Top 10 Tips for New or Nervous Computer Users

It may seem like this week's disjointed ramblings follows on from last week's topic, in some lexographically eerie and unexpected way. I can assure you that this wasn't intentional - the capability to avoid straying off topic during the course of a single short article has so far always eluded me, and I see no reason for that situation to have changed. After all, there's no sign yet that I'm actually getting the hang of this blogging thing. Still, at least I'm not frightened of computers, as are some people in my age group...

No, what actually prompted this week's ramble was something I came across recently while researching obscure software design patterns. Part way through one document, I found this enlightening and interesting line: "Use a common data format to perform translations between two desperate data formats." Now, I'd have to admit that I don't do that much actual programming these days, but I do tend to deal with quite a lot of data. And, thankfully, none has yet come to my attention as being "desperate". I'd go with "wrong", "strange", and even "useless" as descriptions of the data I encounter, but none of it has shown any signs of criminality, or suicidal tendencies.

However, maybe it's just that I don't notice. Perhaps there are some Int32s in there that are really, really keen to escape into 64 bits. Or lumps of serialized binary that just can't bear not being an XML document. Could it be that they actually mean "desperate" as in "criminal"? Is there a gangster-style DataSet roaming through the layers of my applications stealing rows and leaving a trail of empty tables? Or perhaps the author of the page I was looking at actually meant "disparate", not "desperate".

But, coming back to people being frightened of computers, just image how much more frightened they'd be if they thought there really was desperate data flying round inside. So, to put such people's minds at rest, I've been touring the Internet and have assembled a list of the Top 10 things that you may not know about computers:

  1. Experts will tell you that you cannot "break the computer" just by pressing the wrong key. However, bear in mind that there is one key (the one with the funny "~"squiggle on it that nobody knows what to use for) that connects directly to the mains power supply and injects 5000 volts into the main computer chips when you press it. You should only use this key when a program stops responding.
  2. Computer keyboards work the same way as remote controls (as discussed last week). The harder you press the keys, the faster your computer will work. When it doesn't seem to be responding, and the "~" key makes no difference, the chances are that you haven't pressed the keys enough times, or you are not pressing hard enough. Mouse buttons also work this way.
  3. Your computer will occasionally download and install "updates" from the Internet. This is required because the programs you use most often wear out more quickly than those you don't use much, and so they need to be replaced. You can tell when a program is showing excessive signs of wear, and is ready for replacement, by looking at the window. Ones that are nearly worn out have the corners rounded off.
  4. Most computers have a "USB" socket. "USB" stands for "Unexpected System Behavior". When you plug something into this socket, the computer will display a series of helpful messages designed to lead you to believe that it knows what you plugged in. After a few minutes, it will tell you that it has found your elephant, and loaded the correct drivers. When you remove the plug, the computer will warn you that you should have turned your elephant off first, and that it may now have lost its memory.
  5. In computer terminology, the word "minute" (as used in the previous item) bears no relation to the 60-second periods measured by your watch or kitchen clock. "Minute" is an ethereal measure based on scientific principles related to internal clock speed, bus width, memory configuration, and the proliferation of highly-efficient CPU registers. To the layman, what this means is that a message such as "This make take a few minutes..." is actually a suggestion that you leave the computer turned on and come back in the morning.
  6. If you use a laptop computer, you will have noticed how hot the desk (or your lap) becomes after a while. This is because file names, especially those containing spaces, are particularly fragile and prone to melting at the high temperatures found inside a computer. After a while, they tend to seep out of the bottom of the computer and heat up the desk (or lap) below. This also explains why you cannot find the files that you saved yesterday.
  7. After a while, computers get full up of data. You can usually tell when they are full by looking to see if the sides have started to bulge out. Or, if you use a laptop, you may find that the lid does not close as easily as it used to. Be aware that, if you have purchased a new digital camera that has more than "6 megapixels", the pictures are very large and must be stored in the computer diagonally. This means that they take up a lot more space.
  8. After a few weeks, your computer will know everything about you. It does this by attracting dust onto the screen and then running a special program when it "boots up" that converts this dust into greasy fingerprints. It can then identify you from your fingerprints. You can tell this is true because, when you visit an online book store, it knows that you need to buy an electric toothbrush, a garden spade, and a DVD of the latest movie with Hugh Grant and Keira Knightley in it.
  9. Some years ago, the people who own the Internet made it illegal to have more than nine things in a list. This was because they discovered that over 30% of Internet traffic was caused by people reading "Top 10" lists of things. Since the ban, there has been a 37.48% reduction in traffic on the Internet. This is why, these days, it is so fast.

You may like to print out this list and keep it somewhere handy ready for when your son or daughter gives their old computer to your mother. Or for when you become senile. Meanwhile, if you have any useful tips for new or nervous computer users, you can send them to us.

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