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Learn All About Computers

By Jon, published on 05/03/2018 Blog > Academia > Information Technology > A Beginner’s Guide to Computers

“When you’re dealing with computers, you should be like ducks… Appear calm on the surface and pedal like crazy underneath.”
-Richard Lallement

Whether you want an introduction to computers, become a software developer or take programming courses – there are many reasons you might want to known more about computers and their history. Either way, computer engineering wasn’t invented in a day and continues to require a lot of work.

It’s fairly easy to naviguate the Web, but have you ever asked yourself how it is even possible?
From the first electronic circuits, the building of the first computer, must-have computer gadgets, well-known coders and how to sign up to Facebook, find out everything you need to know about computers.

What Are The Parts of a Computer?

A computer’s function is to compute – to calculate. It’s that simple! The user instructs it to do complex calculations and interact with it using interfaces.

The Components of a Computer System

A home computer generally has:

  • A screen
  • A keyboard
  • A mouse
  • A central processing unit in a computer tower or integrated into the screen

The first three elements are all part of the user-computer interface:

  • The screen displays the data entered and selected using the keyboard and mouse, sometimes symbolically (icons, windows…)
  • The keyboard lets you write text and communicate with the computer (letters of the alphabet, numbers, function keys…)
  • The mouse moves the cursor on the screen, hovers over icons and other elements and selects them with a click. On laptops, it is often replaces by a trackpad or touchpad.

The inner workings of a computer

The central unit, though, includes all of the electronics needed for the computer to run correctly:

  • The CPU, the computer’s brain, reads, processes and writes the data. It does all the calculations allowing the user to interact with the computer and display data on the screen
  • The internal hard drive is the computer’s memory. It stocks data in binary form.
  • The motherboard is the the computer’s cental nervous system. It groups together and processes the data exchanged within the computer. It manages all the other computer components.
  • The power unit, heart and lungs of the computer, transforms the current and provides the energy necessary to the motherboard.

The motherboard manages all the computer processes. The motherboard is the hub through which all data must flow. Photo on VisualHunt

The History of Computing

Computer science as we know it today is linked to several great discoveries over the course of history. Let’s take a look at the history of computing

The history of computing

  • 9th century: Abu Jaffar al-Khwarizma is the founder of algorithms, an important aspect of computer engineering
  • 1632: William Oughtred invents the slide rule
  • 1645: Blaise Pascal invents the mechanical calculator
  • 1703: Leibniz invents binary arithmatic
  • 1801: Jacquard invents the first programmable mechanical loom
  • 1845: Ada Lovelace invents the first computer program for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine

Computer Pioneers

The IBM 650 is the first mass-produced computer. The IBM 650, the world’s first mass-produced computer, was finished in 1955. Photo credit: Woopi on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-SA

  • 1914: first electromechanical analytic machine by Leonardo Torres Quevedo
  • 1928: MinMax algorithm by von Neumann
  • 1936: Turing machine
  • 1939: beginning of construction on the Mark I
  • 1942: Enigma machine is decrypted by Alan Turing
  • 1954: creation of Fortran, first high-level programming language implemented in a computer
  • 1955: unveiling of the IBM 650
  • 1970: Xerox PARC is created

Micro-Computers

  • 1971: first microprocessor Intel 4004 by Marcian Hoff
  • 1972: invention of the programming language C
  • 1975: Microsoft is founded
  • 1976: Apple is created
  • 1982: the word “Internet” is defined
  • 1984: Apple brings out the Macintosh
  • 1988: IBM’s AS-400 Personal Computer is put on the market

Apple's first personal computer, the Macintosh The Macintosh, the first mass-produced computer with graphic interface, mouse and integrated monitor. Photo credit: mak1e on Visualhunt.com / CC BY

The Era of the World Wide Web

  • 1989: 100 000 computers are connected to the Internet
  • 1992: 1 000 000 computers are connected to the Internet
  • 1995: Windows 95 comes out
  • 1998: The iMac comes out
  • 2001: Windows XP comes out; Wikipedia is founded
  • 2004: Mozilla Firefox comes out

The shared-data era

  • 2008: First appearance of the term MOOC (Massive Open Online Course)
  • 2009: Archos launches the first touch-sensitive tablet
  • 2010: first cloud-based data storage developed
  • 2011: smartphone sales overtake computer sales
  • 2014: more than a billion websites
  • 2016: Google Chrome surpasses Internet Explorer in market shares

