Tag Archives: computer

Who Invented That??

Pop quiz: Where were all these things invented?

  1. The first microprocessor, the 8088
  2. The Pentium and Celeron computer processors
  3. Anti-Virus software
  4. Code that enables sending email
  5. Mobile Phones
  6. Texting (SMS)
  7. Voicemail
  8. USB Flash drives
  9. The Super Iron Battery, which may be in your (next) electric car
  10. Transparent solar panels (“Solar Windows”)
  11. Drip irrigation
  12. Cherry Tomatoes
  13. Sodastream (A machine to make soda at home)
  14. The Pillcam (swallow-able colonoscopy device)
  15. Heart stents
  16. Radiation-free X-ray technology
  17. The Epilator hair-removal device
  18. A new technology for divers that extracts air from the water

Impressive list, huh? Without these inventions, the world would be a much different place, probably a worse one.

If you said, “The United States”, good guess, but no. The answer is Israel, the tiny, much-maligned country that has more research and development, and more Nobel Prizes per capita, than any other country on earth.

How could this be? In a country that didn’t even exist 70 years ago?? It might have something to do with Israeli philosophy. Classical rabbinical literature created the Hebrew phrase “Tikkun olam” (literally, “world repair”). The Israelis seem to have not only realized that the World is broken, but decided to do what they could to repair it.

The innovations in the above list are only a few of the things Israel has done to make the world a better place. They are often first on the scene of major disasters, bringing state-of-the-art mobile hospitals, food, and anything else needed. The list of medical advances is lengthy; Treatments for cancer, Parkinson’s disease, AIDS, epilepsy, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and on and on. 

Their cows produce more milk. Their bees produce more honey.

They rank as the fifth happiest nation on Earth, maybe because they care so much about their fellow man.

On the other hand, it just might be a God thing…

Want to boycott Israel? You might want to read this first:





Israeli flag

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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Any Old Port In A Back Panel: Hooking Up A Computer

Computers may have created a new definition of the word “cursor” for users, but they’re not hard to properly hook up. Almost all the ports are different, so it’s physically impossible to screw things up too badly, at least without using power tools. Like any other rule, there are a few exceptions.

  • The only thing that’s safe to plug and unplug with the power on is a USB device. If you start swapping anything else around with the system running, you’re asking for trouble.
  • The keyboard and mouse can be interchanged accidentally (if you’re using the ones with round connectors instead of USB). Neither will work, but no damage will be done. Most computer manufacturers color code their mouse ports green and keyboard ports purple.
  • It’s possible to mix up the audio jacks. Most computers have a green audio jack (speakers go here), blue (line in – you would use this to get sound into the computer from, say, a stereo or portable player), and pink (microphone for getting live sound into the computer; will not interchange with line in. Often has a picture of a microphone). Some high end computers will have more audio ports, usually for Dolbytm 5.1 sound.
  • Most computers have a network port. This looks like an oversize phone jack with a little picture of 3 computers linked by lines. It is possible to plug a phone cord into this jack without damage, but you won’t get any action out of your dial-up modem if you do. The (dial-up) modem jack (if present) is in a separate location from most of the other ports. (You also can’t use a phone cord to hook up the computer to your broadband modem.)
  • If your dial-up modem has two phone jacks on it, they are not interchangeable either. The phone cord must be plugged into the jack labeled line (sometimes with a little picture of a phone jack). The other jack, labeled phone (often with a picture of a phone) is for plugging in an extension phone or fax.
  • The monitor port (15 holes in a D-shaped shell, with a little picture of a monitor) and the serial port (9 pins in a similar D-shaped shell, with a picture of ones and zeros) look somewhat alike, but one cannot be plugged into the other. If you can’t get your monitor cable to plug in, look for another port elsewhere.
  • Whenever plugging in something like a monitor cable that has screws, just finger tighten the screws. They are only there to keep the cable from falling off.
  • Some late model computers have HDMI or DVI monitor jacks. These must be used with the appropriate monitor.
  • Many different peripherals use USB ports. You’ll find several of these on most computers. Flash drives, removable drives, USB hubs, USB keyboards, and USB mice require no software installation; the first time you plug it in, the computer will find and install the correct driver. You’ll see dialog boxes or balloons telling you it’s doing this; give it some time to finish before you start trying to use the device.
  • When installing a new USB device other than those listed above, always install the software before plugging the device in for the first time, unless the instruction manual specifically tells you otherwise.
  • There are extension cables available for most computer ports but you should only use them when absolutely necessary. Longer cables give less reliable data transfer. Rule of thumb for maximum total length: USB cables, 10 feet; serial cables, 25 feet; keyboard and mouse, 10 feet; network (Category 5), 300 feet; monitor cable, 15 feet. If something doesn’t work reliably or at all, try plugging it in with the shortest cable you can find and see if operation improves.
  • Don’t forget to plug in the power cord, too!
Typical computer back panel.

