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Jargon used in computing


Here are some other books you can read to help you understand the hacker mindset.

     `G"odel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid'
     Douglas Hofstadter
     Basic Books, 1979
     ISBN 0-394-74502-7

This book reads like an intellectual Grand Tour of hacker preoccupations.  Music,
mathematical logic, programming, speculations on the nature of intelligence, biology, and
Zen are woven into a brilliant tapestry themed on the concept of encoded self-reference.
The perfect left-brain companion to `Illuminatus'.

     `The Illuminatus Trilogy'
         I.   `The Eye in the Pyramid'
         II.  `The Golden Apple'
         III. `Leviathan'.
     Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson
     Dell, 1988
     ISBN 0-440-53981-1

This work of alleged fiction is an incredible berserko-surrealist rollercoaster of
world-girdling conspiracies, intelligent dolphins, the fall of Atlantis, who really killed
JFK, sex, drugs, rock'n'roll, and the Cosmic Giggle Factor.  First published in three
volumes, but there is now a one-volume trade paperback, carried by most chain bookstores
under SF.  The perfect right-brain companion to Hofstadter's `G"odel, Escher, Bach'.
See {Eris}, {Discordianism}, {random numbers}, {Church Of The Sub-Genius}.

     `The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'
     Douglas Adams
     Pocket Books, 1981
     ISBN 0-671-46149-4

This `Monty Python in Space' spoof of SF genre traditions has been popular among hackers
ever since the original British radio show.  Read it if only to learn about Vogons (see
{bogons}) and the significance of the number 42 (see {random numbers}) --- and why the
winningest chess program of 1990 was called `Deep Thought'.

     `The Tao of Programming'
     James Geoffrey
     Infobooks, 1987
     ISBN 0-931137-07-1

This gentle, funny spoof of the `Tao Te Ching' contains much that is illuminating about the
hacker way of thought.  "When you have learned to snatch the error code from the trap frame,
it will be time for you to leave."

     Steven Levy
     Anchor/Doubleday 1984
     ISBN 0-385-19195-2

Levy's book is at its best in describing the early MIT hackers at the Model Railroad Club
and the early days of the microcomputer revolution. He never understood UNIX or the networks,
though, and his enshrinement of Richard Stallman as "the last true hacker" turns out
(thankfully) to have been quite misleading.  Numerous minor factual errors also mar the text;
for example, Levy's claim that the original Jargon File derived from the TMRC  Dictionary
(the File originated at Stanford and was brought to MIT in 1976; the co-authors of the first
edition had never seen the dictionary in question).  There are also numerous misspellings in
the book that inflame the passions of old-timers; as Dan Murphy, the author of TECO, once
said: "You would have thought he'd take the trouble to spell the name of a winning editor
right."  Nevertheless, this remains a useful and stimulating book that captures the feel of
several important hackish subcultures.

     `The Devil's DP Dictionary'
     Stan Kelly-Bootle
     McGraw-Hill, 1981
     ISBN 0-07-034022-6

This pastiche of Ambrose Bierce's famous work is similar in format to the Jargon File (and
quotes several entries from jargon-1) but somewhat different in tone and intent.  It is more
satirical and less anthropological, and is largely a product of the author's literate and
quirky imagination.  For example, it defines `computer science' as "a study akin to
numerology and astrology, but lacking the precision of the former and the success of the
latter" and "the boring art of coping with a large number of trivialities."

     `The Devouring Fungus: Tales from the Computer Age'
     Karla Jennings
     Norton, 1990
     ISBN 0-393-30732-8

The author of this pioneering compendium knits together a great deal of computer- and
hacker-related folklore with good writing and a few well-chosen cartoons.  She has a keen
eye for the human aspects of the lore and is very good at illuminating the psychology and
evolution of hackerdom.  Unfortunately, a number of small errors and awkwardnesses suggest
that she didn't have the final manuscript checked over by a native speaker; the glossary in
the back is particularly embarrassing, and at least one classic tale (the Magic Switch story,
retold here in appendix A) is given in incomplete and badly mangled form.
Nevertheless, this book is a win overall and can be enjoyed by hacker
and non-hacker alike.

     `The Soul of a New Machine'
     Tracy Kidder
     Little, Brown, 1981
     (paperback: Avon, 1982
     ISBN 0-380-59931-7)

This book (a 1982 Pulitzer Prize winner) documents the adventure of the design of a new Data
General computer, the Eclipse.  It is an amazingly well-done portrait of the hacker mindset
--- although largely the hardware hacker --- done by a complete outsider.  It is a bit thin
in spots, but with enough technical information to be entertaining to the serious hacker
while providing non-technical people a view of what day-to-day life can be like --- the fun,
the excitement, the disasters. During one period, when the microcode and logic were glitching
at the nanosecond level, one of the overworked engineers departed the company, leaving behind
a note on his terminal as his letter of resignation: "I am going to a commune in Vermont and
will deal with no unit of time shorter than a season."

     `Life with UNIX: a Guide for Everyone'
     Don Libes and Sandy Ressler
     Prentice-Hall, 1989
     ISBN 0-13-536657-7

The authors of this book set out to tell you all the things about UNIX that tutorials and
technical books won't.  The result is gossipy, funny, opinionated, downright weird in spots,
and invaluable.  Along the way they expose you to enough of UNIX's history, folklore and
humour to qualify as a first-class source for these things.  Because so much of today's
hackerdom is involved with UNIX, this in turn illuminates many of its in-jokes and

     `True Names ... and Other Dangers'
     Vernor Vinge
     Baen Books, 1987
     ISBN 0-671-65363

Hacker demigod Richard Stallman believes the title story of this book "expresses the spirit
of hacking best".  This may well be true; it's certainly difficult to recall a better job.
The other stories in this collection are also fine work by an author who is perhaps one of
today's very best practitioners of hard SF.

     John Barry
     MIT Press 1991
     ISBN 0-262-02333-4

Barry's book takes a critical and humorous look at the `technobabble' of acronyms,
neologisms, hyperbole, and metaphor spawned by the computer industry.  Though he discusses
some of the same mechanisms of jargon formation that occur in hackish, most of what he
chronicles is actually suit-speak --- the obfuscatory language of press releases,
marketroids, and Silicon Valley CEOs rather than the playful jargon of hackers (most of
whom wouldn't be caught dead uttering the kind of pompous, passive-voiced word salad he

     `The Cuckoo's Egg'
     Clifford Stoll
     Doubleday 1989
     ISBN 0-385-24946-2

Clifford Stoll's absorbing tale of how he tracked Markus Hess and the Chaos Club cracking
ring nicely illustrates the difference between `hacker' and `cracker'.  Stoll's portrait of
himself, his lady Martha, and his friends at Berkeley and on the Internet paints a
marvelously vivid picture of how hackers and the people around them like to live and what
they think.

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