Friday, December 11, 2009

Glossary for Cory Doctorow's "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth"

Sysadmin Glossary

Please note: the abbreviations and terms below are listed in the order in which they appear in the text.

routers: Information processing devices that serve to direct information on various

pathways. These are hardware devices with software in them.

BGP: Border Gateway Protocol. Protocol: “In computing, a protocol is a set of rules which is used by computers to communicate with each other across a network. A protocol is a convention or standard that controls or enables the connection, communication, and data transfer between computing endpoints. In its simplest form, a protocol can be defined as the rules governing the syntax, semantics, and synchronization of communication. Protocols may be implemented by hardware, software, or a combination of the two. At the lowest level, a protocol defines the behavior of a hardware connection.” (source: wikipedia ) for further information on BGP, see the following:

UPS: Uninterruptible Power Supply

independent router’s netblock: See the following description of routing: “An Internet Protocol (IP) address is a numerical identification and logical address that is assigned to devices participating in a computer network utilizing the Internet Protocol for communication between its nodes.[1] Although IP addresses are stored as binary numbers, they are usually displayed in human-readable notations, such as (for IPv4), and 2001:db8:0:1234:0:567:1:1 (for IPv6). The role of the IP address has been characterized as follows: ‘A name indicates what we seek. An address indicates where it is. A route indicates how to get there.’[2]


netblock: a range of consecutive IP addresses.” source:

2.0: Suffix indicating the “second generation” of a system. E.g., “Web 2.0” indicates

a new stage in the development of the Web, with new online entities and user

habits (Encyclopedia Britannica online was Web 1.0, Wikipedia is Web 2.0).

Beta Test: “A test for a computer product prior to commercial release. Beta testing is the last stage of testing, and normally can involve sending the product to beta test sites outside the company for real-world exposure or offering the product for a free trial download over the Internet. Beta testing is often preceded by a round of testing called alpha testing.” source:

Gold Master: A product, such as a new computer program, released for sale. Read on:

“The term release candidate (RC) refers to a version with potential to be a final product, ready to release unless fatal bugs emerge. In this stage of product stabilization (read QA cycle), all product features have been designed, coded and tested through one or more Beta cycles with no known showstopper-class bug.

During the 1990s, Apple Inc. used the term "golden master" for its release candidates, and the final golden master was the general availability release.”

(source: )


guarana: Other Names: Paullinia cupana, Brazilian cocoa

“Guarana (pronounced gwa-ra-NAH) is a creeping shrub native to Venezuela and northern Brazil in the Amazon rain forest. The fruit are small, bright-red, and contains black seeds.

“Guarana seeds are rich in caffeine and contain up to 4-8% caffeine, more than coffee beans, which contain approximately 1–2.5% caffeine. The seeds are also rich in tannins and xanthine alkaloids theophylline and theobromine.” source:

medafonil: Also Modafinil: a psychoactive drug used as a stimulant Source:

servers: “1) In information technology, a server is a computer program that provides services to other computer programs (and their users) in the same or other computers.

“2) The computer that a server program runs in is also frequently referred to as a server (though it may be used for other purposes as well).”

(Source:,,sid9_gci212964,00.html )

drive: “A machine that reads data from and writes data onto a disk. A disk drive rotates the disk very fast and has one or more heads that read and write data.

“There are different types of disk drives for different types of disks. For example, a hard disk drive (HDD) reads and writes hard disks, and a floppy drive (FDD) accesses floppy disks. A magnetic disk drive reads magnetic disks, and an optical drive reads optical disks.”


personal box: personal computer

process monitor: Process Monitor is an advanced monitoring tool for Windows that shows real-time file system, Registry and process/thread activity.” (Source: )

flashworm: “In this context, we develop the threat of three new techniques for highly virulent worms: hit-list scanning, permutation scanning, and Internet scale hit-lists (Section 4). Hit-list scanning is a technique for accelerating the initial spread of a worm. Permutation scanning is a mechanism for distributed coordination of a worm. Combining these two techniques creates the possibility of a Warhol worm,5seemingly capable of infecting most or all vulnerable targets in a few minutes to perhaps an hour. An extension of the hit-list technique creates a flash worm, which appears capable of infecting the vulnerable population in 10s of seconds: so fast that no human-mediated counter-response is possible.” source:

zero-day exploit: “A zero day exploit is when the exploit for the vulnerability is created before, or on the same day as the vulnerability is learned about by the vendor. By creating a virus or worm that takes advantage of a vulnerability the vendor is not yet aware of and for which there is not currently a patch available the attacker can wreak maximum havoc.”


