Part 2 out of 11

{magic}. "The C-INTERCAL compiler generates C, then automagically
invokes `cc(1)' to produce an executable."

:avatar: [CMU, Tektronix] n. Syn. {root}, {superuser}. There
are quite a few UNIX machines on which the name of the superuser
account is `avatar' rather than `root'. This quirk was
originated by a CMU hacker who disliked the term `superuser',
and was propagated through an ex-CMU hacker at Tektronix.

:awk: 1. n. [UNIX techspeak] An interpreted language for massaging
text data developed by Alfred Aho, Peter Weinberger, and Brian
Kernighan (the name is from their initials). It is characterized
by C-like syntax, a declaration-free approach to variable typing
and declarations, associative arrays, and field-oriented text
processing. See also {Perl}. 2. n. Editing term for an
expression awkward to manipulate through normal {regexp}
facilities (for example, one containing a {newline}). 3. vt. To
process data using `awk(1)'.

= B =

:back door: n. A hole in the security of a system deliberately left
in place by designers or maintainers. The motivation for this is
not always sinister; some operating systems, for example, come out
of the box with privileged accounts intended for use by field
service technicians or the vendor's maintenance programmers.

Historically, back doors have often lurked in systems longer than
anyone expected or planned, and a few have become widely known.
The infamous {RTM} worm of late 1988, for example, used a back door
in the {BSD} UNIX `sendmail(8)' utility.

Ken Thompson's 1983 Turing Award lecture to the ACM revealed the
existence of a back door in early UNIX versions that may have
qualified as the most fiendishly clever security hack of all time.
The C compiler contained code that would recognize when the
`login' command was being recompiled and insert some code
recognizing a password chosen by Thompson, giving him entry to the
system whether or not an account had been created for him.

Normally such a back door could be removed by removing it from the
source code for the compiler and recompiling the compiler. But to
recompile the compiler, you have to *use* the compiler --- so
Thompson also arranged that the compiler would *recognize when
it was compiling a version of itself*, and insert into the
recompiled compiler the code to insert into the recompiled `login'
the code to allow Thompson entry --- and, of course, the code to
recognize itself and do the whole thing again the next time around!
And having done this once, he was then able to recompile the
compiler from the original sources, leaving his back door in place
and active but with no trace in the sources.

The talk that revealed this truly moby hack was published as
"Reflections on Trusting Trust", `Communications of the
ACM 27', 8 (August 1984), pp. 761--763.

Syn. {trap door}; may also be called a `wormhole'. See also
{iron box}, {cracker}, {worm}, {logic bomb}.

:backbone cabal: n. A group of large-site administrators who pushed
through the {Great Renaming} and reined in the chaos of {USENET}
during most of the 1980s. The cabal {mailing list} disbanded in
late 1988 after a bitter internal catfight, but the net hardly

:backbone site: n. A key USENET and email site; one that processes
a large amount of third-party traffic, especially if it is the home
site of any of the regional coordinators for the USENET maps.
Notable backbone sites as of early 1991 include uunet and the
mail machines at Rutgers University, UC Berkeley, DEC's Western
Research Laboratories, Ohio State University, and the University of
Texas. Compare {rib site}, {leaf site}.

:backgammon:: See {bignum}, {moby}, and {pseudoprime}.

:background: n.,adj.,vt. To do a task `in background' is to do
it whenever {foreground} matters are not claiming your undivided
attention, and `to background' something means to relegate it to
a lower priority. "For now, we'll just print a list of nodes and
links; I'm working on the graph-printing problem in background."
Note that this implies ongoing activity but at a reduced level or
in spare time, in contrast to mainstream `back burner' (which
connotes benign neglect until some future resumption of activity).
Some people prefer to use the term for processing that they have
queued up for their unconscious minds (a tack that one can often
fruitfully take upon encountering an obstacle in creative work).
Compare {amp off}, {slopsucker}.

Technically, a task running in background is detached from the
terminal where it was started (and often running at a lower
priority); oppose {foreground}. Nowadays this term is primarily
associated with {{UNIX}}, but it appears to have been first used
in this sense on OS/360.

:backspace and overstrike: interj. Whoa! Back up. Used to suggest
that someone just said or did something wrong. Common among
APL programmers.

:backward combatability: /bak'w*rd k*m-bat'*-bil'*-tee/ [from
`backward compatibility'] n. A property of hardware or software
revisions in which previous protocols, formats, and layouts are
discarded in favor of `new and improved' protocols, formats, and
layouts. Occurs usually when making the transition between major
releases. When the change is so drastic that the old formats are
not retained in the new version, it is said to be `backward
combatable'. See {flag day}.

:BAD: /B-A-D/ [IBM: acronym, `Broken As Designed'] adj. Said
of a program that is {bogus} because of bad design and misfeatures
rather than because of bugginess. See {working as designed}.

:Bad Thing: [from the 1930 Sellar & Yeatman parody `1066 And
All That'] n. Something that can't possibly result in improvement
of the subject. This term is always capitalized, as in "Replacing
all of the 9600-baud modems with bicycle couriers would be a Bad
Thing". Oppose {Good Thing}. British correspondents confirm
that {Bad Thing} and {Good Thing} (and prob. therefore {Right
Thing} and {Wrong Thing}) come from the book referenced in the
etymology, which discusses rulers who were Good Kings but Bad
Things. This has apparently created a mainstream idiom on the
British side of the pond.

:bag on the side: n. An extension to an established hack that is
supposed to add some functionality to the original. Usually
derogatory, implying that the original was being overextended and
should have been thrown away, and the new product is ugly,
inelegant, or bloated. Also v. phrase, `to hang a bag on the side
[of]'. "C++? That's just a bag on the side of C ...."
"They want me to hang a bag on the side of the accounting

:bagbiter: /bag'bi:t-*r/ n. 1. Something, such as a program or a
computer, that fails to work, or works in a remarkably clumsy
manner. "This text editor won't let me make a file with a line
longer than 80 characters! What a bagbiter!" 2. A person who has
caused you some trouble, inadvertently or otherwise, typically by
failing to program the computer properly. Synonyms: {loser},
{cretin}, {chomper}. 3. adj. `bagbiting' Having the
quality of a bagbiter. "This bagbiting system won't let me
compute the factorial of a negative number." Compare {losing},
{cretinous}, {bletcherous}, `barfucious' (under
{barfulous}) and `chomping' (under {chomp}). 4. `bite
the bag' vi. To fail in some manner. "The computer keeps crashing
every 5 minutes." "Yes, the disk controller is really biting the
bag." The original loading of these terms was almost undoubtedly
obscene, possibly referring to the scrotum, but in their current
usage they have become almost completely sanitized.

A program called Lexiphage on the old MIT AI PDP-10 would draw on
a selected victim's bitmapped terminal the words "THE BAG" in
ornate letters, and then a pair of jaws biting pieces of it off.
This is the first and to date only known example of a program
*intended* to be a bagbiter.

:bamf: /bamf/ 1. [from old X-Men comics] interj. Notional sound
made by a person or object teleporting in or out of the hearer's
vicinity. Often used in {virtual reality} (esp. {MUD})
electronic {fora} when a character wishes to make a dramatic
entrance or exit. 2. The sound of magical transformation, used in
virtual reality {fora} like sense 1. 3. [from `Don
Washington's Survival Guide'] n. Acronym for `Bad-Ass Mother
Fucker', used to refer to one of the handful of nastiest monsters
on an LPMUD or other similar MUD.

:banana label: n. The labels often used on the sides of {macrotape}
reels, so called because they are shaped roughly like blunt-ended
bananas. This term, like macrotapes themselves, is still current
but visibly headed for obsolescence.

:banana problem: n. [from the story of the little girl who said "I
know how to spell `banana', but I don't know when to stop"]. Not
knowing where or when to bring a production to a close (compare
{fencepost error}). One may say `there is a banana problem' of an
algorithm with poorly defined or incorrect termination conditions,
or in discussing the evolution of a design that may be succumbing
to featuritis (see also {creeping elegance}, {creeping
featuritis}). See item 176 under {HAKMEM}, which describes a
banana problem in a {Dissociated Press} implementation. Also,
see {one-banana problem} for a superficially similar but
unrelated usage.

:bandwidth: n. 1. Used by hackers in a generalization of its
technical meaning as the volume of information per unit time that a
computer, person, or transmission medium can handle. "Those are
amazing graphics, but I missed some of the detail --- not enough
bandwidth, I guess." Compare {low-bandwidth}. 2. Attention
span. 3. On {USENET}, a measure of network capacity that is
often wasted by people complaining about how items posted by others
are a waste of bandwidth.

:bang: 1. n. Common spoken name for `!' (ASCII 0100001),
especially when used in pronouncing a {bang path} in spoken
hackish. In {elder days} this was considered a CMUish usage,
with MIT and Stanford hackers preferring {excl} or {shriek};
but the spread of UNIX has carried `bang' with it (esp. via the
term {bang path}) and it is now certainly the most common spoken
name for `!'. Note that it is used exclusively for
non-emphatic written `!'; one would not say "Congratulations
bang" (except possibly for humorous purposes), but if one wanted
to specify the exact characters `foo!' one would speak "Eff oh oh
bang". See {shriek}, {{ASCII}}. 2. interj. An exclamation
signifying roughly "I have achieved enlightenment!", or "The
dynamite has cleared out my brain!" Often used to acknowledge
that one has perpetrated a {thinko} immediately after one has
been called on it.

:bang on: vt. To stress-test a piece of hardware or software: "I
banged on the new version of the simulator all day yesterday and it
didn't crash once. I guess it is ready for release." The term
{pound on} is synonymous.

:bang path: n. An old-style UUCP electronic-mail address specifying
hops to get from some assumed-reachable location to the addressee,
so called because each {hop} is signified by a {bang} sign.
Thus, for example, the path ...!bigsite!foovax!barbox!me
directs people to route their mail to machine bigsite (presumably
a well-known location accessible to everybody) and from there
through the machine foovax to the account of user me on

In the bad old days of not so long ago, before autorouting mailers
became commonplace, people often published compound bang addresses
using the { } convention (see {glob}) to give paths from
*several* big machines, in the hopes that one's correspondent
might be able to get mail to one of them reliably (example:
...!{seismo, ut-sally, ihnp4}!rice!beta!gamma!me). Bang paths
of 8 to 10 hops were not uncommon in 1981. Late-night dial-up
UUCP links would cause week-long transmission times. Bang paths
were often selected by both transmission time and reliability, as
messages would often get lost. See {{Internet address}},
{network, the}, and {sitename}.

:banner: n. 1. The title page added to printouts by most print
spoolers (see {spool}). Typically includes user or account ID
information in very large character-graphics capitals. Also called
a `burst page', because it indicates where to burst (tear apart)
fanfold paper to separate one user's printout from the next. 2. A
similar printout generated (typically on multiple pages of fan-fold
paper) from user-specified text, e.g., by a program such as UNIX's
`banner({1,6})'. 3. On interactive software, a first screen
containing a logo and/or author credits and/or a copyright notice.

