In Web terms, an "ice" page is a page designed to display in a particular width Web browser window. It looks good in the width, but anything narrower truncates the display. Ice pages often have little messages that say "please set your browser window to this width"--or they automatically set the browser to the correct width, saving you the trouble.
A "jello" page presents everything within a fixed-width column that is always centered within your browser window, no matter how wide you make the window. Jello pages always tend to look pretty good--in large windows, the margins on either side of the page make for dramatic white space. At least, that's our opinion.
A "liquid" page is one in which all the elements align themselves to fit snugly within any size browser window--leaving no margin on the left or the right. Liquid pages always provide a full-screen presentation, but they can look really cramped in small browser windows.
The UDF, or Universal Disk Format, is a new way to organize information on a CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW, or DVD disc. UDF is meant to replace the old ISO9660 method used pretty much since CD-ROMs were invented. The new standard makes storing all kinds of digital information on the one kind of disc--especially the DVD--easier. It also lets you use that disc in a variety of readers and players.
When a calculation result is so small, so close to zero, that the computer can't represent it properly, you have underflow. The computer can then see this number as an error, or it can be programmed to round the number off so that work can proceed.
bulletVoice Blast
Voice Blast technology lets you automatically send a recorded voice message to many recipient telephones. Sometimes used for business or for community emergency warnings, Voice Blast is also misused for sending out those annoying ad messages.
Macintosh application programs have their own means of talking to one another and sharing information and status. It's called IAC (for Inter-Application Communications). You also may hear it referred to as Apple Events.
When the office geek talks about a disk being "hot-swappable," he or she is trying to tell you, in his or her own strange way, that the disk can be replaced without shutting down the system. Most big servers these days are being made with hot-swappable components--because everyone knows how mad you get when you can't get at your computer.
Remember the pride you took in knowing what they call that little plastic tube at the end of your shoelaces? Well, the nerds have taken even THAT from you. For them, an aglet is an "agile applet"--a tiny program that can move among computers in a network, performing actions automatically based on computer system events. Sure, it's interesting--but whom are you going to impress by knowing it?
When a piece of hardware is ready for the next task or transmission, it can tell other hardware by sending a DSR or Data Set Ready signal.
bulletInternet time
"Internet time," as used by nerds, refers to the perceived quickened pace of life caused by the Internet--as in "everything moves faster, now that we're on Internet time." Of course, the Internet part of everything moves faster--you can buy something in minutes--but the real-world part still moves at the same earthly pace.
bulletInternet Time
Internet Time--with a capital "T"--is a new system of time measurement being promoted by the watchmakers at Swatch; it divides each day into 1,000 equal "beats." Swatch says it's doing this because beats are more suitable time markers for Internet users than, say, minutes or seconds. Since this is patently ridiculous, could the real reason be that if nobody buys into Internet Time, Swatch will be stuck with a building full of really silly looking timepieces?
The Secure Digital Music Initiative is a specification for playing digital music. Where the popular MP3 specification focuses only on music quality in the most compact file size, the  recording-industry's SDMI adds security. The goal is for future generations of digital music players to be able to handle both free MP3 files (which SDMI supports) and paid-for SDMI music files (which can't be copied). Some MP3 fans see this specification as a heavy-handed attempt to squash the artistic and listener freedom of MP3. Some industry defenders say that without some protection against piracy, artists and producers won't be paid for their efforts.
The new USB ports in many Macs and PCs can be faster and easier to use than the older serial and parallel ports. But the "driver" software that makes USB work is generally new and prone to be buggy. This is particularly true when the USB peripheral and its driver try to re-create the older-type ports. Those setups use a piece of software called a "shim" that intrudes upon the main USB driver and tries to intercept the calls for traditional port action. This complicated dance can mean even buggier behavior. The gradual improvement of USB software will help squash these bugs. The disappearance of the need for serial and parallel ports will help even more.
bulletScreen shot
Screen shots, screen dumps, and screen captures are all the same thing: an image of what appears on the screen. Most computers have a way to send a basic screen shot directly to a disk file or to a printer. Some specialized graphics programs let you choose just which part of the screen to shoot.
Early processors and computers didn't always have the room to work on a full 8 bits--a "byte"--at a time. Instead these primitive machines sometimes had to make do with "nibbles"--four bits at a   time.
Collaboration is an important element of communication on a network. A Whiteboard program lets one user create, edit or draw on screen while others view that work.
The IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) 802.11 standard specifies how wireless Ethernet gear can network computers without cabling. The first generation of 802.11 products ran at 2 Mbps (megabits per second); the second generation runs at 11Mbps, using the 2.4GHz radio band.
If a phone or related device is going to be controlled by or communicate with a computer, the programs involved want a standardized set of rules for exchanging information. The Telephony Applications Programming Interface (TAPI) is one such set.
Hewlett-Packard is famous for making printers and plotters. To standardize the way computers spoke to those printers and plotters, HP devised the HPGL, or Hewlett Packard Graphics Language. HPGL has been successful enough that most graphics programs and printers, from any manufacturer, can understand it.
bulletTransaction processing
Transaction processing is the opposite of batch processing: It executes requests or commands as soon as they're given. Transaction processing is what lets you pay bills over the Web, get instant search results, and so on. Transaction processors are considered essential components in today's Web servers.
bulletFault tolerant
A computer system is fault tolerant if it continues to serve you, without interruption, in the event of a hardware or software failure. Most fault tolerance is implemented by setting up duplicate (or triplicate or quadruplicate) disks or systems, each of which is designed to "take over" if the other fails--a technique known as mirroring. What do you know? You got two Nerd Words in one today.
An e-book is a book you read on your computer. Some e-books are nothing more than screen after screen of text, which you scroll through with your mouse. Others are wildly interactive affairs, with special navigational controls, multiple story lines from which to choose, animated illustrations, and so on. Soon, this term will probably redefine itself to mean one of those books you read on a pocket-sized computer designed specifically for reading e-books.
The Kernel is the heart of an operating system, that foundation software inside every computer. It monitors clock and how much time each program gets, starts programs and monitors their status, and handles resource--memory and such--sharing among  programs.
bulletStreaming video
Streaming video is the process of transmitting compressed sequences of video images and then decompressing and playing them on arrival. Streaming video lets you play a video over the Web without having to download the entire thing first. Unfortunately, unless you have a fast Internet connection (ISDN or faster), most streaming video looks more like trickling video.
bulletLandscape mode
Most pages are rectangles, not squares. You can view or print them with the short sides at top and bottom--called Portrait mode--or with the short sides on the right and left--called Landscape mode.
bulletMail Exploder
A program that forwards a e-mail to many addresses is "exploding" that mail. Sometimes this is the action of a virus that digs out a mailing list and sends unauthorized copies of itself to the addresses on that list. It can also be an authorized action to broadcast an authorized message to many   recipients.
The slowest practical modem speed for using the Web is 14,400 bps. The international standard for modems that run at this speed is called V.32bis. It is an extension of the previous V.32 standard that specified how 4800 bps and 9600 bps modems would communicate.
bulletOdd Header
A Header is the text, page number, date and other information printed in a special zone at the top of a page. An Odd Header appears only on odd-numbered pages.
bulletPaperless Office
Apparently invented by the same folks who brought you the jumbo shrimp and military intelligence (our apologies to George Carlin), the Paperless Office concept was supposed to bring us a future where all those documents were seen on screen and saved on disk, not printed, shuffled, filed, and possibly recycled. It isn't happening, with computers instead making it easier to print more every  year.
bulletBackside Cache
A cache is a small amount of faster, expensive memory used to hold most-recently or most-frequently requested information, which can make all the memory appear to operate faster. Backside Cache is closely attached to the processor but is not inside the processor.
The Random Access Memory Digital-to-Analog Converter chip found in manycomputer video systems changes stored memory bits into actual analog signals for a monitor. In other words, it runs the digital color representation through its own stored color palette information and translates the result into waves that can produce the actual colors on screen. A video system with a RAMDAC can have a better look and higher processing speeds than one without.
Sure, there are millions, even billions of pages, on the Web. But howmany really matter? That is, how many mention your name? Egosurfing isthe search to find out.
Beowulf is a way of connecting many Linux computers together to  multiply their power. Beowulf is useful for supercomputing-style work, such as numeric analysis and engineering design. Of course, use it anywhere near a mead hall, and you've got problems.
bulletGame port
Many PCs have a special port--a mechanical site with electrical wires for connection to other devices--for plugging in game hardware such as a joystick, flight stick or steering wheel. This port has 15 pins and is often part of the sound card.
Among computer graphics mavens, primitives are the basic shapes--ovals (circles), rectangles (squares), or arcs--used to create drawings. Most drawing programs, including the Draw program that comes with Microsoft Word, include a toolbar of primitives. Except you probably always called them "shapes."


