N /N/ quant.
nadger /nad'jr/ [Great Britain] v. Of software or hardware (not people), to twiddle some object in a hidden manner, generally so that it conforms better to some format. For instance, string printing routines on 8-bit processors often take the string text from the instruction stream, thus a print call looks like `jsr print:"Hello world"'. The print routine has to `nadger' the saved instruction pointer so that the processor doesn't try to execute the text as instructions when the subroutine returns.
nagware /nag'weir/ [USENET] n. The variety of shareware that displays a large screen at the beginning or end reminding you to register, typically requiring some sort of keystroke to continue so that you can't use the software in batch mode. Compare crippleware.
nailed to the wall [like a trophy] adj. Said of a bug finally eliminated after protracted, and even heroic, effort.
nailing jelly vi. See like nailing jelly to a tree.
naive adj. Untutored in the perversities of some particular program or system; one who still tries to do things in an intuitive way, rather than the right way (in really good designs these coincide, but most designs aren't `really good' in the appropriate sense). This trait is completely unrelated to general maturity or competence, or even competence at any other specific program. It is a sad commentary on the primitive state of computing that the natural opposite of this term is often claimed to be `experienced user' but is really more like `cynical user'.
naive user n. A luser. Tends to imply someone who is ignorant mainly owing to inexperience. When this is applied to someone who *has* experience, there is a definite implication of stupidity.
NAK /nak/ [from the ASCII mnemonic for 0010101] interj.
nano /nan'oh/ [CMU: from `nanosecond'] n. A brief period of time. "Be with you in a nano" means you really will be free shortly, i.e., implies what mainstream people mean by "in a jiffy" (whereas the hackish use of `jiffy' is quite different --- see jiffy).
nano- [SI: the next quantifier below micro-; meaning * 10^(-9)] pref. Smaller than micro-, and used in the same rather loose and connotative way. Thus, one has nanotechnology (coined by hacker K. Eric Drexler) by analogy with `microtechnology'; and a few machine architectures have a `nanocode' level below `microcode'. Tom Duff at Bell Labs has also pointed out that "Pi seconds is a nanocentury". See also quantifiers, pico-, nanoacre, nanobot, nanocomputer, nanofortnight.
nanoacre /nan'oh-ay`kr/ n. A unit (about 2 mm square) of real estate on a VLSI chip. The term gets its giggle value from the fact that VLSI nanoacres have costs in the same range as real acres once one figures in design and fabrication-setup costs.
nanobot /nan'oh-bot/ n. A robot of microscopic proportions, presumably built by means of nanotechnology. As yet, only used informally (and speculatively!). Also called a `nanoagent'.
nanocomputer /nan'oh-k*m-pyoo'tr/ n. A computer with molecular-sized switching elements. Designs for mechanical nanocomputers which use single-molecule sliding rods for their logic have been proposed. The controller for a nanobot would be a nanocomputer.
nanofortnight [Adelaide University] n. 1 fortnight * 10^-9, or about 1.2 msec. This unit was used largely by students doing undergraduate practicals. See microfortnight, attoparsec, and micro-.
nanotechnology /nan'-oh-tek-no`l*-jee/ n. A hypothetical fabrication technology in which objects are designed and built with the individual specification and placement of each separate atom. The first unequivocal nanofabrication experiments took place in 1990, for example with the deposition of individual xenon atoms on a nickel substrate to spell the logo of a certain very large computer company. Nanotechnology has been a hot topic in the hacker subculture ever since the term was coined by K. Eric Drexler in his book "Engines of Creation", where he predicted that nanotechnology could give rise to replicating assemblers, permitting an exponential growth of productivity and personal wealth. See also blue goo, gray goo, nanobot.
nasal demons n. Recognized shorthand on the USENET group comp.std.c for any unexpected behavior of a C compiler on encountering an undefined construct. During a discussion on that group in early 1992, a regular remarked "When the compiler encounters [a given undefined construct] it is legal for it to make demons fly out of your nose" (the implication is that the compiler may choose any arbitrarily bizarre way to interpret the code without violating the ANSI C standard). Someone else followed up with a reference to "nasal demons", which quickly became established.
nastygram /nas'tee-gram/ n.
