


:copybroke: /kop'ee-brohk/ adj. 1. [play on `copyright'] Used to describe an instance of a copy-protected program that has been `broken'; that is, a copy with the copy-protection scheme disabled. Syn. copywronged. 2. Copy-protected software which is unusable because of some bit-rot or bug that has confused the anti-piracy check. See also copy protection.


:copyleft: /kop'ee-left/ [play on `copyright'] n. 1. The copyright notice (`General Public License') carried by GNU EMACS and other Free Software Foundation software, granting reuse and reproduction rights to all comers (but see also General Public Virus ). 2. By extension, any copyright notice intended to achieve similar aims.


:copywronged: /kop'ee-rongd/ [play on `copyright'] adj. Syn. for copybroke.


:core: n. Main storage or RAM. Dates from the days of ferrite-core memory; now archaic as techspeak most places outside IBM, but also still used in the UNIX community and by old-time hackers or those who would sound like them. Some derived idioms are quite current; `in core', for example, means `in memory' (as opposed to `on disk'), and both core dump and the `core image' or `core file' produced by one are terms in favor. Some varieties of Commonwealth hackish prefer store.

core cancer

:core cancer: n. A process that exhibits a slow but inexorable resource leak --- like a cancer, it kills by crowding out productive `tissue'.

core dump

:core dump: n. [common Iron Age jargon, preserved by UNIX] 1. [techspeak] A copy of the contents of core, produced when a process is aborted by certain kinds of internal error. 2. By extension, used for humans passing out, vomiting, or registering extreme shock. "He dumped core. All over the floor. What a mess." "He heard about X and dumped core." 3. Occasionally used for a human rambling on pointlessly at great length; esp. in apology: "Sorry, I dumped core on you". 4. A recapitulation of knowledge (compare bits, sense 1). Hence, spewing all one knows about a topic (syn. brain dump), esp. in a lecture or answer to an exam question. "Short, concise answers are better than core dumps" (from the instructions to an exam at Columbia). See core.

core leak

:core leak: n. Syn. memory leak.

Core Wars

:Core Wars: n. A game between `assembler' programs in a simulated machine, where the objective is to kill your opponent's program by overwriting it. Popularized by A. K. Dewdney's column in "Scientific American" magazine, this was actually devised by Victor Vyssotsky, Robert Morris Sr., and Dennis Ritchie in the early 1960s (their original game was called `Darwin' and ran on a PDP-1 at Bell Labs). See core.


:corge: /korj/ [originally, the name of a cat] n. Yet another metasyntactic variable, invented by Mike Gallaher and propagated by the GOSMACS documentation. See grault.

cosmic rays

:cosmic rays: n. Notionally, the cause of bit rot. However, this is a semi-independent usage that may be invoked as a humorous way to handwave away any minor randomness that doesn't seem worth the bother of investigating. "Hey, Eric --- I just got a burst of garbage on my tube, where did that come from?" "Cosmic rays, I guess." Compare sunspots, phase of the moon. The British seem to prefer the usage `cosmic showers'; `alpha particles' is also heard, because stray alpha particles passing through a memory chip can cause single-bit errors (this becomes increasingly more likely as memory sizes and densities increase). Factual note: Alpha particles cause bit rot, cosmic rays do not (except occasionally in spaceborne computers). Intel could not explain random bit drops in their early chips, and one hypothesis was cosmic rays. So they created the World's Largest Lead Safe, using 25 tons of the stuff, and used two identical boards for testing. One was placed in the safe, one outside. The hypothesis was that if cosmic rays were causing the bit drops, they should see a statistically significant difference between the error rates on the two boards. They did not observe such a difference. Further investigation demonstrated conclusively that the bit drops were due to alpha particle emissions from thorium (and to a much lesser degree uranium) in the encapsulation material. Since it is impossible to eliminate these radioactives (they are uniformly distributed through the earth's crust, with the statistically insignificant exception of uranium lodes) it became obvious that one has to design memories to withstand these hits.

cough and die

:cough and die: v. Syn. barf. Connotes that the program is throwing its hands up by design rather than because of a bug or oversight. "The parser saw a control-A in its input where it was looking for a printable, so it coughed and died." Compare die, die horribly, scream and die.


