Home and Personal Computing Lesson 2
Personal and Home Computing Lesson 2
Though we accept that which is presented to us visually and with an equal inability to fathom the workings of the presentation, credibility should be given to those computer programmers who are tirelessly responsible for our media.
That I can view a display on a 52” TV screen whilst you look at the same picture on a 3” screen on a bus is simply incredible and, as is now our nature, our impatience level for acceptance had changed tremendously – we no longer want to use the scroll buttons to gain access but expect to see everything we want in its entirety – unfortunately and thankfully, we have not achieved this yet.
The way computers work is different to mobile devices. Open browser pages on computers, need to be closed before exiting. The browser itself then needs to be closed and ultimately, the computer needs to be switched off.
If we consider a library where everybody comes along, selects a book, goes to a table, sits down and reads a book half-way through then leaves the library, the scene would be one of chaos and the librarian would spend hours replacing the books ready for the next day.
This is a computer AND, the reason why we cannot simply pull the plug to switch it off.
As the computer shuts down correctly, most of the ‘books’ are closed properly and returned to their shelves, most of them.
With mobile devices, processors are not designed in the same way. In a manner of speaking, the chaos we demonstrated in the library is how things are left on a smart phone. The next day, we add to the confusion but order does not need to be restored. We dispose of it, the books! And, simply start again – next day, new books - and endless supply.
Inefficient it may seem but truthfully, extremely efficient as the books are infinite.
Of course this is only an analogy and the open books are essentially left hanging in mid-air, in the background. If we want to use them again, they are sat there waiting for us, if we disposed of them, we get new ones and they are so easy to dispose of - we simply access the open ‘books’ and swipe our touch screen sideways and they disappear, no more processing as they have gone, out of the window.
I mentioned touch screens above and we really don’t need to know how they work but there are different types and electronic methods. Given that our bodies, through mass present resistance electrically to different objects and magnetic fields (to simplify things), if we create a sandwich layer of different electrical conditions then, add in various resistances to alter the ‘magnetic field,’ we see a reaction to our action – that is all that is going on, an electrical sandwich that we are varying by touch, pressure and movement.
To give an insight at this early stage into further differences between computers and mobile devices and keeping things quite simple, software is what we use in programs on computers and as mentioned earlier, this software can be entered by various means but more and more by simply choosing a site on the Internet, selecting the software or program, downloading and installing it – a very simple process which we will embrace a little later. On mobile devices this would be quite slow and most of these programs are so large digitally that our phones and tablets would soon become saturated and, over-loaded.
In their wisdom, engineers designed ‘skinny’ little programs that our phones and tablets use but store very little information from as they are readily available in their ‘skinny’ formats at the touch of a screen or two.
These programs are called Applications or, Apps. for short. Apps. are not designed for computers at present and don’t need to be – it’s similar to petrol (gas) and diesel, both cars work and get to where they are going - just different fuel and, petrol doesn’t work in a diesel engine anymore than diesel works in a petrol engine.
So, what exactly is a Browser? Again, there is lots of history and no doubt you will still hear Netscape and Internet Explorer mentioned especially the latter. Again, the history is not important but suffice it to say there are lots of browsers.
As the name suggests, once we connect our device to the Internet, we can access or surf the www, World Wide Web. The medium or interface we do this with is called a browser.
There are some marked differences between mobile and computer browsers but, they all have the same purpose and the providers, constantly update these interfaces with new security updates to protect the consumers who use them. Similarly, hackers constantly try and devise methods to ‘crack’ the security - not always for malicious purposes but sometimes simply for technological challenges.
As with computer manufacturers, Microsoft supplies its own default Browser by way of Internet Explorer (who won the early battle with Netscape). Apple’s offering is Safari and Google, the popular Search Engine giant offers Google Chrome a ‘skinnier’ browser designed for speed (with security).
