Written by Barry Beck

Computer hardware can be likened to the physical parts of your body. Your brain (wiring, cortex, gray matter, etc.) can also be thought of as hardware, but the integral brain can be likened to the C.P.U. or Central Processing Unit or processor of the computer. So hardware is any physical component of a computer system. This can include any section of the computer or anything attached to it such as a printer, monitor, or CD-ROM drive.

Software is the mind behind the computer; it is the programming; it’s what makes the decisions. It is analogous to your thought, feelings, emotions, desires putting your body into action. Your will (ego or spirit) is comparable the programmer himself. Computer memory is very much like human memory (except it does not forget or distort).

Software / Programs - Instructions in the form of binary digits or bytes (I’ll get to the bytes later.) Application software is software that gives the computer special functionality. These programs can make a computer automate a particular task, from word processing to number crunching to drawing and painting. It gives some specific functionality to the computer.

Database - A program that allows the user to store and organize large amounts of information so that others may access the information based on certain search values. For example, a database programmer can create a database of all major league baseball players and their statistics. A person with access to the database can specify a search criteria of all players who hit more than 20 doubles in 1999. The database automatically finds and displays the player information that meets the criteria.

Memory - Storage or stored data loaded for processing to components, circuits and mechanical portions of the computer. Two common types of memory are RAM and ROM.
RAM - Random (or direct) Access Memory - Immediate non-sequential record retrieval; internal read/write memory; programs and data with which the CPU is currently working. The non-sequential aspect means data can be accessed in any order (randomly) as opposed to a tape or long playing record where information can only be received in sequential order. The read/write part means this memory can not only be accessed, it can be added to or changed. RAM is memory or storage area with programs or data in use or being worked on or processed. RAM is measured in Mb or megabytes (I‘ll define those shortly). 128 Mb is state of the art for the personal computer now (only a few years ago, it was 8 Mb). RAM needs electric power. When power is off, RAM data is gone unless it has been saved to a floppy diskette or hard drive. Additional RAM allows the computer to run faster. The more RAM you have, the faster information can be processed and the faster your computer can execute tasks.
ROM - Read Only Memory - Data that cannot be modified or overwritten; fixed storage with information or instructions that can be accessed by CPU. Therefore a CD-ROM is a Compact Disc Read Only Memory program with data in the form of binary digits (which as promised, will be explained later).

Hard Drive - Data bank; storage capacity; secondary storage (as opposed to RAM which is known as primary or main storage or memory). A hard drive or hard disk is a mass storage device used to store large amounts of data for fast access. You can think of RAM as data you are processing or working with now, like a notepad or papers in front of you on a desk. Similarly, the hard drive is permanent storage or memory and can be compared to files put away in a filing cabinet. Data on the hard drive remains when the power is off (unless erased or overwritten). State of the art storage capacity for personal computer hard drives is 20 Gb (gigabytes). Only a few years ago, 270 Mb was fine (about 1% as much). 40 Mb were common not so many years before that.

Floppy Disk - A reusable storage device that holds computer information. The information stored on floppy disks is not deleted when you switch off the computer. A floppy disk drive is a type of diskette player that accesses information from floppy diskettes.

CD-ROM - A small phonograph-like diskette that can hold over 600 megabytes of data. CD-ROMs are not writeable; you cannot store information on a CD-ROM unless you purchase a CD mastering system, a special and costly device. CD-ROMs are commonly used for the distribution of multimedia products where complex, full color graphics and high fidelity sound are used extensively. CD-ROMs are also used in corporations or organizations where large amounts of data must be archived.

CD-ROM (multi-session) Drive - Hardware device that reads or plays data from CD-ROM programs. It is now standard equipment for PCs. It is measured or rated by processing (reading) speed. Standard now is 12x or 1800 kbps (kilobytes per second). As you might surmise, 1x or single spin drive or 150 kbps was standard only a few years ago.