:cowboy: [Sun, from William Gibson's cyberpunk SF] n. Synonym for hacker. It is reported that at Sun this word is often said with reverence.


:CP/M:: /C-P-M/ n. [Control Program for Microcomputers] An early microcomputer OS written by hacker Gary Kildall for 8080- and Z80-based machines, very popular in the late 1970s but virtually wiped out by MS-DOS after the release of the IBM PC in 1981. Legend has it that Kildall's company blew its chance to write the OS for the IBM PC because Kildall decided to spend a day IBM's reps wanted to meet with him enjoying the perfect flying weather in his private plane. Many of CP/M's features and conventions strongly resemble those of early DEC operating systems such as TOPS-10, OS/8, RSTS, and RSX-11. See MS-DOS, operating system.

CPU Wars

:CPU Wars: /C-P-U worz/ n. A 1979 large-format comic by Chas Andres chronicling the attempts of the brainwashed androids of IPM (Impossible to Program Machines) to conquer and destroy the peaceful denizens of HEC (Human Engineered Computers). This rather transparent allegory featured many references to ADVENT and the immortal line "Eat flaming death, minicomputer mongrels!" (uttered, of course, by an IPM stormtrooper). It is alleged that the author subsequently received a letter of appreciation on IBM company stationery from the head of IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Laboratories (then, as now, one of the few islands of true hackerdom in the IBM archipelago). The lower loop of the B in the IBM logo, it is said, had been carefully whited out. See eat flaming death .

crack root

:crack root: v. To defeat the security system of a UNIX machine and gain root privileges thereby; see cracking.


:cracker: n. One who breaks security on a system. Coined ca. 1985 by hackers in defense against journalistic misuse of hacker (q.v., sense 8). An earlier attempt to establish `worm' in this sense around 1981--82 on USENET was largely a failure. Use of both these neologisms reflects a strong revulsion against the theft and vandalism perpetrated by cracking rings. While it is expected that any real hacker will have done some playful cracking and knows many of the basic techniques, anyone past larval stage is expected to have outgrown the desire to do so except for immediate practical reasons (for example, if it's necessary to get around some security in order to get some work done). Thus, there is far less overlap between hackerdom and crackerdom than the mundane reader misled by sensationalistic journalism might expect. Crackers tend to gather in small, tight-knit, very secretive groups that have little overlap with the huge, open poly-culture this lexicon describes; though crackers often like to describe *themselves* as hackers, most true hackers consider them a separate and lower form of life. Ethical considerations aside, hackers figure that anyone who can't imagine a more interesting way to play with their computers than breaking into someone else's has to be pretty losing. Some other reasons crackers are looked down on are discussed in the entries on cracking and phreaking. See also samurai, dark-side hacker, and hacker ethic, the .


:cracking: n. The act of breaking into a computer system; what a cracker does. Contrary to widespread myth, this does not usually involve some mysterious leap of hackerly brilliance, but rather persistence and the dogged repetition of a handful of fairly well-known tricks that exploit common weaknesses in the security of target systems. Accordingly, most crackers are only mediocre hackers.


:crank: [from automotive slang] vt. Verb used to describe the performance of a machine, especially sustained performance. "This box cranks (or, cranks at) about 6 megaflops, with a burst mode of twice that on vectorized operations."


:CrApTeX: /krap'tekh/ [University of York, England] n. Term of abuse used to describe TeX and LaTeX when they don't work (when used by TeXhackers), or all the time (by everyone else). The non-TeX enthusiasts generally dislike it because it is more verbose than other formatters (e.g. troff) and because (particularly if the standard Computer Modern fonts are used) it generates vast output files. See religious issues, TeX.


:crash: 1. n. A sudden, usually drastic failure. Most often said of the system (q.v., sense 1), esp. of magnetic disk drives (the term originally described what happened when the air gap of a hard disk collapses). "Three lusers lost their files in last night's disk crash." A disk crash that involves the read/write heads dropping onto the surface of the disks and scraping off the oxide may also be referred to as a `head crash', whereas the term `system crash' usually, though not always, implies that the operating system or other software was at fault. 2. v. To fail suddenly. "Has the system just crashed?" "Something crashed the OS!" See down. Also used transitively to indicate the cause of the crash (usually a person or a program, or both). "Those idiots playing SPACEWAR crashed the system." 3. vi. Sometimes said of people hitting the sack after a long hacking run ; see gronk out.

