M [SI] pref. (on units) suff. (on numbers) See quantifiers.
macdink /mak'dink/ [from the Apple Macintosh, which is said to encourage such behavior] vt. To make many incremental and unnecessary cosmetic changes to a program or file. Often the subject of the macdinking would be better off without them. "When I left at 11 P.M. last night, he was still macdinking the slides for his presentation." See also fritterware, window shopping.
machinable adj. Machine-readable. Having the softcopy nature.
machoflops /mach'oh-flops/ [pun on `megaflops', a coinage for `millions of FLoating-point Operations Per Second'] n. Refers to artificially inflated performance figures often quoted by computer manufacturers. Real applications are lucky to get half the quoted speed. See Your Mileage May Vary, benchmark.
Macintoy /mak'in-toy/ n. The Apple Macintosh, considered as a toy. Less pejorative than Macintrash.
Macintrash /mak'in-trash`/ n. The Apple Macintosh, as described by a hacker who doesn't appreciate being kept away from the *real computer* by the interface. The term maggotbox has been reported in regular use in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. Compare Macintoy. See also beige toaster, WIMP Environment, point-and-drool interface, drool-proof paper, user-friendly.
macro /mak'roh/ [techspeak] n. A name (possibly followed by a formal arg list) that is equated to a text or symbolic expression to which it is to be expanded (possibly with the substitution of actual arguments) by a macro expander. This definition can be found in any technical dictionary; what those won't tell you is how the hackish connotations of the term have changed over time.
The term `macro' originated in early assemblers, which encouraged the use of macros as a structuring and information-hiding device. During the early 1970s, macro assemblers became ubiquitous, and sometimes quite as powerful and expensive as HLLs, only to fall from favor as improving compiler technology marginalized assembler programming (see languages of choice). Nowadays the term is most often used in connection with the C preprocessor, LISP, or one of several special-purpose languages built around a macro-expansion facility (such as TeX or UNIX's [nt]roff suite).
Indeed, the meaning has drifted enough that the collective `macros' is now sometimes used for code in any special-purpose application control language (whether or not the language is actually translated by text expansion), and for macro-like entities such as the `keyboard macros' supported in some text editors (and PC TSR or Macintosh INIT/CDEV keyboard enhancers).
macro- pref. Large. Opposite of micro-. In the mainstream and among other technical cultures (for example, medical people) this competes with the prefix mega-, but hackers tend to restrict the latter to quantification.
macrology /mak-rol'*-jee/ n.
macrotape /mak'roh-tayp/ n. An industry-standard reel of tape, as opposed to a microtape. See also round tape.
maggotbox /mag'*t-boks/ n. See Macintrash. This is even more derogatory.
For more about hackish `magic', see A Story About `Magic' (in Appendix A).
magic cookie [UNIX] n. 1. Something passed between routines or programs that enables the receiver to perform some operation; a capability ticket or opaque identifier. Especially used of small data objects that contain data encoded in a strange or intrinsically machine-dependent way. E.g., on non-UNIX OSes with a non-byte-stream model of files, the result of `ftell(3)' may be a magic cookie rather than a byte offset; it can be passed to `fseek(3)', but not operated on in any meaningful way. The phrase `it hands you a magic cookie' means it returns a result whose contents are not defined but which can be passed back to the same or some other program later. 2. An in-band code for changing graphic rendition (e.g., inverse video or underlining) or performing other control functions (see also cookie). Some older terminals would leave a blank on the screen corresponding to mode-change magic cookies; this was also called a glitch (or occasionally a `turd'; compare mouse droppings). See also cookie.
magic number [UNIX/C] n.
*The* magic number, on the other hand, is 7+/-2. See "The magical number seven, plus or minus two: some limits on our capacity for processing information" by George Miller, in the "Psychological Review" 63:81-97 (1956). This classic paper established the number of distinct items (such as numeric digits) that humans can hold in short-term memory. Among other things, this strongly influenced the interface design of the phone system.
magic smoke n. A substance trapped inside IC packages that enables them to function (also called `blue smoke'; this is similar to the archaic `phlogiston' hypothesis about combustion). Its existence is demonstrated by what happens when a chip burns up --- the magic smoke gets let out, so it doesn't work any more. See smoke test, let the smoke out.
USENETter Jay Maynard tells the following story: "Once, while hacking on a dedicated Z80 system, I was testing code by blowing EPROMs and plugging them in the system, then seeing what happened. One time, I plugged one in backwards. I only discovered that *after* I realized that Intel didn't put power-on lights under the quartz windows on the tops of their EPROMs --- the die was glowing white-hot. Amazingly, the EPROM worked fine after I erased it, filled it full of zeros, then erased it again. For all I know, it's still in service. Of course, this is because the magic smoke didn't get let out." Compare the original phrasing of Murphy's Law.
mailbomb (also mail bomb) [USENET]
mailing list n. (often shortened in context to `list')
Mailing lists are one of the primary forms of hacker interaction, along with USENET. They predate USENET, having originated with the first UUCP and ARPANET connections. They are often used for private information-sharing on topics that would be too specialized for or inappropriate to public USENET groups. Though some of these maintain almost purely technical content (such as the Internet Engineering Task Force mailing list), others (like the `sf-lovers' list maintained for many years by Saul Jaffe) are recreational, and many are purely social. Perhaps the most infamous of the social lists was the eccentric bandykin distribution; its latter-day progeny, lectroids and tanstaafl, still include a number of the oddest and most interesting people in hackerdom.
