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November 19, 2003
The Master/Slave Controversy

Instapundit links to a post at Boing Boing that details a benighted response to the electronics industry-standard terms of master and slave. This is from an e-mail sent to technology vendors from Los Angeles County:

One such recent example included the manufacturer's labeling of equipment where the words ''Master/Slave'' appeared to identify the primary and secondary sources. Based on the cultural diversity and sensitivity of Los Angeles County, this is not an acceptable identification label. We would request that each manufacturer, supplier and contractor review, identify and remove/change any identification or labeling of equipment or components thereof that could be interpreted as discriminatory or offensive in nature before such equipment is sold or otherwise provided to any County department.

While I hardly ever pass up a chance to tweak the nose of my native LA, this issue came up years ago at my former company which will remain nameless (a Fortune 500 company at the time, Fortune 100 now after a series of acquisitions and mergers, and lawyers up the wazoo, if you get my drift). In the area we worked, automation systems have to be designed to be hot-redundant, meaning that a failure on one computer will result in an automatic switch to a redundant computer that has been copying all of the data changes in real time. When the system was designed (mid-80s), the "hot" computer was labeled the Master system, and the backup the slave, per standard terminology at the time.

However, the first place this system was due to be implemented was in the South -- New Orleans, I believe, although I'm not completely sure. When the status screen came up for the first time, an operator looked at the system status line which read, MASTER-A, SLAVE-B, so that the center knew which computer was hot (and therefore which computer required the system commands for backups, etc). The operator looked up at the installing technician and said, "What is this 'master-slave' SHIT?"

After some very hurried conversation with the home office, the labels were changed to MASTER and TRACKER. And TRACKER it remained until the systems were finally decommissioned within the last couple of years.

UPDATE: The Volokh Conspiracy posts about the legal issues involved in the LA memo.

UPDATE 2, 11/24/03: It's officially true -- Snopes has confirmed both the original memo and the sincerity of the policy from LA County.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 19, 2003 10:45 PM

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