crash and burn

:crash and burn: vi.,n. A spectacular crash, in the mode of the conclusion of the car-chase scene in the movie "Bullitt" and many subsequent imitators (compare die horribly). Sun-3 monitors losing the flyback transformer and lightning strikes on VAX-11/780 backplanes are notable crash and burn generators. The construction `crash-and-burn machine' is reported for a computer used exclusively for alpha or beta testing, or reproducing bugs (i.e., not for development). The implication is that it wouldn't be such a disaster if that machine crashed, since only the testers would be inconvenienced.

crawling horror

:crawling horror: n. Ancient crufty hardware or software that is kept obstinately alive by forces beyond the control of the hackers at a site. Like dusty deck or gonkulator, but connotes that the thing described is not just an irritation but an active menace to health and sanity. "Mostly we code new stuff in C, but they pay us to maintain one big FORTRAN II application from nineteen-sixty-X that's a real crawling horror...." Compare WOMBAT.


:cray: /kray/ n. 1. (properly, capitalized) One of the line of supercomputers designed by Cray Research. 2. Any supercomputer at all. 3. The canonical number-crunching machine. The term is actually the lowercased last name of Seymour Cray, a noted computer architect and co-founder of the company. Numerous vivid legends surround him, some true and some admittedly invented by Cray Research brass to shape their corporate culture and image.

cray instability

:cray instability: n. A shortcoming of a program or algorithm that manifests itself only when a large problem is being run on a powerful machine (see cray). Generally more subtle than bugs that can be detected in smaller problems running on a workstation or mini.


:crayola: /kray-oh'l*/ n. A super-mini or -micro computer that provides some reasonable percentage of supercomputer performance for an unreasonably low price. Might also be a killer micro.

crayola books

:crayola books: n. The rainbow series of National Computer Security Center (NCSC) computer security standards (see Orange Book ). Usage: humorous and/or disparaging.


:crayon: n. 1. Someone who works on Cray supercomputers. More specifically, it implies a programmer, probably of the CDC ilk, probably male, and almost certainly wearing a tie (irrespective of gender). Systems types who have a UNIX background tend not to be described as crayons. 2. A computron (sense 2) that participates only in number-crunching. 3. A unit of computational power equal to that of a single Cray-1. There is a standard joke about this usage that derives from an old Crayola crayon promotional gimmick: When you buy 64 crayons you get a free sharpener.


:creationism: n. The (false) belief that large, innovative software designs can be completely specified in advance and then painlessly magicked out of the void by the normal efforts of a team of normally talented programmers. In fact, experience has shown repeatedly that good designs arise only from evolutionary, exploratory interaction between one (or at most a small handful of) exceptionally able designer(s) and an active user population --- and that the first try at a big new idea is always wrong. Unfortunately, because these truths don't fit the planning models beloved of management, they are generally ignored.


:creep: v. To advance, grow, or multiply inexorably. In hackish usage this verb has overtones of menace and silliness, evoking the creeping horrors of low-budget monster movies.

creeping elegance

:creeping elegance: n. Describes a tendency for parts of a design to become elegant past the point of diminishing return, something which often happens at the expense of the less interesting parts of the design, the schedule, and other things deemed important in the Real World. See also creeping featurism , second-system effect, tense.

creeping featurism

:creeping featurism: /kree'ping fee'chr-izm/ n. 1. Describes a systematic tendency to load more chrome and features onto systems at the expense of whatever elegance they may have possessed when originally designed. See also feeping creaturism. "You know, the main problem with BSD UNIX has always been creeping featurism." 2. More generally, the tendency for anything complicated to become even more complicated because people keep saying "Gee, it would be even better if it had this feature too". (See feature.) The result is usually a patchwork because it grew one ad-hoc step at a time, rather than being planned. Planning is a lot of work, but it's easy to add just one extra little feature to help someone ... and then another ... and another.... When creeping featurism gets out of hand, it's like a cancer. Usually this term is used to describe computer programs, but it could also be said of the federal government, the IRS 1040 form, and new cars. A similar phenomenon sometimes afflicts conscious redesigns; see second-system effect. See also creeping elegance.

creeping featuritis

:creeping featuritis: /kree'ping fee'-chr-i:`t*s/ n. Variant of creeping featurism, with its own spoonerization: `feeping creaturitis'. Some people like to reserve this form for the disease as it actually manifests in software or hardware, as opposed to the lurking general tendency in designers' minds. (After all, -ism means `condition' or `pursuit of', whereas -itis usually means `inflammation of'.)