Nathan Hale n. An asterisk (see also splat, ASCII). Oh, you want an etymology? Notionally, from "I regret that I have only one asterisk for my country!", a misquote of the famous remark uttered by Nathan Hale just before he was hanged. Hale was a (failed) spy for the rebels in the American War of Independence.
nature n. See Has The X Nature.
neat hack n.
neats vs. scruffies n. The label used to refer to one of the continuing holy wars in AI research. This conflict tangles together two separate issues. One is the relationship between human reasoning and AI; `neats' tend to try to build systems that `reason' in some way identifiably similar to the way humans report themselves as doing, while `scruffies' profess not to care whether an algorithm resembles human reasoning in the least as long as it works. More importantly, neats tend to believe that logic is king, while scruffies favor looser, more ad-hoc methods driven by empirical knowledge. To a neat, scruffy methods appear promiscuous, successful only by accident, and not productive of insights about how intelligence actually works; to a scruffy, neat methods appear to be hung up on formalism and irrelevant to the hard-to-capture `common sense' of living intelligences.
neep-neep /neep neep/ [onomatopoeic, from New York SF fandom] n. One who is fascinated by computers. Less specific than hacker, as it need not imply more skill than is required to boot games on a PC. The derived noun `neeping' applies specifically to the long conversations about computers that tend to develop in the corners at most SF-convention parties (the term `neepery' is also in wide use). Fandom has a related proverb to the effect that "Hacking is a conversational black hole!".
neophilia /nee`oh-fil'-ee-*/ n. The trait of being excited and pleased by novelty. Common among most hackers, SF fans, and members of several other connected leading-edge subcultures, including the pro-technology `Whole Earth' wing of the ecology movement, space activists, many members of Mensa, and the Discordian/neo-pagan underground. All these groups overlap heavily and (where evidence is available) seem to share characteristic hacker tropisms for science fiction, music, and oriental food. The opposite tendency is `neophobia'.
net.- /net dot/ pref. [USENET] Prefix used to describe people and events related to USENET. From the time before the Great Renaming, when most non-local newsgroups had names beginning `net.'. Includes net.gods, `net.goddesses' (various charismatic net.women with circles of on-line admirers), `net.lurkers' (see lurker), `net.person', `net.parties' (a synonym for boink, sense 2), and many similar constructs. See also net.police.
net.god /net god/ n. Accolade referring to anyone who satisfies some combination of the following conditions: has been visible on USENET for more than 5 years, ran one of the original backbone sites, moderated an important newsgroup, wrote news software, or knows Gene, Mark, Rick, Mel, Henry, Chuq, and Greg personally. See demigod. Net.goddesses such as Rissa or the Slime Sisters have (so far) been distinguished more by personality than by authority.
net.personality /net per`sn-al'-*-tee/ n. Someone who has made a name for him or herself on USENET, through either longevity or attention-getting posts, but doesn't meet the other requirements of net.godhood.
net.police /net-p*-lees'/ n. (var. `net.cops') Those USENET readers who feel it is their responsibility to pounce on and flame any posting which they regard as offensive or in violation of their understanding of netiquette. Generally used sarcastically or pejoratively. Also spelled `net police'. See also net.-, code police.
