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Counterintuitive computing terms Options
wordnerd
Posted: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 10:42:02 AM
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I've been teaching some older friends (post-retirement) how to use their PCs to get email, post pictures, and the like. They are true beginners and I realized as I was working with them that some things that are second nature to regular users are not immediately apparent to newbies. Telling them they need to click on "START" to shut down, I realized, is not at all obvious. (I explained that they are STARTING a process to shut-down their system.)

Have others found similar confusing terminology?
nick
Posted: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 11:05:59 AM
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I noticed that many casual computer Windows users do not understand the concept of double-click and plain click. Many just double-click everything. Oops, the question was about terminology and I am talking about a function. I apologize.

Closer to the topic: it irritates me immensely to read Windows help, I do it not to find a solution but for a masochistic pleasure. The "help" is usually far more confusing and peppered with tech jargon than the question itself. You google the same question and you instantly get a useful explanation. If you write for a person who is unable to perform a simple task you should not use complex terminology, or if you do, please link the terms to the computing dictionary
NicoleR
Posted: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 2:55:12 PM
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I'm an administrative assistant at a small IT company, and from the stories I hear from our tech guys, I can definitely see how computer terminology would be confusing to someone who is new to computers. It amazes me that so many people who use a computer on a daily basis are completely clueless about the most basic things. I guess to those of us who have grown up with computers, it all seems so natural. But if your computer skills are limited to typing up a letter on Word, then terms like "flash player" and "VPN" and "disk defragment" offer up little explanation of what they actually mean.
ValerieK
Posted: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 9:20:09 PM
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"Right-click" seems to give a lot of people trouble. I think maybe it's because "right" and "left" are so completely associated with our hands, and of course everything we do with a mouse, we do with the right hand. So "the button on the right" isn't necessarily as obvious as it should be.

I've had one training situation where I had to make sure I used the "official" term that essentially nobody does: Referring to "worksheets" in Excel instead of "tabs." There was also a language complication, as the trainee was Deaf, and we were working in a combination of ASL and written notes (due to the rustiness of my ASL). So using the same English word to refer to both the worksheet tabs and the tab key, when she was trying digest a whole lot of new information, was a big headache. I had to remind myself every single time to refer to worksheets.

And then there are the intuitive terms people invent on their own. I'm fascinated by the office I've worked in for several years, where most say they "X out of" a window instead of closing it, but nobody seems to know where it started.
Demosth
Posted: Wednesday, March 18, 2009 4:53:02 AM
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I can relate to this as I have taught various computer-related courses in the past. The thing you have to remember, especially with the entry-level courses, is that most of these people have never touched a computer in their lives. I have had students who could work a TV like it was nothing, but you sit them down at a computer and tell them to turn it on, and they start looking for buttons on the keyboard and the monitor. If you asked them what the difference between a monitor and a tower is, their eyes would cross-over.

So, computers are a world of their own. If you are fortunate enough to have grown up with one in your household, and you actually used it on a semi-monthly basis, then you'd be fairly comfortable sitting through an entry-level course. If you're like most of my students who were middle-aged and up, then computers can be very intimidating.

My job as a teacher was to show the students that computers are not intimidating; they are fun.

Here are some words that I had a great time teaching:


Motherboard (It sounds like science-fiction; the motherboard controls the baby-boards? Yeah, kind of...)
Hard Drive (What, it's... hard? Is there a Soft Drive? Well...)
LCD (Wait, wait, that's not something we did in the 60s, is it?)
Flash (USB) Drive (Why is this thing called a "flash" drive? Is it flashy? Do I have "bling" when I wear it around my neck?)


Yeah, I kind of miss that job. Oh well... my advice is to have fun with it.
MiTziGo
Posted: Wednesday, March 18, 2009 11:49:52 AM
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This is one that always threw me off- Floppy Discs are not floppy! They are encased in hard plastic. I remember using floppy floppy discs in elementary school (and they were probably already archaic at that point), but certainly by the time I was in high school, floppy was no longer an accurate description.
Citiwoman
Posted: Thursday, March 19, 2009 9:41:31 PM
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In the defense of "double clickers," it was intuitive to double click for years. Then, suddenly, we didn't have to. I couldn't stop double clicking. It took an extraordinarily long time to deprogram my behavior.