Note: If terms appear that we have not dealt with, there is an assumption that you will at least have heard the terminology but, we will deal with these issues in future lessons.
There are also numerous ‘third party’ suppliers of browsers and without a doubt, one of the most popular of these is, Mozilla Firefox.
All browser suppliers cater for computers and mobile devices, the latter being available by downloading the App to your mobile device although they invariably come with a default browser installed – the choice is yours.
Summary: all computer devices can cope with all the browsers available despite manufacturer preferences or default supply – in fact, many browsers can be installed and working at the same time on devices and there are good reasons to activate these situations at times. On my Macbook, I use Firefox constantly and open Safari (Apple’s browser) at my discretion to open more webmail (later lesson), sites, which saves me opening and closing email accounts as I swap or access others.
Incidentally, although different browsers work on all computer devices, different software has to be downloaded for different operating systems eg, Firefox for Internet Explorer is a different program than Firefox for Apple – this rule applies across the board, the formats are largely NOT interchangeable.
Default - the base-case scenario; that, with which we start or the basic process or situation before change or alteration.
Progressing to more interesting topics, let us take a look at email. Everybody knows that emails are a way of communicating by writing – from a keyboard (or touchscreen keyboard) on a computer device.
All service providers supply their customers with a number of email addresses for personal (and business) use within their subscription, usually ten,
Alternatively, free email addresses are available through other providers like Google, googlemail or gmail OR,`Microsoft, Hotmail. These are known as http server mail providers but this is an irrelevant fact at this juncture of our lessons.
An individual can have innumerable email addresses. Yes, I hear, “Why?” but there are also numerous reasons – I will illustrate a few of them:
For reasons not delved into here, I have email accounts in two countries, Canada and the UK. Canada, (my wife is Canadian) supplies cable TV; with this come some email addresses.
BT, my Broadband supplier in the UK, supplies me with a number of email addresses. Before having a website, these were two of the individual server methods of communication.
Now we have a website, the website host also supplies us with additional email addresses, which we use as follows: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
If I have to make a purchase on the Internet for any purpose, I HAVE to supply my personal details. If they know who I am, I might as well supply the email address that also identifies me as there is no point covertly avoiding it. In other cases of communication like Ebay or Gumtree where my identity is unknown until the point of purchase, I would be silly to supply my personal details so I invent a pseudonym, email@example.com for example. My personal details cannot be investigated or researched online (on the Internet) by this email address so a level of security has been established to protect my identity and personal information..
On mobile devices, the way I access my emails on the Internet can be the same as on a computer but can also be different. If there are differences there are easier access methods and harder ways. Prudence dictates that I take the easiest route and often, a popular Gmail account is accessible easily on all your devices, on-the-go or at home/statically.
Of course, how these messages are transmitted is, to most consumers, a mystery and we will skirt on the outside to gain sufficient knowledge to further our understanding rather than to become experts.
No matter your knowledge, data is transmitted through radio waves and also through cables which can be encased in plastic protection or by fibre optics. Travelling through the ionosphere, these waves are transmitted from one point to another in straight livnes and travel at the speed of sound and we receive them as with a radio station which enables us to listen to music over the 'air.'
Electricity by this method, for indeed, that is what a radio wave contains or is powered by, when generated is formed in the shape of a sine wave configuration or, as an analogue form.
In order to control the data massively, we have developed a way to make the wave shape, square. This gives us infinite methods of attaching data to the carrier and we send this information down the wire or over the air as it were, in packets or groups of information. This is a quick explanation of digital data exchange, someone sends it; we, receive it.
To have a degree of control, as in society, we need discipline or chaos will reign.
In everything we undertake to do with the Internet, there are internationally agreed rules and regulations, simply put we are now subjected to, protocols.
Transmitting data of different descriptions requires different protocols, rules. Mail, is sent by Post Offices around the world. It follows that sending emails would therefore attract a Post Office Protocol or POP.
