Monthly Archives: August 2008

Definition and Simplification p.2

Are you ever confused with the difference between the internet and your email, your modem and your router, your USB and your tire iron? Does the notion of unplugging everything form your computer and then plugging it all back in the right place seem like a daunting task? Then this, the second of two installments of Vermont Geek Speak is for you.

In an effort to educate and to gain a few extra restful nights of sleep for myself and my clients, I offer a simplified handful of terms to help you describe what’s really going on if there is a problem with your computer. Not a glossary per se, but a helpful list to differentiate between the more commonly confused items or terminology relating to an average user experience.

Part 2 – The Network and Internet.

Network is a grossly overused and misunderstood term. In truth, ‘network’ can refer to any number of things but in this instance generally refers to interconnected computers. Most of you probably do not have a network at home, even though you may have multiple computers. A fair number of you certainly have one at work where information is freely shared between various workstations and a printer in the front office that is magically able to print out documents from any terminal. This is the greatest strength of networking, communication between several computers. It also saves greatly on business costs when a printer is shared and when files are easily backed up on the network. But the network isn’t just for the office anymore. No sir. No.

One of the simplest ways to create a network is with a Wireless Router. A WiFi router connects both wired and wireless computers and is most often used to distribute a single internet connection between computers. A quick side note, ‘WiFi’ is a meaningless trade name, but is as ubiquitous as Kleenex or Q-tips when referring to wireless internet. By setting up shared folders on a computer connected to the router, you can effectively create a simple network at home for backing up files, sharing music, photos, printers, etc;

The most commonly shared resource is of course the internet. The internet is another commonly misused term, as it is derived from ‘INTERnational NETwork’. It is indeed a global network connecting millions of people and their computers to the world wide web. The world wide web is actually a combination of multiple protocols including http, ftp, telnet and others. More simply, it’s where the websites are. Websites are stored on computers called ‘servers’ scattered all over the globe. A server is a computer dedicated to hosting information or running programs for a number of clients. In the case of the WWW, you are the client that they are serving when you check your email, google ‘rhubarb crisp recipe’, or get AAPL stock quotes. To view the internet you use a web browser. A browser is software based, the most common being Internet Explorer by Microsoft, but we prefer Mozilla Firefox by far for it’s speed and it’s security. On a mac? Then you likely use Safari for your browsing.

As we delve further into acronyms and botched phonetics, let’s take a step back into the home user’s setup. There is another piece in between the internet and your computer or router isn’t there? Ah yes, it’s the Modem (MOdulation-DEModulation). This trusty little device that hates lightning is what interprets those squealing noises that you hear when using a dial up connection. Whether you are using cable, DSL or dial up, the result is the same: The modem is to computer as the telephone is to human. (A little SAT prep help there, you can thank me later…)

So, in order of outside to in, there is the internet or world wide web, a slew of computers out there, which we commonly access via phone or cable using a modem. That modem can connect to a router, which distributes the information to multiple computers, for your enjoyment or dismay if the Sox lost last night. You view this information using a browser. If you are not wireless, or don’t have a router, and are using high speed internet, the cable that you use to connect your computer is called an ethernet cable. It uses a RJ-45 connector, closely related to RJ-11 or your household phone jack, only wider. RJ = ‘Registered Jack’ by the way. If you are still using dial up by force or by choice, a standard phone line ties directly to the modem inside your computer.

So that’s the big stuff. We don’t need to go into POP, PPP, PHP, Proxies, Packets or Ports, but you’re welcome to email and ask questions about terms that are relevant to you. One of the biggest confusions comes from where the speed is or isn’t happening. Quite often a customer will say that their computer is slow, and indeed it may be, but many times they are referring to their internet connection. If your computer opens and closes Word documents with ease, but takes five minutes to display the Vermont Geeks website, then your internet connection is slow, not the computer itself. Stay tuned for more interesting topics with less of this ridiculous jargon that surrounds me in my daily life, and don’t forget to shut off the computer and go outside for a while.

Colby Dix can be reached at colby@vermontgeeks.com, and his home network shares well with everyone.

Definition and Simplification

Are you ever confused with the difference between the internet and your email, your modem and your router, your USB and your tire iron? Does the notion of unplugging everything form your computer and then plugging it all back in the right place seem like a daunting task? Then these next installments of Vermont Geek Speak are for you.

In an effort to educate and to gain a few extra restful nights of sleep for myself and my clients, I offer a simplified handful of terms to help you describe what’s really going on if there is a problem with your computer. Not a glossary per se, but a helpful list to differentiate between the more commonly confused items or terminology relating to an average user experience.

Part 1 – The Computer.

Whether you are running Mac or PC, all computers have the same basic working bits. Let’s begin with a rundown of the components and their functions. The word ‘computer’ can refer to either a laptop or a desktop. Let us focus on the desktop model for the most part even though it’s under and not on top of the desk. In this case, the computer is the big box that all of the cables plug into. It houses a myriad of essential parts and handles all of the operations of the system. If you want to be technical, it’s called a ‘system unit’ but nobody says that. Feel free and call it the ‘tower’ instead, that’s understandable and visually representative of the unit. Many refer to the entire system as their computer, lumping in the monitor, keyboard and mouse, which is acceptable, but not nearly as concise as you’ll need to be when a problem arises.

Inside of that tower there is a motherboard, also called a logic board, which is best described as ‘the thing that makes everything in there work together’. If you ever look inside of there, it is the largest piece of green silicon that everything is tied into. Connected to it is a processor that handles the math. Computers are in truth little more than a fancy calculator, all that they ‘see’ is 1’s and 0’s, so it’s mathematical abilities are paramount. The faster the processor, the faster it can crunch the numbers. Also attached is RAM, or ‘Random Access Memory’. RAM is probably the least expensive way to improve you computer. It is where the information that the computer needs at hand most urgently is stored and manipulated. A hard disk drive is in there as well. More often simply called the hard drive, it is the primary storage of the computer, housing all of your information, precious data, and embarrassing pictures of your children in the tub. It used to be called ROM for Read Only Memory, but that confused everyone with RAM, so the terminology has changed. This is the piece that needs to be ‘backed up’. Another essential component is the power supply. This box within the box connects with an IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission, for those of you keeping score at home) cable to your wall outlet and translates that power into a useful wattage for the computer to run efficiently. Quite a few other elements can exist in there, including video cards, sound cards, expansion cards, multiple fans, slots, cables and connections, but the common elements are listed above.

The external components of every system include input and output devices. Input devices refer to the mouse and the keyboard, as well as a variety of trackpads, trackballs, webcams, joysticks, or other haptic element. As defined by the word input, these are our direct link to the computer, allowing us to enter information as we see fit. Output is handled more often than not by a monitor, also called a screen. Monitors are usually either CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) or LCD (Liquid Crystal Display). The flat ones are the LCD’s and the deep ones are CRT’s. While CRT’s have excellent contrast and great imaging, the slimmer technology of the LCD is fast overtaking them in modern computing. The desk real estate alone made available by a svelte monitor can be of great benefit, and the ergonomic strain of the light emitted is much less as well. For those of us who spend far too much time looking at a screen, it is of a great advantage to make the switch.

With that, we’ve covered the essentials of your system, and in the next installment, we’ll define the components of the network that work to enable you to have internet access and to share and store files with multiple computers.