Saturday, April 13, 2013

Crosstalking Aggressors and Victims

A few weeks ago, I encountered "aggressor" and "victim" in a document that I needed to format and refine. I had not heard of them, and the anthropomorphic nature made me cringe. They pertained to crosstalk, a term I AM familiar with.

My curiosity nudged me to find out more about the terms. I did some Google searches and saw "aggressor" and "victim" commonly used in numerous articles.When I used to design printed circuit boards, crosstalk was described, but not in terms of doer and do-ee. (My blog, my prerogative to make up terms.)

I looked at some PCB design books. The Design & Drafting of Printed Circuits (1979, Darryl Lindsey) doesn't even index crosstalk, but I remember my instructor talking about crosstalk and EMI. Design Guidelines for Surface Mount Technology (1990, John E. Traister) does not index crosstalk, doesn't list crosstalk headings in TOC.

Printed Circuits Design Featuring Computer-Aided Technologies (1991, Gerald L. Ginsberg) does index and discuss crosstalk. However, no "aggressor" or "victim". I thought he might not be around to ask, or his knowledge no longer up-to-date. His most recent book was 1994, the earliest was in 1976. I didn't spot his name on LinkedIn.

I sent emails to some LinkedIn connections that I thought might be able to suggest alternative terms. The people who replied had no suggestions of alternatives, and they all stated that the terms were very common. I'd say institutionalized and ingrained.

Another avenue I tried was sending out an inquiry to five LinkedIn groups—Society for Technical Communication, STC Technical Editing SIG, Adobe FrameMaker, Door64: Austin High Tech STEM Events, and IPC - Association Connecting Electronics Industries. I received several pairs of suggestions. (To readers who recognize their contributions, thanks!) It was nice to see that people gave the terms some thought. However, I thought some terms might possibly evoke more confusion or misunderstanding than using "aggressor" and "victim".
  • crosstalk cause, crosstalk reaction
  • crosstalk-initiator, crosstalk-recipient
  • crosstalk source (ref'd as source later), crosstalk sink (ref'd as sink later)
  • exciter, reactor or responder
  • ingress, egress
  • interfering signal, affected signal
  • noise generator or radiator, noise receiver
  • source, target
Someone suggested "conversant" or "intruder". Not sure "conversant" applies for either "aggressor" or "victim", as it's an adjective. I thought "encroacher" might sound a reasonable "aggressor" replacement, but I couldn't think of a good parallel opposite term. Eh, as for "ingress" or "egress", seems weird that entering and exiting might pertain to crosstalk.

Tom Hausherr, long-time PCB designer, and I exchanged emails. Besides discussing board design (interesting and very techy medical equipment company for his workplace), he also recalled the arrival of the accompanying terms.
The first time I heard of the term aggressor and victim was doing PCB layout for AMCC component manufacturer trying to produce chip sets that exceeded 1 GHz and actually we were going for 3 GHz. The aggressor/victim pair of terms is in our everyday conversation today.

The aggressor is the electromagnetic waveform from high-voltage parts (power supply), high speed (clock) or audio/video traces and vias that interfere with other transmission lines. The victim is the weaker, affected neighbor (or more neighbors).
I've concluded that "aggressor" and "victim" are entrenched terms. I think replacement terms are unlikely for the following possible reasons:
  • Many more characters
  • Ambiguity because of more than one meaning
  • Unclear imagery
Any other candidate replacement terms? Anyone? Anyone?


Lynn Somerstein said...

Very interesting article. How about something neutral, like Party A and Party B? or just A and B?

whilldtkwriter said...

Hi, Lynn. Thanks for asking. I think the idea for "colorful" terms was to make it memorable for readers. Tech docs tend to be dense, I would think A and B would be so nondescript that readers wouldn't remember why they should remember. "Agressor"--bad. "Victim"--pummeled. Thinking of party thrower with loud music and boisterous guests that prevents neighbor from sleeping well. :-)

Janet S. said...

Interesting discussion. There's a similar recurring debate about the terms "master" and "slave" regarding hard drive controllers. I personally favor the terms "boss" and "flunky" as less value-laden alternatives, but they haven't caught on. :-)

BTW, "conversant" as a noun is valid but rare, meaning "one who converses with another":

whilldtkwriter said...

Hi, Janet. I've heard about discussions regarding "master" and "slave". I remember those terms from, oh, a looooog time ago. :-) I think they still use them. My tech topics have not included hard drive controllers for some time. Speaking of "boss", notice that the common term these days is "manager"? Hmmm, flogger and floggee? :-)

It sounds like "conversant" might sound 1) too innocuous to convey undesirable attributes than "aggressor" and 2) alternate role as adjective, which written text sometimes can confuse readers.

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