[SIGCIS-Members] History of gendered terms, e.g., "motherboard"

Ian S. King isking at uw.edu
Wed May 24 10:15:25 PDT 2017


Anecdotally: over the years the usages I've both heard and used are
'motherboard' for what is also known as an 'active backplane', i.e. a
circuit board that contains active elements including most often the
processor.  Since the concept of 'the processor' has evolved from
multi-rack, to multi-board, to multi-chip and finally to single-chip
implementations, it would be interesting to correlate the use of the term
'motherboard' with the processor implementation.

In distinction from 'motherboard', in my experience the term 'backplane'
was commonly used for a passive interconnect circuit board, i.e. as
shorthand for 'passive backplane'.

IBM seems to have favored the term 'mainboard'.  For embedded systems, I
most often (perhaps even exclusively, now that I think about it) see the
term 'processor board'.

Just a bit more data for the conversation....  -- Ian

On Wed, May 24, 2017 at 10:05 AM, Paul Fishwick <metaphorz at gmail.com> wrote:

> Miriam
>   In your last paragraph, you note:
>
>   "Reading these threads side by side has definitely given me pause on the
> state of the field and the challenges
>   we continue to have for fully integrating cultural studies, gender, and
> race perspectives into information and
>   computing studies.”
>
>  What is meant by “information and computing studies” in terms of the
> academy? Is it Library and Information Science,
>  Cultural Studies, or perhaps some subset of CISE (Computer and
> Information Science & Engineering)?
>
>  I ask to be better educated on the “challenges” you are facing. As for
> the Association for Computing Machinery,
>  there exists a classification called “Social and Professional Topics”,
> however, in the places where I have studied or
>  taught (Engineering Schools), this area is not well represented. Is your
> hope, or challenge, to get it into Engineering
>  Schools? As for departments outside of Engineering (e.g., in a
> Humanities-oriented school), the topics you
>  mention seem to have better coverage. Here is the link to the 2012 ACM
> classification tree:
>
>  http://www.acm.org/about/class/class/2012
>
> -paul
>
>
> Paul Fishwick, PhD
> Distinguished University Chair of Arts, Technology, and Emerging
> Communication
> Professor of Computer Science
> Director, Creative Automata Laboratory
> The University of Texas at Dallas
> Arts & Technology
> 800 West Campbell Road, AT10
> Richardson, TX 75080-3021
> Home: utdallas.edu/atec/fishwick
> Blog 1: medium.com/@metaphorz
>
>
>
> > On May 24, 2017, at 10:58 AM, Sweeney, Miriam <mesweeney1 at ua.edu> wrote:
> >
> > Hi Folks,
> >
> > Two thoughts here:
> >
> > Firstly, mammals don’t have gender (a socially constructed concept
> reflecting ideas about masculinity and femininity). There is nothing
> obvious or literal about the metaphor of “female” and “male” connectors-
> they are indeed ideological referents.
> >
> > Secondly, I can’t help but read this thread in direct contrast to the
> thread criticizing Rankin’s talk.  I note that on the latter thread a woman
> scholar is being taken to task for presenting informed research on gender
> in computing, while on this thread we have male scholars hazarding
> uninformed guesses about gender and computing metaphors with no pushback
> whatsoever.
> >
> > Reading these threads side by side has definitely given me pause on the
> state of the field and the challenges we continue to have for fully
> integrating cultural studies, gender, and race perspectives into
> information and computing studies.
> >
> >
> > Miriam E. Sweeney
> > Assistant Professor , School of Library and Information Studies
> >
> > The University of Alabama
> > 527 Gorgas
> > Box 870252
> > Tuscaloosa , AL
> > office 205-348-1522
> > mesweeney1 at ua.edu | https://slis.ua.edu/
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >> On May 24, 2017, at 9:51 AM, Paul N. Edwards <pne at umich.edu> wrote:
> >>
> >> Interesting discussion. OED does not speculate on this connection;
> first use of “motherboard” it lists is 1965.
> >>
> >> It’s worth noting that some of the gendered terms in engineering are
> very clear and literal metaphors, not specifically human though definitely
> mammalian.
> >>
> >> “Mother ship,” like “motherboard,” refers to a larger thing from which
> smaller, but similar dependent units (smaller ships, subsidiary circuit
> boards) are launched, to which they are attached, and from which they draw
> sustenance (fuel, electricity).
> >>
> >> “Female” and “male” connectors refer to sockets and plugs respectively,
> also quite literal, also not particularly human but mammalian.
> >>
> >> This is not to say that such metaphors aren’t sometimes deployed in
> objectionable, human-oriented ways, but it would be silly to ignore their
> value as readily understood descriptors of physical structure and/or
> relationships.
> >>
> >> Best,
> >>
> >> Paul
> >>
> >>
> >>> On May 24, 2017, at 9:43 , mike willegal <mike at willegal.net> wrote:
> >>>
> >>> My guess is that the term, Motherboard, was derived from the term
> Mothership, which is still in common usage by the general population, and
> according to several online dictionaries originated in the 19th century.
> Note that when techs and engineers refer to Motherboards, they normally use
> the gender neutral pronoun, "it".
> >>>
> >>> cheers,
> >>> Mike Willegal
> >>>
> >>>> On May 23, 2017, at 1:51 PM, Mark Priestley <m.priestley at gmail.com>
