Glossary (It’s Just Geek to Me!)

andreas.com FAQ: Glossary of Computer Terms

It may seem like it, but computer people don’t speak Geek just to confuse outsiders. Here’s many common computer terms in plain English.

  • 640 K: Older computers (pre-1996) were limited to 640 Kilobytes (KB) of memory. Nowadays, this limitation has been surpassed.
  • Abort: To exit a process. This usually means to give up whatever you’re trying to do.
  • ACK: Acknowledgment. When you’re sending files with a modem, the modem may reply with an ACK to say that the files were received. NAK means Not Acknowledged.
  • Active Window: When you are using Windows, the active window is the window which is on top and within which you can work. You can click once on any window to make it the active window.
  • Admin: Administration. The folks in charge of an online system. See also sysop.
  • Algorithm: Something that tastes good.
  • America Online: (AOL) An online service. See online service.
  • American National Standards Institute: Also , ANSI.
  • ANSI: American National Standards Institute. They set several standards which are widely ignored.
  • AOL: See America Online.
  • Applications: See Apps.
  • Apps: Another word for program. See also engine. Computer magazine writers got bored with programs and applications. That sounded too ordinary. Now they write apps, although no one actually says this. You know, it’s different and maybe they can you get to pay more money for it (it’s more than a program, it’s an app! ). If it’s a good program (it actually works and doesn’t eat your hard disk) then they call it a killer app. If it’s a small program, they call it an applet.
  • Artificial Intelligence: (AI) Usually means you’re going to pay more for this program. AI is the idea that computer scientists can make a computer that thinks. $40 billion dollars of research has proven that you can spend a lot of money to get nowhere. Even the Japanese have given up on this. On the other hand, one can indeed make expert systems, which use algorithms to reach a decision. The airlines use these to find the most cost-efficient routing of their airplanes. The job of routing several hundred airports and airplanes is so big that only a computer can do it.
  • ASCII: (pronounced ASK-key ) American Standard Code for Information Interchange is a widespread standard for information. If a document was saved in an ASCII format, then it can be read by just about any other computer program.
  • Assembler: A computer language. See languages.
  • AUTOEXEC.BAT: This is a file with a list of commands which your computer carries out upon starting. You can edit this list, so that you can change commands or add new commands. Remember: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
  • Backups: To back up means to make a safety copy of your files. No one wants to make a backup until it’s too late. Make two backups and keep one on the other side of town. If it’s a verb, it’s back up and if it’s a noun, it’s backup.
  • BAK: These are backup files which the computer automatically creates while you are working. After you have finished with a project, you can delete these.
  • Bandwidth: The maximum amount of information that can pass through a connection. This is also called a pipe. Your 14.4 modem is a small pipe; it has narrow bandwidth. It can only support one user at a time. An ISDN connection has wider bandwidth; several people can use it at the same time. An ISPs T1 connection has lots of bandwidth so that several hundred people can connect at once without any system slowdown. Bandwidth is meaningless because there’s not a user limit. You can keep adding people to the system. It just gets slower. The problem is not text, it’s video and stereo sound which fills megabytes.
  • BASIC: A computer programming language for beginners. Ignore it. You’ll never have to learn this. See languages.
  • BAT: See batch files.
  • Batch Files: These end with the extension BAT. In DOS, batch files were small programs which let you combine simple DOS into larger commands and carry out various actions. See any book at your bookstore on batch file programming.
  • Baud: The speed of a modem. This is also called bits per second (BPS). It’s not really the same, but everyone says baud anyway. See BPS.
  • BBS: Bulletin Board Service. A network which uses telephone lines to connect various computers. Also called an online service. Europeans call these mailboxes.
  • Beta Programs: These are test versions of programs.
  • Binary: The binary notational system was developed by Leibniz, a philosopher and mathematician . See Notational Systems.
  • BIOS: Basic Input/Output System. It’s a program that the computer uses. You’ll never have to deal with this.
  • Bit: BInary digiT. A single number, either one or zero. See languages and notational systems.
  • Bits per second: (BPS) The number of bits per second that are being exchanged between computers. See also baud.
  • Block: To select text by dragging the mouse. This is also called highlighting or selecting.
  • Board: See cards.
  • Bombed: See crashed.