Mailing lists are easy to create and (unlike USENET) don't tie up a significant amount of machine resources (until they get very large, at which point they can become interesting torture tests for mail software). Thus, they are often created temporarily by working groups, the members of which can then collaborate on a project without ever needing to meet face-to-face. Much of the material in this lexicon was criticized and polished on just such a mailing list (called `jargon-friends'), which included all the co-authors of Steele-1983.
main loop n. The top-level control flow construct in an input- or event-driven program, the one which receives and acts or dispatches on the program's input. See also driver.
mainframe n. Term originally referring to the cabinet containing the central processor unit or `main frame' of a room-filling Stone Age batch machine. After the emergence of smaller `minicomputer' designs in the early 1970s, the traditional big iron machines were described as `mainframe computers' and eventually just as mainframes. The term carries the connotation of a machine designed for batch rather than interactive use, though possibly with an interactive timesharing operating system retrofitted onto it; it is especially used of machines built by IBM, Unisys, and the other great dinosaurs surviving from computing's Stone Age.
It has been common wisdom among hackers since the late 1980s that the mainframe architectural tradition is essentially dead (outside of the tiny market for number-crunching supercomputers (see cray)), having been swamped by the recent huge advances in IC technology and low-cost personal computing. As of 1993, corporate America is just beginning to figure this out --- the wave of failures, takeovers, and mergers among traditional mainframe makers have certainly provided sufficient omens (see dinosaurs mating).
mandelbug /man'del-buhg/ [from the Mandelbrot set] n. A bug whose underlying causes are so complex and obscure as to make its behavior appear chaotic or even non-deterministic. This term implies that the speaker thinks it is a Bohr Bug, rather than a heisenbug. See also schroedinbug.
manged /mahnjd/ [probably from the French `manger' or Italian `mangiare', to eat; perhaps influenced by English n. `mange', `mangy'] adj. Refers to anything that is mangled or damaged, usually beyond repair. "The disk was manged after the electrical storm." Compare mung.
mangle vt. Used similarly to mung or scribble, but more violent in its connotations; something that is mangled has been irreversibly and totally trashed.
mangler [DEC] n. A manager. Compare mango; see also management. Note that system mangler is somewhat different in connotation.
mango /mang'go/ [orig. in-house jargon at Symbolics] n. A manager. Compare mangler. See also devo and doco.
manularity /man`yoo-la'ri-tee/ [prob. fr. techspeak `manual' + `granularity'] n. A notional measure of the manual labor required for some task, particularly one of the sort that automation is supposed to eliminate. "Composing English on paper has much higher manularity than using a text editor, especially in the revising stage." Hackers tend to consider manularity a symptom of primitive methods; in fact, a true hacker confronted with an apparent requirement to do a computing task by hand will inevitably seize the opportunity to build another tool (see toolsmith).
marbles [from mainstream "lost all his/her marbles"] pl.n. The minimum needed to build your way further up some hierarchy of tools or abstractions. After a bad system crash, you need to determine if the machine has enough marbles to come up on its own, or enough marbles to allow a rebuild from backups, or if you need to rebuild from scratch. "This compiler doesn't even have enough marbles to compile hello, world."
Marginal Hacks n. Margaret Jacks Hall, a building into which the Stanford AI Lab was moved near the beginning of the 1980s (from the D. C. Power Lab).
marginally adv. Slightly. "The ravs here are only marginally better than at Small Eating Place." See epsilon.
marketroid /mar'k*-troyd/ alt. `marketing slime', `marketeer', `marketing droid', `marketdroid'. n. A member of a company's marketing department, esp. one who promises users that the next version of a product will have features that are not actually scheduled for inclusion, are extremely difficult to implement, and/or are in violation of the laws of physics; and/or one who describes existing features (and misfeatures) in ebullient, buzzword-laden adspeak. Derogatory. Compare droid.
Mars n. A legendary tragic failure, the archetypal Hacker Dream Gone Wrong. Mars was the code name for a family of PDP-10 compatible computers built by Systems Concepts (now, The SC Group): the multi-processor SC-30M, the small uniprocessor SC-25M, and the never-built superprocessor SC-40M. These machines were marvels of engineering design; although not much slower than the unique Foonly F-1, they were physically smaller and consumed less power than the much slower DEC KS10 or Foonly F-2, F-3, or F-4 machines. They were also completely compatible with the DEC KL10, and ran all KL10 binaries (including the operating system) with no modifications at about 2--3 times faster than a KL10.
When DEC cancelled the Jupiter project in 1983, Systems Concepts should have made a bundle selling their machine into shops with a lot of software investment in PDP-10s, and in fact their spring 1984 announcement generated a great deal of excitement in the PDP-10 world. TOPS-10 was running on the Mars by the summer of 1984, and TOPS-20 by early fall. Unfortunately, the hackers running Systems Concepts were much better at designing machines than at mass producing or selling them; the company allowed itself to be sidetracked by a bout of perfectionism into continually improving the design, and lost credibility as delivery dates continued to slip. They also overpriced the product ridiculously; they believed they were competing with the KL10 and VAX 8600 and failed to reckon with the likes of Sun Microsystems and other hungry startups building workstations with power comparable to the KL10 at a fraction of the price. By the time SC shipped the first SC-30M to Stanford in late 1985, most customers had already made the traumatic decision to abandon the PDP-10, usually for VMS or UNIX boxes. Most of the Mars computers built ended up being purchased by CompuServe.