NetBOLLIX [from bollix: to bungle] n. IBM's NetBIOS, an extremely brain-damaged network protocol that, like Blue Glue, is used at commercial shops that don't know any better.
netburp [IRC] n. When netlag gets really bad, and delays between servers exceed a certain threshhold, the IRC network effectively becomes partitioned for a period of time, and large numbers of people seem to be signing off at the same time and then signing back on again when things get better. An instance of this is called a `netburp' (or, sometimes, netsplit).
netdead [IRC] n. The state of someone who signs off IRC, perhaps during a netburp, and doesn't sign back on until later. In the interim, he is "dead to the net".
nethack /net'hak/ [UNIX] n. A dungeon game similar to rogue but more elaborate, distributed in C source over USENET and very popular at UNIX sites and on PC-class machines (nethack is probably the most widely distributed of the freeware dungeon games). The earliest versions, written by Jay Fenlason and later considerably enhanced by Andries Brouwer, were simply called `hack'. The name changed when maintenance was taken over by a group of hackers originally organized by Mike Stephenson; the current contact address (as of mid-1993) is firstname.lastname@example.org.
netiquette /net'ee-ket/ or /net'i-ket/ [portmanteau from "network etiquette"] n. The conventions of politeness recognized on USENET, such as avoidance of cross-posting to inappropriate groups and refraining from commercial pluggery outside the biz groups.
netlag [IRC, MUD] n. A condition that occurs when the delays in the IRC network or on a MUD become severe enough that servers briefly lose and then reestablish contact, causing messages to be delivered in bursts, often with delays of up to a minute. (Note that this term has nothing to do with mainstream "jet lag", a condition which hackers tend not to be much bothered by.)
netnews /net'n[y]ooz/ n.
netrock /net'rok/ [IBM] n. A flame; used esp. on VNET, IBM's internal corporate network.
netsplit n. Syn. netburp.
network address n. (also `net address') As used by hackers, means an address on `the' network (see network, the; this is almost always a bang path or Internet Address). Such an address is essential if one wants to be to be taken seriously by hackers; in particular, persons or organizations that claim to understand, work with, sell to, or recruit from among hackers but *don't* display net addresses are quietly presumed to be clueless poseurs and mentally flushed (see flush, sense 4). Hackers often put their net addresses on their business cards and wear them prominently in contexts where they expect to meet other hackers face-to-face (see also science-fiction fandom). This is mostly functional, but is also a signal that one identifies with hackerdom (like lodge pins among Masons or tie-dyed T-shirts among Grateful Dead fans). Net addresses are often used in email text as a more concise substitute for personal names; indeed, hackers may come to know each other quite well by network names without ever learning each others' `legal' monikers. See also sitename, domainist.
network meltdown n. A state of complete network overload; the network equivalent of thrashing. This may be induced by a Chernobyl Packet. See also broadcast storm, kamikaze packet.
network, the n.
In sense 1, `network' is often abbreviated to `net'. "Are you on the net?" is a frequent question when hackers first meet face to face, and "See you on the net!" is a frequent goodbye.
New Jersey [primarily Stanford/Silicon Valley] adj. Brain-damaged or of poor design. This refers to the allegedly wretched quality of such software as C, C++, and UNIX (which originated at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey). "This compiler bites the bag, but what can you expect from a compiler designed in New Jersey?" Compare Berkeley Quality Software. See also UNIX Conspiracy.
New Testament n. [C programmers] The second edition of K&R's "The C Programming Language" (Prentice-Hall, 1988; ISBN 0-13-110362-8), describing ANSI Standard C. See K&R.
newbie /n[y]oo'bee/ n. [orig. from British public-school and military slang variant of `new boy'] A USENET neophyte. This term surfaced in the newsgroup talk.bizarre but is now in wide use. Criteria for being considered a newbie vary wildly; a person can be called a newbie in one newsgroup while remaining a respected regular in another. The label `newbie' is sometimes applied as a serious insult to a person who has been around USENET for a long time but who carefully hides all evidence of having a clue. See BIFF.
