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Dialog Box /
Jeffrey S. Rose

How to Talk Funny And Influence People
Discover the real meanings behind common computer terms.

In this age of acronyms and arcane terminology, getting and maintaining a firm grasp on the deeper meaning behind the new vocabulary is crucial.

As a manager and application architect on a medical computer project, I've been able to perceive, define and document much of this new and delicate language. The following mini-glossary provides a head start in communicating with colleagues and superiors. Using this lexicon, one is imbued with an aura of wisdom.

Archiving: The act of moving immediately accessible data from a computer to a storage medium, because the data has reached theCompuTalk system's online capacity.The data is still obtainable, just not in a convenient or timely fashion. The need for the archived data rises exponentially just after archiving occurs, mandating costly upgrades to the online computer storage capacity. Then the need plummets precipitously.

Developer: A term referring to an individual who writes software. Developers are responsible for converting user needs into computer actions. They generally deliver systems that increase cost, decrease efficiency and add complexity to daily activities.

Fault tolerance: A term that refers to the ability of computer architecture to assure maximum performance without failure or downtime. It also describes the developers' unrealistic expectations that users will "tolerate" aberrations.

Help desk: A support system that allows a frustrated, angry user to call a convenient phone number that is reliably busy. In the event the caller makes human contact, the degree of help delivered is inversely proportional to the user's agitation, and always approximates the value of the help received had the user attained a busy signal.

Maintenance: Ongoing activities that support a deployed system. This includes bug fixing, code updating, training and support, and equipment repair. Maintenance costs are to the cost-benefit study as the iceberg was to the Titanic.

Prototype: From the Greek, prot, meaning first, or primitive, this term in software lingo refers to several entities:

1) A set of computer screens meant to demonstrate what a user might see in the end product, conveying the idea that the observed manipulations will ultimately actually cause something to happen.

2) Same as above, marketed to unsuspecting buyers under its synonym, product.

3) The first incarnation of a full-fledged system, delivered in a futile attempt to meet a delivery date, accompanied by an astronomically high expectation of failure.

Router: A programmable device that receives and sends information from one system to another. It really doesn't do anything but route the information where it's supposed to go. This is an important failure point in complicated information systems, and should be blamed for any network problems.

Speech recognition: A developing technology that allows computers to record utterances and automatically translate them into written language. Generally, if ... you ... talk ... like ... this ... it ... works ... pretty ... well. Continuous speech is more challenging to this technology, with syntax, grammar, homonyms and mispronunciations confounding affairs. In domains of varied speech and unique verbalizations, such as a James Joyce novel, the screenplay for Dumb and Dumber or a management memo, it has little utility right now.

User error: The term applies to the situation in which an individual using a program performs the most intuitive and logical action and gets a completely unexpected result.

User services: A section of most information systems departments that sets up, maintains and troubleshoots computers and applications for users. Computer technicians handle the significant problems, and try to diagnose them remotely for several hours prior to working directly on the problem computer. Individuals in this role must be skilled therapists who can soothe the savage user while explaining some obscure licensing agreement that prohibits them from upgrading the system so that it functions properly.

Jeffrey S. Rose is a physician and director of clinical information systems for the Rocky Mountain division of Kaiser Permanente, an HMO. Contact Jeffrey in the "Dialog Box" topic of WINDOWS Magazine's areas on America Online and CompuServe, or care of the editor at the e-mail addresses here. Opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those held by WINDOWS Magazine.

Copyright 1997 CMP Media Inc.

(From Windows Magazine, January 1997, page 73.)