CPU - Central Processing Unit - An integrated circuit inside the computer; the brain of the computer. It’s capable of executing millions of mathematical operations per second. The CPU is the chip or unit (processor) that reads, processes, interprets and executes information and instructions. It only understands two things: the digits ‘0’ and ‘1’(on / off) or (magnetized / not magnetized). I’ll explain further in my now long promised discussion of bytes and how data is stored and read. Since the late 1960s, CPUs have worked with microchips (integrated silicon circuits). From 1958 to 1965, they used transistors. In the 1940s and 1950s, it was vacuum tubes. (This also parallels developments in radio and TV sets.) The top microchip processors are Intel’s Pentium processor (586), Pentium 2 and Pentium Pro (686 or P6 chip, triple the speed of the Pentium). The latest processors can execute over one billion instructions per second. Earlier versions, now obsolete, were the 286, 386, 486 and DX4.

Megahertz (MHz) - 1,000,000 hertz; CPU speed; unit of frequency measuring clock rate or refresh rate. One hertz = one cycle (on / off) per second. State of the art is 200 MHz. Only a few years ago, 60 MHz was standard.

Operating System - O.S. - The software that manages your computer and allows you to control the computer. The operating system manages the flow, entry and display of information to and from each part of the computer system. Microsoft’s Windows 95, Windows NT and Windows 98 are the most widely used operating systems for personal computers (about 80% of PCs).

Modem - Modulator / Demodulator - The hardware that allows a computer to communicate via telephone lines with computers in other locations, whether it be within the same building or around the world. The data communications device for sending, receiving and transmitting signals. It converts characters into tones and back again. It enables digital data to be transmitted over analog transmission devices. A couple of years ago, 14.4 kbps (kilobits per second) or 14,400 data characters per second was standard. Now, it’s 56 kbps, but on the horizon are ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) at 128 kbps and DMT (Discrete Multi-Tone) at six times that speed. Also at faster speeds will be modems attached to cable TV and ADSL (Asynchronous or Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line). Another related acronym is VDSL (Very High-Speed Digital Subscriber Line). Also of note is LMDS (Local Multipoint Distribution Service) a technology functioning much like radio or television. Signals are received at a central hub in a city or town and then broadcast over a three to five-mile area; customers pick up the signals with a six-inch square box fixed on their roof or the side of their house or office building. Though not mobile, LMDS can send and receive data at speeds 20 to perhaps 2000 times greater than conventional modems plugged into phone lines. It should be kept in mind that the infrastructure for many of these newer modems are not quite there yet and bugs are not yet worked out. The technology of computers, telecommunications and cable TV are overlapping and becoming one. This is reflected in all the corporate agreements, mergers and acquisitions of these classifications of companies.

Baud - Another way of expressing or measuring or indicating the transmission speed of a modem. The same as references to cps (characters per second) or bps (bits per second).
Analog - A measure of rates analogous or relative to known and unknown variables. A solution of differential equations. Another way of putting it: a rate of increase might be known by a device, but numbers do not have to be known and are figured into the equation (or relation) later. Examples of analog devices are mercury in a thermometer, speedometers, traditional clocks and watches (with hour and minute hands) and telecommunications devices (such as telephones) dealing in tones.

Digital - The internal stored program (in binary digits) of the device is based on exact arithmetic logic. Examples are odometers and digital clocks and watches. Computers used to be either analog or digital. Today, they combine the characteristics of both.
Network - An arrangement for one computer to communicate with another by telephone lines.
Internet - The Net is a collection of networks (a network of networks). It began in the late 1960s when a Defense Department agency called the Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA) set up a network of computer systems on four California and Utah university campuses so that in case of atomic war or other debilitating national emergency that would damage our computer systems, vital data would survive by being quickly transferred to another location. Slowly at first, more government agencies, universities, corporations and individuals joined the network. By 1990, the Internet was less a government and more a private entity. The National Science Foundation maintains and regulates it.. Over eighty million people now access the Internet, but that number is growing at a phenomenal rate every month. (The Information Superhighway has been a nickname for the Internet and all of the gateways and access routes to and from it. The term is going out of fashion now from overuse.)
E-mail - Electronic mail is one aspect of the Internet. At present, this is the largest single use of the Net.

