Computers 101…01

Computers for Beginners

Welcome to thinq app’s tutorial series of trainings and tutorials that are going to help you Get Better at Tech! 

          Computers. That word alone could either initiate a reaction of fear, anxiety and confusion or it could bring about excitement, comfort and possibility. If you fall into the former camp, we want to help you Get Better at Tech so you will be comfortable using your computer and excited about all the possibilities it can bring you, your job and your life.

          Computers have taken over our lives both work and personal. That shouldn’t be as scary of a thought as most new users feel. By thinking through logically about how computers are designed, how they work and the simple building blocks they are comprised of we can help you relieve some of the anxiety you may have when it comes to working with computers. No, we’re not going to be building computers, but we are going to explore thinking logically and computationally in order to better relate to how our computers think, how it works and how that will equip you to use computers more efficiently.

 

Computers 101..01

          Writing this in 2020, I can assume that we have all heard it a thousand time that computers a built with ones and zeros. But does anyone actually know what that means?

          These ones and zeros are the equivalent of sunlight, water and air that are needed to build a wooden stool. We don’t often think that a stool is a by-product of sunlight, water and air, instead we think of them as being built from trees. But how are trees built? By breaking it down to a more granule level we can really start to understand and appreciate the complexity that computers have developed in to.

          The ones and zeros are the building blocks of computers, just like Lego bricks are the building blocks of our favourite child hood toys. 

 

Let's Start

          Years and years ago the ones and zeros were a really big deal. Think of a light switch, it is either on or its off. When the light is on this is represented by a 1 and when the light is off it is represented by a zero. Pretty simple so far and oh, so cool that people must have been lining up to get their hands on these first computing devices that could turn on light bulbs!

          How many light bulbs do you need before you really get something interesting to play with? Three lights? Twenty? Two thousand? Well, today’s modern computers have about 1.75 billion transistors (or light bulbs). That’s one big Christmas light display. 

          So how does having 1.75 billion light bulbs do anything interesting? Well, these lights aren’t spread out evenly in straight line like your household Christmas lights, no, they are stacked, linked and channeled in millions of different ways, and each combination of lights can do something different.

Linear
More Complex

     Scientists and researches from all over the world have worked for years on their “light bulb models” to build more complex logical mechanisms. One of the first things they built was to represent the alphabet with ones and zeros. So, how do you represent the English alphabet using ones and zeros?

     We will start with 5 light bulbs. Keep in mind that light bulbs can be either on (1) or off (0), so each of the light bulbs has two states. We could then assign the letter “A” to one light, B to another light and so forth. When we run out of light bulbs we turn some lights off and try to create at least 26 different combinations of lights on and off using the 5 light bulbs. This could look something like this:

Light Bulb Alphabet (the equality sign show a representation of)

The reason we are turning lights on in what may seem like a sporadic order is in fact binary counting. What we are doing here is trying to represent the 26 letters of the alphabet with 5 light bulbs. With 5 light bulbs there are 31 possible combinations of on lights and off lights. For the English alphabet we only need to use 26 of those 31 possibilities. So, we count to 26 with our 5 light bulb combinations.

Table: Alphabet Ones and Zeros Example

Light Bulbs (Ones and Zeros)

Number

Letter

00001

1

A

00010

2

B

00011

3

C

00100

4

D

00101

5

E

00110

6

F

00111

7

G

01000

8

H

01001

9

I

01010

10

J

01011

11

K

01100

12

L

01101

13

M

01110

14

N

01111

15

O

10000

16

P

10001

17

Q

10010

18

R

10011

19

S

10100

20

T

10101

21

U

10110

22

V

10111

23

W

11000

24

X

11001

25

Y

11010

26

Z

11011

27

(spare)

11100

28

(spare)

11101

29

(spare)

11110

30

(spare)

11111

31

(spare)

The actual ASCII table can be found here. Quick tip, the alphabet representation in ASCII doesn’t start at the number 1 like in our example.

     Pretty interesting stuff! But gosh that is tedious, it would take hours just to spell out one word. Luckily, in 1963, the first version of what is now ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) was created. All these computer scientists, engineers and researchers got together and decided to stop writing letters to each other in binary (ones and zeros) and instead standardized the representation of the alphabet so that all computers use the exact same representation for the alphabet. Hence, the ASCII character code was created.

    The ASCII code contains more than 26 letters, it includes separate representation for all capital letters, the numbers from 0-9 and hundreds of other characters that are needed to be represented on computers. For example, the exclamation mark (!), question mark (?), copy right symbol (©) and characters for a variety of different languages around the world.

    So since, 1963 every time you use a computer that has alphanumeric characters on the screen you are using the ASCII character code to represent them on your computer. When researchers and computer scientists decided to collaborate and share their knowledge of representing alphanumeric characters it made it substantially more efficient to communicate with computers all around the world and build new computing mechanisms. This code eventually became hard coded and built into computers and into the keyboards we are all familiar with. How much easier is it to just hit the letter on a keyboard than it is to type out ones and zeros each time you spell “helloworld”?

h

e

l

l

o

w

o

r

l

d

01000

00101

01100

01100

01111

10111

01111

10010

01100

00100

The Building Blocks of Computers

Computers are built of smaller components, and these smaller components are built of even smaller components. Eventually, you get down to the ones and zeros that are foundational building blocks of all computing devices. ASCII is just one building block of a computer and many people have developed and shared many more building blocks to build your modern-day computer. 

Just like we used ones and zeros to represent the alphabet people have used ones and zeros to represent a square on a screen, a circle, or a beautiful photograph.

The important thing to remember is that all these blocks are organized in a logical way. This logic can be complex at surface level but majority of that logic can be broken down to simpler logical constructs that everyone can understand. If you can use an office desk with pens, papers, filing cabinets and a few other goodies you are able to understand the logic that goes into organizing computers.

The basic building blocks we use day-to-day have been built with ones and zeros by other people over years of hard work. Today, we just build further on the success of others. Computers have become more powerful being able to process and utilize more ones and zeros all at once to do incredible things.

The some basic building blocks that are common on almost all computers are illustrated below. Think of them as lego bricks that you can keep adding to and even make your own.

 
Building Blocks

There are hundreds of thousands of blocks are used on your computer and each of them accomplishes a different task.

Remember when working with computers that no matter how complex or over-your-head the computer may seem it is entirely comprised of very simple building blocks and you just need to think about them one component at a time. 

Each application you work with and each feature of your operating system is made up of smaller building block. These blocks can be broken down further and further until you get to the simple 1’s and 0’s that are the foundation of modern computing. Even the magical wizardry that appears to be happening behind the screen, it can call be logically broken down into simpler and simpler steps.

 

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