wabbit /wab'it/ [almost certainly from Elmer Fudd's immortal line "You wascawwy wabbit!"] n.
WAITS /wayts/ n. The mutant cousin of TOPS-10 used on a handful of systems at SAIL up to 1990. There was never an `official' expansion of WAITS (the name itself having been arrived at by a rather sideways process), but it was frequently glossed as `West-coast Alternative to ITS'. Though WAITS was less visible than ITS, there was frequent exchange of people and ideas between the two communities, and innovations pioneered at WAITS exerted enormous indirect influence. The early screen modes of EMACS, for example, were directly inspired by WAITS's `E' editor --- one of a family of editors that were the first to do `real-time editing', in which the editing commands were invisible and where one typed text at the point of insertion/overwriting. The modern style of multi-region windowing is said to have originated there, and WAITS alumni at XEROX PARC and elsewhere played major roles in the developments that led to the XEROX Star, the Macintosh, and the Sun workstations. Bucky Bits were also invented there --- thus, the ALT key on every IBM PC is a WAITS legacy. One notable WAITS feature seldom duplicated elsewhere was a news-wire interface that allowed WAITS hackers to read, store, and filter AP and UPI dispatches from their terminals; the system also featured a still-unusual level of support for what is now called `multimedia' computing, allowing analog audio and video signals to be switched to programming terminals.
waldo /wol'doh/ [From Robert A. Heinlein's story "Waldo"]
walk n.,vt. Traversal of a data structure, especially an array or linked-list data structure in core. See also codewalker, silly walk, clobber.
walk off the end of vt. To run past the end of an array, list, or medium after stepping through it --- a good way to land in trouble. Often the result of an off-by-one error. Compare clobber, roach, smash the stack.
walking drives n. An occasional failure mode of magnetic-disk drives back in the days when they were huge, clunky washing machines. Those old dinosaur parts carried terrific angular momentum; the combination of a misaligned spindle or worn bearings and stick-slip interactions with the floor could cause them to `walk' across a room, lurching alternate corners forward a couple of millimeters at a time. There is a legend about a drive that walked over to the only door to the computer room and jammed it shut; the staff had to cut a hole in the wall in order to get at it! Walking could also be induced by certain patterns of drive access (a fast seek across the whole width of the disk, followed by a slow seek in the other direction). Some bands of old-time hackers figured out how to induce disk-accessing patterns that would do this to particular drive models and held disk-drive races.
wall [WPI] interj.
It is said that sense 1 came from the idiom `like talking to a blank wall'. It was originally used in situations where, after you had carefully answered a question, the questioner stared at you blankly, clearly having understood nothing that was explained. You would then throw out a "Hello, wall?" to elicit some sort of response from the questioner. Later, confused questioners began voicing "Wall?" themselves.
wall follower n. A person or algorithm that compensates for lack of sophistication or native stupidity by efficiently following some simple procedure shown to have been effective in the past. Used of an algorithm, this is not necessarily pejorative; it recalls `Harvey Wallbanger', the winning robot in an early AI contest (named, of course, after the cocktail). Harvey successfully solved mazes by keeping a `finger' on one wall and running till it came out the other end. This was inelegant, but it was mathematically guaranteed to work on simply-connected mazes --- and, in fact, Harvey outperformed more sophisticated robots that tried to `learn' each maze by building an internal representation of it. Used of humans, the term *is* pejorative and implies an uncreative, bureaucratic, by-the-book mentality. See also code grinder, droid.
wall time n. (also `wall clock time')
wango /wang'goh/ n. Random bit-level grovelling going on in a system during some unspecified operation. Often used in combination with mumble. For example: "You start with the `.o' file, run it through this postprocessor that does mumble-wango --- and it comes out a snazzy object-oriented executable."
wank /wangk/ [Columbia University: prob. by mutation from Commonwealth slang v. `wank', to masturbate] n.,v. Used much as hack is elsewhere, as a noun denoting a clever technique or person or the result of such cleverness. May describe (negatively) the act of hacking for hacking's sake ("Quit wanking, let's go get supper!") or (more positively) a wizard. Adj. `wanky' describes something particularly clever (a person, program, or algorithm). Conversations can also get wanky when there are too many wanks involved. This excess wankiness is signalled by an overload of the `wankometer' (compare bogometer). When the wankometer overloads, the conversation's subject must be changed, or all non-wanks will leave. Compare `neep-neeping' (under neep-neep). Usage: U.S. only. In Britain and the Commonwealth this word is *extremely* rude and is best avoided unless one intends to give offense.