World Wide Web - WWW or the Web uses hypertext to link documents on computers all over the world. Hypertext allows a text document to be formatted to include graphics and links to other sites and documents, making the Web easy to navigate and exciting to view. The Web was invented by a scientist at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory, as a way for scientists to share information with each other. It has since become the most popular and best-known part of the Internet because of its visual appeal and ease of use. The Internet and the World Wide Web (sometimes abbreviated W3) are closely related but not the same. The Internet is a decentralized global network of computers. The Web is a collection of documents, or Web sites, that you can access via the Internet and your Web browser. The Web comprises the vast majority, of the content available over the Internet.

Web Site - Part of the World Wide Web, this is another expression of the Internet along with facilities such as electronic mail. It is composed of a hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP). The ability to link to pictures, documents and other sites on a web page is a feature known as hypertext. Hypertext software enables access to anyone on the Internet. The sites are distributed channels and are connected by hyperlinks (with web addresses embedded). Surfing the Net means following the links from page to page. Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) are web site addresses. At present, the most common coded language used to create, manage and document web pages is HTML (Hypertext Markup Language). A more user friendly language called Java is rapidly gaining popularity. In mid 1999 there are 30 million web sites, up from 1.3 million just four years ago. There are 100,000 new ones each month.

Internet Providers - Companies giving access to the Internet including the World Wide Web, electronic mail, news and user groups through local access telephone numbers. The top I.P.s are AOL (America Online), Prodigy, CompuServe (now acquired by AOL and WorldCom), MSN (the Microsoft Network), AT&T WorldNet, MCI (now acquired by WorldCom), Dow Jones News Retrieval, Odyssey, Delphi, Netcom Online, E-World, Radio Mail, but there are countless local providers. Internet Service Providers have made interaction with the Internet user friendly (one does not need to know programming languages).

Internet Browsers - Means by which paths to view URL or web sites are found. Netscape Navigator and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer are the most popular. Browsers have made surfing the Net easy and relatively inexpensive and quick.

Search Engines - Method to find a particular domain using one or more keywords. The Internet is such a vast expanse of information that it would be virtually impossible to find what you want by random browsing. Search engines allow you to target your browsing to a list of sites that match keywords you provide. This can save you hours of time if you are looking for sites on specific topics. Companies providing this application are AltaVista, C-Net, DejaNews, Excite, InfoSeek, Inktomi, Lycos, Magellan, Open Text, WebCrawler, Yahoo.

File Transfer Protocol (FTP) - Allows you to download (copy) files from computers all over the Internet to your own machine. To do this, you can use what is called anonymous FTP. By using "anonymous" as your login name at the remote site, you will be telling the host computer that you wish to access the publicly available material on that machine. You can then use your e-mail address as your password to complete the login process. Once logged in, you will be able to navigate the remote computer’s directories to find the file you want and start the download process.

URLs (Uniform Resource Locator) - Standard for specifying a site address on the Internet. URLs look like this: The http part of the URL tells your browser that this is a hypertext document. The part of the URL after the colon is the address of the site to which you’re navigating. Sometimes they are case-sensitive (the lower/upper case of each character is significant). If the URL has more than one directory level (i.e., and cannot be accessed, try backing up a level or two.
Cyberspace - The environment of computer hardware, software, data and networks (and all their connections) combined with human minds. The original use of the word was in a science fiction novel (by William Gibson in 1983 or 1984, I think).

