Tech Terms

A Quick Guide

Being a student studying Computer Science, I encounter technology-related terms I am unfamiliar with regularly.  For this article, I hand-picked 15 unrelated terms with which I was unfamiliar and created definitions for them.  Hopefully if you encounter these terms again sometime in the future they will not be ‘unfamiliar’ anymore.

Abandonware: out-of-print and no longer for sale software

Abandonware differs from a discontinued product as the manufacturer will not issue an official notice of discontinuation, and instead will simply ignore the product.
Software might be abandoned for several reasons including: hardware or operating systems evolving so much that the software cannot be financially supported, software companies changing their names or going bankrupt, or companies merging and deciding to no longer support the software.

Abandonware is typically not in the public domain as the original copyright was never revoked, and therefore sharing such software can be considered copyright infringement.

Active Content: any code that is delivered and executed on a desktop during network access

Typically users are unaware of active content. Active content refers to content on a website that is either interactive or dynamic.  This can include, but is not limited to: internet polls, animated GIFs and stock tickers.  Usually the content of an HTML page drives the active content, but not always.

Ad Inventory: the total number of ad impressions a website can sell over a given period of time, usually specified per month

Canary Testing: pushing out programming code changes to a small number of users who have not agreed to test anything

Canary tests are implemented after testing in a sandbox environment has been completed.  The code changes are sent out to a small number of users so, in case of unwanted behaviour, the code can be reversed easily.  If all looks good, the code updates can be rolled out to all users.  The term is derived from coal miners who once using canaries to detect toxic gases in mines.

Click Through Rate (CTR): the ratio of clicks to impressions

CTR is the number of people who click on a pay-per-click ad as opposed to the number of people who view the ad.  For example, if 1000 people see an ad, and 100 people click the ad, the CTR is 10%.

Gigaflop: a unit of computing speed equal to one billion floating-point operations per second

Floating-point operation per second, or FLOPS, measures the computing ability of a computer and replaced MIPS (millions of instructions per second) to compare computers. A floating-point is equivalent to a real number, and an example of a floating-point operation could be the calculation of a mathematical equation involving this type of number.

A simple calculator may perform at about 10 FLOPS, while IBM’s Sequoia computer system is currently holding first place for computing ability at 16 petaFLOPs (one petaFLOP is equal to 10^15 flops, and is about 1000000 times as fast as a gigaflop).  Your personal computer would probably range between 0.25 and 7.5 gigaflops.

Hosts File: a computer file used in an operating system to map hostnames to IP addresses

The hosts file, named hosts, works like an address book.  It is a plain-text document that contains several lines of IP addresses followed by one or more host names.  If one tries to navigate to a site, the hosts file is consulted to see if you have the IP address for that site.  If so, the computer will use it and load the site.  If not, the computer will ask the internet service provider to find the IP address.

Logic Unit Number (LUN): a number that identifies a portion of disk storage

A LUN can consist of a single or many physical disks.  Likewise, a physical disk can be separated into several LUNs.  One can also attach a LUN to a RAID (defined below) configuration.

Peopleware: one of the three core aspects of computer technology

The term peopleware can refer to anything that has to do with the role of people in the development or use of computer hardware and software.  Examples of peopleware include but are not limited to:  individual people, groups of people, project teams, businesses, developers, and end users.  The term was first used by Peter G. Neumann in 1977, and coined by Meilir Page-Jones in 1980.

The other two core aspects of computer technology are hardware and software.

Pharming: an attack designed to redirect a website’s traffic to a different fraudulent website

Pharming is combination of the words “farming” and “phishing”.  Pharming is accomplished by either changing the hosts file on a victim’s computer or by exploiting a vulnerability in DNS server software.

Polite Loading: online flash advertisements that load content after the content of the page on which it is placed has finished loading

Polite loading is used to ensure a webpage’s loading speed is not compromised by the loading of a media stream, like a flash advertisement.

Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID): a storage technology that combines multiple disk drives into a single unit

RAID was developed to allow multiple inexpensive hard drives to be linked together to form a single larger storage device.  Originally used primarily for storage in enterprise and server markets, it has lately become more common in end user systems.  RAID can be implemented in multiple forms, each form having their own advantages and disadvantages.

There are three primary reasons as to why RAID was implemented: redundancy, increased performance, and lower costs.  Redundancy is especially important because it allows for backup of data in the event of a failure, by either swapping out the failed drive with a working one, or using one of the redundant drives.

Ripcording: the process of simultaneously ripping and recording a music or audio stream from the internet

‘Ripping’ an audio track describes the process of converting an audio file to an MP3 or similar compressed audio format.  ‘Recording’ refers to capturing an audio signal and saving it digitally to the hard drive.  Ripcording combines both of these things, and is a popular way to download and archive things like Internet radio broadcasts, or satellite radio.

Spooling: the act of placing data in a temporary working area for another program to process

The most common application that utilizes spooling is print spooling.  Documents that are sent to be printed are usually stored into an area on the disk and are later retrieved by the printer at its own rate. Without print spooling, printers are typically only able to print one document at a time, which can take anywhere from seconds to minutes.

The term “spool” is an acronym for Simultaneous Peripheral Operations (or Output) On-Line.  Spool software was originally created in the 1950s to copy software from one medium to another.

Lundin, Leigh; Stoneman, Don (1977). The Spooler User Guide (2 ed.). Harrisonburg: DataCorp of Virginia.
Tanenbaum, Andrew S. Modern Operating Systems. 3rd Ed. Pearson Education, Inc., 2008. ISBN 97801360066332  

What was I Looking For (WILFing): browsing the internet with no real purpose

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[1] [Technology]. (n.d.). Retrieved from