Way back when modems were slow--so slow they made today's typical modem look like some Star Trek fantasy--their speed was typically measured in Baud. This referred to the number of voltage or frequency changes made per second on a communications line. Mostly the changes were of either voltage or frequency. Coincidentally, these modems mostly moved one bit of information for each change, so the bps--bits per second--were the same as the baud. A 300 baud modem was a 300 bps modem. As new generations of modems came along, bps didn't equal baud. New technology managed to convey more than one bit of information for each comm line change. For example, a 1200bps modem might only run at 600 baud. Because most computer owners care entirely about bps--and only electronic engineers crave voltage and frequency details--the term "baud" has fallen out of general use.
A trunk is a large communications channel connecting big communications centers. For example, the lines under the ocean that connect the phones and computers in North America to those in Europe are trunks. Oftentimes trying-to-sound-big nerds refer to their ISDN line as a "trunk," but it isn't. It's just a line.
bulletCard Cage
Many computers have an internal area where new electronic circuit boards can be plugged in. Because those circuit boards are also known as "cards", and because the internal area often has protective metal grillwork around it, the name "card cage" seems a natural. But in reality it came from older computers that didn't really have a case at all, only a cage area to hold the electronics.
This was a popular name for the Ethernet local-area-networking standard more officially known as 10Base-2. This standard could move 10 megabits per second on a cable up to 200 meters long. It was called "cheaper" because the cable it employed didn't cost as much as the standard Ethernet cable. Because the cable was also a thin coaxial design, 10Base-2 also earned the name ThinNet.
Be warned: At Microsoft, the goal is to make you stare at your computer for the rest of your life. To make you less resistant to this idea, it has developed something called ClearType, which, when it arrives, will increase your on-screen font resolution by 300 percent so that maybe you'll be more inclined to read things on-screen than print them out. After all, until Microsoft figures out a way to own the forest, it doesn't want you buying any paper.
One way to pin down a precise color is to specify it in terms of Hue, Saturation and Brightness. These roughly correspond to the popular notions of color base, color intensity and amount of white or black.
The Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA) is a collection of companies such as 3Com, Apple, Compaq, Dell, Lucent, Nokia, Zoom, and Aironet that test and certify wireless networking gear.V
bulletBatch processing
Batch processing is the process of saving up computer requests or commands and then executing them all at one time--usually at night or during off hours, when the server isn't in heavy use. While batch processing is still heavily in use, it's not really well suited to the Web, where folks want immediate gratification for their strenuous typing and clicking. We talk next time about the kind of processing that brings that immediate gratification.
bulletCrossover cable
Typical computer cables--such as serial, parallel, and 10Base-T Ethernet--carry particular signals on each of 4 to 25 or more wires inside the cable. Those wires are arranged so that they'll make sense to the receiving sockets on peripherals. If you want to feed a set of signals directly from one computer to another, you need a "crossover cable"--one where the key signal wires are swapped halfway.  To get an idea of how a crossover cable works, imagine that two people call you simultaneously on two phones, and you want them to speak directly to each another. You can't just hold your two phone handsets up to one another. You have to turn one handset upside down--that is, cross it over--so that its speaker is against the other phone's ear piece and its ear piece is against the other phone's speaker.
bulletWeb Clipping
Internet-compatible cell phones and handheld computers rarely have screens large enough to show even a significant portion of a typical Web page. The solution is "web clipping," trimming away elements of the Web page so that the vital information can fit onto the tiny displays.
Fasgrolia is the new nerd term for "fast-growing language of initialisms and acronyms"--the very phenomenon that probably inspired you to subscribe to Nerd Word of the Day in the first place. Only nerds could invent an annoying acronym for their annoying acronyms.
Jolt Cola is the cola with the highest caffeine content--and as such, a favorite drink of the late-night programming crowd. Hackers used to reminisce about their college days by saying, "Give me a liter of Jolt and a box of Twinkies, and there wasn't any security system I couldn't crack." Just another reason to contribute to the scholarship fund of your choice.
Local area networks that connect computers in an office typically use the Ethernet specifications to move information around at a maximum speed of 10 Mbps (that's megabits per second). Networks using inexpensive, telephone-style wiring are called 10Base-T networks. A newer generation moves ten times as much information--100 Mbps--on phone wires and is called 100Base-T. The specifications are nearly complete for the next increase: 1,000 Mbps (or 1 gigabit per second). This standard is known as 1000Base-T or Gigabit Ethernet.
A Gigaflop is a billion (the giga part) floating point operations (the flop part) per second. A floating point operation is a mathematical calculation, such as 2.277E5 * 4.3567E-7, which involves numbers in scientific form. Floating point operations are more complicated than integer operations (like 2 * 43, for example) and are a good measure of a powerful computer's processor performance. In the 1980s, the gigaflop was a common measure of supercomputer ability. Now it is starting to appear in desktop computer specs, such as the new Power Mac G4, which claims 1 Gigaflop speed. Which means we could soon start hearing thrilled computer owners saying, "I got such a huge Flop!"
The Wireless Application Protocol is a specification for providing Internet communications and advanced telephony services on digital mobile phones, pagers, personal digital assistants, and wireless terminals. For details about this specification, go to the WAP Forum.
The HomeRF Working Group is an alliance of companies including Compaq, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola, and Proxim that are working on a non-Ethernet wireless scheme for networking computers.
Frequency is the measurement of how often something happens, typically measured in number of times per second. The unit is the Hertz, or Hz, named after a German scientist.
A sitelet is a small--and often temporary--section of a Web site, usually focused on a particular topic or purpose. Most Web banner ads take users to hard-selling sitelets instead of main Web sites. More and more often, we're seeing sitelet addresses, rather than domain names, in magazine and direct mail advertisements.
Linkrot refers to the overall percentage of bad links--links to pages that cease to exist or have been moved elsewhere--on the Web. For example, suppose that tomorrow the folks at changed the address for a popular book (such as Angela's Ashes) to which many sites include a link; the occurrence of linkrot would increase by quite a bit. Because sites don't make a point of TELLING others when they move pages or reorganize themselves, we'll probably have linkrot for as long as we have the Web.
bulletMemory Effect
If you have a notebook computer, you probably have a nickel-cadmium, or NiCad, battery to go with it. And you've probably noticed that if you ever make the mistake of not fully recharging your NiCad battery once, it seems like you can never fully recharge it again. This is called "the memory effect"--the battery's seeming ability to "remember" a partial recharge and accept no more. It's called "memory effect" because the only other appropriate term is "big pain in the keester."                    
CAB--or more specifically, .CAB--is a type of file called a "cabinet" file that contains several compressed files. Many application CD-ROMs contain CAB files. When you install the application, the files within the CAB files are decompressed and copied onto your computer's hard disk.                       
bulletBitmapped graphic
Last time, we told you about vector graphics and promised to tell you about their counterparts, bitmapped graphics. And so, to keep our promise: A bitmapped graphic is a picture made up of dots, each of which represents one or more bits of data (the more bits per dot, the more color possibilities for each dot). Here are three things to remember about bitmapped graphics:

* Bitmapped graphics look best--on-screen and in print--at their ORIGINAL SIZE.
* You can create your own bitmapped graphics by using a paint program, such as Windows Paint or Adobe PhotoShop. Also, any image you scan is saved as a bitmap.
* Popular bitmapped graphic file formats include JPEG (.JPG), GIF (.GIF), TIFF (.TIF), and Windows Bitmap (.BMP).

In Nerdland, "open" is a synonym for "freely available"; an open architecture is an architecture (explained last time) whose specifications are public and can be used freely by everyone. The IBM PC architecture has been open since its inception, resulting in the wide variety of IBM-compatible PCs, or "clones," now available.
The opposite of open, by the way, isn't closed. We have more to say about this next time.
A phreak is a type of hacker who uses his or her computer to break into a telephone network to either 1) listen in on other people's conversations or 2) make long-distance phone calls for free. About the latter type of phreak, all we can do is wonder: Isn't eight cents per minute cheap enough?
Did you ever watch one of those war movies in which paratroopers are dropped from a plane? Some guy shouts "go" and pushes one paratrooper out of the plane; then, well before that paratrooper hits the ground, the guy (who apparently has only a one-word vocabulary) shouts "go" and pushes out another paratrooper, and so on. Well, now imagine that the plane is your computer's processor, and each paratrooper is an instruction. What you're imagining is pipelining, a process in which a processor sends off one instruction and then another before the previous instruction has been completed. Pipelining enables your computer to do several things at once.
Push technology enables a Web server to send data to YOU instead of waiting--or hoping--for you to get the data yourself. Probably the most well-known example of push technology is the PointCast news service, which delivers business news reports to users' Web browsers. In a more general sense, push refers to any network technology that sends data to your desktop without the desktop actually requesting the data. E-mail--which sends you messages whether you go get them or not--is the classic example of this more general notion of push.
bulletDOS file extension
Depending on how long you've been using computers, you may remember a time when all filenames were followed by a dot and three characters--as in filename.doc or filename.wk3. The three letters were known as a DOS file extension; they told DOS which application was used to create the file. Windows 95 supposedly did away with file extensions forever, but a need to know them still pops up on occasion--such as when you try to open a file with something other than the application used to create it.                    
Spam is the e-mail equivalent of junk mail. They probably could have called it J-mail, but then it might be confused with Java mail, and anyway, people seem to never tire of hearing the word "spam." This spam also has a verb form, as in "I've been spammed by a Web pornographer." We think we can all be happy that the other SPAM does NOT have a verb form.
bulletWhite paper
Up until very, very recently, a white paper was something a company published to explain the science or philosophy behind a particular product or product strategy. For example, IBM might publish a white paper on "the future of network computing." Today, most white papers are brochures masquerading as white papers: They're published in a white paper format--on white paper, with a simple design and a few unsophisticated diagrams--but in fact extol the virtues of the company's products. This change occurred when responsibility for writing white papers shifted from research people to marketing people.
Cybersquatting is the rather distasteful act of registering a known company name as a Web address so that you can sell it back to the company itself. For example, years ago a cybersquatter might have registered, knowing that someday Ford Motor Company would be desperate to buy it. If this sounds like a way to make quick money, think again. Cybersquatters usually lose when their extortion victims get a day in court.                       
PRAM stands for "parameter RAM" (RAM, as we've probable told you many times, stands for "random-access memory," the memory in your computer). You can find PRAM in a Macintosh computer (probably an OLDER Macintosh computer). It's a small amount of memory, with its own battery power, that stores system parameters--such as the arrangement of items on the desktop--when the computer is shut down.
bulletDigitizing tablet
A digitizing tablet is like an electronic pad of paper: You draw on the pad with an electronic pen (usually called a "stylus"), and your drawing appears on the computer screen. Most graphic artists consider the digital tablet a more intuitive drawing tool than the mouse.

Open (our last term) means "freely available." Proprietary, its opposite, means "private and protected." A proprietary technology or architecture is a design or architecture whose specifications are not publicly available and may be used or duplicated only with permission of the creator. Apple's Macintosh architecture is the classic example of a proprietary architecture; there are no Macintosh clones.

bulletRAM disk

A RAM disk is RAM (random access memory) that works like a disk drive: It gets its own "letter" (such as D:\ or E:\), you can save or copy files to it, and you can open files from it.

The plus: RAM, which has no moving parts except for semiconducted electricity, is up to 1,000 times faster than a disk drive. The minus: Like your computer's memory, a RAM disk loses everything that's on it once you shut down the computer, so you have to copy all the files on the RAM disk back to your hard disk before you shut down. Thus, a RAM disk makes sense only if you work with programs that need to access a disk frequently--and run too slowly when that disk is a hard disk.                       


In your computer, the motherboard is the main board, the one that contains the circuits connecting the computer's processor to its hard disk, memory, and other components. Motherboards also contain slots into which you can add other components, such as an internal modem, a scanner card, and so on.                       


WAP stands for "wireless application protocol," a technical specification for enabling people to securely access digital information (such as messages, e-mail, faxes, and so on) via their mobile phone, pager, personal digital assistant (PDA), or other wireless device.                       


Chad--a collective noun--consists of the little rectangular pieces of paper punched out of computer punch cards. Where did the name come from? Well, for a long time those little pieces of paper didn't have a name at all. Then someone named Chadless invented the Chadless keypunch--a device that punched little u-shaped holes into computer cards, eliminating the mess of the little rectangular pieces of paper. And since this new punch was called "Chadless," computer geniuses immediately deduced that the old punch produced "chad."

bulletPower supply

A computer's power supply does three very important things. First, it takes the required amount of current from the outlet into which the computer is plugged. Second, it converts that current from AC (alternating current, what you get from your wall outlet) to DC (direct current, what you need to run the computer reliably). Third, its built-in surge protection eliminates spikes and surges to some degree but is no substitute for an external surge protector.


A triplecast (tm)--yes, it's trademarked--is the simultaneous broadcast of a program over television, radio, and Web. What does this mean? Well, for one thing, it means that if you have to be at your computer, this is one kind of program you don't have to miss. Whoopee!


Topology--more specifically, network topology--refers to the connection pattern of a computer network. For example, a network can have a "ring" topology, in which the computers are connected in a loop, or a "star" topology, in which each computer is connected to a central computer. Newer network management applications allow network managers to display a picture of their network's topology on-screen.


DCC stands for "digital content creation"--a name recently given, by computer companies, to the "target market" of folks who create audio/visual media for the Web. Computer companies have bothered to name this group because as a rule, digital content creators are in the market for the fastest, most powerful computers and monitors available.                       


Ever visit a Web site that provides links to other Web sites and, when you take one of those links, displays the other site in a frame within the original site? The original site is a para-site. Para-sites are good because they let you surf many sites from within the friendly confines of a single site. Para-sites can also be annoying because they don't allow you to directly bookmark the sites displayed within the frame--which forces you to be overly dependent on the para-site.


