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A few years ago, I used DOS - pronounced "doss" - in a meeting. As soon as I said the word, someone stopped me and asked me not to talk in technical terms. A few days ago, sitting in a similar meeting, I realized the nontechnical participants were tossing around technical terms that would make someone from silicon valley blush.

The point is, technical terms are creeping into our vocabulary. As nontechnical people pick up the jargon, they no longer require technical types to define every term.

Computer types aren't the only ones guilty of using these buzzwords. Business is full of them. Ask your accountant about GAAP, FASB, and UBIT. Ask your human resources people about AAP, ADA, and cafeteria plans. Go to your graphics area, where you'll be shocked to discover that a fatty and a skinny is the same thing as a choke and spread. If you still have the courage, corner your facilities manager and get the latest information on buildout, tenant finish, or CAFM. If you ask me, some of these zingers make poor old DOS look boring.

But it's the computer terminology that gets attention. Computers are making their way into our offices and along with them comes computerese." Computerese is becoming mainstream. If you still haven't had your immersion course, you may be the exception, rather than the rule. Check "The Help Function," which contains buzzwords to help you get started.

If you have begun to delve into the exotic world of computerese, you will find there are not only exotic phrases to know, but some to avoid as well. Here are some commonly misused terms:

Memory banks. People confuse memory and storage, probably because both are measured in units called megabytes. Memory is the computer's brain, the place where the machine does the work. Storage - usually on a disk - is where the computer stores data. Memory banks usually refer to storage, and you rarely hear technical people use it.

Systems programmer. There is a difference between an applications programmer and a systems programmer. An applications programmer specializes in end-user software, such as general ledger, accounts payable, or membership applications. Systems programming is a more technical function concentrating on operating systems, which are also software. When someone refers to a programmer, he or she really means applications programmer.

Software programs. This terms is redundant - programs are software. Using this phrase in technical circles garners the same reaction as scraping your fingernails across a blackboard. Saying, "We installed some software programs" has the same catchy ring as, "I drove my car automobile."

One hundred percent compatible. There is no such thing. The term is supposed to mean the machine will run MS-DOS (Microsoft version) or PC-DOS (IBM version). But, in hardware terms, one IBM model isn't 100 percent compatible with another IBM model, let alone with another brand. But salespeople like this term. It helps sell computers to people who are 100 percent gullible.

Deprogram. I've never heard a data processing professional use the term. Instead, use modify when referring to changing programs.

Mainstream or not, computer lingo is confusing to rookie and veteran alike. Where else can you find such rich and meaningful vocabulary as in a profession where a system supervisor is not a supervisor, a data manager is not a manager, and a data base administrator is not an administrator? And our old friend DOS means something entirely different to a mainframe expert from what it means to a personal computer expert. Only both would tell you that DOS stands for "Disk Operating System." No sir, computerese is not for the faint of heart.

The Help Function

Computer terminology is a language unto itself. With each passing day, more words and acronyms are added. Here is a refresher list of some of the more commonly used terms.

ASCII (American standard code for information interchange). A standard seven-bit, 96-character code used for exchanging information among computers.

Auxiliary storage. Storage on peripheral devices, such as disks or tape.

Baud. Measure of speed for modem communication, expressed in BPS (bits per second).

Bit. Piece of information; eight bits make one byte.

Booting. Starting a computer.

BPI (bits per inch). Number of bits you can record on a disk or tape.

Byte. Group of eight bits, forming a single character.

Compuserve. One of several networks that a subscriber can access through a computer connected to a modem.

CPU (central processing unit). Microprocessor, the heart of a computer.

Crash. Failure of a program or physical failure of a hard-disk drive.

Data base. Comprises all data contained in a computer system, including files, records, and so forth.

DOS. Dis operating system.

Dual density. Disk read from and written to in two different bit densities.

Dumb terminal. Terminal dedicated to communicating with a main computer. It has no memory or microprocessor.

Emulate. Terminals or systems that mimic each other to run the same programs, use the same data, and produce identical results.

Kilobyte. 1,024 bytes.

LAN (local area network). System consisting of computers and peripherals linked together to communicate and share resources.

Megabyte. One million bytes.

Memory. Where information is stored inside a processor.

Modem. Modulator/demodulator device that connects one computer to another computer (or information service) using a telephone line and communication software.

OCR (optical character recognition). The ability to scan a written copy and convert it into a text file.

Operating system. Software that allows a computer to communicate with you and your application software.

Parallel transmission. Transfer of more than one bit of data simultaneously over several lines.

Peripheral. Component that hooks up to a system such as a printer, modem, or scanner.

Pixel. The more pixels in a monitor screen, the higher the screen's resolution, or picture.

RAM (random access memory). Interactive memory that allows you to run one or more programs.

ROM (read-only memory). Permanent computer memory storing programs, files, and so forth on a hard drive.

Serial transmission. Transfer of one bit of data after another; much slower than parallel transmission.

Workstation. A user's own computing system; one device on a LAN.

Steven L. Harrison is vice president of information systems at Electronic Realty Associates, Inc., Overland Park, Kansas.

Clair Ryder, director of information systems and technology, National Court Reporters Association, Vienna, Virginia, and Joseph Cavarretta, ASAE section newsletters editor, prepared the above definitions for the September issue of Dollars and Cents, the monthly section newsletter of the Finance & Administration Section.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:technology at work; language of computers
Author:Harrison, Steven L.
Publication:Association Management
Article Type:Column
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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