Archive: May, 2009

Computing Basics II

This is a reprint from my Ask a Geek column that appears weekly in the Register-News. It is written for a general audience, and I hope you enjoy it.

Once your computer has booted into the operating system, most people think it is just sitting there waiting for you to tell it to do something. This is not quite the case.

Many programs are already active and doing things you may not even know about. For example, your antivirus and firewall (you do have both, don’t you?) start automatically with the operating system. That is great and they are protecting you just as they should, however there are other programs that you might not even be aware of that do the same thing and slow down your system.

Adobe, RealPlayer, iTunes, Google products, etc. all install onto your system and are free to download. Unfortunately most or all of these programs also make a setting in your operating system that automatically starts them without your input. They do this under the logic of ‘checking for updates’ or ‘quick-starting’ so that you don’t have to worry about these tasks. Unfortunately every one of these tasks will eat up memory (RAM) and processing power that your computer should be using to do whatever YOU want it to do.

The easy way to see this problem is to look in the lower-right corner of your screen by the clock. Almost every one of those little icons is eating up power that will make your PC run slower than it did before. The sneakier of these programs will not even have an icon in the corner, but will run ‘in the background’ without any easy way to see what it is doing.

Personally, I dig into the Windows’ registry and delete these items so that they don’t start automatically, but there is an easier solution for anyone to use: CCleaner ( CCleaner has been mentioned here before to clean out temp files and help clean out your PC, but it will also clean out these ‘autostart’ or ‘startup’ entries so that you can have back the power that your computer has been robbed of without your knowing.

When using CCleaner, you do so at your own risk. It is generally safe to use so long as you read what you are doing, and it even offers to make a backup before performing tasks so that you can restore if you break anything. Still, you can break things if you are careless.

When cleaning out startup programs, everyone will have different choices to make about which programs to remove or keep. For example, you should keep the startup entries for your antivirus and firewall, but probably not Adobe or Apple Update. Some entries will not really say what they do or what program they are associated with in any way. It is advised that you DO NOT DELETE those entries. It is safer to leave something there than to delete it and then have to go back and fix it later.

When you go to download CCleaner, they ask for a donation. No donation is required, but they ask so that the development can continue. If you can, drop them a buck or two if the program helps you. Thanks to Ms. McClintock for reminding me about this fact via email.