Flame can be both a noun and a verb in cyberspace. The noun, flame, refers to a very harsh, inflammatory, and sometimes personal or obscene e-mail message or newsgroup posting. The verb, to flame, means to send or post such a message.

bulletBernoulli Box

If you were around during the early days of personal computing, you may remember the Bernoulli Box--a removable, reliable floppy disk drive that people used to archive and transport large amounts of data. The box was so named because it worked on a kind of reverse of Bernoulli's Principle: It spun the disk at such a high speed that it actually curved UP to the drive head, as opposed to having the drive head come DOWN to the disk--thereby all but eliminating the possibility of a disk crash. Bernoulli Boxes are pretty much extinct today; the manufacturer, Iomega, now makes Zip and Jaz drives.        


API stands for "application program interface"; it's a facility built into a finished application or operating system that lets a programmer access and customize the application's or operating system's features without doing a lot of extra work. For example, developers use the Windows API to display Save and Open dialog boxes, which is why they all look pretty much the same.

bulletSingle-ended cable

A single-ended cable is a two-wire cable in which one wire carries the electrical signal and the other is connected to a ground. The cord you insert into a two-pronged outlet is a classic example of a single-ended cable.


Netcheque is a technology that enables individuals--more specifically, registered Netcheque users--to write checks to one another via e-mail or Web applications. The checks are "deposited" to a server, which then authorizes a transfer from the writer's bank account to the recipient's bank account. Figure out what percentage of the mail you send consists of bill payments, and you can quickly quantify the threat Netcheque poses to the U.S. Postal Service.

bulletWall clock time

In Nerdland, wall clock time is elapsed time--the time it takes for the computer to do something, as measured by a clock. It has the special name "wall clock time" to distinguish it from processor time, which is the time the computer's processor is occupied by the same task--and which is almost always shorter than the wall clock time, since the processor works on several tasks simultaneously.


DTP, as even some non-nerds know, stands for "desktop publishing"--a class of personal computer software used to design and produce printed documents. Desktop publishing programs usually allow more sophisticated graphics placement, color, and type handling than, say, a word processing program; many also make it easier to specify colors used by commercial printers. Popular desktop publishing programs include Adobe PageMaker, QuarkXPress, and, on the lower end, Microsoft Publisher.                     


VRM stands for "voltage regulator module," a small part in your computer's motherboard (or main system board) that controls how much voltage gets flowed to the microprocessor chip. The VRM does an important job: Too much voltage can fry the chip--a transformation that's wonderful for potato chips but hardly useful for computer chips.                       


POTS stands for "plain old telephone service." It's the term tech weenies use when comparing the existing phone lines to other Internet service conduits, such as ISDN or broadband (cable). It may be plain, and it certainly is slow, but right now POTS is the most affordable, widely available, and widely used means of connecting to the Internet and the Web.                    

PARC stands for "Palo Alto Research Center," a kind of think-tank run by Xerox Corporation during the 1970s and 1980s. Scientists at PARC invented all kinds of things we take for granted today: graphical user interfaces (GUIs) such as those found in Apple's Macintosh and Microsoft Windows, the mouse, computer fonts, Ethernet networking, and so on. Sadly for Xerox, most of these inventors left PARC to start their own companies based on the technologies they invented.
bulletHeat sink
A heat sink is a device that is either built onto or attached to a microprocessor chip to help keep the chip cool. Typically, a heat sink looks like a series of spikes or fins rising out of the top of the chip, which channel heat away from the chip. Occasionally, the device takes the form of a fan that spins while the computer is on and blows the hot air away from the chip. Either way, the heat sink is what keeps your computer from becoming a very expensive toaster.
WML stands for "wireless markup language." It is the language that programmers use--or WILL use--to display Web content on an emerging class of wireless devices, including smartphones, large-screen pagers, and Web-ready personal digital assistants (PDAs). Personally, we can't think of an experience more annoying than surfing the Web with a pager, but it's coming.
A NetaryPublic is an alternative to copywriting a Web page or Web document. The NetaryPublic--actually a private company--records the time you created your Web document and maintains a record of that time for five years. So if someone duplicates your work on the Web, you have proof that you created yours first. Of course, how well NetaryPublic protects your documents will be determined, we suppose, in future court cases.
IPP stands for "Internet Printing Protocol." It's a set of standards for printing over the Internet--that is, for printing a file on your computer to a printer via an Internet connection. Among other things, Internet printing would enable you to print a document from your home PC directly to a printer at work--and make it seem to the casual observer that you're at work, even if you aren't.
bulletRaster graphics
Some folks use the terms "raster graphic" and "bitmapped graphic" (explained last time) interchangeably, but they shouldn't. A raster graphic is a vector image that's been converted into a bitmapped image. In most cases, this is done to make the graphic suitable for printing on a particular kind of printer. In fact, if you're having trouble printing a vector graphic on a laser printer, try using your printer's raster printing option, if it has one; you may get better (if somewhat slower) results.
bulletBig Blue
When you hear a cyberweenie complaining about "Big Blue," he or she is complaining about International Business Machines Corporation, more popularly known as IBM. IBM is called Big Blue because of the color of its logo--and perhaps because of the company's longtime, recently discontinued, tacit requirement that its employees wear blue suits
GLV stands for "grating light valve." A relatively new display technology, GLV arranges pixels on a silicon chip and then projects the arrangement to any of a variety of display devices--a desktop or laptop computer monitor, a personal digital assistant (PDA), and so on. GLV has the potential to enable sharper pictures in smaller, less-cumbersome, and less-expensive computer displays; we won't know until the technology is widely available.
In Web lingo, a gravesite is a Web site that's still accessible--still "up" on the Web--but that has apparently been abandoned by its creators and/or updaters. Marketing weenies also use "gravesite" to refer to Web sites that have stopped attracting enough traffic to interest advertisers. You can always count on marketers to co-opt a term.
A supercomputer is a giant computer with incredible calculation power, used for special calculation-intensive applications--such as cinema-quality animation and high-level artificial intelligence. Or playing chess (which, we suppose, qualifies as high-level artificial intelligence). It was an IBM supercomputer named Deep Blue that beat Russian grandmaster Garry Kasparov in a series of chess games a few years ago--and then once again in a rematch this May.
bulletLight pen
A light pen is what your pen feels like after you swing a heavy pen. Just kidding. A light pen is a pen with a special tip that lets you select and move objects on your computer screen by touching the pen tip directly to the screen. Light pens are popular for giving presentations on huge, TV-sized monitors. However, you don't see many light pens on people's desks because they're not as comfortable to use as a mouse or a keyboard.
Among the Internet and Web cognoscenti, a 404 is a link that takes you not to another Web page but to an error message--specifically, a "404 Not Found" error message, which means that the URL you requested cannot be found. "404 Not Found" is one of scores of original Internet status codes written and instituted by the founder of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, in 1992.
A while ago, we told you about CPM, which stands for "cost per thousand" Web page visits ("M" being the Roman numeral for one thousand)--a term Web marketing weenies use to evaluate the performance of their banner ads. CPC stands for "cost per click," one method Web site owners use to price advertising on their sites. For example, a Web owner might charge the advertiser 20 cents per click. Either this is really adding up or all these Web IPOs are "doing it with mirrors," so to speak.
Zombie is the cyberspeak term for an abandoned or neglected Web site--which, as explained yesterday, is a "gravesite"--that has been moved to another Web address, or URL. You read it right: Nobody has bothered to update the site, but somebody HAS bothered to move it. The term zombie is appropriate: The site is something that's dead but seems to move.
bulletBlue bomb
A blue bomb is a packet of information that one computer sends to another computer for the sole purpose of causing the other computer to crash. Why would anyone want to do such a thing? Well, players who are about to lose online games have been known to send blue bombs, as have chat participants who want to be sure theirs is the last word. (It's called a "blue" bomb after the "blue screen of death," which Windows 95/98 displays when it's about to crash.)
Sneakernet, jargon for "sneaker network," is the derogatory phrase that techies use to describe the practice of carrying files on floppies from one computer to another instead of transmitting them over a REAL network. In this case, the techies have a point: Today, with e-mail on virtually every desktop in the world, there's little or no excuse for time-consuming file transfer via sneakernet.
Ever notice that while many Web pages end with the suffix ".html," some end with the suffix ".asp"? ASP stands for "active server page." It's a Web page that includes a script that is run on the Web server before the page is sent to your browser. The script usually takes information you entered on a previous page--or information that the Web site already knows about you--and uses it to customize the page in some way.
Yesterday, we mentioned Microsoft's Windows CE, a Windows 95-like operating system designed for personal digital assistants/hand-held PCs (PDAs/HPCs). Today, we introduce you to Windows CE's competitor: EPOC32. Created by Symbian--a partnership born of personal communication device manufacturers Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia, and Psion--EPOC32 is designed not only as an operating system for PDAs (previous versions of EPOC have shipped for years with Psion's PDAs) but also as an operating system for wireless devices such as "smartphones." You can view an interesting presentation on EPOC at: 
bulletCable modem
Last time, we told you about coaxial cable. Today, we introduce you to a cable modem, which is a kind of modem you use to connect to the Internet over coaxial cable. Today's cable modems can transmit data at 500 kbps and, more importantly, receive data at 250 kbps--about 50 times faster than the 56 kbps modems used to connect over telephone lines. Trust us: 50 times faster makes a big, big difference.
Actually, the term is pronounced "lee-nux," and it's a FREE implementation of the UNIX operating system that you can run on PCs, Macs, and several other computing platforms. We say "you" idiomatically, not literally, because although Linux is enjoying a growing popularity among the technological elite, its UNIX-like characteristics--specifically, its tendency to make you type lots of complex syntax at a command-line prompt--makes it a less-than-usable system for most users. To put it another way, Linus might have used it, but Lucy would have stuck with Windows.
LZW is an algorithm (a fancy word for "method") for compressing data files. If we may attempt an analogy, using LZW compression is like replacing a book with an index: It finds repeated words or pieces of information, lists each once, and then includes pointers (such as page numbers) indicating where each is repeated. The pointers take up less room than the actual pieces of information, which makes the file smaller. By the way, LZW stands for "Lempel-Ziv-Welch," the names of the three folks responsible for this miracle of data compacting.
Remember when PDA stood for "public display of affection"? Well, if big companies like 3COM and Compaq have their way, it will soon stand for the somewhat less heartwarming "personal digital assistant," one of those little handheld half-computers, like the PalmPilot or the Apple Newton, that folks can use to send faxes, make phone calls, and store phone numbers and appointments. They're neat but not half as exciting as necking on a crowded sidewalk.
bullet24 x 7
Nerds use the term "24 x 7" (pronounced without the "x"--as in "twenty-four-seven") to refer to computers or support staff that are available every hour of every single day--computers so technically advanced that they never have downtime and support staffs that work in shifts so that someone is always there to answer the phone. But this is one term that's leapt from geek-land to the real life, where it's now slang for "total commitment." We even heard it used on a popular comedy show to describe a clingy girlfriend. Nerd words hit the big time: Big whoop.
bulletArtificial intelligence (AI)
Artificial intelligence is computer technology designed to imitate the human brain--specifically, to solve problems by learning and reasoning. Originally, in the early 1950s, AI was called "computer intelligence," which you have to admit is a much more accurate term; interestingly, it was an MIT professor, and not a marketing weenie, who renamed it artificial intelligence in 1956. AI is still a ways from replacing human brains, but as Deep Blue's victory of Gary Kasparov demonstrated, it can sure play a mean game of chess.
Say the letters out loud, and you know what it means: "BCNU" means "Be seeing you!" It's one of those cute little acronyms that people use in chat rooms when they're leaving the discussion. We think actual whole words--such as "I'm blowing this clambake"--are a lot more colorful. But that's just us.
Hmm: What could nerds mean by W3? Is it new weight of motor oil? Could it be the secret code they use for World War III, which they're planning to start by reviving the Y2K bug? Is it an acronym for their variation on the "Where's Waldo?" game, called "Where's Woodrow Wilson?" Okay, we'll stop. As you've no doubt guessed, W3 stands for "World Wide Web." What else?
Last month, we told you about CGI, or Common Gateway Interface--the standard for writing programs that run programs on a Web server from a Web page. So what's a "cgi-bin," that little phrase you so often see tacked to the end of the URL in your browser's location box? Turns out it's pretty much what it sounds (or reads) like: a place (folder or directory) on a Web server where all the CGI programs are kept. When you see "cgi-bin," you're either at a page you arrived at as a result of a CGI program or on a page from which you can run a CGI program.
An alphanumeric expression (typically just called an "alphanumeric") is an expression containing both letters and numbers. Examples of alphanumerics include most license plate numbers, the acronym Y2K, and many Web site URLs (such as 
MAE stands for "Metropolitan Area Exchange," which is a point on the Internet where Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can connect with each other. The first MAE was built in Washington, D.C.; the second, built in the Silicon Valley, is called "MAE-West." That whirring noise you hear is the original Mae, spinning in her grave.
A "click-through" is a Web advertiser's term for a person who clicks a Web ad, such as a banner, and arrives at the advertiser's Web site. Because a click-through is a better prospect than someone who simply stumbles upon a Web site, smart Web advertisers make sure that the click-through arrives at a special page designed to capture his or her name, e-mail address, and other information.
E-books are just what you would think they are: electronic books. Specifically, an e-book is a small, book-sized computer with a screen that allows you to read the digitized text of a book. It also has a touch-sensitive screen and stylus that let you highlight, annotate, or bookmark the book. A single e-book can actually contain an entire library of books, making carrying around a lot of books at once easier. And you download book texts to your e-book from Web sites such as:
"FUD" stands for fear, uncertainty, and disinformation. It's an acronym that nerds typically use to describe a neophyte's--or a
bureaucrat's--often panicked and unjustified reaction to new technology or matters technological. Widespread e-mail about a rumored but entirely nonexistent virus is one example of FUD in action.
bulletDye-sub printer
A dye-sub printer works by heating ribbons of colored ink and then transferring the ink to paper--specially coated, expensive paper. The result is true photo-quality output but at a price that might make most of us wonder why you wouldn't just take a picture in the first place. Dye-sub, by the way, is short for "dye sublimation." Another term for the same printing technology is "thermal dye transfer."
"Thumbnail" is one of those terms that has evolved over history. It referred originally, of course, to the fingernail on your thumb. Later--say, sometime in the mid-1900s--it began to be used as an adjective, meaning "brief" (as in "thumbnail biography"). Then advertising types began using the term to refer to small pictures used in storyboards. Later, in the early '90s, software manufacturers added "thumbnail views" to presentation software and desktop publishing programs; these views enabled one to see multiple, miniaturized pages on one screen. And now, with the advent of the Web, thumbnail also means a miniaturized image that you can click to see the full-size image. Quite a trip through time for a word, no?
An agent (also called an intelligent agent) is a program that, when triggered by specified circumstances or events, runs all by itself and performs tasks for you. Your e-mail program, for example, might have an agent (or let you create one )that automatically deletes month-old messages or alerts you when you receive a message from a particular person. Server-side agents are agents that run on a network server (duh!) and automate network administration tasks.
bulletWarm boot, cold boot
As most of you know, to "boot" (also to "boot up") means to start your computer. A "warm boot" is a way of restarting your computer without actually shutting off the computer. For example, you can warm boot a DOS-based PC by pressing Ctrl + Alt + Delete or warm boot a Windows 95 PC by clicking Start, choosing Shut Down, selecting Restart, and then clicking OK.

