Max Learning's Digital Dozen

Welcome! * Who's Who? * Why Theory? * Pronunciation * BrainAids * Theme * Categories * Wall Chart * AcroMaps
1. bit   2. Byte   3. Code   4. Data   5. Program   6. Chip   7. CPU   8. RAM   9. ROM   10. Computer   11. Peripheral   12. System

System = Software+Hardware: Standalone, Network, Online.
Acronym: S = SH:SNO (pronounced Shh SNOH).

A computer system consists of the combination of software and hardware needed to perform tasks. Whenever you work with computers you can be certain of one thing--for anything to occur, you must have both software and hardware. Either alone does nothing by itself. For every aspect of computing, the following questions are relevant:

  1. What hardware is needed to make it happen?
  2. What software is needed to tell the hardware what to do?

Although many combinations of software and hardware exist, I've divided them into three groups for our study: Standalone, Network, and Online, followed by discussions of the System Cycle, System Purchase, System Operations, and System Issues.

Standalone System
Software+Hardware that consists of a SINGLE computer with peripherals and software.
This is typically a desktop, laptop, or handheld computer.
Network System
Software+Hardware that connects computers and SHARES files and peripherals.
This is typically a central server computer with client computers and peripherals cabled to it.
Online System
Software+Hardware that lets a computer remotely ACCESS other computers.
This is typically a client computer connecting to a variety of servers, usually via modem through the network of all networks--the Internet--to access vast storehouses of information and communicate with other online users.

System List

Click on the desired System aspect to learn about it.

System Cycle

System Purchase

System Operations

System Issues

System AcroMap


System Cycle
Test, Boot, Load, Enter, Process, Output, Store
Acronym: SC = TBLE-POS (pronounced TAA-bul pawss).

If you recall, a computer is a machine that Inputs, Processes, Outputs and Stores instructions and data. To describe the System Cycle, we'll expand the Input phase into its component parts: Test, Boot, Load, and Enter.


1. ROM instructions TEST all circuits to ensure they are working.

2. ROM instructions BOOT the operating system programs from disk to RAM.

3. User selects a program/command to LOAD from disk to RAM.

4. User ENTERS data into RAM.

Process, Output, Store

5. CPU PROCESSES data as instructed by program/command.

6. User OUTPUTS data to monitor or printer.

7. User STORES the processed data from RAM to disk.

Analogy: Compare the System Cycle to a factory that converts raw materials into finished products. Imagine Mr. ROM is the factory foreman. When you turn on the power to the factory, he looks to his built-in instruction sheet and starts the production cycle.

1. Mr. ROM reads his instruction sheet and pushes a button to check (Test) all factory circuits.
2. Mr. ROM kicks (Boot) the OS program from the loading dock/disk to the RAM vat.
3. Ms. User carries (Load) a program from the loading dock/disk to the RAM vat.
4. Ms. User dumps (Enter) raw materials/data into the RAM vat.
Process, Output, Store
5. The whirling blade/CPU blends (Process) the raw materials.
6. The finished product is ejected (Output) from the RAM vat.
7. The finished product is placed (Store) in a container on the loading dock/disk.

Observe how the System Cycle travels full circle, from DISK to RAM to DISK.

Click here to return to the System List


System Purchase
Needs, Software, Hardware, Budget, Shop
Acronym: SP = NSH-BS (pronounced Noosh-booss)

Here's a five-step process to follow for your first, or next, computer purchase.

What do you need the computer for?
By writing down your needs first, you'll avoid purchasing unnecessary items, and you'll be sure to get what you do need. Try to project your needs for 2-3 years so that you don't prematurely outgrow your computer system. Most systems can be upgraded for a few years before they become "obsolete."

Which software programs satisfy the needs you listed above?
Contrary to the way most people buy a computer system, it's important to decide on software before hardware. The software you choose may require certain types and capacities of hardware that you may not have planned on. These minimum requirements are usually listed on the outside of the software packaging. Selecting desired software first ensures that you won't buy inadequate or incompatible hardware.

