Word Notes 12.29.20
Ep 30 | 12.29.20

Daemon (noun)


Rick Howard: The word is: Daemon.

Rick Howard: Spelled: D as in Devil, A is an apparition, E is an evil, M as in monster, O is an ogre, and N as in Nixie.

Rick Howard: Definition: An operating system program running in the background designed to perform a specific task when certain conditions or events occur.

Rick Howard: Example sentence: In UNIX, the names of daemons conventionally end in the letter "d" like inetd, named and lpd.

Rick Howard: Origin and context: While working at MIT's Project MAC in the 1960s, Dr Fernando Corbato and his colleagues originally coined the word to honor a famous physics thought experiment in the 19th century. James Maxwell, best known for his groundbreaking theories around electromagnetism, imagined a closed container with two compartments. Separating the two sides was a tiny gate just large enough to pass one molecule. A small daemon operated the gate and allowed fast moving molecules to pass through to one side and allowed slow moving molecules to pass to the other. The daemon essentially decreased the system's entropy, which is a violation of the second law of thermodynamics. Dr Corbato and crew thought that Maxwell's daemon was the perfect metaphor for their operating system programs, a being that performed a task depending on the right circumstances.

Rick Howard: Nerd reference: In 2006, Daniel Suarez self-published his novel "Daemon" that contains everything that a cyber nerd loves: online gaming, hacking, augmented reality and machete wielding killer motorcycle robots. Here Suarez describing the book at a Google Tech Talk in 2009.

Daniel Suarez: So for those of you who haven't read it, I'll give you the high concept that it gave the Hollywood folks that seemed to work OK. It is the story of a highly successful online game designer who creates a program that monitors the Web for the appearance of his own obituary. And when that appears, this program activates and cascades in activating other programs that begin to tear apart the systems supporting the modern world. It's not a comedy, obviously.

Rick Howard: In other words, the bad guy builds a daemon that wakes up other daemons in order to destroy society as we know it.