= E =

earthquake [IBM] n. The ultimate real-world shock test for computer hardware. Hackish sources at IBM deny the rumor that the Bay Area quake of 1989 was initiated by the company to test quality-assurance procedures at its California plants.

Easter egg [from the custom of the Easter Egg hunt observed in the U.S. and many parts of Europe] n.

  1. A message hidden in the object code of a program as a joke, intended to be found by persons disassembling or browsing the code.
  2. A message, graphic, or sound effect emitted by a program (or, on a PC, the BIOS ROM) in response to some undocumented set of commands or keystrokes, intended as a joke or to display program credits. One well-known early Easter egg found in a couple of OSes caused them to respond to the command `make love' with `not war?'. Many personal computers have much more elaborate eggs hidden in ROM, including lists of the developers' names, political exhortations, snatches of music, and (in one case) graphics images of the entire development team.

Easter egging [IBM] n. The act of replacing unrelated components more or less at random in hopes that a malfunction will go away. Hackers consider this the normal operating mode of field circus techs and do not love them for it. See also the jokes under field circus. Compare shotgun debugging.

eat flaming death imp. A construction popularized among hackers by the infamous CPU Wars comic; supposedly derive from a famously turgid line in a WWII-era anti-Nazi propaganda comic that ran "Eat flaming death, non-Aryan mongrels!" or something of the sort (however, it is also reported that the Firesign Theater's 1975 album "In The Next World, You're On Your Own" included the phrase "Eat flaming death, fascist media pigs"; this may have been an influence). Used in humorously overblown expressions of hostility. "Eat flaming death, EBCDIC users!"

EBCDIC /eb's*-dik/, /eb'see`dik/, or /eb'k*-dik/ [abbreviation, Extended Binary Coded Decimal Interchange Code] n. An alleged character set used on IBM dinosaurs. It exists in at least six mutually incompatible versions, all featuring such delights as non-contiguous letter sequences and the absence of several ASCII punctuation characters fairly important for modern computer languages (exactly which characters are absent varies according to which version of EBCDIC you're looking at). IBM adapted EBCDIC from punched card code in the early 1960s and promulgated it as a customer-control tactic (see connector conspiracy), spurning the already established ASCII standard. Today, IBM claims to be an open-systems company, but IBM's own description of the EBCDIC variants and how to convert between them is still internally classified top-secret, burn-before-reading. Hackers blanch at the very *name* of EBCDIC and consider it a manifestation of purest evil. See also fear and loathing.

echo [FidoNet] n. A topic group on FidoNet's echomail system. Compare newsgroup.

eighty-column mind [IBM] n. The sort said to be possessed by persons for whom the transition from punched card to tape was traumatic (nobody has dared tell them about disks yet). It is said that these people, including (according to an old joke) the founder of IBM, will be buried `face down, 9-edge first' (the 9-edge being the bottom of the card). This directive is inscribed on IBM's 1402 and 1622 card readers and is referenced in a famous bit of doggerel called "The Last Bug", the climactic lines of which are as follows:

        He died at the console
        Of hunger and thirst.
        Next day he was buried,
        Face down, 9-edge first.
The eighty-column mind is thought by most hackers to dominate IBM's customer base and its thinking. See IBM, fear and loathing, card walloper.

El Camino Bignum /el' k*-mee'noh big'nuhm/ n. The road mundanely called El Camino Real, a road through the San Francisco peninsula that originally extended all the way down to Mexico City and many portions of which are still intact. Navigation on the San Francisco peninsula is usually done relative to El Camino Real, which defines logical north and south even though it isn't really north-south many places. El Camino Real runs right past Stanford University and so is familiar to hackers.

The Spanish word `real' (which has two syllables: /ray-ol'/) means `royal'; El Camino Real is `the royal road'. In the FORTRAN language, a `real' quantity is a number typically precise to seven significant digits, and a `double precision' quantity is a larger floating-point number, precise to perhaps fourteen significant digits (other languages have similar `real' types).

