Click here to read some engineering jokes we have compiled
On this page we will decode some
of the terminology you might hear around the microwave lab (or on
this web site), a must-read for microwave neophytes and managers
alike. If you are interested in this topic, maybe you should visit
our acronym dictionary as
Does the IEEE
or any trade rag provide microwave
slang? No!!! That's why we're here, to serve the people of the microwave
industry with the only the most useful, timely and timeless information.
Attention microwave rap artists!
Send in your favorite microwave slang terminology!
Here's one engineer's collection
of aerospace slang, it's from Carl F. Gauze who works at Anonymous
Aerospace. Click here to
download it! (Danger Will Robinson, this document contains the F-word,
so don't download it if you have a problem with that!)
Management or business people. Often the best technology comes from
the sandbox that has the least adult supervision.
Microwaves101 doesn't have any adult supervision, look where that
If you work for a defense contractor, you know that every presentation must contain an Armageddon chart. It doesn't have to have any particular relevance, someone with a crewcut in the audience will jump in to help explain it. Or you could start by using President Obama's explanation to Mitt Romney: we have these ships that go underwater... Here's one you can always use, it was released by the Navy for public use. Click it to zoom into five megabytes of battle!
"Sorce" (or perhaps "source"), meaning "sauce",
as in "let's have some Air Force fer me chips, mate".
OK, this has nothing to do with microwave slang, it's Cockney rhyming
slang, and you need a lesson in it, to make you a well-rounded individual!
Click here for
a cool Cockney slang web site! Granger, Will Robinson!
What you get good at when you work the boneyard.
Ballin' the jack
A dance craze from 100 years ago, before that African-American railroad
slang for running at full throttle. Our suggested use is when you
are load pulling a power device that
is setting a new power benchmark, it's ballin' the jack. "Ballin'
" comes from "highball", meaning to have a good time.
The "jack" originally meant the locomotive, referring
to the jackass that pulls a heavy cart. Bring on those silicon
carbide devices! But wait, here's another explanation for highballing,
courtesy of Chip: For the expression ballin' the jack you talk
about highball as having a good
time and there is also a reference to going very fast. Old steam
engines with a governor had brass balls that move up and down as
they spin faster or slower. When the governor was fully engaged,
the engine was going as fast as it could and the balls were as high
as they could go-thus highballin'. Hey, we like Chip's explanation
Particularly if you work in the defense industry, a "Barney
Fife" is a security guard in your facility. In the old
Andy Griffith television show, Barney was only allowed one bullet,
which he had to keep in his shirt pocket, because he was prone
to accidentally discharging his weapon if it was loaded. Modern
Barney Fifes have too much firepower, some even have radar guns
and are authorized to write pretend speeding tickets. The only
two requirements for becoming a Barney Fife are 1) score lower
that a certain number on an intelligence test and 2) have a
history of being a bully, or being bullied in high school. In
all seriousness, the late Don Knotts was a comic genius and
will be missed by us all, go
here to see an excellent tribute including some great sound
cuts. You can buy this great poster of Barney here!
Bart’s head is the colloquial term for the waveform in the frequency
domain of a CDMA signal as viewed on a spectrum analyzer. When
operating correctly, it looks a lot like Bart Simpson’s head.
Square sides, kind of choppy on the top.
You might hear something
like; “ I looked at the Bart’s head at the antenna port, and
it rolls pretty sharply, I think the duplexer is tweaked”
Thanks to Scott! . Buy
a poster of Bart here!
Click the image of Bart
to the right, to see a CDMA plot.
The label applied to everything you want to get rid of that doesn't
fit in a trash can, Spanish for trash. "Rancho Basura"
would be a great name for that housing development that
KB Homes is building on top of the town dump. "Oh Honey,
I love that development, it sounds so southwestern!"
This in from Chip...in the good old days, when filters could
be tuned on an o'scope (using a coupler and a crystal detector)
and a more linear phase was required you tuned the band edges to
have peaks with a drop off inband and then a gentle rise thru most
of the band to the other band edge and its peak. This was aptly
named the "Batman response" (the top of Batman's head
and cowling along with the two ears). UE: we'd used this explanation
for amplifier responses that were unstable at the band edges. Haven't
heard that one in years!
New for February 2013: these images came from Jim, who explains:
In the course of sweeping filters for 3dB bandwidth pass/fail, I mistakenly hit the FM modulation button.
With TRACE set to MAX HOLD, I instantly recognized what I was seeing, thanks to the Microwaves101 Encyclopedia.
Attached please find two jpegs of the resulting Batman Diagram, so people can get the full visual impact.
Be sure to click on them to read the labels...
A graph in a presentation or document that is so small it is rendered
unreadable by the human eye alone. Refers to the hapless hero of
tiny comic-strip fame. Often employed as a marketing tool in catalogs
by vendors that don't want you to know exactly how much insertion
loss that switch has. Here's some other hints on how to play this
game: plot parameters that are far apart in value on the same axis,
like all four S-parameters of an amplifier.
Use the color yellow against a dark background if you really want
to hide something. For maximum unreadability, be sure to use a tiny
Belt and suspenders
When you design something with added safety margin!
Big balls and tight balls
Another one from Chip...I used to design combline filters and
used the network analyzer to tune on a smith chart/polar display.
The term "big balls" (not the AC/DC song) indicated the
problem was at the load side of the device. "Tight balls"
indicate good VSWR existed or could be easily obtained by centering
the tight balls on the Smith chart.
There is much written on this topic on the worldwide web, we will
offer the simple definition that if your company employs six or
more people to perform work that could reasonably be done by one
person, you know about big company disease first hand. Big company
disease is why small companies are formed (frustrated talent) and
then bought (big companies must buy innovation when they don't develop
it, and entrepreneurs need to cash out to satisfy their trophy-wives'
greed). That's the "Circle of Life" for tech companies!
A birdie is a spurious response in a radar receiver. Not what you want your fire control; radar to lock onto... Check out the story of "Bird is the Word" on our page on songs about radar and radio. Thanks to Gary, again!
When you don't have access to the schematic of a component or subsystem
that is sealed up in a package that can't be opened, it's called
a black box.
Customer group on a fact-finding trip to your lab, to see why you
are late and over budget (or a group that your company sends to
a vendor for similar harassment, which is much more fun.)
