Political correctness puts disk drives in a spin

Disk drives that use the IDE interface have been identified as containing language that could be interpreted as discriminatory or offensive in nature, and one organisation wants suppliers to do something about it

Disk drives may the latest victim of political correctness. According to a memo apparently sent out by the County of Los Angeles, the standard designation used for connecting two disk drives to a single IDE port, which entails setting one drive as a "master" and the second as a "slave" drive, is an example of equipment labelling that may be "construed as offensive or defamatory in nature".

According to the memo, which was apparently written by Joe Sandoval, division manager for purchasing and contract services in the Internal Services Department at the County of Los Angeles, and posted on urban legends Web site snopes.com, use of the terms "master" and "slave" is not acceptable as an identification label.

"We would request that each manufacturer, supplier and contractor review, identify and remove/change any identification or labelling 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," said Sadoval in the memo.

The sentiments of the memo's author may be laudable: "The County of Los Angeles actively promotes and is committed to ensure a work environment that is free from any discriminatory influence, be it actual or perceived," he wrote. But removing the universally adopted terms from drives may cause more problems than it solves, say manufacturers, as users -- including those employed by LA County -- would find the settings confusing if the labels changed.

One major drive manufacturer's response was of incredulity: "I thought the British were prim and proper," said a spokeswoman for the company, who asked not to be identified, "but what's up with these Americans? It's not a Schwarzenegger change is it? You'd have to be barking mad to do this." The spokeswoman said it is highly unlikely that drive manufacturers would take the request seriously.

IT director Andres Tomlin was similarly unimpressed. "This is another ludicrous example of "political correctness," he said. "This is political point-scoring and nothing to do with the reality of everyday life."