  • Boot: Computer talk for turning on the computer. It’s called booting because when you turn on the computer, it runs a small program which tells the computer how to turn itself on. That doesn’t make sense, does it? This comes from the German folk tale of Munchhausen, who fell into a mud hole and pulled himself out by his bootstraps. See warm boot and cold boot.
  • Boot Disk: See system disk.
  • Bounce: To bounce a file, as in to move a file from one computer to another computer by moving it up to a network and then down again to the target computer.
  • BPS: See bits per second.
  • Buffer: A bit of memory space which is reserved by the computer for behind the scene tasks. See cache.
  • Bugs: An early mainframe was having problems. When they opened the cabinet, a moth was found. The system operator taped the moth to the computer’s log book and wrote we found the bug. The page, with the moth, is in a Navy museum as the first computer bug. Bugs happen, for example, when two program instructions try to work at the same time. Every new program is filled with them. It takes feedback from users and a lot of work to get rid of the little critters.
  • Bus: A connection that transfers information between two parts of the computer. This is the same thing as a cable, but more expensive.
  • Bytes: Bits, bytes, kilobytes, and megabytes, and gigabytes are all measures of the size of information. A bit is either 1 or 0. Eight bits (such as 01101110) are a byte. 8 bits is a byte (A character (such as m). 1024 Bytes is one kilobyte (KB.) 3 KB is about a page of text. 1024 KB is one megabyte (MB.) A diskette holds about 450 pages. 1024 MB is one gigabyte (GB.) A CD can hold a 23 volume encyclopedia. 1024 Gigabytes is a terrabyte (TB.) Universities have TBs of files. Kilobyte is often abbreviated as K. Megabytes is often pronounced megs.
  • C: Either this is a drive on your hard disk or it’s a programming language. C:DOS. C:DOSRUN. Run DOS run!
  • Cache: A bit of memory where something is temporarily stored. This is often used by a hard disk to speed up your work. A cache can be either a memory chip or a reserved space on your hard disk. In DOS or Windows, a cache is called SmartDrive. It is automatically installed when DOS or Windows is installed onto the computer.
  • CAD: Computer Aided Drafting. Architects and engineers use CAD to draw houses and helicopters.
  • CAM: Computer Aided Manufacturing. Factories use CAM to control industrial robots. See CIM.
  • Cards: Also called circuit boards. A rectangular plastic board, about the size of a post card, upon which computer chips and other electronics parts are soldered. There are graphics cards, modem cards, etc. Usually, you open the cabinet, insert the edge of the card in an expansion slot, maybe connect a few cables, and that’s it. Try to hold the card by the edges. Finger oil and acids may damage the traces.
  • Cathode Ray Tube: (CRT) Another name for the screen.
  • CD-ROM: (Compact Disc Read Only Memory) This is either a CD disc for computers or the drive for computer CD discs. CDs hold about 640 MB which is about the same as 450 diskettes.
  • Central Processing Unit: (CPU) The chip which does the work in a computer. It’s like the brains of the computer. It’s about the size of a postage stamp, which explains a lot of things.
  • CGA: Color Graphics Adapter.
  • CGI-bin: Common Gateway Interface Binary Scripts. The name for the scripts or programs that carry out actions, such as HTML forms.
  • Challenges: There are no problems in computing. There are challenges. See also kludge.
  • Chips: Chips are actually very small squares, about the size of a thin slice of a pencil eraser. To protect them and to make them easier to handle, they are encased in brown ceramic cases which have little legs and look like bugs. The bug is called a dual inline package (DIP) chip. See RAM, ROM, and EPROM.
  • CIM: Computer Integrated Manufacturing. An automated car factory uses CAD/CAM as a CIM system. The CAD program keeps track of all of the screws, bolts, and parts. When the design is finished, the program sends an order list to the different suppliers for the parts; they are delivered and the CAM system uses robots to construct the cars. The humans? They’re outside on strike.
  • Circuit Boards: See cards.
  • CIS: Compuserve. See online service.
  • CLI: Command Line Interface (CLI) (rhymes with see) is the interface used by DOS. You type commands to the computer, such as DEL C:FILE.TXT and then press E to carry it out. An example of a non-CLI interface is Windows which has a GUI interface. (GUI rhymes with gooey.) See also interface.
  • Click: To press a button on the mouse. [
  • Clone: A copy of an IBM PC computer. This means that it follows the same standards.
  • Cold Boot: To start your computer by turning it on. See boot.