An employee that is so old his/her head is no longer supported well
by their turkey-style neck. Pop culture examples include Dr. Laura
and Pat Robertson. Guys, it's time to put on the wide white belt
and plaid pants and head for the dog tracks in Florida!
Refers to bulky and heavy test equipment from and earlier epoch,
most often bearing the name Hewlett Packard. Old
spectrum analyzers and synthesizers are among the most effective
When someone hogs a piece of test equipment that is needed elsewhere,
they are Bogarting. As in, "the Professor sure likes to Bogart
that new synthesizer." The origin of this expression is well
known to anyone who attended a college party in the past 30 years.
But wait, this definition is
wrong, as pointed out by Alex (thanks!)
The original meaning of
"Bogart" in the famous song is not "to hog",
but "to pinch and throw away the butt of a cigarette"
(of whatever kind). The film The Maltese Falcon contains an example
of Humphrey Bogart's routine with a cigarette stub.
So the chap in the song
is really asking the cigarette holder to allow him to puff away
the last little bit of the good stuff, rather than throw it away.
Those we used to call "The
Old Wise Ones" would have known this; generations garble
the signal in transmission.
A fine leak test for hermeticity
in which a module is exposed to helium at pressure above one atmosphere,
then a "sniffer" is used to detect helium escaping helium,
indicating a leak.
A collection of production assemblies that failed acceptance test.
Often used as a low-cost source of shippable hardware, around the
29th of the month. Sample dialogue: hey Joe, get your butt out here
and work the bonepile, we need to make the numbers this month or
it's pink slip blizzard time!
as in "going bowling"
We're not talking about the silly tenpin that allows people who
are obese and smoke to have a sport that they they can be good at...
going bowling is serious stuff. It involves going to a Chinese
restaurant, and drinking multiple scorpion bowls. Below we
see test engineer "Jeph" (name changed to protect the
guilty) going bowling with all of the college coed co-op students
that won't even look at you... while you work late plotting the
data he dumped on you. Now who's you daddy? Thanks for the pic,
Casi, and we wish we were there!
Military jargon for "BS".
Breadboard (or brassboard)
The phase of a project where the initial hardware is built, usually
not form-factored. In microwaves, sometimes "brassboard"
is used, because hardware often involves machined housings.
you're doing a heckuva job
If your boss tells you this, it means you will be out of a job
in less than a week, and you can expect to get hauled into Congress
to testify soon. From Michael Brown, ex-FEMA director, who couldn't
find his backside using both hands after the 2005 New Orleans
flood. As Captain Safety might say, "Worn-out
tools can injure fools!"
Perhaps your company has different colors for proposal efforts,
such as red team, blue team, etc. We don't care about those colors,
it is the brown team onto which the pipe flows all problems. You
get to work on Thanksgiving, because the Red Team didn't like your
A Yiddish word that translates most accurately to the American word
"squat". Bupkis means "nothing", as in "Mayor
McCheese doesn't know bupkis about technology!" It's funny,
a lot of people will look at you funny because they thought you
just said "butt-kiss", these ignorant folks probably went
to Southern Methodist University and were deprived of having friends
with Jewish grandmothers. Diversity is a beautiful thing!
Particularly if you work in a large factory or government installation
that has ever had an accident make the papers, more and more you
will be reminded how safety is important. Captain Safety is becoming
a time-waster of colossal proportions, as you'll have to endure
lectures on cubicle safety, the correct way to tie your shoes and
such. Imagine working at NASA, following the Challenger disaster,
and then having to take an on-line class on avoiding paper cuts...
don't cheat and try to skip to the quiz, you might not get credit
for this "training" if the window isn't open for 1/2 hour!
If anyone would like to draw a caricature of Captain Safety, send
it in and you might win both fame and fortune!
The weekend retreat where they send would-be managers to see if
they have the right stuff. When one of your friends goes to charm
school, expect stories that begin with "we had two hot girls
in the limo at 3 AM the night before we got our certificates and
you wouldn't believe..."
Fate requires that a certain amount of bad stuff is unavoidable,
but realize that you need to stop using expletives in each sentence.
OK, we made this one up. You could also say "Supertramp happens".
Artwork features that don't affect the design, but facilitate tuning
later. Gold chicken dots give you something to stick ribbon bonds
to. This design practice dates back to when CAD tools were inaccurate,
today you are better off spending the time to accurately predict
design performance, and minimize the use of chicken dots. If you
overdue it they can actually couple to transmission lines, pulling
impedances out of whack and cause more harm than good. Thanks for
the advice, Chip!
often a small alumina substrate is referred to as a Chicklet, because
it is white and rectangular. If you mistake it for gum you are looking
at some expensive dental work!
A play on the words Chinese and
ITAR, referring to the loss of intellectual property to that
most populous country in Asia. Droves of Chinese engineers show
up at certain professional venues and later introduce products that
you might easily recognize. Used in a sentence: "the boss will
never let you give your talk at the IMAPS conference, that organization
is totally ChiTAR".
It's just a
matter of time before they learn all of our secrets...
An RF choke is typically a series element such as as inductor or resistor that passes direct current but blocks RF energy.
Close enough for government
This is the equivalent of a carpenter saying "you can't see
it from my house". Implies low workmanship standards. Sorry,
Color of money New for January 2012! We had this definition all wrong previously, it has been corrected by Paul. Thanks!
The term color of money refers to what budget the money is coming from, such as Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E), Operations and Maintenance (O&M), and Military Construction (MILCON) among others.
This saying originated in the religious camps on the New Jersey
shore in the 19th century, such as the community of Ocean
Grove. A Come to Jesus meeting in laboratory context means a
meeting in which some cold hard truth will be revealed, like a contract
is about to be canceled. Similar to "going
to the woodshed".
Corporate Tool shirt
If you go to trade shows, conferences or college recruiting trips, you will be issued a Corporate Tool shirt. This can find its best use as a painting or landscaping shirt. Be sure to rip it up. Tell your boss you lost it.
If your company is missing this shirt, why don't you come over my house and ask for it nicely?
If you say something that is too revealing in front of a customer, your boss might interrupt you to suggest that you will receive counseling after the meeting. Similar to going to the woodshed, except the focus is on what you can and cannot say when The Wallet is in the room.