newgroup wars /n[y]oo'groop worz/ [USENET] n. The salvos of dueling `newgroup' and `rmgroup' messages sometimes exchanged by persons on opposite sides of a dispute over whether a newsgroup should be created net-wide, or (even more frequently) whether an obsolete one should be removed. These usually settle out within a week or two as it becomes clear whether the group has a natural constituency (usually, it doesn't). At times, especially in the completely anarchic alt hierarchy, the names of newsgroups themselves become a form of comment or humor; e.g., the spinoff of alt.swedish.chef.bork.bork.bork from alt.tv.muppets in early 1990, or any number of specialized abuse groups named after particularly notorious flamers, e.g., alt.weemba.
newline /n[y]oo'li:n/ n. 1. [techspeak, primarily UNIX] The ASCII LF character (0001010), used under UNIX as a text line terminator. A Bell-Labs-ism rather than a Berkeleyism; interestingly (and unusually for UNIX jargon), it is said to have originally been an IBM usage. (Though the term `newline' appears in ASCII standards, it never caught on in the general computing world before UNIX). 2. More generally, any magic character, character sequence, or operation (like Pascal's writeln procedure) required to terminate a text record or separate lines. See crlf, terpri.
NeWS /nee'wis/, /n[y]oo'is/ or /n[y]ooz/ [acronym; the `Network Window System'] n. The road not taken in window systems, an elegant PostScript-based environment that would almost certainly have won the standards war with X if it hadn't been proprietary to Sun Microsystems. There is a lesson here that too many software vendors haven't yet heeded. Many hackers insist on the two-syllable pronunciations above as a way of distinguishing NeWS from news (the netnews software).
news n. See netnews.
newsfroup // [USENET] n. Silly synonym for newsgroup, originally a typo but now in regular use on USENET's talk.bizarre and other lunatic-fringe groups. Compare hing, grilf, and filk.
newsgroup [USENET] n. One of USENET's huge collection of topic groups or fora. Usenet groups can be `unmoderated' (anyone can post) or `moderated' (submissions are automatically directed to a moderator, who edits or filters and then posts the results). Some newsgroups have parallel mailing lists for Internet people with no netnews access, with postings to the group automatically propagated to the list and vice versa. Some moderated groups (especially those which are actually gatewayed Internet mailing lists) are distributed as `digests', with groups of postings periodically collected into a single large posting with an index.
Among the best-known are comp.lang.c (the C-language forum), comp.arch (on computer architectures), comp.unix.wizards (for UNIX wizards), rec.arts.sf-lovers (for science-fiction fans), and talk.politics.misc (miscellaneous political discussions and flamage).
nick [IRC] n. Short for nickname. On IRC, every user must pick a nick, which is sometimes the same as the user's real name or login name, but is often more fanciful. Compare handle.
nickle /ni'kl/ [from `nickel', common name for the U.S. 5-cent coin] n. A nybble + 1; 5 bits. Reported among developers for Mattel's GI 1600 (the Intellivision games processor), a chip with 16-bit-wide RAM but 10-bit-wide ROM. See also deckle.
night mode n. See phase (of people).
Nightmare File System n. Pejorative hackerism for Sun's Network File System (NFS). In any nontrivial network of Suns where there is a lot of NFS cross-mounting, when one Sun goes down, the others often freeze up. Some machine tries to access the down one, and (getting no response) repeats indefinitely. This causes it to appear dead to some messages (what is actually happening is that it is locked up in what should have been a brief excursion to a higher spl level). Then another machine tries to reach either the down machine or the pseudo-down machine, and itself becomes pseudo-down. The first machine to discover the down one is now trying both to access the down one and to respond to the pseudo-down one, so it is even harder to reach. This situation snowballs very quickly, and soon the entire network of machines is frozen --- worst of all, the user can't even abort the file access that started the problem! Many of NFS's problems are excused by partisans as being an inevitable result of its statelessness, which is held to be a great feature (critics, of course, call it a great misfeature). (ITS partisans are apt to cite this as proof of UNIX's alleged bogosity; ITS had a working NFS-like shared file system with none of these problems in the early 1970s.) See also broadcast storm.
