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GEEK GLOSSARY / TECH TERMS

A boss screen (often accompanied by a boss key) is an application intended to conceal non-work activities in the workplace. Typically, the boss screen is triggered by a keyboard shortcut or other easy to fire off physical trigger (this is known as the boss key). Once triggered, the screen hides the non-work activity and makes it appear as if the employee is hard at work. For example, the employee might be checking stock prices, browsing eBay, or otherwise slacking off on their duties, but when the boss key is triggered, the web browser minimizes and the application they should be working in is maximized.

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Privacy screens are a physical screen panel or film mounted on to desktop monitor or laptop screen. These add-on panels feature special microscopic louvers within the material so that the angle of viewing available while using the monitor becomes extremely restricted for the purposes of keeping others from looking at the screen.

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An algorithm is a set of ordered steps used to solve a problem. In the realm of computers and their associated functions, algorithms are used to manage all manner of tasks including encoding and decoding video and other multimedia content, encrypting and decrypting secure transmissions, and otherwise automating the complex mathematics that underpin the modern computing experience.

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Ambient Information Devices are a type of information appliance that is designed so that the user can quickly decode information without the necessity of reading any sort of digital or physical printout. An example of an ambient information device is an LED indicator that uses either a binary on/off system or color-based display to signal information. Our DIY Raspberry Pi-based LED indicator that signals impending rain via blue LED (or any other information you can program the module to pull from the Internet) is an example of a simple ambient information device.

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In a typical computer setup, the user is sitting within 1-3 feet of the screen. As such, user interface elements in the operating system and the applications can be relatively small (much like the printer in a newspaper can be small because you read it close to your face). By contrast, the interface elements on a home theater system or smart HDTV need to be significantly larger so that the user, typically sitting 10 feet more more from the large screen, can comfortably use them. 10-foot user interfaces typically feature large bold print, high contrast color schemes, and large, easy-to-navigate, remote-friendly buttons and menus.

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Abandonware, a portmanteau of abandoned and software, is a popular but nebulous term used to refer to software which is still informally distributed, but for which no author, company, or other agency is actively distributing the application or enforcing ownership rights on said application.

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Adware, a portmanteau of advertisement and software, is a term used to denote a hybrid between freeware and shareware applications. Like freeware, adware is generally completely free to use. Like shareware, the author wishes to receive compensation for their work. With adware this goal is achieved via in-application advertisements or the installation of browser toolbars or other external helper applications which present advertisements to the reader. In this fashion, the author of the application receives a stream of income from their application without directly charging the end user.

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Shareware, a portmanteau of share and software, is a popular term which denotes that a given application is intended to be freely shared and distributed but that some form of monetary compensation is due the author. In most cases shareware functions as a sort of demonstration of the software which is either restricted by functionality (the user does not have access to all the functions) or by time (the user has full access to the program but only for the first 30 days). After the trial period, the user is required to purchase a license or other method of unlocking the application to continue using it.

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Freeware, a portmanteau of free and software, is a popular term which denotes that a given application is available for use either without monetary compensation to the author or owner of the application, or with a suggested donation (a sub-classification of freeware referred to as donationware).

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Email filters are text masks which help users manage their email as well as reduce spam. User-generated filters can perform useful tasks–such as sorting all emails from retailers they frequent into a specific folder, or all automated receipts into an archive. Server-based filters can stop large volumes of spam from flooding users inboxes by carefully removing emails sent from known spam nodes or containing spam advertisements.

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A boot manager is a small utility that loads before a computer loads its primary (or secondary) operating systems that allows you to select which (of multiple) operating systems you wish to load at the given moment. Many people use boot managers to allow them to easily boot between Windows and Linux or between multiple versions and distributions of Linux installed for different purposes.

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The browser (rendering) engine is the software component within a given web browser that renders the HTML code of fetched web pages into a human-readable interface. Competing browser companies will frequently tote the benefits of their rendering engine over a competitor’s rendering engine.

