Law Of The Land

The World's Shortest Computer Literacy Course

Let's take a look at some of the most common computer terms and, in the process, get an idea of how a computer works. This will take about three minutes. Pain-free. Guaranteed.

First, think of what you had for breakfast this morning. Got it in mind? OK, that's your RAM at work--your Random Access Memory. You pointed to the part of your memory that contains what you want to remember and scanned the information stored there. It then "displayed" your breakfast memory in your mind's eye. Computers have little RAM chips where memories are stored only while the computer is turned on. "Random" doesn't mean by accident, like a roulette wheel. It means you can point at random to any item in memory and display it on the screen or printer.

The other kind of computer memory is the ROM chip. ROM stands for Read Only Memory, which means that only the computer reads the program; you can't fiddle with it or change it. ROM chips contain instructions a little like your autonomic nervous system, which, though you don't think about it, does the "housekeeping" chores of your body, such as breathing and growing hair. The ROM chip is the network of circuits that is always in place to make the computer work for you. You use the RAM to put in your information--say, word processing or accounting. You can write, rewrite or erase this kind of memory if you wish. You then save your work that's dancing around in RAM onto your hard drive or floppy disks. When you turn off the computer, RAM dies, but the work is saved.

Anything you add to your computer system, such as a hard drive for storing software and saving data (it's like a huge file cabinet), a modem to connect the computer with another via phone lines, a printer or a scanner, is a peripheral.

The hardware is the computer, the printer and so on. The software is the program, the commands that make a dumb machine into a "smart" word processor, an accounting machine, a telecommunications system or the "brains" behind a robot.

Floppy disks are the magnetic disks used to store information. Hard drives are the turntables that can store much more data than floppies can.

An interface cable connects two pieces of hardware, such as your computer and your printer. Interfacing software is a program that lets one computer talk to another computer or another device, such as a scanner.

See? Quick and painless, just like I promised.

Contact Sources

Creative Business Consulting, (612) 788-8877,

Duston Jensen, (253) 591-5247,

RB Balch & Associates Inc., (602) 561-9366,

Home-office workshop leader and author Jeff Berner can be reached at

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