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The Wonderful World of Computing...

Many people choose not to learn about computers because computers are "too complicated". I'm here to let you in on a little secret; your computer should be making your life easier. No one wants to spend hours on their personal computer (PC) trying to type a resume or a term paper that should only take a few minutes.

I would like to help people realize how easy most computer tasks are and lead them into the discovery of the computer's many wonders. Throughout this site you will find resources that, I hope, will help you in your personal computing adventure. If you do not find help on a specific issue on any of the pages herein, visit the "Contact Us" page and send me your question with the "Send E-mail to Branden" link.

The computer has changed our way of life. What would happen to our country, or the world for that matter, if we no longer had computers? It is perplexing to fathom what society was like prior to the invention of the computer. Today, however, the repetitive, time-consuming chores of business and personal life can be accomplished, with ease through the use of computers. From calculating the simplist numerical operation to plotting the precise course our space shuttle will take en rout to the moon, the computer can perform endless functions. Computers have become a valuable resource in the way we educate our children, make a living, and protect our country. Through the years, we as a majority have come to gain an appreciation for machines and computers alike. There are people who have not come to acknowledge the outstanding benefits the computer offers; misconception is fostered by the lack of knowledge. Better understanding and high regard, come from knowing where the computer came from and how it started.

The history of the computer is of special significance to us because many of its most important events have taken place in our lifetime. The idea to create a device to help with keeping track of information and manipulating that information started as early as 5000 B.C., with the construction of the Abacus. Blaise Pascal invented and built the first mechanical "Computer", the Pascaline, in 1642. Leonardo da Vinci sketched ideas for a mechanical adding machine 150 years before the Pascaline was built. Jacquard’s Loom, created in 1801 by Frenchman Joseph-Marie Jacquard, was considered the first significant use of binary automation. In 1842, Charles Babbage received one of the first government grants to build the difference engine. The difference engine was a general purpose "computer" that could add, subtract, multiply, and divide in automatic sequence at a rate of 60 additions per second. Lady Ada Augusta Lovelace, a mentor of Babbage, translated is works, adding her own extensive footnotes. She suggested that punched cards could be used to instruct Babbage’s engine to repeat operations. This has led some people to call her the first programmer. Ada, the Programming language adopted by the Department of Defense, is named for Lady Ada Lovelace. Herman Hollerith devised a punched-card tabulation machine for the 1890 census. Sponsored by IBM, the first electromechanical computer, the Mark 1, was completed by Harvard University professor Howard Aiken in 1944. John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert developed a machine that would compute trajectory tables for the U.S. Army at the University of Pennsylvania. This first fully operational electronic computer was completed in 1946 and was named the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer). The computer industry has made countless advances to bring us to the present day computer, such as the integrated circuit and the tremendous increases in memory and speed. For example, the ENIAC occupied 15,000 square feet of floor space and weighed 30 tons. Presently, desktop computers, on average, take up the same amount of space as a television set.

In order to understand how to speak English, we must first learn the alphabet. In the same manner, we must know what a computer is in order to better appreciate what it can do for us. According to The New Encyclopedia Britannica, a computer is "any of various automatic electronic devices that solves problems by processing data according to a prescribed sequence of instructions. Such devices are of three general types: analog, digital, and hybrid. They differ from one another in terms of operating principle, equipment design, and application" (507). A computer must have four properties to be classified as a computer. It must have the capability to store data, input data, and output data. In the English language, people communicate by using a 26-character alphabet as the foundation. Computers, however, use only two characters. This "alphabet" is called the binary number system; it consists of zeroes and ones, where the zeros represent an off state and the ones represent an on state. The computer uses the binary number system the same way people use the English alphabet, in that, the characters are placed in a particular order to represent different meanings. Every time a key is pressed on the keyboard (input), the computer converts that into the binary representation of that alphabet letter and translates that to an electrical signal. This signal is then passed through the computer as the computer’s machine language. When the computer has completed the processing of that number, it is then converted back to the English alphabet letter and displayed on the monitor screen (output). Every task the computer accomplishes is much more involved, but will follow this same process. This example has been simplified to show functionality.

There are several types of computers including supercomputers, mainframes, minicomputers, workstations, and personal computers. Each type has a specific use. Supercomputer are used to calculate distanced from other planets to the earth and to compute millions of operations each second. Mainframes are mainly utilized in companies to store all the personnel records and maintain other stations. Workstations are high-level personal computers used for advanced, more specific tasks such as constructing blueprints for a building or storing large databases. The personal computer (PC), however, is the most versatile and widely used. "In the home they are the biggest thing since the TV and have had a faster penetration rate than the telephone. They have even been described as the basic building blocks of a new kind of society" (Forester 133).

"It’s not often that the engine of an economic and social revolution can be held inside the human fist. Yet that is what has happened in the evolution of the computer" (Skrycki 42). The computer is now integrated into almost every aspect of life. Hospitals use them to reference symptoms of illnesses and possible medications to help reduce, or cure the symptoms. Architects use them to assemble blueprints of buildings. The most dramatic impact of computers in our society is in the workplace. "Not too long ago, people who pursued careers in almost any facet of business, education, or government were content to leave computers to the computer professionals. Today these people are knowledge workers. In less than a generation, information technology competency (IT competency) has emerged in virtually any career from a nice-to-have skill to a job-critical skill" (Long and Long 4). Presently, computers are designing products, operating robots that paint cars, and control the flow of materials on production lines. The most significant impact has to be the computer’s acceleration of growth in the service industry. The banks, insurers, utilities, and others that make up half of the U.S. economy are prime examples because service firms specialize in the collection, analysis, and dissemination of information. Does this sound familiar? These tasks are uniquely suited to the computer’s capabilities. Computers can be found in almost any aspect of life.

One of the most popular features of the personal computer is its ability to go online. Every day millions of people are on their personal computers "surfing the Internet" for information. The Internet, otherwise known as the World Wide Web, is a new door in our lives that was simply not there a few years ago. The Internet is a vast network of computers linked to each other for the purpose of sharing information. It is actually comprised of thousands of independent networks at academic institutions, military installations, government agencies, commercial enterprises, and other organizations. The Net, the Internet’s nickname, links a million networks with even more Internet host servers computers in every country in the world. "The Internet has grown to a user base of between 60 - 100 million people within the past 4 years. Analysts anticipate the number of users will reach 200 million within the next 3 years. Computers and computer-to-computer networking are now mission-critical to almost every kind of business and administrative activity" (Taylor 251).

What can we expect in the future of computers? New research and developments are ever becoming. The videophone is very popular and is predicted to replace the telephone, as we know it. Virtual universities provide undergraduate and graduate degrees through online courses. The In-Dash Windows-Based Computer, the Clarion AutoPC, combines communication, navigation, information, and entertainment within a vehicle. A voice-activated navigator directs the driver to their destination with both visual and audio prompts, so the driver’s eyes never have to leave the road. Many facilities around the world accept credit cards to pay for just about anything. This is a step toward a cashless society. Advances are being made to eliminate tangible money. If this happens, all transactions will be paid for with electronic money (e-money). These are only a few examples of what is in the making and can be expected in the future. The possibilities for the uses of computers are pretty much limitless, and only time will tell what discoveries will become.

Contrasting the timeline of aviation history to that of computing history, computing is about where the Wright brothers were after their first test flight. Just as it was difficult for the Wright brothers to imagine passenger planes that could cross the Atlantic Ocean in three hours, or spaceships landing on the moon, it is just as difficult for us to imagine the future of information technology. We are all members of a rapidly maturing information society. The computer is our bridge to the amazing realm of adventure and discovery.

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