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The New Hacker's Dictionary

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Dense quarters housing large numbers of programmers working long hours on grungy projects, with some hope of seeing the end of the tunnel in N years. Noted for their absence of sunshine. Compare [11760]playpen, [11761]sandbox.


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salt substrate n.

[MIT] Collective noun used to refer to potato chips, pretzels, saltines, or any other form of snack food designed primarily as a carrier for sodium chloride. Also `sodium substrate'. From the technical term `chip substrate', used to refer to the silicon on the top of which the active parts of integrated circuits are deposited.


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same-day service n.

Ironic term used to describe long response time, particularly with respect to [11768]MS-DOS system calls (which ought to require only a tiny fraction of a second to execute). Such response time is a major incentive for programmers to write programs that are not [11769]well-behaved. See also [11770]PC-ism.


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samizdat /sahm-iz-daht/ n.

[Russian, literally "self publishing"] The process of disseminating documentation via underground channels. Originally referred to underground duplication and distribution of banned books in the Soviet Union; now refers by obvious extension to any less-than-official promulgation of textual material, esp. rare, obsolete, or never-formally-published computer documentation. Samizdat is obviously much easier when one has access to high-bandwidth networks and high-quality laser printers. Note that samizdat is properly used only with respect to documents which contain needed information (see also [11774]hacker ethic) but which are for some reason otherwise unavailable, but not in the context of documents which are available through normal channels, for which unauthorized duplication would be unethical copyright violation. See [11775]Lions Book for a historical example.


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samurai n.

A hacker who hires out for legal cracking jobs, snooping for factions in corporate political fights, lawyers pursuing privacy-rights and First Amendment cases, and other parties with legitimate reasons to need an electronic locksmith. In 1991, mainstream media reported the existence of a loose-knit culture of samurai that meets electronically on BBS systems, mostly bright teenagers with personal micros; they have modeled themselves explicitly on the historical samurai of Japan and on the "net cowboys" of William Gibson's [11779]cyberpunk novels. Those interviewed claim to adhere to a rigid ethic of loyalty to their employers and to disdain the vandalism and theft practiced by criminal crackers as beneath them and contrary to the hacker ethic; some quote Miyamoto Musashi's "Book of Five Rings", a classic of historical samurai doctrine, in support of these principles. See also [11780]sneaker, [11781]Stupids,


[11782]social engineering, [11783]cracker, [11784]hacker ethic, and [11785]dark-side hacker.


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sandbender n.

[IBM] A person involved with silicon lithography and the physical design of chips. Compare [11789]ironmonger, [11790]polygon pusher.


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sandbox n.

1. (also `sandbox, the') Common term for the R&D department at many software and computer companies (where hackers in commercial environments are likely to be found). Half-derisive, but reflects the truth that research is a form of creative play. Compare [11794]playpen. 2. Syn. [11795]link farm. 3. A controlled environment within which potentially dangerous programs are run. Used esp. in reference to Java implementations.


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sanity check n.


[very common] 1. The act of checking a piece of code (or anything else, e.g., a Usenet posting) for completely stupid mistakes. Implies that the check is to make sure the author was sane when it was written; e.g., if a piece of scientific software relied on a particular formula and was giving unexpected results, one might first look at the nesting of parentheses or the coding of the formula, as a `sanity check', before looking at the more complex I/O or data structure manipulation routines, much less the algorithm itself. Compare [11799]reality check. 2. A run-time test, either validating input or ensuring that the program hasn't screwed up internally (producing an inconsistent value or state).


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Saturday-night special n.

[from police slang for a cheap handgun] A [11803]quick-and-dirty program or feature kluged together during off hours, under a deadline, and in response to pressure from a [11804]salescritter. Such hacks are dangerously unreliable, but all too often sneak into a production release after insufficient review.


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say vt.

1.To type to a terminal. "To list a directory verbosely, you have to say ls -l." Tends to imply a [11808]newline-terminated command (a `sentence').

2.A computer may also be said to `say' things to you, even if it doesn't have a speech synthesizer, by displaying them on a terminal in response to your commands. Hackers find it odd that this usage confuses




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scag vt.

To destroy the data on a disk, either by corrupting the filesystem or by causing media damage. "That last power hit scagged the system disk." Compare [11813]scrog, [11814]roach.


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scanno /skan'oh/ n.

An error in a document caused by a scanner glitch, analogous to a typo or [11818]thinko.


Node:scary devil monastery, Next:[11819]schroedinbug,

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scary devil monastery n.

Anagram frequently used to refer to the newsgroup alt.sysadmin.recovery, which is populated with characters that rather justify the reference.


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schroedinbug /shroh'din-buhg/ n.

[MIT: from the Schroedinger's Cat thought-experiment in quantum physics] A design or implementation bug in a program that doesn't manifest until someone reading source or using the program in an unusual way notices that it never should have worked, at which point the program promptly stops working for everybody until fixed. Though (like [11825]bit rot) this sounds impossible, it happens; some programs have harbored latent schroedinbugs for years. Compare [11826]heisenbug, [11827]Bohr bug, [11828]mandelbug.


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science-fiction fandom n.