Which computers and peripherals will work with the software programs you selected above?
If you purchase a "proprietary" computer system, all or most of its peripherals must come from the computer manufacturer, usually at a premium price--but you'll be assured that the peripheral will work as advertised (usually!). If you purchase an "open" computer system, peripherals will be available from various manufacturers and you will benefit from competitive pricing--but you may have to work a little harder to get the peripheral to work.

How much money do you have to spend on the computer system?
This is where your dreams and wishes meet the reality of your pocketbook! Most buyers focus on the hardware prices alone and fail to budget for other necessities. Don't forget about additional software, paper, ink  cartridges, diskettes, classes, books, and any applicable sales tax.

Comparison shop and "test-drive" several computers before you buy.
Read computer magazines for product evaluations. Ask for demonstrations showing the type of work you plan to do. Try out the hardware and software before you buy. In the end, realize that for many people, buying a computer is much like buying a car. No matter how much you intellectually research and shop, the computer you ultimately buy is the one you've "fallen in love" with. It will just feel right.


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System Operations
Computer Op-Orders
Acronym: SO = COO

By following these 10 rules for effective system operation, you can maximize your computing productivity and minimize your computing headaches.

I--Be Relaxed, Uncluttered, Focused, and Flowing (RUFF)
RUFF works for any life or work situation, but especially with computing. There are so many commands, options, and steps, it takes a clear, relaxed mind, free from distracting thoughts, to be successful.

II--Keep a Computer Notebook (KCN)
With all there is to know about computing, no one can remember it all. With a Computer Notebook, you can store everything you learn in one place—a single-source reference. Create a tabbed divider for each software program you use. When you figure out an uncommon procedure, write down its steps for future use. Log all hardware and software changes you make and troubleshooting you do on your computer, so you have a history of what you did when.

III--Read The Manual (RTM)
Take the strategic approach to learning by reading the manual prior to trying a new program or procedure. Previous experience, trial & error, or blind luck might help, but they're generally time wasters rather than time savers when it comes to learning. Reading the manual may seem to slow you down at first, but will pay huge dividends in your ability to get the maximum performance from your computer and programs.

IV--Follow Instructions (FI)
Pay attention to details and follow instructions precisely. Computers are very unforgiving—even one wrong keystroke can void an operation. Use a ruler to guide you down a page of instructions, so you don't lose your place. Check off each item after you perform it, so you don't miss a step.

V--Start In the Right Place & Proceed in the Right Order (SIRP-PRO)
If you begin a new task and are on the wrong screen, or in the middle of the previous command, or perform steps out of order, your procedure at best won't work and at worst will cause trouble. In the diagram, which character is starting in the right place, proceeding in the right order, and destined for success? Which character is doing neither and doomed to failure, or worse?



Acrostic: Ruff can read them fine syrup pro.

VI--Expect Problems (EP)
Computers work on a simple principle—using on/off states to represent data and send messages. But with millions of switches and components interconnected in thousands of ways, problems are inevitable. What’s amazing is that most of the time, things go right. But if you expect problems, you'll be better prepared to cope when they happen. Instead of getting upset, treat problems as puzzles to be solved and challenges to be overcome.

VII--Do not Blame Your Computer (nBYC)
On rare occasions, hardware fails. More often, software causes problems. But by far, most mistakes are caused by user error. Blaming the computer without investigating your own actions is like blaming your hammer because it missed the nail and hit your thumb. Realize that the computer is your tool, you are in charge, and it does exactly what you tell it to do (most of the time!).

VIII--Do not Panic At Mistakes (nPAM)
If you panic when you make a mistake, there’s a good chance you’ll make things worse. In a panic state, you're likely to compound the problem by pressing keys or clicking frantically to make the problem go away. It's better to walk away, calm down, and analyze what happened. Then, go back and methodically track down and solve the problem.

IX--Change One Setting At A Time (COSAAT)
When troubleshooting, in an effort to make things right as quickly as possible, the temptation is to alter several settings at once. Unfortunately, if the problem gets solved, you won't know which setting was responsible, and you won't know what to "fix" when the problem recurs. Therefore, discipline yourself to change only one setting at a time. With multiple solution attempts, it's easy to forget what you've already tried and waste time repeating your actions, so use your Computer Notebook to log the date of each change and its result until you reach the ultimate solution.