This tale and the related saga of Foonly hold a lesson for hackers: if you want to play in the Real World, you need to learn Real World moves.
martian n. A packet sent on a TCP/IP network with a source address of the test loopback interface [127.0.0.1]. This means that it will come back labeled with a source address that is clearly not of this earth. "The domain server is getting lots of packets from Mars. Does that gateway have a martian filter?"
massage vt. Vague term used to describe `smooth' transformations of a data set into a different form, esp. transformations that do not lose information. Connotes less pain than munch or crunch. "He wrote a program that massages X bitmap files into GIF format." Compare slurp.
math-out [poss. from `white-out' (the blizzard variety)] n. A paper or presentation so encrusted with mathematical or other formal notation as to be incomprehensible. This may be a device for concealing the fact that it is actually content-free. See also numbers, social science number.
Matrix [FidoNet] n.
maximum Maytag mode What a washing machine or, by extension, any hard disk is in when it's being used so heavily that it's shaking like an old Maytag with an unbalanced load. If prolonged for any length of time, can lead to disks becoming walking drives.
Mbogo, Dr. Fred /*m-boh'goh, dok'tr fred/ [Stanford] n. The archetypal man you don't want to see about a problem, esp. an incompetent professional; a shyster. "Do you know a good eye doctor?" "Sure, try Mbogo Eye Care and Professional Dry Cleaning." The name comes from synergy between bogus and the original Dr. Mbogo, a witch doctor who was Gomez Addams' physician on the old "Addams Family" TV show. Compare Bloggs Family, The, see also fred.
meatware n. Synonym for wetware. Less common.
meeces /mees'*z/ [TMRC] n. Occasional furry visitors who are not urchins. [That is, mice. This may no longer be in live use; it clearly derives from the refrain of the early-1960s cartoon character Mr. Jinx: "I hate meeces to *pieces*!" --- ESR]
meg /meg/ n. See quantifiers.
mega- /me'g*/ [SI] pref. See quantifiers.
megapenny /meg'*-pen`ee/ n. $10,000 (1 cent * 10^6). Used semi-humorously as a unit in comparing computer cost and performance figures.
MEGO /me'goh/ or /mee'goh/ [`My Eyes Glaze Over', often `Mine Eyes Glazeth (sic) Over', attributed to the futurologist Herman Kahn] Also `MEGO factor'.
meltdown, network n. See network meltdown.
meme /meem/ [coined by analogy with `gene', by Richard Dawkins] n. An idea considered as a replicator, esp. with the connotation that memes parasitize people into propagating them much as viruses do. Used esp. in the phrase `meme complex' denoting a group of mutually supporting memes that form an organized belief system, such as a religion. This lexicon is an (epidemiological) vector of the `hacker subculture' meme complex; each entry might be considered a meme. However, `meme' is often misused to mean `meme complex'. Use of the term connotes acceptance of the idea that in humans (and presumably other tool- and language-using sophonts) cultural evolution by selection of adaptive ideas has superseded biological evolution by selection of hereditary traits. Hackers find this idea congenial for tolerably obvious reasons.
meme plague n. The spread of a successful but pernicious meme, esp. one that parasitizes the victims into giving their all to propagate it. Astrology, BASIC, and the other guy's religion are often considered to be examples. This usage is given point by the historical fact that `joiner' ideologies like Naziism or various forms of millennarian Christianity have exhibited plague-like cycles of exponential growth followed by collapses to small reservoir populations.
memetics /me-met'iks/ [from meme] The study of memes. As of mid-1993, this is still an extremely informal and speculative endeavor, though the first steps towards at least statistical rigor have been made by H. Keith Henson and others. Memetics is a popular topic for speculation among hackers, who like to see themselves as the architects of the new information ecologies in which memes live and replicate.
memory farts n. The flatulent sounds that some DOS box BIOSes (most notably AMI's) make when checking memory on bootup.
memory leak n. An error in a program's dynamic-store allocation logic that causes it to fail to reclaim discarded memory, leading to eventual collapse due to memory exhaustion. Also (esp. at CMU) called core leak. These problems were severe on older machines with small, fixed-size address spaces, and special "leak detection" tools were commonly written to root them out. With the advent of virtual memory, it is unfortunately easier to be sloppy about wasting a bit of memory (although when you run out of memory on a VM machine, it means you've got a *real* leak!). See aliasing bug, fandango on core, smash the stack, precedence lossage, overrun screw, leaky heap, leak.
memory smash [XEROX PARC] n. Writing through a pointer that doesn't point to what you think it does. This occasionally reduces your machine to a rubble of bits. Note that this is subtly different from (and more general than) related terms such as a memory leak or fandango on core because it doesn't imply an allocation error or overrun condition.
menuitis /men`yoo-i:'tis/ n. Notional disease suffered by software with an obsessively simple-minded menu interface and no escape. Hackers find this intensely irritating and much prefer the flexibility of command-line or language-style interfaces, especially those customizable via macros or a special-purpose language in which one can encode useful hacks. See user-obsequious, drool-proof paper, WIMP Environment, for the rest of us.
mess-dos /mes-dos/ n. Derisory term for MS-DOS. Often followed by the ritual banishing "Just say No!" See MS-DOS. Most hackers (even many MS-DOS hackers) loathe MS-DOS for its single-tasking nature, its limits on application size, its nasty primitive interface, and its ties to IBMness (see fear and loathing). Also `mess-loss', `messy-dos', `mess-dog', `mess-dross', `mush-dos', and various combinations thereof. In Ireland and the U.K. it is even sometimes called `Domestos' after a brand of toilet cleanser.
meta /me't*/ or /may't*/ or (Commonwealth) /mee't*/ [from analytic philosophy] adj.,pref. One level of description up. A metasyntactic variable is a variable in notation used to describe syntax, and meta-language is language used to describe language. This is difficult to explain briefly, but much hacker humor turns on deliberate confusion between meta-levels. See Humor, Hacker.
meta bit n. The top bit of an 8-bit character, which is on in character values 128--255. Also called high bit, alt bit, or hobbit. Some terminals and consoles (see space-cadet keyboard) have a META shift key. Others (including, *mirabile dictu*, keyboards on IBM PC-class machines) have an ALT key. See also bucky bits.
