= V =

vadding /vad'ing/ [from VAD, a permutation of ADV (i.e., ADVENT), used to avoid a particular admin's continual search-and-destroy sweeps for the game] n. A leisure-time activity of certain hackers involving the covert exploration of the `secret' parts of large buildings --- basements, roofs, freight elevators, maintenance crawlways, steam tunnels, and the like. A few go so far as to learn locksmithing in order to synthesize vadding keys. The verb is `to vad' (compare phreaking; see also hack, sense 9). This term dates from the late 1970s, before which such activity was simply called `hacking'; the older usage is still prevalent at MIT.

The most extreme and dangerous form of vadding is `elevator rodeo', a.k.a. `elevator surfing', a sport played by wrasslin' down a thousand-pound elevator car with a 3-foot piece of string, and then exploiting this mastery in various stimulating ways (such as elevator hopping, shaft exploration, rat-racing, and the ever-popular drop experiments). Kids, don't try this at home! See also hobbit (sense 2).

vanilla [from the default flavor of ice cream in the U.S.] adj. Ordinary flavor, standard. When used of food, very often does not mean that the food is flavored with vanilla extract! For example, `vanilla wonton soup' means ordinary wonton soup, as opposed to hot-and-sour wonton soup. Applied to hardware and software, as in "Vanilla Version 7 UNIX can't run on a vanilla 11/34." Also used to orthogonalize chip nomenclature; for instance, a 74V00 means what TI calls a 7400, as distinct from a 74LS00, etc. This word differs from canonical in that the latter means `default', whereas vanilla simply means `ordinary'. For example, when hackers go on a great-wall, hot-and-sour wonton soup is the canonical wonton soup to get (because that is what most of them usually order) even though it isn't the vanilla wonton soup.

vannevar /van'*-var/ n. A bogus technological prediction or a foredoomed engineering concept, esp. one that fails by implicitly assuming that technologies develop linearly, incrementally, and in isolation from one another when in fact the learning curve tends to be highly nonlinear, revolutions are common, and competition is the rule. The prototype was Vannevar Bush's prediction of `electronic brains' the size of the Empire State Building with a Niagara-Falls-equivalent cooling system for their tubes and relays, a prediction made at a time when the semiconductor effect had already been demonstrated. Other famous vannevars have included magnetic-bubble memory, LISP machines, videotex, and a paper from the late 1970s that computed a purported ultimate limit on areal density for ICs that was in fact less than the routine densities of 5 years later.

vaporware /vay'pr-weir/ n. Products announced far in advance of any release (which may or may not actually take place). See also brochureware.

var /veir/ or /var/ n. Short for `variable'. Compare arg, param.

VAX /vaks/ n.

  1. [from Virtual Address eXtension] The most successful minicomputer design in industry history, possibly excepting its immediate ancestor, the PDP-11. Between its release in 1978 and its eclipse by killer micros after about 1986, the VAX was probably the hacker's favorite machine of them all, esp. after the 1982 release of 4.2 BSD UNIX (see BSD). Esp. noted for its large, assembler-programmer-friendly instruction set --- an asset that became a liability after the RISC revolution.
  2. A major brand of vacuum cleaner in Britain. Cited here because its alleged sales pitch, "Nothing sucks like a VAX!" became a sort of battle-cry of RISC partisans. It is even sometimes claimed that DEC actually entered a cross-licensing deal with the vacuum-Vax people that allowed them to market VAX computers in the U.K. in return for not challenging the vacuum cleaner trademark in the U.S.

It is sometimes claimed that this slogan was *not* actually used by the Vax vacuum-cleaner people, but was actually that of a rival brand called Electrolux (as in "Nothing sucks like..."). It has been reliably confirmed that Electrolux (a Swedish company) actually did use this slogan in the late 1960s; it has apparently become a classic example (used in textbooks) of the perils of not knowing the local idiom.

It appears, however, that the Vax people thought the slogan a sufficiently good idea to copy it. Several British hackers report that their promotions used it in 1986--1987, and we have one report from a New Zealander that the infamous slogan surfaced there in TV ads for the product as recently as 1992!

