Re: Esoteric terminology - Heartbeat

Subject: Re: Esoteric terminology - Heartbeat
From: Dick Margulis <ampersandvirgule -at- WORLDNET -dot- ATT -dot- NET>
Date: Sun, 22 Feb 1998 09:54:28 -0500

Warren Singer wrote:
> Can anyone suggest a more user-friendly word for the term heartbeat, as
> used in the following definition?
> Heartbeat
> A signal emitted at regular intervals by software to demonstrate that it is
> still alive. Sometimes hardware is designed to reboot the machine if it
> stops hearing a heartbeat.
> The term is presented in the context of statistic information that is
> produced for desktop clients which connect to a Gateway server.
> Thanks,
> Warren Singer

This brings up other questions involving the use in a given technical
jargon of words that have well-understood non-technical meanings.

Mechanical engineers and reliability engineers, among others, use the
term infant mortality. If, say, one percent of the incoming widgets have
small defects that you cannot see by inspecting them, the solution is to
run all of the widgets for a test period. The theory is that the great
majority of that one percent of defective widgets will fail during this
break-in run and be rejected before you put them in your product. This
tendency to fail early is called infant mortality.

However, the project I am working on involves an FDA-regulated device
used for diagnostic testing in hospitals and other clinical
laboratories. It is particularly used in reproductive medicine.

So when the engineers, regulatory affairs people, and senior management
get together to discuss the device's reliability program, there is some
difficulty around the use of the term infant mortality, as there would
be around the use of the term heartbeat.

"Well, Joe, we've done a lot of work to reduce our infant mortality."

"You mean you're not killing as many babies as you used to???"

"No, not _that_ kind of infant mortality ..."

I discussed the matter with the reliability engineer in question, and he
insisted that infant mortality is a term of art, well understood by
anyone who would be involved in regulating the device on the FDA side
and that any phrase I might come up with to substitute for it would be a
euphemism that would obfuscate rather than clarify.

I'm sure there are other equally difficult terms in these and other

So let me join you in asking the group: Is there a general principle we
can state, best practice we should apply, a standard way of dealing with
these situations?

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