RE: Pet Peeves

Subject: RE: Pet Peeves
From: "Andrew Warren" <awarren -at- synaptics -dot- com>
To: "Stuart Burnfield" <slb -at- westnet -dot- com -dot- au>, <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 16 Mar 2007 04:32:47 -0700

Stuart Burnfield wrote:

> in discussions of master/slave terminology, it's taken as a
> given that these are the best technical terms to use
> ....
> surely it's a poor metaphor in most of the IT and engineering
> settings in which it's used.
> ....
> I've seen these terms applied inappropriately in new products,
> simply because it saved 5 minutes compared with thinking up
> something more accurate and descriptive.

Just in case anyone's still reading this thread...

Yeah, there are better terms for new products, and as you
say, it doesn't take long to come up with them. Here's the
fruit of a couple minutes' thinking about alternative names
for Master/Slave products I've worked with or designed:

Leader Follower
Primary Secondary
Host Guest
Server Client
First Second
Central Peripheral
Major Minor
Principal Additional
Main Subsidiary
Superior Subordinate
Husband Wife (just kidding...)

> I've seen developers get quite impatient or defensive about
> retaining this sort of terminology. To be honest, I think
> the 'anti-PC' feeling is so strong that some people would
> rather choose imprecise terms than feel that they're
> backing down to Geoff's "arrogant PC bunch".

I think that's true. The length of this thread is
certainly an indication that people feel strongly.
Even though just about everyone who's participated
has come in on the same side of the issue, it's nice
to see people making strong arguments for what they
believe in... But I hope that when they're faced with
this issue in a less-theoretical setting, they can
see when it's appropriate to compromise.

A few years ago, the City of Los Angeles sent an
email to its computer-equipment suppliers asking
them to avoid using the terms "Master/Slave" in
product descriptions. Reuters picked up the story,
it ran in newspapers worldwide, and when engineers
heard it, they LOST THEIR MINDS. Browse through any
engineering-related newsgroup/mailing list's archive
from late November 2003 to see the intense reaction.

I didn't understand the hysteria. I mean, yeah, when
we use those terms in technical contexts, OF COURSE
we're not implying any connection to this country's
shameful history of human slavery... But it seemed to
me that the request was made because some words
are offensive on their face; people can be made
uncomfortable by them even if no offense was intended
by the person speaking them. A child shouting
obscenities in public, for example, will make people
uncomfortable even if that child is clearly too young
to know what the words mean.

Very few terms are universally perceived as offensive,
and "Master/Slave" isn't one of them. It might not
offend any of us on this list. Nevertheless, it's
indisputable that a) someone working for the City of
Los Angeles WAS offended by it, and b) Los Angeles
buys a lot of computer equipment.

If you're in business, it's your job to satisfy your
customers' desires. Smugly telling them that you're
going to ignore their feelings because they're
illogical/stupid/liberal/PC/etc is just BAD BUSINESS.

Imagine that your spouse told you, "There's this thing
you do that bothers me; I'd be happier if you stopped."
I don't think many of you would respond with, "Your
feelings are stupid; I'm going to keep doing it because
you really shouldn't be bothered by it," even if you
DID believe that he or she shouldn't be bothered by it.
You don't necessarily go along with it because you're
"senstive"; maybe you do it just because that's not the
hill you want to die on.

We frequently talk on the list about how to get feedback
from our customers, how to find out what's working and
what isn't, how to make our documentation fit the needs
of our customers. If a large customer CAME TO YOU,
unsolicited, and told you that you could make them happier
by doing something as simple as changing two words in the
descriptions of future products, wouldn't you do that?

I would, but maybe some people wouldn't. I wish them the
best of luck in whatever it is that they're planning to do
instead of being successful.

-Andrew

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Re: Pet Peeves: From: Stuart Burnfield

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