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Son of "a programming primer": how to speak geek

by Geoff Hart

Previously published as: Hart, G. 2006. Son of "A programming primer": how to speak geek. Intercom March 2006:44.

In the June 2004 issue of Intercom, I presented several key terms you need to know if you want to work effectively with programmers. Alas, time and technology wait for no one, and important new terminology has been invented to bemuse and bedevil the innocent. In my never-ending quest to make life easier for my colleagues, I humbly offer a sequel to that original glossary. Note: Italicized terms are defined elsewhere in the glossary.

alpha geek: A geek's geek. The kind of geek the rest of us only aspire to become—for example, Dilbert's mother and his garbageman.

bug: An elegant feature that has not yet been implemented to the satisfaction of the unreasonable technical communicator assigned to document it.

chip: What alpha geeks have on their shoulder. Also: a device used to implement software.

compiler: A device for converting a high-level programming language into something comprehensible only to alpha geeks, namely a low-level programming language.

cross-compiler: A compiler designed to make program code incomprehensible in several different ways simultaneously rather than having to tediously perform this task separately for each operating system, chip, or hardware.

documentation: Instructions written by a technical communicator for anyone who can't understand the interface unaided (i.e., a user).

design specification: An unrealistic target designed by technical communicators to prevent programmers from creating truly elegant code.

elegant: Too beautiful to work in the non-virtual world—at least not just yet.

flipping the Bozo bit: Conceding that despite initial signs of promise, the new manager is no different from the old one—that is, someone who makes Dilbert's boss seem well-informed and competent.

geek: Someone who truly understands the difference between hardware and software—but not why anyone cares.

hardware: Anything non-virtual that's nonetheless useful because it lets programmers develop software.

high-level programming language: A complex set of symbols understood only by geeks and used to create programs that will run on various operating systems. (cf. low-level programming language)

interface: A tool that prevents users and technical communicators from bothering geeks with annoying questions that have obvious answers.

low-level programming language: The results of running instructions written in a high-level programming language to produce instructions understood only by chips and true alpha geeks.

neural network: The hardware used to run wetware in a technical communicator, generally operating at suboptimal efficiency as a result of inadequate sleep or nutrition.

nutrition: A balanced diet consisting of pizza, caffeine, and donuts.

open-source software:Software produced by a community of geeks, unconstrained by managers for whom flipping the Bozo bit would be too kind.

operating system: UNIX or Linux. All other so-called operating systems are crutches for those who can't deal with the complexity of real software. (cf. real-time operating system, user)

prototyping: Programming. See also: design specification.

real-time operating system: The neural network used to interact with wetware.

sleep: The brief period, occurring at intervals of 36 to 60 hours, when a geek or technical communicator is not actively developing or documenting bugs.

software: A geek's true love and reason for existing. Requires hardware to run—for now.

standard: A loose agreement between users that must nonetheless be followed so long as it doesn't interfere with the creation of elegant bugs.

technical communicator: A geek wannabe who provides real geeks with nutrition and other traps in an effort to distract them from programming.

trap: A tool provided by the operating system that intercepts signals from hardware so the software will know how to respond. Also, any nutrition provided by a technical communicator.

user: A convenient fiction invented by technical communicators to justify the elimination of bugs. Also: Anyone who needs documentation to use software.

virtual: Not real; found only on a computer. An ideal state (aka "nerdvana") in which programmers no longer need to rely on technical writers or users to obtain nutrition.

wetware: The Microsoft Brain® 1.0 operating system used by technical communicators in place of a real operating system.

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