Care and feeding of your PC
Concerns of Project Managers
Joe Reed, PMI Communications Office, Cullowhee, North Carolina
Perhaps it would be easiest to introduce this column by telling you what it is not intended to be. It is not a substitute for your company's MIS. It is not a tutorial on advanced programming. It is not a survey of project management software. It is not a technical guide to understanding the delicate innards of your machine. And if you are thoroughly familiar with modern personal computers and the regular maintenance they require, if the term RAM doesn't conjure up images of mountain goats, then this column is not for you.
What it is intended to be is a helpful source of information for those of you with a personal computer buried some-where under last quarter's reports. You have mastered the art of turning it on, you understand the software you use, and someone mentioned backups to you recently, but anything beyond that is simply a great nebulous region best left unexplored.
In a perfect world, I would have initiated this column in January. I would have given you a neat little chart laid out for the entire year, providing handy tidbits of information for each month. But this isn't a perfect world, a point driven home by a recent hard disk crash. In fact, it's a nasty world, a point driven deeper into my skull when I discovered that the backup of that hard disk contained critical errors and was unusable. But my mother taught me to floss, to never take candy from strangers, and to make two backups, so I survived. Let's hope that somewhere along the way, the information contained in this column will help you avoid a similar disaster.
Editor's Note: Here's a column we have wanted to start for some time-a little bit of sense, a little bit of nonsense, and few hints to save you some time, money, and gray hair. Joe is our computer zookeeper and has “saved” us so many times we've lost count. His greatest challenge was appreciating how little most of us knew about computers-bout the same as a car: where to put the key.
If you are intimidated by a computer that becomes unfriendly you may appreciate this column. Tell us how you like it, what you would like to know about, and what you would be willing to share with fellow PMIers through this column.
Each month, in the accompanying sidebar, I will present a list of reminders of simple preventive maintenance steps you should take that month. These will be aimed at the novice who uses a computer every day for an average of four hours per day, and will be scheduled assuming that you begin these measures with next month's column. I am quite positive that many of you already have such procedures in place, and I don't mean to suggest that you should consider supplanting your policies with my own. But if you haven't had the time or the information available, then this column should provide you with a solid start.
Next month, I will take you through some steps that will create the very first thing you should have in an emergency: a backup. Rivers flood, earths quake, buildings burn, and coffees spill, so a reliable backup of your computer's hard disk is an absolute necessary, unless you enjoy paying $2 per megabyte for data retrieval. Do the math, and a 20-min-ute procedure suddenly seems quite cost-effective.
But for this month, I've come up with an introductory vocabulary lesson so that you can understand what I’11 be talking about. Or better yet, you can use it to start dropping terms around the office to impress the boss.
The PC Primer
Whether you use Apples or oranges, some computer terms are universal. Here's a basic list of words I’11 be using in the months ahead that you will need to know:
Application - this is the software that you use to produce a document. You might have a word processor, a database, or a spreadsheet. Each is an application. But if all you use is Space Invaders, you might end up needing a job application.
Backup - a current copy of the data contained on your hard disk, or of important floppies. If you don't have one, you need one immediately. As in yesterday.
Bug - a glitch or a mistake in a program. For instance, if you tell your machine to open your memo file from last week, and it instead pours coffee on your lap, then the program has a bug in it.
Byte - a basic unit of measurement for information storage. It isn't the smallest unit, nor is it the largest, and some companies define its quantity differently, so just smile and nod knowingly. Some common usage: kilobytes (a thousand bytes), megabytes (a million bytes) and overbytes (see an orthodontist).
Card - most computers today let you add capabilities by adding cards. You might add a modem card, a sound card, or a video card. But to get any of these cards, you will definitely need a credit card.
Directory - this is the list of all the files on your hard disk. Depending on the type of computer you use, this may also be a listing of all of the subdirectories, sub-subdirectories, and so forth. It's a little like a phone book, and a lot like a headache if you lose a file.
Disk - there are two main types of disks you'll need to know about: floppy disks and hard disks. Either of the standard-size removable disks (5.25” and 3.5”) is called a floppy disk, even though the small one doesn't flop. The magnetic disk inside the shell would flop all around if you pulled it out. Don't do that; just take my word for
it. Hard disks are the large, usually non-removable components inside your computer. If you use an IBM-compatible, it's probably your “C” drive. If you use a Macintosh, you probably named it "Martha" or "HAL 9000."
DOS - despite the unprintable interpretations of this acronym you may have heard, this really means Disk Operating System. It's the basic set of commands that lets your computer understand what you want from it, unless you use a Macintosh. It uses ESP.
File - a collection of information that has been stored on a disk. This might be a memo or an application itself. But if you copy someone else's files illegally, get your mother to bake one in a cake.
Format - before you can store any information on any disk you have to format it. You need to format new floppy disks when you buy them, unless you spend big money on pre-formatted disks. This creates areas on the disk so that your computer knows where to look for that memo you wrote last week.
Hardware - the actual equipment that makes up your machine: the monitor, keyboard, disk drives, mouse, and the hammer you use to beat the machine when it won't work right are all examples of hardware.
Memory- a temporary storage area for information and applications. There are many types of memory, but the two you need to understand first are RAM and ROM, which are explained elsewhere. I'd tell you exactly where, but I forgot.
Mouse - a device that lets you move a pointer around the screen to select items or commands. Some people say all kinds of cute things about the term “mouse,” or dress their mouse up with ears and whiskers. These people should be avoided at all costs.
Program - This is either a noun or a verb. A program is a series of instructions, or software application. To program is to write a series of instructions that make your computer behave in a certain way, sort of like the Moonies.
RAM - it means Random Access Memory. RAM is the memory that your computer uses when it is on. When you turn it off, anything that hasn't been saved to disk is lost forever. That's where your memo went last week.
ROM - it means Read Only Memory. This is memory encoded into chips inside your machine somewhere. It can't be changed without enormous effort, and you don't want to anyway. This is highly-classified stuff Nobody ever talks much about ROM anymore, sort of like Cousin Earl in San Quentin.
Screen Saver - have you ever looked at a bank machine's monitor? You can read all the choices even when all it says is, “I have eaten your card, please contact the bank.” That's called burn-in, and a simple program that blanks your screen when it isn't in use prevents that. You really don't need flying toasters or Klingon battlecruisers. Honest.
Software - any set of instructions, whether it be an application or a virus, is called software. Never, ever, copy someone's software, unless you want to move in with Cousin Earl.
Upgrade - a piece of hardware or software maybe upgraded, or altered to reflect changes in current technology or the removal of bugs. However, you may need to upgrade the limit on your credit cards if you want to keep current these days.
Virus - this is a particularly nasty piece of software that can infect your machine, causing it to flash crazy messages, or worse, destroy data. Viruses (viri?) can be earned by any disk, even shrink-wrapped software. Fortunately, there are many good anti-virus products on the market that should help you protect your machine. Chicken soup won't help.
While this glossary is far from being all-encompassing, it should provide you with the basic terms needed to confuse just about anyone, other than your next-door neighbor's children, who took graduate-level computer science classes while still in elementary school. ❏
PMNETwork • April 1994