You perform a "cold boot" by turning the computer off and then back on again--and losing all unsaved work in the process. As a result, you usually perform a cold boot only in dire circumstances.
In techno-speak, an avatar is an icon that represents a real person in an online game, forum, or other area of cyberspace. An avatar can range from a simple picture to an animated 3-D graphic that moves and morphs to reflect what the person it represents is doing. This word has nobler roots than many: In Hindu, an avatar is the human or animal incarnation of a deity. It's nice when geeks get high-minded, isn't it?
bulletEaster Egg

The pinball game hidden in Microsoft Word. The flight simulator concealed in Excel. The animated list of contributors tucked into a hidden folder of Windows 95. These are just a few examples of Easter Eggs: undocumented programs--usually games or elaborate screen shows--that programmers hide in applications. Entire Web sites have been created to alert you to the Easter Eggs in your favorite programs. If you don't believe us, check out the Easter Egg Archive at:

bulletUser name
Your user name is the name by which a network server knows you and, consequently, the name that you must provide to gain access to a particular computer or network. Your Internet e-mail user name, for example, is the part of your e-mail address that comes before the @ sign--for example, the "ed" in
IRC stands for "Internet Relay Chat," the area of the Internet where you can "chat" with other users (that is, type and send messages that the other user or users see as soon as you send them). In other words, IRC is what Tom Hanks used to type directly to Meg Ryan when he "had a feeling" she was online. As if Meg Ryan would be silly enough to compose her e-mails online.
"Zine" is short for magazine. Before the advent of the Web, a zine was a small-circulation, self-published magazine--produced, say, in the publisher's basement. Today, zine is also short for e-zine, or electronic magazine, meaning a magazine you read on the Web. Two very (and justifiably) popular e-zines are Salon and The Onion.
bulletBozo filter
A "bozo filter" is a feature that filters out e-mail or discussion group postings from people whom you'd rather not hear from--in other words, "bozos." We dream of the day that bozo filters extend beyond cyberspace, protecting us from seeing or hearing from all the bozos in our lives. Do you think that, when all was said and done, Nixon wished he had a Rebozo filter? Sorry.
bulletInkjet printer
An inkjet printer does just what it sounds like it does: It prints by spraying jets of ink on a sheet of paper. To make sure that the jets wind up in the right place, the ink is first ionized so that it can be directed to the proper location by magnetized plates within the printer. Inkjet printers make laser-quality (or near-laser-quality) color printing affordable.
VRML is pronounced "VERMAL," which gives it a decidedly rodental sound. This is a shame, because VRML is a lot more appealing than your average rat. The acronym stands for "Virtual Reality Modeling Language," and it allows programmers to create 3D environments (called "hyperspaces") that folks with VRML-plug-in-equipped Web browsers can move around in. You won't find a lot of VRML on the Web right now, but it's coming. Trust us.
CORBA is short for "Common Object Request Broker Architecture," an architecture that enables small pieces of programs, or objects, to communicate with each other even if they're written in different programming languages or running on different computing platforms. The most common use for CORBA these days is for dynamically filling on-line (Web) form applications with data.
bulletThe Blue Screen of Death
A new techno-thriller starring Sandra Bullock? An innovative, mosquito-repellant insert for your storm door? Alas, the Blue Screen of Death is neither: It is instead the blank, blue screen you sometimes see when Windows 95 hangs up in a serious way. How serious? Well, the blue screen of death usually means you have to perform a cold boot. This, as Martha Stewart might say, is "a bad thing."
bulletSplash screen
A splash screen is a programmer's term for the pretty little introductory screen that appears when you first load a program, before the program window itself appears. Usually, it includes the product name, the manufacturer's logo, the program serial number, and other information that, while interesting when you first purchased the program, has grown quite tiresome. Fortunately, many programs' Help files include instructions for suppressing display of the splash screen.
bulletData warehouse
If you think a data warehouse is a huge collection of data, you're only half right. In order for a huge collection of data to be a data warehouse, it must be combined and organized in a way that companies can use it to quickly help them make big decisions. Typically, this means collecting data sources from all around the company; joining them to put related information into single, unified records; cleansing the data to remove redundant records; and arranging it into useful fields and tables.
LCD stands for "Liquid Crystal Display." LCDs use liquid crystal to either block light or let it through; the light that gets through is what you see. We all remember LCDs as the displays on your calculators and digital watches, but these days more sophisticated LCDs are used for laptop and notebook computer displays. In general, there are two types of computer LCDs: inexpensive "passive matrix" displays and more expensive (and sharper) "active matrix" displays. We cover both
types in the tips to follow.
bulletInternet Telephony
Internet telephony is the potential revenge of anyone who hates getting calls from long-distance companies begging you to switch carriers. Internet telephony is technology that lets you place long distance calls to ANYONE using your local Internet phone number. Put more simply, it lets you talk to your next-door neighbor OR your relatives in Malta using the same local phone number. There are two catches:

- The person you're calling must also have Internet telephony equipment.
- The sound quality isn't as good as it is over regular telephone connections.

But we can dream, can't we?
bulletTrojan Horse
In nerd land, "Trojan Horse" refers to software that looks like a program but is actually a virus. When a user runs it, it does
something devastating, such as formatting the computer's hard drive, uninstalling software, or causing insoluble problems all over the system. A good tip-off to a Trojan Horse is a free program offer that :

1) seems too go to be true and:

2) comes from someone you don't know.