wannabee /won'*-bee/ (also, more plausibly, spelled `wannabe') [from a term recently used to describe Madonna fans who dress, talk, and act like their idol; prob. originally from biker slang] n. A would-be hacker. The connotations of this term differ sharply depending on the age and exposure of the subject. Used of a person who is in or might be entering larval stage, it is semi-approving; such wannabees can be annoying but most hackers remember that they, too, were once such creatures. When used of any professional programmer, CS academic, writer, or suit, it is derogatory, implying that said person is trying to cuddle up to the hacker mystique but doesn't, fundamentally, have a prayer of understanding what it is all about. Overuse of terms from this lexicon is often an indication of the wannabee nature. Compare newbie.
Historical note: The wannabee phenomenon has a slightly different flavor now (1993) than it did ten or fifteen years ago. When the people who are now hackerdom's tribal elders were in larval stage, the process of becoming a hacker was largely unconscious and unaffected by models known in popular culture --- communities formed spontaneously around people who, *as individuals*, felt irresistibly drawn to do hackerly things, and what wannabees experienced was a fairly pure, skill-focused desire to become similarly wizardly. Those days of innocence are gone forever; society's adaptation to the advent of the microcomputer after 1980 included the elevation of the hacker as a new kind of folk hero, and the result is that some people semi-consciously set out to *be hackers* and borrow hackish prestige by fitting the popular image of hackers. Fortunately, to do this really well, one has to actually become a wizard. Nevertheless, old-time hackers tend to share a poorly articulated disquiet about the change; among other things, it gives them mixed feelings about the effects of public compendia of lore like this one.
warlording [from the USENET group alt.fan.warlord] v. The act of excoriating a bloated, ugly, or derivative sig block. Common grounds for warlording include the presence of a signature rendered in a BUAF, over-used or cliched sig quotes, ugly ASCII Art, or simply excessive size. The original `Warlord' was a BIFF-like newbie c.1991 who featured in his sig a particularly large and obnoxious ASCII graphic resembling the sword of Conan the Barbarian in the 1981 John Milius movie; the group name alt.fan.warlord was sarcasm, and the characteristic mode of warlording is devastatingly sarcastic praise.
warm boot n. See boot.
wart n. A small, crocky feature that sticks out of an otherwise clean design. Something conspicuous for localized ugliness, especially a special-case exception to a general rule. For example, in some versions of `csh(1)', single quotes literalize every character inside them except `!'. In ANSI C, the `??' syntax used for obtaining ASCII characters in a foreign environment is a wart. See also miswart.
washing machine n. Old-style 14-inch hard disks in floor-standing cabinets. So called because of the size of the cabinet and the `top-loading' access to the media packs --- and, of course, they were always set on `spin cycle'. The washing-machine idiom transcends language barriers; it is even used in Russian hacker jargon. See also walking drives. The thick channel cables connecting these were called `bit hoses' (see hose, sense 3).
water MIPS n. (see MIPS, sense 2) Large, water-cooled machines of either today's ECL-supercomputer flavor or yesterday's traditional mainframe type.
wave a dead chicken v. To perform a ritual in the direction of crashed software or hardware that one believes to be futile but is nevertheless necessary so that others are satisfied that an appropriate degree of effort has been expended. "I'll wave a dead chicken over the source code, but I really think we've run into an OS bug." Compare voodoo programming, rain dance.
weasel n. [Cambridge] A naive user, one who deliberately or accidentally does things that are stupid or ill-advised. Roughly synonymous with loser.
wedgie [Fairchild] n. A bug. Prob. related to wedged.
wedgitude /wedj'i-t[y]ood/ n. The quality or state of being wedged.
weeble /weeb'l/ [Cambridge] interj. Used to denote frustration, usually at amazing stupidity. "I stuck the disk in upside down." "Weeble...." Compare gurfle.