  • Command Line: This is the line in which you type a command in DOS. See CLI.
  • COMMAND.COM: This program is part of DOS and is used by the computer. Leave it alone.
  • Common Gateway Interface Scripts: See CGI.
  • Compiler: See languages.
  • Compuserve: See online service.
  • Computer: A computer is a box of electronics, but it’s more than that. Inside the computer is the Central Processing Unit (CPU), which is a big, square chip. It uses commands to manipulate the information. That information is stored temporarily (thus called volatile media ) in Random Access Memory chips (RAM chips), which nowadays are called SIMMs. The CPU also draws information from the Read Only Memory (ROM) chips. It can draw further information from the nonvolatile media, such as disks, hard disks, PC Cards, or CD-ROM disks. The input device can be anything that converts motion or energy into a digital signal and sends it to the CPU. This can be a keyboard, a mouse, or a joystick. It can also be a button, motion sensors, a burglar alarm, or a radar dish. After the signal has been processed, it’s sent out. It can go to a non-volatile media, namely a disk, hard disk, or tape, where it’s stored. It can also go to your screen as pictures or text. It can be sent to the printer or through a cutter with a diamond-tipped drill to carve headstones. It can be sent through your speakers as sound. It can be sent through a modem to another computer. The computer can also move a robot arm, switch a railway track, lower the landing gear, or guide a surgical laser. A $4 pocket calculator has all of the main parts of a computer: a keypad (input device), a bit of ROM memory which holds the mathematical rules and a bit of RAM memory to hold the numbers, and a tiny CPU that performs the operations. The result is output to the digital screen as numbers. Even your electronic coffee maker or microwave has these parts: input, processing, output. When you prick your finger, the nerve cells covert the force into electrical impulses (input) and send them to the brain. The brain (or the CPU) figures out that this is probably due to the cactus in your hands. The brain then tells your hand muscle to back off (output). Another signal goes to your mouth (audio output) and you say mercy! The dinosaurs were so long that a nerve signal could take five seconds to reach from their tail to their head. Before computer games were invented, caveboys would sneak up on a dinosaur, kick their tails, and then run back into the caves. The dinosaur would say mercy! and then look around puzzled. So what’s a computer? It’s the mechanical processing of information in order to do something. Tiny electronic gates open and shut to move electrons around. This is why computer people call them machines. See also how do computers work?
  • Computer Symbols: Computer people have come up with their own names for punctuation marks. You don’t really need to know this, but it helps if someone over the phone tells you to bang a snakebite. The exclamation (! ) is called a bang or a baseball bat. The period is called a dot. The colon (:) is called a snakebite. An asterisk is called star (*.* is star-dot-star.) The asterisk is also called splat. The^, which is often used as a symbol for Ctrl, is caret and pronounced like what Bugs Bunny eats. See also wildcard.
  • CONFIG.SYS: Along with AUTOEXEC.BAT, this is another file that the computer uses to start itself. You can change items in this file and you can add new ones. Leave well enough alone.
  • Configure: To set up a program so that it works the way you want to work.
  • Conventional Memory: See memory.
  • Coprocessor: An extra chip that helps the CPU chip with mathematical calculations.
  • Corrupt: Damaged files or disks.
  • CPI: Characters per Inch and the Communist Party International. Both are obsolete.
  • CPS: Characters per second. The number of characters that many printers can print per second.
  • CPU: See Central Processing Unit.
  • Crash: See freeze.
  • CRT: Cathode Ray Tube. Another word for the screen.
  • Daisy chain: To connect several devices together in a row like a chain of daisies.
  • DD: See density.
  • Debug: To get rid of bugs. See bugs.
  • Default Buttons: Look at a Windows dialog box. You’ll see that one button is darker. This is the default button. If you press E, it’s the same as if you clicked it. Default settings also means the standard configuration or factory settings of your program.
  • Density: This means the amount of magnetic particles on the disk. The more density, the more information it can hold. There is single-density (now obsolete), double-density (DD) which hold 720 KB, and high-density (HD) which hold 1.44 MB.
  • Desktop Publishing: (DTP) Programs which create the layout of newsletters, books, and magazines. Books and magazines, including NEWSWEEK, National Geographic, and Vogue are made with DTP systems.
  • Destination: You copy a file from the source to the destination. See source.
  • Dialog box: A box that appears on your screen and asks you to select several options.