Similarly, speech attracts its own protocol when spoken over the Internet, Voice Over the Internet Protocol or, VOIP.
As technological changes alter our lives, old protocols have to be updated to match our practices so POP was followed by POP2 and POP2 was followed by POP3.
Sometimes these changes are rapid so we might not actually see much of POP2 for example but, it still existed and was superseded.
SMTP is also an email protocol for receiving emails – Simple Mail Transfer Protocol and IMAP – Internet Message Access Protocol also has a place in the scheme of things. I mention this not to confuse you but to give you an understanding later on how we deal with our emails relative to these protocols, not technically but practically.
For the present, we will accept that emails are sent and received – magically.
Using our service providers and after setting up the email addresses of our (limited) choice, we are ready to compose, send and receive answers to our emails but where are they?
Simply put, they are with our service provider – always, as in, they may be elsewhere too but they always originate with the server, our Internet Service Provider, ISP.
Because our ISP is effectively located on the www, web, our email becomes webmail and wherever we are in the world, if there is Internet access, we can access our emails, respond to them and send our replies even if we have to make a payment in order to do this. If we delete the email from the server for any reason such as storage space, it is gone forever (mostly).
There are other methods of accessing and receiving emails (we are not dealing with mobile devices as such but Internet access is always available for the purpose as described above).
If you have grasped the concept from above that I could have numerous email accounts, all accessible on the Internet as webmail and that I would need either numerous browser windows open or, numerous browsers open, you can see that this would get a little, ‘messy?’
Imagine at the end of your drive having eight mail boxes, one from each of your email accounts? Wouldn’t it be simpler to accumulate all of your mail in one location, place or mailbox?
Numerous programs exist to accomplish just that but again, they have some disadvantages too. Sometimes, deleting an email in a central mailbox does not delete it from the server, ISP. If you access the emails in the central mailbox and delete some, they may still exist on the server’s webmail facility. This of course can be useful but switching to webmail for example in a new location shows that all the work you did deleting the emails in your central mailbox is somewhat lost as they still exist on the server so now, they have to be deleted again – more work.
Up until Windows XP (Expert) operating system became unsupported by Microsoft recently, Outlook Express was a central mailbox application. Outlook, which is different and a Microsoft (MS) program for scheduling, making appointments, a calendar and reminder program as well as a central email client, remains popular though the default provision is Windows Mail.
Windows Live Mail is different and replaces Outlook Express admirably but suffers the webmail deletion experience mentioned above.
Simply, if you can get used to and live with your webmail application, you will greatly increase your flexibility and improve your personal efficiency over all your devices.
It is notable that, an IMAP set-up in a central mailbox scenario will, or has the capability to, delete emails at the ISP source, POP3 does not.
Unfortunately, we still haven’t switched a computer on?
Before we take a car on the road, the correct procedure is to learn about the car physically followed by the rules of driving or the Highway Code. We do not have to study mechanics - I agree but those with an understanding of engineering are likely to embrace their car conditions far longer than those that inadvertently abuse the systems – we will get there.
Before I forget, I would like to say that, as with browsers certain programs or software are available across formats e.g. Microsoft Office but they still have to be formatted differently and not all components are necessarily supported. Because of the enormous popularity of MS Office which typically includes a word processor program, spread-sheets, scheduling, databases, website construction, presentations and even desktop publishing, the creators, Microsoft (Windows OS), have developed the same program to fit Apple’s offering in Mac OSX but some of the office set, viz Microsoft Publisher has been passed over in favour of Apple’s, ‘Pages’ program which is their latest DTP, Desk Top Publisher.
Open source (third party, free, programs) are available in direct competition to MS Office and Libra and Open Office are two examples but nothing rivals MS in this field.
This naturally means that there is a greater ease worldwide when communicating but any word processor program is NOT the same as an email program though constructing an email in MS Word can be copied into a regular email program or, sent from MS Word itself (conditions apply).