Weenix /wee'niks/ [ITS] n. A derogatory term for UNIX, derived from UNIX Weenie. According to one noted ex-ITSer, it is "the operating system preferred by Unix Weenies: typified by poor modularity, poor reliability, hard file deletion, no file version numbers, case sensitivity everywhere, and users who believe that these are all advantages". Some ITS fans behave as though they believe UNIX stole a future that rightfully belonged to them. See ITS, sense 2.
well-connected adj. Said of a computer installation, asserts that it has reliable email links with the network and/or that it relays a large fraction of available USENET newsgroups. `Well-known' can be almost synonymous, but also implies that the site's name is familiar to many (due perhaps to an archive service or active USENET users).
wetware /wet'weir/ [prob. from the novels of Rudy Rucker] n.
whack v. According to arch-hacker James Gosling, to "...modify a program with no idea whatsoever how it works." (See whacker.) It is actually possible to do this in nontrivial circumstances if the change is small and well-defined and you are very good at glarking things from context. As a trivial example, it is relatively easy to change all `stderr' writes to `stdout' writes in a piece of C filter code which remains otherwise mysterious.
whacker [University of Maryland: from hacker] n.
whales n. See like kicking dead whales down the beach.
whalesong n. The peculiar clicking and whooshing sounds made by a PEP modem such as the Telebit Trailblazer as it tries to synchronize with another PEP modem for their special high-speed mode. This sound isn't anything like the normal two-tone handshake between conventional modems and is instantly recognizable to anyone who has heard it more than once. It sounds, in fact, very much like whale songs. This noise is also called "the moose call" or "moose tones".
What'S A Spline? [XEROX PARC] This phrase expands to: "You have just used a term that I've heard for a year and a half, and I feel I should know, but don't. My curiosity has finally overcome my guilt." The PARC lexicon adds "Moral: don't hesitate to ask questions, even if they seem obvious."
wheel [from slang `big wheel' for a powerful person] n. A person who has an active wheel bit. "We need to find a wheel to unwedge the hung tape drives." (See wedged, sense 1.)
wheel bit n. A privilege bit that allows the possessor to perform some restricted operation on a timesharing system, such as read or write any file on the system regardless of protections, change or look at any address in the running monitor, crash or reload the system, and kill or create jobs and user accounts. The term was invented on the TENEX operating system, and carried over to TOPS-20, XEROX-IFS, and others. The state of being in a privileged logon is sometimes called `wheel mode'. This term entered the UNIX culture from TWENEX in the mid-1980s and has been gaining popularity there (esp. at university sites). See also root.
wheel wars [Stanford University] A period in larval stage during which student hackers hassle each other by attempting to log each other out of the system, delete each other's files, and otherwise wreak havoc, usually at the expense of the lesser users.
White Book n.
whizzy [Sun] adj. (alt. `wizzy') Describes a cuspy program; one that is feature-rich and well presented.
WIBNI // [Bell Labs: Wouldn't It Be Nice If] n. What most requirements documents and specifications consist entirely of. Compare IWBNI.
wiggles n. [scientific computation] In solving partial differential equations by finite difference and similar methods, wiggles are sawtooth (up-down-up-down) oscillations at the shortest wavelength representable on the grid. If an algorithm is unstable, this is often the most unstable waveform, so it grows to dominate the solution. Alternatively, stable (though inaccurate) wiggles can be generated near a discontinuity by a Gibbs phenomenon.
WIMP environment n. [acronym: `Window, Icon, Menu, Pointing device (or Pull-down menu)'] A graphical-user-interface environment such as X or the Macintosh interface, esp. as described by a hacker who prefers command-line interfaces for their superior flexibility and extensibility. However, it is also used without negative connotations; one must pay attention to voice tone and other signals to interpret correctly. See menuitis, user-obsequious.
win big vi. To experience serendipity. "I went shopping and won big; there was a 2-for-1 sale." See big win.
win win interj. Expresses pleasure at a win.
Winchester n. Informal generic term for `floating-head' magnetic-disk drives in which the read-write head planes over the disk surface on an air cushion. The name arose because the original 1973 engineering prototype for what later became the IBM 3340 featured two 30-megabyte volumes; 30--30 became `Winchester' when somebody noticed the similarity to the common term for a famous Winchester rifle (in the latter, the first 30 referred to caliber and the second to the grain weight of the charge).
window shopping [US Geological Survey] n. Among users of WIMP Environments like X or the Macintosh, extended experimentation with new window colors, fonts, and icon shapes. This activity can take up hours of what might otherwise have been productive working time. "I spent the afternoon window shopping until I found the coolest shade of green for my active window borders --- now they perfectly match my medium slate blue background." Serious window shoppers will spend their days with bitmap editors, creating new and different icons and background patterns for all to see. Also: `window dressing', the act of applying new fonts, colors, etc. See fritterware, compare macdink.