Real-life examples include a program that promised free access to AOL (forever, that is, not just for the first 100 hours) and, ironically, a program that promised to rid one's system of viruses.
VON stands for "Voice on the Net." It's a society of Internet telephony software manufacturers and users who want to make sure that the telephone companies do NOT pass legislation that outlaws Internet telephony (and if you read yesterday's definition of Internet telephony, you can understand why the telephone companies would want to do this). This battle is likely to go on for a long time. If the phone companies win, do you think the gas companies will try to outlaw electric cars?
CERN stands for "Conseil European pour la Recherche Nucleaire." In English this translates to "European Laboratory for Particle Physics," which yields the decidedly less mellifluous acronym, ELPP. But we digress. The CERN, headquartered in Geneva, is where the World Wide Web was born as a result of a CERN initiative to improve the way scientists exchanged data over the Internet. Looks like they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams--or fears, depending on the Web site.
bulletSurge Protector
You've all seen surge protectors. They're those long strips of outlets that protect your computer from surges in the electrical lines, which can do everything from scramble your hard disk to destroy your computer's power supply. Today we want to tell you that if your computer is connected to the phone lines via a modem, you should make sure your surge protector also includes protection against phone line surges, which, while not as powerful, are a lot more common than electrical line surges. Our tip for the day.
TWAIN is the standard interface for transmitting data from a scanner to a software program. If your desktop publishing program supports TWAIN (and many do), you can use a command from the program's menu (usually the Acquire command) to scan a photo directly into a document. TWAIN, by the way, stands for "Technology Without An Interesting Name," which is ironic, because TWAIN is pretty darn interesting as acronyms go.
bulletDumb terminal
A dumb terminal is a monitor, connected to a network, that doesn't contain a processor chip, or "brain." It's capable of displaying application information--numbers, letters, and user interface elements--but not much else. Most dumb terminals can't even display bold text. Dumb terminals are installed when it's desirable to have all the "work" done by the network server. Telemarketers and catalog order-takers often work at dumb terminals.
bulletData mining
In the early days of data analysis, we--people, that is--asked the questions, and data gave us the answers. For example, we might ask of a database, "How many people who buy bread also buy jelly on the same shopping trip?" Data mining software goes one step further: It looks at the data and finds hidden patterns that answers questions we'd never think to ask. For example, a data mining program might look at the same data and say, "Forget the jelly--did you know that 48 percent of the people who buy bread also buy nylons?" Okay, it might leave out the "forget the jelly" part.
Talk about a catch-all term: A peripheral is ANY device attached to a computer. This includes a printer, monitor, disk drive, keyboard, mouse, joystick, modem, scanner--all these and more--ANYTHING. What probably happened was that some documentation writer was looking for a term that would encompass EVERYTHING you could attach to a computer so that he or she wouldn't have to list them all and came up with this.
Unless you never, ever watch prime-time TV, you've probably seen advertisements for the AMD's K6 processor. This is a Pentium II-compatible processor that, according to AMD, "delivers performance competitive with the Pentium II and superior to Pentium with MMX and Celeron" (see Friday's tip) for less than the price of the Pentium II. We can't help but note that the K6 has a much more sensible name than the Celeron (but that's just our opinion).
bulletInterlaced GIF
An interlaced GIF is a picture file that appears in phases--first as a blurry image with just a few pixels, then as a slightly sharper image with a few more pixels, and so on. The result is that you see the entire picture sharpen gradually rather than see the picture appear in slow, sharp bands. Of course, if your Internet connection is slow, one method is just as bad as the other.
bulletReal time
Real time is NOW. In nerd-speak, real time describes any experience in which the computer responds INSTANTLY to your input or to something happening in the real world. For example, a live chat session, in which someone reads what you type as you type it and responds instantly afterward, is a real-time experience; e-mail is not. If your computer receives stock quotes as they change, instead of every half hour, you're getting real-time stock quotes.
In the old days--the days before widespread Internet access--software companies didn't ship programs until the vast majority of features had been perfected and the vast majority of kinks had been worked out. But once downloading fixes, patches, and upgrades from the Web became easy, software companies began to feel more comfortable shipping incomplete programs. Thus, "dribbleware" was born. As the name suggests, dribbleware is software that trickles to you over time, instead of arriving all at once. You might receive the bulk (or sometimes less) of the program in the package and be advised to check the manufacturer's Web site regularly for important updates.
Bloatware is what nerds--and the rest of us--call software that has become so loaded with features that it practically takes up all of a computer's hard disk and requires much too much of its RAM to run. Bloatware was a real problem a few years ago, when the leading office suites (Microsoft Office, Lotus SmartSuite, and Corel Office, for example) required as much computing power as most people could afford. Bloatware is more difficult to create today, when you can buy a PC with 128MB of RAM and a 10GB hard disk for less than $2000.
Guiltware is shareware (software that you can try for free and then "purchase" for a nominal fee entitling you to support and other amenities) that includes a tear-jerking or otherwise over-the-top plea for you to pay the purchase price so that the developers who created the software don't have to forage and beg for food. Of course, whether you pay them or not is up to you, but would it kill you to call them once in a while?
bulletPhase-change printer
Also called a "solid ink-jet printer," a phase-change printer is a color ink-jet printer that melts its ink (which usually begins as a waxy block) BEFORE it jets the ink onto the page. Phase-change printers print crisper, smoother colors than do regular ink-jet printers and do so on just about any type of paper or output media. They're also a lot slower and more expensive.
You've probably been hearing them mutter it around the office for months: "I'm going to Comdex." "Who are we sending to Comdex?" "You hear who's introducing a new product at Comdex?" So what IS Comdex? It's the computer industry's biggest trade show. In fact, the fall show--traditionally held in Las Vegas (this year, November 16-20)--attracts upwards of 120,000 attendees. Which is like having one of every 2000 Americans attend.
bulletClick rate
Last time, we explained click-throughs; today, we cover "click rate." A click rate is the number of times a Web advertisement is clicked, divided by the number of times it is seen (specifically, the number of times the page containing the ad is visited). Another way to put it: The click rate equals click-throughs divided by ad views. The higher the click rate, the more effective the Web ad.
OCR stands for "Optical Character Recognition," the technology that scanners use to "read" text from a piece of paper and put it into your word processor or other software application. While the technology has improved over the years, even the best OCR tools still miss a few letters and can really goof up pages divided into newspaper-style columns. Which means we're still a long way from never having to type again.
No need to cringe: In ner-speak, a spider is about as far from a hairy, eight-legged blood-sucker as you can get. A spider--
also called a Web spider--is a software program that regularly searches (or "crawls") through the Internet, indexing all the text in all the pages on the Web. Spiders allow search services to keep up with the new content being added to the Web, without having to depend on the creators of that content to index it themselves.
bulletBubble-jet printer
A bubble-jet printer is a special kind of inkjet printer developed by Canon. Instead of ionizing the ink, a bubble-jet printer heats it; the ink expands and "drops" out of the nozzle and onto the paper. The results are similar to those achieved with an inkjet printer. The only way to choose is to go to a computer or an office supply store and compare for yourself.
bulletOn the fly
"On the fly" has two definitions in the nerd world. The first, which dates back to the late '80s, is to do something while doing something else, thereby allowing you to get two or more things done without two distinct processes. For example, most word processors let you set text in bold format "on the fly" by pressing Ctrl + B as you type.

More recently, "on the fly" also describes a technology for creating customized Web pages by building a new, unique version of a Web page for each user who clicks a link to that page. This type of page is different from a static Web page, which is created one time before it's uploaded to the Web site and looks the same to everyone who views it.
bulletVinton Cerf
"Where does Vinton Cerf fit into this mix? I thought he was considered a father of the Internet?" To which we can only answer: Vinton Cerf IS a father--generally considered THE father--of the Internet, the giant worldwide network through which you receive these tips and on which the World Wide Web runs.
A "spindle" is the axle, or shaft, around which a computer disk revolves. Technocrats use "spindle" interchangeably with "disk drive," primarily to confuse others less familiar with the former term than with the latter. For example, when a nerd refers to a "three-spindle" laptop, he or she means a laptop with three disk drives (typically a hard, floppy, and CD-ROM drive). The nerd could just SAY "a laptop with a hard drive, floppy, and CD-ROM," but then he or she wouldn't get the satisfaction of hearing you ask, "Er, whaddaya mean?"--the three (or so) words every nerd lives to hear.
VoD stands for "Video-on-Demand"--technology that lets you select the video of your choice from a multimedia server for viewing on your computer or television. VoD would mean the end of television schedules (and the end of TV GUIDE? Gasp!); you'd watch whatever you want to watch, whenever you want to watch it. Some hotels already offer movies via VoD. Whether VoD arrives in every home depends on whether the cable TV companies can put together the worldwide network necessary to deliver it.
USB is short for "Universal Serial Bus." If your computer has a USB port, you're lucky, because you can use the port to connect all kinds of devices--mice, modems, scanners, you name it--to your computer WITHOUT HAVING TO OPEN THE COMPUTER AND INSERT SOME KIND OF CARD IN ONE OF YOUR COMPUTER'S SLOTS. We emphasize this because, for most folks, working on the inside of a computer is preferable only to root canal surgery.

And attention, Windows 98 users: Word on the street is that Windows 98 makes connecting USB devices an extremely simple process--the way plug-and-play was intended to be but somehow never was under Windows 95.
bulletWeb portal
Web portal is one of those terms whose meaning has changed in just the past few years. As recently as four or five years ago--when setting up your own Web access was a process fraught with peril and not-so-friendly software--a Web portal was an online service provider such as Prodigy or AOL that provided ready-to-use Web access as one of its services. With the advent of simplified Web access, the definition of Web portal has expanded to include Web sites, such as Yahoo! and
Excite, that provide search engines, site indexes, e-mail, and online chat communities.
bulletPassive Matrix
A passive matrix display is essentially a grid of LCD pixels (otherwise known as "dots"), each of which either blocks light or lets it through to create images on-screen. The main advantage of a passive matrix screen is that it's relatively inexpensive to create. The main drawback is that it has very poor contrast (that is, light and dark elements)--especially if you're not looking at it straight on. New types of passive matrix displays, such as DSTN (Double-layer SuperTwist Nematic) and CSTN (Color SuperTwist Nematic), are apparently somewhat sharper, but you'll probably want to look at them yourself and compare them with an active matrix screen (tune in next time) before choosing.
bulletMagneto-optical drive (or MO drive)
An MO drive is just what it sounds like: a disk drive that uses both magnetic storage technology (as does a hard or floppy drive) and optical storage technology (as does a CD-ROM drive). The combination yields what is, in effect, a better floppy disk: a removable, writable disk that holds more data and is faster than a typical floppy.

Note: An MO drive that is running more slowly than normal is NOT referred to as a "Haley's MO drive." But it might be--if you and your friends start using the expression, and it catches on.
MUD stands for "multiuser dungeon" (or "multiuser dimension"). Originally--as the "dungeon" part might suggest--a MUD referred to a cyberspace in which users, represented by avatars (remember last time?), would engage in medieval games. Today, the definition has expanded to include any cyberspace in which representations of people interact. You might think of an online Monopoly game as a MUD (if you could think of the top hat as an avatar).
In the market for a laptop or notebook computer? You've no doubt noticed that in place of a mouse, some portables have something called a "touchpad," a device that lets you move the mouse pointer around the screen by moving your finger around on a touch-sensitive pad and "click" by simply tapping the pad (or clicking one of the buttons just below or beside the pad). Take it from us: Touchpads are a big improvement on those pencil-eraser pointing devices included in older portable computers.
Here's a quandary: You'd like nothing better than a midafternoon coffee break, but the idea of going to a coffee shop and actually talking to other people makes you, well, sick. The solution? Try a cybercafe--a kind of restaurant/cafe that just happens to include PCs you can use to surf (or chat) while you sip. Of course, you COULD just get a coffee machine for your desk.
Streaming refers to transferring data--specifically, multimedia content--in a continuous stream over the Web so that a surfer can "play" the content bit by bit as it arrives, rather than be forced to download all of it first. Many Web sites today stream video and audio. To receive the stream, you need to have a browser plug-in such as RealPlayer, QuickTime Viewer, or NetShow Player. Streamed audio/video isn't exactly radio/TV quality, but it sure beats waiting.
Has Bloom County's Bill the Cat made a triumphant comeback in the world of high tech? Of course not. "ACK" is short for acknowledgment. In other words, it's the signal your modem sends back to a server whenever it receives a complete, correct data packet therefrom. (If the data doesn't come through as it was supposed to, the modem sends back a negative acknowledgment, or "NAK.")
bulletCommand line
In computerese, a command line is the screen location where you type in a command. If you ever entered a DOS command into a computer, you did so by typing the command at the DOS command line. Windows--especially Windows 95--has made command lines a not so warmly remembered anachronism for most PC users. UNIX users, however, still spend the bulk of their days typing at a command line--and loving it.
bulletDot pitch
A computer monitor's dot pitch is the diagonal distance between the colored dots on its screen, usually measured in millimeters (as in .26mm dot pitch). The lower the dot pitch, the sharper the screen image. These days anything in the low-to-mid 20s is good, and anything in the teens is EXCELLENT.
Cellpadding is what HTML programmers use to specify the space between table cell borders and the text or graphics within them. Cellpadding is measured in pixels; HTML code that reads "cellpadding=10" creates a 10-pixel "pad" around the text within the table cells.
bulletActive Matrix
Last time, we told you about passive matrix displays. Today we tell you about active matrix displays. An active matrix display is an LCD that is refreshed more frequently than a passive matrix display. The most common type of active matrix display is a TFT (or "thin film transistor") display, in which every LCD pixel is controlled by as many as four tiny transistors. The most important thing to know about an active matrix display is that it remains sharp and viewable from almost any angle--much like the display on a desktop computer.