On another note, I hate Windows Vista.
wordnerd
Posted: Monday, March 30, 2009 10:39:32 AM
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I haven't used Vista myself yet, but have a number of friends who have been driven to distraction by it.

Because I can't face the prospect of that level of frustration with not much improvement in functionality to show for it, I'm thinking of making my next computer a Mac. I've used them on some consulting jobs and liked them and feel that the struggle to get familiar with a new operating system would be better rewarded with Apple than with MS.

Epiphileon
Posted: Monday, March 30, 2009 1:15:28 PM

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I was working at a large computer retailer in Silicon Valley in the late 80s early 90s, and here is one that most people I know think was just a joke. It has to do with what was once a very common instruction during software installation, i.e. "Press any key". On quite a few occasions I dealt with people at the return counter claiming we sold them the wrong keyboard for it had no such key as "Any".
klee
Posted: Monday, March 30, 2009 6:11:30 PM
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MichalG wrote:
This is one that always threw me off- Floppy Discs are not floppy! They are encased in hard plastic. I remember using floppy floppy discs in elementary school (and they were probably already archaic at that point), but certainly by the time I was in high school, floppy was no longer an accurate description.


Yes, this term of "floppy disk" bothers me a lot. I do remember the old "floppy disks" when I was in middle school, but goodness! When I read "floppy disk," I'm quite irritated since a real "floppy" disk is, as you said, archaic!
arthbard
Posted: Monday, March 30, 2009 6:23:59 PM
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klee wrote:
MichalG wrote:
This is one that always threw me off- Floppy Discs are not floppy! They are encased in hard plastic. I remember using floppy floppy discs in elementary school (and they were probably already archaic at that point), but certainly by the time I was in high school, floppy was no longer an accurate description.


Yes, this term of "floppy disk" bothers me a lot. I do remember the old "floppy disks" when I was in middle school, but goodness! When I read "floppy disk," I'm quite irritated since a real "floppy" disk is, as you said, archaic!


The 3.5" non-floppy floppy disks are becoming pretty archaic as well, so we're almost at the point where that terminology won't have to irritate anyone, anymore.

It's true, our modern flash drives aren't very flashy, but if you're pretty good with the glue and glitter, then you're all set.
Drew
Posted: Thursday, April 9, 2009 1:44:05 PM
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I've never understood the adaptation of cookie as a computing term. Does anyone have any idea how this happened?
klee
Posted: Friday, April 10, 2009 5:41:29 PM
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Drew wrote:
I've never understood the adaptation of cookie as a computing term. Does anyone have any idea how this happened?


I've wondered the same thing, Drew.
Luftmarque
Posted: Friday, April 10, 2009 7:15:56 PM

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Almost none of the references to cookie I have been able to find are very satisfying...

1.2 Where did the term cookies come from?
According to an article written by Paul Bonner for Builder.Com on 11/18/1997:
"Lou Montulli, currently the protocols manager in Netscape's client product division, wrote the cookies specification for Navigator 1.0, the first browser to use the technology. Montulli says there's nothing particularly amusing about the origin of the name: 'A cookie is a well-known computer science term that is used when describing an opaque piece of data held by an intermediary. The term fits the usage precisely; it's just not a well-known term outside of computer science circles.'"

And exactly how does the term "fit the usage precisely?" That is certainly not obvious to me.

The name cookie derives from UNIX objects called magic cookies. These are tokens that are attached to a user or program and change depending on the areas entered by the user or program.

1. Something passed between routines or programs that enables the receiver to perform some operation; a capability ticket or opaque identifier. Especially used of small data objects that contain data encoded in a strange or intrinsically machine-dependent way. E.g., on non-Unix OSes with a non-byte-stream model of files, the result of ftell(3) may be a magic cookie rather than a byte offset; it can be passed to fseek(3), but not operated on in any meaningful way. The phrase it hands you a magic cookie means it returns a result whose contents are not defined but which can be passed back to the same or some other program later.

But this one seems at least a little promising

Quote:
Amiga software executable Hunk files running on Amiga classic 68000 machines started all with magic hexadecimal number $000003f3 nicknamed Magic Cookie as from the cookies that are been eaten by Alice character in famous Alice in the Wonderland tale.