Monte Carlo probes: I assume it has to do with this: “Monte Carlo methods are a class of computational algorithms that rely on repeated random sampling to compute their results.” (Source: )

IP block: a range of consecutive IP addresses.” source:

IPv6: see

DNS: “The Domain Name System (DNS) is a hierarchical naming system for computers, services, or any resource connected to the Internet or a private network. It associates various information with domain names assigned to each of the participants. Most importantly, it translates domain names meaningful to humans into the numerical (binary) identifiers associated with networking equipment for the purpose of locating and addressing these devices worldwide. An often used analogy to explain the Domain Name System is that it serves as the "phone book" for the Internet by translating human-friendly computer hostnames into IP addresses. For example, translates to” (source: )

Eliza-dialog: “ELIZA is a rather famous ‘conversation’ program that takes text input from the user and tries to react as if it were a therapist of some kind. The ELIZA I deal with below was on a Mac. I was at a friend’s place, and after the conversation he insisted on my keeping a record of it.” source:

open a Trojan: to enable a Trojan Horse virus in one’s computer.

RPG: Role Playing Game

Cthulhu: Ancient evil beings from the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. For an illustrated example:

Usenet: Usenet, a portmanteau of "user" and "network", is a worldwide distributed Internet discussion system.” (source: )

PEBKAC: Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair, i.e., in the programmer.

Cisco routers:

lusers: (from Urban Dictionary) “2. A word used often by sysadmin or tech support to describe clueless computer users.

“3. A person or group of persons that are very computer illiterate. Sometimes used by geeks to describe people that just use computers.
“Tech support people get more calls from LUsers than Users. LUsers are also known for stupid tech support questions that make it on many sites. People usually excluded from this are users with some computer knowledge or people that work with computers.”

worm-probes: Probes sent out by worms in a worm attack. See the following email thread:

NIST: National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Bugtraq: Bugtraq is an electronic mailing list dedicated to issues about computer security. On-topic issues are new discussions about vulnerabilities, vendor security-related announcements, methods of exploitation, and how to fix them. It is a high-volume mailing list, and almost all new vulnerabilities are discussed there.” (source: ) also:

kernel patches: First of all, “kernel:” “On the definition of 'kernel' Jochen Liedtke said that the word is ‘traditionally used to denote the part of the operating system that is mandatory and common to all other software.’[3]

“Most operating systems rely on the kernel concept. The existence of a kernel is a natural consequence of designing a computer system as a series of abstraction layers,[4] each relying on the functions of layers beneath itself. The kernel, from this viewpoint, is simply the name given to the lowest level of abstraction that is implemented in software. In order to avoid having a kernel, one would have to design all the software on the system not to use abstraction layers; this would increase the complexity of the design to such a point that only the simplest systems could feasibly be implemented. (Source: ). Now, “patches:” A patch is a small piece of software designed to fix problems with or update a computer program or its supporting data. This includes fixing security vulnerabilities and other bugs, and improving the usability or performance.” (source: )

CGI: Computer-Generated Imagery (term used in digital graphics).

soft phone: “In computing, a softphone is a software program for making telephone calls over the Internet using a general purpose computer, rather than using dedicated hardware. Often a softphone is designed to behave like a traditional telephone, sometimes appearing as an image of a phone, with a display panel and buttons with which the user can interact. A softphone is usually used with a headset connected to the sound card of the PC, or with a USB phone. [1] (source:

sploits: sploitz

“Notable or heroic acts. Often modified by the adjective ‘mad’ which implies an even greater magnitude of heroism.

‘Word of Rucianu's mad sploitz preceded him; indeed, the longer he battled against the oppressive forces of the Empire, the more famous he became to Rebel sympathizers across the galaxy.’ ”

(source: )

boxen: “An alternative pluralization of boxes. In 60-80s hacker lingo (when hacker ment something very different, btw), it originated from vax/vaxen (the, at the time, correct way to referr to two or more vax computers). Because of this unusual pluralization, it because common to use -en instead of -es or whatever else was correct for all words ending in x or with an x sound, such as soxen or socksen for more then one sock. Box was/is usually referring to a computer (pc, server, workstation, whatever).