Another voluntary subculture having a very heavy overlap with hackerdom; most hackers read SF and/or fantasy fiction avidly, and many go to `cons' (SF conventions) or are involved in fandom-connected activities such as the Society for Creative Anachronism. Some hacker jargon originated in SF fandom; see [11832]defenestration, [11833]great-wall, [11834]cyberpunk, [11835]h, [11836]ha ha only serious, [11837]IMHO, [11838]mundane, [11839]neep-neep, [11840]Real Soon Now. Additionally, the jargon terms [11841]cowboy, [11842]cyberspace, [11843]de-rezz, [11844]go flatline, [11845]ice, [11846]phage, [11847]virus, [11848]wetware, [11849]wirehead, and [11850]worm originated in SF stories.


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scram switch n.


[from the nuclear power industry] An emergency-power-off switch (see [11854]Big Red Switch), esp. one positioned to be easily hit by evacuating personnel. In general, this is not something you [11855]frob lightly; these often initiate expensive events (such as Halon dumps) and are installed in a [11856]dinosaur pen for use in case of electrical fire or in case some luckless [11857]field servoid should put 120 volts across himself while [11858]Easter egging. (See also [11859]molly-guard, [11860]TMRC.)

A correspondent reports a legend that "Scram" is an acronym for "Start Cutting Right Away, Man" (another less plausible variant of this legend refers to "Safety Control Rod Axe Man"; these are almost certainly both [11861]backronyms). The story goes that in the earliest nuclear power experiments the engineers recognized the possibility that the reactor wouldn't behave exactly as predicted by their mathematical models. Accordingly, they made sure that they had mechanisms in place that would rapidly drop the control rods back into the reactor. One mechanism took the form of `scram technicians'. These individuals stood next to the ropes or cables that raised and lowered the control rods. Equipped with axes or cable-cutters, these technicians stood ready for the (literal) `scram' command. If necessary, they would cut the cables, and gravity would expeditiously return the control rods to the reactor, thereby averting yet another kind of [11862]core dump.

Modern reactor control rods are held in place with claw-like devices, held closed by current. SCRAM switches are circuit breakers that immediately open the circuit to the rod arms, resulting in the rapid insertion and subsequent bottoming of the control rods.


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1. [from `scratchpad'] adj. Describes a data structure or recording medium attached to a machine for testing or temporary-use purposes; one that can be [11866]scribbled on without loss. Usually in the combining forms `scratch memory', `scratch register', `scratch disk', `scratch tape', `scratch volume'. See also [11867]scratch monkey. 2. [primarily IBM] vt. To delete (as in a file).


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scratch monkey n.

As in "Before testing or reconfiguring, always mount a [11871]scratch monkey", a proverb used to advise caution when dealing with irreplaceable data or devices. Used to refer to any scratch volume hooked to a computer during any risky operation as a replacement for some precious resource or data that might otherwise get trashed.

This term preserves the memory of Mabel, the Swimming Wonder Monkey, star of a biological research program at the University of Toronto. Mabel was not (so the legend goes) your ordinary monkey; the university had spent years teaching her how to swim, breathing through a regulator, in order to study the effects of different gas mixtures on her physiology. Mabel suffered an untimely demise one day when a [11872]DEC [11873]field circus engineer troubleshooting a crash on the program's VAX inadvertently interfered with some custom hardware that was wired to Mabel.

It is reported that, after calming down an understandably irate customer sufficiently to ascertain the facts of the matter, a DEC troubleshooter called up the [11874]field circus manager responsible and asked him sweetly, "Can you swim?"


Not all the consequences to humans were so amusing; the sysop of the machine in question was nearly thrown in jail at the behest of certain clueless [11875]droids at the local `humane' society. The moral is clear: When in doubt, always mount a scratch monkey.

[The actual incident occured in 1979 or 1980. There is a version of this story, complete with reported dialogue between one of the project people and DEC field service, that has been circulating on Internet since 1986. It is hilarious and mythic, but gets some facts wrong. For example, it reports the machine as a PDP-11 and alleges that Mabel's demise occurred when DEC [11876]PMed the machine. Earlier versions of this entry were based on that story; this one has been corrected from an interview with the hapless sysop. --ESR]


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scream and die v.

Syn. [11880]cough and die, but connotes that an error message was printed or displayed before the program crashed.


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screaming tty n.

[Unix] A terminal line which spews an infinite number of random characters at the operating system. This can happen if the terminal is either disconnected or connected to a powered-off terminal but still enabled for login; misconfiguration, misimplementation, or simple bad luck can start such a terminal screaming. A screaming tty or two can seriously degrade


the performance of a vanilla Unix system; the arriving "characters" are treated as userid/password pairs and tested as such. The Unix password encryption algorithm is designed to be computationally intensive in order to foil brute-force crack attacks, so although none of the logins succeeds; the overhead of rejecting them all can be substantial.


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screen n.

[Atari ST [11887]demoscene] One [11888]demoeffect or one screenful of them. Probably comes from old Sierra-style adventures or shoot-em-ups where one travels from one place to another one screenful at a time.


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screen name n.

A [11892]handle sense 1. This term has been common among users of IRC, MUDs, and commercial on-line services since the mid-1990s. Hackers recognize the term but don't generally use it.


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screw n.

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