Cut a ruby
This dates way back to when artwork was done with an Exacto knife
and a straightedge. Ruby lithography gets its name from the ruby-red
color of the features that are masked.
correcting over-exhuberant scratting with
electrically conductive paint and a triple zero brush - why sniff
glue when you've got this? (excellent input, HB of Filtronic!) Dagging
and scratting is not to be confused with "hugging
and chalking", an amusing song by Hoagy Carmichael about
romancing a supersized woman. If you need to put chalk marks on
your old lady to know where you started hugging her, she might need
to put down the fork.
Here's an alternate, non-microwave
definition of "dagging", from Gary from New Zealand:
Here in NZ, though, "dagging"
refers to an ancient, necessary but somewhat dangerous and rather
unpleasant farm skill involving the removal of dags from a sheep's
non-face-end with a portable shearing unit known as a dagger.
And from Phil:
"Dagging" may come from the common conductive glop called DAG, for "dispersed aqueous graphite". AquaDAG is one common variety. It's used for electrostatic shielding of photomultipliers and for all sorts of lab jobs--sort of like conductive duct tape.
Our robot friend used to say this, it can only mean trouble of the
A printed circuit board that is added to a larger printed circuit
board, often the result of modifications during breadboard phase.
This term applies to when you mount an integrated circuit upside
down, and white-wire it into the breadboard
circuit. So called because the IC looks like it died and pointed
its tiny feet up at the ceiling.
Using some measurements of calibration standards and some algebra
to unimportant parts of a measurement, usually the connectors on
input and output. A true science, but so far we haven't discussed
it yet on Microwaves101.
In our slang dictionary, deep-six is a verb, meaning "to discard".
As in, "deep-six that epoxy and get me some fresh (stuff)".
We originally stated that deep-six comes from the tradition of burying
bodies at least six feet under to prevent coyotes from snacking
on the dear departed. But an alert reader has pointed out that the
nautical roots, and originally referred to a depth of six fathoms
(36 feet). Objects that fall overboard to that depth are not going
to be easy to recover. Thanks to Dave!
Further input from Phil:
"Deep six" is indeed six fathoms, not six feet, but it's still terminal--traditionally it's the minimum depth in which you can bury someone at sea. (Current US naval regs specify a minimum of 600 feet and 3 miles from shore, off the continental shelf.) Also, when taking soundings, when you're between seven and eight fathoms depth, the boatswain calls, "By the deep, seven." See e.g.
Hey, this is a family web page, we can't use the s-word! Refers
to the opposite of "good times".
Sometimes this is how you improve the RF performance of waveguide
A nonmetallic implement used to tune circuits, often a toothpick
or broken Q-tip. Sometimes a small bit of metal is attached to the
tip to act as a tuning stub for messing with microstrip circuits.
Thanks to Jim!
A special moment where everyone in the meeting room realizes simultaneously
that based on what the Manager has just stated or presented that
they all will very soon be referenced in a Dilbert Comic Strip fame.
Down to seeds and stems
At the end of a project when the money runs out, the account is
down to seeds and stems. Ask your teenage kid for an explanation
if you need one.
Drinking your own bath water
Quite often engineers get enamored with their pet technology so
much that they fail to see its faults, or that it was just a research
project with no other aim than bleeding off some government money.
Next time someone suggests that their MEMS switch
could be "easily redesigned to handle 1000 watts at Ka-band",
point out that they are drinking their own bath water, then tell
them to shut their pie hole before someone places an order. But
when you think about it, your own bath water is better for drinking
than some else's, right?
Drop the vernacular
If your program manager says that you use too much slang at a review,
every Curley fan knows that there is only one response to the phrase
"drop the vernacular", just say "Vernacular?, It's
To "dry-lab the data" means to fake it. A correct usage: President Bush dry-labbed
the Iraq WMD data. The origination of the work is in chemistry, where a "wet" experiment is left unperformed. Faking data is always a bad move, do it regularly and you will get caught, like when Dateline caught Dr. Patel in 2011... watch the video below and you might understand why this is another area that the government really should regulate. Like banks, Wall Street, the environment, there are always greedy people that require close supervision for the common good. So far, Dr. Patel is still in business, as there is no government regulation of dietary supplements or the people that test them. Examples of dry-labbing in microwave production facilities include qualification data.... honest, we did 250 thermal cycles on your hardware....
Isolation resistors in power combiners
are sometimes referred to as dump resistors, because this is where
power that didn't get combined is dissipated.
Egg crate construction
Often use in constructing deep antennas from planar boards. Rows and columns fit together like an egg crate.
Often use to provide deep Vivaldi antenna elements like this patent.
A black hole in the schedule and budget, where you are at the mercy
of a so-called expert that has a certificate from Don
White Consultants. There are of course exceptions to this rule,
as the Unknown Editor is related to an EMI engineer!
Known alternatively as simply "the suit". Refers to the
CEO, CFO or other bigwigs of your company. As in, "look busy,
here comes an empty suit!" In the case of M/A-COM employees,
you could also refer to the empty suit as "the felon".
A reference to the Rocky and Bullwinkle cold-war cartoons,
Fearless Leader was Boris
Badenov's boss. We apply this term of endearment to all
project leaders, managers or other authority figures that
take credit for your successes, take no credit for failures,
and in general don't have a clue as to what you're trying
to accomplish! Don't say "The Fearless Leader",
just refer to "Fearless Leader" as a proper name
or you'll be screwing up this unique reference that no one
under the age of 40 will get!
Here's some Rocket J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle trivia: who was Fearless Leader's (unseen) boss? Mr. Big!
If you are called to a meeting that involves the infamous
FiSH! video, chances are you are about to get screwed
in some way, like a pay freeze, benefit cut or pink slips.
Or maybe you will soon be demoted to handling dead fish! Here's
version of the FiSH! video, if they show you the
original at work, remember it costs $825
for the 18 minute DVD!
First pass success
Perhaps the most overused expression in the MMIC design community!
Here's how it is often employed:
That phase shifter design
was first-pass success. In the next mask iteration we only need
to recenter the design band and reduce the RMS errors to meet
Let's reveal an undeniable truth
here, cowboy! In the history of the microwave world, there has never
been a first-pass success MMIC. If there was it would have beeen
produced on a production mask the first time out and a dozen wafers
processed before any testing began. So shut up about it already!
An off-site venue (hopefully after work hours) that consumes large
quantities of single-dollar bills. Alternatively called "going
to the gym", "morale (or team) building event", an
"offsite" and other terms.
