Duke’s Thoughts

January, 2012

Computers Byte

Ever freak out when your computer comes up with some weird error? Ever wonder what causes that? Let me clue you in on something; even the people that make thousands of dollars making the software don’t know. Ever wonder what those cryptic details of the errors mean? So do they. I started using computers back when you still had to type in the commands to run the software programs. Then along came Windows and made computers more user friendly allowing for a graphical method to run programs.

But along with an easier interface comes a new set of head aches and a whole new set of profanities. Back in the day, if you made a mistake you could look at what you typed and make the corrections, but you really needed to know what you were doing. Now one can point an click your way to do whatever it is that needed to be done; provided the confounded computer does what is expected to do, just work. Proving the fact that even though computers are easier to use compared to back in the day, it doesn’t make them any easier to understand.

Although, there are things that don’t change as much as we change our clothes, such as the measurement of data. When a computer tech starts throwing around words like gigabytes and such when talking to a not technical person they inadvertently and quite unintentionally make them feel stupid. That feeling is even more compounded by the ever changing technology and while these nuances are interesting to computer geeks like my self it is far from interesting for an average user with little to know knowledge of the inner workings of their computer. They just want the stupid machine to behave the way they expect it to behave and stop making their lives miserable. My lighthearted advice to those people experiencing a temperamental computer is to hit it with a hammer. That usually brings a chuckle and lightens the mood a bit.

While on a serious note hitting the computer with a hammer won’t actually fix the problem it and is definitely not recommended, it should in theory release endorphins and make one feel better. That got me to thinking recently that your average computer tech is not equipped to deal with computers on a psychological basis. They are just insensitive to the computer’s needs and the user’s feeling of inadequacy when the tech starts throwing around their geek speak. There are just somethings that just don’t interest a person, and as crazy as the idea of Computer Psychology sounds, it is no more crazy than identifying with a computer as a living thing. We often attribute human qualities to our computers much like in the way we do with our beloved pets. My ex-wife, when we were married often stated that my computer hated her, because it would always misbehave when ever she used it and the moment I got back on it was working as expected.

I love my computer just like I love my six cats and three dogs; the only difference between it and my pets is that my computer doesn’t sleep with me in bed like the cats and dogs do. And when my computer starts to act up like it was “sick” I begin to empathize with it and want it to get better. Usually though, it doesn’t cost me any money to fix my computer. Can’t say that about my pets though, sometimes they just have to go to the Vet. My poor cat Itty, a Flame Point Siamese male had an abscess on his left side so I took him to the Vet, and he started to get better until another abscess on the right side appeared three times as big as the previous. Itty cost me almost 400 dollars but I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again if I had to. I feel the same way about my computer and it is incomprehensible to me to think that I am the only one that feels this attachment to their computer.

If the powers that be accept Pet Psychologists and Para Psychologists, then why not Computer Psychologists? Imagine your computer for some stupid reason won’t work and instead of taking it to the computer repair shop you take it to a computer psychologist that doesn’t make you feel stupid when you ask a question. Imagine getting a straight forward answer that you can understand.

For example: What is a hard disk and what is the difference be tween a megabyte and a gigabyte?

A run of the mill techie might answer like this: Well a hard disk is a hardware device that stores all of you computer programs. A megabyte and a gigabyte are units of measurement for data, mega is a prefix meaning million and giga is a prefix meaning billion so a gigabyte literally means 1 billion bytes.

For a tech savvy person that explanation would be quite sufficient, but the average user is probably not going to be that savvy. Now imaging a computer psychologist answering the question: Well those are good questions. Think of a hard disk as a big notebook that is used to hold information that you need. Now imagine you need a way to express how much the notebook will hold. You can’t really express that in number of words or characters because every word contains so many characters and there are some characters that are not printable. Take for instance, the space between words, in a computer the space between words is also a character. A paragraph is also a character and is not printable just like the character. These are all little bits of information that must be measured in some meaningful way, in fact a bit is the first and smallest unit of measurement for data. And like other units of measure the more you have the more cumbersome it gets to quantify something. So the next unit up from a bit is a byte, spell b-y-t-e so as to be able to distinguish from a b-i-t-e like you might get from an insect.

Like other larger units they are comprised of so many of the smaller units, in this case one byte is equal to eight bits. Now it just so happens that a single character is equal to one byte so now we have a meaningful unit of measurement to quantify information. But as with the bit when you get enough bytes it starts to be come cumbersome so it makes sense to have larger and larger units of measurement and express the information in these larger units. But instead of making new words to express these units it is easier to use prefixes so we start using terms like kilobyte, megabyte, gigabyte and so on. Literally they mean thousand, million, billion.

Crazy isn’t it? Perhaps, but no more so than screaming, yelling and cursing you computer knowing full well that it works about as well as doing the same to your pets. You perhaps might not be as attached to your computer as I am to mine. But let me tell you something, my computer really did hate my ex-wife.

Until next time,

Infinite possibilities.