We’ve all seen the e-mail from our over zealous friends (you know, the ones who forward every picture and every hoax known to mankind) featuring the birthday cake from the Wal-Mart bakery that says “Bye Joe, We Will Miss You” with the instructions “IN BIG BLUE LETTERS” inscribed under the going away wishes. Well, I saw one such evidence of a lack of computer savvy several years ago in an office file. Someone had apparently left a 3.5 floppy diskette on someone’s desk with the instructions “Make a copy of this diskette and place it in the file.” Not surprisingly enough the instructions were followed to a tee. When I had the job of auditing the file for archiving purposes some time later, there it was as big as day; A Xerox copy of the diskette complete with the instructions to make a copy of it and file it, right there in the file! No diskette, just a “Xerox copy” of it.
Computers! You gotta love ’em! . . . that’s because they’re everywhere and they run our lives today.
Yaever wonder where some of the computer terms we use today come from. Well, you’re fixin’ to find out partner. Take for instance the term “BUG” as it pertains to computers; it is not a figurative term, well not originally anyway. Back in 1947 in the computer stone age a computer operator named Grace Hopper was experiencing a problem with a Mark II Aiken Relay calculator, a primitive computer located in the hallowed halls of Harvard University. When the machine was opened up to allow troubleshooting to take place, technicians actually found a moth lodged between two circuit contacts which shorted out the circuit. The dead moth caused it to malfunction. Hence everything that causes a computer to malfunction today is known as a “bug”.
THIS IS GETTING GOODER
Floppy Disks????? Well, not now of course. As a matter of fact if you’ve recently become familiar with using a computer, you probably don’t even know what a “floppy” disk looks like. That’s because they’ve been put out to pasture in recent years and replaced with other media such as cd-roms, DVD-roms and USB “thumb” drives (aka jump drives or flash drives). Originally they were thin sheets of magnetic material similar to the tape in cassette tapes used to record sound or VHS cassettes to record video (if you’re not familiar with either, go ask granddad or uncle Sid and they’ll be glad to fill you in). The recording material is a just little thicker than the music/video tapes and is very flexible and is usually encased in a rigid or semi-rigid envelope; hence the name “floppy“. They were, and still are to some extent, used to store and transfer data from one PC to another. This oddly enough gave rise to the term “sneaker network” or “sneakernet“.
BORED TO TEARS YET?
Why QWERTYUIOP????? I’m glad you asked that question because I was starting to fall asleep myself. If the English alphabet has 26 letters beginning with ABC, how come the computer keyboard has such a strange looking configuration? Well, it goes back to the early days of the typewriter (okay go get grandpa or uncle Sid again to explain the typewriter or if you’re old enough, watch AMCTV’s Mad Men). If the typewriter keyboard had used the letters of the English alphabet in the order that we know, ABC etc., the keys would have periodically jammed when depressed thereby slowing down the process of reproducing words on paper. The solution to this problem is credited to C.L. Sholes of Milwaukee, WI in 1860. When it came time to create an “input device” for “digital data” (a fancy term for computer information) the natural tendency was to avoid re-inventing the wheel and use the typewriter keyboard.
Where in the world did the term “http://” come from? My, we’re full of questions today, aren’t we?! The term http:// stands for hypertext transfer protocol (don’t go bother grandpa on this one, he’s clueless also). Mainly we all know it as a method of finding our way around the internet. It can be used for much more than that, and if you’re interested there’s a gazillion sources out there that can explain it way better than I can. But for our purposes let’s look at it like this:
1. Hypertext a method of storing data through a computer program that allows a user to create and link fields of information at will and to retrieve the data non-sequentially. (I couldn’t have said it better myself.)
2. The “P” in http stands for protocol. For example, you can have diplomatic protocol, or you can have office protocol. Both are nothing more than a set of rules for how business is conducted when you are interacting with a foreign country or functioning in a business office. Since computers use logic (Ha! That’s a laugh . . . wait a minute Dave, there was me the HAL 9000 in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey) there must be a logical set of rules for the computer to follow to enable it to access information.
So, HTTP is nothing more than a set of rules for sending data. In our case we are asking the computer to go out into cyberspace using a Universal Resource Locator to take us to a server (a computer set aside for a specific function) located in a specific location. Now isn’t that logical, Dave?
And, NO folks, it’s not a cup holder! This one is a classic and it’s long, so I’m assigning it as homework. Our good friends at SNOPES.COM couldn’t have said it any better. As a matter of fact, that’s where the homework assignment is located. It’s titled “Word Imperfect” or you could subtitle it “Too Stupid to Own a Computer”. Either way, it’s worth the trip through cyberspace.
So there you have it. A crash course in computers. I’d spend more time on more subjects, but the above is the most my nine-year old granddaughter would explain to me this afternoon. Don’t forget, “POP QUIZ” next class!
If you’d like to know more about computers and how they work go to:
And if you really want to know how they work, trust me this guy knows a lot, Professor Messer at http://www.professormesser.com/free-a-plus-training/a-plus-videos/professor-messers-free-comptia-a-certification-training-course/
Or just do a search on How Computers Work in any search engine.
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