Full metal jacket
A semirigid coax cable (as opposed to a flex
A type of pressure contact that uses gold-plated copper-beryllium
wire twisted and compressed into a springy cylindrical contact.
This is a trademark of Tecknit corporation. Captured in an insulating
bead, can be used to create a coaxial connection for RF signals.
See also pogo pins. Thanks to Zev!
Not a misspelling, but an example of portmanteau,
a contraction of the words "gigahertz" and "digital",
which can be applied to any system that employs digital circuitry
running at microwave speeds. For example, a "gigital receiver"
might employ digital-to-analog conversion on a 2 GHz baseband signal.
A Microwaves101-exclusive slang term, be our guest and spread it
to the woodshed
Getting yelled at, or receiving other punishments for something
that you are being held accountable for.
This is production hardware that has been saved from the pile of
possible deliverables that is an example of a part that meets the
entire acceptance test. It might be the best part your company ever
built! Chances are it was built somewhere between units 10 and 100,
before you started to lose the recipe around unit 1000.... It is
essential to verifying your automated test equipment, if the Golden
Unit doesn't pass ATP, the test equipment is broken, and the units
that just failed might actually be OK! Don't ever take apart the
Golden Unit, no one knows the tricks that make it work, much less
how to put it back together! See also Lab Queen.
Good enough for government work
This expression must date back quite a few wars. "Good enough for government work" means that the "work" being referred to is sloppy and not something to be proud of, a real piece of work or a right mess. For the humor-challenged, this is an example of irony. Sometimes stated as "close enough for government work, which does not possess alliterative value. Time to weld the lid on it! In construction, a similar expression is "can't see it from my house".
When someone says "that's a good one", it means they think
you are lying.
Conformal coating and staking, usually some form of uralane, parylene
or benzo-cyclo-butene (BCB). As in "when the board finishes
test send it upstairs to get gooped".
When someone is working on their personal stuff out in the lab, they are doing "government work". Like that time you wasted four hours trying to fix a ten dollar pair of earbuds...
Similar to "trap", grating lobe are
sometimes used by system people to describe unknown phased array
antenna phenomena, as in "that suck out in the antenna pattern
must be due to an unintended grating lobe." Actually, this
is a complete misuse of what a the term "grating lobe"
means. As pointed out by Luke, a grating lobe is observed when you
steer too far with a phased array and the main beam reappears on
the wrong side. Learn
about this problem and how to avoid it on our phased
Green tape refers to low-temperature co-fired ceramic, in it's unfired
("green") state. It comes in rolls, like most tapes, but
it is usually green in color. Check out this poem
Greybeards, council of If your company suffers from big company disease,
chances are you have roving bands of self-important but slow-working
older engineers who look for opportunities to take over cool projects
and probably squelch more innovation than they ever provided. If
you hear "you don' unnerstand..." coming from someone
wearing a cheap toupee and serious coffee breath at your next design
review, you are in their sites.
Slang term for a frequency meter,
as in, "Hey Joe, can I borrow your X-band gum ball? Thanks
to Joe from Agilent!
Opposite of a natural resource. Can minimally
function at most engineering tasks, following process
checklist for example, in order to get a salary but can not
function as a forward thinking engineer. Often on the payroll due
to the theory of relativity.
Hall of Shame
The area in a cabinet reserved for various rejected items and breadboards
that never quite worked... thanks to Christopher from Long Island!
Whoa there, don't let your mind play tricks on you. At every design
review on a PIN diode product, you'll hear someone say something
about the diodes being "hard on", which implies they are
biased in a high-current state, and more milliamps won't decrease
the ON resistance. It's in your job description not to snicker,
so be ready for this!
Very bad situtation (what could be worse than your helmet catching
fire?), usually involving being yelled at by authority figures such
as security bullies. An Air Force or Navy flier term that migrated
into the engineering lexicon.
A coax cable. Thanks to Steve!
In high-power switches you should worry about the order that you
switch the RF and control signals on and off. If you leave the RF
on, and throw the logic from one state to the other, that is called
hot switching. The "DC control" signal could include the
bias to an amplifier in a transmitter. Hot switching can put your
hardware into the microwave
World's worst choice for a personal computer. Synonymous with "lock-up".
This is applied to any microwave circuit that employs a hermetic
housing, alumina thin-film networks, and chip-and wire construction.
It’s called a hybrid because it’s a combination of discrete
devices and printed circuit (or thin-film) technology, in a single
unit, as opposed to a monolithic circuit (everything on a
single "stone".) Thanks, Norm!
Hybrid couplers (or
The special case of a four-port directional coupler that is designed
for a 3-dB (equal) power split. Hybrid couplers come in two types,
90 degree or quadrature hybrids, which include branchline
couplers, Lange couplers, and overlay
couplers and short-slot waveguide
couplers. The second type of hybrid is the 180 degree hybrid, which
includes the rat-race and the
I Love Me Wall
when you adorn the walls of your cube with meager certificates of
your pitiful career, such as your "six sigma certification"
or "congratulations on passing a timecard audit", this
is the I Love Me Wall. Ever wonder why your coworkers roll their
eyes when they visit you? Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!
In the noise (or in the mud)
Signals that are not detectable because of noise.
This phrase is used in many other ways, like when you get a small raise in pay, it might be in the noise.
The day on the calendar that you should schedule a couple of rounds
A straightforward and effective way to recenter a design that
is off in frequency. For example, you design a filter to work
at 10 GHz center frequency. In test, it's centered at 10.5 GHz.
Instead of analyzing the crap out of what happened, Kentucky
windage means you redesign the filter for a center frequency
of 9.5 GHz and expect it to work at 10 GHz on the second try.
This term dates back to Sergeant
York, a sharpshooter from Tennessee in W.W.I., who was an
inspiration to gun nuts all over the world. Often employed in
One of those cute girls from the clean room that you only see in
a white gown. She's too good for you, Fred. But would it be too
much to ask the company that makes clean room garb to deliver some
red taffeta ones?
Lab Queen refers to a unit that is special in the sense that it is very good, too good actually, even better than a golden unit. Technically it’s an outlier and shouldn’t be used as a baseline for comparison with other units. Thanks to Luis!
Older laboratory personnel, often with thick glasses and coffee
breath, that know where everything is.
The first guy out the door on a sunny Friday.
How low can you go? This is a way of trying to fool your audience
which is apparently very effective. Example: in order to refute
that global warming exists, every time it is cold outside El
Windbag makes a "point" that global warming couldn't
possibly be happening, because it's so cold outside.
