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Most Significant PC Bits

Updated on August 14, 2011

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In geek lingo, the most significant bit would be the leftmost bit of the number. In the decimal system, that would be the most significant digit and would still be the left most. An example would be the digit ‘5’ in the number ‘54,321’. The most significant digit holds the largest value, in this case 10,000 thus earning it the title ‘most significant digit’. I’m borrowing the hub title from the idea of the ‘most significant bit.’

But this article does not in any way have to do with anything geeky as far as computers are concerned. What it’s about are bits and pieces of information or learning that I have noted have been important in understanding the basics of computers.

Apples and Oranges

I started working on computer-related activities back when we had to submit programs that were then converted into job cards for processing on main frame.

Shortly after, Apple came up with its microcomputer and third party vendors started selling Apple-like microcomputers that many of us called ‘Oranges’. This was the time when we became exposed to a more real-time response to our interaction with the computer (versus with the main frame when the computer center had you waiting for when the next available batch processing would come out).

To cut the long story short, eventually the PC was designed. And that has wound up to be the working choice for most of us for whatever personal considerations.

What I Learned

Having put forward what this hub is not about and set aside history, let’s take a look at the list of the things I learned and seem not to forget because of their being recurring themes:

1. CPU, RAM, ROM et al

2. Input/Output and Relativity

3. Commonly Used Commands

4. Formatting and Superficials

5. Keyboard Shortcuts

CPU, RAM, ROM et al

Mankind has evolved a comprehensive dictionary of computer terms, but here are the most commonly encountered:

1. CPU stands for central processing unit, which is the ‘brain’ of your computer. The speed of your computer is measured in Hz (Hertz) and more common PCs now have speeds in the range of GHz (Gigahertz). (By the way the acronym ‘PC’ stands for personal computer which is in contrast to the mainframe computer still widely used at the time when the PC was introduced. The mainframe was used to perform large-scale processes for a large group of people or businesses.)

2. RAM, random access memory, which is like the temporary storage or scratch pad of your computer. Make sure to save from RAM to your drive before leaving your PC, to ensure that you don’t lose your document or file (although some applications now have the ability to retrieve your unsaved file).

3. ROM, read-only-memory, is practically a permanent-storage type memory whose content the CPU loads as it boots up. Its contents are not something that changes based on your interaction with your user applications such as word processors, spreadsheets and databases.

4. Servers are large computers configured for specific purposes. These include email servers, database servers, applications servers, etc. They have been named ‘servers’ because several users connect to them and are provided services by them.

5. Local and network. In the early days everything was practically local. Recently, a lot of us work with local as well as networked devices. Local devices are connected directly to your PC, e.g. with a USB cable. On the other hand you connect to networked devices through your Ethernet cable, connected to the network. Now then, users can share networked drives, networked printers, etc. We can view the same file connecting from different PCs or rooms in the office.

6. Internet, email and browsers.

As mentioned in the topic for “Input/Output …” everything is relative. Your company network can be considered local to you, in relation to the World Wide Web or internet that connects networks all around the world. As long as you are connected to the internet, you can send email and browse pages of information found in different servers around the world.

The email has replaced snail mail as one of our main means of documented communications. As long as we have an email account and internet connection, we can send our email in about a minute to most locations around the world.

The browser is an application that is analogous to the GUI, in terms of it being your window to the pages available in the World Wide Web. It lets you view pages and navigate from one page to another.

Input/Output and Relativity

Input and output are computer terms I believe have been coined primarily to represent the direction of communication to and from the computer, respectively.

It may have been easier to distinguish in the past what were your input versus what were your output devices. Lately, however, as technology has made itself more and more user-friendly, a lot of users have not had the need to come to terms that certain devices are actually output devices to their PC.

Input. Strictly speaking, input devices are devices that send information to your CPU. But in terms of what we can see, feel and touch, we can consider anything as an input device if we use it to send information to our PC or our laptop. Thus, I would consider the keyboard and the mouse as input devices.

Output. In like manner, the printer would be an output device---devices used by the computer to send information back to you. The monitor and the printer would be clear examples.