> wrote:
> >>>>
> >>>> Hi Caitlin,
> >>>>
> >>>> I'm not sure if this is the sort of thing you're looking for, but
> some CS pioneers were rather keen to use the master-slave metaphor to talk
> about human-computer relations. Eg:
> >>>>
> >>>> Jack Good reported that: "Turing used to refer jocularly to people
> who are forced to do
> >>>> mechanical operations as slaves."
> >>>>
> >>>> Bardini quotes Engelbart: "Think ahead to the day when computer
> technology might provide for your very own use the full-time services of a
> completely attentive, very patient, very fast symbol-manipulating slave who
> has an IQ adequate for 95% of your today's mental tasks."
> >>>>
> >>>> And there's this unfortunate Newsweek caption about Harry Huskey.
> >>>>
> >>>> I think probably links back to earlier tropes about robots: eg in
> Capek's RUR, the rebellious robots are precisely slaves. I've got an
> unpublished conference paper I wrote a few years back about this which I
> could dig out if you're interested.
> >>>>
> >>>> Cheers,
> >>>> Mark
> >>>>
> >>>>
> >>>>
> >>>>
> >>>> On 23 May 2017 at 18:29, McMillan, William W <
> william.mcmillan at cuaa.edu> wrote:
> >>>> Caitlin, this is an interesting study!
> >>>>
> >>>> I'm not sure, though, if "today's engineers" would very readily coin
> gender-specific terms for parts of computers.  These terms go back a long
> way.
> >>>>
> >>>> The "master-slave" terminology has going for it that the relationship
> between, say, a bus arbiter and connected devices is, in truth, a
> master-slave relationship.  The other connotations make it hard for me to
> use the terms in class, but it's difficult to find synonyms.
> Controller-controlled?  Decider-doer?  Kind of awkward.  (Suggestions
> welcome!)
> >>>>
> >>>> In contrast to the gendered terms, in describing the tree data
> structure, the relationship between nodes has always been parent-child,
> back at least to Knuth's volumes, not father-son, mother-son, or the like.
> Same with object/class hierarchies.
> >>>>
> >>>> - Bill
> >>>>
> >>>> ________________________________
> >>>> From: Members [members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org] on behalf of Wylie,
> Caitlin Donahue (cdw9y) [cdw9y at eservices.virginia.edu]
> >>>> Sent: Monday, May 22, 2017 8:11 PM
> >>>> To: members at SIGCIS.org
> >>>> Subject: [SIGCIS-Members] History of gendered terms, e.g.,
> "motherboard"
> >>>>
> >>>> Dear all,
> >>>> Do you know of any studies of gendered language in computing? I’m
> intrigued by the way today’s engineers throw around words like
> “motherboard” and “daughterboard”, and also “master” and “slave”, without
> being aware of how those words sound to non-engineers (like me). I’d be
> interested in learning about historical or sociological studies.
> >>>>
> >>>> Thank you!
> >>>>
> >>>> All the best,
> >>>> Caitlin Wylie
> >>>> _______________________
> >>>> Caitlin D. Wylie, Ph.D.
> >>>> Assistant Professor
> >>>> Program in Science, Technology and Society
> >>>> University of Virginia
> >>>> wylie at virginia.edu<mailto:wylie at virginia.edu>
> >>>> http://www.eands.virginia.edu/faculty-staff/wylie/
> >>>>
> >>>> _______________________________________________
> >>>> This email is relayed from members at sigcis.org, the email
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> >>>>
> >>>> _______________________________________________
> >>>> This email is relayed from members at sigcis.org, the email
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> >>>
> >>> _______________________________________________
> >>> This email is relayed from members at sigcis.org, the email
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> >>
> >> —————————————————
> >> Paul N. Edwards
> >> Professor of Information and History
> >> Distinguished Faculty in Sustainability, Graham Sustainability Institute
> >> Senior Fellow, Michigan Society of Fellows
> >>
> >> Starting July 1, 2017:
> >>
> >> William J. Perry Fellow in International Security
> >> Center for International Security and Cooperation
> >> Stanford University
> >> pedwards at stanford.edu
> >>
> >> Terse replies are deliberate. Here's why!
> >>
> >> University of Michigan School of Information
> >> 4437 North Quad
> >> 105 S. State Street
> >> Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1285
> >> (734) 764-2617 (office)
> >> (206) 337-1523  (fax)
> >> pne.people.si.umich.edu
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >> _______________________________________________
> >> This email is relayed from members at sigcis.org, the email discussion
> list of SHOT SIGCIS. Opinions expressed here are those of the member
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> listinfo.cgi/members-sigcis.org
> >
> > _______________________________________________
> > This email is relayed from members at sigcis.org, the email discussion
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>
> _______________________________________________
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>



-- 
Ian S. King, MSIS, MSCS, Ph.D. Candidate
The Information School <http://ischool.uw.edu>
Dissertation: "Why the Conversation Mattered: Constructing a Sociotechnical
Narrative Through a Design Lens

Archivist, Voices From the Rwanda Tribunal <http://tribunalvoices.org>
Value Sensitive Design Research Lab <http://vsdesign.org>

University of Washington

There is an old Vulcan saying: "Only Nixon could go to China."
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