Windoze /win'dohz/ n. See Microsloth Windows.
winged comments n. Comments set on the same line as code, as opposed to boxed comments. In C, for example:
d = sqrt(x*x + y*y); /* distance from origin */Generally these refer only to the action(s) taken on that line.
winkey n. (alt. `winkey face') See emoticon.
winnage /win'*j/ n. The situation when a lossage is corrected, or when something is winning.
winnitude /win'*-t[y]ood/ n. The quality of winning (as opposed to winnage, which is the result of winning). "Guess what? They tweaked the microcode and now the LISP interpreter runs twice as fast as it used to." "That's really great! Boy, what winnitude!" "Yup. I'll probably get a half-hour's winnage on the next run of my program." Perhaps curiously, the obvious antonym `lossitude' is rare.
wired n. See hardwired.
wirehead /wi:r'hed/ n. [prob. from SF slang for an electrical-brain-stimulation addict]
wirewater n. Syn. programming fluid. This melds the mainstream slang adjective `wired' (stimulated, up, hyperactive) with `firewater'; however, it refers to caffeinacious rather than alcoholic beverages.
wish list n. A list of desired features or bug fixes that probably won't get done for a long time, usually because the person responsible for the code is too busy or can't think of a clean way to do it. "OK, I'll add automatic filename completion to the wish list for the new interface." Compare tick-list features.
within delta of adj. See delta.
within epsilon of adj. See epsilon.
Wizard Book n. Hal Abelson's, Jerry Sussman's and Julie Sussman's "Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs" (MIT Press, 1984; ISBN 0-262-01077-1), an excellent computer science text used in introductory courses at MIT. So called because of the wizard on the jacket. One of the bibles of the LISP/Scheme world. Also, less commonly, known as the Purple Book.
wizard mode [from rogue] n. A special access mode of a program or system, usually passworded, that permits some users godlike privileges. Generally not used for operating systems themselves (`root mode' or `wheel mode' would be used instead). This term is often used with respect to games that have editable state.
wizardly adj. Pertaining to wizards. A wizardly feature is one that only a wizard could understand or use properly.
womb box n.
WOMBAT [Waste Of Money, Brains, And Time] adj. Applied to problems which are both profoundly uninteresting in themselves and unlikely to benefit anyone interesting even if solved. Often used in fanciful constructions such as `wrestling with a wombat'. See also crawling horror, SMOP. Also note the rather different usage as a metasyntactic variable in Commonwealth Hackish.
wonky /wong'kee/ [from Australian slang] adj. Yet another approximate synonym for broken. Specifically connotes a malfunction that produces behavior seen as crazy, humorous, or amusingly perverse. "That was the day the printer's font logic went wonky and everybody's listings came out in Tengwar." Also in `wonked out'. See funky, demented, bozotic.
woofer [University of Waterloo] n. Some varieties of wide paper for printers have a perforation 8.5 inches from the left margin that allows the excess on the right-hand side to be torn off when the print format is 80 columns or less wide. The right-hand excess may be called `woofer'. This term (like tweeter) has been in use at Waterloo since 1972, but is elsewhere unknown. In audio jargon, the word refers to the bass speaker(s) on a hi-fi.
working as designed [IBM] adj.
worm [from `tapeworm' in John Brunner's novel "The Shockwave Rider", via XEROX PARC] n. A program that propagates itself over a network, reproducing itself as it goes. Compare virus. Nowadays the term has negative connotations, as it is assumed that only crackers write worms. Perhaps the best-known example was Robert T. Morris's `Internet Worm' of 1988, a `benign' one that got out of control and hogged hundreds of Suns and VAXen across the U.S. See also cracker, RTM, Trojan Horse, ice, and Great Worm, The.
wound around the axle adj. In an infinite loop. Often used by older computer types.
wrap around vi. (also n. `wraparound' and v. shorthand `wrap')
write-only code [a play on `read-only memory'] n. Code so arcane, complex, or ill-structured that it cannot be modified or even comprehended by anyone but its author, and possibly not even by him/her. A Bad Thing.
write-only language n. A language with syntax (or semantics) sufficiently dense and bizarre that any routine of significant size is automatically write-only code. A sobriquet applied occasionally to C and often to APL, though INTERCAL and TECO certainly deserve it more.