‘Our server farm runs on 25 boxen.’ ”

(Source: )

Electronic Frontiers: Electronic Frontier Foundation.

five nines of uptime:Uptime is a measure of the time a computer system has been ‘up’ and running. It came into use to describe the opposite of downtime, times when a system was not operational. The uptime and reliability of computer and communications facilities is sometimes measured in nines (similar to the unit of metallic purity). ‘Five nines’ means 99.999% availability, which translates to a total downtime of approximately five minutes and fifteen seconds per year.” (Source:

DoS: “A denial-of-service attack (DoS attack) or distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS attack) is an attempt to make a computer resource unavailable to its intended users. Although the means to carry out, motives for, and targets of a DoS attack may vary, it generally consists of the concerted efforts of a person or people to prevent an Internet site or service from functioning efficiently or at all, temporarily or indefinitely. Perpetrators of DoS attacks typically target sites or services hosted on high-profile web servers such as banks, credit card payment gateways, and even root nameservers.

“One common method of attack involves saturating the target (victim) machine with external communications requests, such that it cannot respond to legitimate traffic, or responds so slowly as to be rendered effectively unavailable. In general terms, DoS attacks are implemented by either forcing the targeted computer(s) to reset, or consuming its resources so that it can no longer provide its intended service or obstructing the communication media between the intended users and the victim so that they can no longer communicate adequately.”

(Source: )

DNS-foo: “The terms foobar, foo, bar, and baz, are common placeholder names (also referred to as metasyntactic variables) used in computer programming or computer-related documentation. They are commonly used to represent unknown values, typically when describing a scenario where the purpose of the unknown values is understood, but their precise values are arbitrary and unimportant. The terms can be used to represent any part of a complicated system or idea, including the data, variables, functions, and commands. The words themselves have no meaning in this usage, and are merely logical representations, much like the letters x and y are used in algebra. Foobar is often used alone; foo, bar, and baz are usually used in that order, when multiple entities are needed.

“Foo has entered the English language as a neologism and is considered by many to be the canonical example of a metasyntactic variable.[citation needed] It is used extensively in computer programming examples (sometimes expressed as "for once only") and pseudocode. Eric S. Raymond has called it an ‘important hackerism’ alongside kludge and cruft.[1]

1: ^ Eric S. Raymond (1996). The New Hacker's Dictionary. MIT Press. ISBN 0262680920.,M1.

(Source: )

PDA: Personal Digital Assistant. A handheld computer.

EBU: European Broadcasting Union

dingleberry: look it up urself:

netblock: “a range of consecutive IP addresses” ( )

Googleplex: Headquarters for Google.

(image: )

USGS: U.S. Geological Survey.

RL: “Net abbreviation for ‘real life.’ ” (Source: )

multitool: Like a Swiss Army Knife, a tool that has multiple attachments for many uses.

worm-load: I’m assuming that, in context, this means that at the particular time in the story, the computers are lot loading (=receiving) very many worms (“worm-load was slow”).

reccy: “Term used by the British army- short for reconnaissance. To survey the area. To become familiar with ones' surroundings.

‘Go over that hill and do a reccy for us, eh son?’ ”

(Source: )

MSCE: Microsoft Certified Engineer. Or possibly others. (Source: )

DSLAM: “A DSLAM (Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexer) is a network device, usually at a telephone company central office, that receives signals from multiple customer Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) connections and puts the signals on a high-speed backbone line using multiplexing techniques. Depending on the product, DSLAM multiplexers connect DSL lines with some combination of asynchronous transfer mode (ATM), frame relay, or Internet Protocol networks. DSLAM enables a phone company to offer business or homes users the fastest phone line technology (DSL) with the fastest backbone network technology (ATM).” (source:,,sid103_gci213916,00.html )

weenix: “a derogatory term for ‘unix’ ” (see: )

sysop: systems operator

noob: short for “newbie”

NFW: No F*ckin’ Way



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home