:bar: /bar/ n. 1. The second {metasyntactic variable}, after {foo}
and before {baz}. "Suppose we have two functions: FOO and BAR.
FOO calls BAR...." 2. Often appended to {foo} to produce

:bare metal: n. 1. New computer hardware, unadorned with such
snares and delusions as an {operating system}, an {HLL}, or
even assembler. Commonly used in the phrase `programming on the
bare metal', which refers to the arduous work of {bit bashing}
needed to create these basic tools for a new machine. Real
bare-metal programming involves things like building boot proms and
BIOS chips, implementing basic monitors used to test device
drivers, and writing the assemblers that will be used to write the
compiler back ends that will give the new machine a real
development environment. 2. `Programming on the bare metal' is
also used to describe a style of {hand-hacking} that relies on
bit-level peculiarities of a particular hardware design, esp.
tricks for speed and space optimization that rely on crocks such as
overlapping instructions (or, as in the famous case described in
{The Story of Mel, a Real Programmer} (in {appendix A}),
interleaving of opcodes on a magnetic drum to minimize fetch delays
due to the device's rotational latency). This sort of thing has
become less common as the relative costs of programming time and
machine resources have changed, but is still found in heavily
constrained environments such as industrial embedded systems. See
{real programmer}.

In the world of personal computing, bare metal programming
(especially in sense 1 but sometimes also in sense 2) is often
considered a {Good Thing}, or at least a necessary evil
(because these machines have often been sufficiently slow and
poorly designed to make it necessary; see {ill-behaved}).
There, the term usually refers to bypassing the BIOS or OS
interface and writing the application to directly access device
registers and machine addresses. "To get 19.2 kilobaud on the
serial port, you need to get down to the bare metal." People who
can do this sort of thing are held in high regard.

:barf: /barf/ [from mainstream slang meaning `vomit']
1. interj. Term of disgust. This is the closest hackish
equivalent of the Val\-speak "gag me with a spoon". (Like, euwww!)
See {bletch}. 2. vi. To say "Barf!" or emit some similar
expression of disgust. "I showed him my latest hack and he
barfed" means only that he complained about it, not that he
literally vomited. 3. vi. To fail to work because of unacceptable
input. May mean to give an error message. Examples: "The
division operation barfs if you try to divide by 0." (That is,
the division operation checks for an attempt to divide by zero, and
if one is encountered it causes the operation to fail in some
unspecified, but generally obvious, manner.) "The text editor
barfs if you try to read in a new file before writing out the old
one." See {choke}, {gag}. In Commonwealth hackish,
`barf' is generally replaced by `puke' or `vom'. {barf}
is sometimes also used as a {metasyntactic variable}, like {foo} or

:barfmail: n. Multiple {bounce message}s accumulating to the
level of serious annoyance, or worse. The sort of thing that
happens when an inter-network mail gateway goes down or

:barfulation: /bar`fyoo-lay'sh*n/ interj. Variation of {barf}
used around the Stanford area. An exclamation, expressing disgust.
On seeing some particularly bad code one might exclaim,
"Barfulation! Who wrote this, Quux?"

:barfulous: /bar'fyoo-l*s/ adj. (alt. `barfucious',
/bar-fyoo-sh*s/) Said of something that would make anyone barf,
if only for esthetic reasons.

:barney: n. In Commonwealth hackish, `barney' is to {fred}
(sense #1) as {bar} is to {foo}. That is, people who
commonly use `fred' as their first metasyntactic variable will
often use `barney' second. The reference is, of course, to Fred
Flintstone and Barney Rubble in the Flintstones cartoons.

:baroque: adj. Feature-encrusted; complex; gaudy; verging on
excessive. Said of hardware or (esp.) software designs, this has
many of the connotations of {elephantine} or {monstrosity} but is
less extreme and not pejorative in itself. "Metafont even has
features to introduce random variations to its letterform output.
Now *that* is baroque!" See also {rococo}.

:BartleMUD: /bar'tl-muhd/ n. Any of the MUDs derived from the
original MUD game by Richard Bartle and Roy Trubshaw (see
{MUD}). BartleMUDs are noted for their (usually slightly
offbeat) humor, dry but friendly syntax, and lack of adjectives in
object descriptions, so a player is likely to come across
`brand172', for instance (see {brand brand brand}). Bartle has
taken a bad rap in some MUDding circles for supposedly originating
this term, but (like the story that MUD is a trademark) this
appears to be a myth; he uses `MUD1'.

:BASIC: n. A programming language, originally designed for
Dartmouth's experimental timesharing system in the early 1960s,
which has since become the leading cause of brain-damage in
proto-hackers. This is another case (like {Pascal}) of the bad
things that happen when a language deliberately designed as an
educational toy gets taken too seriously. A novice can write short
BASIC programs (on the order of 10--20 lines) very easily; writing
anything longer is (a) very painful, and (b) encourages bad habits
that will bite him/her later if he/she tries to hack in a real
language. This wouldn't be so bad if historical accidents hadn't
made BASIC so common on low-end micros. As it is, it ruins
thousands of potential wizards a year.

:batch: adj. 1. Non-interactive. Hackers use this somewhat more
loosely than the traditional technical definitions justify; in
particular, switches on a normally interactive program that prepare
it to receive non-interactive command input are often referred to
as `batch mode' switches. A `batch file' is a series of
instructions written to be handed to an interactive program running
in batch mode. 2. Performance of dreary tasks all at one sitting.
"I finally sat down in batch mode and wrote out checks for all
those bills; I guess they'll turn the electricity back on next
week..." 3. Accumulation of a number of small tasks that can be
lumped together for greater efficiency. "I'm batching up those
letters to send sometime" "I'm batching up bottles to take to the
recycling center."

:bathtub curve: n. Common term for the curve (resembling an
end-to-end section of one of those claw-footed antique bathtubs)
that describes the expected failure rate of electronics with time:
initially high, dropping to near 0 for most of the system's
lifetime, then rising again as it `tires out'. See also {burn-in
period}, {infant mortality}.

:baud: /bawd/ [simplified from its technical meaning] n. Bits per
second. Hence kilobaud or Kbaud, thousands of bits per second.
The technical meaning is `level transitions per second'; this
coincides with bps only for two-level modulation with no framing or
stop bits. Most hackers are aware of these nuances but blithely
ignore them.

Histotical note: this was originally a unit of telegraph signalling
speed, set at one pulse per second. It was proposed at the
International Telegraph Conference of 1927, and named after J.M.E.
Baudot (1845-1903), the French engineer who constructed the first
successful teleprinter.

:baud barf: /bawd barf/ n. The garbage one gets on the monitor
when using a modem connection with some protocol setting (esp.
line speed) incorrect, or when someone picks up a voice extension
on the same line, or when really bad line noise disrupts the
connection. Baud barf is not completely {random}, by the way;
hackers with a lot of serial-line experience can usually tell
whether the device at the other end is expecting a higher or lower
speed than the terminal is set to. *Really* experienced ones
can identify particular speeds.

:baz: /baz/ n. 1. The third {metasyntactic variable} "Suppose we
have three functions: FOO, BAR, and BAZ. FOO calls BAR, which
calls BAZ...." (See also {fum}) 2. interj. A term of mild
annoyance. In this usage the term is often drawn out for 2 or 3
seconds, producing an effect not unlike the bleating of a sheep;
/baaaaaaz/. 3. Occasionally appended to {foo} to produce

Earlier versions of this lexicon derived `baz' as a Stanford
corruption of {bar}. However, Pete Samson (compiler of the
{TMRC} lexicon) reports it was already current when he joined TMRC
in 1958. He says "It came from `Pogo'. Albert the Alligator,
when vexed or outraged, would shout `Bazz Fazz!' or `Rowrbazzle!'
The club layout was said to model the (mythical) New England
counties of Rowrfolk and Bassex (Rowrbazzle mingled with

:bboard: /bee'bord/ [contraction of `bulletin board'] n.
1. Any electronic bulletin board; esp. used of {BBS} systems
running on personal micros, less frequently of a USENET
{newsgroup} (in fact, use of the term for a newsgroup generally
marks one either as a {newbie} fresh in from the BBS world or as
a real old-timer predating USENET). 2. At CMU and other colleges
with similar facilities, refers to campus-wide electronic bulletin
boards. 3. The term `physical bboard' is sometimes used to
refer to a old-fashioned, non-electronic cork memo board. At CMU,
it refers to a particular one outside the CS Lounge.

In either of senses 1 or 2, the term is usually prefixed by the
name of the intended board (`the Moonlight Casino bboard' or
`market bboard'); however, if the context is clear, the better-read
bboards may be referred to by name alone, as in (at CMU) "Don't
post for-sale ads on general".

:BBS: /B-B-S/ [abbreviation, `Bulletin Board System'] n. An electronic
bulletin board system; that is, a message database where people can
log in and leave broadcast messages for others grouped (typically)
into {topic group}s. Thousands of local BBS systems are in
operation throughout the U.S., typically run by amateurs for fun
out of their homes on MS-DOS boxes with a single modem line each.
Fans of USENET and Internet or the big commercial timesharing
bboards such as CompuServe and GEnie tend to consider local BBSes
the low-rent district of the hacker culture, but they serve a
valuable function by knitting together lots of hackers and users in
the personal-micro world who would otherwise be unable to exchange
code at all.

:beam: [from Star Trek Classic's "Beam me up, Scotty!"] vt. To
transfer {softcopy} of a file electronically; most often in
combining forms such as `beam me a copy' or `beam that over to
his site'. Compare {blast}, {snarf}, {BLT}.

:beanie key: [Mac users] n. See {command key}.

:beep: n.,v. Syn. {feep}. This term seems to be preferred among micro

:beige toaster: n. A Macintosh. See {toaster}; compare
{Macintrash}, {maggotbox}.

:bells and whistles: [by analogy with the toyboxes on theater
organs] n. Features added to a program or system to make it more
{flavorful} from a hacker's point of view, without necessarily
adding to its utility for its primary function. Distinguished from
{chrome}, which is intended to attract users. "Now that we've
got the basic program working, let's go back and add some bells and
whistles." No one seems to know what distinguishes a bell from a

:bells, whistles, and gongs: n. A standard elaborated form of
{bells and whistles}; typically said with a pronounced and ironic
accent on the `gongs'.

:benchmark: [techspeak] n. An inaccurate measure of computer
performance. "In the computer industry, there are three kinds of
lies: lies, damn lies, and benchmarks." Well-known ones include
Whetstone, Dhrystone, Rhealstone (see {h}), the Gabriel LISP
benchmarks (see {gabriel}), the SPECmark suite, and LINPACK. See
also {machoflops}, {MIPS}, {smoke and mirrors}.

:Berkeley Quality Software: adj. (often abbreviated `BQS') Term used
in a pejorative sense to refer to software that was apparently
created by rather spaced-out hackers late at night to solve some
unique problem. It usually has nonexistent, incomplete, or
incorrect documentation, has been tested on at least two examples,
and core dumps when anyone else attempts to use it. This term was
frequently applied to early versions of the `dbx(1)' debugger.
See also {Berzerkeley}.

