An annotation for Cory Doctorow’s "0wnz0red" (page 1)

You’ve read Cory Doctorow’s wonderful little short story, “0wnz0red”, but got lost in the jargon and hacker cultural folderol. What’s a layperson to do? Well, for starters, you can read my annotation…

If you haven’t seen it yet, go to Salon and read Cory Doctorow’s 0wnz0red.

0wnz0red, like Cory, is steeped in the culture and lingo of the high-tech world, and just in case you got lost, you can consult my handy-dandy annotation. This is the first installment, which covers page one. It’s going to take me a while to annotate it completely, as the story’s a dense dwarf star of Silicon valley folderol. The terms are listed in order of their appearance, unless a supplementary definition is required.

(Special note to my programmer friends, especially Dan: this is written for non-geeks, and I may be skimming over some details. I’m going for layperson undertsanding rather than strict technical correctness here. If you feel you must, feel free to correct me in the comments.)

1337: “leet”, a shortening of the word elite, which means “in possession of computer knowledge.

1337speak (also 13375p34k): “leetspeak”. Hacker slang. While it’s often used for speaking, 1337speak really comes into its own when used in the written medium of the Internet, where character substitution is used. For example, the character “3” looks like a backwards “E” (a la Eminem), so it’s used as a substitute for that letter. In 1337speak, the word “beer” becomes b33r.

haxor (also H4X0R): hacker.

X0R is often used as the suffix “-er”; for instance “fucker” becomes “fuX0r” in 1337speak. Often a 1337speak noun ending in X0R becomes a present tense verb when followed by “s” or “z” or a past tense verb when followed by “ed”. For instance, “this beer sucks” becomes “this beer sux0rz” (or, if you really want to go whole-hog, “+|-|1z b33R sUx0rz”.

0wnz0red: owned, which means “screwed over”. If someone has cracked your computer’s security and taken it over or beaten you in a game of Quake, that person has 0wned (or 0wnz0red) you.

It also is used to describe a computer that cracked (taken over by someone who’s not supposed to), as in “Back in 2000, Mafiaboy 0wned a mess of vulnerable machines and used them attack eBay and other major Web sites.”

Note that this is different from the term 0wns (owns), which means “is very good” or “rules”. An example: “I love my new computer! It 0wns!”

pr0n: porn. “pron” is a common typo that eventually got accepted as a synonym for porn; it then was made more 1337 by turning the “o” into a zero.

censoring proxy: a proxy is a computer that acts as a go-between between your computer and the rest of the Internet. Many offices, in an attempt to keep workers from slacking off and viewing “inappropriate” web sites, install web proxies that block access to these sites.

Let’s say you worked in an office with one of these proxies and you were surfing the Web. You’d enter an URL into your browser, and the request for that page would go to the proxy. The proxy would then check the URL against its list of inappropriate sites. If the URL you entered was not on the list, the proxy would allow your request for the Web page out onto the Internet, and you’d be able to view your page. If the URL you entered was on the list – say a job search site or – the proxy would not forward your request to the Internet and would simply give you a Web page saying that you weren’t allowed to look at such a page on company machines and company time.

CVS: Concurrent Versions System. This is software that keeps track of revisions made to documents by one or more people. One of the most important features of CVS is that it allows you to backtrack to any prior version of a document, which is incredibly useful if you’ve “painted yourself into a corner” with what you’ve written and would like to start from where you were a couple of days ago. Another feature of CVS is that it allows more than one person to work on the same document at the same time; it attempts to merge the changes that several people make and usually alerts you when your changes would stomp on someone else’s.

You might be wondering what this has to do with programming. Programmers use programming languages to write source code, which are just documents that consist of instructions for the computer to follow. Source code is saved in CVS.

CVS is treated like a library; many people even use library terms when using it. When you want to edit some source code, you check it out of CVS, and when you’re done with it, you check it in.

A piece of software called a compiler turns source code (which is understandable by humans, or at least humans who program computers) into executables (which is understood by computers). This process is called compiling. Compilers (and a good number of computer programmers, for that matter) are fussy, pedantic sons of bitches. Any slight error in the source code and they will simply refuse to compile it into an executable.

It is considered to be the mark of a bad programmer and a mortal sin to check code into CVS that doesn’t compile.

Orange County: A suburb of Los Angeles. Home to a number of second- and third-generation punk (and punk-ish) and third-generation ska (and ska-ish) bands including Save Ferris, No Doubt, The Offspring, Reel Big Fish and Goldfinger, to name just a few of the better-known names.

Moore’s Law: The looser, layperson-friendly version of Moore’s Law is that computing power doubles every 18 months. The practical upshot of this is that in 18 months, you can buy a computer twice as fast with twice as much memory as you bought today.

The more strict definition of Moore’s Law is here.

Named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, who made this observation in 1965.

Hongcouver: One of the clever names that Canadians use for Vancouver, a city on the west coast of Canada. Refers to the large number of immigrants from Hong Kong who came to Vancouver before the British lease on Hong Kong expired in 1997.

azz: ass. One of Cory’s favourite expressions of approval is “this kicks all kinds of ass”.

Fourbucks: Starbucks. A reference to how much it costs to get a coffee there.

Swedish Disposable Moderne Desque: A reference to Douglas Coupland’s “Swedish semi-disposable furniture”, which in turn is a snide reference to IKEA, official furniture supplier to Generation X. Coupland himself is a furniture designer, and oddly enough, his stuff would fit in perfectly in an IKEA showroom.

strike price: In the case of an employee who gets stock options in a company for which s/he works, the strike price is the specified share price at which s/he can sell his/her options as soon as s/he’s vested (that is, s/he’s owned the shares long enough and is now allowed to sell them – assuming they’re worth anything, that is).

Canadian pesos: Canadian dollars, with a mocking reference to how weak it is next to the “real” dollar, the U.S. dollar. I used this term around Cory a lot; he may have gotten it from me.

Ah, screw it. He got it from me.

G0nzored: gone.

Fi0red: fired.

Sh17canned: 1337speak for “shitcanned”.

Vangroover: Another clever name that Canadians use for Vancouver. Refers to the fact that like its counterparts in the U.S., Vancouver’s west coast-ness tends to attract a lot of hippies and its year-round mild climate is excellent for growing weed. “Vangroovy” is another oft-used variation on this theme.

Honorable Computing Initiative: A play on Microsoft’s “Trusted Computing Initiative”. Read more about it here.

API: Application Programming Interface. Code that’s already been written that a programmer can use to work with other people’s code, whether it be a software component like QuickTime, or a whole operating system. An example: when writing a Windows program, the programmer doesn’t actually have to write all the code to create a new window; s/he simply calls a pre-built piece of code in the Windows API that creates new windows.

secondment: One of Cory’s favourite terms. It’s just a ten-dollar word for “temporary reassignment”.

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