Is "master - slave" admissible as technical terms?

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bmforre
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Is "master - slave" admissible as technical terms?

Post by bmforre » Sat Jun 27, 2020 12:47 pm

Master - slave disks etc.
Unlike other U.S. businesses, the tech industry has a “master” and “slave” problem.

That’s what many tech companies call software components — “master” and “slave” is written into the computer code — wherein one process controls another. Not “controller” and “follower,” say, or “manager” and “worker.” Should an African American software developer be required to write code wherein a master process commands slaves?
What say collective wisdom?

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Re: Is "master - slave" admissible as technical terms?

Post by Grumble » Sat Jun 27, 2020 1:17 pm

I’m not in an industry that uses those terms, but they have always struck me as a bit odd and potentially offensive.
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Martin Y
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Re: Is "master - slave" admissible as technical terms?

Post by Martin Y » Sat Jun 27, 2020 1:23 pm

I'm thinking it's probably step too far. Mightn't doing away with such terms be a case of avoiding offence where it doesn't really exist? Without registering I can't read the WaPo article but has anyone in the industry actually said they find the terms oppressive or troubling? There might be some initial shock among people who are primed to notice potential offence when they first heard about the use as technical terms but I suspect that's about it. If you didn't previously know electronic design used the terminology, perhaps that indicates it never was oppressing anyone.

The terms master and slave are useful, clear descriptors in clock synchronisation. Insert your own joke about triggering here. I think it's probably no more useful to ban the terms from electronic design than it is to ban radio stations from playing Slave to the rhythm. I don't think the use of the words as logical descriptors suggests anyone thinks making humans into slaves is or was a good idea.


Semi-serious question: should we ban the term "killer app" as praise, since killing people isn't praiseworthy?
Last edited by Martin Y on Sat Jun 27, 2020 1:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Is "master - slave" admissible as technical terms?

Post by dyqik » Sat Jun 27, 2020 1:25 pm

There's so many other options, which are equally intuitive. And you can drop/replace the slave part while keeping the master part if you really want to avoid renaming things.

It's transparently and obviously offensive, and STEM has a massive issue with systemic racism.

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Re: Is "master - slave" admissible as technical terms?

Post by dyqik » Sat Jun 27, 2020 1:28 pm

Martin Y wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 1:23 pm
I'm thinking it's probably step too far. Mightn't doing away with such terms be a case of avoiding offence where it doesn't really exist? Without registering I can't read the WaPo article but has anyone in the industry actually said they find the terms oppressive or troubling? There might be some initial shock among people who are primed to notice potential offence when they first heard about the use as technical terms but I suspect that's about it. If you didn't previously know electronic design used the terminology, perhaps that indicates it never was oppressing anyone.

The terms master and slave are useful, clear descriptors in clock synchronisation. Insert your own joke about triggering here. I think it's probably no more useful to ban the terms from electronic design than it is to ban radio stations from playing Slave to the rhythm. I don't think the use of the words as logical descriptors suggests anyone thinks making humans into slaves is or was a good idea.
There is no use or meaning to Master/Slave that isn't also carried by less problematic terms. Lots of sub areas don't use it.

The problems with Master/Slave clearly outweigh their usefulness, which is marginal at best. The only reason you think they are useful is familiarity.

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Re: Is "master - slave" admissible as technical terms?

Post by Martin Y » Sat Jun 27, 2020 1:33 pm

dyqik wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 1:28 pm
There is no use or meaning to Master/Slave that isn't also carried by less problematic terms. Lots of sub areas don't use it.
I'm entirely open to suggestions of good alternatives so long as it doesn't mean adopting vague or unclear terms.

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Re: Is "master - slave" admissible as technical terms?

Post by dyqik » Sat Jun 27, 2020 1:34 pm

Martin Y wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 1:33 pm
dyqik wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 1:28 pm
There is no use or meaning to Master/Slave that isn't also carried by less problematic terms. Lots of sub areas don't use it.
I'm entirely open to suggestions of good alternatives so long as it doesn't mean adopting vague or unclear terms.
Why are you placing that condition? Master and slave is vague and unclear as well.

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Re: Is "master - slave" admissible as technical terms?