Historical note: although in modern usage shaped by a universe of 8-bit bytes the meta bit is invariably hex 80 (octal 0200), things were different on earlier machines with 36-bit words and 9-bit bytes. The MIT and Stanford keyboards (see space-cadet keyboard) generated hex 100 (octal 400) from their meta keys.
metasyntactic variable n. A name used in examples and understood to stand for whatever thing is under discussion, or any random member of a class of things under discussion. The word foo is the canonical example. To avoid confusion, hackers never (well, hardly ever) use `foo' or other words like it as permanent names for anything. In filenames, a common convention is that any filename beginning with a metasyntactic-variable name is a scratch file that may be deleted at any time.
To some extent, the list of one's preferred metasyntactic variables is a cultural signature. They occur both in series (used for related groups of variables or objects) and as singletons. Here are a few common signatures:
foo, bar, baz, quux, quuux, quuuux...: MIT/Stanford usage, now found everywhere (thanks largely to early versions of this lexicon!). At MIT (but not at Stanford), baz dropped out of use for a while in the 1970s and '80s. A common recent mutation of this sequence inserts qux before quux. bazola, ztesch: Stanford (from mid-'70s on). foo, bar, thud, grunt: This series was popular at CMU. Other CMU-associated variables include gorp. foo, bar, fum: This series is reported to be common at XEROX PARC. fred, barney: See the entry for fred. These tend to be Britishisms. toto, titi, tata, tutu: Standard series of metasyntactic variables among francophones. corge, grault, flarp: Popular at Rutgers University and among GOSMACS hackers. zxc, spqr, wombat: Cambridge University (England). shme Berkeley, GeoWorks, Ingres. Pronounced /shme/ with a short /e/. foo, bar, zot Helsinki University of Technology, Finland. blarg, wibble New ZealandOf all these, only `foo' and `bar' are universal (and baz nearly so). The compounds foobar and `foobaz' also enjoy very wide currency.
Some jargon terms are also used as metasyntactic names; barf and mumble, for example. See also Commonwealth Hackish for discussion of numerous metasyntactic variables found in Great Britain and the Commonwealth.
MFTL /M-F-T-L/ [abbreviation: `My Favorite Toy Language']
The first great goal in the mind of the designer of an MFTL is usually to write a compiler for it, then bootstrap the design away from contamination by lesser languages by writing a compiler for it in itself. Thus, the standard put-down question at an MFTL talk is "Has it been used for anything besides its own compiler?". On the other hand, a language that *cannot* be used to write its own compiler is beneath contempt. See break-even point.
(On a related note, Doug McIlroy once proposed a test of the generality and utility of a language and the operating system under which it is compiled: "Is the output of a FORTRAN program acceptable as input to the FORTRAN compiler?" In other words, can you write programs that write programs? (See toolsmith.) Alarming numbers of (language, OS) pairs fail this test, particularly when the language is FORTRAN; aficionados are quick to point out that UNIX (even using FORTRAN) passes it handily. That the test could ever be failed is only surprising to those who have had the good fortune to have worked only under modern systems which lack OS-supported and -imposed "file types".)
mickey n. The resolution unit of mouse movement. It has been suggested that the `disney' will become a benchmark unit for animation graphics performance.
mickey mouse program n. North American equivalent of a noddy (that is, trivial) program. Doesn't necessarily have the belittling connotations of mainstream slang "Oh, that's just mickey mouse stuff!"; sometimes trivial programs can be very useful.
MicroDroid [USENET] n. A Microsoft employee, esp. one who posts to various operating-system advocacy newsgroups. MicroDroids post follow-ups to any messages critical of Microsoft's operating systems, and often end up sounding like visiting Mormon missionaries.
microfloppies n. 3.5-inch floppies, as opposed to 5.25-inch vanilla or mini-floppies and the now-obsolete 8-inch variety. This term may be headed for obsolescence as 5.25-inchers pass out of use, only to be revived if anybody floats a sub-3-inch floppy standard. See stiffy, minifloppies.
microfortnight n. 1/1000000 of the fundamental unit of time in the Furlong/Firkin/Fortnight system of measurement; 1.2096 sec. (A furlong is 1/8th of a mile; a firkin is 1/4th of a barrel; the mass unit of the system is taken to be a firkin of water). The VMS operating system has a lot of tuning parameters that you can set with the SYSGEN utility, and one of these is TIMEPROMPTWAIT, the time the system will wait for an operator to set the correct date and time at boot if it realizes that the current value is bogus. This time is specified in microfortnights!
Multiple uses of the millifortnight (about 20 minutes) and nanofortnight have also been reported.
microLenat /mi:`-kroh-len'-*t/ n. The unit of bogosity, written uL; the consensus is that this is the largest unit practical for everyday use. The microLenat, originally invented by David Jefferson, was promulgated as an attack against noted computer scientist Doug Lenat by a tenured graduate student at CMU. 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.
microReid /mi:'kroh-reed/ n. See bogosity.