  • Digital: Based on numbers. The word comes from digit, or finger, upon which humans once counted. Digital information converts ambiguous, open-ended experience into precise, quantified items.
  • DIR: This DOS command displays the directory contents.
  • Directory: Either a list of files on your disk, or a folder 1 which contains files on your disk or hard disk.
  • Diskzine: A magazine on disk.
  • DOC: The extension for document files.
  • Dongle: A piece of hardware which lets you unlock a program. This is part of a copy protection method. It’s like the keys to your house.
  • DOS Prompt: When using DOS (see Chapter 4: Using DOS ), this often is the C:> with a blinking cursor. It’s also called the Command Line.
  • DOS: Disk Operating System. See operating system and Chapter 4: Using DOS.
  • Double Click: To press the mouse button twice: clickety click! {
  • Double density: See density.
  • DPI: Dots per inch.
  • Drivers: A driver is a file that is like a translation table. The driver turns the software’s output into information which the device such as a printer or screen can understand. Each device is different so your software will need a driver for each device.
  • DTP: See Desktop Publishing.
  • Easter Eggs: Funny things which are hidden in a program.
  • Engine: Another word for program. See apps.
  • Esc: The Escape key often lets you stop something or get out of a situation.
  • Executing a program: See starting.
  • Exit a program: To stop the program. You should save your work before you exit the program. Some programs automatically save your work or remind you to save your work. Never quit a program while files are still open; you may lose information.
  • Expansion Slot: Inside the computer, towards the back, are slots for circuit cards. To add a modem, sound card, etc., remove the metal plate and push the sound card into place into the expansion slot. You can use any of the slots. Be sure to secure the new card with the little screw from the cover plate.
  • Expert System: A program that can consider a variety of facts and make a decision or recommendation. See Artificial Intelligence.
  • Extended Memory: See memory.
  • Extension: The three letter last name of a file. It often identifies the family of files which have the same format. DOC is the extension of MAIL.DOC.
  • FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions. Usually, it’s the same ten questions. Many technical support and online services have a list of the FAQs and will send it to you.
  • Faux: French for false. A faux pas is a false step or a social blunder. In Tennessee, they say ‘cuse my fox paws.
  • File: Any data with a name on your disks. Documents, pictures, programs, etc., are all files.
  • Flame, Flaming, Flame War: To flame someone is to publicly insult him on an online service. When both sides are flaming each other, it’s a flame war.
  • Folder: Another name for directory.
  • Freeze: Any mistake that stops the computer. Nothing happens anymore. This is similar to when a calculator is overloaded. Either wait five minutes or reset the computer and try again. Usually you reset the computer and try again.
  • FTP: File Transfer Protocol. Used to transfer files across Internet systems.
  • Games: A good way to lose five days of your life.
  • Get out of a program, see exit.
  • Graphical User Interface: Usually written as GUI and is pronounced gooey. Windows (and Macs and most new computers) use a GUI interface, in which you use a mouse to move icons objects, such as files, programs and other icons. To move a file, you use the mouse to move the file’s icon from one disk window to another. An example of a non-GUI interface is DOS’s CLI, in which you type commands instead of using a mouse. See interface.
  • Graphics Accelerator: A circuit board which speeds up the screen.
  • GUI: See Graphical User Interface.
  • Guru: (pronounced GOO-roo ) The master of the mystery. A guru is someone who can fix your problems. Don’t ask them to explain it. Just get them to fix it. To find a guru, either call technical support or ask around. Everyone knows someone who knows more than they do.
  • Hardware vs. Software: Hardware is the stuff that is mechanical: motors, springs, etc. A disk drive is a piece of hardware. Software is a set of instructions that a programmer writes. A program is software. Sometimes, software can be on a ROM chip on a circuit board. Is it hardware or software? Only the customs office will care. For everyone else, it doesn’t really matter.
  • HD: See density.
  • Hex: See Hexadecimal.
  • Hexadecimal: (Hex) Base 16 notation. See Notational Systems for an explanation.
  • High-density: See density.
  • High-level language: See languages.
  • Highlight: To select text by dragging the mouse. This is also called to make a block or to block at text.
  • Home Page: The home page is the web page that appears when you start up your web browser. It always has a few links for jumping off into the web. This home page is in your web browser program’s directory on your hard disk. You can use your text editor to open this page and delete the blah-blah-blah, delete useless links, and add your favorite links.