:cretin: /kret'in/ or /kree'tn/ n. Congenital loser; an obnoxious person; someone who can't do anything right. It has been observed that many American hackers tend to favor the British pronunciation /kret'in/ over standard American /kree'tn/; it is thought this may be due to the insidious phonetic influence of Monty Python's Flying Circus.


:cretinous: /kret'n-*s/ or /kreet'n-*s/ adj. Wrong; stupid; non-functional; very poorly designed. Also used pejoratively of people. See dread high-bit disease for an example. Approximate synonyms: bletcherous, bagbiting losing, brain-damaged.


:crippleware: n. 1. Software that has some important functionality deliberately removed, so as to entice potential users to pay for a working version. 2. [Cambridge] Guiltware that exhorts you to donate to some charity (compare careware, nagware). 3. Hardware deliberately crippled, which can be upgraded to a more expensive model by a trivial change (e.g., cutting a jumper). An excellent example of crippleware (sense 3) is Intel's 486SX chip, which is a standard 486DX chip with the co-processor dyked out (in some early versions it was present but disabled). To upgrade, you buy a complete 486DX chip with *working* co-processor (its identity thinly veiled by a different pinout) and plug it into the board's expansion socket. It then disables the SX, which becomes a fancy power sink. Don't you love Intel?

critical mass

:critical mass: n. In physics, the minimum amount of fissionable material required to sustain a chain reaction. Of a software product, describes a condition of the software such that fixing one bug introduces one plus epsilon bugs. (This malady has many causes: creeping featurism, ports to too many disparate environments, poor initial design, etc.) When software achieves critical mass, it can never be fixed; it can only be discarded and rewritten.


:crlf: /ker'l*f/, sometimes /kru'l*f/ or /C-R-L-F/ n. (often capitalized as `CRLF') A carriage return (CR, ASCII 0001101) followed by a line feed (LF, ASCII 0001010). More loosely, whatever it takes to get you from the end of one line of text to the beginning of the next line. See newline, terpri. Under UNIX influence this usage has become less common (UNIX uses a bare line feed as its `CRLF').


:crock: [from the American scatologism `crock of shit'] n. 1. An awkward feature or programming technique that ought to be made cleaner. For example, using small integers to represent error codes without the program interpreting them to the user (as in, for example, UNIX `make(1)', which returns code 139 for a process that dies due to segfault). 2. A technique that works acceptably, but which is quite prone to failure if disturbed in the least. For example, a too-clever programmer might write an assembler which mapped instruction mnemonics to numeric opcodes algorithmically, a trick which depends far too intimately on the particular bit patterns of the opcodes. (For another example of programming with a dependence on actual opcode values, see The Story of Mel, a Real Programmer in Appendix A.) Many crocks have a tightly woven, almost completely unmodifiable structure. See kluge, brittle. The adjectives `crockish' and `crocky', and the nouns `crockishness' and `crockitude', are also used.


:cross-post: [USENET] vi. To post a single article simultaneously to several newsgroups. Distinguished from posting the article repeatedly, once to each newsgroup, which causes people to see it multiple times (which is very bad form). Gratuitous cross-posting without a Followup-To line directing responses to a single followup group is frowned upon, as it tends to cause followup articles to go to inappropriate newsgroups when people respond to only one part of the original posting.


:crudware: /kruhd'weir/ n. Pejorative term for the hundreds of megabytes of low-quality freeware circulated by user's groups and BBS systems in the micro-hobbyist world. "Yet *another* set of disk catalog utilities for MS-DOS? What crudware!"