Electronic Money - Money as it will be in the near future; as representations of binary digits on magnetized metal disk. It can also be referred to as cyber-currency or digital cash.
A Discussion of Bytes and Data Storage - Here is an amazing but basic fact: A computer only recognizes and understands two things: the digits ‘0’ and ‘1’ (zero and one) in the form of impulses on charged metal. Words, numbers and images are transformed into digital signals and back again.
Now a little computer history: In the 1880s the U. S. Census Bureau hired a man named Hollerith to find a faster way of tabulating the 1890 census. His company, after several mergers and acquisitions became IBM in the 1920s. He invented a card reading system based on the binary number system. At first read by brushes that sensed holes punched in the cards, later by light sensing the card holes. Today, magnetized charged impulses on metal (silicon) are read.
Another digression. (All my digressions have a point; stay with me.) You may recall (or have heard) there was a panic, in the late 1950s, when the Russians began to send satellites into Space. It was perceived (erroneously as it turned out) that the Russians were ahead of Americans in space technology, physics, computers and mathematics. So by the early 1960s (just in time for me) students in grade school began to be taught what was called ‘the new math’ which was math that used to be taught at the college level. Some of this new math involved binary arithmetic, the basis of comprehending computer data.

Binary Arithmetic - A number system based on only two digits. We use a decimal system (a number system based on ten digits) possibly because we have ten fingers, but there is no universal law that it must be that way. The Ancients (Babylonians, for instance) often used systems based on the numbers twelve and sixty (possibly because of twelve months in the year). In the Binary system, we have only zero and one to work with, so:

Decimal Binary
0 = 0
1 = 1
2 = 10
3 = 11
4 = 100
5 = 101
6 = 110
7 = 111
8 = 1000 and so on.

This at first glance appears restrictive, but it is ideal for Hollerith’s card system (which became IBM standard computer cards). Any number, letter or character could be represented in these punched cards. For instance, the letter ‘A’ is represented as ’12 / 1’ or in binary: ‘1100 0001’.

Bit - One binary digit or element or character.
Byte - Eight binary digits or elements or characters. The smallest computer addressable unit. For example, that letter ‘A’ is representation: ‘1100 0001’; on a computer, the zeros are represented as off (unmagnetized) and the ones are represented as on (magnetized).

Nibble - Not widely used anymore. A term meaning four bits or one half a byte. (Get it? A nibble is half a byte. Cute? Its not? That’s why its not widely used anymore.)

Kilobyte - (K, Kb) - A thousand bytes or to be exact: 2 to the 10th power which is 1024 bytes.
Megabyte - (Mb) - A million bytes or a thousand kilobytes or to be precise 2 to the 20th power which is 1,048,576 bytes.

Gigabyte - (G, Gb) - A billion bytes or a million kilobytes or a thousand megabytes or precisely 2 to the 30th power which is 1,073,741,824 bytes.

It might be helpful to realize that it takes about 3600 bytes to store one typewritten, single-spaced page.

Now think about what I said before: A computer only recognizes and understands two things: the digits ‘0’ and ‘1’ (zero and one) in the form of impulses on charged metal. All our data, most information in our society, most of our money exists as electrical signals on disk or tape; magnetic orientations or impulses on ferromagnetic oxide coated metal (silicon chips) representing binary digits (only zero and one). If you do not understand the philosophical implications of what I just said or the sociological changes to come out of this, give me several hours someday and I will explain further. You will either be astounded or bored to death.

I am not exaggerating when I say that the personal computer I am using to type this is better than the one I was using at Schwab ten years ago. The average PC an individual can buy for less than $2000, has more storage space, more power, more speed and can run more tasks (multi-tasking) and access more data (almost all the knowledge in the world) than a large company could have had ten years ago with hundreds of thousands of dollars, rooms full of huge computers and scores of technicians and programmers!Additional Computer Terminology:

Cache - A high speed buffer storage that is continuously updated to contain recently accessed contents of main storage. Its purpose is to reduce access time. In relation to the Internet, cache will allow for recently accessed data to be examined off-line.

