Saturday, March 23, 2013

Forking Dongles

As an IT guy, the first time I heard the word "dongle" my very first question was: "Is that really what it's called?"

Many things in IT are a euphemism or a verbalization of an acronym.  For example, about a decade or so ago, you'd hear sober women and men say the term "wizzy wig" out loud in meetings with completely straight faces and with not just a little gravity.  It was the (American) verbalization of the acronym WYSIWYG, which means What You See is What You Get.

See, popular software programs (now "applications" or "apps") like WordPerfect presented you with a big expanse of blue screen with a few ASCII (pronounced "ass-key," no kidding) characters (i.e. letters) indicating cursor position status, and the actual words you typed on the screen looked nothing like the final printed document. (For a brief moment in time, the blue screen was good, which is likely why it was villainized by a competitor.) Most office assistants took that in stride and after seeing a couple print-outs had a pretty good idea how it would look on the page.  But most folks were flummoxed by that, having only used typewriters where what you saw was how it would always be.  Thus, in the software world, those who could make the screen match the sheet of paper were considered pretty cool, and WYSIWYG was the acronym that meant your software did that.

So, this guy points at a plasticy metalish nub hanging off a port on the computer and says, "Oh, and make sure you have the dongle when you load that software, because it will only work when it detects the dongle."  So I asked the question in the first paragraph, knowing I would have to ask one of the ladies in the office for the dongle, because it was on most computers, but only the inserter of the dongle could get anywhere ... you see my point.  I hoped it was an acronym, or a euphemism, or something, but no, that was the word, and the only word.  So, for the next couple years, I would walk up to the keeper of the dongle, always a woman, and ask for it, and she would meet my eye when she handed it to me with that special knowing smirk, and eventually I got comfortable enough to return it.

TLD: Someday I might tell you the story of the time one of the ladies in the office had placed on her desk a valentine's day gift of a candy encased in a keepsake container, and before I could realize what I was saying, I was already walking away with every Human Services-trained lobe of my brain screaming: did you REALLY just say, "That's a nice box you've got there, [her name]."?!?!! When I looked back in horror, expecting her to already be lifting the receiver to dial HR, she just gave me the most devious, all-knowing smile, and just said, "Why, thank you."  For the rest of the day, my compadres asked me if I was OK, because my face was alarmingly red.  But I don't really want to tell you that story, because I could've been loading a cardboard box with my personal things in front of an armed guard within minutes, and that was the job that launched my career.

This week I was at a big tech. conference, sitting in a huge crowded room on chairs that only grade-schoolers would have thought wide enough, that suffered from this brain-dead design where the metal bar at the top of the seat protruded a solid inch beyond the back padding, so by day two everyone was squirming to find a place on their back that didn't have a horizontal bruise in order to lean back.  Eventually everyone just threw one arm over the chair, or slide so far forward that leaning back was not an option.  But anyway, there we were, trying to hold teeny cups of coffee directly in front of us while someone at the front of the hall tried for an hour to find the sweet spot on a tiny mic so that s/he wouldn't rock the room with shock waves upon hitting a percussive consonant while trying to force the computer to show the correct slide.   A blatant dick joke would've likely been welcome. (Like, "Why do you have all those horizontal bruises on your back?"  "Well, ....[insert dick mark joke here].")

I return from my conference to find out that at another one, some dude lost his job because he used the word "dongle" behind a woman who, even though her job was developer evangelist, thought the snigger in his voice when he said the word was a sexist dick joke. (Every single woman who ever handed me a dongle at work had that snigger in her eyes, I may have mentioned.) So, she took his picture and tweeted it - it's called a "public shaming" in current journalistic nomenclature - and then contacted the conference officials and had him removed.  So, he lost his job, and he's got three kids.  Then she lost hers over the backlash (apologies to the esteemed Franzen over using "then" as a conjunction).  Oh, and much wailing and gnashing of teeth on the internets.  Consensus appears to have settled on this being the best, most level, context-rich one.

On the way home from work that day, I stopped to buy a sixer of beer, and on the counter they had a new product pre-made in shot glasses on the impulse-buy area named "porn shot."  I pointed at it and told the two ladies behind the counter, in about a verbal tweet or two, the story above, and they were aghast. "What's the world coming to?" was their most repeated reaction.  I wisely chose not to riff on or belabor what the most common use of the word "coming" was in popular media these days.  Who knows who's listening?

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