An HBO ‘Silicon Valley’ reference manual for the non-technical


Zach Woods and Thomas Middleditch (Image: John P. Fleenor / HBO)

You usually don’t need a dictionary when watching a TV show, but that’s because the vocabulary challenges include words like “smize” and “fetch”. Most of the conversation is easy to decipher, and when it gets complex, for example in Big Short, the producers helpfully deconstructed complex terminology with the audience’s camera showing Margot Robbie in a bubble bath.

HBO’s satirical Silicon Valley series assumes that their audience has some level of familiarity with startup culture, which allows them to make targeted jokes (the kind that fails when you have to explain them). Discussions about venture capitalists and Soylent are mainstream conversations today, but non-techies might struggle with the reference to “Skunkworks” and “The Haversack List” on the show.

See also: Why Peter Thiel’s Hulk Hogan endorsement is bad news for HBO’s Silicon Valley writers

To help you out, I’ve created a handy reference guide to walk you through some of the most questioned terms in HBO’s Silicon Valley.

Reference word: Meinertzhagen Haversack Ruse

Season 3, Episode 3, ‘Meinertzhagens Haversack’

What you need to know:

In the context of the show, the Meinertzhagen Haversack Ruse was a Pied Piper tactic so that they could continue working on their algorithm, in direct contrast to the orders of “Action” Jack Barker. Jared helpfully explained the concept to the team; “It’s a principle of military deception, essentially it means you have to keep playing the part. As far as anyone knows, we’re still building a box that we hate, so that’s how we have to act. ‘

But Jared’s description is pretty superficial, the reality – and the history of the term is much more complicated. During the First World War, Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, chief of military intelligence, was concerned about the failure of the British Army to take Gaza and Turkey. So far, two attacks had failed.

Determined this wouldn’t happen again, the Colonel decided that a ruse was in order. He manipulated a number of war plans and put them in a backpack full of items to suggest authenticity; a broken clock, a sandwich, letters from the wrong woman. During an artificial battle, he “accidentally” dropped the backpack and was salvaged by the Turkish military. Confident the bag was real, they changed their tactics thinking an attack was coming from the south.

With their strong defense in the south – expected by Meinertzhagen, who used this misdirection to break the stalemate. In relation to the show, given Richard’s “accidental” leakage of documents that viewers believed he had not if it wants to be revealed, this could be counted as a double bluff; or that the audience themselves were victims of the pickpockets.

Reference word: Skunkworks

Season 3, Episode 3, ‘Meinertzhagens Haversack’

What you need to know:

The term Skunkworks comes from Lockheed’s (now Lockheed Martin) World War 2 Skunk Works project. Under the protection of a big top in Burbank, California, a team of engineers were taken away from their regular jobs and given a free hand to create and innovate. Their experiments led to the jet fighter P-80 Shooting Star and the U2 spy plane. This concept has been taken up by a number of tech companies, and the premise of small teams focusing on unusual research and development in secret labs has become a familiar part of product development today. Some of the biggest Skunkworks operating today are based in Silicon Valley, including Google X – that Bloomberg called the ‘moon shots factory of the search giant’.

See also: The Real CEO Chairs of HBO’s “Silicon Valley”

Reference word: The Weissman score

Season 1, various episodes

What you need to know:

The Weissman Score exists in the strange space where fiction creates reality. The show uses the term to refer to the metric of how well its algorithm compresses data, but while the term was invented for the show, the premise of the rating structure is workable. This is because the HBO team consulted Stanford professor Tsachy Weissman and his graduate student Vinith Misra and asked them to develop the algorithm and scoring method. The algorithm remains a fiction, but in a chicken and egg situation, the Weissman score system they developed is a working benchmark for measuring compressions in the real world.

“It’s essentially the compression ratio and the ratio of the logarithm of the compression time,” Misra said Spectrum IEEE, “But it then normalizes that number with an industry standard compressor that is used on the same data. For music, for example, we would use FLAC. ”The Weissman score is used in a number of universities today.

Reference term: mole people

Season 3, Episode 3, Meinertzhagens Haversack ‘

What you need to know:

The term mole generally refers to the homeless or tribes that live underground, often in tunnels, aqueducts, or abandoned shelters. As you know, the sentence was the title of reporter Jennifer Toths Bookwho surveyed New York City’s underground residents in the early 1990s. As part of the show, this is how the team describes the residents of the data center, whose job it is to keep the box running 24 hours a day. Also characterized by small, pale people whose existence seems to be without sunlight.

Reference term: Three Comma Club

Season 2, Episode 7, “Adult Content”

What you need to know:

This phrase refers diagonally to a person’s net worth; a billion dollars has three commas. Russ Hanneman, the A-hole investor (played by actor Chris Diamantopoulos) uses the term to indicate wealth status when Monica, Erlich, and Richard visit his house. In typical fashion, he also has a huge mural with three commas to grab attention. “I’m in the three-point club,” says Russ. This is a joke down the valley too, as it also refers to the ‘Shark Tank investor Mark Cuban’.Three point club‘, a clothing line for the’ budding entrepreneur ‘. They sell three-point t-shirts, sweaters, and baseball caps.

Reference word: Stanford Robotics ‘Bambot’

Episode Mentioned Season 3, Episode 1, “Founder Friendly”

What you need to know:

In the first episode of season 3, a stressed Richard slams into something in the middle of the street. “Did I just hit a deer?” he asks Erlich. They investigate and it turns out they’re an antlered robotic dog, an animatronic metal creation that creeped off scary. “Damn Stanford Robotics,” said Erlich, aiming at it with kicks.

This robot wasn’t really related to Stanford, however, and the show used a mix of analogies to weave that scene together (since Stanford is the closest techie university in the Valley). This was actually a Boston Dynamics robot, Spot, originally built to peek for the U.S. Marines. There is no real bambot as the addition of antlers was solely for the show. But for an added mix of unreality were the ‘Stanford students’ who ran out to protect their robot Strictly speaking Boston Dynamics Technician.

Reference word: RIGBY

Mentioned episode: Season 3, Episode 1, “Founder-Friendly”

What you need to know:

RIGBY is an acronym developed by HBO that enabled engineers Gilfoyle and Dinesh to talk about Richard without feeling guilty. It was because of her disillusionment that he had asked to leave Pied Piper because he had been fired. The repeated use of the phrase “Richard is nice, but you know” was too cumbersome, so they shortened it.

“What if we use a dictionary patch to compress all the nice stuff?” Gilfoyle suggested. So R.ichard IS. Great B.ut Y ‘know became RIGBY. It’s pretty self-explanatory in the episode, but if you go through this section again it would be pretty hard to decipher.

Reference word: CEO coaches

Mentioned episode: Season 3, Episode 1, “Founder-Friendly”

What you need to know:

Richard is angry about losing the CEO role and begs to get it back. What it refers to is well known in the tech community, but may not be as familiar to outsiders. Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and founder of payment startup Square, recently returned to Twitter as CEO while still running Square.

Dorsey is known to consult with a CEO coach on a regular basis to improve his strategies. “He was coached and spent a lot of time thinking about what to do to put the bigger picture together. He learned, learned, learned from all the mistakes of his surroundings,“Said Dorsey’s confidante Tim Kidd The Wall Street Journal.

Let me know any other terms you’d like to decipher and I’ll update this post as the season progresses.

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