Tech Talk #34 – September 17, 2016

Computers are tools. We don’t need to know very much about our computer to check our email, play a quick game of Solitaire, or order ourselves a little something.


As part of my job fixing things that can go wrong with computers, I need to explain technical things about computers and how they work in terms I hope people can understand. Here are two of the most common.


Hard drive space vs. RAM

People worry about filling up their hard drive with pictures or music, or they worry that the programs on their computer are making their computer slow.


People know that the amount of random access memory (RAM) their computer has is important, but not why it’s important.


Every time you open a program or access data, it loads from your hard drive into your RAM. Running programs and accessing data from RAM is faster than running from your hard drive.


Think of the hard drive in your computer as the garage and the RAM in your computer as the dining room table. All of the work your computer does happens at the dining room table. Your programs run at the dining room table and may occasionally go out to the garage to get something they need. No matter how full the garage gets, the dining room table doesn’t get any smaller.


True, if your hard drive fills up to more than 90% of its capacity, it will affect your computer’s performance. But modern computers have hard drives with capacities of 500 gigabytes or 1 terabyte or more. That’s a lot music, videos, and photos.


Browsers and the internet

Browse is an old word. As a noun, it refers to vegetation that animals eat. As a verb it means, more or less, to eat something by nibbling on it. Think deer or cattle.


One of the first non-agricultural uses of the word browse appears in the context of shopping. In a store you might be shopping around and not necessarily buying anything, you’re ‘just browsing’.


The internet is a big place and it’s one of the biggest stores ever. To help people get around on the internet, we have internet browsers or web browsers or just browsers for short.


If you think of the internet as Albertsons, you can get to Albertsons by taking the bus, driving your car, riding a bike, or walking. Web browsers are just the different ways you can get to Albertsons. When you open a browser window, you’re opening the internet.


The first web browser most people think of is Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE). Microsoft included IE in every version of Windows since Windows 3.1 in 1992.


Other popular browsers are Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, and Opera. All of these web browsers take you the internet. Where you go once they open on your computer is up to you.


As the internet continues to evolve and different techniques are used to make web pages, some web browsers don’t work well anymore. Some websites only work with certain browsers.


I recommend having more than one web browser on your computer in case you run across a website that won’t work properly with your current browser or in case your current browser develops problems and stops working. Think of it as a spare tire.



It would appear that we have reached the limits of what it is possible to achieve with computer technology, although one should be careful with such statements, as they tend to sound pretty silly in 5 years.

John Von Neumann – was a Hungarian-American pure and applied mathematician, physicist, inventor, computer scientist, and polymath. He made major contributions to a number of fields, including mathematics (foundations of mathematics, functional analysis, ergodic theory, geometry, topology, and numerical analysis), physics (quantum mechanics, hydrodynamics and quantum statistical mechanics), economics (game theory), computing (Von Neumann architecture, linear programming, self-replicating machines, stochastic computing), and statistics.

Oh, and he also worked on the Manhattan Project. He died in 1953 at age 57 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.


Do you have a computer or technology question? Greg Cunningham has been providing Tehachapi with on-site PC and network services since 2007. Email Greg at                                                                                          

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