The Beginner's PageTom R. Halfhill, Editor
That Other Computer Language
Usually when someone talks about a "computer language," we think of programming languages like BASIC, Pascal, Forth, Logo, and so on. These languages are of interest only to programmers—if you merely want to use a computer, you don't have to learn anything about these languages at all.
But no matter how far removed you want to remain from the inner workings of the machine, there is one computer language you do have to learn: lingo, all those complicated terms and odd slang words that only computer experts seem to understand. You know what I mean: "Oh, you're having RS-232 glitches? This is just a kludge, but try checking your DTR pin and changing duplexes, and if that doesn't work, flip your floppy and warm-boot DOS with an ASCII batch file."
When you're a struggling computer-illiterate, it's tempting to assume that this kind of gibberish was invented merely to exclude outsiders from the inner circle. Actually, every occupation, hobby, and field of interest has its own lingo. Listen to yourself someday when talking to a co-worker or a fellow student; you'll be surprised how alien the conversation might sound to someone who is uninitiated.
This was brought home to me recently when I was helping a new computer owner learn to set up and use his system. Suddenly he interrupted: "Boot it up? Does that mean the same thing as turn it on?" I was caught off-guard. Once you learn lingo, it's amazing how fast you take it for granted.
To help clear up any similar confusion you may be experiencing, let's take a look at some of the terms which make up computer lingo:
- Back door
- A secret method of gaining entry to a restricted program by circumventing the password protection. Usually planted by the programmer.
- To start up a computer system, usually by switching on the power. Some computers equipped with disk drives must be booted with a disk in the drive (a boot disk) that contains the disk operating system (DOS). Commodore computers are exceptions, because DOS is built into the drives themselves. On the Amiga and early versions of the Atari ST, the computer's operating system itself must be loaded from disk when booting.
- A malfunction of hardware or software that can often be replicated. Usually the fault of the programmer or designer.
- A connector on a computer into which accessories and cables are plugged. Usually referred to as a system bus or expansion bus.
- A computer that is designed to run the same programs and accept the same accessories as another computer made by a rival manufacturer. Clones typically sell for less than the computer they're imitating. The computers most often cloned are the IBM PC and Apple II.
- Cold start
- To boot up a computer system by switching on the power.
- Sudden, total failure of a program or computer system. The program or computer refuses to acknowledge commands, usually because of a bug or glitch.
- Two or more accessories—such as disk drives, a printer, or a modem—all hooked together sequentially to form a chain. The term can also be used as a verb to describe the process of connecting a device to the chain.
- Perhaps the highest compliment that can be paid to the design of a program or piece of computer hardware. A solution that achieves both success and efficiency.
- Gender changer
- An adapter that turns a male plug into a female jack or vice versa. Intended for matching cables to various kinds of computers and accessories.
- A momentary malfunction of hardware or software. Similar to a bug, but more transitory, and not necessarily the fault of the designer or programmer.
- Originally, someone who became deeply absorbed in programming or exploring the innards of the machine, even if nothing practical ever resulted-sometimes to the point of obsession. Recently this term has taken on a different connotation, due largely to misuse in popular media. In this usage, a hacker is someone who gains access to a computer system with mischievous intent, often via a telephone link.
- (Pronounced klooj) A sloppy design or an inelegant solution to a problem. It works, but is clumsy or inefficient.
- The keyboard refuses to respond to typed commands. Usually indicates a crash.
- Short for megabyte, a measurement of computer memory capacity. One megabyte equals 1024 kilobytes (1024K). A kilobyte equals 1024 bytes. A byte, in turn, is roughly equivalent to one character of storage. Thus, a meg of memory can hold 1,048,576 (1024 X 1024) characters.
- The main circuit board inside a computer.
- Warm start
- To reboot a computer system that has already been cold-started, but has crashed or needs to be reset for some other reason. Most computers have a reset button or special key sequence for this purpose.