VAXectomy /vak-sek't*-mee/ [by analogy with `vasectomy'] n. A VAX removal. DEC's Microvaxen, especially, are much slower than newer RISC-based workstations such as the SPARC. Thus, if one knows one has a replacement coming, VAX removal can be cause for celebration.

VAXen /vak'sn/ [from `oxen', perhaps influenced by `vixen'] n. (alt. `vaxen') The plural canonically used among hackers for the DEC VAX computers. "Our installation has four PDP-10s and twenty vaxen." See boxen.

vaxherd n. /vaks'herd/ [from `oxherd'] A VAX operator.

vaxism /vak'sizm/ n. A piece of code that exhibits vaxocentrism in critical areas. Compare PC-Ism, unixism.

vaxocentrism /vak`soh-sen'trizm/ [analogy with `ethnocentrism'] n. A notional disease said to afflict C programmers who persist in coding according to certain assumptions that are valid (esp. under UNIX) on VAXen but false elsewhere. Among these are:

  1. The assumption that dereferencing a null pointer is safe because it is all bits 0, and location 0 is readable and 0. Problem: this may instead cause an illegal-address trap on non-VAXen, and even on VAXen under OSes other than BSD UNIX. Usually this is an implicit assumption of sloppy code (forgetting to check the pointer before using it), rather than deliberate exploitation of a misfeature.
  2. The assumption that characters are signed.
  3. The assumption that a pointer to any one type can freely be cast into a pointer to any other type. A stronger form of this is the assumption that all pointers are the same size and format, which means you don't have to worry about getting the casts or types correct in calls. Problem: this fails on word-oriented machines or others with multiple pointer formats.
  4. The assumption that the parameters of a routine are stored in memory, on a stack, contiguously, and in strictly ascending or descending order. Problem: this fails on many RISC architectures.
  5. The assumption that pointer and integer types are the same size, and that pointers can be stuffed into integer variables (and vice-versa) and drawn back out without being truncated or mangled. Problem: this fails on segmented architectures or word-oriented machines with funny pointer formats.
  6. The assumption that a data type of any size may begin at any byte address in memory (for example, that you can freely construct and dereference a pointer to a word- or greater-sized object at an odd char address). Problem: this fails on many (esp. RISC) architectures better optimized for HLL execution speed, and can cause an illegal address fault or bus error.
  7. The (related) assumption that there is no padding at the end of types and that in an array you can thus step right from the last byte of a previous component to the first byte of the next one. This is not only machine- but compiler-dependent.
  8. The assumption that memory address space is globally flat and that the array reference `foo[-1]' is necessarily valid. Problem: this fails at 0, or other places on segment-addressed machines like Intel chips (yes, segmentation is universally considered a brain-damaged way to design machines (see moby), but that is a separate issue).
  9. The assumption that objects can be arbitrarily large with no special considerations. Problem: this fails on segmented architectures and under non-virtual-addressing environments.
  10. The assumption that the stack can be as large as memory. Problem: this fails on segmented architectures or almost anything else without virtual addressing and a paged stack.
  11. The assumption that bits and addressable units within an object are ordered in the same way and that this order is a constant of nature. Problem: this fails on big-endian machines.
  12. The assumption that it is meaningful to compare pointers to different objects not located within the same array, or to objects of different types. Problem: the former fails on segmented architectures, the latter on word-oriented machines or others with multiple pointer formats.
  13. The assumption that an `int' is 32 bits, or (nearly equivalently) the assumption that `sizeof(int) == sizeof(long)'. Problem: this fails on PDP-11s, 286-based systems and even on 386 and 68000 systems under some compilers.
  14. The assumption that `argv[]' is writable. Problem: this fails in many embedded-systems C environments and even under a few flavors of UNIX.
Note that a programmer can validly be accused of vaxocentrism even if he or she has never seen a VAX. Some of these assumptions (esp. 2--5) were valid on the PDP-11, the original C machine, and became endemic years before the VAX. The terms `vaxocentricity' and `all-the-world's-a-VAX syndrome' have been used synonymously.

vdiff /vee'dif/ v.,n. Visual diff. The operation of finding differences between two files by eyeball search. The term `optical diff' has also been reported, and is sometimes more specifically used for the act of superimposing two nearly identical printouts on one another and holding them up to a light to spot differences. Though this method is poor for detecting omissions in the `rear' file, it can also be used with printouts of graphics, a claim few if any diff programs can make. See diff.

veeblefester /vee'b*l-fes`tr/ [from the "Born Loser" comix via Commodore; prob. originally from "Mad" Magazine's `Veeblefeetzer' parodies ca. 1960] n. Any obnoxious person engaged in the (alleged) professions of marketing or management. Antonym of hacker. Compare suit, marketroid.

ventilator card n. Syn. lace card.

