THIS WEEK MARKS 10 YEARS SINCE THIS MAGAZINE KINDLY GREEN-LIGHTED THIS COLUMN,
dedicated to detangling techno-speak.
The first one, published on Sept. 18, 2000 (“Thank You, Data Fans, For Sharing,”
http://tinyurl.com/38mzp8a) looked at the then-nascent world of broadband,
before we called it broadband. Back then, fewer than a million U.S. homes took
high-speed data services from telcos; cable had signed up just over 2 million.
So much has transpired since then — perennial bandwidth implications,
geeky acronyms, efforts that fizzled, topics that won’t fizzle no matter how
much we hope.
Take “integration issues,” for instance, which first surfaced in the column
around Halloween of the same year (http://tinyurl.com/3676x62), in the context
of interactive television.
“Integration issues are obstacles, usually in software, and usually related to
making different types of software work cooperatively.” Always and forever:
Integration issues won’t fade away, because software remains the new black.
The words of former Cox Communications CTO Alex Best, first uttered in the
late ’90s, still hold true: “Every time someone says, ‘just a software download,’ my
Speaking of great conversations with favorite engineers: “Space Junk and
Global Relations” (http://tinyurl.com/3x3syfc) involved attending a meeting at the
Center of Inquiry in Burbank, Calif. The speaker was Dom Stasi, whose index finger
pushed the button that put MTV on the air, and who can talk satellites and
space with great wit and eloquence.
Impressively nerdy acronyms: EDFA, for Erbium-Doped Fiber Amplifier. Polarization
Modal Dispersion (PMD). EBIF (Enhanced Binary Interchange Format),
which always sounds more like a salutation amongst jocks than an interactive-
Nested acronyms used to be a haven for telcos. That’s until I ran into
“DPoE,” an 11-letter acronym disguised as a four-letter acronym. It stands for
DOCSIS PON over Ethernet. (To be translated at a future date. Betting you
can hardly wait.)
It’s hard to find any batch of geekery that outshines the jargon of 3D, however.
Try these on for size: Voxel emitters. Lenticular arrays. Wobulation mirrors!
And we can’t forget lingo that just doesn’t work well when spoken aloud.
“Presence” is an example — it’s about you showing up as “clickable/reachable”
across all your gadgets. You are present. Spoken, though, “presence” also sounds
like a pile of gifts.
The most vexing, because it’s center stage from here on out: IP, for Internet
protocol. If you’re a regular reader of this column (thanks!), you’ve been warned
about what happens. Just in case, here it is again. Say it aloud: “It seems like IP
This shift to “all things IP,” and the dandies it brings, will color the cable tech
landscape with gusto from here forward. It’s already happening: Set-tops become
gateways, conditional access becomes digital rights management (DRM),
over-the-top (OTT) becomes friend as well as foe. Stuff we used to try to make
room for in the box starts moving into “the cloud.”
Still, after 10 years, the term that creates the most facial glaze-over is “QAM,”
for Quadrature Amplitude Modulation. (Translated here: http://tinyurl.com/
In closing, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again here: Engineers are fun, funny
people. If they answer with an “it depends,” it’s because it probably does depend
— they’re expert at evaluating trade-offs. And they don’t create geeky acronyms
because they’re geeks, they tend to name things for what they do. Have patience,
and thanks for reading.