When a hacker from MIT visited Stanford in 1976, he remarked what a long road El Camino Real was. Making a pun on `real', he started calling it `El Camino Double Precision' --- but when the hacker was told that the road was hundreds of miles long, he renamed it `El Camino Bignum', and that name has stuck. (See bignum.)

elder days n. The heroic age of hackerdom (roughly, pre-1980); the era of the PDP-10, TECO, ITS, and the ARPANET. This term has been rather consciously adopted from J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy epic "The Lord of the Rings". Compare Iron Age; see also elvish and Great Worm, The.

elegant [from mathematical usage] adj. Combining simplicity, power, and a certain ineffable grace of design. Higher praise than `clever', `winning', or even cuspy.

The French aviator, adventurer, and author Antoine de Saint-Exup'ery, probably best known for his classic children's book "The Little Prince", was also an aircraft designer. He gave us perhaps the best definition of engineering elegance when he said "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."

elephantine adj. Used of programs or systems that are both conspicuous hogs (owing perhaps to poor design founded on brute force and ignorance) and exceedingly hairy in source form. An elephantine program may be functional and even friendly, but (as in the old joke about being in bed with an elephant) it's tough to have around all the same (and, like a pachyderm, difficult to maintain). In extreme cases, hackers have been known to make trumpeting sounds or perform expressive proboscatory mime at the mention of the offending program. Usage: semi-humorous. Compare `has the elephant nature' and the somewhat more pejorative monstrosity. See also second-system effect and baroque.

elevator controller n. An archetypal dumb embedded-systems application, like toaster (which superseded it). During one period (1983--84) in the deliberations of ANSI X3J11 (the C standardization committee) this was the canonical example of a really stupid, memory-limited computation environment. "You can't require `printf(3)' to be part of the default runtime library --- what if you're targeting an elevator controller?" Elevator controllers became important rhetorical weapons on both sides of several holy wars.

ELIZA effect /*-li:'z* *-fekt'/ [AI community] n. The tendency of humans to attach associations to terms from prior experience. For example, there is nothing magic about the symbol `+' that makes it well-suited to indicate addition; it's just that people associate it with addition. Using `+' or `plus' to mean addition in a computer language is taking advantage of the ELIZA effect.

This term comes from the famous ELIZA program by Joseph Weizenbaum, which simulated a Rogerian psychoanalyst by rephrasing many of the patient's statements as questions and posing them to the patient. It worked by simple pattern recognition and substitution of key words into canned phrases. It was so convincing, however, that there are many anecdotes about people becoming very emotionally caught up in dealing with ELIZA. All this was due to people's tendency to attach to words meanings which the computer never put there. The ELIZA effect is a Good Thing when writing a programming language, but it can blind you to serious shortcomings when analyzing an Artificial Intelligence system. Compare ad-hockery; see also AI-Complete.

elvish n.

  1. The Tengwar of Feanor, a table of letterforms resembling the beautiful Celtic half-uncial hand of the "Book of Kells". Invented and described by J. R. R. Tolkien in "The Lord of The Rings" as an orthography for his fictional `elvish' languages, this system (which is both visually and phonetically elegant) has long fascinated hackers (who tend to be intrigued by artificial languages in general). It is traditional for graphics printers, plotters, window systems, and the like to support a Feanorian typeface as one of their demo items. See also elder days.
  2. By extension, any odd or unreadable typeface produced by a graphics device.
  3. The typeface mundanely called `Böcklin', an art-decoish display font.

EMACS /ee'maks/ [from Editing MACroS] n. The ne plus ultra of hacker editors, a programmable text editor with an entire LISP system inside it. It was originally written by Richard Stallman in TECO under ITS at the MIT AI lab; AI Memo 554 described it as "an advanced, self-documenting, customizable, extensible real-time display editor". It has since been reimplemented any number of times, by various hackers, and versions exist that run under most major operating systems. Perhaps the most widely used version, also written by Stallman and now called "GNU EMACS" or GNUMACS, runs principally under UNIX. It includes facilities to run compilation subprocesses and send and receive mail; many hackers spend up to 80% of their tube time inside it. Other variants include GOSMACS, CCA EMACS, UniPress EMACS, Montgomery EMACS, jove, epsilon, and MicroEMACS.