Input/Output. The flash drive and writable CD ROM drive would be input and output devices. In the strictest sense, the hard drive is also an input and output device, because the CPU send out information from itself to the drive and read from it, to load into RAM.

And Relativity. As we had seen, there is some quality of relativity here while we were trying to contrast input, output and input/output devices. It is all relative to where the perspective was coming from. If we consider the perspective of the CPU then everything sending information to the CPU would be input; taking from the CPU would be output, and doing a combination would be input/output.

You may then imagine your CPU in relation to a web page on the World Wide Web. While you are connected to that web page, you type in your password to log in; the web page takes the information from your CPU and acts as a receiver of information (output). Next, the web page connects you to your account; the web page sends your account information to your CPU (input).

Or you may consider it the other way around, to further illustrate relativity. Take the web page as the ‘CPU’ and your PC as the input (keyboard)/output (monitor) device.

Commonly Used Commands

It would be easier to try to learn a new application if you knew where to go directly. Here are the list of the most common tasks performed and the commonly used command words (e.g. Save, Print, etc.) and where to find them:

· Save and Print are output commands, so would be usually be found under the File menu.

· Open (or Load or Retrieve) a document would be an input command, usually found under the File menu.

· Import/Export (some applications have these under the File menu)

· Changing the appearance of your document. E.g. Fonts and colors would usually be available as one-click buttons on the Home tab.

Formatting and Superficials

I used to think that formatting was superficial, e.g. using bold print or italics instead of regular font. I guess in the sense that it used to mean to me, it still is superficial since bold or regular, the word will still impart the same information. But think again, the bold word conveys emphasis. Thus, the command to apply bold print on a selection has gained a rightful place in significance---it has become a one-click button, usually labeled with a bold print upper case letter ‘B’.

Aside from how text appeared in documents, another experience with formatting comes to mind. The old style microcomputer monitor was text-based, usually green on black. It slowed the computer down significantly when one loaded the operating system version that has a graphical user interface (GUI). So a lot of us then did not want to use the Windows GUI version.

Now who could imagine that the superficial could somehow evolve to be essential? It’s become essential to every developer to design around the GUI, just to make sure their application (app) is able to interact with demanding modern day users effectively.

Keyboard Shortcuts

The plus (‘+’) sign is used to signify that you need to hold the first key first, keep it down until you press the next

· Ctrl+C The ‘C’ stands for copy and doing Ctrl+C on a selection is to copy the selection

· Ctrl+V To insert the copied selection. The choice of the letter ‘V’ is due to the editor’s symbol used to indicate insert of edits on draft manuscripts, that looks like an inverted caret (‘^’).

· Ctrl+Z To undo the previous step.

· Ctrl+S To save the document.

· F1 The function key F1. Not to forget a very important key. It allows you to look up help regarding procedures you don’t usually perform. The long way of obtaining help information would be through the Help menu.

There are variations in the behavior of the keystroke combinations depending on what application is in use. There are also some applications that allow you to define your own keyboard shortcuts.

Most Significant PC Bits

For those of you who are true-blue geeks, I’m sure you would have sensed something strange with the hub tilte, “Most Significant (PC) Bits”. You may have responded with, “No such thing as most-significant-bits because there is only one significant bit, which is always the leftmost bit.” Very true.

The title was meant to refer to bits and pieces of information I have learned in my experience as a ‘PC’ user, which stuck with me through the years. Thus, considered ‘most significant.’

The objective was to write a hub that is as short as possible with the most number of what I consider as significant information. I’m sure every PC user will have his/her priority of significant information. But somehow, choosing from the topics above, on the top of my list would be “Input/Output and Relativity”. Even in real life, everything is relative to what point of view is taken to evaluate the situation or the process of communication.

It boils down to communication between the computer system and me. Which is not very far from my participation in daily life, communicating with people. I need to touch base only with the computer procedures (equivalent to my input or communication to the computer) involved in tasks that are essential to my daily life. KIS or short for keeping it simple: I’ll be fine without the rest.

Remember, you can always hit F1.


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