Daniel’s Tweets for 2009-05-30

2009-05-30 Twitter Digest

  • Sitting here waiting for The Terminator to start on Encore. #
  • Swimming in the rain. Only my kids. #
  • Sissy has blue lips already. #
  • Listening to my buddy Hooch on WJBD at the Rec. #
  • Watching Star Wars 3/4 on MTV. First time I’ve watched it in years. #
  • Excellent article from #
  • Does anyone actually trust Cash4Gold? #
  • Ellen is so funny. Watching the new show on HBO. @theellenshow #
  • Apparently it is an old special. Oh well, still funny. #
  • Now for some Janeane. #
  • So true: Cyberbullying Act will make hurting somebody‚Äôs feelings a felony. – Alex Jones #
  • Interesting tidbit about Carbondale thrown in there: #
  • I really wish more MLB players were on Twitter. Not ghost-writers, real players. #
  • Kids about to go to aunt Jennifer’s for awhile. And I get to relax by doing yardwork I hope. #
  • KFC grilled is okay. Lacking the old season flavor. #
  • I HATE Jackass, but yet I find myself watching it on Comedy Central. #
  • While I’m bashing on movies/shows, have I mentioned Pineapple Express was horrible? #
  • I wonder how much Cisco paid for placement in Transformers. #
  • Samson and Delilah – Shirley Manson. I love this song for some reason. #
  • Innocent statue at the STL Zoo that looks anything but innocent: #
  • This would crack me up going down the interstate, via Digg: #
  • It’s too early in the morning to be reading Shakespeare. #
  • Oh boy. Obama nominates a supreme court justice. While it may affect me, Nothing can be done regarding it. Why is this news? #
  • Does one really need to be CCNA certified to get a job? I mean, I don’t have the money for certifications right now. #
  • #lastfm #love Duel of the Fates by John Williams #
  • RT: @mtvjaycees: General membership meeting Wednesday at 7:30. Come join us to discuss the House of Horror, Salute to Freedom, and more! #
  • I think I just sneezed out some of my frontal lobe. #
  • Broke down and bought Just a Geek audiobook. Couldn’t find a hard copy anywhere. #
  • Argh. And now it keeps falsely ‘completing’ the download at about half way. #
  • To use an @wilw ism: Me: I give on a hard copy. Bought audiobook. Tubez: Your download will fail randomly. Me: But, I want it. T: Um, no. #
  • Despite the problems I’m having, the people in charge of downloads of the book are being very helpful. Something on my end I’m sure. #
  • Still working on my audiobook download. The seller is going above and beyond to help me get it downloaded. #
  • My day didn’t go so well, but this evening was great. #
  • Made it through the first chapter, and loved it. Now to sleep so I can cover some more ground tomorrow. #
  • Kids to school, laundry running, and dishwasher full. Now surfing a bit before vacuuming. #
  • How is this not bigger news? #
  • One article down, two more to write. I’m about a quarter of the way into the second, and having hard time staying motivated. #
  • Ewan McGregor ER episode on right now. Wow, he was young in 1997. #
  • Almost time to go pick up the kiddos from their last day of school. #
  • California has some questionable laws, and this is idiotic: #
  • Yet another example of how idiotic homeowner’s associations are, and why they shouldn’t exist: #

Computing Basics I

This is a reprint that originally appeared in my ‘Ask a Geek’ column for the Register-News. This is written for a general audience, and I hope you enjoy it.

Your computer is stupid. Yes, for all the wonderful tricks you can accomplish with it, your computer only understands two things ‘1’ and ‘0’. On and off. Yes or no. Computers at their simplest are binary switches that do a certain thing in response to 1, and another in response to 0. That’s it. There’s your explanation of how a computer works. Everything that you accomplish with a computer is based upon those ones and zeros.

The first part of your computer to use those ones and zeros is the Power On Self Test (POST). When you power on your PC the first thing you usually get is a tiny beep before anything happens most people understand. That beep is your POST completing successfully. It signals that ‘all systems (or pieces) are go’ and the computer can start loading information from the next part.

The Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) is the second phase of your computing experience and may be completely hidden from you. As noted above, your computer is stupid. The BIOS contains simple commands that tell your hard drive, monitor, and everything else connected to the computer how to ‘talk’. You could almost call it a ‘translator’ for making everything communicate.

Once the basics are out of the way, your BIOS points to a ‘bootloader’ that then points to your operating system – Windows, Apples’ OSX, Linux, or even BSD. At this point, most of you will see your operating system’s loading screen showing the Windows or other logo.

From there you will be taken to your graphical user interface (GUI) where most everyone is used to interacting with their PC. This is where you open your email, surf the web, write on the Register-News forum, or perform any other task you need to get done.

When you add a printer to your PC, you must usually install drivers. Drivers are instructions to tell the operating system how to talk to the BIOS so that the printer or other device will do what you ask. So, the path of communication goes – Program > Operating system > Driver > BIOS > Device. I warned you that the computer is stupid, and that long trip to print a report or picture proves it. Four steps to accomplish one task. Still, I think we all can agree that computers make our lives much simpler and easier.

There you have a simple explanation of how your computer talks to itself. There is a lot more ‘behind the scenes’ action, but hopefully this will get you a working understanding of how your computer operates on the inside.

Daniel’s Tweets for 2009-05-29

  • Kids to school, laundry running, and dishwasher full. Now surfing a bit before vacuuming. #
  • How is this not bigger news? #
  • One article down, two more to write. I’m about a quarter of the way into the second, and having hard time staying motivated. #