Venus flytrap [after the insect-eating plant] n. See firewall machine.

verbage /ver'b*j/ n. A deliberate misspelling and mispronunciation of verbiage that assimilates it to the word `garbage'. Compare content-free. More pejorative than `verbiage'.

verbiage n. When the context involves a software or hardware system, this refers to documentation. This term borrows the connotations of mainstream `verbiage' to suggest that the documentation is of marginal utility and that the motives behind its production have little to do with the ostensible subject.

Version 7 alt. V7 /vee' se'vn/ n. The 1978 unsupported release of UNIX ancestral to all current commercial versions. Before the release of the POSIX/SVID standards, V7's features were often treated as a UNIX portability baseline. See BSD, USG UNIX, UNIX. Some old-timers impatient with commercialization and kernel bloat still maintain that V7 was the Last True UNIX.

vgrep /vee'grep/ v.,n. Visual grep. The operation of finding patterns in a file optically rather than digitally (also called an `optical grep'). See grep; compare vdiff.

vi /V-I/, *not* /vi:/ and *never* /siks/ [from `Visual Interface'] n. A screen editor crufted together by Bill Joy for an early BSD release. Became the de facto standard UNIX editor and a nearly undisputed hacker favorite outside of MIT until the rise of EMACS after about 1984. Tends to frustrate new users no end, as it will neither take commands while expecting input text nor vice versa, and the default setup provides no indication of which mode the editor is in (one correspondent accordingly reports that he has often heard the editor's name pronounced /vi:l/). Nevertheless it is still widely used (about half the respondents in a 1991 USENET poll preferred it), and even EMACS fans often resort to it as a mail editor and for small editing jobs (mainly because it starts up faster than the bulkier versions of EMACS). See holy wars.

videotex n. obs. An electronic service offering people the privilege of paying to read the weather on their television screens instead of having somebody read it to them for free while they brush their teeth. The idea bombed everywhere it wasn't government-subsidized, because by the time videotex was practical the installed base of personal computers could hook up to timesharing services and do the things for which videotex might have been worthwhile better and cheaper. Videotex planners badly overestimated both the appeal of getting information from a computer and the cost of local intelligence at the user's end. Like the gorilla arm effect, this has been a cautionary tale to hackers ever since. See also vannevar.

virgin adj. Unused; pristine; in a known initial state. "Let's bring up a virgin system and see if it crashes again." (Esp. useful after contracting a virus through SEX.) Also, by extension, buffers and the like within a program that have not yet been used.

virtual [via the technical term `virtual memory', prob. from the term `virtual image' in optics] adj.

  1. Common alternative to logical; often used to refer to the artificial objects (like addressable virtual memory larger than physical memory) created by a computer system to help the system control access to shared resources.
  2. Simulated; performing the functions of something that isn't really there. An imaginative child's doll may be a virtual playmate. Oppose real.

virtual Friday n. (also `logical Friday') The last day before an extended weekend, if that day is not a `real' Friday. For example, the U.S. holiday Thanksgiving is always on a Thursday. The next day is often also a holiday or taken as an extra day off, in which case Wednesday of that week is a virtual Friday (and Thursday is a virtual Saturday, as is Friday). There are also `virtual Mondays' that are actually Tuesdays, after the three-day weekends associated with many national holidays in the U.S.

virtual reality n.