:cruft: /kruhft/ [back-formation from crufty] 1. n. An unpleasant substance. The dust that gathers under your bed is cruft; the TMRC Dictionary correctly noted that attacking it with a broom only produces more. 2. n. The results of shoddy construction. 3. vt. [from `hand cruft', pun on `hand craft'] To write assembler code for something normally (and better) done by a compiler (see hand-hacking). 4. n. Excess; superfluous junk; used esp. of redundant or superseded code. This term is one of the oldest in the jargon and no one is sure of its etymology, but it is suggestive that there is a Cruft Hall at Harvard University which is part of the old physics building; it's said to have been the physics department's radar lab during WWII. To this day (early 1993) the windows appear to be full of random techno-junk. MIT or Lincoln Labs people may well have coined the term as a knock on the competition.

cruft together

:cruft together: vt. (also `cruft up') To throw together something ugly but temporarily workable. Like vt. kluge up, but more pejorative. "There isn't any program now to reverse all the lines of a file, but I can probably cruft one together in about 10 minutes." See hack together, hack up, kluge up, crufty.


:cruftsmanship: /kruhfts'm*n-ship / n. [from cruft] The antithesis of craftsmanship.


:crufty: /kruhf'tee/ [origin unknown; poss. from `crusty'] adj. 1. Poorly built, possibly over-complex. The canonical example is "This is standard old crufty DEC software". In fact, one fanciful theory of the origin of `crufty' holds that was originally a mutation of `crusty' applied to DEC software so old that the `s' characters were tall and skinny, looking more like `f' characters. 2. Unpleasant, especially to the touch, often with encrusted junk. Like spilled coffee smeared with peanut butter and catsup. 3. Generally unpleasant. 4. (sometimes spelled `cruftie') n. A small crufty object (see frob); often one that doesn't fit well into the scheme of things. "A LISP property list is a good place to store crufties (or, collectively, random cruft)."


:crumb: n. Two binary digits; a quad. Larger than a bit, smaller than a nybble. Considered silly. Syn. tayste.


:crunch: 1. vi. To process, usually in a time-consuming or complicated way. Connotes an essentially trivial operation that is nonetheless painful to perform. The pain may be due to the triviality's being embedded in a loop from 1 to 1,000,000,000. "FORTRAN programs do mostly number-crunching." 2. vt. To reduce the size of a file by a complicated scheme that produces bit configurations completely unrelated to the original data, such as by a Huffman code. (The file ends up looking something like a paper document would if somebody crunched the paper into a wad.) Since such compression usually takes more computations than simpler methods such as run-length encoding, the term is doubly appropriate. (This meaning is usually used in the construction `file crunch(ing)' to distinguish it from number-crunching.) See compress. 3. n. The character `#'. Used at XEROX and CMU, among other places. See ASCII. 4. vt. To squeeze program source into a minimum-size representation that will still compile or execute. The term came into being specifically for a famous program on the BBC micro that crunched BASIC source in order to make it run more quickly (it was a wholly interpretive BASIC, so the number of characters mattered). Obfuscated C Contest entries are often crunched; see the first example under that entry.

cruncha cruncha cruncha

:cruncha cruncha cruncha: /kruhn'ch* kruhn'ch* kruhn'ch*/ interj. An encouragement sometimes muttered to a machine bogged down in a serious grovel. Also describes a notional sound made by groveling hardware. See wugga wugga, grind (sense 3).


:cryppie: /krip'ee/ n. A cryptographer. One who hacks or implements cryptographic software or hardware.


:CTSS: /C-T-S-S/ n. Compatible Time-Sharing System. An early (1963) experiment in the design of interactive time-sharing operating systems, ancestral to Multics, UNIX, and ITS. The name ITS (Incompatible Time-sharing System) was a hack on CTSS, meant both as a joke and to express some basic differences in philosophy about the way I/O services should be presented to user programs.


:CTY: /sit'ee/ or /C-T-Y/ n. [MIT] The terminal physically associated with a computer's system console. The term is a contraction of `Console tty', that is, `Console TeleTYpe'. This ITS- and TOPS-10-associated term has become less common, as most UNIX hackers simply refer to the CTY as `the console'.


:cube: n. 1. [short for `cubicle'] A module in the open-plan offices used at many programming shops. "I've got the manuals in my cube." 2. A NeXT machine (which resembles a matte-black cube).