  • HTML: Hyper Text Markup Language. The set of tags that define web documents.
  • HTTP: Hyper Text Transfer Protocol. The set of rules which controls how web documents are passed around.
  • HTTPD: Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Daemon. The program that receives requests for HTML files and sends them out. See daemons.
  • Input Device: Any device that can send information in a digital format into the computer. This can be a keyboard, mouse, joystick, scanner, etc.
  • Interface: On one side, there’s you. On the other side, behind the screen, is the computer. The interface presents the computer in a way that you can use it. The first interface made you type each command. The GUI interfaces let you move icons around with a mouse. The Pen interface lets you use a pen and note pad. The virtual reality interface lets you see and use the objects as if they were real things. This may not be a good idea. If you try to delete something, it might chase you around the house. See also CLI, GUI, Pen Interface, and Virtual Reality Interface.
  • Interpreter: See languages.
  • Intuitive: Even the marketing people understand it.
  • IS or MIS: They used to be called the geeks in the computer room. Not only are they better paid than you, they also came up with an obscure title for themselves. It stands for Information Systems and Manager of Information Systems. It means the folks in charge of the computers.
  • Itsy-bitsy: Smaller than teeny-weenie. A jumper is itsy-bitsy.
  • Jokers: When you use a question mark in a search box, you’re using a joker. As with poker cards, a joker can stand for any character. If you search for c?t, it’ll find cat, cot, cut. See wild card.
  • Kilobyte: See bytes.
  • Kinda Interesting Stuff: See keyscan codes, languages, notational systems, computers, and how do computers work in this glossary.
  • Kludge: A fix that patches things together so that it works. It doesn’t figure out the problem. It just works. Rhymes with stooge.
  • LAN: Local Area Network. See Chapter 14: LANsand Networks.
  • Languages: You don’t need to learn computer languages or programing. If you want to learn, however, here’s something about computer languages. The most simple commands to a computer are called a lowlevel language or machine language. It’s similar to how the computer actually works so it’s very fast. Any program written in Assembler, which is a low level language, will work very fast. Most people have trouble reading a page of binary code so they use a high level language, which looks like a natural language, to write the commands. There are many high level languages, such as BASIC (Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code), Logo, Pascal, Modula, Lisp, Prolog, etc. Some were designed for certain computers or jobs. There are about 200 languages, including many local variations or dialects. There are also object languages. Instead of writing commands, the programmer selects and combines objects. An object is an action, such as using the disk drive or the printer. It’s like Lego blocks for computers. Visual Basic and C++ are object languages. A programmer’s toolbox includes the editor, which is like a text editor, a library (or collection) of commands or objects, and a translator. A programmer uses an editor to write a program by writing a list of commands, which are also called statements. Each statement tells the computer to do something. The whole list is called a source code. This means that one can use a programmer’s editor to change the program by editing the source code. A translator converts the high level language source code which a human can understand into a low level language which the computer can understand. There are two kinds of translators: interpreters and compilers. An interpreter translates one statement at a time into machine language and then carries out (runs, or performs) the statement. This means that it’s slow. If there is an error, the program stops. This is useful. A programmer can find the errors. A compiler translates the entire set of commands into machine language. The result can then be run faster, because it doesn’t wait for the next set to be translated. Programmers call this an executable file. Most of us call it a program. A programmer will first write the program and use an interpreter to test the program. If there is an error, the program stops at that line. When all of the errors are fixed (or the bugs are found and removed), the programmer compiles the program. The result is a standalone program, such as Microsoft Word. If you have a program which is still source code, which means that you have to start BASIC to use it, then ask a programmer to show you how to compile. It’ll work much faster.
  • Launching a program: See starting.
  • Laws of Computers: There are several: Garbage In, Garbage Out (GIGO). No software or hardware is going to improve a lousy idea, not even if you spend $450 billion on the Star Wars project. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Sometimes the problem is better than the solution. When they says it’s easy, it ain’t. The salesperson’ll say It’s a snap! Just tweak the THX1138 driver in the sys, dear, and add a line to win, Inny. The result will be six hours of frustration and a $100/hr computer guy to get your computer to work again.
  • Lisp: See languages.
  • Loading a program: See starting.
  • Login: This means two things. Either you log into a drive, which means that you switch from one disk drive to another, or you log into an online system, which means that you connect to a distant computer.