:berklix: /berk'liks/ n.,adj. [contraction of `Berkeley UNIX'] See
{BSD}. Not used at Berkeley itself. May be more common among
{suit}s attempting to sound like cognoscenti than among hackers,
who usually just say `BSD'.

:berserking: vi. A {MUD} term meaning to gain points *only*
by killing other players and mobiles (non-player characters).
Hence, a Berserker-Wizard is a player character that has achieved
enough points to become a wizard, but only by killing other
characters. Berserking is sometimes frowned upon because of its
inherently antisocial nature, but some MUDs have a `berserker
mode' in which a player becomes *permanently* berserk, can
never flee from a fight, cannot use magic, gets no score for
treasure, but does get double kill points. "Berserker
wizards can seriously damage your elf!"

:Berzerkeley: /b*r-zer'klee/ [from `berserk', via the name of a
now-deceased record label] n. Humorous distortion of `Berkeley'
used esp. to refer to the practices or products of the
{BSD} UNIX hackers. See {software bloat}, {Missed'em-five},
{Berkeley Quality Software}.

Mainstream use of this term in reference to the cultural and
political peculiarities of UC Berkeley as a whole has been reported
from as far back as the 1960s.

:beta: /bay't*/, /be't*/ or (Commonwealth) /bee't*/ n. 1. In
the {Real World}, software often goes through two stages of
testing: Alpha (in-house) and Beta (out-house?). Software is said
to be `in beta'. 2. Anything that is new and experimental is in
beta. "His girlfriend is in beta" means that he is still testing
for compatibility and reserving judgment. 3. Beta software is
notoriously buggy, so `in beta' connotes flakiness.

Historical note: More formally, to beta-test is to test a
pre-release (potentially unreliable) version of a piece of software
by making it available to selected customers and users. This term
derives from early 1960s terminology for product cycle checkpoints,
first used at IBM but later standard throughout the industry.
`Alpha Test' was the unit, module, or component test phase; `Beta
Test' was initial system test. These themselves came from earlier
A- and B-tests for hardware. The A-test was a feasibility and
manufacturability evaluation done before any commitment to design
and development. The B-test was a demonstration that the
engineering model functioned as specified. The C-test
(corresponding to today's beta) was the B-test performed on early
samples of the production design.

:BFI: /B-F-I/ n. See {brute force and ignorance}. Also
encountered in the variants `BFMI', `brute force and
*massive* ignorance' and `BFBI' `brute force and bloody

:bible: n. 1. One of a small number of fundamental source books
such as {Knuth} and {K&R}. 2. The most detailed and
authoritative reference for a particular language, operating
system, or other complex software system.

:BiCapitalization: n. The act said to have been performed on
trademarks (such as {PostScript}, NeXT, {NeWS}, VisiCalc,
FrameMaker, TK!solver, EasyWriter) that have been raised above the
ruck of common coinage by nonstandard capitalization. Too many
{marketroid} types think this sort of thing is really cute, even
the 2,317th time they do it. Compare {studlycaps}.

:BIFF: /bif/ [USENET] n. The most famous {pseudo}, and the
prototypical {newbie}. Articles from BIFF are characterized by
all uppercase letters sprinkled liberally with bangs, typos,
`cute' misspellings (EVRY BUDY LUVS GOOD OLD BIFF CUZ HE"S A
THIS!!!), use (and often misuse) of fragments of {talk mode}
abbreviations, a long {sig block} (sometimes even a {doubled
sig}), and unbounded na"ivet'e. BIFF posts articles using his
elder brother's VIC-20. BIFF's location is a mystery, as his
articles appear to come from a variety of sites. However,
{BITNET} seems to be the most frequent origin. The theory that
BIFF is a denizen of BITNET is supported by BIFF's (unfortunately
invalid) electronic mail address: BIFF@BIT.NET.

:biff: /bif/ vt. To notify someone of incoming mail. From the
BSD utility `biff(1)', which was in turn named after a
friendly golden Labrador who used to chase frisbees in the halls at
UCB while 4.2BSD was in development (it had a well-known habit of
barking whenever the mailman came). No relation to

:Big Gray Wall: n. What faces a {VMS} user searching for
documentation. A full VMS kit comes on a pallet, the documentation
taking up around 15 feet of shelf space before the addition of
layered products such as compilers, databases, multivendor
networking, and programming tools. Recent (since VMS version 5)
DEC documentation comes with gray binders; under VMS version 4 the
binders were orange (`big orange wall'), and under version 3 they
were blue. See {VMS}. Often contracted to `Gray Wall'.

:big iron: n. Large, expensive, ultra-fast computers. Used generally
of {number-crunching} supercomputers such as Crays, but can include
more conventional big commercial IBMish mainframes. Term of
approval; compare {heavy metal}, oppose {dinosaur}.

:Big Red Switch: [IBM] n. The power switch on a computer, esp. the
`Emergency Pull' switch on an IBM {mainframe} or the power switch
on an IBM PC where it really is large and red. "This !@%$%
{bitty box} is hung again; time to hit the Big Red Switch."
Sources at IBM report that, in tune with the company's passion for
{TLA}s, this is often abbreviated as `BRS' (this has also
become established on FidoNet and in the PC {clone} world). It
is alleged that the emergency pull switch on an IBM 360/91 actually
fired a non-conducting bolt into the main power feed; the BRSes on
more recent machines physically drop a block into place so that
they can't be pushed back in. People get fired for pulling them,
especially inappropriately (see also {molly-guard}). Compare
{power cycle}, {three-finger salute}, {120 reset}; see
also {scram switch}.

:Big Room, the: n. The extremely large room with the blue ceiling
and intensely bright light (during the day) or black ceiling with
lots of tiny night-lights (during the night) found outside all
computer installations. "He can't come to the phone right now,
he's somewhere out in the Big Room."

:big win: n. Serendipity. "Yes, those two physicists discovered
high-temperature superconductivity in a batch of ceramic that had
been prepared incorrectly according to their experimental schedule.
Small mistake; big win!" See {win big}.

:big-endian: [From Swift's `Gulliver's Travels' via the famous
paper `On Holy Wars and a Plea for Peace' by Danny Cohen,
USC/ISI IEN 137, dated April 1, 1980] adj. 1. Describes a computer
architecture in which, within a given multi-byte numeric
representation, the most significant byte has the lowest address
(the word is stored `big-end-first'). Most processors,
including the IBM 370 family, the {PDP-10}, the Motorola
microprocessor families, and most of the various RISC designs
current in mid-1991, are big-endian. See {little-endian},
{middle-endian}, {NUXI problem}. 2. An {{Internet address}}
the wrong way round. Most of the world follows the Internet
standard and writes email addresses starting with the name of the
computer and ending up with the name of the country. In the U.K.
the Joint Networking Team had decided to do it the other way round
before the Internet domain standard was established; e.g., Most gateway sites have {ad-hockery} in
their mailers to handle this, but can still be confused. In
particular, the address above could be in the U.K. (domain uk)
or Czechoslovakia (domain cs).

:bignum: /big'nuhm/ [orig. from MIT MacLISP] n. 1. [techspeak] A
multiple-precision computer representation for very large integers.
More generally, any very large number. "Have you ever looked at
the United States Budget? There's bignums for you!"
2. [Stanford] In backgammon, large numbers on the dice are called
`bignums', especially a roll of double fives or double sixes
(compare {moby}, sense 4). See also {El Camino Bignum}.

Sense 1 may require some explanation. Most computer languages
provide a kind of data called `integer', but such computer
integers are usually very limited in size; usually they must be
smaller than than 2^(31) (2,147,483,648) or (on a losing
{bitty box}) 2^(15) (32,768). If you want to work with
numbers larger than that, you have to use floating-point numbers,
which are usually accurate to only six or seven decimal places.
Computer languages that provide bignums can perform exact
calculations on very large numbers, such as 1000! (the factorial
of 1000, which is 1000 times 999 times 998 times ... times 2
times 1). For example, this value for 1000! was computed by the
MacLISP system using bignums:


:bigot: n. A person who is religiously attached to a particular
computer, language, operating system, editor, or other tool (see
{religious issues}). Usually found with a specifier; thus,
`cray bigot', `ITS bigot', `APL bigot', `VMS bigot',
`Berkeley bigot'. True bigots can be distinguished from mere
partisans or zealots by the fact that they refuse to learn
alternatives even when the march of time and/or technology is
threatening to obsolete the favored tool. It is said "You can
tell a bigot, but you can't tell him much." Compare

:bit: [from the mainstream meaning and `Binary digIT'] n.
1. [techspeak] The unit of information; the amount of information
obtained by asking a yes-or-no question for which the two outcomes
are equally probable. 2. [techspeak] A computational quantity that
can take on one of two values, such as true and false or 0 and 1.
3. A mental flag: a reminder that something should be done
eventually. "I have a bit set for you." (I haven't seen you for
a while, and I'm supposed to tell or ask you something.) 4. More
generally, a (possibly incorrect) mental state of belief. "I have
a bit set that says that you were the last guy to hack on EMACS."
(Meaning "I think you were the last guy to hack on EMACS, and what
I am about to say is predicated on this, so please stop me if this
isn't true.")

"I just need one bit from you" is a polite way of indicating that
you intend only a short interruption for a question that can
presumably be answered yes or no.

A bit is said to be `set' if its value is true or 1, and
`reset' or `clear' if its value is false or 0. One speaks of
setting and clearing bits. To {toggle} or `invert' a bit is
to change it, either from 0 to 1 or from 1 to 0. See also
{flag}, {trit}, {mode bit}.

The term `bit' first appeared in print in the computer-science
sense in 1949, and seems to have been coined by early computer
scientist John Tukey. Tukey records that it evolved over a lunch
table as a handier alternative to `bigit' or `binit'.

:bit bang: n. Transmission of data on a serial line, when
accomplished by rapidly tweaking a single output bit at the
appropriate times. The technique is a simple
loop with eight OUT and SHIFT instruction pairs for each byte.
Input is more interesting. And full duplex (doing input and output
at the same time) is one way to separate the real hackers from the

Bit bang was used on certain early models of Prime computers,
presumably when UARTs were too expensive, and on archaic Z80 micros
with a Zilog PIO but no SIO. In an interesting instance of the
{cycle of reincarnation}, this technique is now (1991) coming
back into use on some RISC architectures because it consumes such
an infinitesimal part of the processor that it actually makes sense
not to have a UART.

:bit bashing: n. (alt. `bit diddling' or {bit twiddling}) Term
used to describe any of several kinds of low-level programming
characterized by manipulation of {bit}, {flag}, {nybble},
and other smaller-than-character-sized pieces of data; these
include low-level device control, encryption algorithms, checksum
and error-correcting codes, hash functions, some flavors of
graphics programming (see {bitblt}), and assembler/compiler code
generation. May connote either tedium or a real technical
challenge (more usually the former). "The command decoding for
the new tape driver looks pretty solid but the bit-bashing for the
control registers still has bugs." See also {bit bang},
{mode bit}.