Veronica is a search engine for finding information in all gopher sites, everywhere (explained in the previous tip). Veronica uses a spider (explained TWO tips ago) to create a continually updated index of all the text in these gopher sites. For links to a number of Veronica engines, visit Yahoo!'s Veronica page, at:  

By the way, Veronica stands for "very easy rodent-oriented Net-wide
index to computerized archives"--which is easily as far as the nerd
world has stretched to create a colorful acronym.

First, there was the Toyota Camry. Then, more recently, there was Febreeze laundry detergent. But by now the prize for "product name that means nothing in English" goes to the Celeron, Intel's new microprocessor chip. A Celeron chip is essentially a Pentium II chip without the Level 2 cache--which makes it somewhat slower but a whole lot smaller and less expensive to make. So a Celeron is a great value, but that doesn't explain the name. Maybe it means "the weight of celery but the power of a mastodon." Or maybe not.
Ever been accused by a chat room companion of gonking? If so, it was probably in response to a story that just seemed too outlandish to be true--or an actual lie--because to "gonk" is to stretch the truth. Cyberspace is full of gonkers, for the simple reason that it's easier to lie to someone online than face to face.
bulletCoaxial cable
It's true: Coaxial cable is the "cable" in "cable TV." But Internet people see coaxial cable as the future of the Web, because 1) It's in many people's homes already and can easily be put into the homes it isn't in; and:
2) it has a far greater bandwidth (up to 2 million bits per second) than ordinary phone lines (which max out at around 52
thousand bits per second). More on cable-based Internet service in the next Nerd Word tip., .edu, .net., .gov, .org
As you've probably guessed (that is, if you've even wondered), the three-letter extension tacked on to a Web site URL tells you what "type" of site it is. A site with a .com extension, for example, is a business or commercial site. The meanings of the others are as follows:
- .edu--United States university or education institution
- .net--Network (or network services provider)
- .gov--United States government agency
- .org--Nonprofit organization

Now you know.
Mozilla is Netscape Navigator's original name. Industry legend has it that the name is a combination of "Mosaic" and "Godzilla," the idea being that Mozilla would be the "Mosaic Godzilla" or "The Beast that Ate Mosaic." Want further proof of the developers' hubris? If you have Navigator, type:

"about:mozilla"  in the Location box and press Enter.
bulletCountry codes

Yesterday, we explained what those little three-letter extensions (.com, .edu, and so on) at the end of Web URLs mean. Today, we give you the story behind the two-letter extensions--such as .uk and .ru--that you sometimes see INSTEAD of the three-letter ones: The two-letter extensions are country codes, assigned to domain names registered in a country other than the United States. For a complete listing of country codes, see  

Before the World Wide Web, "gopher" was the system for finding and displaying document files stored on the Internet. While most of these files have been converted to Web sites, occasionally you may still hit a gopher site; instead of seeing a home page, you see a list of folders and files on the site.

Another tidbit: Gopher was named for the mascot of the college where it was developed, the University of Minnesota. Just thought you'd like to know.

If you call your Internet service provider (ISP) to complain that you can't ever seem to connect at your modem's maximum speed, the person at the other end of the line will probably blame the slower-than-expected connection on "noise"--additional electrical energy on the phone line that slows down your data. Noise can come from so many sources--nearby electrical appliances, transformers, thunderstorms, even solar phenomena--that you're always bound to have some.


A LAN is a local area network, a network that's contained within a building or office floor. A WAN is a wide area network, a network made up of LANs in different buildings, cities, or even countries. If you're reading this, you've used the world's largest WAN: The Internet. If you worked for a large, multinational corporation approximately 15 years ago and sent e-mail to a coworker outside of your office, you probably used one of the first WANs.

bulletPublic domain software

Public domain software is software that's not protected by copyright--not because of some oversight but because the program's creator wants you to feel free to use the software anyway you like. If you're a bread-and-butter user, this means you can use the software for free and give away copies of it to all your friends; if you're a programmer, this means you can actually include the program--or portions of its code--in programs of your own. Obviously, the creators of public domain software are in it for love, not money. Kind of heartwarming, isn't it?

bulletIT and IS

Yes, it's two for the price of one here at NerdWorldNJ today--pretty good, considering these tips are FREE. IT (say the letters, not the word) stands for information technology; IS (again, the letters, please) stands for information services. Essentially, these are two new names your MIS (management information services) department started calling itself once it correctly perceived that the term MIS caused nontechies to quake with fear and/or loathing--or maybe because information management and services aren't just for management anymore.


Y2K is geek shorthand for "Year 2000"--which is ironic because if it weren't for geek shorthand, there might not be a Year 2000 problem in the first place. Perhaps believing that the world would end in a fiery atomic cloud before the year 2000, programmers have been using two-digit numbers, such as 98, to stand for four-digit years, such as 1998. Then, a few years ago, some genius figured out that if these programs decide to refer to the year 2000 as 00, important calculations--such as, say, the price of every stock traded on Wall Street or the entire government payroll--might get rolled back to the year 1900, with predictably disastrous results. Luckily, many companies have addressed, or are in the process of addressing, the Y2K problem. If yours hasn't, polish up your resume.


ROI is not a technical term, but it's well ensconced in the vocabulary of the uber-nerd. ROI stands for "return on investment," and it's the bottom-line number CEOs want from MIS managers before they agree to install the latest and greatest hardware or software. Vendors of hardware and software systems caught wind of this fact long ago, which is why their ads include numerous references to "maximizing ROI." In the meantime, Louis XIV does delicate somersaults in his grave.


RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks OR Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks--it all depends on whether you're more concerned with personal freedom or money. Seriously, though, a RAID is a machine containing several hard drives, each of which can "take over" for any of the others in the event of a failure. A RAID enables a server to continue working, usually without interruption, even if one or more of the server's disks crashes.

bulletdynamic HTML

You visit a Web page that you really like. You phone a friend in, say, another state to tell him about it. He surfs to the page and, what's this? He sees something different! What's going on? Chances are the page features dynamic HTML: Web page content that changes depending on such factors as the surfer's location, the time of day, or--in some cases--a profile of the surfer that's been created based on information from registration forms, questionnaires, or past Web site viewing habits (often collected using cookies).

bulletDynamic HTML

Dynamic HTML is a brand-spanking-new set of HTML extensions on the verge of being standardized that Web page developers will be able to use to create content that responds to information typed in by the user--without having to first send that information back to the Web server for processing. You know how you type things into Web forms, then click Submit, and then wait to see the result? In many cases, Dynamic HTML could make the Submit button and the wait things of the past.


IEEE (pronounced by geeks everywhere as "eye-triple-ee") stands for Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, an august body of scientists formed, believe it or not, in 1884--that is, well before the average Joe or Joanna had access to electricity. The public never heard much about this little club until the onset of personal computing and networking. In these industries, IEEE standards are followed religiously, resulting in hoards of technocrats running around and worrying aloud about "IEEE numerics"--and giving us here at NerdworldNJ something about which to write.


ERP (say the letters, don't pronounce it) stands for enterprise resource planning, a type of companywide software system that's very, very popular these days. ERP is a set of applications that automate finances, human resource functions, production planning, order processing, and more in such a way that one area knows everything it needs to know about the other area. Leading vendors of ERP software include SAP and PeopleSoft. But while companies are rushing to install ERP systems, the jury's still out on whether they're worth the cost.


If you bought a modem in the past year or two, it's probably an x2 modem--a modem featuring technology developed by a company called U.S. Robotics that lets you RECEIVE data over a phone line at speeds as fast as 56 kbps (56 kilobits per second). Three things to remember about x2:

- It doesn't SEND data that fast; you can only send data at a maximum of 33.6 kbps. - 56 kbps is an absolute maximum--the fastest speeds reported are actually about 53 kbps. - You get speeds higher than 33.6 kbps ONLY if your Internet service provider (ISP) supports x2--and many don't.


If your ISP offers a 56 kbps connection, it does so using either x2 technology, above, or K56flex technology. Developed by the Rockwell Corporation, K56flex is similar to x2 in that it speeds incoming data only, tends to max out at 53 kbps, and works only if your ISP supports K56flex. The moral of the story: Before you purchase a modem, find out which technology--x2 or K56flex--your ISP supports. (Note that most PCs today come equipped with x2 modems as standard equipment; you have to request K56flex as a special option.)

bulletThin client

Thin client can mean two things. On the one hand, it can mean a small software application, designed to run on a networked desktop, that contains little more than a user interface; the user enters data and sees results on the desktop computer, but all the actual processing gets done on the network server. On the other hand, the term can refer to a client computer (a network computer, NetPC) that doesn't have a hard drive--coincidentally, the perfect kind of computer for running thin client software.


You know it as the meaningless acronym that begins every Web address; the geek world knows it as Hypertext Transfer Protocol. Thanks to this Protocol, the Web server you connect to knows what to send you whenever you click a link, and you see the appropriate Web page in your browser. As fundamental as this protocol might seem, most Web browsers (version 3.0 and later) don't even require you to type "http" anymore--you can just start with the old "www."

bulletRemote control

Unless you've spent the last 20 years living in a shack, you know what remote control is. But did you know you can use one PC to run another PC by remote control? Remote control software lets you dial into another computer from yours, see that computer on your screen, and actually run it--start programs, open files, whatever--as if you were sitting right in front of it. For this to work, both computers must have modems, be attached to phone lines, and be running the remote control software. Usually, folks like to require a password or some other security clearance before their computer can be run by remote control.

bulletTim Berners-Lee

We'd like to pose this question to the ladies in our audience: Have you ever been in a bar and had a guy come up to you and say, "Hey, babe, how'd you like to meet the guy that invented the World Wide Web?" Next time it happens, ask to see the man's driver's license, and if his name isn't Tim Berners-Lee, throw your drink in his face. Because Mr. Berners-Lee, an Oxford University graduate, did in fact INVENT THE WORLD WIDE WEB. Amazing to think that one guy could invent such a thing, but he did. Guys: Sorry if we took away one of your best pickup lines.


Ah, who can forget those carefree childhood hours spent playing Monopoly--and the hours before the game spent fighting over the tokens? Leave it to the digerati to commandeer this memory of our youth. In geek-speak, a "token" is part of a network security scheme in which a small electronic card--the token--must be slipped into a slot added to a computer before that computer can access the network. Some tokens contain static password and access information; others generate a new password every time they're inserted in the computer. None, alas, are shaped like neat little race cars.


The current frontrunner among "geeks can be cute, too" computer terms, JavaBean refers to ready-made, reusable chunks of Java programming code; uber-geeks (who don't care much for the whole clever coffee-related naming scheme) might refer to the JavaBean by its more technical name, "Java component." A JavaBean can be as simple as a spinning Web button or as complex as an entire minispreadsheet. Java programmers can simply drag and drop "beans" into their programs--or into Web applications--to add functionality without having to write the code themselves.


Once upon a time, Internet e-mail could only transmit ASCII text, and all you received in your e-mail box were bland text messages. But then, maybe a few years ago, you started noticing more interesting stuff in your in-box: file attachments from other programs, pictures, audio and video clips (usually tasteless), and more. And we can thank the Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions protocol for the change. MIME lets Internet servers recognize and handle all this new stuff so that we can send and receive it over the Internet (just as we had been sending and receiving it over our in-house e-mail systems for years). Of course, your e-mail program must support MIME for all this magic to work. There's always a catch.