Post by dyqik » Sat Jun 27, 2020 1:34 pm

Double post

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Re: Is "master - slave" admissible as technical terms?

Post by Martin Y » Sat Jun 27, 2020 1:46 pm

dyqik wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 1:28 pm
The problems with Master/Slave clearly outweigh their usefulness, which is marginal at best. The only reason you think they are useful is familiarity.
If they clearly outweighed usefulness maybe I would have heard or read some discussion of it over the years before last week. I know I'm out of touch, but not totally isolated from reality. And yes, they are familiar, but technical terms get used because they're helpful.

What alternative terms are used for the top-of-the-hierarchy clock source and subordinates who follow its lead? Is master still okay if we use subordinate instead of slave? (i sense this might across as snarky, that's genuinely not intended. It's a sincere question.)

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Re: Is "master - slave" admissible as technical terms?

Post by stańczyk » Sat Jun 27, 2020 1:52 pm

Martin Y wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 1:46 pm
What alternative terms are used for the top-of-the-hierarchy clock source and subordinates who follow its lead?
Leader and follower

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Re: Is "master - slave" admissible as technical terms?

Post by dyqik » Sat Jun 27, 2020 1:53 pm

Martin Y wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 1:46 pm
dyqik wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 1:28 pm
The problems with Master/Slave clearly outweigh their usefulness, which is marginal at best. The only reason you think they are useful is familiarity.
If they clearly outweighed usefulness maybe I would have heard or read some discussion of it over the years before last week. I know I'm out of touch, but not totally isolated from reality. And yes, they are familiar, but technical terms get used because they're helpful.

What alternative terms are used for the top-of-the-hierarchy clock source and subordinates who follow its lead? Is master still okay if we use subordinate instead of slave? (i sense this might across as snarky, that's genuinely not intended. It's a sincere question.)
Master/subordinate is much better. Master/follower, command clock/follower, leader/follower all work, and are more descriptive of the actual relationship.

Master/slave implies ownership, and a punishment mechanism to enforce obedience, which isn't correct in the case of clocks.

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Re: Is "master - slave" admissible as technical terms?

Post by stańczyk » Sat Jun 27, 2020 1:57 pm

Just a follow up. There has been discussion about this issue in several open source projects which I follow.

https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/202 ... -codebase/

Postfix has also commited to changing some terminology - whitelist and blacklist being replaced with passlist and blocklist. The new terms are also much clearer for people who do not have English as a first language.

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Re: Is "master - slave" admissible as technical terms?

Post by dyqik » Sat Jun 27, 2020 2:00 pm

In clocks, I'd also distinguish between a command/leader clock, which monitors the performance of the followers, and a reference clock, which doesn't.

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Re: Is "master - slave" admissible as technical terms?

Post by Martin Y » Sat Jun 27, 2020 2:10 pm

(much reply snipped as the thread moves so fast) sure, master and subordinate I can get behind.
stańczyk wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 1:57 pm
... Postfix has also commited to changing some terminology - whitelist and blacklist being replaced with passlist and blocklist. The new terms are also much clearer for people who do not have English as a first language.
That's a good point. Whitelist/Blacklist are terms I'm troubled by as they very clearly denote colours as good and bad. Passlist and blocklist look like good alternatives (but my job rarely uses the terms so I can't be sure how good the new ones are). And it's a very good point that the old terms are idioms whose meanings are not clear unless you already know them from general English.

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Re: Is "master - slave" admissible as technical terms?

Post by Martin Y » Sat Jun 27, 2020 2:15 pm

dyqik wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 2:00 pm
In clocks, I'd also distinguish between a command/leader clock, which monitors the performance of the followers, and a reference clock, which doesn't.
We rarely need to distinguish as when we say master we generally mean reference, but I appreciate the usefulness of the distinction and have made mental note of the terms for future use.

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Re: Is "master - slave" admissible as technical terms?

Post by dyqik » Sat Jun 27, 2020 2:20 pm

Martin Y wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 2:15 pm
dyqik wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 2:00 pm
In clocks, I'd also distinguish between a command/leader clock, which monitors the performance of the followers, and a reference clock, which doesn't.
We rarely need to distinguish as when we say master we generally mean reference, but I appreciate the usefulness of the distinction and have made mental note of the terms for future use.
Can you tell I've been playing with SysML and related tools recently? There you may want to distinguish between systems with commands and references where there is a feedback mechanism to the generator that then sends additional commands to improve the fidelity of the response, and systems where there are just follower nodes that the central system doesn't monitor.