NIL /nil/ No. Used in reply to a question, particularly one asked using the `-P' convention. Most hackers assume this derives simply from LISP terminology for `false' (see also T), but NIL as a negative reply was well-established among radio hams decades before the advent of LISP. The historical connection between early hackerdom and the ham radio world was strong enough that this may have been an influence.
Ninety-Ninety Rule n. "The first 90% of the code accounts for the first 90% of the development time. The remaining 10% of the code accounts for the other 90% of the development time." Attributed to Tom Cargill of Bell Labs, and popularized by Jon Bentley's September 1985 "Bumper-Sticker Computer Science" column in "Communications of the ACM". It was there called the "Rule of Credibility", a name which seems not to have stuck.
NMI /N-M-I/ n. Non-Maskable Interrupt. An IRQ 7 on the PDP-11 or 6800; the NMI line on an 8086. In contrast with a priority interrupt (which might be ignored, although that is unlikely), an NMI is *never* ignored.
no-op /noh'op/ alt. NOP /nop/ [no operation] n.
noddy /nod'ee/ [UK: from the children's books] adj.
NOMEX underwear /noh'meks uhn'-der-weir/ [USENET] n. Syn. asbestos longjohns, used mostly in auto-related mailing lists and newsgroups. NOMEX underwear is an actual product available on the racing equipment market, used as a fire resistance measure and required in some racing series.
Nominal Semidestructor n. Soundalike slang for `National Semiconductor', found among other places in the 4.3BSD networking sources. During the late 1970s to mid-1980s this company marketed a series of microprocessors including the NS16000 and NS32000 and several variants. At one point early in the great microprocessor race, the specs on these chips made them look like serious competition for the rising Intel 80x86 and Motorola 680x0 series. Unfortunately, the actual parts were notoriously flaky and never implemented the full instruction set promised in their literature, apparently because the company couldn't get any of the mask steppings to work as designed. They eventually sank without trace, joining the Zilog Z8000 and a few even more obscure also-rans in the graveyard of forgotten microprocessors. Compare HP-SUX, AIDX, buglix, Macintrash, Telerat, Open DeathTrap, ScumOS, sun-stools.
non-optimal solution n. (also `sub-optimal solution') An astoundingly stupid way to do something. This term is generally used in deadpan sarcasm, as its impact is greatest when the person speaking looks completely serious. Compare stunning. See also Bad Thing.
nonlinear adj. [scientific computation]
nontrivial adj. Requiring real thought or significant computing power. Often used as an understated way of saying that a problem is quite difficult or impractical, or even entirely unsolvable ("Proving P=NP is nontrivial"). The preferred emphatic form is `decidedly nontrivial'. See trivial, uninteresting, interesting.
not ready for prime time adj. Usable, but only just so; not very robust; for internal use only. Said of a program or device. Often connotes that the thing will be made more solid Real Soon Now. This term comes from the ensemble name of the original cast of "Saturday Night Live", the "Not Ready for Prime Time Players". It has extra flavor for hackers because of the special (though now semi-obsolescent) meaning of prime time. Compare beta.
notwork /not'werk/ n. A network, when it is acting flaky or is down. Compare nyetwork. Said at IBM to have originally referred to a particular period of flakiness on IBM's VNET corporate network ca. 1988; but there are independent reports of the term from elsewhere.
NP- /N-P/ pref. Extremely. Used to modify adjectives describing a level or quality of difficulty; the connotation is often `more so than it should be' (NP-complete problems all seem to be very hard, but so far no one has found a good a priori reason that they should be.) "Coding a BitBlt implementation to perform correctly in every case is NP-annoying." This is generalized from the computer-science terms `NP-hard' and `NP-complete'. NP is the set of Nondeterministic-Polynomial algorithms, those that can be completed by a nondeterministic Turing machine in an amount of time that is a polynomial function of the size of the input; a solution for one NP-complete problem would solve all the others. Note, however, that the NP- prefix is, from a complexity theorist's point of view, the wrong part of `NP-complete' to connote extreme difficulty; it is the completeness, not the NP-ness, that puts any problem it describes in the `hard' category.
nroff /N'rof/ [UNIX, from "new roff" (see troff)] n. A companion program to the UNIX typesetter troff, accepting identical input but preparing output for terminals and line printers.
