The High-Speed Idiot

The first time my husband took the lid off of a computer, he said, “Wow! It looks like a little city in there!” That’s not too far off the mark. If you’ve ever wondered about all those TLAs (Three-Letter Acronyms) having to do with computers, you’ve come to the right place.

In the old days of computers, say about 1959, when your only hope of getting your hands on a computer was going to MIT, working for the Government, or being attached to some similar large organization, the following pseudo- German sign was a common sight in many computer rooms:

Achtung! Alles Lookenspeepers!


Let’s play Global Thermonuclear War.

Das Computenmachine ist nicht for gefingerpoken und mittengrabben. Ist easy schnappen der springenwerk, blowenfusen, und poppencorken mit spittzensparken. Ist nicht fur gewerken by das dummkopfen. Das rubbernecken sightseeren keepen hands in das pockets. Relaxen und watchen das blinkenlights.

In other words… Don’t touch it, you’ll break it!

Today, if only to defend oneself against high-powered computer salesmen,  some knowledge is nice to have.

The city analogy, with streets, warehouses, stores, etc. isn’t bad, but here we will compare a computer with an office. The processor, or CPU, is the guy behind the desk, actually getting the work done. A faster processor will get the work done faster if everything else is equal, but CPU speed alone is not the most important. You only need a really fast CPU (Dual core, quad core, etc.) if you’re recording or editing video, or doing something (Such as some games) that have a lot of cutting edge 3D effects.

The memory, or RAM, is the desk. The larger the desk, the more things can be done at once, and the faster any one thing can be done. RAM is comparatively cheap, and the best upgrade for the money. 2 GB of ram should be considered an absolute minimum for a smoothly functioning machine, and 4 to 6 GB will not be overkill.

HAL 9000 computer

I’m Sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.

Every office needs a filing cabinet, and that’s the function of the hard drive. Here is where all your programs and data are stored. Modern hard drives are huge, starting at about 250 GB and going up from there. For perspective, 1 Gigabyte (GB) is enough room for about 10,000 text emails, 500 high resolution digital photos, 250 songs in mp3 format, but only about 30 minutes of good quality video. Some elaborate programs can take up several GB all by themselves; Windows alone can take up 5 to 20 GB. If you like to collect music and video, get the biggest hard drive you can, and consider having a second big hard drive installed just for your files.

The telephone and intercom on the desk are the computer’s way of communicating with the outside world. The phone is the modem, or communication with the Internet, and the intercom is the network interface, to talk to computers on your local network (other computers within your home or office). Most modern computers have a built in network interface. This will be useful even if you only have one computer; The network jack is the best way to hook up a broadband modem.

The CD and/or DVD drives are like briefcases – ways of getting stuff into or out of the filing cabinet from or to the outside world. Get at least a DVD burner (writer) so you can do backups easily. You can put about 8 times as much data on a DVD as you can on a CD – They’re not just for movies.

A computer is a high-speed idiot in that, while it can follow instructions very rapidly, it can only do what it’s told,

This Unit Must Survive.

This Unit Must Survive.

which is not necessarily what you want it to do. Computers will not take over the world anytime soon, unless we voluntarily put ourselves under their control — Oh, Wait, I think we’ve already done that.

For even more empowering technology info, read my new book, “Deciphering the 21st Century,” Available now!

Click here to read all about it.

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