Data analysis is a lot more complicated than that! This is like
saying that because the oldest person in the world is now 115
years old, we'll all live to that age. To a true engineer, this
misrepresentation of statistical phenomena would insult your
intelligence if you thought about it, but most people don't
think about what is presented to them. In any analog field you
can always report the "hero result" as typical performance,
yet practically no one questions it. Every time you go to a
review and see single point data, ask for much more!
Living in cardboard
Your next house if that SiGe power amp you designed doesn't work.
The process of varying the impedance seen by the output of
an active device to other than 50 ohms in order to measure performance
parameters, in the simplest case, gain. In the case of a power device,
a load pull power bench is used to evaluate large signal parameters
such as compression characteristics, saturated power, efficiency
and linearity as the output load is varied across the Smith chart.
green versus short money
Everyone knows that it is unethical to ask a government contractor
exactly how much money they have to spend on a new program. But
you can ask for hints, like "so, we talking short money,
or long green?" The code words here refer to under $10,000
or over $1,000,000. If they answer "in between", you can
rest assured that the contract will go for six figures. A way to
remember the difference is to note that the average Hewlett Packard
employee works for short money, but Carly got away with long green
when she walked the plank.
Engineering tasks that can be done affordably, with measurable results.
Opposite of "milking mice".
Centuries ago, the original Luddites were afraid that knitting machines
would take away their crummy jobs making socks. Now the term is
applied to anyone that is afraid of technology. For example, a microwave
engineer might be called a Luddite if he never learned how to use
electromagnetic simulation software.
A verb in the engineering sense, not a noun. To "Macgyver"
something is to fix a problem with only the tools at hand. Example:
increase the isolation of an RF switch by adding some metal
sceptums into a $500 housing that you cut from piece of discarded
sheet metal. Angus
Macgyver was the central character in a 80's era TV mystery
series, his shtick was to solve problems with superior knowledge,
some duct tape and a Swiss army knife. That's Richard Dean Anderson
playing Macgyver to the right, with his unfortunately "sensitive
male" 70's haircut. Maybe John Edwards and Macgyver could
compare notes on $400 haircuts.
Magic blue smoke, or simply "magic smoke" is defined as
the smoke contained inside a chip that is essential for the chip
to function. Once that smoke is released (due to whatever screw-up)
the chips no longer works. This is usually followed by someone exclaiming
"oh no, you let out the magic smoke! Now it will never work.
Let's go bowling". Thanks, Frank! Visit
our Microwave Mortuary
for a pile of pictures of parts that lost all of their magic blue
smoke! Here's a page on power handling!
We've all been to conferences and accepted the little bag that they
give you to hold your conference proceedings and the collection
of junk that suppliers give you. If you are male, guess what? You
are now sporting a fashion accessory known as a man bag. If you
want to really have the best, go to manbag.com
and pick out one that coordinates with your outfit. If you are man
enough to be that in touch with your feminine side. Kind of goes
with your "lunch purse", eh?
Once an ad campaign for junk food, now the perfect nickname
for your boss, especially if he is a big sloppy eater. Note
the resemblance? BTW, Mayor McCheese is all over the internet,
including a parody of "Me
and Bobby McGee"... "nugget's just another
word, for no meat left to use..."
Known alternatively as
"Mr. Big Stuff", or sometimes "Lunchbox".
Microsoft Work Simulator
Also known as PowerPoint. Thanks to Joe!
mice This expression implies that "improvements" that are
being considered will have benefits that are almost too small to
be measured. Like when someone notices that a circuit board design
has line impedance of 51 ohms, and they want to re-spin the artwork
to get closer to 50 ohms. Get your priorities straight, go after
low hanging fruit!
Roadtrip to a customer's office (or Mayor McCheese's office) after
being "called to the carpet" due to a "showstopper"
caused by lack of "due diligence".
When an enclosure has an open-air path through a metal wall for
carrying a signal, it is said to be a mouse hole. Even though only
a cricket might fit through it.
One who can make ornery designs work, i.e. a MMIC mule skinner would
be the guy who teases that last 500 MHz out of a wideband amplifier's
interstage matching network in an hour, after you've been beating
your head against the wall for a week. Term is also applied to a
lab rat that can quickly figure out what's wrong
with that test station that's been giving you grief, for example,
show you which calibration standard
Narrowly focused subject matter expert who can lead a program to
technical success but has difficulty doing most mundane activities
(getting lunch, personal hygiene and arriving at work on-time)...
also see finite energy theorem.... opposite of a hack.
When your company is so big that it has two or more facilities that
do the same type of work, one site will quickly sell itself to
Mayor McCheese as "the best", and try to force the
other team out of business, employing Tonya Harding
techniques. Often the result of a merger. You're in the other plant
- that's the Negro
League. Fear not, some of the best ballplayers have been in
the same position!
The pocket protector, now with its own
page on Microwaves101! The introduction of the pocket-less polo
shirt and its acceptance as everyday engineering attire is largely
responsible for the demise of the nerd pack. Of course, computers
did not help this situation. Thanks to Stephen M. for pointing this
out! The IEEE has posted more info on nerd packs, here is the link:
Not (even) fractionally good! Or some such. Usually an adjective
applied to dead hardware, if you see the NFG label on a piece of
test gear, choose another one!
A person that is new at something, and is therefore easy to
defeat. See pwn. Like Sergeant Schultz, a noob knows nothing!
A project that you have to report on at your weekly meeting, which
you haven't done a single thing on all week.
To "go open kimono" is to have nothing to hide. Often
occurs at a Come to Jesus meeting. Less than
ten Japanese words that have been adopted into the American English
language, only because we had no words for stuff like "dress
worn by a man", or "huge wave that kills everyone on island",
or "sword for killing yourself", or "suicide pilot"
or "very expensive hooker with funny looking backpack".
Yes indeed, diversity is a wonderful thing!
The only qualification that the boss's nephew brings into the lab.
See theory of relativity.
The hot/cold plate for testing components over temperature by cycling
liquid nitrogen to maintain the temperature set point.
Anyone from Avantek in its heyday
would know this term, since it was the actual description on the
bill of materials and test procedures for their in-house built hot/cold
Thanks to Ed!
gang" marketing strategy
This is how engineering gets into deep
yogurt. A marketing dude is at some plush industry day drinkathon,
and hears a competitor bragging to a potential customer about
some new technology, in the original example, a new firetruck.
