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In an article I see this phrase "Faustian bargain". Both I and my teacher were unable to translate or understand it. Can you help me and explain this phrase?

Context:

The reason for linking all the modules together in a single address space, with no protection between the modules, is that designers have made a Faustian bargain: better performance at the cost of more system crashes. We will quantitatively examine the price of this trade-off below.

This comes from the first page of this work: http://docs.huihoo.com/minix/reliable-os.pdf or http://74.125.155.132/scholar?q=cache:_sabEZ3IFvsJ:scholar.google.com/&hl=en&as_sdt=0,5 (preloaded as google html view)

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That is surpising. Do you think because your teacher did not know Faustian Bargain and about Faust, or did not know about the system design subject matter? –  lex Oct 19 '12 at 16:45

1 Answer 1

up vote 16 down vote accepted

'Faust' is the main character in German legend. From Wikipedia:

Faust or Faustus (Latin for "auspicious" or "lucky") is the protagonist of a classic German legend. Though a highly successful scholar, he is unsatisfied, and makes a deal with the devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures.

Making a 'Faustian bargain' can be interpreted as making a deal with the devil - it may seem like a good deal, but there is always a catch, and that catch is usually very, very bad.

Here is a wikipedia article discussing 'Deals with the Devil', which they also term as a 'Faustian bargain':

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deal_with_the_devil

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"Making a 'Faustian bargain' can be interpreted as making a deal with the devil - it may seem like a good deal, but there is always a catch, and that catch is usually very, very bad." While every fictional version of Faust (Brendon Frasier was in a mediocre filming of it about 10 years back; Elizabeth Hurley was a great Mephistopheles though) was about how the deal turned out badly, but when people use the phrase in real life, they are usually emphasizing the distasteful nature of the counter party and the lopsided terms, not any hidden catches or tricks. –  Malvolio Feb 7 '11 at 22:57
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@Malvolio: I'm not sure… I have seen many uses of "Faustian bargain" where there is no distasteful Mephistopheles. In the example quoted ("a Faustian bargain: better performance at the cost of more system crashes"), it seems to me they're not talking of system crashes as the devil but as costs. No? –  ShreevatsaR Feb 8 '11 at 9:11
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@ShreevatsaR -- I think that's just a misuse. Faust without Mephistopheles? What fun would that be? –  Malvolio Feb 8 '11 at 21:00
    
@Malvolio - I loved that flick. There was a wonderful little scene in a jail cell that acts as the central point of the entire movie. –  T.E.D. Jul 27 '11 at 13:48
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I disagree with @Malvolio in that the emphasis is usually on the idea that you're making a short-term, "sexy" gain, at the cost of a long-term loss. The loss is so large that only extreme greed (or other character flaw) would tempt you to make the deal. This is the sense in which the OP's quote is made: when the system runs, it runs fast, but it crashes a lot which interrupts the program and loses the progress you had made. –  Wayne Mar 14 at 20:05

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