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GEEK GLOSSARY / TECH TERMS

At its most basic, an aperture is simply a hole through which light travels–although the use of aperture to refer to any old portal through which light passes has certainly fallen out of a fashion. The term is most widely used in terms of optical systems such as cameras and telescopes.

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White balance is a feature available on almost every digital camera–most point-and-shoot models and every DSLR–that allows the camera to properly register the color white within the lighting conditions under which the photo is taken.

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A modifier key is a key that modifies the action or output of another key when pressed with that secondary (or even tertiary) key. The most commonly used modifier key is the Shift key, which when pressed with an alpha or numeric key, capitalizes the letter or activates the secondary symbol, respectively.

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An autoresponder is a program or script run on a mail server that automatically replies to emails. Typical uses for autoresponders include automating the process of acknowledging customer inquiries (e.g. if you email techsupport@somecompany.com the server will acknowledge the receipt of your inquiry) and alerting people that you’re on vacation or out of the office for an extended period of time.

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Many anti-virus and malware scanners have a quarantine mode. This mode allows users to take a file that has been flagged as a potential threat and effectively lock it away temporarily while they investigate and determine if the file is a legitimate threat or if there was a false alert and the file needs to be restored to its previous location.

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Hibernation mode is like putting your computer in a state of suspended animation. Unlike sleep mode, where the core system remains powered up (but the peripherals and hard disks are powered down), hibernation mode effectively powers down the system while preserving the work state over time.

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Sleep mode, or standby, is power-saving state employed by both computers and mobile devices. While in sleep mode, a device will partially power down components and peripherals to save power, but will leave the core systems operational so that the user may get back to work as quickly as possible.

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A wild card is a symbol used to indicate any value is acceptable in that location when performing a task or search query. For example, if you wanted to search for all the .jpg files on your computer you could simply plug “*.jpg” into your search tool of choice. If you wanted all the photos with the string 2001 in the file name, you could update your search to “*2001*.jpg”

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PEBCAK, or Problem Exists Between Chair And Keyboard, is a commonly used acronym within the tech support community to indicate that the reported problem with the system is not a failure of any software or hardware component, but is instead a wetware failure–the user of the computer is the source of the problem.

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Snoopware is a type of computer and mobile operating system software designed to actively spy on the user of the device. Unlike spyware, which is designed to monitor browsing/usage habits to allow advertisers to better target and sell to the user, snoopware is designed to allow a third party access to the computer or mobile device.

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A keystroke logger is a software or hardware tool that captures every key pressed on a computer’s keyboard. Keystroke loggers can take the form of a physical device attached to a computer–often a small extension to the keyboard cable itself–that is undetectable by the host computer (and usually only discovered if the computer user or a member of the IT department notices it). More commonly, however, keystroke loggers are software-based.

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When the operating system of your computer or mobile device displays a small notification on your screen, you’re experiencing a “toast” notification. The defining characteristic of a toast notification is that it pops up, like toast in a toaster, and then fades away after a set period of time.

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An ad hoc network is a decentralized wireless network. The term ad hoc, Latin for “for this purpose”, refers to the the non-dependence of the ad hoc network on pre-existing infrastructure such as a Wi-Fi access point, routers, or other physical network structures.

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An access point (AP) is a piece of hardware that bridges communication between wireless devices and a physical network. The Wi-Fi nodes found in coffee shops and other public spaces as well as the Wi-Fi enabled router found in many homes are examples of access points.

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Although many cellular providers advertise 4G service–and that 4G service is certainly speedy compared to the previous 3G data speed–there are currently no 4G providers actually meeting the requirements of the 4G standard specifications. Current revisions to 4G technology, such as Mobile WiMAX v2, are set for deployment in the coming years and should significantly increase potential 4G network speeds.

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Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) is a derivative of Short Messaging Service (SMS), designed to break through the text-only/160 character limitation of SMS-powered text messages.

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Short Message Service (SMS), or as most of us call it, texting, is the text messaging component of cellular communication networks. It’s the most widely used communication protocol in the world, with billions of people the world over collectively sending six trillion text messages annually.

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Jabber, later renamed the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP), is an open standard for instant messaging. XMPP was developed in the late 1990s and released for public use in 1999. Since then it has become the most popular instant messaging framework around, with everyone from small companies and universities deploying private Jabber servers to adoption by Google as the driving protocol for their enormous Google Talk system.

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A zombie computer is a computer that has been taken over by some mechanism (Trojan virus, backdoor exploit, etc.) so that a remote party has access to the machine and is able to call upon the machine to perform some task.

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Historically, the term “widget” was used to denote a part or piece of machine that was unidentified (or did not, for the purposes, need to be identified). In modern computer-slanted usage, a widget is a small interface display designed to clearly convey information to the user.

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Internet Service Providers, web sites that offer various services (especially communication related), and temporary providers of internet access (such as University and Public library computer labs) will generally have you sign off on an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) before allowing you to use their service.

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The Terms of Service are the legal terms by which the user must agree with in order to use the service in question. While not all web sites have a Terms of Service agreement between the site and the user–especially those that simply provider information like news sites or other general purpose information portals–sites where the user has an actual account and/or shares personal information (significant or insignificant) with the web site or service almost always have a Terms of Service in place that the user must virtually sign off on before using the service.

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Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions, usually referred to by the much easier to pronounce MIME acronym, is an internet standard that extends the functionality of email to include non-text attachments, multi-part message bodies, and text in character sets other than ASCII. Prior to the adoption of the MIME standard, the process of attaching files was laborious–senders had to manually encode their files using a binary-to-text tool, dump the text into the email body, and then rely on the recipient to reverse the process and manually turn the encoded text back into binary so they could access the file.

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