Stories We Like: A Guide to the Comma
/kom'pyoo-tron"/ 1. A notional unit of computing power combining instruction speed and storage capacity, dimensioned roughly in instructions-per-second times megabytes-of-main-store times megabytes-of-mass-storage. "That machine can't run GNU Emacs, it doesn't have enough computrons!" This usage is usually found in metaphors that treat computing power as a fungible commodity good, like a crop yield or diesel horsepower. See bitty box, Get a real computer!, toy, crank.
2. A mythical subatomic particle that bears the unit quantity of computation or information, in much the same way that an electron bears one unit of electric charge (see also bogon). An elaborate pseudo-scientific theory of computrons has been developed based on the physical fact that the molecules in a solid object move more rapidly as it is heated. It is argued that an object melts because the molecules have lost their information about where they are supposed to be (that is, they have emitted computrons). This explains why computers get so hot and require air conditioning; they use up computrons. Conversely, it should be possible to cool down an object by placing it in the path of a computron beam. It is believed that this may also explain why machines that work at the factory fail in the computer room: the computrons there have been all used up by the other hardware. (This theory probably owes something to the "Warlock" stories by Larry Niven, the best known being "What Good is a Glass Dagger?", in which magic is fuelled by an exhaustible natural resource called "mana".)