:bit bucket: n. 1. The universal data sink (originally, the
mythical receptacle used to catch bits when they fall off the end
of a register during a shift instruction). Discarded, lost, or
destroyed data is said to have `gone to the bit bucket'. On
{{UNIX}}, often used for {/dev/null}. Sometimes amplified as
`the Great Bit Bucket in the Sky'. 2. The place where all lost
mail and news messages eventually go. The selection is performed
according to {Finagle's Law}; important mail is much more likely
to end up in the bit bucket than junk mail, which has an almost
100% probability of getting delivered. Routing to the bit bucket
is automatically performed by mail-transfer agents, news systems,
and the lower layers of the network. 3. The ideal location for all
unwanted mail responses: "Flames about this article to the bit
bucket." Such a request is guaranteed to overflow one's mailbox
with flames. 4. Excuse for all mail that has not been sent. "I
mailed you those figures last week; they must have ended in the bit
bucket." Compare {black hole}.

This term is used purely in jest. It is based on the fanciful
notion that bits are objects that are not destroyed but only
misplaced. This appears to have been a mutation of an earlier term
`bit box', about which the same legend was current; old-time
hackers also report that trainees used to be told that when the CPU
stored bits into memory it was actually pulling them `out of the
bit box'. See also {chad box}.

Another variant of this legend has it that, as a consequence of the
`parity preservation law', the number of 1 bits that go to the bit
bucket must equal the number of 0 bits. Any imbalance results in
bits filling up the bit bucket. A qualified computer technician
can empty a full bit bucket as part of scheduled maintenance.

:bit decay: n. See {bit rot}. People with a physics background
tend to prefer this one for the analogy with particle decay. See
also {computron}, {quantum bogodynamics}.

:bit rot: n. Also {bit decay}. Hypothetical disease the existence
of which has been deduced from the observation that unused programs
or features will often stop working after sufficient time has
passed, even if `nothing has changed'. The theory explains that
bits decay as if they were radioactive. As time passes, the
contents of a file or the code in a program will become
increasingly garbled.

There actually are physical processes that produce such effects
(alpha particles generated by trace radionuclides in ceramic chip
packages, for example, can change the contents of a computer memory
unpredictably, and various kinds of subtle media failures can
corrupt files in mass storage), but they are quite rare (and
computers are built with error-detecting circuitry to compensate
for them). The notion long favored among hackers that cosmic
rays are among the causes of such events turns out to be a myth;
see the {cosmic rays} entry for details.

The term {software rot} is almost synonymous. Software rot is
the effect, bit rot the notional cause.

:bit twiddling: n. 1. (pejorative) An exercise in tuning (see
{tune}) in which incredible amounts of time and effort go to
produce little noticeable improvement, often with the result that
the code has become incomprehensible. 2. Aimless small
modification to a program, esp. for some pointless goal.
3. Approx. syn. for {bit bashing}; esp. used for the act of
frobbing the device control register of a peripheral in an attempt
to get it back to a known state.

:bit-paired keyboard: n. obs. (alt. `bit-shift keyboard') A
non-standard keyboard layout that seems to have originated with the
Teletype ASR-33 and remained common for several years on early
computer equipment. The ASR-33 was a mechanical device (see
{EOU}), so the only way to generate the character codes from
keystrokes was by some physical linkage. The design of the ASR-33
assigned each character key a basic pattern that could be modified
by flipping bits if the SHIFT or the CTRL key was pressed. In
order to avoid making the thing more of a Rube Goldberg kluge than
it already was, the design had to group characters that shared the
same basic bit pattern on one key.

Looking at the ASCII chart, we find:

high low bits
bits 0000 0001 0010 0011 0100 0101 0110 0111 1000 1001
010 ! " # $ % & ' ( )
011 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

This is why the characters !"#$%&'() appear where they do on a
Teletype (thankfully, they didn't use shift-0 for space). This was
*not* the weirdest variant of the {QWERTY} layout widely
seen, by the way; that prize should probably go to one of several
(differing) arrangements on IBM's even clunkier 026 and 029 card

When electronic terminals became popular, in the early 1970s, there
was no agreement in the industry over how the keyboards should be
laid out. Some vendors opted to emulate the Teletype keyboard,
while others used the flexibility of electronic circuitry to make
their product look like an office typewriter. These alternatives
became known as `bit-paired' and `typewriter-paired' keyboards. To
a hacker, the bit-paired keyboard seemed far more logical --- and
because most hackers in those days had never learned to touch-type,
there was little pressure from the pioneering users to adapt
keyboards to the typewriter standard.

The doom of the bit-paired keyboard was the large-scale
introduction of the computer terminal into the normal office
environment, where out-and-out technophobes were expected to use
the equipment. The `typewriter-paired' standard became universal,
`bit-paired' hardware was quickly junked or relegated to dusty
corners, and both terms passed into disuse.

:bitblt: /bit'blit/ n. [from {BLT}, q.v.] 1. Any of a family
of closely related algorithms for moving and copying rectangles of
bits between main and display memory on a bit-mapped device, or
between two areas of either main or display memory (the requirement
to do the {Right Thing} in the case of overlapping source and
destination rectangles is what makes BitBlt tricky). 2. Synonym
for {blit} or {BLT}. Both uses are borderline techspeak.

:BITNET: /bit'net/ [acronym: Because It's Time NETwork] n.
Everybody's least favorite piece of the network (see {network,
the}). The BITNET hosts are a collection of IBM dinosaurs and
VAXen (the latter with lobotomized comm hardware) that communicate
using 80-character {{EBCDIC}} card images (see {eighty-column
mind}); thus, they tend to mangle the headers and text of
third-party traffic from the rest of the ASCII/RFC-822 world with
annoying regularity. BITNET is also notorious as the apparent home
of {BIFF}.

:bits: 1. Information. Examples: "I need some bits about file
formats." ("I need to know about file formats.") Compare {core
dump}, sense 4. 2. Machine-readable representation of a document,
specifically as contrasted with paper: "I have only a photocopy
of the Jargon File; does anyone know where I can get the bits?".
See {softcopy}, {source of all good bits} See also {bit}.

:bitty box: /bit'ee boks/ n. 1. A computer sufficiently small,
primitive, or incapable as to cause a hacker acute claustrophobia
at the thought of developing software on or for it. Especially
used of small, obsolescent, single-tasking-only personal machines
such as the Atari 800, Osborne, Sinclair, VIC-20, TRS-80, or
IBM PC. 2. [Pejorative] More generally, the opposite of `real
computer' (see {Get a real computer!}). See also {mess-dos},
{toaster}, and {toy}.

:bixie: /bik'see/ n. Variant {emoticon}s used on BIX (the Byte
Information eXchange). The {smiley} bixie is <@_@>, apparently
intending to represent two cartoon eyes and a mouth. A few others
have been reported.

:black art: n. A collection of arcane, unpublished, and (by
implication) mostly ad-hoc techniques developed for a particular
application or systems area (compare {black magic}). VLSI design
and compiler code optimization were (in their beginnings)
considered classic examples of black art; as theory developed they
became {deep magic}, and once standard textbooks had been written,
became merely {heavy wizardry}. The huge proliferation of formal
and informal channels for spreading around new computer-related
technologies during the last twenty years has made both the term
`black art' and what it describes less common than formerly. See
also {voodoo programming}.

:black hole: n. When a piece of email or netnews disappears
mysteriously between its origin and destination sites (that is,
without returning a {bounce message}) it is commonly said to have
`fallen into a black hole'. "I think there's a black hole at
foovax!" conveys suspicion that site foovax has been dropping
a lot of stuff on the floor lately (see {drop on the floor}).
The implied metaphor of email as interstellar travel is interesting
in itself. Compare {bit bucket}.

:black magic: n. A technique that works, though nobody really
understands why. More obscure than {voodoo programming}, which
may be done by cookbook. Compare also {black art}, {deep
magic}, and {magic number} (sense 2).

:blargh: /blarg/ [MIT] n. The opposite of {ping}, sense 5; an
exclamation indicating that one has absorbed or is emitting a
quantum of unhappiness. Less common than {ping}.

:blast: 1. vt.,n. Synonym for {BLT}, used esp. for large data
sends over a network or comm line. Opposite of {snarf}. Usage:
uncommon. The variant `blat' has been reported. 2. vt.
[HP/Apollo] Synonymous with {nuke} (sense 3). Sometimes the
message `Unable to kill all processes. Blast them (y/n)?' would
appear in the command window upon logout.

:blat: n. 1. Syn. {blast}, sense 1. 2. See {thud}.

:bletch: /blech/ [from Yiddish/German `brechen', to vomit, poss.
via comic-strip exclamation `blech'] interj. Term of disgust.
Often used in "Ugh, bletch". Compare {barf}.

:bletcherous: /blech'*-r*s/ adj. Disgusting in design or function;
esthetically unappealing. This word is seldom used of people.
"This keyboard is bletcherous!" (Perhaps the keys don't work very
well, or are misplaced.) See {losing}, {cretinous},
{bagbiter}, {bogus}, and {random}. The term {bletcherous}
applies to the esthetics of the thing so described; similarly for
{cretinous}. By contrast, something that is `losing' or
`bagbiting' may be failing to meet objective criteria. See also
{bogus} and {random}, which have richer and wider shades of
meaning than any of the above.

:blinkenlights: /blink'*n-li:tz/ n. Front-panel diagnostic lights
on a computer, esp. a {dinosaur}. Derives from the last word
of the famous blackletter-Gothic sign in mangled pseudo-German that
once graced about half the computer rooms in the English-speaking
world. One version ran in its entirety as follows:

computermachine ist nicht fuer gefingerpoken und mittengrabben.
Ist easy schnappen der springenwerk, blowenfusen und poppencorken
mit spitzensparken. Ist nicht fuer gewerken bei das dumpkopfen.
Das rubbernecken sichtseeren keepen das cotten-pickenen hans in das
pockets muss; relaxen und watchen das blinkenlichten.

This silliness dates back at least as far as 1959 at Stanford
University and had already gone international by the early 1960s,
when it was reported at London University's ATLAS computing site.
There are several variants of it in circulation, some of which
actually do end with the word `blinkenlights'.

In an amusing example of turnabout-is-fair-play, German hackers
have developed their own versions of the blinkenlights poster in
fractured English, one of which is reproduced here:

This room is fullfilled mit special electronische equippment.
Fingergrabbing and pressing the cnoeppkes from the computers is
allowed for die experts only! So all the "lefthanders" stay away
and do not disturben the brainstorming von here working
intelligencies. Otherwise you will be out thrown and kicked
anderswhere! Also: please keep still and only watchen astaunished
the blinkenlights.

See also {geef}.

:blit: /blit/ vt. 1. To copy a large array of bits from one part
of a computer's memory to another part, particularly when the
memory is being used to determine what is shown on a display
screen. "The storage allocator picks through the table and copies
the good parts up into high memory, and then blits it all back
down again." See {bitblt}, {BLT}, {dd}, {cat},
{blast}, {snarf}. More generally, to perform some operation
(such as toggling) on a large array of bits while moving them.
2. All-capitalized as `BLIT': an early experimental bit-mapped
terminal designed by Rob Pike at Bell Labs, later commercialized as
the AT&T 5620. (The folk etymology from `Bell Labs Intelligent
Terminal' is incorrect.)

