teaching old stones new tricks

Sitting up, taking nourishment, it's gonna be a good day.

The Basics #1. Meet the computer.

There's an app for that...

There’s an app for that…

All rightie then, let’s start with a bit of basics. I’m gonna take it right back to the studs here but will leave the floor in place as I have a thing about heights.

Anyway, first off, computers. The machine itself comes in many manifestations and that is where the confusion begins. When a tech type like your daughter or the nerd at London Drugs talks about a computer he/she is referring to the actual drive, the cpu (central processing unit), memory pack and motherboard with all it’s various bits. Everything else, including the screen, keyboard, mouse and speakers are called ‘peripherals’.

There are several configurations/arrangements of computer and peripherals but remember this: they are all basically the same thing. Just like a car has wheels and doors and aComputer.tower.750pix place for the driver (for now anyway) computers have basic similarities just arranged in different ways to meet different preference or needs. At our level of involvement we will see desktops, laptops, tablets and what I think of as function specific items like e-readers, smart phones and gaming systems.

I’m going to start by using the desktop model because it gives us the best chance to see exactly what the components are that go into the computer you might decide to bring home. It also means you can talk with some confidence when you walk into that London Drugs or Best Buy or whatever and are looking at the gizmos in the computer department.

In a desktop configuration/model, the computer is the tower that goes under the desk or under the screen on top of the desk. It’s the box shaped thingie with the “on” button, the blinking lights and whirring sound. You will also hear a fan intermittently because these critters make a tremendous amount of heat.

IMac_aluminiumIn the case of the IMac – made by Apple – the computer and the screen are one unit.  There is also a computer made by Apple called a Mac Mini which looks like a very plain rack for drink coasters but is, in fact, more powerful than a roomfull of computers from the 1970’s. Actually, your smart phone is more powerful in terms of computing ability and memory than those state-0f-the-art punch-card tape-drive monoliths my sister used to feed as one of 20 data entry clerks on the day shift at an  Imperial Oil branch billing office.

The bottom line here is that computer is the box that does the, ah, computing. The screen is how we see what’s going on inside the box and the keyboard is how we interact with the computer, give it commands, ask it questions, plead, whine and sometimes pound helplessly on wondering why it doesn’t answer. To stretch the car analogy, the monitor is the windshield, the keyboard and the mouse are steering wheels (or if we’re talking tractors and tanks, the direction levers) and the speakers are, gee, they’re the speakers. The frame, engine, drive train, transmission, wheels, universal joint, brakes etc. that actually make you and all that sheet metal go from here to there is the computer. Yes, even the battery.

So, let’s stop here for now and I’ll pick up with a primer on the main configurations and the advantages they offer. For the third post it will be necessary to deviate into the great PC’s vs Mac debate because I’m pretty sure you are wondering what’s up with that.

Any questions or things you’d like to talk about? As Dr. Crane says, “I’m listening.”

early computer

Then – early tape drive heat generator




now - a mac mini

now – a mac mini




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This entry was posted on June 26, 2015 by in adult education, Computers and tagged , , , .

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