Your representative butts in, starting the next ten minute conversation
with "That's nothing! Our gang has a firetruck the whole
gang can ride on!" Later, you get to figure out how to
build it, with zero budget. Refers to the Little Rascal's 1934
film short titled "Hi Neighbor!" Forget the asinine
"FiSH!" video, this is one movie
that should be shown to all engineers so they know the truth
about how it's all supposed to work.
Attenuator; a three-dB attenuator is more often called a three-dB
pad for example. The name comes from the use of attenuators to reduce
reflections between components that are not well matched to the
system impedance. As in "if you pad out those bumps in the
VSWR, the frequency response will flatten out".
Small circuit board added to a harness to fix non-RF electrical
interface mistakes without having to rework any black
box components. Usually consists of a handful of resistors and/or
diodes. Named because they are sometimes secured using double-sided
tape. See daughter board.
Defined as the application of a good rap on what ever is not working
as expected at the time. Not as effective as you'd like on an HP
computer (nothing helps), but it might just fix that printer problem!
Thanks (again) to Frank!
That "Kodak moment" when Mayor McCheese is escorted
from the building. You'll see much more of Karl Rove on Fox News these days, at least fifty pounds worth.
A method of data extraction. Pidooma stands for "pulled it
directly out of my ass". A truly great response when someone
is sniping your PowerPoint slides and asks "where did you get
this data?" To which you reply "it's a pidooma" and
move on. Most snipers are too embarrassed to ask the definition
of a term they don't know.
It's not a good thing when an assembler calls your design a piece
of work! See right mess. People that are
called a piece of work are not being complimented, even though the
phrase was originated by Shakespeare.
A crude way of adding a connector port to a circuit board for troubleshooting.
Take a nice test cable from the rack, cut it in half and strip it
back. Solder the outer shield to the nearest ground on the board,
and the center conductor to the signal you want to see. Hide the
other half of the cable in your toolbox for next time!
Massive layoffs, often associated with the final days of a Bush
An exceptional thing, if you are in Massachusetts. The only thing
that is better, is a "wicked pissa". Sometimes used as
an adjective, like "this time those point-one-five micron gates
etched wicked pissa!"
A MMIC mask set that is shared by a wide variety of designs, coming
from different designers or even different companies. Typically
your design will have to be stretched to fit next to some other
dude's to define scribe streets, or the RF pads won't make it to
the edge of the chip. Pizza masks can save you a lot of money because
the process cost is shared by all.
Pookey Material used to prevent tuning slugs, trim pots, etc. from
moving once set, also used to insulate HV connections or to hold
(relatively) large mass components to the PCB or to keep weather
out of RF connectors. Can also be a verb meaning to apply the pookey.
"Better pookey that HV capacitor connection or you might be
shocked on it." Sometimes its just hot melt glue or corona
dope or wax or whatever. Bubble gum? Thanks to Steve!
A spring-loaded cylindrical contact, which can be used to form a
pressure-contact coaxial connection when inserted through an insulating
bead. Sometimes called a watch-band spring, or a spring-contact
probe. See also fuzz button.
Often a poor substitute for common sense, but without it you won't
get CMMI certification and then where will you be? Note: Microwaves101
employs a process of random thoughts, bad jokes and misplaced information
(you should see our file cabinet out in the garage...) and we love
processes so much that we're thinking of donating $50M to Carnegie
Mellon to have the CMMI building named after us...
Many government organizations are seriously understaffed when it comes to technical people, so they often employ retired engineers as paid consultants at your design or program reviews. That cranky, grey-haired old dude that keeps picking away at weak points in your approach is The Prospector. Did you really think you could use epoxy to mount a 100 watt GaN power amplifier chip? Take that, Spaceboy!
The Prospector does not have business cards, so don't even ask. He never wears a suit and tie, otherwise you wouldn't recognize him.
This is the microwave laboratory. If you don't see the connection,
find a job that you actually like and get out! Not to be confused
with the sandbox.
Put on the red light
As in "you don't have to sell your body to the night".
Meaning: sometimes it is better to suffer the indignity of performing
a Six-Sigma project or other "management initiatives",
just to get that box checked off at review time. Your real friends
will understand. Sure they will.
To pwn someone, or to get pwned, is to beat someone so bad you own
them. "Pwn" is the correct spelling, not "pone!"
Example: on that next DARPA proposal, we're gonna pwn Northrop Grumman!
Get used to the new slang of videogamers, they are about to become
Or one-centimeter-brow for those on the S.I. system. Refers to someone
that is intellectually challenged, who can only muster the most
primitive response to any stimulus. That meens reel stoopid, a cretin. Best modern example: Sean Hannity.
Separated at birth?
Remove and replace, or rest and relaxation. As in, Tanya, can you
R&R that MMIC I roasted, while I get some R&R?
This is the common name for a four-port circular coupler with isolated
inputs, and outputs 180 degrees out of phase. Click
here to learn more!
That crucial piece of kit out in the lab. Thanks to Rob!
The most common plan in the microwave industry is summarized here:
"Don't let the screen
door hit you where the dog should have bit you".
Tearing apart competitor's hardware so you can copy the good ideas
they developed while you were slacking. Watch out, in the People's
Republic of China, this is a popular college major.
A low pass structure, most often a series inductor or a series resistor.
A sales guy who never talks to the rest of the team because he's
always on the road earning frequent flyer miles and attending folk-dancing
A nonfunctional, blown-up device. Also, barbecued, cremated, wasted,
zorched, hosed. Dirt nap time for your hardware. Sometimes called
a paperweight. Send us a photo of your ugliest catastrophe for the
Any research job that has no end in sight is referred to as a sandbox,
because it's pure play time. Not to be confused with the
A printout of a bitmap file obtained from a digital scope. Holdover
from the days before Polaroid was bankrupt and they had a lucrative
market in every lab in the country. Remember before scopes had memory,
and you could capture a single trace by holding the shutter open?
It usually took a half box of film to get the shutter set right.
The art of tuning softboard circuits with a very sharp modeling
knife, sometimes a steel rule and occasionally optical aid to see
what you are doing (thanks again, HB of Filtronic!) Opposite of
A Seagull Manager is one that swoops in from nowhere, squawks a
bunch, craps all over everything and then flies off before he/she
gets assigned any real work. Thanks to Frank!