:blitter: /blit'r/ n. A special-purpose chip or hardware system
built to perform {blit} operations, esp. used for fast
implementation of bit-mapped graphics. The Commodore Amiga and a
few other micros have these, but in 1991 the trend is away from
them (however, see {cycle of reincarnation}). Syn. {raster

:blivet: /bliv'*t/ [allegedly from a World War II military term
meaning "ten pounds of manure in a five-pound bag"] n. 1. An
intractable problem. 2. A crucial piece of hardware that can't be
fixed or replaced if it breaks. 3. A tool that has been hacked
over by so many incompetent programmers that it has become an
unmaintainable tissue of hacks. 4. An out-of-control but
unkillable development effort. 5. An embarrassing bug that pops up
during a customer demo.

This term has other meanings in other technical cultures; among
experimental physicists and hardware engineers of various kinds it
seems to mean any random object of unknown purpose (similar to
hackish use of {frob}). It has also been used to describe an
amusing trick-the-eye drawing resembling a three-pronged fork that
appears to depict a three-dimensional object until one realizes
that the parts fit together in an impossible way.

:BLOB: [acronym, Binary Large OBject] n. Used by database people to
refer to any random large block of bits which needs to be stored in
a database, such as a picture or sound file. The essential point
about a BLOB is that it's an object you can't interpret within the
database itself.

:block: [from process scheduling terminology in OS theory] 1. vi.
To delay or sit idle while waiting for something. "We're blocking
until everyone gets here." Compare {busy-wait}. 2. `block
on' vt. To block, waiting for (something). "Lunch is blocked on
Phil's arrival."

:block transfer computations: n. From the television series
"Dr. Who", in which it referred to computations so fiendishly
subtle and complex that they could not be performed by machines.
Used to refer to any task that should be expressible as an
algorithm in theory, but isn't.

:blow an EPROM: /bloh *n ee'prom/ v. (alt. `blast an EPROM',
`burn an EPROM') To program a read-only memory, e.g. for use
with an embedded system. This term arises because the programming
process for the Programmable Read-Only Memories (PROMs) that
preceded present-day Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memories
(EPROMs) involved intentionally blowing tiny electrical fuses on
the chip. Thus, one was said to `blow' (or `blast') a PROM, and
the terminology carried over even though the write process on
EPROMs is nondestructive.

:blow away: vt. To remove (files and directories) from permanent
storage, generally by accident. "He reformatted the wrong
partition and blew away last night's netnews." Oppose {nuke}.

:blow out: vi. Of software, to fail spectacularly; almost as
serious as {crash and burn}. See {blow past}, {blow up},
{die horribly}.

:blow past: vt. To {blow out} despite a safeguard. "The server blew
past the 5K reserve buffer."

:blow up: vi. 1. [scientific computation] To become unstable. Suggests
that the computation is diverging so rapidly that it will soon
overflow or at least go {nonlinear}. 2. Syn. {blow out}.

:BLT: /B-L-T/, /bl*t/ or (rarely) /belt/ n.,vt. Synonym for
{blit}. This is the original form of {blit} and the ancestor
of {bitblt}. It referred to any large bit-field copy or move
operation (one resource-intensive memory-shuffling operation done
on pre-paged versions of ITS, WAITS, and TOPS-10 was sardonically
referred to as `The Big BLT'). The jargon usage has outlasted the
{PDP-10} BLock Transfer instruction from which {BLT} derives;
nowadays, the assembler mnemonic {BLT} almost always means
`Branch if Less Than zero'.

:Blue Book: n. 1. Informal name for one of the three standard
references on the page-layout and graphics-control language
{PostScript} (`PostScript Language Tutorial and Cookbook',
Adobe Systems, Addison-Wesley 1985, QA76.73.P67P68, ISBN
0-201-10179-3); the other two official guides are known as the
{Green Book}, the {Red Book}, and the {White Book} (sense
2). 2. Informal name for one of the three standard references on
Smalltalk: `Smalltalk-80: The Language and its
Implementation', David Robson, Addison-Wesley 1983, QA76.8.S635G64,
ISBN 0-201-11371-63 (this is also associated with green and red
books). 3. Any of the 1988 standards issued by the CCITT's
ninth plenary assembly. Until now, they have changed color each
review cycle (1984 was {Red Book}, 1992 would be {Green
Book}); however, it is rumored that this convention is going to be
dropped before 1992. These include, among other things, the
X.400 email spec and the Group 1 through 4 fax standards. See also
{{book titles}}.

:Blue Glue: [IBM] n. IBM's SNA (Systems Network Architecture), an
incredibly {losing} and {bletcherous} communications protocol
widely favored at commercial shops that don't know any better. The
official IBM definition is "that which binds blue boxes
together." See {fear and loathing}. It may not be irrelevant
that {Blue Glue} is the trade name of a 3M product that is
commonly used to hold down the carpet squares to the removable
panel floors common in {dinosaur pen}s. A correspondent at
U. Minn. reports that the CS department there has about 80 bottles
of the stuff hanging about, so they often refer to any messy work
to be done as `using the blue glue'.

:blue goo: n. Term for `police' {nanobot}s intended to prevent
{gray goo}, denature hazardous waste, destroy pollution, put
ozone back into the stratosphere, prevent halitosis, and promote
truth, justice, and the American way, etc. See

:blue wire: [IBM] n. Patch wires added to circuit boards at the factory to
correct design or fabrication problems. This may be necessary if
there hasn't been time to design and qualify another board version.
Compare {purple wire}, {red wire}, {yellow wire}.

:blurgle: /bler'gl/ [Great Britain] n. Spoken {metasyntactic
variable}, to indicate some text which is obvious from context, or
which is already known. If several words are to be replaced,
blurgle may well be doubled or trebled. "To look for something in
several files use `grep string blurgle blurgle'." In each case,
"blurgle blurgle" would be understood to be replaced by the file
you wished to search. Compare {mumble}, sense 6.

:BNF: /B-N-F/ n. 1. [techspeak] Acronym for `Backus-Naur Form', a
metasyntactic notation used to specify the syntax of programming
languages, command sets, and the like. Widely used for language
descriptions but seldom documented anywhere, so that it must
usually be learned by osmosis from other hackers. Consider this
BNF for a U.S. postal address:


::= | "."

::= []

::= []

::= ","

This translates into English as: "A postal-address consists of a
name-part, followed by a street-address part, followed by a
zip-code part. A personal-part consists of either a first name or
an initial followed by a dot. A name-part consists of either: a
personal-part followed by a last name followed by an optional
`jr-part' (Jr., Sr., or dynastic number) and end-of-line, or a
personal part followed by a name part (this rule illustrates the
use of recursion in BNFs, covering the case of people who use
multiple first and middle names and/or initials). A street address
consists of an optional apartment specifier, followed by a street
number, followed by a street name. A zip-part consists of a
town-name, followed by a comma, followed by a state code, followed
by a ZIP-code followed by an end-of-line." Note that many things
(such as the format of a personal-part, apartment specifier, or
ZIP-code) are left unspecified. These are presumed to be obvious
from context or detailed somewhere nearby. See also {parse}.
2. The term is also used loosely for any number of variants and
extensions, possibly containing some or all of the {regexp}
wildcards such as `*' or `+'. In fact the example above
isn't the pure form invented for the Algol-60 report; it uses
`[]', which was introduced a few years later in IBM's PL/I
definition but is now universally recognized. 3. In
{{science-fiction fandom}}, BNF means `Big-Name Fan'
(someone famous or notorious). Years ago a fan started handing out
black-on-green BNF buttons at SF conventions; this confused the
hacker contingent terribly.

:boa: [IBM] n. Any one of the fat cables that lurk under the floor
in a {dinosaur pen}. Possibly so called because they display a
ferocious life of their own when you try to lay them straight and
flat after they have been coiled for some time. It is rumored
within IBM that channel cables for the 370 are limited to 200 feet
because beyond that length the boas get dangerous --- and it is
worth noting that one of the major cable makers uses the trademark

:board: n. 1. In-context synonym for {bboard}; sometimes used
even for USENET newsgroups. 2. An electronic circuit board
(compare {card}).

:boat anchor: n. 1. Like {doorstop} but more severe; implies that
the offending hardware is irreversibly dead or useless. "That was
a working motherboard once. One lightning strike later, instant
boat anchor!" 2. A person who just takes up space.

:BOF: /B-O-F/ or /bof/ n. Abbreviation for the phrase "Birds
Of a Feather" (flocking together), an informal discussion group
and/or bull session scheduled on a conference program. It is not
clear where or when this term originated, but it is now associated
with the USENIX conferences for UNIX techies and was already
established there by 1984. It was used earlier than that at DECUS
conferences, and is reported to have been common at SHARE meetings
as far back as the early 1960s.

:bogo-sort: /boh`goh-sort'/ n. (var. `stupid-sort') The
archetypical perversely awful algorithm (as opposed to {bubble
sort}, which is merely the generic *bad* algorithm).
Bogo-sort is equivalent to repeatedly throwing a deck of cards in
the air, picking them up at random, and then testing whether they
are in order. It serves as a sort of canonical example of
awfulness. Looking at a program and seeing a dumb algorithm, one
might say "Oh, I see, this program uses bogo-sort." Compare
{bogus}, {brute force}.

:bogometer: /boh-gom'-*t-er/ n. See {bogosity}. Compare the
`wankometer' described in the {wank} entry; see also

:bogon: /boh'gon/ [by analogy with proton/electron/neutron, but
doubtless reinforced after 1980 by the similarity to Douglas
Adams's `Vogons'; see the Bibliography in {appendix C}] n.
1. The elementary particle of bogosity (see {quantum
bogodynamics}). For instance, "the Ethernet is emitting bogons
again" means that it is broken or acting in an erratic or bogus
fashion. 2. A query packet sent from a TCP/IP domain resolver to a
root server, having the reply bit set instead of the query bit.
3. Any bogus or incorrectly formed packet sent on a network. 4. By
synecdoche, used to refer to any bogus thing, as in "I'd like to
go to lunch with you but I've got to go to the weekly staff
bogon". 5. A person who is bogus or who says bogus things. This
was historically the original usage, but has been overtaken by its
derivative senses 1--4. See also {bogosity}, {bogus};
compare {psyton}, {fat electrons}, {magic smoke}.

The bogon has become the type case for a whole bestiary of nonce
particle names, including the `clutron' or `cluon' (indivisible
particle of cluefulness, obviously the antiparticle of the bogon)
and the futon (elementary particle of {randomness}). These are
not so much live usages in themselves as examples of a live
meta-usage: that is, it has become a standard joke or linguistic
maneuver to "explain" otherwise mysterious circumstances by inventing
nonce particle names. And these imply nonce particle theories, with
all their dignity or lack thereof (we might note *parenthetically* that
this is a generalization from "(bogus particle) theories" to "bogus
(particle theories)"!). Perhaps such particles are the modern-day
equivalents of trolls and wood-nymphs as standard starting-points
around which to construct explanatory myths. Of course, playing on
an existing word (as in the `futon') yields additional flavor.
Compare {magic smoke}.

