Guide to computer talk before the internet

When I went to college in the 1980’s, I heard a lot of words like “data input” and “beta version.” They confused me. I wanted desperately to know what people were talking about, what Big Secret resided in the computer industry.

Now that I’ve worked in a computer company for a few years, I’ve gained an insider’s perspective.

I decided to share my knowledge with the clueless by creating this brief and handy dictionary.

Software undergoes alpha testing as a first step in getting user feedback. Alpha is Latin for “doesn’t work.”

Software undergoes beta testing shortly before it’s released. Beta is Latin for “still doesn’t work.”

Instrument of torture. The first computer was invented by Roger “Duffy” Billingsly, a British scientist. In a plot to overthrow Adolf Hitler, Duffy disguised himself as a German ally and offered his invention as a gift to the surly dictator. The plot worked. On April 8, 1945, Adolf became so enraged at the “Incompatible File Format” error message that he shot himself. The war ended soon after Hitler’s death, and Duffy began working for IBM.

Central propulsion unit. The CPU is the computer’s engine. It consists of a hard drive, an interface card and a tiny spinning wheel that’s powered by a running rodent – a gerbil if the machine is a old machine, a ferret if it’s a Pentium and a ferret on speed if it’s a Pentium II.

Default Directory
Black hole. Default directory is where all files that you need disappear to.

Error message
Terse, baffling remark used by programmers to place blame on users for the program’s shortcomings.

A document that has been saved with an unidentifiable name. It helps to think of a file as something stored in a file cabinet – except when you try to remove the file, the cabinet gives you an electric shock and tells you the file format is unknown.

Collective term for any computer-related object that can be kicked or battered.

What we all need. Actually, it is the feature that assists in generating more questions. When the help feature is used correctly, users are able to navigate through a series of Help screens and end up where they started from without learning anything.

Information is input from the keyboard as intelligible data and output to the printer as unrecognizable junk.

Interim Release
A programmer’s feeble attempt at repentance.

Of computer components, the most generous in terms of variety, and the skimpiest in terms of quantity.

A joke in poor taste. A printer consists of three main parts: the case, the jammed paper tray and the blinking red light.

Computer avengers. Once members of that group of high school nerds who wore tape on their glasses, played Dungeons and Dragons, and memorized Star Trek episodes; now millionaires who create “user-friendly” software to get revenge on whoever gave them noogies.

Reference Manual
Object that raises the monitor to eye level. Also used to compensate for that short table leg.

Scheduled Release Date
A carefully calculated date determined by estimating the actual shipping date and subtracting six months from it.

Of or pertaining to any feature, device or concept that makes perfect sense to a programmer.

Collective term for those who stare vacantly at a monitor. Users are divided into three types: novice, intermediate and expert.

  1. Novice Users. People who are afraid that simply pressing a key might break their computer.
  2. Intermediate Users. People who don’t know how to fix their computer after they’ve just pressed a key that broke it.
  3. Expert Users. People who break other people’s computers.


Nerd Hunting Season

nerd hunting season
photo credit: Mike Mozart

A trucker hauling computers and accessories is driving down the highway late one night when he sees a truck stop on the side of the road.

He pulls over for a pit stop and approaching the door he sees a sign that says: NO NERDS.

He shrugs it off and enters. He’s greeted by the end of a shotgun barrel in his face.

“Are you a nerd?” the bartender asks.

“No, I’m a truck driver,” he replies.

He’s allowed to come in, so he orders a cup of coffee, sits at the bar and drinks it.

While he drinks his coffee, a man walks in wearing his pants up to his chest, a plaid shirt, pocket protector and thick-framed glass.

The bartender pulls out his shotgun and blows him away.

“What the hell did you do that for?” asks the trucker.

“Well,” the bartender answers, “It’s nerd hunting season.”

“Nerd hunting season?” asks the trucker, confused.

“Yeah. See, the nerd population in this town is getting out of hand, so we’ve opened up a nerd hunting season.”

So, with that, the trucker finishes his coffee and goes back on the road.

While he drives the car in front of him suddenly swerves and wrecks.

To avoid becoming part the disaster, he swerves to get out of way. The swerve’s to hard.

His tractor trailer flips and he dumps his load all over the road.

He gets out of his truck to see nerds coming from all directions grabbing everything they can.

He doesn’t know what to do. He’s gotta stop this.

Remembering what the bartender told him, he goes back to the truck and pulls out his gun and starts picking them off, one by one.

While doing this, a highway patrol officer starts running after him, waving his arms screaming, “Stop! Stop!”

“What?” the trucker asks, confused, “I thought it was nerd hunting season.”

“Well, yeah,” the officer answers, “but you can’t bait ’em!”