Compression - A means of compacting a file so that it can consume less disk space. A compressed file must be decompressed before it can be opened. The term compression is also used in reference to data along telephone lines as a way of increasing the speed of a modem by compacting data (in real time) before sending it. The modem compresses the data and the receiving modem automatically decompresses the data.

Data Encryption - Encryption utilities provide encoding features so that the contents of a file or folder are readable only if you know the key to unscrambling them. The most well known of these schemes is called PGP, for pretty good protection. This is very effective and very complex (though easy to execute). PGP is available on most on-line service bulletin boards.

Electronic Funds Transfer - (EFT) A transaction that doesn’t require cash or a check. For example, if you use an ATM or debit card at a grocery store or a gas station, the result is an EFT.

Shareware - Software products that are made available over the Internet. Some are shareware, others are freeware. Some people develop software as a hobby or want to get a pat on the back. Others give programs away to see if they grow in popularity and then will start charging. Sometimes the developers will offer a limited version for free and charge for the expanded version or will offer products free as a kind of loss leader or advertisement for their other services.

Spreadsheet - A program that lets you create custom ledgers and enter numbers and information in rows and columns. Spreadsheets automate much of the work associated with maintaining a ledger, recalculating numbers automatically when you make changes. Spreadsheets also provide the capability to view information graphically.

Word Processing - A program that turns your desktop computer into a powerful electric typewriter with features beyond any and every typewriter. Today's word processors offer spell checking, page numbering, indexing, hyphenation and grammar checking.
Motherboard - The main circuit board in a computer containing the primary system components. Expansion cards may be added to the motherboard by plugging them in to the bus via a bus connector.

32-Bit Applications - Usually refers to an application that works with information in groups of 32-bits at a time. 32-bit applications generally provide better performance and memory management than 16-bit applications.

Desktop Publishing - Programs that let you do page layout and compose a page mixing text and graphics. Examples are everything from family newsletters to professional publishing houses that create full color coffee table books.

Interrupt - A method that a computer uses internally to get the attention of the CPU. A message sent to the central processing unit that suspends its current activity in order to process something else.

Virtual Space - Potential or temporary memory, storage or addresses mapped to real addresses. Auxiliary storage limited only by addressing scheme and main storage. It is less frequently accessed data and instructions swapped to remote storage locations while other data and instructions take their place.

Address - Location in memory.

Registers - Memory devices holding data during operations or calculations. They keep track of instructions.
Peripheral Devices - Any additional hardware options such as scanners, printers or external modems that are attached to the computer.

Ports - Outlets usually located on the back of the computer and used to connect other hardware devices such as printers, monitors and modems.
Bandwidth - A term now commonly used to describe the ability of a computer system or subsystem to transfer large amounts of data. (For example: ‘Ethernet does not offer adequate bandwidth for sending video images.’)

Beta Test - The pre-release of a hardware or software product to a select group of users for evaluation. Beta testers benefit by having early access to the program being tested. The developer benefits from hearing how the product can be strengthened and improved.
Boolean Searching - It is possible to search using Boolean language. By using phrases such as ‘and’, ‘or’, ‘and not’, or ‘or not’, Boolean language can help improve the accuracy of a search.
Bottleneck - A system component, either hardware or software that slows down the rest of the system.

PDF - Portable Document Format is a file format product created by Adobe Acrobat. A PDF file is not platform specific and can be read with Acrobat Reader.

Error Detection - A feature of some modems whereby a faulty transmission is detected and the bad data is retransmitted, preserving the integrity of the transmission.

Fallback - The ability of a modem to lower its transmission speed in the event of line noise or a bad connection.

Font - A unique type face. Common fonts include Helvetica and Times Roman. There are thousands of typefaces available, many of which can be obtained
free of charge from bulletin boards and on-line services. Many fonts are available from type foundries, companies that create and sell them.



by Barry Beck

Copyright © 1992 Barry Beck. All Rights Reserved.

Not to be reprinted without the permission of the author



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