:bogon filter: /boh'gon fil'tr/ n. Any device, software or hardware,
that limits or suppresses the flow and/or emission of bogons.
"Engineering hacked a bogon filter between the Cray and
the VAXen, and now we're getting fewer dropped packets." See
also {bogosity}, {bogus}.

:bogon flux: /boh'gon fluhks/ n. A measure of a supposed field of
{bogosity} emitted by a speaker, measured by a {bogometer};
as a speaker starts to wander into increasing bogosity a listener
might say "Warning, warning, bogon flux is rising". See
{quantum bogodynamics}.

:bogosity: /boh-go's*-tee/ n. 1. The degree to which something is
{bogus}. At CMU, bogosity is measured with a {bogometer}; in
a seminar, when a speaker says something bogus, a listener might
raise his hand and say "My bogometer just triggered". More
extremely, "You just pinned my bogometer" means you just said or
did something so outrageously bogus that it is off the scale,
pinning the bogometer needle at the highest possible reading (one
might also say "You just redlined my bogometer"). The
agreed-upon unit of bogosity is the microLenat /mi:k`roh-len'*t/
(uL). The consensus is that this is the largest unit practical
for everyday use. 2. The potential field generated by a {bogon
flux}; see {quantum bogodynamics}. See also {bogon flux},
{bogon filter}, {bogus}.

Historical note: The microLenat was invented as an attack against
noted computer scientist Doug Lenat by a {tenured graduate
student}. Doug had failed the student on an important exam for
giving only "AI is bogus" as his answer to the questions. The
slur is generally considered unmerited, but it has become a running
gag nevertheless. Some of Doug's friends argue that *of
course* a microLenat is bogus, since it is only one millionth of a
Lenat. Others have suggested that the unit should be redesignated
after the grad student, as the microReid.

:bogotify: /boh-go't*-fi:/ vt. To make or become bogus. A
program that has been changed so many times as to become completely
disorganized has become bogotified. If you tighten a nut too hard
and strip the threads on the bolt, the bolt has become bogotified
and you had better not use it any more. This coinage led to the
notional `autobogotiphobia' defined as `the fear of becoming
bogotified'; but is not clear that the latter has ever been
`live' jargon rather than a self-conscious joke in jargon about
jargon. See also {bogosity}, {bogus}.

:bogue out: /bohg owt/ vi. To become bogus, suddenly and
unexpectedly. "His talk was relatively sane until somebody asked
him a trick question; then he bogued out and did nothing but
{flame} afterwards." See also {bogosity}, {bogus}.

:bogus: adj. 1. Non-functional. "Your patches are bogus."
2. Useless. "OPCON is a bogus program." 3. False. "Your
arguments are bogus." 4. Incorrect. "That algorithm is bogus."
5. Unbelievable. "You claim to have solved the halting problem
for Turing Machines? That's totally bogus." 6. Silly. "Stop
writing those bogus sagas."

Astrology is bogus. So is a bolt that is obviously about to break.
So is someone who makes blatantly false claims to have solved a
scientific problem. (This word seems to have some, but not all, of
the connotations of {random} --- mostly the negative ones.)

It is claimed that `bogus' was originally used in the hackish sense
at Princeton in the late 1960s. It was spread to CMU and Yale by
Michael Shamos, a migratory Princeton alumnus. A glossary of bogus
words was compiled at Yale when the word was first popularized (see
{autobogotiphobia} under {bogotify}). The word spread into
hackerdom from CMU and MIT. By the early 1980s it was also
current in something like the hackish sense in West Coast teen
slang, and it had gone mainstream by 1985. A correspondent from
Cambridge reports, by contrast, that these uses of `bogus' grate on
British nerves; in Britain the word means, rather specifically,
`counterfeit', as in "a bogus 10-pound note".

:Bohr bug: /bohr buhg/ [from quantum physics] n. A repeatable
{bug}; one that manifests reliably under a possibly unknown but
well-defined set of conditions. Antonym of {heisenbug}; see also
{mandelbug}, {schroedinbug}.

:boink: /boynk/ [USENET: ascribed there to the TV series
"Cheers" and "Moonlighting"] 1. To have sex with;
compare {bounce}, sense 3. (This is mainstream slang.) In
Commonwealth hackish the variant `bonk' is more common. 2. After
the original Peter Korn `Boinkon' {USENET} parties, used for
almost any net social gathering, e.g., Miniboink, a small boink
held by Nancy Gillett in 1988; Minniboink, a Boinkcon in Minnesota
in 1989; Humpdayboinks, Wednesday get-togethers held in the San
Francisco Bay Area. Compare {@-party}. 3. Var of `bonk';
see {bonk/oif}.

:bomb: 1. v. General synonym for {crash} (sense 1) except that
it is not used as a noun; esp. used of software or OS failures.
"Don't run Empire with less than 32K stack, it'll bomb."
2. n.,v. Atari ST and Macintosh equivalents of a UNIX `panic' or
Amiga {guru} (sense 2), where icons of little black-powder bombs
or mushroom clouds are displayed, indicating that the system has
died. On the Mac, this may be accompanied by a decimal (or
occasionally hexadecimal) number indicating what went wrong,
similar to the Amiga {guru meditation} number. {{MS-DOS}}
machines tend to get {locked up} in this situation.

:bondage-and-discipline language: A language (such as Pascal, Ada,
APL, or Prolog) that, though ostensibly general-purpose, is
designed so as to enforce an author's theory of `right
programming' even though said theory is demonstrably inadequate for
systems hacking or even vanilla general-purpose programming. Often
abbreviated `B&D'; thus, one may speak of things "having the
B&D nature". See {{Pascal}}; oppose {languages of choice}.

:bonk/oif: /bonk/, /oyf/ interj. In the {MUD} community, it has
become traditional to express pique or censure by `bonking' the
offending person. There is a convention that one should
acknowledge a bonk by saying `oif!' and a myth to the effect that
failing to do so upsets the cosmic bonk/oif balance, causing much
trouble in the universe. Some MUDs have implemented special
commands for bonking and oifing. See also {talk mode},

:book titles:: There is a tradition in hackerdom of informally
tagging important textbooks and standards documents with the
dominant color of their covers or with some other conspicuous
feature of the cover. Many of these are described in this lexicon
under their own entries. See {Aluminum Book}, {Blue Book},
{Cinderella Book}, {Devil Book}, {Dragon Book}, {Green
Book}, {Orange Book}, {Pink-Shirt Book}, {Purple Book},
{Red Book}, {Silver Book}, {White Book}, {Wizard Book},
{Yellow Book}, and {bible}; see also {rainbow

:boot: [techspeak; from `by one's bootstraps'] v.,n. To load and
initialize the operating system on a machine. This usage is no
longer jargon (having passed into techspeak) but has given rise to
some derivatives that are still jargon.

The derivative `reboot' implies that the machine hasn't been
down for long, or that the boot is a {bounce} intended to clear
some state of {wedgitude}. This is sometimes used of human
thought processes, as in the following exchange: "You've lost
me." "OK, reboot. Here's the theory...."

This term is also found in the variants `cold boot' (from
power-off condition) and `warm boot' (with the CPU and all
devices already powered up, as after a hardware reset or software

Another variant: `soft boot', reinitialization of only part of a
system, under control of other software still running: "If
you're running the {mess-dos} emulator, control-alt-insert will
cause a soft-boot of the emulator, while leaving the rest of the
system running."

Opposed to this there is `hard boot', which connotes hostility
towards or frustration with the machine being booted: "I'll have
to hard-boot this losing Sun." "I recommend booting it
hard." One often hard-boots by performing a {power cycle}.

Historical note: this term derives from `bootstrap loader', a short
program that was read in from cards or paper tape, or toggled in
from the front panel switches. This program was always very short
(great efforts were expended on making it short in order to
minimize the labor and chance of error involved in toggling it in),
but was just smart enough to read in a slightly more complex
program (usually from a card or paper tape reader), to which it
handed control; this program in turn was smart enough to read the
application or operating system from a magnetic tape drive or disk
drive. Thus, in successive steps, the computer `pulled itself up
by its bootstraps' to a useful operating state. Nowadays the
bootstrap is usually found in ROM or EPROM, and reads the first
stage in from a fixed location on the disk, called the `boot
block'. When this program gains control, it is powerful enough to
load the actual OS and hand control over to it.

:bottom feeder: n. syn. for {slopsucker} derived from the
fisherman's and naturalist's term for finny creatures who subsist
on the primordial ooze.

:bottom-up implementation: n. Hackish opposite of the techspeak term
`top-down design'. It is now received wisdom in most
programming cultures that it is best to design from higher levels
of abstraction down to lower, specifying sequences of action in
increasing detail until you get to actual code. Hackers often find
(especially in exploratory designs that cannot be closely
specified in advance) that it works best to *build* things in
the opposite order, by writing and testing a clean set of primitive
operations and then knitting them together.

:bounce: v. 1. [perhaps from the image of a thrown ball bouncing
off a wall] An electronic mail message that is undeliverable and
returns an error notification to the sender is said to `bounce'.
See also {bounce message}. 2. [Stanford] To play volleyball.
At the now-demolished {D. C. Power Lab} building used by the
Stanford AI Lab in the 1970s, there was a volleyball court on the
front lawn. From 5 P.M. to 7 P.M. was the scheduled
maintenance time for the computer, so every afternoon at 5 the
computer would become unavailable, and over the intercom a voice
would cry, "Now hear this: bounce, bounce!" followed by Brian
McCune loudly bouncing a volleyball on the floor outside the
offices of known volleyballers. 3. To engage in sexual
intercourse; prob. from the expression `bouncing the mattress',
but influenced by Roo's psychosexually loaded "Try bouncing me,
Tigger!" from the "Winnie-the-Pooh" books. Compare
{boink}. 4. To casually reboot a system in order to clear up a
transient problem. Reported primarily among {VMS} users.
5. [IBM] To {power cycle} a peripheral in order to reset it.

:bounce message: [UNIX] n. Notification message returned to sender by
a site unable to relay {email} to the intended {{Internet address}}
recipient or the next link in a {bang path} (see {bounce}).
Reasons might include a nonexistent or misspelled username or a
{down} relay site. Bounce messages can themselves fail, with
occasionally ugly results; see {sorcerer's apprentice mode}.
The terms `bounce mail' and `barfmail' are also common.

:boustrophedon: [from a Greek word for turning like an ox while
plowing] n. An ancient method of writing using alternate
left-to-right and right-to-left lines. This term is actually
philologists' techspeak and typesetter's jargon. Erudite hackers
use it for an optimization performed by some computer typesetting
software (notably UNIX `troff(1)'). The adverbial form
`boustrophedonically' is also found (hackers purely love
constructions like this).