Typical computer back panel.

Typical computer back panel ports. Your computer may have more or fewer ports, and in different positions; These are the most common. Power and modem connections not shown.

  1. Keyboard (Purple)
  2. Mouse (Green)
  3. Serial port. Mostly replaced by USB, still used occasionally for dial-up external modems, GPS units, and other low speed devices. Note the 9 pins instead of holes.
  4. Parallel port. Also mostly replaced by USB. Often used for printers and scanners. Sometimes colored pink.
  5. VGA Monitor port. Still the most common monitor port. Note the difference between this and the Serial port. Often colored blue.
  6. USB Ports. Used for almost everything – Printers, mice, keyboards, cameras, and others. Most computers have several, front and back.
  7. Network Port. Note it is wider than a phone jack, although it resembles one. The Modem jack(s) (Not Shown) are usually in a separate location on the back panel.
  8. Audio Jacks. Accept standard 1/8” headphone, speaker, and microphone plugs. Often colored pink (Microphone), green (Line out/Speakers), and blue (Line in).

This post has been adapted from my new book, “Deciphering the 21st Century,” Available now! Click here to read all about it.

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Universal Converter Box

Ever suffer the annoyance of things that should connect to each other, but don’t?

Fortunately, there are many adapters out there to make your life easier, and a couple that you only think will make your life easier, but won’t work. Almost anything in the electronic world can be adapted to anything else, but sometimes it can be more expense and trouble than it’s worth.

Video: Used to be, the biggest conversion need was a way to get video from a DVD player into an older TV that only had an antenna jack. I almost had a fight with a fellow once that was positive that all he needed was an adapter from the RCA cables off the DVD player to the threaded connector on the TV. I noticed that after he bought the $3 adapter, I never saw him again. What he really needed was a device called an RF modulator, because the video signal from a DVD player cannot be understood by a TV tuner. But the RF modulator costs $20, and he was sure I just wanted to sell him the more expensive item.

The need for the RF modulator is less now, because all newer TVs have the needed inputs, but there are still a lot of old TVs out there. You can pick up an RF modulator at any decent big-box electronics department.

Converting HDMI to Composite video is possible using an adapter such as this one from Amazon. Going the opposite direction and converting Composite, S-Video, or Component to HDMI can be done with this device.

Audio: Audio hookups are considerably easier; there is less information to process, and fewer types of hookups available. The most important conversion you might need is digital optical audio to digital coaxial . That’s not too hard; this gadget will do that. There are others that will go the opposite way.

Computer: In some ways, computer conversions are the easiest; You won’t need to convert digital to analog or vice-versa, it’s all digital. Almost anything in the computer world can be converted: DVI to HDMI, HDMI to DVI, Serial or Parallel to USB, and so forth. Just search your favorite electronics store for the converter you need. (It’s probable you won’t find a lot of these converters locally; You’ll have to buy them from Amazon or Monoprice.com.)

But don’t you wish you had something like this gadget?


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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I’d love to hear your comments!

My god, it’s full of Wires! Computer accessories

Before you run Higgledy-Piggledy (That’s a Technical term for Amok), out to BestCircuitShackMart for computer accessories  there are a few things you need to know about what you already have. Specifically, you need to know what version of Windows (or Mac) you have, processor speed, amount of RAM, amount of free hard drive space, and what kind of ports you have available. (The following advice applies to PCs running Windows only.)

You can learn most of this by right-clicking on the “My Computer” icon on your desktop and selecting “Properties” from the resulting menu. (If you can’t find “My Computer”, on your desktop, click “Start”, then go to “My Computer” (just “Computer” on newer versions of Windows) on the Start menu, right click, and select “Properties”.) This will give you a box that will tell you what version of Windows, the processor type and (sometimes) speed, and the amount of RAM on the system.

To find out about your hard drive, double click “Computer”, right-click on the “C:” drive, and select “Properties”. This will give you a pie chart of used and free space on your main hard drive. Look at the back of your computer and note what ports you have unused. Most external accessories will use a USB port. There may be some on the front of the computer as well.

Write all this information down on a piece of paper and bring it with you when you shop for accessories.

When you look at accessories in the store, there will always be an area on the box or package called “System Requirements” or sometimes “Minimum System Requirements”. Read these carefully and compare them to what you have written down. Remember that they are Minimums. The accessory will work if you just meet the requirements, but maybe not very well. If you exceed the minimum system requirements by a comfortable margin, the accessory will probably work much better. Many boxes also have a “Recommended System” list; this is what they think will give optimum performance of their gadget. Again, remember that these are minimums.