No, this isn't prime-time television bedroom talk. Here we refer
to solid-copper-jacketed PTFE-filled coaxial cable.
As in, "ride the short
bus". Lowbrow humor (which we would never use) that refers
to someone that is "intellectually challenged".
When you have no idea of what is wrong during troubleshooting and
you are running out of time, try a shotgun repair. Replace as many
components as you can and flip the switch on. Pray for no magic
blue smoke. A shotgun design is one where you try a whole bunch
of tweaks to the artwork, because you don't
have the time or expertise to fully analyze it an develop an accurate
model. Thanks to Ben!
A fundamental problem that blows the whole project out of the water.
Oscillating. Especially when you didn't intend to build an oscillator,
as in, "that amp's singing an operetta!"
Six sigma project
When a project is finished successfully without blowing the budget,
sure enough someone with "Six Sigma Black Belt" will come
take credit for all of the hard work done by know-nothing engineers.
At this point your little project will gain the legendary status
of having "saved the company over $10,000,000, at least"
which somehow never gets verified by an independent accounting firm. Remind yourself that it's OK for a cute ex-administrative assistant
to get a $20K bonus for the effort even though you get nothing,
because she went to the Six Sigma Retreat at a five-star hotel in
Santa Barbara and is now on a first name basis with Mayor
McCheese, and she once educated you by telling you that
"you know, sigma is, like, a Greek letter, it's so special
it's not on the keyboard!" Unless you are a Scientologist (and
you probably aren't if you are an engineer), it is likely that you
will never "get it" when it comes to this modern corporate
Making optimistic scheduling, revenue, or performance predictions
that are so divorced from reality that your coworkers think you're
on the "Marakesh Express". If you don't know what the
Marakesh Express is, ask that elderly hippy assembler that can't
remember your name...
To "socialize" something with a customer is to break bad news gently. As in when your boss says, "it's getting obvious the money is going to run out before we get to the second design spin to cover your mistakes, it's time to socialize a cost overrun. I'm late for the golf course, I will councel you later".
Any of many types of company sponsored evening dinners (or parties)
where one can improve their station within the company by not staining
your bosses pants or puking on his wife. Getting invited and successfully
navigating a soiree is the second-fastest known way for career advancement.
Here's some practice dialogue... "Mayor McCheese, that can't
be your wife, it must be your daughter!"
The process of varying the impedance seen by the input of
an active device to other than 50 ohms in order to measure performance
parameters. In the case of a low noise device, source pull is used
in a noise parameter extraction setup to evaluate how signal-to-noise
ratio (noise figure) varies with source impedance.
Spinning your wheels
Iterative development, not getting the project done.
In the frequency domain, a measurable but undesirable component.
The opposite of a suck-out.
A squib is technically a small explosive device. In missiles, a thermal battery is activated by "squibbing it". Once squibbed, you can't unsquib, and the experiment you started will likely end in a fire and toxic waste incident. In a bar room, you might make use of the word thusly: "squib me dos Zimas, G-bones", but you are to avoid this usage if you are over the age of fifty, according to Huff Post.
To "starve" a mixer is to not
feed it enough LO power. By the way, obese people should never say
"I'm starving" when the mean "I'm hungry", it
is disrespectful to anyone who actually has starved.
Opposite of living in cardboard. Indicates success, i.e. "that
new filter design is stylin'!" A west-coast equivalent of pissa.
When something does worse than suck. As in, "my job doesn't
just suck, it sucks con queso". Any descriptor is amplified
to a superlative, when you add a slice of delicious cheese. Remember
you heard this idiom here first, when it goes viral.
Describes a situation where an expected flat frequency response
has a narrow frequency band where the gain drops off by several
dB or more, with "normal" gain on both sides of the anomaly.
If you want to be a microwave good-old boy, when you see this, just
say "it must be moding", and go get another donut.
Let's rewind the clock to WWII, when GIs used to eat instant coffee
dry with a spoon, take a shower at least every two weeks, while
earning next to no pay, and consider how far we've evolved. Some
of us can't make up our minds as to which which five dollar beverage
to buy at Starbucks. Welcome to the Sunshine Club! Let's put this
politely... this group of people believes that if their pants fell
down, those of us standing behind them would be bathed in sunshine.
Telltale signs: an office right off the pages of "Home Beautiful"
that looks like it is never used for real work, with carefully-placed
accessories and accent pieces. No file cabinet, never been to the
lab. Can easily talk about themselves for six hours each workday,
their one-way conversation peppered with complaints about conditions
at the office, proud descriptions of stuff they own and their mediocre,
spoiled-rotten kids. Longtime subscriber to Forbes magazine where
they read articles on what car to buy in order to get promoted...
or perhaps Lucky, the Magazine about
Shopping. Weekend "makeovers" at The Spa, and extended
trips to The Mall during lunch. Big-time fan and hopeful crony of
Mayor McCheese. Owns "His and Hers"
H3s; on rare occasion of getting to work on time, parks diagonal
across two spaces, otherwise hangs wheelchair placard from rearview
mirror and parks in handicapped space. The list of things you can
buy for yourself is endless, and everyone always wants to know what's
on your mind, so why waste any time on something so mundane as work?
Always responds to work requests with "I have a lot on my plate
Similar to "trap", a word used in system circles to describe
many unknown phased array antenna phenomena as in "that suck
out in the antenna pattern must be due to an unintended surface
This came from Jon...thanks!
SWAG is for scientific wild-assed
guess. When I tune a strange (usually new to the world) amplifier,
I take a SWAG and start Easter Egging around the Chicken Dots (tuning
pads) I leave in all my designs. Sometimes I let the analysis programs
guide my SWAG, but that is only if my schedule allowed me the luxury
of modeling first.
Which leads to this key sentence:
“Time to shoot the engineers
and start production.” This point in the program only arrives if
the SWAG led to something productive, like an amplifier that meets
spec and did not let the smoke (magic or otherwise) out of the active
devices (passive devices usually survive some smoke letting).
SWaP, or SWaP-C
Size, weight and power, or size, weight and power and cost. An overused buzzword, particularly in space and airborne applications.
Size, weight and PowerPoint. As in "that fat guy's presentation just raised the bar on SWaPP for this conference. You gonna eat that muffin?"