:box: n. 1. A computer; esp. in the construction `foo box'
where foo is some functional qualifier, like `graphics', or
the name of an OS (thus, `UNIX box', `MS-DOS box', etc.) "We
preprocess the data on UNIX boxes before handing it up to the
mainframe." 2. [within IBM] Without qualification but within an
SNA-using site, this refers specifically to an IBM front-end
processor or FEP /F-E-P/. An FEP is a small computer necessary
to enable an IBM {mainframe} to communicate beyond the limits of
the {dinosaur pen}. Typically used in expressions like the cry
that goes up when an SNA network goes down: "Looks like the
{box} has fallen over." (See {fall over}.) See also
{IBM}, {fear and loathing}, {fepped out}, {Blue

:boxed comments: n. Comments (explanatory notes attached to program
instructions) that occupy several lines by themselves; so called
because in assembler and C code they are often surrounded by a box
in a style something like this:

* This is a boxed comment in C style

Common variants of this style omit the asterisks in column 2 or add
a matching row of asterisks closing the right side of the box. The
sparest variant omits all but the comment delimiters themselves;
the `box' is implied. Oppose {winged comments}.

:boxen: /bok'sn/ [by analogy with {VAXen}] pl.n. Fanciful
plural of {box} often encountered in the phrase `UNIX boxen',
used to describe commodity {{UNIX}} hardware. The connotation is
that any two UNIX boxen are interchangeable.

:boxology: /bok-sol'*-jee/ n. Syn. {ASCII art}. This term
implies a more restricted domain, that of box-and-arrow drawings.
"His report has a lot of boxology in it." Compare

:bozotic: /boh-zoh'tik/ or /boh-zo'tik/ [from the name of a TV
clown even more losing than Ronald McDonald] adj. Resembling or
having the quality of a bozo; that is, clownish, ludicrously wrong,
unintentionally humorous. Compare {wonky}, {demented}. Note
that the noun `bozo' occurs in slang, but the mainstream
adjectival form would be `bozo-like' or (in New England)

:BQS: /B-Q-S/ adj. Syn. {Berkeley Quality Software}.

:brain dump: n. The act of telling someone everything one knows
about a particular topic or project. Typically used when someone
is going to let a new party maintain a piece of code. Conceptually
analogous to an operating system {core dump} in that it saves a
lot of useful {state} before an exit. "You'll have to
give me a brain dump on FOOBAR before you start your new job at
HackerCorp." See {core dump} (sense 4). At Sun, this is also
known as `TOI' (transfer of information).

:brain fart: n. The actual result of a {braino}, as opposed to
the mental glitch which is the braino itself. E.g. typing
`dir' on a UNIX box after a session with DOS.

:brain-damaged: 1. [generalization of `Honeywell Brain Damage'
(HBD), a theoretical disease invented to explain certain utter
cretinisms in Honeywell {{Multics}}] adj. Obviously wrong;
{cretinous}; {demented}. There is an implication that the
person responsible must have suffered brain damage, because he
should have known better. Calling something brain-damaged is
really bad; it also implies it is unusable, and that its failure to
work is due to poor design rather than some accident. "Only six
monocase characters per file name? Now *that's*
brain-damaged!" 2. [esp. in the Mac world] May refer to free
demonstration software that has been deliberately crippled in some
way so as not to compete with the commercial product it is
intended to sell. Syn. {crippleware}.

:brain-dead: adj. Brain-damaged in the extreme. It tends to imply
terminal design failure rather than malfunction or simple
stupidity. "This comm program doesn't know how to send a break
--- how brain-dead!"

:braino: /bray'no/ n. Syn. for {thinko}. See also {brain

:branch to Fishkill: [IBM: from the location of one of the
corporation's facilities] n. Any unexpected jump in a program that
produces catastrophic or just plain weird results. See {jump
off into never-never land}, {hyperspace}.

:brand brand brand: n. Humorous catch-phrase from {BartleMUD}s, in
which players were described carrying a list of objects, the most
common of which would usually be a brand. Often used as a joke in
{talk mode} as in "Fred the wizard is here, carrying brand ruby
brand brand brand kettle broadsword flamethrower". A brand is a
torch, of course; one burns up a lot of those exploring dungeons.
Prob. influenced by the famous Monty Python "Spam" skit.

:bread crumbs: n. Debugging statements inserted into a program that
emit output or log indicators of the program's {state} to a file
so you can see where it dies, or pin down the cause of surprising
behavior. The term is probably a reference to the Hansel and Gretel
story from the Brothers Grimm; in several variants, a character
leaves a trail of breadcrumbs so as not to get lost in the

:break: 1. vt. To cause to be broken (in any sense). "Your latest
patch to the editor broke the paragraph commands." 2. v. (of a
program) To stop temporarily, so that it may debugged. The place
where it stops is a `breakpoint'. 3. [techspeak] vi. To send an
RS-232 break (two character widths of line high) over a serial comm
line. 4. [UNIX] vi. To strike whatever key currently causes the
tty driver to send SIGINT to the current process. Normally, break
(sense 3) or delete does this. 5. `break break' may be said to
interrupt a conversation (this is an example of verb doubling).
This usage comes from radio communications, which in turn probably
came from landline telegraph/teleprinter usage, as badly abused in
the Citizen's Band craze a few years ago.

:break-even point: n. in the process of implementing a new computer
language, the point at which the language is sufficiently effective
that one can implement the language in itself. That is, for a new
language called, hypothetically, FOOGOL, one has reached break-even
when one can write a demonstration compiler for FOOGOL in FOOGOL,
discard the original implementation language, and thereafter use
older versions of FOOGOL to develop newer ones. This is an
important milestone; see {MFTL}.

:breath-of-life packet: [XEROX PARC] n. An Ethernet packet that
contained bootstrap (see {boot}) code, periodically sent out
from a working computer to infuse the `breath of life' into any
computer on the network that had happened to crash. Machines
depending on such packets have sufficient hardware or firmware code
to wait for (or request) such a packet during the reboot process.
See also {dickless workstation}.

:breedle: n. See {feep}.

:bring X to its knees: v. To present a machine, operating system,
piece of software, or algorithm with a load so extreme or
{pathological} that it grinds to a halt. "To bring a MicroVAX
to its knees, try twenty users running {vi} --- or four running
{EMACS}." Compare {hog}.

:brittle: adj. Said of software that is functional but easily broken
by changes in operating environment or configuration, or by any
minor tweak to the software itself. Also, any system that
responds inappropriately and disastrously to expected external
stimuli; e.g., a file system that is usually totally scrambled by a
power failure is said to be brittle. This term is often used to
describe the results of a research effort that were never intended
to be robust, but it can be applied to commercially developed
software, which displays the quality far more often than it ought
to. Oppose {robust}.

:broadcast storm: n. An incorrect packet broadcast on a network that
causes most hosts to respond all at once, typically with wrong
answers that start the process over again. See {network

:broken: adj. 1. Not working properly (of programs). 2. Behaving
strangely; especially (when used of people) exhibiting extreme

:broken arrow: [IBM] n. The error code displayed on line 25 of a
3270 terminal (or a PC emulating a 3270) for various kinds of
protocol violations and "unexpected" error conditions (including
connection to a {down} computer). On a PC, simulated with
`->/_', with the two center characters overstruck. In true
{luser} fashion, the original documentation of these codes
(visible on every 3270 terminal, and necessary for debugging
network problems) was confined to an IBM customer engineering

Note: to appreciate this term fully, it helps to know that `broken
arrow' is also military jargon for an accident involving nuclear

:broket: /broh'k*t/ or /broh'ket`/ [by analogy with `bracket': a
`broken bracket'] n. Either of the characters `<' and `>',
when used as paired enclosing delimiters. This word
originated as a contraction of the phrase `broken bracket', that
is, a bracket that is bent in the middle. (At MIT, and apparently
in the {Real World} as well, these are usually called {angle

:Brooks's Law: prov. "Adding manpower to a late software project
makes it later" --- a result of the fact that the advantage from
splitting work among N programmers is O(N) (that is,
proportional to N), but the complexity and communications
cost associated with coordinating and then merging their work
is O(N^2) (that is, proportional to the square of N).
The quote is from Fred Brooks, a manager of IBM's OS/360 project
and author of `The Mythical Man-Month' (Addison-Wesley, 1975,
ISBN 0-201-00650-2), an excellent early book on software
engineering. The myth in question has been most tersely expressed
as "Programmer time is fungible" and Brooks established
conclusively that it is not. Hackers have never forgotten his
advice; too often, {management} does. See also
{creationism}, {second-system effect}.

:BRS: /B-R-S/ n. Syn. {Big Red Switch}. This abbreviation is
fairly common on-line.

:brute force: adj. Describes a primitive programming style, one in
which the programmer relies on the computer's processing power
instead of using his or her own intelligence to simplify the
problem, often ignoring problems of scale and applying na"ive
methods suited to small problems directly to large ones.

The {canonical} example of a brute-force algorithm is associated
with the `traveling salesman problem' (TSP), a classical {NP-}hard
problem: Suppose a person is in, say, Boston, and wishes to drive
to N other cities. In what order should he or she visit
them in order to minimize the distance travelled? The brute-force
method is to simply generate all possible routes and compare the
distances; while guaranteed to work and simple to implement, this
algorithm is clearly very stupid in that it considers even
obviously absurd routes (like going from Boston to Houston via San
Francisco and New York, in that order). For very small N it
works well, but it rapidly becomes absurdly inefficient when
N increases (for N = 15, there are already
1,307,674,368,000 possible routes to consider, and for
N = 1000 --- well, see {bignum}). See
also {NP-}.

A more simple-minded example of brute-force programming is finding
the smallest number in a large list by first using an existing
program to sort the list in ascending order, and then picking the
first number off the front.

Whether brute-force programming should be considered stupid or not
depends on the context; if the problem isn't too big, the extra CPU
time spent on a brute-force solution may cost less than the
programmer time it would take to develop a more `intelligent'
algorithm. Additionally, a more intelligent algorithm may imply
more long-term complexity cost and bug-chasing than are justified
by the speed improvement.

Ken Thompson, co-inventor of UNIX, is reported to have uttered the
epigram "When in doubt, use brute force". He probably intended
this as a {ha ha only serious}, but the original UNIX kernel's
preference for simple, robust, and portable algorithms over
{brittle} `smart' ones does seem to have been a significant
factor in the success of that OS. Like so many other tradeoffs in
software design, the choice between brute force and complex,
finely-tuned cleverness is often a difficult one that requires both
engineering savvy and delicate esthetic judgment.

:brute force and ignorance: n. A popular design technique at many
software houses --- {brute force} coding unrelieved by any
knowledge of how problems have been previously solved in elegant
ways. Dogmatic adherence to design methodologies tends to
encourage it. Characteristic of early {larval stage}
programming; unfortunately, many never outgrow it. Often
abbreviated BFI: "Gak, they used a bubble sort! That's strictly
from BFI." Compare {bogosity}.

:BSD: /B-S-D/ n. [abbreviation for `Berkeley System Distribution'] a
family of {{UNIX}} versions for the DEC {VAX} and PDP-11
developed by Bill Joy and others at {Berzerkeley} starting
around 1980, incorporating paged virtual memory, TCP/IP networking
enhancements, and many other features. The BSD versions (4.1, 4.2,
and 4.3) and the commercial versions derived from them (SunOS,
ULTRIX, and Mt. Xinu) held the technical lead in the UNIX world
until AT&T's successful standardization efforts after about 1986,
and are still widely popular. See {{UNIX}}, {USG UNIX}.