Useful Computer Hardware

WEbcam and headset are practical accessories. A webcam and headset are essential for video-conferences – or certain kinds of gaming. Photo on VisualHunt

Using a home computer doesn’t limit you to word processing or PowerPoint presentations. Other than the elements essential to a computer’s function (central unit, screen, keyboard, mouse), there are a bunch of useful computing accessories for surfing the Internet, printing or digitalising:

  • A printer: for a minimum of about £30 , you can have a home printer that will let you print out all sorts of documents (emails, presentations, pictures, cards…) Inkjet printers are the most common in private households because of their small price, but there are also colour laser printers or multifunctional units that let you print, scan, photocopy and send faxes.
  • A scanner: even though many printers have an integrated flatbed scanner (starting at around £40), you can get a separate one as well (also from around £40).
  • A webcam: often integrated into the computer screen, if you need to buy a separate one, they generally don’t cost much (the cheapest models cost about £10). A webcam allows you to retransmit images and sounds in real time from anywhere in the world and speak with one or several people at a time. Its a good way to stay in contact with family and friends a world away.
  • A headset: for a better immersion in your gaming universe or simply to better hear and be heard during a video-conference; count at least £40 for a quality headset
  • A USB key: shock-resistant, lightweight and compact, it allows you to stock files and transport them anywhere from £3 for tiny (and rather obsolete) 2GB memory sticks to over £700 for encrypted keys capable of storing over 100 GB.
  • External hard drive: to augment your computer’s memory or backup your data, you should count somewhere between £20 and £70 depending on its data storage capacity.

The World’s Most Famous Programmers

Before learning to program and throwing yourself heart and soul into IT, why not look at others who have shaped the history of computers. Programming such as we know it today could not exist without some exceptional people. Here are some of the most famous programmers.

  • Grace Hopper: nicknamed Amazing Grace, she invented the first UNIVAC compiler in 1950. This compiler allowed computer engineers worldwide to understand the computer languages of the time.
  • Mark Zuckerberg: founder and president of Facebook since 2004, he’s the fifth most wealthy man on the planet. Though he seems to have lost his coding edge, he was the one who wrote the first lines of code for the famous (and infamous) social media site
  • Margaret Hamilton: she corrected the programming for the Apollo 11 mission – by hand. Without her minutia and attention to detail, men would never have walked on the moon in 1969
  • Louis Pouzin: French computer engineer, he developed a datagram that later allowed for the creation of the Internet. He is now helping to re-invent it!
  • Larry Page: an American computer engineer, he designed the Google search engine. His father was one of the founders of eGroups, Yahoo’s forerunner.

This list is, of course, far from exhaustive, but it gives you a small idea of what programming can entail: an opening for the future and a thirst for change.

Step-by-Step Instructions for Creating a Facebook Account

Facebook saw the light of day in 2004 through the agencies of Mark Zuckerberg. The social network is accessible to all since September 2006. It is the third most visited website behind Google and YouTube and has passed the 2 billion user mark since July 2017.

Joining Facebook is free. Facebook can help you stay in touch with friends and family and connect with new people. Photo on VisualHunt.com

The name Facebook comes from start-of-year handouts with pictures and names of staff and students handed out at American universities. This social network lets you post pictures, texts, videos… Its goal is to connect its users so they exchange information.

Creating a Facebook account is free and easy. You just need to follow these steps after landing on the www.facebook.com page:

  • Fill in a sign-in form with you first and last name, e-mail address, password and date of birth
  • Confirm the account by clicking on a link sent to your e-mail
  • Find friends already on Facebook
  • Add a profile picture and a header picture if you want
  • Modify your profile by entering personal information: job, schooling, place of birth, family…
  • Post content from your profile or your newsfeed.

As you can see, you don’t need to be a programmer to create a social media account! Now it’s up to you to choose what you want to post.

In summary:

  • The central unit is the most important element to the computer’s functioning. The screen, keyboard and mouse simply serves as an interface
  • Computers would be nothing without maths and particularly algorithms. Many men and women contributed to the construction of computers as we know them today.
  • It might be useful to get a combination printer-scanner
  • Look to programmers and computer engineers for inspiration: Grace Hopper, Larry Page or Bill Gates
  • And finally, if you still don’t have a Facebook account, don’t panic: they are easy to create by following simple step-by-step instructions.

 

 

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