Microsloth Windows /mi:'kroh-sloth` win'dohz/ n. Hackerism for `Microsoft Windows', a windowing system for the IBM-PC which is so limited by bug-for-bug compatibility with mess-dos that it is agonizingly slow on anything less than a fast 486. Also just called `Windoze', with the implication that you can fall asleepm waiting for it to do anything; the latter term is extremely common on USENET. Compare X, sun-stools.
microtape /mi:'kroh-tayp/ n. Occasionally used to mean a DECtape, as opposed to a macrotape. A DECtape is a small reel, about 4 inches in diameter, of magnetic tape about an inch wide. Unlike those for today's macrotapes, microtape drivers allowed random access to the data, and therefore could be used to support file systems and even for swapping (this was generally done purely for hack value, as they were far too slow for practical use). In their heyday they were used in pretty much the same ways one would now use a floppy disk: as a small, portable way to save and transport files and programs. Apparently the term `microtape' was actually the official term used within DEC for these tapes until someone coined the word `DECtape', which, of course, sounded sexier to the marketroids; another version of the story holds that someone discovered a conflict with another company's `microtape' trademark.
middle-endian adj. Not big-endian or little-endian. Used of perverse byte orders such as 3-4-1-2 or 2-1-4-3, occasionally found in the packed-decimal formats of minicomputer manufacturers who shall remain nameless. See NUXI Problem.
milliLampson /mil'*-lamp`sn/ n. A unit of talking speed, abbreviated mL. Most people run about 200 milliLampsons. The eponymous Butler Lampson (a CS theorist and systems implementor highly regarded among hackers) goes at 1000. A few people speak faster. This unit is sometimes used to compare the (sometimes widely disparate) rates at which people can generate ideas and actually emit them in speech. For example, noted computer architect C. Gordon Bell (designer of the PDP-11) is said, with some awe, to think at about 1200 mL but only talk at about 300; he is frequently reduced to fragments of sentences as his mouth tries to keep up with his speeding brain.
minifloppies n. 5.25-inch vanilla floppy disks, as opposed to 3.5-inch or microfloppies and the now-obsolescent 8-inch variety. At one time, this term was a trademark of Shugart Associates for their SA-400 minifloppy drive. Nobody paid any attention. See stiffy.
MIPS /mips/ [abbreviation] n.
misbug /mis-buhg/ [MIT] n. An unintended property of a program that turns out to be useful; something that should have been a bug but turns out to be a feature. Usage: rare. Compare green lightning. See miswart.
misfeature /mis-fee'chr/ or /mis'fee`chr/ n. A feature that eventually causes lossage, possibly because it is not adequate for a new situation that has evolved. Since it results from a deliberate and properly implemented feature, a misfeature is not a bug. Nor is it a simple unforeseen side effect; the term implies that the feature in question was carefully planned, but its long-term consequences were not accurately or adequately predicted (which is quite different from not having thought ahead at all). A misfeature can be a particularly stubborn problem to resolve, because fixing it usually involves a substantial philosophical change to the structure of the system involved.
Many misfeatures (especially in user-interface design) arise because the designers/implementors mistake their personal tastes for laws of nature. Often a former feature becomes a misfeature because trade-offs were made whose parameters subsequently change (possibly only in the judgment of the implementors). "Well, yeah, it is kind of a misfeature that file names are limited to six characters, but the original implementors wanted to save directory space and we're stuck with it for now."
Missed'Em-Five n. Pejorative hackerism for AT&T System V UNIX, generally used by BSD partisans in a bigoted mood. (The synonym `SysVile' is also encountered.) See software bloat, Berzerkeley.
missile address n. See ICBM Address.
miswart /mis-wort/ [from wart by analogy with misbug] n. A feature that superficially appears to be a wart but has been determined to be the Right Thing. For example, in some versions of the EMACS text editor, the `transpose characters' command exchanges the character under the cursor with the one before it on the screen, *except* when the cursor is at the end of a line, in which case the two characters before the cursor are exchanged. While this behavior is perhaps surprising, and certainly inconsistent, it has been found through extensive experimentation to be what most users want. This feature is a miswart.
moby /moh'bee/ [MIT: seems to have been in use among model railroad fans years ago. Derived from Melville's "Moby Dick" (some say from `Moby Pickle').]
This term entered hackerdom with the Fabritek 256K memory added to the MIT AI PDP-6 machine, which was considered unimaginably huge when it was installed in the 1960s (at a time when a more typical memory size for a timesharing system was 72 kilobytes). Thus, a moby is classically 256K 36-bit words, the size of a PDP-6 or PDP-10 moby. Back when address registers were narrow the term was more generally useful, because when a computer had virtual memory mapping, it might actually have more physical memory attached to it than any one program could access directly. One could then say "This computer has 6 mobies" meaning that the ratio of physical memory to address space is 6, without having to say specifically how much memory there actually is. That in turn implied that the computer could timeshare six `full-sized' programs without having to swap programs between memory and disk.
Nowadays the low cost of processor logic means that address spaces are usually larger than the most physical memory you can cram onto a machine, so most systems have much *less* than one theoretical `native' moby of core. Also, more modern memory-management techniques (esp. paging) make the `moby count' less significant. However, there is one series of widely-used chips for which the term could stand to be revived --- the Intel 8088 and 80286 with their incredibly brain-damaged segmented-memory designs. On these, a `moby' would be the 1-megabyte address span of a segment/offset pair (by coincidence, a PDP-10 moby was exactly 1 megabyte of 9-bit bytes).
mockingbird n. Software that intercepts communications (especially login transactions) between users and hosts and provides system-like responses to the users while saving their responses (especially account IDs and passwords). A special case of Trojan Horse.
mode n. A general state, usually used with an adjective describing the state. Use of the word `mode' rather than `state' implies that the state is extended over time, and probably also that some activity characteristic of that state is being carried out. "No time to hack; I'm in thesis mode." In its jargon sense, `mode' is most often attributed to people, though it is sometimes applied to programs and inanimate objects. In particular, see hack mode, day mode, night mode, demo mode, fireworks mode, and yoyo mode; also talk mode.