So a cookie would be something opaque, non-readable, but which has a seemingly miraculous effect, making you larger or smaller, or making your session with some web server appear to be statefull. Of course, now I've had to introduce two more silly computing terms so I'll quit while I'm behind.
Epiphileon
Posted: Friday, April 10, 2009 7:52:03 PM

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Luftmarque wrote:

statefull. Of course, now I've had to introduce two more silly computing terms so I'll quit while I'm behind.

Rather than silly, Luftmarque, I think "statefull", is eminently nonintuitive, and a completely bizarre concept. It probably speaks volumes about my personality that I find it extremely funny.
Luftmarque
Posted: Friday, April 10, 2009 8:02:10 PM

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Speaking of extremely funny, re-reading the post about the beloved Amiga computer (I had a girlfriend who referred to hers as an "Amoeba" which seemed much better to both of us) I cannot help but smile; it's a brilliant piece of fractured grammar and bizarre terms ("Hunk files"!?!)

Quote:
Amiga software executable Hunk files running on Amiga classic 68000 machines started all with magic hexadecimal number $000003f3 nicknamed Magic Cookie as from the cookies that are been eaten by Alice character in famous Alice in the Wonderland tale.
genome
Posted: Saturday, April 11, 2009 2:12:17 AM
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I did not know that with the Vista OS you do not have to double-click! I was wondering why on my laptop, when the curser reaches an icon it automatically opens. Thank you for the information Citiwoman!
justpassingthrough
Posted: Saturday, April 11, 2009 3:24:45 AM
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This phenomenon (the irony of having to click on START to initiate shutdown) is not limited to computer technology. It is as wide, and probably as old, as language itself. Remember: We drive on a parkway, and park on a driveway. And on a restuarant menu they list "jumbo shrimp". And, as probably everyone has heard at least once in their lives, a guinea pig is neither a pig, nor from Guinea. Such instances abound. But, returning strictly to the topic, I guess the two most important instances are 1) the fact that the term "kilo" is imported from ordinary language into computer technical language with a (slightly) different meaning, and 2) the fact that spaces count as characters (unlike in ordinary language, such as in the construction of anagrams, e.g., "DORMITORY" and "DIRTY ROOM" are considered to consist of EXACTLY the same characters).

The irony of having to click on START to initiate shutdown can be expressed in a more enlightening way: In this environment, START has antymonous meanings. When expressed this way, the situation loses much of its mystery, or at least its shock value, because it is certainly not without precedent. We already have such situations in ordinary language: words that act in both directions - words like "comfortable" and "curious". ("I am comfortable in this comfortable chair.", and "I am curious what that curious man wants.") Even the word "read" is used this way. ("OK, I will read the fine print to you. It reads as follows...") And then there's also "sanction" (perhaps the best example of this phenomenon) and "consult". Then there's also the tragic nearly antynomous meanings of "OK", which was the immediate cause of the worst airplane accident in history, which occurred in the Canary Islands in 1977. The two meanings of "OK" are "I heard you.", and "I give my approval to do that." When the pilot told the tower that the plane was ready to take off, the tower answered "OK", intending to mean "I heard you.", but the pilot took it to mean "I give my approval to do that.", and the plane promptly crashed into another plane, causing nearly 600 deaths.

And just one more example: If you knew nothing about chess, and you heard of the ranks of "international master" and "grandmaster", which would you think is the higher rank? International master, right? But in fact it is grandmaster. (I don't know didly, as Joe Bob would say, about chess, but I read that somewhere.)

Anyway, if I were going to really dig into this topic more, which I'm not, as I'm just passing through, I would next consult the charming little book JARGON WATCH published by the people at WIRED magazine. If I remember correctly, this little book deals more with the flip-side of this topic, namely, extremely apropos terminology, such as a "nibble" being, if I remember correctly, "half a byte", but it could serve to jog your memory for the kind of hits you are looking for. Happy reading!
Galad
Posted: Tuesday, April 21, 2009 1:07:21 PM

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Drew wrote:
I've never understood the adaptation of cookie as a computing term. Does anyone have any idea how this happened?


I've always assumed it stems from Cookie crumbs. Something left behind as a trail. Perhaps crumbs we deemed derogatory...

basisunus
Posted: Friday, November 20, 2020 2:04:55 PM

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They did change the Start button to a Windows symbol eventually.
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