Some EMACS versions running under window managers iconify as an overflowing kitchen sink, perhaps to suggest the one feature the editor does not (yet) include. Indeed, some hackers find EMACS too heavyweight and baroque for their taste, and expand the name as `Escape Meta Alt Control Shift' to spoof its heavy reliance on keystrokes decorated with bucky bits. Other spoof expansions include `Eight Megabytes And Constantly Swapping', `Eventually `malloc()'s All Computer Storage', and `EMACS Makes A Computer Slow' (see recursive acronym). See also vi.

email /ee'mayl/ (also written `e-mail')

  1. n. Electronic mail automatically passed through computer networks and/or via modems over common-carrier lines. Contrast snail-mail, paper-net, voice-net. See network address.
  2. vt. To send electronic mail.

Oddly enough, the word `emailed' is actually listed in the OED; it means "embossed (with a raised pattern) or arranged in a net work". A use from 1480 is given. The word is derived from French `emmailleure', network.

emoticon /ee-moh'ti-kon/ n. An ASCII glyph used to indicate an emotional state in email or news. Although originally intended mostly as jokes, emoticons (or some other explicit humor indication) are virtually required under certain circumstances in high-volume text-only communication forums such as USENET; the lack of verbal and visual cues can otherwise cause what were intended to be humorous, sarcastic, ironic, or otherwise non-100%-serious comments to be badly misinterpreted (not always even by newbies), resulting in arguments and flame wars.

Hundreds of emoticons have been proposed, but only a few are in common use. These include:

     :-)
          `smiley face' (for humor, laughter, friendliness,
          occasionally sarcasm)

     :-(
          `frowney face' (for sadness, anger, or upset)

     ;-)
          `half-smiley' (ha ha only serious);
          also known as `semi-smiley' or `winkey face'.

     :-/
          `wry face'
(These may become more comprehensible if you tilt your head sideways, to the left.)

The first two listed are by far the most frequently encountered. Hyphenless forms of them are common on CompuServe, GEnie, and BIX; see also bixie. On USENET, `smiley' is often used as a generic term synonymous with emoticon, as well as specifically for the happy-face emoticon.

It appears that the emoticon was invented by one Scott Fahlman on the CMU bboard systems around 1980. He later wrote: "I wish I had saved the original post, or at least recorded the date for posterity, but I had no idea that I was starting something that would soon pollute all the world's communication channels." [GLS confirms that he remembers this original posting].

Note for the newbie: Overuse of the smiley is a mark of loserhood! More than one per paragraph is a fairly sure sign that you've gone over the line.

empire n. Any of a family of military simulations derived from a game written by Peter Langston many years ago. Five or six multi-player variants of varying degrees of sophistication exist, and one single-player version implemented for both UNIX and VMS; the latter is even available as MS-DOS freeware. All are notoriously addictive.

engine n.

  1. A piece of hardware that encapsulates some function but can't be used without some kind of front end. Today we have, especially, `print engine': the guts of a laser printer.
  2. An analogous piece of software; notionally, one that does a lot of noisy crunching, such as a `database engine'.

The hackish senses of `engine' are actually close to its original, pre-Industrial-Revolution sense of a skill, clever device, or instrument (the word is cognate to `ingenuity'). This sense had not been completely eclipsed by the modern connotation of power-transducing machinery in Charles Babbage's time, which explains why he named the stored-program computer that he designed in 1844 the `Analytical Engine'.

English

  1. n.,obs. The source code for a program, which may be in any language, as opposed to the linkable or executable binary produced from it by a compiler. The idea behind the term is that to a real hacker, a program written in his favorite programming language is at least as readable as English. Usage: mostly by old-time hackers, though recognizable in context.
  2. The official name of the database language used by the Pick Operating System, actually a sort of crufty, brain-damaged SQL with delusions of grandeur. The name permits marketroids to say "Yes, and you can program our computers in English!" to ignorant suits without quite running afoul of the truth-in-advertising laws.

enhancement n. Marketroid-speak for a bug fix. This abuse of language is a popular and time-tested way to turn incompetence into increased revenue. A hacker being ironic would instead call the fix a feature --- or perhaps save some effort by declaring the bug itself to be a feature.