NSA line eater n. The National Security Agency trawling program sometimes assumed to be reading the net for the U.S. Government's spooks. Most hackers describe it as a mythical beast, but some believe it actually exists, more aren't sure, and many believe in acting as though it exists just in case. Some netters put loaded phrases like `KGB', `Uzi', `nuclear materials', `Palestine', `cocaine', and `assassination' in their sig blocks in a (probably futile) attempt to confuse and overload the creature. The GNU version of EMACS actually has a command that randomly inserts a bunch of insidious anarcho-verbiage into your edited text.
There is a mainstream variant of this myth involving a `Trunk Line Monitor', which supposedly used speech recognition to extract words from telephone trunks. This one was making the rounds in the late 1970s, spread by people who had no idea of then-current technology or the storage, signal-processing, or speech recognition needs of such a project. On the basis of mass-storage costs alone it would have been cheaper to hire 50 high-school students and just let them listen in. Speech-recognition technology can't do this job even now (1993), and almost certainly won't in this millennium, either. The peak of silliness came with a letter to an alternative paper in New Haven, Connecticut, laying out the factoids of this Big Brotherly affair. The letter writer then revealed his actual agenda by offering --- at an amazing low price, just this once, we take VISA and MasterCard --- a scrambler guaranteed to daunt the Trunk Trawler and presumably allowing the would-be Baader-Meinhof gangs of the world to get on with their business.
nude adj. Said of machines delivered without an operating system (compare bare metal). "We ordered 50 systems, but they all arrived nude, so we had to spend a an extra weekend with the installation tapes." This usage is a recent innovation reflecting the fact that most PC clones are now delivered with DOS or Microsoft Windows pre-installed at the factory. Other kinds of hardware are still normally delivered without OS, so this term is particular to PC support groups.
nuke /n[y]ook/ vt.
number-crunching n. Computations of a numerical nature, esp. those that make extensive use of floating-point numbers. The only thing Fortrash is good for. This term is in widespread informal use outside hackerdom and even in mainstream slang, but has additional hackish connotations: namely, that the computations are mindless and involve massive use of brute force. This is not always evil, esp. if it involves ray tracing or fractals or some other use that makes pretty pictures, esp. if such pictures can be used as wallpaper. See also crunch.
numbers [scientific computation] n. Output of a computation that may not be significant results but at least indicate that the program is running. May be used to placate management, grant sponsors, etc. `Making numbers' means running a program because output --- any output, not necessarily meaningful output --- is needed as a demonstration of progress. See pretty pictures, math-out, social science number.
NUXI problem /nuk'see pro'bl*m/ n. Refers to the problem of transferring data between machines with differing byte-order. The string `UNIX' might look like `NUXI' on a machine with a different `byte sex' (e.g., when transferring data from a little-endian to a big-endian, or vice-versa). See also middle-endian, swab, and bytesexual.
nybble /nib'l/ (alt. `nibble') [from v. `nibble' by analogy with `bite' => `byte'] n. Four bits; one hex digit; a half-byte. Though `byte' is now techspeak, this useful relative is still jargon. Compare byte, crumb, tayste, dynner; see also bit, nickle, deckle. Apparently this spelling is uncommon in Commonwealth Hackish, as British orthography suggests the pronunciation /ni:'bl/.
nyetwork /nyet'werk/ [from Russian `nyet' = no] n. A network, when it is acting flaky or is down. Compare notwork.