April 2013

Volume 28 Number 04

Don't Get Me Started - Coining Currency

By David Platt | April 2013

David PlattOne of the delights of writing this column is that I get to see lots of new things. Sometimes their creators forget to name them, so I get to do it. And because they’re new, I sometimes have to coin new words to describe them. Here are some of my favorites:

hassle budget (n.): The amount of security-related overhead that a user is willing to tolerate before he either throws away your product or figures out a workaround. “Wow, that User Account Control popping up all the time asking, ‘Are you sure?’ is a real pain in the ass, especially because I’ve never once said ‘no’ to it. It’s way over my hassle budget. I’m turning the thing off.”

marketingbozo (n.): A person who attempts to sell a product without understanding it, and without understanding his lack of understanding. “Bob, you marketingbozo! You poured our entire budget into promoting caffeine-free diet Jolt Cola. We’re broke, and you’re fired.”

The key distinguishing feature of the marketingbozo is his constant spouting of technical buzzwords he doesn’t understand. At a TechEd many years ago, I stopped to chat with a marketingbozo who was turning cartwheels over the fact that the software he sold had just been made object-oriented. “Please forgive my ignorance,” I asked him, “but what exactly is object-oriented software, how does it differ from software that’s not object-oriented, and why is that difference something I care about buying?” Watching the poor sod wriggle until his technical guy came back and recognized me (we both laughed) was the most fun I had at the whole conference. Call me easily amused.

armadillo (n.): A technology product that fails because its functionality falls between two successful niches, offering the drawbacks of both but the advantages of neither. I got the idea from a Texan student of mine, who observed, “There ain’t nothing in the middle of the road ’cept yellow lines and squashed armadillos.” If something is neither fish nor fowl, it’s probably an armadillo. “This device is too hot, heavy and expensive for a tablet, and way too underpowered and too hard to type on for a notebook. What an armadillo!”

MINFU (n.): An acronym standing for MIcrosoft Nomenclature Foul-Up, based on the military acronyms SNAFU and FUBAR that crossed into general usage decades ago. I coined it in a 1998 column on Byte.com, and it’s been in three editions of my Microsoft Press book. Several other authors have picked it up, most notably David Chappell.

For example, a marketingbozo once attempted to name the in-place activation of an embedded object in Office as “Visual Editing.” I guess he wanted to distinguish it from tactile editing, or perhaps olfactory editing. I said to the guy, “Well, my embedded objects are sound presentations, so they’re not visual. And I don’t edit them in place, I play them. Do you still want me to call it Visual Editing, even though it’s not editing and it’s not visual?”

And now, of course, the latest MINFU is “Metro.” Microsoft used that name to describe its new tile-based interface, which debuted with the Windows 7 phone, in November of 2010. Almost two years later, just before the debut of Windows 8, Microsoft shouted, “Whoa! Hold everything!” It turns out that a German supermarket company named Metro AG claimed rights to the name. A friend of mine barely managed to retrieve his book manuscript containing the “M” word the day before the presses rolled.

So what do we call apps of the type “Formerly Known as Metro”? At the time of this writing, I’ve been directed to use the term “Windows Store app” to describe the tile-based interface. What to call these apps when you get them from other sources, I don’t quite know. ATCHCFTSETYAGTSE (Apps That Could Have Come from the Store Even Though You Actually Got Them Somewhere Else)? MINFU.

David S. Platt teaches programming .NET at Harvard University Extension School and at companies all over the world. He’s the author of 11 programming books, including “Why Software Sucks” (Addison-Wesley Professional, 2006) and “Introducing Microsoft .NET” (Microsoft Press, 2002). Microsoft named him a Software Legend in 2002. He wonders whether he should tape down two of his daughter’s fingers so she learns how to count in octal. You can contact him at rollthunder.com.