  • LOGO: A simple language. See languages.
  • Lowlevel language: See languages.
  • Mailboxes: The European name for a BBS or online service.
  • Marketing: Affirmative action for unemployed stand up comedians.
  • Math Coprocessor: See Coprocessor.
  • MB: See Megabyte.
  • Megabyte: Generally speaking, it’s 1,000 kilobytes (1,000 KB). It’s actually 1,024 kilobytes, but everyone rounds it off. See bytes.
  • Megahertz or MHz: One million cycles per second. A 60 MHz CPU ticks 60 million times per second. It’s like your car’s RPM dial. Fun to watch, but it doesn’t really mean anything.
  • Megs: as in 20 megs. An American abbreviation for megabyte.
  • Memory: There’s conventional, lower, extended, upper, and expanded memory. There’s little point in explaining this kludge. Don’t worry about this unless you’re getting out of memory messages. Then you can start to worry. Call your consultant. Let them worry.
  • Micron: One 10-thousandth of a centimeter. See itsy-bitsy.
  • MIDI: Music Instrument Digital Interface. A standard for digital musical instruments and computers.
  • MIPS: Millions of Instructions per Second. This used to be a way of measuring the speed of a computer. Nobody ever knew what it really meant. The current meaningless word is gigahertz.
  • Mission Critical: This means real work. Anything else is installation (trying to get it to work) or tweaking the parameters (jes’ fooling around).
  • Modula-2: See languages.
  • Motherboard: The motherboard is the card upon which most of the computer chips are set. See also cards.
  • Multitasking: This usually means that you can open more than one program at a time. Windows and Macs use multitasking.
  • NAK: Not Acknowledged. See ACK.
  • Nanosecond: (ns) One billionth of a second. This is also the time it takes light to travel about one foot, so a nanosecond is also a light foot. An electron goes about three feet from the time you press a key until the character appears on the screen and the light photon reaches your eye. That’s about 3 ns. For you and me, anything under a tenth of a second is all the same. A computer works at some 30-50 million ticks per second, so several nanoseconds do indeed matter to a computer. When refrigerators and microwaves turn on, a power drop happens which lasts several dozen nanoseconds. For a computer, this is like several days of no power.
  • Newbie: A newbie is a new user. They used to be called naive users, in reference to an Aristotelian naive realist, but marketing people couldn’t figure out what that meant.
  • Notwork: If there’s network, in which computers work together, then some offices have notwork, where nothing works together.
  • Obi-Wan Kenobe: A wizard in Star Wars. His name comes from off-by-one (o.b.1.) Computer people begin counting at zero. Sector 0 is the first; sector 1 is second, etc. All the numbers are “off by one.”
  • Object Language: See languages.
  • Objects: Until recently, using computers meant that you installed and customized a program to write a document. This has not been too successful. Most people don’t want to use a program. They want to write a letter. The whole idea of installation and customization of the program itself is daunting and confusing. So the computer industry has been working on objects. You’ll only see documents. You select a document from your desktop, work on it, and close it. See also OLE.
  • OCR: See Optical Character Recognition.
  • OLE: Object Linking and Embedding. Pronounced o’LAY, as in bullfighting. It lets you embed graphics, sound, and animation into any file. OLE will become more widespread as computers move away from programs and go to objects. Don’t worry about OLE. It still has minor problems, such as actually working. Relax for a few more years. See objects.
  • Online Service: A central computer on a telephone line which you and others can reach with your computer and a modem so that you can send email to others or get copies of programs and files. Also called a BBS.
  • Operating System: (OS) A program that takes care of the computer and its peripherals, such as disk drives, printers, screen, etc. MS-DOS is an operating system. Windows looks like one, but it’s really just a fancy front. Other operating systems Windows NT, UNIX, Macs, and OS/2.
  • Optical Character Recognition: (OCR) A program which can read a scanned page on the screen and turn it into a document for your word processor. This means that you don’t have to retype it.
  • OS: See operating system.
  • Pascal: See languages.
  • PC Cards: Credit card sized cards which have a modem, a hard disk, or other such electronics. These are often used in laptops.
  • PCMCIA: Personal Computer Memory Card International Association. The worst acronym in computers. See PC card.