No, OLE is not the cheer you hear over and over again at the bullfighting arena. OLE stands for object linking and embedding--and, while bullfighting may be exciting, OLE is probably more valuable to you in the long run. Thanks to OLE, you can insert a fully functional (or almost fully functional) piece of one program, called an object, into a document created with another program. For example, you can insert a spreadsheet object into your word processing document and then, by double-clicking the object, use all the features and commands of your spreadsheet from within your word processing program! Now there's something to cheer about.


Last time, we talked about extensions--those three characters tacked onto the end of every file name. Today, we talk about one of those extensions: DLL, which stands for Dynamic Link Library. Files with the DLL extension contain functions or data used by your Windows programs while they run. Why is knowing this term important? Because like .exe files (which we defined for you in an even earlier tip), DLL files are files you should NOT delete. Or, put another way, "Don't blow the DLL." Sorry.


On the Web, you're most likely to see the term "Java applet," but applets have been around since before the Java programming language came to prominence. Essentially, an applet is a little application program that is built into or added to a larger application program.

An applet is designed to be executed from within another application and cannot be executed directly from the operating system. A well-designed applet can be invoked from within different applications.

With Java--which is a programming language designed for creating small, easily distributed program objects--an applet can be downloaded from a Web page. The user can then click an associated image or button and trigger the applet. Java applets are commonly used to create animation, work with database material, and calculate equations.


These days, data isn't bound by programs: If you have some data in your spreadsheet that you want to put in your word processing document, you can just drag it from the spreadsheet and drop it in the document. Even better, when you change the data in the spreadsheet--presto!--it changes in the document, too. How does this magic happen? Through the good graces of DDE, or Dynamic Data Exchange. If you're using a recent version of any Windows or OS/2 program, chances are good that the program supports DDE; check the program's Help to be sure.

Warning: Because DDE often uses lots of memory, files with lots of DDE links can slow down your computer. Use DDE carefully, according to the amount of memory you have.



A servlet is simply an applet that runs on a server. If you recall yesterday's Nerd Word, you know that an applet is a little application program that runs from within a larger application program. A servlet is usually a subclass of Java applet that runs on a Web server. One typical use of servlets is to automatically redirect users to a Web site that has moved.


You're probably familiar with the most popular definition of the term "macro": a sequence of keystrokes or commands that you can trigger by pressing a single keystroke (usually called a "keyboard shortcut").

But if you can use a macro with one LITTLE keystroke, why do they call it a macro, which means BIG? Because long before the rest of us even knew of the term, programmers used "macro" to refer to a small program that, when executed, expands into a larger program. And if you think about it, that's what happens with your macros: You press one key, and that little action expands into a whole mess of actions. So it makes sense, in a geeky kind of way.


You've probably heard the term PIM often, but you still may not know what it means. Even though it's been around for almost 15 years, the concept never really caught on with the general public.

A PIM is a personal information manager--one of those programs, such as Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Organizer (or, a long time ago, Borland's Sidekick), designed to help you manage your schedule, to store addresses and phone numbers, and to perform many of the same functions as your Day-Timer-style schedule book. In other words, it's really useful software with a really corny acronym. Maybe you can come up with something catchier.


- vCard, without an article (for those of you who didn't pay attention in English class, articles are words like "the," "a," and "an"), refers to a data-exchange format for transferring business-card-type information from one program, such as your Web browser or e-mail, to another program, such as--you guessed it--your PIM.

- A vCard, with an article, refers to a unit of vCard information--as in, "I'll send you a vCard." Many of the latest e-mail programs let you attach vCards to your messages; many of the latest PIMs let you drag vCards from e-mail messages directly into your address book.


vCard's sidekick, vCalendar, a similar data exchange format for dated information. You can attach vCalendar information--such as a scheduled event, a record of time spent on a project, or any other dated or timed event--to an e-mail message. The message's recipient can drag it and drop it into the calendar, to-do, or project management area of their PIM (provided the PIM supports vCalendar information). Now if only they could invent vMoney ...


When your power goes out, it's just a tough fact of life that any unsaved data goes out with it, right? Not necessarily. If you're worried about power outages, you could hook up your computer to an uninterruptible power supply--affectionately known as UPS--a device that contains enough battery power to let you save your unsaved data, finish an in-progress download, and shut down your system properly.  Tech types call this "exiting gracefully." Might as well let them think they do SOMETHING gracefully.


Can you remember the days of DOS? If you can, you probably remember the old file name format: up to eight characters, followed by a dot, followed by three more characters that told you what type of file it was. Microsoft Word file names, for example, always had DOC after the dot, 1-2-3 files had WK1 after the dot, and so on.

Well, those three characters have a name: They're called extensions, and file names still have them. You don't see them often because Windows 95 hides them by default. Anyway, next time someone tells you to search for a file with a DOC extension, you'll know what they're talking about.

bulletVisual Basic

When you think of a programmer, you probably picture someone hunched over the computer keyboard, typing line after line of unintelligible gobbledygook. Well, it can be that way, but it isn't always. Some programmers work with a programming tool (actually, a programming environment) called Visual Basic, which lets them build programs just by putting together prewritten bits of code--using the mouse! Actually, programming that way is not quite as easy as we're making it sound; the programmer almost always has to write some code, but Visual Basic makes the process a lot easier than typing everything from scratch. By the way, Visual Basic is a Microsoft product.


If your IS manager tells you the new firewall is installed, does that mean you can ignore the fire alarm? Hardly. A firewall is a system (usually a combination of hardware and software) that prevents unauthorized Internet users from getting into any private servers you have that are connected to the Internet--most notably, your intranet servers. It's your company's last line of defense against hackers, competitors, and others that would do you harm. And if you ask us, it's a great name--a lot more interesting and dramatic than the other terms these nerds use.


Ever wish you could chat on a regular basis with people who share your interests? Ever wish you could argue on a regular basis with people who don't? Either way, you'll probably be interested in the Usenet, a worldwide network of more than 14,000 online forums (or newsgroups, as they're called). A Usenet newsgroup is an ongoing discussion that you can join--and leave and come back to--any time you like; you just read what's been posted, post your comment or response, and come back and see what others had to say. You don't even need an Internet connection to join a Usenet forum; online services, such as AOL and CompuServe, offer them too.


The computing term Java became popular just about the same time we all became obsessed with gourmet coffee, thereby creating no end of confusion in the American workplace. So let's clear things up right now: Java, the computing term, is a programming language created specifically for the Internet. With Java, developers can easily create compact, interactive, animated miniprograms called "applets" that can be embedded in Web pages and used in Web browsers (provided the browsers are "Java-enabled"). Right now, most of the Java applets you encounter on the Web are animations, fancy navigation bars, or games; in the near future, they'll be forms you can use to file insurance claims, minispreadsheets you can use to calculate compound interest, and other stuff like that. Trust us.

bulletblue bomb

A blue bomb (also known as the blue screen of death, or WinNuke) is a technique for causing a network user's Windows PC to crash or suddenly shut down. The bomb is actually a specific packet of information designed to confuse Windows and cause the computer to crash. The good news is that the PC can usually be restarted without any permanent damage beyond the possible loss of data not saved at the time of the crash.

The blue bomb derives its name from the effect it sometimes causes on the crashing PC's monitor: a white-on-blue error screen. The program that causes this is known as WinNuke, and its deployment is known as "nuking" someone.  Many Internet service providers are now filtering out the WinNuke packets so that they don't reach users.              

bulletDoS attack

"DoS attack" is short for "denial-of-service" attack, which is designed to bring a network to a halt by flooding it with useless traffic. Many DoS attacks, such as the Ping of Death and Teardrop, exploit limitations in the network but are easily fixed via software patches. As is the case with viruses, however, new DoS attacks such as the nefarious Smurf (described in a Wired article listed at the end of this tip) are constantly being developed by hackers.

For more information, go to                     

bullethot swapping

As much as we'd like to tell you otherwise, hot swapping has nothing to do with getting together with the neighbors for a little hanky-panky. Hot swapping is simply the term used to describe the plugging in, unplugging, or replacing of a hard drive, CD-ROM drive, power supply, or other device while the connected PC remains in operation.

Be aware, however, that this technique works only with hot-swapable hardware. Removing a standard hard drive, CD-ROM drive, or other device from an operating PC will likely cause damage.


Finger is a UNIX program that takes an e-mail address as input and returns information about the owner of that address. On some systems, the finger program only reports whether the user is currently logged on; on others, it returns information such as the user's full name, address, and telephone number. (Naturally, the user must first enter this information into the system.)

Many e-mail programs now have a built-in finger utility, but you can also have a separate finger program on your computer, or you can use a finger gateway on the Web. For the most part, however, only large corporations, colleges, and universities are "fingerable" (set up to return information on the user you finger).


A contraction of the words "picture element," a pixel is the smallest element--a single point, in other words--on a computer monitor or in a computer image.

A monitor is divided into a grid that cordons the screen into thousands (or even millions) of pixels. For example, a typical VGA monitor contains a grid of 640 pixels across and 480 pixels down (called 640 by 480) which consists of about 300,000 pixels. A higher-quality SVGA monitor, on the other hand, may display 1024 by 768, or nearly 800,000, pixels. Obviously, the image displayed with a greater number of pixels looks better.

Similarly, computer images comprise a grid of pixels, typically defined in terms of pixels per inch (ppi) or dots per inch (dpi). Naturally, the higher the resolution, the more dots in the grid--and the more dots in the grid, the better the image looks.


Vaporware is the (sarcastic) term for software that is either publicly announced before it's available in order to deter customers from buying competitors' products, or hyped and hyped and then delivered very late or not at all--usually with plenty of excuses.

Most software publishers have, from time to time, delivered vaporware, whether intentional or not. However, the gaming industry seems to be one of the worst offenders, which has led to the Vaporware Hall of Shame for games software:

By the way, Vaporware is also the name of a company that makes products for Amiga users.


By now, you're probably already familiar with the terms "hardware" and "software." (The former is the actual computer and its components, while the latter is the system and applications that run on the computer.) Now, what do you get when you mix the two? Firmware.

Firmware is programming that's built into a portion of your hardware's memory--the section called Programmable Read-Only Memory--thereby becoming a permanent part of the hardware. Firmware is actually created and tested like software, distributed like software, and, using a special user interface, can be installed like other software. However, once it is installed into PROM, the combination of software and hardware is called firmware. Occasionally, firmware will be distributed for printers, modems, and other hardware devices.

By the way, IBM prefers to call firmware "microcode."   

bulletGlobal Positioning System (GPS)

The GPS is a "constellation" of 24 well-spaced satellites that orbit the Earth and enable people with ground receivers to pinpoint their location (the people's location, that is, not the satellites') within 10 to 100 meters. (Actually, the GPS can pinpoint a location within 1 meter, but only military personnel are allowed to have the receivers necessary for that kind of accuracy.) Standard GPS equipment is widely used in science and engineering, and it's becoming cheap enough that many individuals now own GPS receivers.

The GPS is owned and operated by the U.S. Department of Defense and works like this:

- The 24 GPS satellites in orbit about 10,500 miles above the Earth are spaced so that from any point on Earth, four satellites are above the horizon. Each satellite contains a computer, an atomic clock, and a radio. It uses the computer and the clock to determine where it is located at any given time, and it uses the radio to broadcast that information to Earth.