:cubing: [parallel with `tubing'] vi. 1. Hacking on an IPSC (Intel Personal SuperComputer) hypercube. "Louella's gone cubing *again*!!" 2. Hacking Rubik's Cube or related puzzles, either physically or mathematically. 3. An indescribable form of self-torture (see sense 1 or 2).

cursor dipped in X

:cursor dipped in X: n. There are a couple of metaphors in English of the form `pen dipped in X' (perhaps the most common values of X are `acid', `bile', and `vitriol'). These map over neatly to this hackish usage (the cursor being what moves, leaving letters behind, when one is composing on-line). "Talk about a nastygram! He must've had his cursor dipped in acid when he wrote that one!"


:cuspy: /kuhs'pee/ [WPI: from the DEC abbreviation CUSP, for `Commonly Used System Program', i.e., a utility program used by many people] adj. 1. (of a program) Well-written. 2. Functionally excellent. A program that performs well and interfaces well to users is cuspy. See rude. 3. [NYU] Said of an attractive woman, especially one regarded as available. Implies a certain curvaceousness.

cut a tape

:cut a tape: vi. To write a software or document distribution on magnetic tape for shipment. Has nothing to do with physically cutting the medium! Early versions of this lexicon claimed that one never analogously speaks of `cutting a disk', but this has since been reported as live usage. Related slang usages are mainstream business's `cut a check', the recording industry's `cut a record', and the military's `cut an order'. All of these usages reflect physical processes in obsolete recording and duplication technologies. The first stage in manufacturing an old-style vinyl record involved cutting grooves in a stamping die with a precision lathe. More mundanely, the dominant technology for mass duplication of paper documents in pre-photocopying days involved "cutting a stencil", punching away portions of the wax overlay on a silk screen. More directly, paper tape with holes punched in it was an important early storage medium.


:cybercrud: /si:'ber-kruhd/ n. 1. [coined by Ted Nelson] Obfuscatory tech-talk. Verbiage with a high MEGO factor. The computer equivalent of bureaucratese. 2. Incomprehensible stuff embedded in email. First there were the "Received" headers that show how mail flows through systems, then MIME (Multi-purpose Internet Mail Extensions) headers and part boundaries, and now huge blocks of hex for PEM (Privacy Enhanced Mail) or PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) digital signatures and certificates of authenticity. This stuff all services a purpose and good user interfaces should hide it, but all too often users are forced to wade through it.


:cyberpunk: /si:'ber-puhnk/ [orig. by SF writer Bruce Bethke and/or editor Gardner Dozois] n.,adj. A subgenre of SF launched in 1982 by William Gibson's epoch-making novel "Neuromancer" (though its roots go back through Vernor Vinge's "True Names" (see "True Names ... and Other Dangers" in appendix C) to John Brunner's 1975 novel "The Shockwave Rider"). Gibson's near-total ignorance of computers and the present-day hacker culture enabled him to speculate about the role of computers and hackers in the future in ways hackers have since found both irritatingly na"ive and tremendously stimulating. Gibson's work was widely imitated, in particular by the short-lived but innovative "Max Headroom" TV series. See cyberspace, ice, jack in, go flatline. Since 1990 or so, popular culture has included a movement or fashion trend that calls itself `cyberpunk', associated especially with the rave/techno subculture. Hackers have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, self-described cyberpunks too often seem to be shallow trendoids in black leather who have substituted enthusiastic blathering about technology for actually learning and *doing* it. Attitude is no substitute for competence. On the other hand, at least cyberpunks are excited about the right things and properly respectful of hacking talent in those who have it. The general consensus is to tolerate them politely in hopes that they'll attract people who grow into being true hackers.


:cyberspace: /si:'ber-spays/ n. 1. Notional `information-space' loaded with visual cues and navigable with brain-computer interfaces called `cyberspace decks'; a characteristic prop of cyberpunk SF. At the time of this writing (mid-1991), serious efforts to construct virtual reality interfaces modeled explicitly on Gibsonian cyberspace are already under way, using more conventional devices such as glove sensors and binocular TV headsets. Few hackers are prepared to deny outright the possibility of a cyberspace someday evolving out of the network (see network, the). 2. Occasionally, the metaphoric location of the mind of a person in hack mode. Some hackers report experiencing strong eidetic imagery when in hack mode; interestingly, independent reports from multiple sources suggest that there are common features to the experience. In particular, the dominant colors of this subjective `cyberspace' are often gray and silver, and the imagery often involves constellations of marching dots, elaborate shifting patterns of lines and angles, or moire patterns.