A surge protector is a vital accessory for a computer. Get the best you can afford, at least 1500 Joules, preferably 2000 or more. If you have dial-up or DSL Internet service, get one with phone jacks and use them. If you get Internet from Cable, get one with cable jacks. You don’t have to worry about system requirements here; Power is power, unless you’re in another country.

Closely related to the surge protector is the Uninterruptible Power Supply, or UPS. This device often includes a surge protector, but it’s main feature is a large rechargeable battery and very fast circuitry that will switch to the battery during a power failure, giving you a few minutes to save your work and perform an orderly shutdown. You do not want to plug anything into the UPS other than your tower and monitor. Other things such as printers will only drain the battery faster if there’s a power failure. UPS units are rated in Volt-Amps (VA); the larger this number, the longer the time you get after the power fails. Most units will give you some idea on the package of how much time you’ll get, based on your computer type and monitor size and type. Typical times are between 5 and 10 minutes. Some include software to make managing the save and shutdown automatic. Not everybody needs a UPS, but if you’re doing critical stuff on your PC, they’re worth looking into.

Keyboards, Mice and Speakers are the easiest accessories to buy, because they will work with almost any computer. Speakers come in powered and unpowered types. Some may be USB powered. For a desktop computer, get the AC powered ones, not the battery powered ones. You’ll have to find a place on your power strip to plug them in. For a laptop, get whichever type fits your usage pattern. Speakers are plug and play – no software is needed as long as you have an audio out (sometimes called line out) or headphone jack on your computer.

Other accessories include memory card readers (plug and play with any late model computer), various adapters for adapting serial and parallel ports to USB, and USB hubs (used to multiply the number of USB ports).

Computer cables are a lot like home theater cables; The stores will try to convince you that the fancy gold-plated ones are so much better, but they all work about the same. You should always use the shortest cables that will do the job – USB cables, for instance, are not guaranteed to be reliable in lengths over 10 feet.

Things such as digital cameras, mp3 players, and the like aren’t really computer accessories, but like anything else that you want to plug into a computer, make sure you read the system requirements.

This post has been adapted from my new book, “Deciphering the 21st Century,” Available now! Click here to read all about it.

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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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I’d love to hear your comments!

Frankenstein Cables

If you’ve been shopping for Audio/Video or computer products recently, you may have noticed the prominently displayed High-End, Super-Polymerized, Silicone-Jacketed, Digital-Ready, High-Resolution, Triple-Shielded, Ultra-High-Speed, Oxygen-free, 100% Copper, Gold-Plated, M*****r Cables. (I will call them “Frankenstein Cables”; names have been changed to protect the guilty.)

No matter the brand name, you will know them by their prices. Any cable that costs more than a DVD player is definitely a Frankenstein cable.  They look pretty and very Space-Age, but are they worth the money? Unless you like leaving your cables where your friends can see them and go, “Oooh!” or you just like spending money, No. You will probably never see the difference in picture and sound between a $5 cable and a $50 cable. Maybe I should call them “Vampire Cables” – they’re certainly good at sucking money from your wallet!

Unfortunately, manufacturers have found out that 5 cents worth of gold plating equates to 10 or 20 dollars more in profits. Yes, gold is expensive, but when you can plate it on just a couple of atoms thick, an ounce of gold will plate lots of cable ends. Does it help? Theoretically, yes. Gold is an excellent conductor of electricity, and it doesn’t oxidize. But nickel is almost as good at a fraction of the price, it just doesn’t look as cool.

The manufacturers of home entertainment equipment have spared every expense on the included cables; They are the lowest quality money can buy. The idea is to give you something you can use out of the box, and they will probably work just fine. If you do decide you want better cables, there’s no need to mortgage your house. Even the basic cables on sale at the big box stores are horribly overpriced. The stores make most of their money on accessories, not computers and TVs. Online stores such as monoprice.com that specialize in cables can save you hundreds of dollars over local prices.

What about computer cables? They would like you to think that because computers are more complicated than TVs, premium cables are more necessary. Not true, and here’s why: With the exception of HDMI cables, most home entertainment signals are analog. An analog signal looks like this:

If a cable cannot carry the signal properly, it might look like this:

This is called “clipping,” and results in distortion in sound or picture.

A digital signal, on the other hand, looks like this:

A digital signal has only 2 states: on or off. Said another way, it’s either “there,” or “not there.” This means that as long as there’s a sufficient difference between the on and off signal, the most expensive cable in the world won’t improve things. The cable either works or it doesn’t.

Armed with this information, you can cheerfully ignore any advice to spend big buck$ on an HDMI cable, or any other cable. Go out and have a lobster dinner instead. You’ll probably still come out ahead!

This post has been adapted from my new book, “Deciphering the 21st Century,” Available now! Click here to read all about it.

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