write-only memory n. The obvious antonym to `read-only memory'. Out of frustration with the long and seemingly useless chain of approvals required of component specifications, during which no actual checking seemed to occur, an engineer at Signetics once created a specification for a write-only memory and included it with a bunch of other specifications to be approved. This inclusion came to the attention of Signetics management only when regular customers started calling and asking for pricing information. Signetics published a corrected edition of the data book and requested the return of the `erroneous' ones. Later, around 1974, Signetics bought a double-page spread in "Electronics" magazine's April issue and used the spec as an April Fools' Day joke. Instead of the more conventional characteristic curves, the 25120 "fully encoded, 9046 x N, Random Access, write-only-memory" data sheet included diagrams of "bit capacity vs. Temp.", "Iff vs. Vff", "Number of pins remaining vs. number of socket insertions", and "AQL vs. selling price". The 25120 required a 6.3 VAC VFF supply, a +10V VCC, and VDD of 0V, +/- 2%.
Wrong Thing n. A design, action, or decision that is clearly incorrect or inappropriate. Often capitalized; always emphasized in speech as if capitalized. The opposite of the Right Thing; more generally, anything that is not the Right Thing. In cases where `the good is the enemy of the best', the merely good --- although good --- is nevertheless the Wrong Thing. "In C, the default is for module-level declarations to be visible everywhere, rather than just within the module. This is clearly the Wrong Thing."
wugga wugga /wuh'g* wuh'g*/ n. Imaginary sound that a computer program makes as it labors with a tedious or difficult task. Compare cruncha cruncha cruncha, grind (sense 4).
wumpus /wuhm'p*s/ n. The central monster (and, in many versions, the name) of a famous family of very early computer games called "Hunt The Wumpus", dating back at least to 1972 (several years before ADVENT) on the Dartmouth Time-Sharing System. The wumpus lived somewhere in a cave with the topology of an dodecahedron's edge/vertex graph (later versions supported other topologies, including an icosahedron and M"obius strip). The player started somewhere at random in the cave with five `crooked arrows'; these could be shot through up to three connected rooms, and would kill the wumpus on a hit (later versions introduced the wounded wumpus, which got very angry). Unfortunately for players, the movement necessary to map the maze was made hazardous not merely by the wumpus (which would eat you if you stepped on him) but also by bottomless pits and colonies of super bats that would pick you up and drop you at a random location (later versions added `anaerobic termites' that ate arrows, bat migrations, and earthquakes that randomly changed pit locations).
This game appears to have been the first to use a non-random graph-structured map (as opposed to a rectangular grid like the even older Star Trek games). In this respect, as in the dungeon-like setting and its terse, amusing messages, it prefigured ADVENT and Zork and was directly ancestral to both (Zork acknowledged this heritage by including a super-bat colony). Today, a port is distributed with SunOS and as freeware for the Mac. A C emulation of the original Basic game is in circulation as freeware on the net.
WYSIAYG /wiz'ee-ayg/ adj. Describes a user interface under which "What You See Is *All* You Get"; an unhappy variant of WYSIWYG. Visual, `point-and-shoot'-style interfaces tend to have easy initial learning curves, but also to lack depth; they often frustrate advanced users who would be better served by a command-style interface. When this happens, the frustrated user has a WYSIAYG problem. This term is most often used of editors, word processors, and document formatting programs. WYSIWYG `desktop publishing' programs, for example, are a clear win for creating small documents with lots of fonts and graphics in them, especially things like newsletters and presentation slides. When typesetting book-length manuscripts, on the other hand, scale changes the nature of the task; one quickly runs into WYSIAYG limitations, and the increased power and flexibility of a command-driven formatter like TeX or UNIX's troff becomes not just desirable but a necessity. Compare YAFIYGI.
WYSIWYG /wiz'ee-wig/ adj. Describes a user interface under which "What You See Is What You Get", as opposed to one that uses more-or-less obscure commands that do not result in immediate visual feedback. True WYSIWYG in environments supporting multiple fonts or graphics is a a rarely-attained ideal; there are variants of this term to express real-world manifestations including WYSIAWYG (What You See Is *Almost* What You Get) and WYSIMOLWYG (What You See Is More or Less What You Get). All these can be mildly derogatory, as they are often used to refer to dumbed-down user-friendly interfaces targeted at non-programmers; a hacker has no fear of obscure commands (compare WYSIAYG). On the other hand, EMACS was one of the very first WYSIWYG editors, replacing (actually, at first overlaying) the extremely obscure, command-based TECO. See also WIMP Environment. [Oddly enough, WYSIWYG has already made it into the OED, in lower case yet. --- ESR]