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Random Thoughts: Let's boot the thing and bite the mouse

January 25, 2013

In traveling around, we have all found that certain professions and industries have a language of their own, a language that, at times, hopes to exclude us from knowing their inner workings.

This is true in the world of computers.

The only thing here is that most of us who have computers should know the language and why we use it.

Now, if you are really into computer usage, you might want to stop reading at this point because you know it all.

Even before there was a computer in our house, it seemed prudent to take a class that would shed a bit of light on this mysterious world of trading information and getting it back.

The class was held in the computer lab of what was part of the junior high school complex.

Now it is the community center.

It was a free class, and the instructor was a school principal.

Let me tell you, the first words out of this mouth came as a shock.

"Class, boot your computer," he said.

Now, what kind of way was that to treat an expensive machine?

Imagine kicking something that didn't even belong to you.

Could you get in trouble for that?

And how in the world could one get a foot up high enough on the table to kick the computer?

The term "boot" in computer language comes from the world "bootstrap," and everyone knows that with a bootstrap, you can pull on your boots without help from anyone.

Needless to say, to "boot" the computer didn't mean what it sounded like.

It simply meant to turn the thing on.

Why didn't he just say that?

By the way, it is called a "cold boot" when you start out and a "warm boot" when you restart the system without turning off the computer. Confused yet?

As it turned out, there were a few more computer words that needed a definition.

What was it about "bit," or was it a "byte"?

Are we eating here?

Then a "mouse" came into play.

Who would want to play with a mouse?

Well, since we're having a bit of a byte, we might have the mouse join the meal.

It seems when we're talking computers, we have both a bit and a byte.

What a way to learn a language.

A byte holds the equivalent of a single character, which means a single letter, or number of space is a byte.

A bit — a binary digit — is the smallest unit of information in a computer.

Computer manufacturers can define any number of bits to make up a byte. Don't worry about it. Just do your thing.

The worry might come when you start playing with the mouse.

That's the hand-held device that moves a cursor on the computer screen.

Think about it. Both a mouse and a computer mouse are small with a tail.

Of course, if you have a wireless mouse, the tail isn't there.

The arrow on the screen, which is called the cursor, goes wherever the mouse tells it to go.

Still following?

The mouse idea came along in the later 1960s but was not popularized until the mid-1980s by Apple.

The other thing that isn't very funny about a computer is that it has bugs.

We all know that bugs indicate a problem, and it is so with computers.

It was at Harvard University in the early 1940s that computer pioneer Grace Murray Hopper discovered a dead moth that caused a computer glitch on a program she was working on.

When asked what she was doing with a pair of tweezers, she replied, "I'm debugging the machine."

That moth is now encased in a log notebook at the Virginia Naval Museum.

Not only can we have a bug in our computer, but we also can have a virus. Now, who's sick?

When one has a virus, it means there is an infection in the body. So it is with a computer.

A computer program searches other programs and makes them sick by reproducing itself in the new programs.

It may not alert you to its presence for a time, but then the virus starts to do things that it should not do, such as insert messages or even destroy all of the user's files.

And before you ask, yes, there are fake viruses and those we ignore.

Which is which? Well, if you can tell the difference between a cold and the flu, you probably can tell the difference between a real virus and a fake one. Not too easy, is it?

Entire industries have sprung up with the evolution of computers in our society.

There are the folks who repair them, those who develop the software programs to use on the computers, the programmers who create the software and, of course, someone to sell them to us.

Oh, let's not forget about the computer network, which, by the way, is not owned by anyone, has no CEO and is not a commercial service. Teaser here: What is this computer network called?

Might as well stop with the computer talk and give you the answer to last month's teaser on what is North America's only marsupial: the opossum.

Did you know any of this? Well, now you do.

Roberta Dinsmore can be reached at randomrmd@yahoo.com.

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