:cycle: 1. n. The basic unit of computation. What every hacker wants more of (noted hacker Bill Gosper describes himself as a "cycle junkie"). One can describe an instruction as taking so many `clock cycles'. Often the computer can access its memory once on every clock cycle, and so one speaks also of `memory cycles'. These are technical meanings of cycle. The jargon meaning comes from the observation that there are only so many cycles per second, and when you are sharing a computer the cycles get divided up among the users. The more cycles the computer spends working on your program rather than someone else's, the faster your program will run. That's why every hacker wants more cycles: so he can spend less time waiting for the computer to respond. 2. By extension, a notional unit of *human* thought power, emphasizing that lots of things compete for the typical hacker's think time. "I refused to get involved with the Rubik's Cube back when it was big. Knew I'd burn too many cycles on it if I let myself." 3. vt. Syn. bounce (sense 4), 120 reset; from the phrase `cycle power'. "Cycle the machine again, that serial port's still hung."

cycle crunch

:cycle crunch: n. A situation wherein the number of people trying to use a computer simultaneously has reached the point where no one can get enough cycles because they are spread too thin and the system has probably begun to thrash. This scenario is an inevitable result of Parkinson's Law applied to timesharing. Usually the only solution is to buy more computer. Happily, this has rapidly become easier since the mid-1980s, so much so that the very term `cycle crunch' now has a faintly archaic flavor; most hackers now use workstations or personal computers as opposed to traditional timesharing systems.

cycle drought

:cycle drought: n. A scarcity of cycles. It may be due to a cycle crunch , but it could also occur because part of the computer is temporarily not working, leaving fewer cycles to go around. "The high moby is down, so we're running with only half the usual amount of memory. There will be a cycle drought until it's fixed."

cycle of reincarnation

:cycle of reincarnation: [coined by Ivan Sutherland ca. 1970] n. Term used to refer to a well-known effect whereby function in a computing system family is migrated out to special-purpose peripheral hardware for speed, then the peripheral evolves toward more computing power as it does its job, then somebody notices that it is inefficient to support two asymmetrical processors in the architecture and folds the function back into the main CPU, at which point the cycle begins again. Several iterations of this cycle have been observed in graphics-processor design, and at least one or two in communications and floating-point processors. Also known as `the Wheel of Life', `the Wheel of Samsara', and other variations of the basic Hindu/Buddhist theological idea. See also blitter, bit bang.

cycle server

:cycle server: n. A powerful machine that exists primarily for running large batch jobs. Implies that interactive tasks such as editing are done on other machines on the network, such as workstations. = D =

Ceremonial Chemicals

:Ceremonial Chemicals: Most hackers don't smoke tobacco, and use alcohol in moderation if at all (though there is a visible contingent of exotic-beer fanciers, and a few hackers are serious oenophiles). Limited use of non-addictive psychedelic drugs, such as cannabis, LSD, psilocybin, and nitrous oxide, etc., used to be relatively common and is still regarded with more tolerance than in the mainstream culture. Use of `downers' and opiates, on the other hand, appears to be particularly rare; hackers seem in general to dislike drugs that make them stupid. On the third hand, many hackers regularly wire up on caffeine and/or sugar for all-night hacking runs.

Communication Style

:Communication Style: See the discussions of speech and writing styles near the beginning of this File. Though hackers often have poor person-to-person communication skills, they are as a rule quite sensitive to nuances of language and very precise in their use of it. They are often better at writing than at speaking.


:Cyberpunk: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier: Katie Hafner & John Markoff Simon & Schuster 1991 ISBN 0-671-68322-5 This book gathers narratives about the careers of three notorious crackers into a clear-eyed but sympathetic portrait of hackerdom's dark side. The principals are Kevin Mitnick, "Pengo" and "Hagbard" of the Chaos Computer Club, and Robert T. Morris (see RTM, sense 2) . Markoff and Hafner focus as much on their psychologies and motivations as on the details of their exploits, but don't slight the latter. The result is a balanced and fascinating account, particularly useful when read immediately before or after Cliff Stoll's The Cuckoo's Egg. It is especially instructive to compare RTM, a true hacker who blundered, with the sociopathic phone-freak Mitnick and the alienated, drug-addled crackers who made the Chaos Club notorious. The gulf between wizard and wannabee has seldom been made more obvious.

Dictionary Index

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