Computer, This Is User

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This was originally printed in furdev (Learn to Program).  That blog is obsolete and hidden in the crevices of the internet, but I thought this article wasn’t too bad.  It’s about becoming acquainted with your computer:

If you’re totally new to computers, I do have to wonder how you accessed this site and found this article, but I’m not one to be nosy. I’m here to help you get acquainted with your computer.

I’m going to make some hopefully safe assumptions that you are either using a desktop computer or a laptop. Anything beyond that is out of the scope of this article.

A computer is commonly made up only a few parts really, and these parts are fairly easy to understand. Let’s begin:

The Computer (or Processor)

microchipThe computer itself (the object you plug everything else into) is the core of the whole construction. Without this part, you wouldn’t have a computer set-up at all. It is the piece you plug everything into because it processes and manages everything else. For more information see “What is a Computer?” and “Processors: The Electronic Clerks”. This is the part of the computer set-up you are most likely to insert your CDs or DVDs (and other discs) into, your USB cords, your monitor(s), and your keyboard and mouse.

Keyboards, Mice, Printers, External Hard Drives, Cameras, Oh My!

The other parts of your computers can be numerous and can ‘connect’ to the computer in various ways. Modern computers have two major ways to connect or communicate with a device: wireless or wired. When a device needs to be physically plugged into a computer through a USB, Firewire, or Serial port than it is considered a wired connection. When a device can communicate with your computer over a WiFi network, or a Bluetooth connection than it is considered wireless. For differences in wireless communications see “Wireless Communications”.

mouseIf you’ve made it to this site I assume you’re familiar with a mouse and a keyboard. The mouse is moved along a surface (or a finger is moved along a surface if it’s a laptop trackpad). These movements are translated into coordinates (X and Y like on a graph) that the computer can track. It uses this data to keep track of a cursor or scrolling on a connected display (monitor).

The keyboard is another essential device. These come in one handed (a beautiful and wonderful site) or two handed varieties. That’s right, one handed. I personally recommend the two handed kind as they are faster and easier to use. My typing rate is dramatically reduced with one hand (the usual being 97+ Accurate Words Per Minute). The device works simply: press a ‘key’ (button) on the keyboard corresponding to a symbol (letter, number, etc.) and that data is transmitted to the computer, which then decides what to do with it. Normally whatever you are typing ends up on the screen (display) such as in an instant message window, or typing up a website like I’m doing.

keyboardA printer can take what you see on the screen and spit it out onto a piece of paper. It’s actually a very remarkable piece of equipment. The printer only does part of the work of ‘creating’ the graphic internally. I used to work in a financial statement printing factory writing programs that output what’s known as PostScript. PostScript (or a variety thereof) is the programming language many printers use to create the pictures themselves. It gives the printer directions on what to draw, and the printer processes them with its own processor and moves the necessary hardware.

cameraThere are many other devices you might connect to your computer such as a camera or video camera. These devices might communicate via a wired or wireless connection. A camera may be as simple as acting like a special hard drive (a piece of hardware where data is stored long term) that other programs can interact with. A video camera often requires a more specialized program for extracting the video, although more modern cameras are turning the videos into files themselves (a file is a document for the computer, like a piece of paper on a desk, that contains data).

Then there are external hard drives and flash drives. You might connect a large external hard drive using USB 2.0 or Firewire, ranging nowadays in the 1 to 1.5 TB range (Terabytes – 1024 Gigabytes). This is a device that usually uses magnetic charges on a disc with a needle that reads them (like a record player in a way). Or you could stick in a usually much smaller flash drive which uses microchips for storage. These are usually much smaller in size and much more portable since they don’t need a separate power supply. Either one will increase and provide extra long term storage of data (files).

computerThe Display or Monitor (How You See Everything)

The monitor is the last important piece of a computer. Computers are useless if there is no way to see the output (results) of their operations. Historically you might read the output of a computer’s operation on a print out from a printer. Today, however, you have immediate feedback via a computer’s display (otherwise known as a ‘monitor’). These displays show a (usually rectangular) collection of pixels (points of color) that make up any image imaginable. The larger the number of pixels shown on the monitor, the more detailed the image. The term ‘resolution’ is used to define the number of pixels that are capable of being displayed. They are usually written as the measure of a rectangle, listing pixels horizontally and vertically, such as 640×480. The processor usually has a ‘video card’ or ‘graphics card’ located inside that attaches to a monitor; sending it the graphical signals. Monitors have come a long way from their early incarnations as cathode ray tubes (think television). Today there are LCD and LED displays with crystal clear picture, great backlighting, and huge resolutions.

That’s it!

All of these items together form the modern day computer. There may be a tweak here and there (a monitor might contain speakers and a web camera for instance, or a laptop has a trackpad and no mouse), but it’s all mostly the same.

When I first started learning about computers my machine had no mouse, the monitor was your average television, and I had no disks or hard drives. You plugged the TRS-80 Color Computer II 16k into the TV, turned it on, and started with a fresh BASIC prompt. I thankfully had two joysticks, some game cartridges, and a magnetic tape deck that could read and save programs, so not all hope was lost. I taught myself how to program BASIC on that machine when I was the ripe age of seven. Those were good times.

I hope that this article was helpful to you!

Image Credits:

Microchip image by Renjith Krishnan
Keyboard image by Francesco Marino
Mouse image by Filomena Scalise
Camera image by Catherine Hadler
Computer image by Francesco Marino

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photo credit: Working Hard, or Hardly Working? Hahaha via photopin (license)

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I'm just a wunk, trying to enjoy life. I am a cofounder of http// and I like computers, code, creativity, and friends.

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