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Published in The Voice, Bloomsburg University's student newspaper,
on September 28, 1987.

Welcome to Computer Science 101

Now that it is a few days into the new semester and we've all had a chance to settle down, I suppose I should introduce myself. I'm David Ferris, the slightly insane non-traditional student with the red beard you may have spotted wheezing around the campus grounds or cruising in the computer labs. I have a lot of hobbies, such as collecting books, hats, model tanks, and emotional scars, but my most important idle pastime involves the observation of social trends.

I do not originate from this area. I've lived in many places, met lots of people, and done some really strange things. With this background in mind, you might guess that I see some things in a different light than the average person at BUP. It is because of this, and the fact that the editor has my four illegitimate children captive in an unknown location, that I write this regular column for The Voice.

Often, while strolling through the computer labs looking for interesting things to complain about, I am accosted by students requesting help. For the most part these people are from the introductory computer science courses, seeking asylum from the confusion of those first few assignments with the Binary Beast. As a public service, I’d like to use this space to explain some elementary computer concepts.

A computer is divided into three parts: the “keyboard”, the “monitor”, and the “other part”.

The keyboard looks rather like an ambitious typewriter, with anywhere from 50 to 120 keys. This assembly is used to attempt to give the computer instructions. Each key has several purposes, e.g. to enter a letter or number, to perform a predefined function, or to keep the operator from finding the shift key. The higher-priced keyboards have more keys, many of which are not connected to anything but look very impressive.

The monitor, or screen, looks like a television set. The computer uses the screen to inform the human user what it wants to do, regardless of what the user did to the keyboard. The monitor is often the first part of the computer to fail, as it does not hold up well to physical abuse.

Monitors come in two basic styles: color and monochrome. The color sets display high resolution graphics in a multitude of bright, vibrant colors. The monochrome screens are for people who cannot think in more than one color at a time or who are too cheap to pay the extra $200. There are also special EGA monitors (which feature very high resolution), VGA monitors (exceedingly high resolution), XGA monitors (needlessly high resolution), and CGA monitors (which must be elected every fall semester).

The other part, sometimes called the CPU (for Correct Processing Unlikely), contains the calculating, processing, and memory chips, along with miscellaneous innards. Those machines specifically designed to be “user-friendly” are also equipped with a special device that detects, analyzes, and increases the frustration level in human beings.

The term hardware refers to the electronic and mechanical components of the computer system, such as the monitor, CPU, printer, and so forth. Software refers to the programs used on the hardware, which lives on floppy disks, hard drives, magnetic tape, or program listings on paper. It is called software because it is much easier to destroy if you’ve absent-mindedly placed it in your pocket.

A program is a series of statements created by the computer user in an attempt to get the computer to do something predictable. A listing is a printed copy of the program, requested by the user to find out why the program did not do what was predicted.

When a program bombs, its frustration sensing device has successfully calculated which course of action will cause the human operator the most grief while being the most difficult to track down.

A hardware failure is what occurs when the user has put his or her foot through the computer’s monitor (see program, listing, and bomb).

Structured programming is a technique for creating computer programs. Its purpose is to restrict the programmer to the most time-consuming and least efficient methods available, in order to prevent the programmer from doing anything creative or innovative. Structured programming requires much more computer memory than the alternative (efficient programming), which seems to be the goal in most of today’s software. Structured programming was invented by the Nazis in World War II when they ran out of new ways to torture Allied prisoners of war.

A word processor is a type of program that allows an author to type three entire chapters of his or her latest novel before losing it all in the Nether Zone.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go indulge myself in a well-deserved nervous breakdown.


Irvania.com webmaster: Dave Ferris
The content on this page was written in 1987
Last updated: June 11, 2016