ENQ /enkw/ or /enk/ [from the ASCII mnemonic ENQuire for 0000101] An on-line convention for querying someone's availability. After opening a talk mode connection to someone apparently in heavy hack mode, one might type `SYN SYN ENQ?' (the SYNs representing notional synchronization bytes), and expect a return of ACK or NAK depending on whether or not the person felt interruptible. Compare ping, finger, and the usage of `FOO?' listed under talk mode.

EOF /E-O-F/ [abbreviation, `End Of File'] n. 1. [techspeak] The out-of-band value returned by C's sequential character-input functions (and their equivalents in other environments) when end of file has been reached. This value is -1 under C libraries postdating V6 UNIX, but was originally 0. 2. [UNIX] The keyboard character (usually control-D, the ASCII EOT (End Of Transmission) character) that is mapped by the terminal driver into an end-of-file condition. 3. Used by extension in non-computer contexts when a human is doing something that can be modeled as a sequential read and can't go further. "Yeah, I looked for a list of 360 mnemonics to post as a joke, but I hit EOF pretty fast; all the library had was a JCL manual." See also EOL.

EOL /E-O-L/ [End Of Line] n. Syn. for newline, derived perhaps from the original CDC6600 Pascal. Now rare, but widely recognized and occasionally used for brevity. Used in the example entry under BNF. See also EOF.

EOU /E-O-U/ n. The mnemonic of a mythical ASCII control character (End Of User) that would make an ASR-33 Teletype explode on receipt. This construction parodies the numerous obscure delimiter and control characters left in ASCII from the days when it was associated more with wire-service teletypes than computers (e.g., FS, GS, RS, US, EM, SUB, ETX, and esp. EOT). It is worth remembering that ASR-33s were big, noisy mechanical beasts with a lot of clattering parts; the notion that one might explode was nowhere near as ridiculous as it might seem to someone sitting in front of a tube or flatscreen today.

epoch [UNIX: prob. from astronomical timekeeping] n. The time and date corresponding to 0 in an operating system's clock and timestamp values. Under most UNIX versions the epoch is 00:00:00 GMT, January 1, 1970; under VMS, it's 00:00:00 of November 17, 1858 (base date of the U.S. Naval Observatory's ephemerides); on a Macintosh, it's the midnight beginning January 1 1904. System time is measured in seconds or ticks past the epoch. Weird problems may ensue when the clock wraps around (see wrap around), which is not necessarily a rare event; on systems counting 10 ticks per second, a signed 32-bit count of ticks is good only for 6.8 years. The 1-tick-per-second clock of UNIX is good only until January 18, 2038, assuming at least some software continues to consider it signed and that word lengths don't increase by then. See also wall time.

epsilon [see delta]

  1. n. A small quantity of anything. "The cost is epsilon."
  2. adj. Very small, negligible; less than marginal. "We can get this feature for epsilon cost."
  3. `within epsilon of': close enough to be indistinguishable for all practical purposes, even closer than being `within delta of'. "That's not what I asked for, but it's within epsilon of what I wanted." Alternatively, it may mean not close enough, but very little is required to get it there: "My program is within epsilon of working."

epsilon squared n. A quantity even smaller than epsilon, as small in comparison to epsilon as epsilon is to something normal; completely negligible. If you buy a supercomputer for a million dollars, the cost of the thousand-dollar terminal to go with it is epsilon, and the cost of the ten-dollar cable to connect them is epsilon squared. Compare lost in the underflow, lost in the noise.

era, the Syn. epoch. Webster's Unabridged makes these words almost synonymous, but `era' usually connotes a span of time rather than a point in time. The epoch usage is recommended.

Eric Conspiracy n. A shadowy group of mustachioed hackers named Eric first pinpointed as a sinister conspiracy by an infamous talk.bizarre posting ca. 1986; this was doubtless influenced by the numerous `Eric' jokes in the Monty Python oeuvre. There do indeed seem to be considerably more mustachioed Erics in hackerdom than the frequency of these three traits can account for unless they are correlated in some arcane way. Well-known examples include Eric Allman (he of the `Allman style' described under indent style) and Erik Fair (co-author of NNTP); your editor has heard from about fifteen others by email, and the organization line `Eric Conspiracy Secret Laboratories' now emanates regularly from more than one site.