One also often hears the verbs `enable' and `disable' used in connection with jargon modes. Thus, for example, a sillier way of saying "I'm going to crash" is "I'm going to enable crash mode now". One might also hear a request to "disable flame mode, please".
In a usage much closer to techspeak, a mode is a special state that certain user interfaces must pass into in order to perform certain functions. For example, in order to insert characters into a document in the UNIX editor `vi', one must type the "i" key, which invokes the "Insert" command. The effect of this command is to put vi into "insert mode", in which typing the "i" key has a quite different effect (to wit, it inserts an "i" into the document). One must then hit another special key, "ESC", in order to leave "insert mode". Nowadays, modeful interfaces are generally considered losing but survive in quite a few widely used tools built in less enlightened times.
mode bit n. A flag, usually in hardware, that selects between two (usually quite different) modes of operation. The connotations are different from flag bit in that mode bits are mainly written during a boot or set-up phase, are seldom explicitly read, and seldom change over the lifetime of an ordinary program. The classic example was the EBCDIC-vs.-ASCII bit (1#12) of the Program Status Word of the IBM 360. Another was the bit on a PDP-12 that controlled whether it ran the PDP-8 or the LINC instruction set.
modulo /mod'yu-loh/ prep. Except for. An overgeneralization of mathematical terminology; one can consider saying that 4 equals 22 except for the 9s (4 = 22 mod 9). "Well, LISP seems to work okay now, modulo that GC bug." "I feel fine today modulo a slight headache."
molly-guard /mol'ee-gard/ [University of Illinois] n. A shield to prevent tripping of some Big Red Switch by clumsy or ignorant hands. Originally used of the plexiglass covers improvised for the BRS on an IBM 4341 after a programmer's toddler daughter (named Molly) frobbed it twice in one day. Later generalized to covers over stop/reset switches on disk drives and networking equipment.
Mongolian Hordes technique [poss. from the Sixties counterculture expression `Mongolian clusterfuck' for a public orgy] n. Development by gang bang. Implies that large numbers of inexperienced programmers are being put on a job better performed by a few skilled ones. Also called `Chinese Army technique'; see also Brooks'S Law.
monkey up vt. To hack together hardware for a particular task, especially a one-shot job. Connotes an extremely crufty and consciously temporary solution. Compare hack up, kluge up, cruft together.
monkey, scratch n. See scratch monkey.
monty /mon'tee/ [US Geological Survey] n. A program with a ludicrously complex user interface written to perform extremely trivial tasks. An example would be a menu-driven, button clicking, pulldown, pop-up windows program for listing directories. The original monty was an infamous weather-reporting program, Monty the Amazing Weather Man, written at the USGS. Monty had a widget-packed X-window interface with over 200 buttons; and all monty actually *did* was FTP files off the network.
Moof /moof/ [MAC users]
Moore'S Law /morz law/ prov. The observation that the logic density of silicon integrated circuits has closely followed the curve (bits per square inch) = 2^((t - 1962)) where t is time in years; that is, the amount of information storable on a given amount of silicon has roughly doubled every year since the technology was invented. See also Parkinson'S Law Of Data.
moose call n. See whalesong.
moria /mor'ee-*/ n. Like nethack and rogue, one of the large PD Dungeons-and-Dragons-like simulation games, available for a wide range of machines and operating systems. The name is from Tolkien's Mines of Moria; compare elder days, elvish. The game is extremely addictive and a major consumer of time better used for hacking.
MOTAS /moh-tahz/ [USENET: Member Of The Appropriate Sex, after MOTOS and MOTSS] n. A potential or (less often) actual sex partner. See also SO.
MOTOS /moh-tohs/ [acronym from the 1970 U.S. census forms via USENET: Member Of The Opposite Sex] n. A potential or (less often) actual sex partner. See MOTAS, MOTSS, SO. Less common than MOTSS or MOTAS, which have largely displaced it.
MOTSS /mots/ or /M-O-T-S-S/ [from the 1970 U.S. census forms via USENET] n. Member Of The Same Sex, esp. one considered as a possible sexual partner. The gay-issues newsgroup on USENET is called soc.motss. See MOTOS and MOTAS, which derive from it. See also SO.
mouse ahead vi. Point-and-click analog of `type ahead'. To manipulate a computer's pointing device (almost always a mouse in this usage, but not necessarily) and its selection or command buttons before a computer program is ready to accept such input, in anticipation of the program accepting the input. Handling this properly is rare, but it can help make a WIMP Environment much more usable, assuming the users are familiar with the behavior of the user interface.
mouse around vi. To explore public portions of a large system, esp. a network such as Internet via FTP or TELNET, looking for interesting stuff to snarf.
mouse belt n. See rat belt.
mouse droppings [MS-DOS] n. Pixels (usually single) that are not properly restored when the mouse pointer moves away from a particular location on the screen, producing the appearance that the mouse pointer has left droppings behind. The major causes for this problem are programs that write to the screen memory corresponding to the mouse pointer's current location without hiding the mouse pointer first, and mouse drivers that do not quite support the graphics mode in use.
mouse elbow n. A tennis-elbow-like fatigue syndrome resulting from excessive use of a WIMP Environment. Similarly, `mouse shoulder'; GLS reports that he used to get this a lot before he taught himself to be ambimoustrous.
mouso /mow'soh/ n. [by analogy with `typo'] An error in mouse usage resulting in an inappropriate selection or graphic garbage on the screen. Compare thinko, braino.