In microwaves, we don't mean a broom when we say sweeper. This refers
to an older, non-synthesized sweep oscillator that you might use
in measurements where frequency accuracy is not important, such
as noise figure setups.
Take no prisoners
When Aeroflex buys your small company and pink-slips the whole team,
they are "taking no prisoners". Refers to days of yore
when captured enemy combatants were killed off rather than fed.
Like "teats on a bull"
a colorful way of saying something (or someone) is useless!
Here we don't care about Einstein's definition. We are talking about
the theory that whenever promotions happen at work, some of the
boss's relatives will soon get bigger paychecks, while you sit in
the same crappy cubicle all your life. Say, doesn't the boss still
have an unmarried daughter?
under the bus
To throw blame at a co-worker, particularly at a meeting. A bad
career move in the long run, paybacks are a bitch.
in "thru-line measurement")
Fully nine out of ten microwave engineers spell "through"
this way, out of laziness. A thru measurement means that you have
removed your device under test from the test gear and measured the
response of the setup with nothing in it. This is done to check
the test equipment calibration.
When a surface-mount part is mounted standing up on one end, either
by accident in solder reflow, or on purpose because you didn't make
proper artwork, it is said to be a tombstone.
When you have hardware that fails your customer's spec, it often
wears a toe tag until you pull it from the bonepile
and fix it.
TWB - token white boy
An engineer or intern/co-op/grad student that is a native English
speaker and US citizen who talks to contract inspectors for government
projects. Meanwhile, real work is mainly accomplished by foreign
nationals, working domestically or overseas. A good gig if you can
To pull a "Tonya Harding" means to sabotage a competing
design in your lab to preserve your job, it's as easy as turning
the drain voltage knob up a few volts, then resetting it. This activity
often occurs at large companies which are made up as a result of
merging smaller companies without properly employing a pink-slip
A rectangular metal container containing screwdrivers, wrenches,
coaxial adapters, copper tape, etc. Not to be confused with the
Bill Gatsian definition that would have you believe that a "toolbox"
is an icon that your cheeze-doodle-stained, carpal tunnel infested
hand clicks on to reveal some crappy little pieces of software that
will make your miserable cubicle life slightly better, or the Six
Sigma definition, where the "toolbox" is a bunch of
bumper sticker slogans like "less fasteners, less problems".
A catchall word for the root cause of any unexpected semiconductor
behavior. As in, "the I-V curves are collapsing due to deeply-embedded
traps which are affecting electron mobility". Another way to
say "I don't know, but I like to hear myself talk". Be
careful how often you use the word "traps", or people
might consider you an academic.
When you finally get fed up with never finding any adapters that
you need around the lab, your treasure hunt starts when you get
the bolt cutters and start removing locks from toolboxes. See Bogart.
A phase shifter that uses a line
stretcher to adjust transmission phase.
This is what a technician does to make a microwave circuit pass
its specification. It usually means adding capacitive blobs of metal
along sensitive transmission lines while keeping an eye on a network
analyzer or other TE until a desired response is attained. This
can take years of practice, and the people that are best at it in
a typical company are paid the least.
Sometimes used to refer to a Wilkinson
power splitter, because it looks like a tuning fork, especially
when drawn on a paper napkin, after a liquid lunch.
Turd in the punchbowl
An issue that is impacting a program's cost or schedule. As in "Just
when Vendor X got back on track and delivered their hardware, we
found out that Vendor Y has a design problem that requires a significant
analysis and possible rework. It seems like there is always a turd
in the punchbowl."
Synonym for diddle stick. Thanks to Steve!
What an engineer does on a redesign to improve performance. Note
the difference between "tweaking" and "tuning"
or you will forever be a lightweight.
Some naturally-occuring phenomena tend to have two maxima when plotted
in Cartesian coordinates, like the delta output of a monopulse
network. What did you think we were talking about, Mr. Lonely
What the Norwegian technician says when you tell him that most of
the semi-rigid cables he assembled for you have huge suck-outs.
Roughly translates to "oy vey!", or "yarbles!"
This expression is applied after catastrophic (intentional or unintentional)
damage is incurred on a piece of company or government equipment.
Like drilling holes in break room microwave oven to try out a flash
Vow of poverty
What you take to continue to work on that cool research project
that you overspent last year.
Walk for Hunger
No, we're not talking about Project
Bread's fund drive to help the poor... here we're talking about
all the fat dudes at work locking their computer screens at 11:15
AM to stand in line at the entrance of the cafeteria so they will
get the best selection from the pasta bar and build-your-own-half-pound-burger...
they're taking a personal Walk for Hunger every day! When someone
asks you "you gonna finish that?", tell them "nope"
and hand it over, while thinking, "I hope you enjoy your next
Usually referred to as "The Wallet", the source of money. The top customer at a program review. Someone you want to keep happy.
Your kids may secretly call you this.
An employee that was born without a brain. Usually a relative of
We don't need to apologize for inventing such extreme insensitivity
and political incorrectness, the "wench bench" was a term
that originated at Johns Hopkins University during WWII development
of the VT fuse. The wench bench was the
talented and dedicated group of female assemblers that worked on
prototypes until all hours of the night, whenever their services
were required. You go, girl!
When you modify a printed circuit using external wires, even if
the PTFE jackets are not the color white, this is called "white-wiring".
Perhaps one rank below Wizard, is Wildman. The Wildman is kept on
the production line, working the bone pile, his job is to make worthless
broken stuff into salable hardware. Often his skills come at the
expense of reduced personal hygiene, and the Wildman has no social
skills, but without him your business would soon tank. Be nice to
The is no higher ranking in the lab than "Microwave Wizard",
this is what we should all strive to be, especially if we want
people to remember us after we're gone. There have been various
depictions of wizardry in Hollywood efforts over the years,
perhaps the best Wizard ever was played by Japanese actor Mako
in 1982's Conan The Barbarian (please don't send us references
to Harry Potter, there's just no comparison). Without the Wizard's
seemingly bumbling incantations, Conan would never have been
brought back to life. In the microwave business, you'll see
the same scene time and time again. Makoto
Iwamatsu died July 21, 2006.
In reference to the Anthony Burgess's great book A Clockwork
Orange, Yarbles! is an abbreviated way of expressing "Great
Bolshy Yarblockos!" Yarblockos is derived from the Russian
word for apples, which of course has a second meaning. Here's the
slang dictionary for all Microwaves101 droogs!