Eris /e'ris/ n. The Greek goddess of Chaos, Discord, Confusion, and Things You Know Not Of; her name was latinized to Discordia and she was worshiped by that name in Rome. Not a very friendly deity in the Classical original, she was reinvented as a more benign personification of creative anarchy starting in 1959 by the adherents of Discordianism and has since been a semi-serious subject of veneration in several `fringe' cultures, including hackerdom. See Discordianism, Church Of The SubGenius.

erotics /ee-ro'tiks/ n. [Helsinki University of Technology, Finland] n. English-language university slang for electronics. Often used by hackers in Helsinki, maybe because good electronics excites them and makes them warm.

error 33 [XEROX PARC] n.

  1. Predicating one research effort upon the success of another.
  2. Allowing your own research effort to be placed on the critical path of some other project (be it a research effort or not).

evil adj. As used by hackers, implies that some system, program, person, or institution is sufficiently maldesigned as to be not worth the bother of dealing with. Unlike the adjectives in the cretinous/losing/brain-damaged series, `evil' does not imply incompetence or bad design, but rather a set of goals or design criteria fatally incompatible with the speaker's. This usage is more an esthetic and engineering judgment than a moral one in the mainstream sense. "We thought about adding a Blue Glue interface but decided it was too evil to deal with." "TECO is neat, but it can be pretty evil if you're prone to typos." Often pronounced with the first syllable lengthened, as /eeee'vil/. Compare evil and rude.

evil and rude adj. Both evil and rude, but with the additional connotation that the rudeness was due to malice rather than incompetence. Thus, for example: Microsoft's Windows NT is evil because it's a competent implementation of a bad design; it's rude because it's gratuitously incompatible with UNIX in places where compatibility would have been as easy and effective to do; but it's evil and rude because the incompatibilities are apparently there not to fix design bugs in UNIX but rather to lock hapless customers and developers into the Microsoft way. Hackish evil and rude is close to the mainstream sense of `evil'.

exa- /ek's*/ [SI] pref. See quantifiers.

examining the entrails n. The process of grovelling through a core dump or hex image in an attempt to discover the bug that brought a program or system down. The reference is to divination from the entrails of a sacrified animal. Compare runes, incantation, black art, desk check.

EXCH /eks'ch*/ or /eksch/ vt. To exchange two things, each for the other; to swap places. If you point to two people sitting down and say "Exch!", you are asking them to trade places. EXCH, meaning EXCHange, was originally the name of a PDP-10 instruction that exchanged the contents of a register and a memory location. Many newer hackers are probably thinking instead of the PostScript exchange operator (which is usually written in lowercase).

excl /eks'kl/ n. Abbreviation for `exclamation point'. See bang, shriek, ASCII.

EXE /eks'ee/ or /eek'see/ or /E-X-E/ n. An executable binary file. Some operating systems (notably MS-DOS, VMS, and TWENEX) use the extension .EXE to mark such files. This usage is also occasionally found among UNIX programmers even though UNIX executables don't have any required suffix.

exec /eg-zek'/ vt., n.

  1. [UNIX: from `execute'] Synonym for chain, derives from the `exec(2)' call.
  2. [from `executive'] obs. The command interpreter for an OS (see shell); term esp. used around mainframes, and prob. derived from UNIVAC's archaic EXEC 2 and EXEC 8 operating systems.
  3. At IBM and VM/CMS shops, the equivalent of a shell command file (among VM/CMS users).

The mainstream `exec' as an abbreviation for (human) executive is *not* used. To a hacker, an `exec' is a always a program, never a person.

exercise, left as an [from technical books] Used to complete a proof when one doesn't mind a handwave, or to avoid one entirely. The complete phrase is: "The proof [or `the rest'] is left as an exercise for the reader." This comment *has* occasionally been attached to unsolved research problems by authors possessed of either an evil sense of humor or a vast faith in the capabilities of their audiences.

external memory n. A memo pad or written notes. "Hold on while I write that to external memory". The analogy is with store or DRAM versus nonvolatile disk storage on computers.

eyeball search n.,v. To look for something in a mass of code or data with one's own native optical sensors, as opposed to using some sort of pattern matching software like grep or any other automated search tool. Also called a vgrep; compare vdiff, desk check.