MS-DOS /M-S-dos/ [MicroSoft Disk Operating System] n. A clone of CP/M for the 8088 crufted together in 6 weeks by hacker Tim Paterson, who is said to have regretted it ever since. Numerous features, including vaguely UNIX-like but rather broken support for subdirectories, I/O redirection, and pipelines, were hacked into 2.0 and subsequent versions; as a result, there are two or more incompatible versions of many system calls, and MS-DOS programmers can never agree on basic things like what character to use as an option switch or whether to be case-sensitive. The resulting mess is now the highest-unit-volume OS in history. Often known simply as DOS, which annoys people familiar with other similarly abbreviated operating systems (the name goes back to the mid-1960s, when it was attached to IBM's first disk operating system for the 360). The name further annoys those who know what the term operating system does (or ought to) connote; DOS is more properly a set of relatively simple interrupt services. Some people like to pronounce DOS like "dose", as in "I don't work on dose, man!", or to compare it to a dose of brain-damaging drugs (a slogan button in wide circulation among hackers exhorts: "MS-DOS: Just say No!"). See mess-dos, ill-behaved.
mu /moo/ The correct answer to the classic trick question "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?". Assuming that you have no wife or you have never beaten your wife, the answer "yes" is wrong because it implies that you used to beat your wife and then stopped, but "no" is worse because it suggests that you have one and are still beating her. According to various Discordians and Douglas Hofstadter the correct answer is usually "mu", a Japanese word alleged to mean "Your question cannot be answered because it depends on incorrect assumptions". Hackers tend to be sensitive to logical inadequacies in language, and many have adopted this suggestion with enthusiasm. The word `mu' is actually from Chinese, meaning `nothing'; it is used in mainstream Japanese in that sense, but native speakers do not recognize the Discordian question-denying use. It almost certainly derives from overgeneralization of the answer in the following well-known Rinzei Zen teaching riddle:
A monk asked Joshu, "Does a dog have the Buddha nature?" Joshu retorted, "Mu!"See also Has The X Nature, AI Koans, and Douglas Hofstadter's "G"odel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid" (pointer in the Bibliography in Appendix C).
MUD /muhd/ [acronym, Multi-User Dungeon; alt. Multi-User Dimension]
Historically, MUDs (and their more recent progeny with names of MU- form) derive from a hack by Richard Bartle and Roy Trubshaw on the University of Essex's DEC-10 in the early 1980s; descendants of that game still exist today and are sometimes generically called BartleMUDs. There is a widespread myth (repeated, unfortunately, by earlier versions of this lexicon) that the name MUD was trademarked to the commercial MUD run by Bartle on British Telecom (the motto: "You haven't *lived* 'til you've *died* on MUD!"); however, this is false --- Richard Bartle explicitly placed `MUD' in PD in 1985. BT was upset at this, as they had already printed trademark claims on some maps and posters, which were released and created the myth.
Students on the European academic networks quickly improved on the MUD concept, spawning several new MUDs (VAXMUD, AberMUD, LPMUD). Many of these had associated bulletin-board systems for social interaction. Because these had an image as `research' they often survived administrative hostility to BBSs in general. This, together with the fact that USENET feeds have been spotty and difficult to get in the U.K., made the MUDs major foci of hackish social interaction there.
AberMUD and other variants crossed the Atlantic around 1988 and quickly gained popularity in the U.S.; they became nuclei for large hacker communities with only loose ties to traditional hackerdom (some observers see parallels with the growth of USENET in the early 1980s). The second wave of MUDs (TinyMUD and variants) tended to emphasize social interaction, puzzles, and cooperative world-building as opposed to combat and competition. In 1991, over 50% of MUD sites are of a third major variety, LPMUD, which synthesizes the combat/puzzle aspects of AberMUD and older systems with the extensibility of TinyMud. The trend toward greater programmability and flexibility will doubtless continue.
The state of the art in MUD design is still moving very rapidly, with new simulation designs appearing (seemingly) every month. There is now (early 1991) a move afoot to deprecate the term MUD itself, as newer designs exhibit an exploding variety of names corresponding to the different simulation styles being explored. See also bonk/oif, FOD, link-dead, mudhead, talk mode.
muddie n. Syn. mudhead. More common in Great Britain, possibly because system administrators there like to mutter "bloody muddies" when annoyed at the species.
mudhead n. Commonly used to refer to a MUD player who eats, sleeps, and breathes MUD. Mudheads have been known to fail their degrees, drop out, etc., with the consolation, however, that they made wizard level. When encountered in person, on a MUD, or in a chat system, all a mudhead will talk about is three topics: the tactic, character, or wizard that is supposedly always unfairly stopping him/her from becoming a wizard or beating a favorite MUD; why the specific game he/she has experience with is so much better than any other; and the MUD he or she is writing or going to write because his/her design ideas are so much better than in any existing MUD. See also wannabee.
To the anthropologically literate, this term may recall the Zuni/Hopi legend of the mudheads or `koyemshi', mythical half-formed children of an unnatural union. Figures representing them act as clowns in Zuni sacred ceremonies.
multician /muhl-ti'shn/ [coined at Honeywell, ca. 1970] n. Competent user of Multics. Perhaps oddly, no one has ever promoted the analogous `Unician'.
