Microspeak: Ripcord


Remember: General business jargon still qualifies as Microspeak if it is in wide enough use at Microsoft that you are expected to know what it means and how to use it.

Today's Microspeak term is ripcord. A ripcord is an alternate, much less risky plan which can be easily deployed at the last moment. You can think of pulling the ripcord as deploying an emergency parachute to prevent your project from plummeting to its death.

You might say that the ripcord is a backup plan to ensure that your feature lands. You would prefer to land the plane, but if things go really bad, you can push the eject button and yank the ripcord.

One example of a ripcord would be a compile-time #ifdef that switches over to the less-risky plan. This would allow the feature to be turned off just prior to shipping. Another would be a runtime check against a configuration setting which disables a risky feature. The runtime check allows the feature to be turned off even after you ship.

Of course, in order to be sure that your low-risk plan really is low-risk, you need to add the ripcord to your acceptance testing!

Here are some citations:

When releasing a feature to Insiders, make sure you have specific ripcord criteria in place for feature functionality and reliability.

In English, this means that before releasing a feature to Insiders, make sure you have specific functionality and reliability criteria in place to determine whether to keep the feature or to withdraw it. (And if you decide to withdraw the feature, make sure you have a plan for doing so quickly and with very low risk.)

You can create additional security groups as a ripcord in case the default security groups do not adequately express your needs. We strongly recommend that you use the default security groups, because custom security groups are more expensive on the back-end, and they are confusing for users.

As we see above, the term has been generalized to mean an escape hatch to cover any unforeseen circumstances. In this case, creating a custom security group is not a plan that replaces a risky option with a less risky option. (Indeed, it's the opposite. It's replacing a safer option with a riskier option!) Rather, the custom security group is an alternative that supplements the existing default security groups in case they prove insufficient.

Comments (14)

  1. I wouldn’t have guessed this meaning, because in the real world, the ripcord is the primary way of not plummeting to your death, not a backup.

    1. Yukkuri says:

      The primary way of not plumeting to your death is to not jump out of the perfectly functional airplane to begin with :p

    2. morlamweb says:

      @Michael Dunn: I inferred it’s meaning from the ripcord on an emergency parachute; that is, a parachutist would pull the ripcord on the emergency chute if the primary chute fails. Never mind that the primary chute also has a ripcord… I think you’re supposed to associate “ripcord” with “emergency/backup chute”, and then, this Microspeak makes sense.

    3. 12BitSlab says:

      You don’t need a parachute to go skydiving. You need a parachute to go skydiving again.

      1. voo says:

        Really the parachute is nothing but luxury: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qF_fzEI4wU

    4. I updated the text. Ideally, you land the plane. But if things go really bad, you can push the eject button and pull the ripcord.

  2. At my company, we call these Andon cords, from the manufacturing term:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andon_(manufacturing)

    If we develop a risky or dangerous feature, we also develop an Andon cord to go along with it, so that if we find a problem in production, we can quickly pull the Andon cord to immediately disable the feature.

    1. kme says:

      In digital hardware they’re often called “killbits”, as in a bit that when set, kills the feature.

  3. So, “ripcord” = “plan B”.

    As for your metaphor, no, nobody does that to a plane. Only some fighter jets have an eject button; bombers, gunships, military cargo jets, commercial airliners, private jets and even private single/twin seat planes do not have an eject button. Also, when you use the metaphorical “lands” (verb), your plane metaphor is expected to be the plane, whereas in your text, the plane is an expendable thing.

    1. voo says:

      “Also, when you use the metaphorical “lands” (verb), your plane metaphor is expected to be the plane”
      You’re misunderstanding the metaphor. The feature is the pilot not the plane. Yes the pilot would generally prefer to land (a verb used for both planes and skydivers) in the plane, but using a parachute is an acceptable alternative to crashing.

      1. Given your explanation, I’ve understood it perfectly.

        But you don’t seem to understand the repercussions of what you explained: In Microsoft a “ripcord” is something that saves a project, not ditch it. In plane, a ripcord is something that is used when the pilot ditches the plane, not save it. Hence, one must only use the latter as a metaphor when the act one is explaining is the act of a member of the project saving his/her own ass while the project crashes and burns, along with everyone in it. (A project is more like an airliner with many passengers than a fighter jet.)

        Judging by their comments, it seems Michael Dunn and morlamweb have grasped this issue pretty well.

        1. You are assuming that a lot of effort goes into refining the nuances of Microspeak. My guess is that this started as an on-the-fly metaphor in a meeting somewhere, and it started gaining traction. At no point was a linguist consulted.

          1. Brian says:

            “My guess is that this started as an on-the-fly metaphor in a meeting somewhere, and it started gaining traction. At no point was a linguist consulted.”
            That’s pretty much how the English language develops – not just Microspeak.

          2. LOL. I assume no such thing. What I wrote was a criticism on your poor choice of convoluted simile, where you didn’t even need one. Plain text and examples with no simile (or just the initial simile) were clear enough.

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