Earlier we looked at Routers. We used to look at Modems. When we transmit speech over the airwaves, as with radio, it is not as simple as we might imagine. In basic terms, the frequency of speech is not practical to transmit so we attach it to a carrier wave.
In order to attach it, transmit and decipher the content, we ‘modulate’ and ‘demodulate’ the carrier wave to extract and play the intelligible speech, song or oral offering.
A Modem is exactly that - a modulator and de-modulator and, it still plays a large part in our everyday life especially that of our computer ( plus our radio and television).
Our modern router is an all-in-one solution. It receives signals through a physical cable or telephone line and stands ready to re-transmit those signals to whatever device needs them – with permission.
Hard-wire: a physical cable connection between two or more devices/peripherals such as a printer, external hard drive, router, scanner, CD/DVD player or such.
We dealt with Firewire and USB earlier and have disregarded LTPI and SCSI cables and we can add VGA (Video Graphics Display – a monitor) cables to that list since HDMI connections offer a superior alternative as with connections to TVs. That leaves the Internet.
Connecting a telephone type signal cable to a computer uses a different technology – Ethernet. Our home, all-in-one router is a modem and physical distribution centre. Taking the input into our home from the service provider and then connecting our router to it through what we term a WAN (Wide Area Network) connection on the back of the router, we can easily observe that there are four outputs which also utilise Ethernet cable connections.
By using these distribution points, we can connect multiple users or computers, physically to the Internet and receive the best signals available. The Ethernet cable suffers the least signal loss method so also represents the quickest speed possible from that, which is available.
This is all well and good but what if our computers are widely spaced in the same building? We now have to run bulky cables from room-to-room or, floor-to-floor – hardly practical so a solution, and an easy one at that, is to simply make our router dual purpose.
By using the available Ethernet connectors where possible, we can also add a radio transmitter to the router and supply other devices with their own individual receivers.
How we achieve this is not important as the receivers will be built into our devices and hidden from eyesight.
By transmitting radio signals around our house or building, we can now move about with ease and stay connected through this radio system.
Add to this system some security in order to keep the ‘network’ private by password protecting the access to our personal router and we have accomplished all we need to at present, we can even connect a ‘Smart TV,’ a smart phone, tablet or computer to the system, the possibilities seem endless. Additionally, we can connect by Ethernet or Radio a printer that all devices can share and access from their individual locations within the network – utopia!
As indicated, the possibilities seem endless but we know there are no free lunches so what is the downfall of the system?
Two factors affect things in a large way, the amount of information we require and, how quickly we require it.
The sheer amount of data, despite its relatively small digital size, that we demand is absolutely colossal. If I am downloading a video in one room of the house, someone else is watching a Smart TV; someone else is computing, surfing the Internet and printing the results and two children are playing online games, the amount of information or data required is of mega proportions.
Our solutions to these problems are always being further developed and as with POP, POP2 and POP3, old technology is superseded by new versions constantly and in this case we are talking about Bandwidth which is simply the size of the ‘tube’ we need individually for our required data supply.
Similarly, data on-the-go for mobile devices as supplied by our cell service providers is reflected in our ‘Media Package.’ This monthly free or subscribed to, amount of data that we are allowed in order to access Apps, surf the Internet, access our ‘Cloud’ data such as music or photos is also being constantly improved but progress takes time and terms like 2G, 3G, 4G and LTE reflect the progress of GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) transmissions and basically represent the bandwidth available in certain countries or locations.
4G will enable a mobile device to receive more data and the download speeds will be quicker than 3G. LTE, Long Term Evolution represents the fastest/largest system currently available.
Improving the current set-up looks likely to be by using an optical fibre type cable to transmit the data more at the frequencies of light rays rather than sound waves - light rays as with laser, are far quicker, more efficient and subject to fewer outside influences but, come at an enormous cost to the consumer so we have a way to go yet.