Multics /muhl'tiks/ n. [from "MULTiplexed Information and Computing Service"] An early (late 1960s) timesharing operating system co-designed by a consortium including MIT, GE, and Bell Laboratories. Multics was very innovative for its time --- among other things, it introduced the idea of treating all devices uniformly as special files. All the members but GE eventually pulled out after determining that second-system effect had bloated Multics to the point of practical unusability (the `lean' predecessor in question was CTSS). Honeywell commercialized Multics after buying out GE's computer group, but it was never very successful (among other things, on some versions one was commonly required to enter a password to log out). One of the developers left in the lurch by the project's breakup was Ken Thompson, a circumstance which led directly to the birth of UNIX. For this and other reasons, aspects of the Multics design remain a topic of occasional debate among hackers. See also brain-damaged and GCOS.
multitask n. Often used of humans in the same meaning it has for computers, to describe a person doing several things at once (but see thrash). The term `multiplex', from communications technology (meaning to handle more than one channel at the same time), is used similarly.
mumblage /muhm'bl*j/ n. The topic of one's mumbling (see mumble). "All that mumblage" is used like "all that stuff" when it is not quite clear how the subject of discussion works, or like "all that crap" when `mumble' is being used as an implicit replacement for pejoratives.
munch [often confused with mung, q.v.] vt. To transform information in a serial fashion, often requiring large amounts of computation. To trace down a data structure. Related to crunch and nearly synonymous with grovel, but connotes less pain.
munching n. Exploration of security holes of someone else's computer for thrills, notoriety, or to annoy the system manager. Compare cracker. See also hacked off.
munching squares n. A display hack dating back to the PDP-1 (ca. 1962, reportedly discovered by Jackson Wright), which employs a trivial computation (repeatedly plotting the graph Y = X XOR T for successive values of T --- see HAKMEM items 146--148) to produce an impressive display of moving and growing squares that devour the screen. The initial value of T is treated as a parameter, which, when well-chosen, can produce amazing effects. Some of these, later (re)discovered on the LISP machine, have been christened `munching triangles' (try AND for XOR and toggling points instead of plotting them), `munching w's', and `munching mazes'. More generally, suppose a graphics program produces an impressive and ever-changing display of some basic form, foo, on a display terminal, and does it using a relatively simple program; then the program (or the resulting display) is likely to be referred to as `munching foos'. [This is a good example of the use of the word foo as a metasyntactic variable.]
munchkin /muhnch'kin/ [from the squeaky-voiced little people in L. Frank Baum's "The Wizard of Oz"] n. A teenage-or-younger micro enthusiast hacking BASIC or something else equally constricted. A term of mild derision --- munchkins are annoying but some grow up to be hackers after passing through a larval stage. The term urchin is also used. See also wannabee, bitty box.
mundane [from SF fandom] n.
mung /muhng/ [in 1960 at MIT, `Mash Until No Good'; sometime after that the derivation from the recursive acronym `Mung Until No Good' became standard] vt.
Like many early hacker terms, this one seems to have originated at TMRC; it was already in use there in 1958. Peter Samson (compiler of the original TMRC lexicon) thinks it may originally have been onomatopoeic for the sound of a relay spring (contact) being twanged. However, it is known that during the World Wars, `mung' was army slang for the ersatz creamed chipped beef better known as `SOS'.
munge /muhnj/ vt.
This term is often confused with mung and may derive from it, or possibly vice-versa.
Murphy'S Law prov. The correct, *original* Murphy's Law reads: "If there are two or more ways to do something, and one of those ways can result in a catastrophe, then someone will do it." This is a principle of defensive design, cited here because it is usually given in mutant forms less descriptive of the challenges of design for lusers. For example, you don't make a two-pin plug symmetrical and then label it `THIS WAY UP'; if it matters which way it is plugged in, then you make the design asymmetrical (see also the anecdote under magic smoke).
Edward A. Murphy, Jr. was one of the engineers on the rocket-sled experiments that were done by the U.S. Air Force in 1949 to test human acceleration tolerances (USAF project MX981). One experiment involved a set of 16 accelerometers mounted to different parts of the subject's body. There were two ways each sensor could be glued to its mount, and somebody methodically installed all 16 the wrong way around. Murphy then made the original form of his pronouncement, which the test subject (Major John Paul Stapp) quoted at a news conference a few days later.
Within months `Murphy's Law' had spread to various technical cultures connected to aerospace engineering. Before too many years had gone by variants had passed into the popular imagination, changing as they went. Most of these are variants on "Anything that can go wrong, will"; this is sometimes referred to as Finagle'S Law. The memetic drift apparent in these mutants clearly demonstrates Murphy's Law acting on itself!
music n. A common extracurricular interest of hackers (compare science-fiction fandom, oriental food; see also filk). Hackish folklore has long claimed that musical and programming abilities are closely related, and there has been at least one large-scale statistical study that supports this. Hackers, as a rule, like music and often develop musical appreciation in unusual and interesting directions. Folk music is very big in hacker circles; so is electronic music, and the sort of elaborate instrumental jazz/rock that used to be called `progressive' and isn't recorded much any more. The hacker's musical range tends to be wide; many can listen with equal appreciation to (say) Talking Heads, Yes, Gentle Giant, Pat Metheny, Scott Joplin, Tangerine Dream, King Sunny Ade, The Pretenders, or the Brandenburg Concerti. It is also apparently true that hackerdom includes a much higher concentration of talented amateur musicians than one would expect from a similar-sized control group of mundane types.
mutter vt. To quietly enter a command not meant for the ears, eyes, or fingers of ordinary mortals. Often used in `mutter an incantation'. See also wizard.