:BUAF: // [abbreviation, from the] n. Big
Ugly ASCII Font --- a special form of {ASCII art}. Various
programs exist for rendering text strings into block, bloob, and
pseudo-script fonts in cells between four and six character cells
on a side; this is smaller than the letters generated by older
{banner} (sense 2) programs. These are sometimes used to render
one's name in a {sig block}, and are critically referred to as
`BUAF's. See {warlording}.

:BUAG: // [abbreviation, from the] n. Big
Ugly ASCII Graphic. Pejorative term for ugly {ASCII ART},
especially as found in {sig block}s. For some reason, mutations
of the head of Bart Simpson are particularly common in the least
imaginative {sig block}s. See {warlording}.

:bubble sort: n. Techspeak for a particular sorting technique in
which pairs of adjacent values in the list to be sorted are
compared and interchanged if they are out of order; thus, list
entries `bubble upward' in the list until they bump into one with a
lower sort value. Because it is not very good relative to other
methods and is the one typically stumbled on by {na"ive} and
untutored programmers, hackers consider it the {canonical}
example of a na"ive algorithm. The canonical example of a really
*bad* algorithm is {bogo-sort}. A bubble sort might be used
out of ignorance, but any use of bogo-sort could issue only from
brain damage or willful perversity.

:bucky bits: /buh'kee bits/ n. 1. obs. The bits produced by the
CONTROL and META shift keys on a SAIL keyboard (octal 200 and 400
respectively), resulting in a 9-bit keyboard character set. The
MIT AI TV (Knight) keyboards extended this with TOP and separate
left and right CONTROL and META keys, resulting in a 12-bit
character set; later, LISP Machines added such keys as SUPER,
HYPER, and GREEK (see {space-cadet keyboard}). 2. By extension,
bits associated with `extra' shift keys on any keyboard, e.g.,
the ALT on an IBM PC or command and option keys on a Macintosh.

It is rumored that `bucky bits' were named for Buckminster Fuller
during a period when he was consulting at Stanford. Actually,
`Bucky' was Niklaus Wirth's nickname when *he* was at
Stanford; he first suggested the idea of an EDIT key to set the
8th bit of an otherwise 7-bit ASCII character. This was used in a
number of editors written at Stanford or in its environs (TV-EDIT
and NLS being the best-known). The term spread to MIT and CMU
early and is now in general use. See {double bucky},
{quadruple bucky}.

:buffer overflow: n. What happens when you try to stuff more data
into a buffer (holding area) than it can handle. This may be due
to a mismatch in the processing rates of the producing and
consuming processes (see {overrun} and {firehose syndrome}),
or because the buffer is simply too small to hold all the data that
must accumulate before a piece of it can be processed. For example,
in a text-processing tool that {crunch}es a line at a time, a
short line buffer can result in {lossage} as input from a long
line overflows the buffer and trashes data beyond it. Good
defensive programming would check for overflow on each character
and stop accepting data when the buffer is full up. The term is
used of and by humans in a metaphorical sense. "What time did I
agree to meet you? My buffer must have overflowed." Or "If I
answer that phone my buffer is going to overflow." See also
{spam}, {overrun screw}.

:bug: n. An unwanted and unintended property of a program or piece
of hardware, esp. one that causes it to malfunction. Antonym of
{feature}. Examples: "There's a bug in the editor: it writes
things out backwards." "The system crashed because of a hardware
bug." "Fred is a winner, but he has a few bugs" (i.e., Fred is
a good guy, but he has a few personality problems).

Historical note: Some have said this term came from telephone
company usage, in which "bugs in a telephone cable" were blamed
for noisy lines, but this appears to be an incorrect folk
etymology. Admiral Grace Hopper (an early computing pioneer better
known for inventing {COBOL}) liked to tell a story in which a
technician solved a persistent {glitch} in the Harvard Mark II
machine by pulling an actual insect out from between the contacts
of one of its relays, and she subsequently promulgated {bug} in
its hackish sense as a joke about the incident (though, as she was
careful to admit, she was not there when it happened). For many
years the logbook associated with the incident and the actual bug
in question (a moth) sat in a display case at the Naval Surface
Warfare Center. The entire story, with a picture of the logbook
and the moth taped into it, is recorded in the `Annals of the
History of Computing', Vol. 3, No. 3 (July 1981), pp. 285--286.

The text of the log entry (from September 9, 1945), reads "1545
Relay #70 Panel F (moth) in relay. First actual case of bug being
found". This wording seems to establish that the term was already
in use at the time in its current specific sense --- and Hopper
herself reports that the term `bug' was regularly applied to
problems in radar electronics during WWII. Indeed, the use of
`bug' to mean an industrial defect was already established in
Thomas Edison's time, and `bug' in the sense of an disruptive
event goes back to Shakespeare! In the first edition of Samuel
Johnson's dictionary one meaning of `bug' is "A frightful
object; a walking spectre"; this is traced to `bugbear', a Welsh
term for a variety of mythological monster which (to complete the
circle) has recently been reintroduced into the popular lexicon
through fantasy role-playing games.

In any case, in jargon the word almost never refers to insects.
Here is a plausible conversation that never actually happened:

"There is a bug in this ant farm!"

"What do you mean? I don't see any ants in it."

"That's the bug."

[There has been a widespread myth that the original bug was moved
to the Smithsonian, and an earlier version of this entry so
asserted. A correspondent who thought to check discovered that the
bug was not there. While investigating this in late 1990, your
editor discovered that the NSWC still had the bug, but had
unsuccessfully tried to get the Smithsonian to accept it --- and
that the present curator of their History of American Technology
Museum didn't know this and agreed that it would make a worthwhile
exhibit. It was moved to the Smithsonian in mid-1991. Thus, the
process of investigating the original-computer-bug bug fixed it in
an entirely unexpected way, by making the myth true! --- ESR]

[1992 update: the plot thickens! A usually reliable source reports
having seen The Bug at the Smithsonian in 1978. I am unable to
reconcile the conflicting histories I have been offered, and merely
report this fact here. --- ESR.]

:bug-compatible: adj. Said of a design or revision that has been
badly compromised by a requirement to be compatible with
{fossil}s or {misfeature}s in other programs or (esp.)
previous releases of itself. "MS-DOS 2.0 used \ as a path
separator to be bug-compatible with some cretin's choice of / as an
option character in 1.0."

:bug-for-bug compatible: n. Same as {bug-compatible}, with the
additional implication that much tedious effort went into ensuring
that each (known) bug was replicated.

:buglix: /buhg'liks/ n. Pejorative term referring to DEC's ULTRIX
operating system in its earlier *severely* buggy versions.
Still used to describe ULTRIX, but without venom. Compare
{AIDX}, {HP-SUX}, {Nominal Semidestructor}, {Telerat},

:bulletproof: adj. Used of an algorithm or implementation considered
extremely {robust}; lossage-resistant; capable of correctly
recovering from any imaginable exception condition. This is a rare
and valued quality. Syn. {armor-plated}.

:bum: 1. vt. To make highly efficient, either in time or space,
often at the expense of clarity. "I managed to bum three more
instructions out of that code." "I spent half the night bumming
the interrupt code." In {elder days}, John McCarthy (inventor
of {LISP}) used to compare some efficiency-obsessed hackers
among his students to "ski bums"; thus, optimization became
"program bumming", and eventually just "bumming". 2. To
squeeze out excess; to remove something in order to improve
whatever it was removed from (without changing function; this
distinguishes the process from a {featurectomy}). 3. n. A small
change to an algorithm, program, or hardware device to make it more
efficient. "This hardware bum makes the jump instruction
faster." Usage: now uncommon, largely superseded by v. {tune}
(and n. {tweak}, {hack}), though none of these exactly
capture sense 2. All these uses are rare in Commonwealth hackish,
because in the parent dialects of English `bum' is a rude synonym
for `buttocks'.

:bump: vt. Synonym for increment. Has the same meaning as
C's ++ operator. Used esp. of counter variables, pointers, and
index dummies in `for', `while', and `do-while'

:burble: [from Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky"] v. Like {flame},
but connotes that the source is truly clueless and ineffectual
(mere flamers can be competent). A term of deep contempt.
"There's some guy on the phone burbling about how he got a DISK
FULL error and it's all our comm software's fault."

:buried treasure: n. A surprising piece of code found in some
program. While usually not wrong, it tends to vary from {crufty}
to {bletcherous}, and has lain undiscovered only because it was
functionally correct, however horrible it is. Used sarcastically,
because what is found is anything *but* treasure. Buried
treasure almost always needs to be dug up and removed. "I just
found that the scheduler sorts its queue using {bubble sort}!
Buried treasure!"

:burn-in period: n. 1. A factory test designed to catch systems
with {marginal} components before they get out the door; the
theory is that burn-in will protect customers by outwaiting the
steepest part of the {bathtub curve} (see {infant
mortality}). 2. A period of indeterminate length in which a person
using a computer is so intensely involved in his project that he
forgets basic needs such as food, drink, sleep, etc. Warning:
Excessive burn-in can lead to burn-out. See {hack mode},
{larval stage}.

:burst page: n. Syn. {banner}, sense 1.

:busy-wait: vi. Used of human behavior, conveys that the subject is
busy waiting for someone or something, intends to move instantly as
soon as it shows up, and thus cannot do anything else at the
moment. "Can't talk now, I'm busy-waiting till Bill gets off the

Technically, `busy-wait' means to wait on an event by
{spin}ning through a tight or timed-delay loop that polls for
the event on each pass, as opposed to setting up an interrupt
handler and continuing execution on another part of the task. This
is a wasteful technique, best avoided on time-sharing systems where
a busy-waiting program may {hog} the processor.

:buzz: vi. 1. Of a program, to run with no indication of progress
and perhaps without guarantee of ever finishing; esp. said of
programs thought to be executing tight loops of code. A program
that is buzzing appears to be {catatonic}, but you never get out
of catatonia, while a buzzing loop may eventually end of its own
accord. "The program buzzes for about 10 seconds trying to sort
all the names into order." See {spin}; see also {grovel}.
2. [ETA Systems] To test a wire or printed circuit trace for
continuity by applying an AC rather than DC signal. Some wire
faults will pass DC tests but fail a buzz test. 3. To process an
array or list in sequence, doing the same thing to each element.
"This loop buzzes through the tz array looking for a terminator

:BWQ: /B-W-Q/ [IBM: abbreviation, `Buzz Word Quotient'] The
percentage of buzzwords in a speech or documents. Usually roughly
proportional to {bogosity}. See {TLA}.

:by hand: adv. Said of an operation (especially a repetitive,
trivial, and/or tedious one) that ought to be performed
automatically by the computer, but which a hacker instead has to
step tediously through. "My mailer doesn't have a command to
include the text of the message I'm replying to, so I have to do it
by hand." This does not necessarily mean the speaker has to
retype a copy of the message; it might refer to, say, dropping into
a {subshell} from the mailer, making a copy of one's mailbox file,
reading that into an editor, locating the top and bottom of the
message in question, deleting the rest of the file, inserting `>'
characters on each line, writing the file, leaving the editor,
returning to the mailer, reading the file in, and later remembering
to delete the file. Compare {eyeball search}.


Back to Full Books