  1. Computer simulations that use 3-D graphics and devices such as the Dataglove to allow the user to interact with the simulation. See cyberspace.
  2. A form of network interaction incorporating aspects of role-playing games, interactive theater, improvisational comedy, and `true confessions' magazines. In a virtual reality forum (such as USENET's alt.callahans newsgroup or the MUD experiments on Internet), interaction between the participants is written like a shared novel complete with scenery, `foreground characters' that may be personae utterly unlike the people who write them, and common `background characters' manipulable by all parties. The one iron law is that you may not write irreversible changes to a character without the consent of the person who `owns' it. Otherwise anything goes. See bamf, cyberspace.

virtual shredder n. The jargonic equivalent of the bit bucket at shops using IBM's VM/CMS operating system. VM/CMS officially supports a whole bestiary of virtual card readers, virtual printers, and other phantom devices; these are used to supply some of the same capabilities UNIX gets from pipes and I/O redirection.

virus [from the obvious analogy with biological viruses, via SF] n. A cracker program that searches out other programs and `infects' them by embedding a copy of itself in them, so that they become Trojan Horses. When these programs are executed, the embedded virus is executed too, thus propagating the `infection'. This normally happens invisibly to the user. Unlike a worm, a virus cannot infect other computers without assistance. It is propagated by vectors such as humans trading programs with their friends (see SEX). The virus may do nothing but propagate itself and then allow the program to run normally. Usually, however, after propagating silently for a while, it starts doing things like writing cute messages on the terminal or playing strange tricks with the display (some viruses include nice display hacks). Many nasty viruses, written by particularly perversely minded crackers, do irreversible damage, like nuking all the user's files.

In the 1990s, viruses have become a serious problem, especially among IBM PC and Macintosh users (the lack of security on these machines enables viruses to spread easily, even infecting the operating system). The production of special anti-virus software has become an industry, and a number of exaggerated media reports have caused outbreaks of near hysteria among users; many lusers tend to blame *everything* that doesn't work as they had expected on virus attacks. Accordingly, this sense of `virus' has passed not only into techspeak but into also popular usage (where it is often incorrectly used to denote a worm or even a Trojan Horse). See phage; compare back door; see also UNIX Conspiracy.

visionary n.

  1. One who hacks vision, in the sense of an Artificial Intelligence researcher working on the problem of getting computers to `see' things using TV cameras. (There isn't any problem in sending information from a TV camera to a computer. The problem is, how can the computer be programmed to make use of the camera information? See SMOP, AI-Complete.)
  2. [IBM] One who reads the outside literature. At IBM, apparently, such a penchant is viewed with awe and wonder.

VMS /V-M-S/ n. DEC's proprietary operating system for its VAX minicomputer; one of the seven or so environments that loom largest in hacker folklore. Many UNIX fans generously concede that VMS would probably be the hacker's favorite commercial OS if UNIX didn't exist; though true, this makes VMS fans furious. One major hacker gripe with VMS concerns its slowness --- thus the following limerick:

        There once was a system called VMS
        Of cycles by no means abstemious.
             It's chock-full of hacks
             And runs on a VAX
        And makes my poor stomach all squeamious.
                                         --- The Great Quux
See also VAX, TOPS-10, TOPS-20, UNIX, runic.

voice vt. To phone someone, as opposed to emailing them or connecting in talk mode. "I'm busy now; I'll voice you later."

voice-net n. Hackish way of referring to the telephone system, analogizing it to a digital network. USENET sig blocks not uncommonly include the sender's phone next to a "Voice:" or "Voice-Net:" header; common variants of this are "Voicenet" and "V-Net". Compare paper-net, snail-mail.

voodoo programming [from George Bush's "voodoo economics"] n. The use by guess or cookbook of an obscure or hairy system, feature, or algorithm that one does not truly understand. The implication is that the technique may not work, and if it doesn't, one will never know why. Almost synonymous with black magic, except that black magic typically isn't documented and *nobody* understands it. Compare magic, deep magic, heavy wizardry, rain dance, cargo cult programming, wave a dead chicken.

VR // [MUD] n. On-line abbrev for virtual reality, as opposed to RL.

Vulcan nerve pinch n. [from the old "Star Trek" TV series via Commodore Amiga hackers] The keyboard combination that forces a soft-boot or jump to ROM monitor (on machines that support such a feature). On many micros this is Ctrl-Alt-Del; on Suns, L1-A; on some Macintoshes, it is -! Also called three-finger salute. Compare quadruple bucky.

vulture capitalist n. Pejorative hackerism for `venture capitalist', deriving from the common practice of pushing contracts that deprive inventors of control over their own innovations and most of the money they ought to have made from them.