- On the ground, a GPS receiver contains a computer that "triangulates" its own position by getting bearings from three of the four satellites. The result is expressed as a geographic position--longitude and latitude. Some receivers are equipped with a display screen that shows the position on a map.

- If a fourth satellite transmission is received, the receiver/computer can figure out the altitude as well as the geographic position.


Whois is an Internet utility run by InterNIC that returns information about a domain name or IP address. For example, if you enter a domain name such as, whois returns the name and address of the domain's owner.

You can also use Whois to find out whether a domain name is available. If you query a particular name, and the search result finds no match, the domain name is probably available, and you can apply to register it.


A backlink is a link back to a page that has linked to the current page. In other words, it's not the links ON your page--it's the links TO your page. Hopefully, our browsers will someday come with a backlink button so we can check the backlinks to any page we visit. For now, however, you have to use a search engine, such as AltaVista at

To find out how many people on the Web have linked to your home page (or any page you choose) go to AltaVista and search for

replacing "nerdworldnj" in the preceding with your own URL.

For information on how to use a Java Script or similar technique to add a backlink button to your page, thereby enabling visitors to see which pages have linked yours, see The Backlinks Page at        


E-tailing (or less frequently, etailing) is the selling of retail goods on the Internet. In other words, it's short for electronic retailing, and has been in use now for a couple of years.


Bloatware is the (sarcastic) term for software that has a lot of--or just plain too many--features and requires considerable disk space and RAM. Unfortunately, there's a growing trend among software publishers to disregard the size of applications and create software that insists you continue to increase your computer's RAM and storage, and in some cases even requires you to upgrade your processor. Some people refer to this trend as "creeping featuritis."

bulletInfonesia or internesia

Here's a problem that's apparently becoming so widespread that it currently has two names: infonesia and internesia. Each is used to describe the inability to remember where one found a piece of
information. While infonesia can be more broadly applied to all media, internesia makes it clear that the memory lapse is due to the overwhelming amount of electronic information (e-mail, Web sites,
newsgroups, and so on) to which we're exposed. You'll know you've been hit with it when you tell your coworkers about this new thing called "infonesia," but forget that you read it here.


RAID is short for Redundant Array of Independent Disks, which is a specialized category of disk drives that use two or more drives in combination. By combining multiple drives, the user increases
performance and decreases the risk of damage to the data or error. RAID drives are commonly used on servers but until recently were seldom necessary for personal computers. (We say "were" after the new Apple Macintosh, with two 4-gigabyte RAID drives.)

bulletcam, live cam, or webcam

cam or webcam is a video camera, usually attached directly to a computer, whose current or latest image can be viewed from a Web site.  A live cam is one that continuously provides new, live images transmitted in rapid succession (or even in streaming video). The first cams were positioned mainly on fish tanks and coffee machines, but they've recently caught on, and now many are focused on scenic areas, traffic, and elsewhere.


The motherboard is the main circuit board in a PC. It contains the computer's basic components and circuits, including:

- microprocessor and optional coprocessors (the brains)

- memory (the muscle)

- expansion slots, for installing additional components

- controllers, for standard peripheral devices such as the monitor, keyboard, and disk drive

On most PCs, you can replace the motherboard to upgrade to a faster microprocessor. Replacing the motherboard is somewhat more difficult and more expensive than adding an accelerator board (which simply accelerates the existing processor on your motherboard), but it results in optimal performance from all the components.


A tilde (pronounced TILL-duh or TILL-day) looks like this: ~ (provided that your system is displaying a little squiggle and not some other character where that little squiggle should be.) It's a special typographic character found on most keyboards, usually in the upper-left corner, next to the numerals. It's sometimes called a "twiddle" or a "squiggle." 


Short for Accelerated Graphics Port, AGP is a specialized interface that helps 3D graphics display quickly. Developed by Intel, AGP essentially allocates parts of your computer's memory to perform the
complicated task of rendering 3D graphics and then gives it back to the rest of the operating system when it's not in use.
Intel has built AGP into the new Pentium II microprocessor, creating a chip that is well suited for 3D applications.


The dogcow is the unofficial mascot of Apple Computer. His name is Clarus, and he's shaped like a dog but has the spots of a cow. He says "Moof!" when he speaks, and you'd better be careful when and where you "Moof!" because Apple has actually copyrighted Clarus's vocabulary.

For the most part, Clarus the dogcow lives in the Page Setup dialog box, where his two-dimensional self is used to show the page and image orientation. For example, if you change the print option to Flip
Vertical, Clarus switches from his usual left-facing position to a right-facing position. (We'll leave it up to you to decipher the dogcow's political leanings from these scant clues.)

See also:
Legends of the Dogcow  
Dogcow TechNote (the definitive word)  


Groupware refers to a class of software that supports a group of people working together in a collective effort, despite being located away from one another. Groupware, like the popular Lotus Notes and
Microsoft Exchange, is typically used over a local area network and helps workgroups organize their activities. Features may include the sharing of calendars to schedule meetings and allocate resources,
collective writing and editing, e-mail, shared database access (with password protection) and file distribution, and sometimes even electronic meetings wherein each person is able to see and display
information to others.

Groupware is sometimes called "workgroup productivity software."

For more information, point your browser to
CSCW & Groupware index  

Groupware FAQ list  

bulletdigital cash

Digital cash (also known as e-cash) is money that exists on your computer's hard drive, where it can be spent on electronic commerce (the appropriate sums are subtracted as you spend). In theory, you can
spend the money in very small increments, such as tenths of a U.S. cent or less, but this practice is not yet widely used. There are three primary commercial vendors of digital cash on the Web: DigiCash,
CyberCash, and First Virtual. In general, you set up a digital cash account by making payments with a credit card or by using an account with a participating bank (the list of banks is pretty short, but
likely to grow), but each company handles the details in its own way.
For more information, point your browser to:



First Virtual 


Short for Asynchronous Transfer Mode, ATM is a network technology based on transferring data in fixed-size cells (sometimes called packets). Compared to units used with older technologies, cells used
with ATM are relatively small. This smaller, constant cell size allows ATM equipment to transmit video, audio, and computer data over the same network, assuring that no single type of data hogs the line.
Currently, ATM supports data transfer rates from 25 to 622 megabits per second, which can be quite high compared to a maximum of 100 mbps for Ethernet, the current technology used for most local area

While some people think that ATM holds the answer to the Internet bandwidth problem, there are certain drawbacks. For example, ATM's reliance on a fixed channel, or route, between two points makes for speedy data transfer, but the older standard (called TCP/IP)--which can send each packet on a different route and then compile the packets at the destination--is more adaptable to sudden surges in network traffic and better suited for skirting problem areas.


A digizine is a magazine that is delivered in an electronic (digital) format on a medium such as CD-ROM or the Internet. A digizine can be a stand-alone document or a supplement to a printed manual or magazine. For example, many computer magazines are packaged with a CD-ROM containing a digizine with articles, reviews, interviews, and demos. In addition to text, digizines often include audio and video.


When a geek (or someone in "information technology," as we like to call it) refers to a footprint, he or she is speaking of the amount of space that a particular unit of hardware or software occupies. For
now, the term is mostly used with hardware, in which a footprint is the amount of physical space--or desktop real estate--the unit occupies. Increasingly, however, footprint is being used when describing software, referring to the amount of hard drive space it occupies, the amount of RAM it requires, or both.


BIOS (pronounced "bye-ose") stands for Basic Input/Output System, and it is an integral part of your PC. The BIOS is the lowest-level software in the computer, and it serves two essential functions:

- It is the program your PC uses to start up the system when you turn it on.
- It acts as an interface for the operating system and hardware, managing the flow of data between the system and attached devices such as the hard disk, video card, keyboard, mouse, and printer.

Unlike the operating system, which you can install or reinstall at any time, the BIOS is built into the computer when it is manufactured. Additionally, the PC BIOS is standardized so that all PCs are alike at this level (although there are different BIOS versions). This way, the user can upgrade to a different version of DOS, for example, without changing the BIOS.


LAN stands for local area network, and it's essentially a small system of interconnected computers. Most likely, the computers in your office are connected with one another and maybe even with a server--making you a LAN user, whether you knew it or not. Usually, LANs are limited to a single office or building, but a really large one might span two or more adjacent buildings.

For more information on LANs, see LAN FAQs at


Unlike the tool you used to create that nifty cutting board back in your high school woodshop days, in technical parlance, a router is a device that connects two LANs. (A LAN is a local area network, as
discussed in yesterday's tip.) In addition to simply bridging two LANs, a router provides additional features such as the ability to filter messages and forward them to different places based on predefined criteria. Routers are used extensively throughout the Internet to forward data from one host computer to another. In this case, a router maintains a table of available routes and their conditions, as well as distance and cost information, which it uses to determine the best route for a given packet of data. Typically, a packet travels through a number of routers before arriving at its destination.


While we're on the subject of LANs (local area networks), Ethernet is a particular protocol--that is, a set of network cabling and signaling specifications--that provides a relatively inexpensive but fast network connection. Developed in 1976, the original Ethernet specifications support transfer rates of 10 megabits per second (mbps), but a new version, called 100BaseT (or Fast Ethernet), supports data transfer rates of 100 mbps. A newly proposed standard, called Gigabit Ethernet, will support data rates of 1 gigabit (1000 megabits) per second.


CPU is short for central processing unit--that is, the brains of a computer. Sometimes referred to simply as the processor or central processor, the CPU is where most system and application calculations take place (in other words, it's where the computer does most of its work). The CPU controls all the other parts of a computer. It receives and decodes instructions from memory and also activates peripherals, such as your monitor and keyboard. In terms of computing power, the CPU is the most important element of a computer system.  The faster and more powerful your CPU, the faster and more powerful
your computer.

bulletIP faxing

IP faxing refers to using the Internet to transmit faxes. IP faxing is similar to Internet telephony (defined yesterday), but it is optimized for transmitting fax data. IP faxing generally works by sending fax data over the Internet to strategically placed fax servers. Once the fax arrives at a server near its final destination, the server transfers the fax over normal telephone lines to the recipient. Because the data is transmitted over the Internet for most of its journey, the total cost of transmission is much less than if it traveled over long-distance telephone lines, as conventional faxes do.

Many products are available that enable companies to set up IP faxing servers for their remote offices; in addition, national and international IP faxing services allow smaller companies and individuals to send IP faxes for a fee. 
See also:

SureFax, an IP faxing service run by Cable & Wireless

Xpedite Systems, another company providing fax broadcasting services

bulletMirror site

A mirror site is a Web or FTP site that is an exact duplicate copied from another server. Usually, mirroring is employed to lighten the load on sites with heavy traffic, such as those containing the Netscape and Microsoft browsers for downloading; but a mirror site can also create a copy of geographically distant sites (for example, mirroring a popular British site in the United States). Because the mirror site is an exact replica of the original site, it is usually updated frequently to ensure that it reflects the original's content.


Yet Another Bloody Acronym.



This acronym doesn't show up in e-mail, but it is fairly common in Internet chats. It stands for Just A Minute, and can be used to indicate that you're researching/composing an intelligent response (even if all you're doing is sneaking off to the fridge).



It stands for Hanging On Your Every Word



See What I Mean?



Now that CULA has started cropping up in e-mail and chats, it's only a matter of time before IAWC finds its way into the lexicon. The former stands for See You Later, Alligator, so the latter could only
be In A While, Crocodile.



HHOK stands for Ha Ha, Only Kidding, and is best used when you're having a little fun
with someone and you want the person to know you're not serious. Consider it an electronic wink and nudge.


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