  • Pen Interface: The way you work with the computer is similar to using a pen and a note pad. Tap or write with the pen to give instructions to the computer or to write text. The Newton by Apple has a pen interface. See also interface.
  • Peripheral: Any thing that you add to the computer is a peripheral. This includes the keyboard, the screen, a printer, a modem, a CD-ROM drive, a robot, or whatever.
  • PIF: See Program Information File.
  • Pipe: Another word for bandwidth. This is used as slang for connection. Your pipe is your connection to the net.
  • Pixel: PICture ELement. A single dot on the screen.
  • Pixel Dust: The dust that collects on your screen.
  • Platform: A platform is the type of machine. For example, the Notepage program runs on the Windows platform but not the Macintosh or UNIX platforms. The NETSCAPE browser is platform independent, which is to say that it works across all platforms.
  • PLOK: “Press Lots of Keys.” When things go wrong, try the PLOK command.
  • Plug and Play: Remember user friendly? Yep, another marketing word.
  • Pointing Device: The techie name for a mouse.
  • Ports: The sockets for cables.
  • Problems: See challenges.
  • Productivity enhancement: A management word for getting you to do more for the same pay. Instead of working like a slave, you’ll work like a dog.
  • Programming: If you have a great idea for a program, you can write it yourself. Visual Basic is the Lego blocks of programming. See also languages. Programmers sit around and invent programs which are then turned over to marketing, which has to figure out how to get people to see the program as a solution to a need that they didn’t have before.
  • Prolog: See languages.
  • PSU: Power Supply Unit. The transformer.
  • Quit a program: See exit.
  • RAM: RAM (Random Access Memory) chips are small chips which hold information that can be quickly move back and forth to the CPU. When someone talks about RAM, they generally mean the memory of the computer which is in the RAM chips. See also Virtual Memory.
  • RAM Disk: A RAM disk is a part of memory which is set aside to act as a disk drive. It’s called a virtual disk, in that it acts like a disk drive, but it doesn’t really exist. You can read and write files to a RAM disk. The advantage is the high speed. The disadvantage is that it disappears if you lose power. Generally, don’t fool around with this unless you know what you’re doing.
  • Random Access Memory: (RAM chips). These are the chips which hold the computer’s memory. The information disappears when you turn off the computer. These are also called SIMM chips and SIPP chips. See ROM and EPROM.
  • REM: REMark. This is used by programmers to add remarks (comments) to a line in a program. For example, you can write notes to yourself in the AUTOEXEC.BAT file which explain the changes that you made. Since programs ignore anything on a line that starts with REM, it can also be used to turn off a program line.
  • Return to DOS: See exit.
  • Rich: As in a rich environment. This means that the program has lots of extra stuff which you’ll never figure out, let alone ever use. Whoops! Just got an email from marketing. If I don’t stop the jokes about marketing, they’re gonna kidnap my cat . What nuts!
  • ROM: Read Only Memory. These chips holds information permanently. See RAM and EPROM.
  • Run: A command to start a program.
  • RYFM: Read Your *%# Manual. Technical support will think this when you ask something that is covered in the manual.
  • Screamer: More marketing hype. They think they’re talking about a fast computer. Actually, they’re a bunch of screaming squirrels.
  • SCSI: Small Computer Systems Interface. The marketing guys at Apple wanted this word to be pronounced sexy but management didn’t like that. The name SX is used as part of product names in everything from cameras to computer chips. Try to quickly say SX five times. Anyway, SCSI is pronounced skuzzy, just like my cat Scuzzy, who is right here on the… hmmm, she was here a minute ago.
  • Server: A program on a web site’s computer that receives requests from browsers, fetches the files, and sends them to the browser.
  • Shareware: These are programs which are distributed with a low price for the disks. If you like the program and use it, you send in the registration fee and receive the manuals and updated versions.
  • SIG: Special Interest Group. These are areas on an online service where people gather who share the same interests. Also called forums.
  • SIMM Chips: Single Inline Memory Module, which is a row of RAM chips on a small card. To upgrade the RAM, just slide the card into a slot. Voilà!
  • Single-density: See density. Just received another email. It says: no more jokes about marketing, pal, or we’ll cut off your cat’s ear.
  • Smileys: Little smiley faces which people use on online services. There are: ) and: (
  • Snailmail: A name for the paper postal system. Email is faster.
  • Software: See hardware, er, okay, I agree. Just don’t harm fuzzy Scuzzy!
