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Stob All top computing publications should occasionally put out a glossary of new and with-it computing jargon, together with clarifications of expressions that have evolved with the new technology. Here is ours.

Architect: Any programmer who has specified a database, or a File menu, or even just the keys in a section of an INI file, is now termed an 'architect'. PS: what does one call people who actually design houses, now that they seem to have lost their rights to this noun? Greengrocers?

Bloggerel: Narcissistic, poor quality poetry that is self-published on a personal website.

Capostrophe: A misplaced apostrophe on Lynne Truss's's's website.

Companion/companion database: Many years ago, I included the above phrase in an article like this as the supposedly politically correct alternative to client/server database. (To be honest (qv), it wasn't my idea, but that of my then colleague the encyclopedic poly-math, -glot, -gon and -mer Mr Dan O'Brien, and I fell on it gratefully). But events have caught up and overtaken it. You say that was what gone mad? Oh. Yes.

Futility: A futility is a small, free program that looks as though it is going to be useful in a modest sort of way: for example, it purports to uninstall the bits of Norton Antivirus or Real Player that you can't get rid of, or uploads your Palm address book to an iPod. However, after you have downloaded the thing, you discover from the readme that it needs the 22MB .NET 2.0 framework installed before it will work. Stuff that for a game of soldiers.

Googlewhacked: This word describes the not-uncommon experience of wanting to send an email and finding that Gmail is currently stuffed, and can only offer a supposedly cute error message ("Cross your fingers and try again in a few minutes"). So that'll be the place where I want to keep all my spreadsheets, then.

iRe: An emotion felt by the Beatles' lawyers after a recent court case.

Lose (obsolete): In ye olden days, the verb 'to loose', which as you know means 'to mislay', was spelled with one 'o'. Legend also speaks of a separate verb, spelled the same as our modern 'loose', meaning 'to release'. However, the Yahoos! Of! Yahoo! and the /ers of /. have long since put paid to this scheme, and there is no point in struggling against the status quo. You might as well cut off your noose to spite your face.

Mainframe: Thanks to your benign influence, BBC Bitesize no longer defines this term as a machine that "can process two or more programs at the same time". However, even the revised definition is obsolete. These days, a mainframe computer is becoming increasingly uncommon...except in science fiction, where it serves as a plot device enabling any spaceship or base to have a single point of failure. Turn off the mainframe, and all the doors stop working, the force field shuts down, etc. See for example the flick Resident Evil, or the recent episode of Doctor Who where the mainframe's reboot switch was plausibly located beyond lethally revolving aircon fans.

(Personal: if any cybermen, daleks or other alien species reading would like some consultancy on installing a robust network of PLCs and maybe a little distributed I/O into their space vehicles, so that some buffoon with a sonic screwdriver can't turn out all the lights at the drop of a hat, they will find my rates very reasonable.)

Orkut Dei: A peculiar online social organisation created by the unlikely alliance of Google and Dan Brown. Membership is by invitation only, but brilliant viral marketing has generated huge interest in the cult's activities. Although naturally secretive, followers often betray themselves: "I'd love to come for a drink tonight, but I haven't got so much as a rusty nail to wear. Like a fool I put all my cilices in the wash together and now they're just a ball of barbed wire." Orkut Dei's corporate motto: "You don't have to be an insane murderous albino monk to belong here; it suffices to be a former education secretary."

Performant: When you hear the hideous coinage "performant", it usually means the speaker or author would really like to use an adjective such as "fast" or "quick", but has discovered that an unexpected and inconvenient morsel of conscience is preventing him from doing so. So instead he has smuggled "performant" through the green channel of his inner ethical customs post, relying on the ugliness of the word to scramble its lie detector's sensors.

Proto Bono: Internet Latin name for the popular musician Sting. Do hurry up.

Scalable: A key term in large IT projects. A scalable technology's key feature is that it performs glacially when used to process small amounts of data (or compile a short program or serve a few web pages or do a little of whatever it is that it does). However, if you are foolish enough to point this out, it will be patiently explained to you that this is your fault for troubling so mighty a system with such a piffling example. A fair test would, of course, be several orders of magnitude bigger, and on better hardware, and in a more realistic situation with 4000 transactions/second. Just because Google used MySQL doesn't mean you are going to be allowed to use it too, Verity. Because you're not. Example usage: "I would always prefer Java to Ruby on Rails. Java is so much more scalable."

Skype-equette: That part of a Skype conversation taken up with a discussion about how much money we would be saving if only we could get IT to open those ports in the firewall, and I reckon the ISP are throttling the traffic deliberately and it's all going to end up with a two tier internet just like Robert Cringely said, and, oh sod this hang up and I'll call you on your mobile.

Spodcast: Spodcast is the emotion felt upon discovering that one's hard disk has filled up with 27 unplayed, automatically-downloaded mp3s of Lord (formerly Melvyn) Bragg of Wigton's fantastically educational (but just a bit earnest) Radio 4 series "In Our Time".

To be honest: A phrase I am assured imported to software development from the world of football. It is mostly used in speech rather than written communication, and rewards those who take care to note it when it appears in the mouths of others.

  1. As used by salespersons, speaking to a customer, it signals a lie. Example: "To be honest, in a setup like yours, I wouldn't bother with client licences. False economy. I'd just put in servers. It really makes sense going forward."
  2. As used by engineers, speaking to a customer, it signals that the engineer is about to undo all the work of the sales team. Example: "You could put in server licences throughout. Although, to be honest, you could easily get away with one server and all the rest clients. And it would probably run a lot faster too."

Two things I don't understand:

  • Why does anybody ever say the phrase? It's a sort of verbal monkey's paw, calling down evil upon the head of whoever speaks it.
  • What is it supposed to mean? If the words as spoken are true then it is redundant; if it is untrue then, as we have seen, it draws attention to the lie.

When you need to gain thinking time, I say you should 'errm' and be done with it. To be honest.

Tuple: These days, objects and classes are distinctly passé, so new things must take their place. "Tuple" is a fashionable term for a data structure comprising theoretically any number (but actually always two; a threeple is a crowd) elements glued together with sticky syntactic honey. Originating in mathematics, the tuple has descended the social hierarchy of computer languages from Haskell and Python and has now arrived at C++. When it reaches VBScript, the search for a replacement will begin anew. If you enjoy saying 'tuple', you may also like to roll your tongue around 'locus' and 'datum'. Mmmm, datum.

Vista: Much futility (qv), seen from a distance.

X: Another shift in convention. From the birth of Xenix up to the hatching of Mac OS X, the 24th letter of the alphabet was invariably used to indicate that a product was related to Unix. Now an 'X' in the name flags that XML is somehow involved: Ajax, XBRL, XINS. It's not in the least funny, but it is true. A bit like life. ®

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