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Re: Is "master - slave" admissible as technical terms?

Post by dyqik » Sat Jun 27, 2020 2:23 pm

Related to the original language question, it strikes me that phrases like "slavishly copy" or "slavish devotion" deliberately erase uncomfortable thoughts about the roles of whips and example punishments in slavery.

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Re: Is "master - slave" admissible as technical terms?

Post by Martin Y » Sat Jun 27, 2020 2:25 pm

Other than not knowing what SysML is, I do like the clarity of the descriptors.

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Re: Is "master - slave" admissible as technical terms?

Post by dyqik » Sat Jun 27, 2020 2:28 pm

stańczyk wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 1:57 pm
Just a follow up. There has been discussion about this issue in several open source projects which I follow.

https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/202 ... -codebase/

Postfix has also commited to changing some terminology - whitelist and blacklist being replaced with passlist and blocklist. The new terms are also much clearer for people who do not have English as a first language.
Publisher/subscriber is another common one for message stream type systems, used in things like Redis.

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Re: Is "master - slave" admissible as technical terms?

Post by Martin Y » Sat Jun 27, 2020 2:34 pm

dyqik wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 2:23 pm
Related to the original language question, it strikes me that phrases like "slavishly copy" or "slavish devotion" deliberately erase uncomfortable thoughts about the roles of whips and example punishments in slavery.
Not sure about the deliberately erase uncomfortable thoughts bit. "Slavish" is always pejorative, isn't it? It's used to scorn unthinking obedience which one might expect only when people are forced to comply and are permitted no will of their own. That seems pretty uncomfortable to me.

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Re: Is "master - slave" admissible as technical terms?

Post by dyqik » Sat Jun 27, 2020 2:38 pm

Primary and secondary are commonly used for hydraulic cylinders

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Re: Is "master - slave" admissible as technical terms?

Post by bmforre » Sat Jun 27, 2020 2:39 pm

As to clocks commanding and following or not: Remember the Starliner diverging clocks fiasco?
Elapsed times Starliner error

Boeing may have had to study "Through the Lookig-Glass":
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."

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Re: Is "master - slave" admissible as technical terms?

Post by dyqik » Sat Jun 27, 2020 2:58 pm

Martin Y wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 2:34 pm
dyqik wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 2:23 pm
Related to the original language question, it strikes me that phrases like "slavishly copy" or "slavish devotion" deliberately erase uncomfortable thoughts about the roles of whips and example punishments in slavery.
Not sure about the deliberately erase uncomfortable thoughts bit. "Slavish" is always pejorative, isn't it? It's used to scorn unthinking obedience which one might expect only when people are forced to comply and are permitted no will of their own. That seems pretty uncomfortable to me.
Ok, "deliberately" should probably have been "conveniently" there.

I think of the "slavish devotion to" as an obituary/biographical term, and can be intended as perjorative or not, depending on the subject and context. Could be to family, could be to his job at the expense of his family.

Either way, I always think of the action there as choice of/determined by the individual.

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Re: Is "master - slave" admissible as technical terms?

Post by El Pollo Diablo » Sat Jun 27, 2020 5:00 pm

I've skipped over a few posts on this thread, but it's always worth remembering the general balance of whiteness on the forum. We're not necessarily the best people to judge the offensiveness or not of the terms here.
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Re: Is "master - slave" admissible as technical terms?

Post by Martin Y » Sat Jun 27, 2020 5:19 pm

El Pollo Diablo wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 5:00 pm
I've skipped over a few posts on this thread, but it's always worth remembering the general balance of whiteness on the forum. We're not necessarily the best people to judge the offensiveness or not of the terms here.
I'm very conscious of that. However, working in a field where the terms are commonplace, in an organisation whose culture of desire to avoid offence is the stuff of satire, I never came across any suggestion they were troubling until last week. Then again, not everywhere is America, so maybe that's a factor.

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