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Browser chrome is the space that borders the main view portal of a web browser–including the menus, navigation bar, frame, scroll bars, and address bar. Google’s web browser Chrome was named such as a sort of inside joke–the ultra minimalist browser didn’t actually have much chrome to speak of.

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Tabbed browsing is a feature of modern web browsers wherein additional viewing portals may be opened within the same primary window (and are distinguished from each other with tab-like structures at the top, similar to the folder tabs in a file cabinet). Although innovative browsers have had tabs as far back as the birth of the Web, it wasn’t until the early 2000s that tabbed browsing became mainstream–prior to that, opening a link while simultaneously keeping the parent page open would result in a completely new browser window.

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Hypertext is the foundation of the World Wide Web and the browsing experience. Every link that you click is a form of hypertext–even when represented by an image–that links the document you’re viewing to the document you’re about to visit.

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The web cache, or browser cache, is a mechanism for the temporary storage of web documents intended to reduce bandwidth usage, server load, and the user’s perception of browser latency.

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Offline browsing is a feature available on most modern web browsers wherein the user can access the web browser’s cache and browse the pages there as if they were actively connected to the original web server. Offline browsing is most useful with static pages with completely embedded content–many modern web pages are modular and call many of their design elements in a fashion which does not translate cleanly or smoothly into offline browsing.

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Just like your spinal cord connects the tens of thousands of peripheral nerves in your body, massive high speed fiber optic lines connect major cities and regions. These “internet backbones” link the smaller networks built by individual Internet Service Providers, which in turn connect to the end user. When you send a file to a friend across the country, for example, the data leaves your home network, passes to the local ISP maintained network, and then from your ISP’s local/regional network over one of the major internet backbones until the process is reversed to deliver the data from the backbone, to the regional network, and then down the final leg to your friend’s home network.

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An ISP, or Internet Service Provider, is the company that provides internet access between the greater internet infrastructure and the end consumer. In other words, the company you pay to provide “the last mile” of connectivity to your home or business is your Internet Service Provider. In addition to providing simple TCP/IP network connectivity, most ISPs also offer an array of peripheral services including email hosting, small personal web hosting, and increasingly–as large telecommunication and media companies continue to merge–phone and premium television access, too.

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The rise in popularity of Wi-Fi enabled devices has fueled an interest in mobile hotspots–small devices that act as a hybrid cellular modem and Wi-Fi router. The mobile hotspot connects to nearby towers via the cellular network and shares the data connection it establishes with nearby Wi-Fi enabled devices, just like a regular Wi-Fi node shares its hard-wired data connection.

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A cellular modem is an add-on device for a mobile computer that plugs into a USB port or ExpressCard slot to provide cellular data service to the mobile computer. While many people tether their phones to their computers in order to gain access to their cellular data plan, this practice is frowned upon by many cellular providers. Dedicated cellular modems are an official way for cellular subscribers to add mobile data to their devices.

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Tethering is the process by which a computer is connected to a cellphone in order to provide internet access to the computer. Tethering was originally a wired process, wherein a cellphone would be connected to the computer via specialized cable (and later via standardized USB cable) in order to share its data connection with the secondary machine. Advances in phone design have made it possible to tether a cellphone to a computer or other secondary device via both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

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Localization is the process of customizing software and accompanying documentation for a specific region, country, or social group. The process includes text translation, adaptation of user menus, and inclusion of specialty characters. In many operating systems, the bundles of localized files and settings are called “locales”.

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A task manager is a computer utility which allows the user to view the status of all running applications and background services. Typical features include the ability to monitor CPU and memory usage globally as well as on an app-by-app basis. In addition, users can request more information about individual applications and terminate applications which are not responding or otherwise non-functional.

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Thermal paste, also commonly called thermal grease, is a conductive substance used to form a seal between two objects to ensure a consistent and thorough transfer of heat. When installing a new heat sink on a computer, for example, you need to clean off the thermal paste residue from the previous heat sink and then add a thin layer of thermal paste onto the new heat sink before tightening it down. This process creates a seal between the hot body of the CPU and the metal of the heatsink where the heat can migrate more effectively than it could through an air gap.

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