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GEEK GLOSSARY / TECH TERMS

Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is an internet communication protocol designed for real-time text messaging. The protocol was created in 1988 as a replacement for a BBS-based chat program called MultiUser Talk.

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Firmware is a set of operating instructions embedded in a computer system on a non-volatile memory chip. Common electronics like GPS units, network routers, and gaming consoles routinely have their operating instructions fully or partially stored as firmware.

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Monitor calibration is the process of bringing your monitor into alignment, or calibration, with a known state. Simply adjusting your monitor so that it displays contrast and color in a fashion pleasing to you is not true calibration, as calibration involves linking the output of your display with the output of a device.

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A heat sink is a passive heat exchanger added to computers and other heat-producing electronics to assist in cooling components. Heat sinks range from small and simple finned metal cubes attached to low-temperature components (such as embedded processors) to large tower-like structures with integrated fans attached to high-temperature components (multi-core CPUs and GPU chips).

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A macro is a set of inputs mapped to a key, shortcut, or string of text so that the user is able to summon a large set of inputs with a minimal amount of input. Computer users create and deploy macros for everything from speeding up programming tasks to semi-automating repetitive and routine word processing entries.

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The word codec is a portmanteau of “coder-decoder” and denotes the role of codecs in encoding/decoding digital data. Specifically, codecs refer to the hardware and/or software that encode and decode digital audio and video streams, such as those used for watching local digital video, streaming video over the Internet, video conferencing, and other multimedia applications.

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File extensions are a type of metadata appended to the end of computer file names to indicate to the operating system what format the file is in. It is by this mechanism that Windows knows to open File.txt with Notepad, File.doc with Microsoft Word, and to attempt to lauch File.exe as an application.

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FAQ is an acronym for Frequently Asked Questions. The practice of FAQ lists started in the 1980s on email discussion lists and Usenet discussion groups wherein regular users to various discussion forums found themselves answering the same questions from new users over and over again. Rather than continue to laboriously type out new answers for each wave of new users, established contributors started creating lists of frequently asked questions and their answers.

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In computing and gaming an emulator is a piece of hardware or software designed to duplicate the behavior of another set of hardware/software. Modern computer users can employ emulators for myriad functions including emulating older computers (including their environments and programming languages) for educational purposes and emulating older game systems for entertainment purposes.

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A device driver, more typically referred to simply as a driver, is a program routine that allows communication between the hardware components of a computer (including both internal and peripheral components) and the operating system.

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Although Charge Coupled Devices (CCDs) are used for a variety of commercial and industrial applications, the most common way consumers interact with CCDs is via digital cameras. Digital cameras large and small, from the cheapest point-and-shoot pocket camera to pricey full-frame DSLR cameras use CCDs to capture their images.

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Usenet is a massive global distributed discussion forum. Long before web forums and news aggregation sites like Reddit and Digg, users were sharing and discussing content on thousands of subjects via Usenet. The significant difference between both older discussion mechanism (like email discussion lists and BBS discussion board) and newer discussion mechanisms (like web forums and news aggregators) and the Usenet system is that Usenet is the absence of any centralization. New articles and discussion responses are pushed out from their originating server to thousands of servers around the world. If any given server is taken out of the network of global Usenet servers, the other servers simply duplicate the content of that server and route data around the missing node.

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Blu-ray is an optical disc storage medium which was designed to supersede the DVD format. Blu-ray discs are the same size as both DVDs and CDs, but can contain up to 25GB per layer. Thus a dual-layer Blu-ray disc can hold over ten times more than a conventional DVD and almost one hundred times more data than a CD.

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The BIOS, or Basic Input Ouput System, is a set of routines stored in the firmware of a computer motherboard that facilitates the startup process for the machine. Basic functions like loading drivers for peripherals (such as the mouse and keyboard), mounting the hard disks, and providing feedback to the user via the monitor are all common tasks performed by computer BIOS.

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E-ink is a specific type of electronic paper manufactured by the E Ink Corporation and is used in a wide variety of ebook readers including the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Sony Reader, and Kobo eReader. E-ink is an electrophoretic display composed of hundreds of thousands of light and dark nanoparticles suspended between two plates of electrostatically-charged glass. The precise application of current to the display panel attracts or repels the nanoparticles and creates the image.  E-ink is well suited for reading where the slow refresh rate is inconsequential.

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A wiki is a website designed so that its users may easily add, modify, or delete content via web browsers, usually either via simple markup language or an in-browser rich text editor. Although the concept and software for the first wiki appeared as early as 1994, it wasn’t until the early 2000s that the wiki structure took off and became a popular tool for collaborative work.

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Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) is a set of networking protocols that permits networked devices such as game consoles, printers, Wi-Fi access points, computers, and routers to automatically discover each other and establish networking services for file sharing, streaming media, and other networked file-transfer services.

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A NAS, or Network Attached Storage device, is a specialized file server that connects to your local network. NAS devices are, compared to full server installations, running bare bones operating systems that serve to facilitate file sharing using common networked file sharing protocols (such as SMB, CIFS, and NFS).

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File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is a standard network protocol that enables file transfer between two TCP/IP-based computers. FTP is built on a client-server model wherein one computer functions as the file host (server) and one computer functions as the file retriever (the client). The original FTP standards were established in 1980 and FTP servers are still in use today as repositories for software updates, academic files and more.

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Network File System (NFS) is a Unix-based file sharing protocol originally developed by Sun Microsystems in the early 1980s. The protocol is not a local disk system but instead allows computers to view the files on other computers over the network as if the remote files were local. NFS is used on Unix-based systems such as Solaris and AIX, Unix-like systems like Linux and FreeBSD, and has been ported to other operating systems like Windows and NetWare.

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Server Message Block (SMB) is a network protocol most commonly used by Windows machines to share access to files, printers, and other peripherals. Although SMB has enjoyed widespread use because of its inclusion in Windows, the protocol is regarded by many as inefficient. SMB has a high overhead which makes it unsuitable for streaming video over less-than-ideal network conditions (especially when streaming to low-end hardware) and it has high-latency when used over wide-area networks.

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A Disk Image is a copy of an existing disk that encompasses everything from the files to the file system.  Unlike simply copying all the files off a DVD or hard disk, a disk image is a perfect copy of the source.

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File synchronization is the process of updating files in two different locations via a set of rules.  Two common forms of file synchronization are mirroring, where files are copied from a source to secondary locations, (as in the case of mirroring heavily-downloaded files across servers to decrease load) and bi-directional file syncing, where the contents of one directory are matched against the contents of another directory so that both have the same number and version of files.

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Browser Extensions are small computer programs that extend the functionality of web browsers.  Extensions are used for everything from the practical (such as changing the user-interface of popular websites to improve them) to the frivolous (replacing all embedded video with Rick Roll videos).

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A password manager is a software-based tool that helps users manage passwords, pin codes, and other authentication methods. The user selects a very strong password to serve as a master key to decrypt the passwords stored in the password manager.  The password manager typically takes care of everything else, including generating strong passwords for individual applications and services and organizing generated passwords.

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