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Net And Computer Lingo

This is the second in an occasional series of lessons on the lingo of the Net and our digitized world. The goal is to eliminate that glassy look in your eyes when your co-workers and kids bandy about words like "applet," "bookmark," "cyberspace," "emoticon" and "FAQ." If you feel lost at the coffee machine when they use words like that, then this is the article for you.

Let's start with the food menu. An "APPLET" is not a little apple. Rather, it's a small application program designed for use with a larger program. We often refer to an application program such as a word processor as an "app." Thus, a small one is an "applet."

You'll often find applets in the online world. For example, "JAVA" uses applets and sometimes "CRAPLETS," which as you might have guessed is a poor Java applet.

So, then what's "Java." Again, this isn't a food discussion, so when your techie friend mentions "Java," she's referring to a language used to create computer programs. Many World Wide Web pages use small Java programs, or Java applets, for animation and other applications. Most browsers can run Java applications whether it's a Windows-based computer, Mac, Unix or whatever. Some web pages let you choose a "DECAF" mode (without Java) and mainly just text.

While we're in the food mode, let's discuss "COOKIES." In Internet jargon, it's a file that a website puts on your hard disk. It's there so that the website can remember something about you when you go to the site the next time. That "something" might be your preferences when using that site. For example, a cookie might be used to change the ads that you see on a site, so you don't keep seeing the same ones. A cookie file may also store your password and ID and save you from having to login each time you access the site.

Some marketing companies are working on synchronizing cookies in order to compile data about the online activities of users. Privacy advocates are less than pleased about this possibility and other aspects about cookies. To have your browser warn you before accepting a cookie, look in Options/Network Preferences/Protocols in Netscape or Options/Advanced in Internet Explorer. Some sites won't let you in unless you accept their cookie.

The next item on the food menu is an "EASTER EGG." An "Easter egg" is computereze for a "little surprise." Typically, it refers to an unexpected function hidden in a program by a programmer. You access it by performing a certain series of actions or combination of keys. They're usually found by accident and passed around by word of mouth. One example is in Windows 3.1 where you can bring up a screen showing the people who worked on that project.

Now comes the "BACKBONE." No, it's not a cut of meat. Rather, the "backbone" connects smaller and slower networks and nodes on a computer network. It's also the part of the network that carries the majority of data traffic, often at higher speeds.

A "BUS" is a smaller version of a backbone. A good analogy is a highway, where the smaller networks are the side streets.

The last item from the food menu is "SPAM." It's about as attractive in the Net world as it is on your lunch plate. In Net speak, "spam" is an unsolicited bulk e-mail message. "Spam" is to e-mail as "junk mail" is to post office delivered snail mail. It's a verb and a noun. To spam is to send it. To get "spammed" is to receive numerous spams.

The motive behind spam can be financial, political, or social. Spam for monetary gain is also referred to as UCE (unsolicited commercial e-mail). It's poor netiquette to send spam. It's even less acceptable than junk snail mail. There's a strong vigilante presence on the Net that has been known to attack spammers with "mail bombs" (sending large quantities of e-mails to one address to overwhelm the system), and other means.

There's also "SPAMDEXING," or using inappropriate techniques to make sure search engines will pick up your site, or that it will be at the top of the results list. Spamdexing techniques include "word stuffing" (embedding phrases that may not be visible to the user in the page many times) and "bait and switch" (including popular search terms in your page that are unrelated to its content).

The kitchen is now closed, which brings us to your after dinner reading. "BOOKMARKS" are a list of Internet addresses that you create. Typically, you do this in your browser software (Netscape and Internet Explorer are examples of browsers. In Internet Explorer, you can find your bookmarks under "Favorites.") You create bookmarks for sites that you want to return to in the future. Once you've bookmarked a website, you won't have to worry about finding its long address and typing it in again.

One truly basic word that many people who don't even use computers want to understand is "CYBERSPACE." Where exactly is cyberspace?

It turns out that William Gibson originally coined the term in the futuristic fantasy novel "Neuromancer." It described a computer network that people used by plugging their minds into it. People often confuse the term "cyberspace" with the "Internet."

Cyberspace is the virtual "world" created by the Internet. It's a world where you can do many things you'd do in the real world such as talk to people, shop and be entertained. You might be a "cybernaut" in cyberspace, or an avid Net surfer-a virtual astronaut. You might also be a savvy "cyberpunk," or online delinquent or "hacker." "Cybercops" are law enforcement personnel who investigate online crimes, or "cybercrime," sometimes undercover.

"HACKER" can be a complementary term for a very knowledgeable or sophisticated computer user. More commonly, it's a derogatory term for a person who gains illegal access to a computer system. Probably, a more correct term for the latter is "CRACKER." A "cracker" is someone who breaks security systems for illegal or mischievous purposes. Originally, "hacker" was a term for a programmer, who "hacked away" at the bits and bytes.

A "SAMURAI" is a professional hacker who's paid to break into systems for security testing purposes. Young "hackers" or "crackers" often grow up to become respectable and well-paid "samurais."

If crackers upset you or the bombardment of spam is getting to you, you can express your unhappiness with "EMOTICONS." They are faces that show emotion, typed into messages with standard keystrokes. The best example is the "smiley." :-) You can be sad about spam too. (-:

When you hear someone mention a "FAQ," they are referring to "Frequently Asked Questions." A FAQ is a list of questions and answers for a particular topic. On the Net, FAQs are quite popular and a excellent source of information. Many Internet sites have FAQs and it's good "netiquette" to read the FAQ before posting a question.

The last word for today is "techno-babble." It's the computer world's equivalent of legalese. Both are unnecessary, often used to hide a lack of knowledge and to intimidate and show-off. Technical subjects can be explained in ways that even the least informed can understand. I hope that this column will help you decipher some techno-babble. Still, if you don't understand the jargon, never be afraid to ask for a plain English translation. If the speaker can't do it, it's probably because the speaker doesn't even understand the meaning of his words.

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