Geekspeak leaks

My cousin and I had a brief conversation on Twitter the other day (although really, what other kind of conversation can you have in 140 characters or less?) about engineering terms that are considered jargon even when they’re convenient for describing less-technical situations. One term in particular, actually, but I’ll come back to that; it’s an interesting case. The conversation got me thinking about other places where tech-y terms have seeped into my day-to-day vernacular.

Bug resolution jokes aren’t uncommon among people who find them or fix them for a living. When someone logs a software bug and the developer or designer chooses not to fix it, there are a couple possible reasons. Maybe they can’t reproduce the bug (“Not Repro”). Maybe it’s not a bug in their own software, but rather a deficiency in the underlying operating system (“External”). Maybe it really is a bug, but fixing it wouldn’t be cost-effective or would destabilize the rest of the product too much (“Won’t Fix”). Or maybe what the tester thinks is a bug is what the designer thinks is how it’s supposed to work (“By Design”).  While they’re primarily used in technical contexts, they transfer to real life without too much trouble. Someone describes a complex problem that is less likely to happen than a lightning strike on a sunny day, and we’ll respond “Yeah… Won’t Fix, buddy,” with a chuckle.

One that’s become pretty common outside the technical field is “bandwidth.”  In the context of electronic communications, one meaning is the amount of data that can be passed along a communications channel in a specific period of time. Your internet provider may advertise that they offer a high-bandwidth connection, for example. Among my co-workers, I’ve also heard it used referring to their personal ability to take on tasks: “Let’s give that one to Mikey, he’s got the bandwidth right now.”

The term my cousin and I were discussing was “Namespace collision.” It’s not an intuitive name to someone who doesn’t write software code on a regular basis, and yet it describes a situation that just about everybody’s been in at some point. In a nutshell, a namespace is a context in which a particular word or phrase has a specific meaning that might be different outside that context. A namespace collision, then, is when that term is used and it’s initially ambiguous which meaning you’re referring to. This sort of thing happens all the time in real life, as illustrated by a conversation my husband and I had the other day:

Husband: “…and Mike brought waffles and the toaster to HQ on Sunday morning.”
Me, thinking: <Mike? Mike J.? What toaster? Why would he have–OHHH, does he mean Mike H. instead of Mike J.? Mike H. has a toaster that we’ve talked about recently, well, not really HIS toaster, which is why we’ve talked about it…>

In programming, occasionally you’ll have two functions with the same name, say “getSpeed.” If the compiler can’t figure out whether you mean the one that goes with the radar detector software or the one from the auto aerodynamics software, it will give you an error. Every programming language provides a way to designate which one you mean. In conversation, we resort to qualifiers like initials, or possessives, or rambling descriptions like “My co-worker Steve, you know, the one who flies model planes? Who has an office two doors down from me? Yeah, the blond one, that one.”

Everyone’s been there, but we (by which I mean my cousin and I, not the more general we-the-people; another unclear reference) couldn’t think of a general non-technical term that rolled off the tongue as easily as “namespace collision” does for us. “Ambiguity” gets close, but is itself ambiguous: does it mean simply an unclear qualification, or does it refer to a situation where there is no clear answer?

I think “no clear answer” is exactly what we’ve got here.

But in truth, sometimes it’s fun to have inside jokes making light of the challenges we get paid to deal with. I’m certain that engineers aren’t the only ones who make those kind of references. They’re just the ones that I’m likely to catch when they’re thrown.


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I’ve been busy with my new job, and haven’t had much time to write here lately. And in the meantime, my little guy has been up to so much. Over the past several weeks, he has continually amazed me with the way in which he learns things, and how quickly he picks up little tricks. He speaks in sentences and phrases now, repeats back what we’ve told him, sings Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and counts past twenty with a look-what-I-can-do lilt in his voice.

He’s growing up so fast, and last weekend really brought it home. My husband and I were involved with an all-day puzzle event that we needed to be able to focus on, so we had to find an alternate plan for Kiddo. Our sitter that day was the son of a couple friends of ours; he’s taken care of Kiddo before at their house, with occasional oversight from his mom, and Kiddo has usually enjoyed his time there, once he gets past being upset with us for leaving him behind.

I was expecting the usual tears and clinging when I dropped him off, but this time was different. As I stood in the driveway chatting with my friend, her daughter came outside to talk to Kiddo, and then led him inside by the hand to find a toy. He didn’t even look back.

I was a little taken aback. When I realized what had just happened, and Kiddo didn’t immediately come running back out. I turned to my friend. “I feel bad about leaving without saying goodbye, but it might be easier on him if I just go,” I said uncertainly. She agreed, and I hopped back in my car.

Usually as I drive away from a drop-off, I feel a tiny bit of regret. How could I knowingly upset him, even knowing that he’d be fine again as soon as I was out of sight? Last weekend I felt a different kind of regret. As much as I’d looked forward to the day when I could walk away without the tears and drama, I suddenly missed it a little bit. It was no longer a big deal that Mom was leaving him behind, and my ego wasn’t sure how to handle that.

Objectively I know that this means we’ve done something right. We’ve helped him build his independence and confidence that it’s OK for Mom and Dad to leave him with someone else for a while. He knows we’ll come back and we still love him. Emotionally, though, it was a little bit of a hit to see him casually go off with someone else, as though he was saying “Oh, you’re leaving? Whatever, see you later.”

I’m proud of the big boy he’s becoming. Outwardly I’ll give him all the support he needs to grow into a confident, independent adult. And if I get a lump in my throat now and again missing the little baby whose universe revolved around me, well, I guess that’s just part of growing as a parent.