  • Sound Board: See Card.
  • Sound Card: See Card.
  • Source: You copy a file from the source to the destination. See Destination.
  • Source Code: See languages.
  • Start Up Disk: See boot disk.
  • Start Up: Any program put into this Windows program group will start automatically when you start Windows.
  • Starting a program: This is also called executing, loading, launching, or booting a program.
  • Swapping: A method used by Windows to increase the RAM memory’s ability. It divides a program into the currently used portions, which is then held in the quick RAM chips, and the currently unused portion, which is held on the slow hard disk. For example, you have 4 MB of RAM and you have set up 8 MB of Virtual Memory space on the hard disk. You start a program which fills six megabytes. As you work, the first four megabytes are held in the RAM chips (which are very fast) and the last two megabytes (which are perhaps the spell checker) are held in the Virtual Memory space on the hard disk. If you start the spell checker, then the computer swaps the word processor’s formatting parts to the hard disk space and moves the spell checker into the RAM memory. When you finish spell checking, Windows swaps the spell checker back to the hard disk and moves the rest of the program back into RAM.
  • SysAdmin: TheSystems Administrator who is in charge of an online system. See also admin.
  • Sysop: The Systems Operator who is in charge of an online system. See also admin.
  • System Disk: DOS-based computers need a program to start it in the morning. It’s possible to delete or change that program and you won’t be able to start your computer. Luckily, you can start the computer by using a copy of that program in one of the disk drives. Such a disk is called the system disk. It’s also called the boot disk.
  • Toggle: Anything that has two or more states and can be switched from one to the other. For example, you can toggle the CapsLock key. You press it once, it’s on. You press it again, it’s off. Your desk lamp’s light switch is a toggle.
  • Traces: The silvery lines on the bottom of a circuit board which connect the chips and parts are called traces. Try not to touch them.
  • UNIX: An operating system which allows more than one user to work with the computer at the same time. In the same way that DOS is the operating system for PCs; UNIX is the operating system for UNIX computers. Mainframe and large network computers use UNIX. There are versions of UNIX, such as gnu and Linux, which are free.
  • Upper Memory: See memory.
  • URLs: Universal Resource Locator. This means the net address of an item. Just as you have a postal address so that anyone can reach you, every item on the Internet has a unique address, for example, www.apple.com.
  • USM: The future is a universal operating system that connects everything: your computer, your laptop, the telephone, fax, photocopier, scanner, your interactive TV, interactive radio, and maybe even the coffee maker. Back when Elvis went on tour to the Great Nightclub in the Sky, there were lots of people who wanted to rename Tennessee to Elvis. This didn’t happen because you can’t name a state after a living person.
  • VDT: Video Display Terminal; yet another name for the screen.
  • Veronica: A veronica is when the bullfighter waves his cape slowly before the charging bull.
  • Video Accelerator: See Graphics accelerator.
  • Video RAM: The RAM memory on a graphics card.
  • Virtual Memory: Microsoft’s name for swapping. See Swapping.
  • Virtual Reality: Virtual reality is just another interface to computers. See interface.
  • Virus: A virus is a small program that enters your computer via an infected disk or email and copies itself. Most viruses are harmless and only copy themselves. Some also do things to your computer, such as display a message. Other virus may be harmful and delete your files. Kids like to put a virus onto popular software, especially games, and then pass it around to trick other kids. That’s a good reason to avoid copied software. You can easily protect yourself against a virus by using anti-virus software.
  • Volume label: The name of the disk. DOS lets you give a name to a disk.
  • Warm Boot: To reset your computer by pressing the reset button on the cabinet or by pressing Ctrl + Alt + Delete. See boot.
  • Wildcard: In poker, a wild card can be any card. With computers, a wild card character can stand for any group of characters. If you search for *.DOC, you’ll find all files with the DOC extension. It searches for wildcard.DOC, or anything.DOC. The combination *.* is big magic. It stands for anything-anything and will find all files. *.* is pronounced star point star. See joker.
  • WIMP: Windows, Icons, Mouse, Pulldown menus. Just another name for the Windows interface.
  • Work: See telecommuting.
  • WYSIWYG: Pronounced wizzywig, it stands for what you see is what you get. In the good old days of DOS, what you saw on the screen and from the printer didn’t have much in common. By now, all Windows programs show you on the screen what you’ll get on paper.