Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Computer Basics - Part 0 - Introduction

Here is the first part of my computer basics class, it's jsut the general introduction but I wanted to get it posed as quickly as possible.

Computer Basics Class

For Windows

What is a computer?
    Imagine if I gave you a rock. You probably wouldn't be very impressed. But, imagine if it was a magic rock. All you had to do was say a magic word, and that rock would turn into a hammer. Say another magic word, and it would turn into a pencil. Another magic word and it would become a washing machine. On and on, with thousands of magic words, each one turning that rock into a different tool. That would be one handy rock, right?
    Well, that rock is a computer.
    Every tool is built for a purpose. Hammers hammer nails (or hit things in general), pencils write, washing machines wash. A computer though is a very different type of tool. A computer was built for one purpose – to listen to you and do what you tell it to do. That's what makes a computer so special, that's why they can be found just about everywhere, because a computer does not have one specific purpose – instead it does anything it can that you tell it to do. This is a great power, the infinite possibility of doing anything you can think of, and a great responsibility, because you have to know how to speak your computer's language.
As someone who teaches computers, I often hear people say that they can't learn how to use a computer, or that it is too hard, or that they are computer illiterate. Well, so was I. I spent several years as a bread baker and pastry cook before I started working with computers. One day I went to work for WINN Ministries, and they didn't need a bread baker they needed a computer technician. So I started learning how computers work, and how to fix them, the hard way. Which made me realize something.
    Learning how to use a computer is exactly like learning a new language!
    Which makes sense. After all, a computer listens to what you tell it to do and then does that to the best of its ability. So what you need is to learn it's language. I learned that hardest and best way, by immersion. I went to an office full of computers every day and had to learn how to talk to them. It wasn't easy, but I soon got the feel of it. Most people don't learn that way however. Just like visiting a foreign country on a short vacation, most people struggle to understand their computer and get it to understand them. The younger generation has an easier time of it, because young people learn languages quickly and easily compared to adults. But in the same way that anyone can learn a new language, anyone can learn how to talk to and get the most out of their computer. Anyone. Take that from the bread baker who has been a certified computer technician for the last 9 years.

What this class is about
    My goal in this class is to start teaching you the language of computers. To get you more comfortable knowing what your computer is saying to you, and how you can talk to it. A computer is really the greatest tool, you can do thousands of different things with it, once you can talk to it properly. Like any language it is going to take time and work to get comfortable speaking to your computer, and at the beginning things will be unclear. Don't worry. Time and practice are all you need. I can fix computers because I've spent so much time around them. Once you've put in as many hours as I have, you'll be an expert at using your computer too. So just be patient and keep at it. I teach this class one-on-one, but I've also written it down so that you can come back to it, re-read it, and let it slowly sink in until it becomes a natural part of you.
    This is a Beginner's class, it is meant to start with the most basic concepts and give you a good foundation to build on. So there will be plenty of things I don't cover. Just like how you learn a language from the most basic words and concepts and then expand on that. I'm also writing Advanced and Expert classes to help you grow beyond what I'll talk about here. Likewise, I'm going to talk in very general terms about all the things a computer can do, but I also have more specific classes I'm working on. So think of this as just the beginning of your education, with many more new and fun things to learn about your computer and what it can do for you.

Hardware vs Software
    So let's start with a few new words then: Hardware and Software. Software is the language you use to speak to your computer. It is how you tell your computer what to do. Well, not you exactly. Odds are somebody else wrote the software you are using. Whoever wrote it, software is the instructions to make the computer do something (from send an email to play a song).
    But, while software tells your computer what to do, Hardware is what your computer is actually capable of doing. Hardware is all the physical “stuff” of your computer. The keyboard, mouse, box, all the things you can touch and feel (unlike software which is just bits of data your computer can read but you wouldn't understand). While software empowers your computer, letting it do new things, hardware limits your computer.
    The vast majority of the time you are using your computer will be with software. You will be using programs to do things. But even though hardware is something you don't really need to know a lot about (until it breaks, which is likely when you would call a technician like me) there are a few things you should know. So that is where we are going to begin, talking briefly about the hardware that makes up your computer.

To be continued in Part 1 - Hardware

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