X--Save Often & Back Up Daily (SO-BUD)
Make it an automatic habit to save your work from your computer system's temporary RAM memory to its permanent disk storage every few minutes. That way, if you lose power, you won't have to reenter more than a few minutes of data. At the end of a work session, or at least daily, create a backup copy of your data and store it safely away from your computer. If disaster strikes and your original data is lost, you can restore it from the backup copy.



Acrostic: EP onBike enPam co-sat so Bud (could too).

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System Issues
Implementation, Occupations, Ergonomics, Social Costs
Acronym: SI = IOES (pronounced II-ohz)

Computing involves more than just software and hardware. People and society count too!

Someday you may be asked to oversee the implementation (installation) or upgrade of computers in your office. The software and hardware decisions you make will be crucial, but there is an even greater factor for success. Here is a three-phase plan you can follow to ensure success.

I. Experience: Perform a survey to discover the following facts:

  • What is management' s experience with computers?
  • Do the prospective users have typing and computer skills?
  • Do the users have an unusual amount of computer phobia or hostility?
  • Will the users welcome or resist computers or upgrades?

II. Management: Make sure that:

  • Top management announces the decision to automate.
  • Top management explains the reasons for automation.
  • Top management describes the benefits to the users.
  • Top management strives to motivate users.

III. Users: Ensure that:

  • Users feel a sense of "ownership" of the new computers.
  • Users support the decision to automate or upgrade.
  • Users are given a choice of software/hardware options when possible.
  • Users are thoroughly trained and provided with ongoing support.

While choosing the right software and hardware is important, did you observe that people are the real keys to successful implementation? Unfortunately, many employers do not consider an investment in people to be as tangible or cost effective as buying software and hardware.

When involved in an implementation, your chief job will be to enlighten management on the benefits of preparation, involvement, training, and support!

If you are considering a career in the lucrative field of computing, you have many choices. Here is a partial list. Some career options have overlapping functions. For example, a Computer Consultant might write programs, recommend systems, and train clients. Even if you don't pursue a computer career, it's good to know the computer occupations so you'll know whom to call when you need help.

Chief Information Officer (CIO)--The creation of this position has elevated the importance of Information as a company asset to the same level as Finances. The CIO oversees all information sources and information flows within a company.

Consultant--Independent contractor who offers computer services to clients.

Data Entry Operator--Enters names, addresses, numbers, and facts into a database.

Database Manager--Maintains the structure of a database and the data stored in it.

LAN Specialist--Installs and maintains Local Area Networks.

Librarian--Catalogs, stores, and retrieves computer tapes/disks.

Operator--Operates and controls a centralized computer.

Programmer--Writes instructions for computer operations.

Sales Representative--Matches computer system to clients' needs.

Systems Analyst--Studies, then recommends ways to improve computer systems or procedures.

Technician--Repairs and maintains computer systems.

Trainer--Trains users to use computers and programs.

Job Security
Even if you don't pursue a computer occupation, if you continue to upgrade your computer skills and are motivated to help your coworkers, you can almost guarantee job security for yourself. When it comes time to layoff staff, whom do you think an employer would most likely keep?

A typical computer user who never learned to do more than push buttons, never learned to work more efficiently on the computer, and had to be helped whenever something went wrong?

Or, you, an outstanding computer user, fluent in Computerese, who understands the fundamentals of how a computer works, can troubleshoot and solve computer problems, and is able to train and assist computer coworkers?


In Greek, ergon means "work." and nomics means "managing." Ergonomics (UR-goh-NAW-miks), also known as "human engineering," is the science of managing or designing the workplace--furniture, equipment, lighting, scheduling--to fit humans rather than forcing humans to fit the workplace.

Although ergonomic changes can be costly, companies are beginning to realize that comfortable, pain-free workers are more productive, with less illness, stress, and absenteeism. New laws and employee lawsuits have also hastened ergonomic adoption. Regardless, here are the chief ergonomic problem areas and how to minimize or avoid them.

Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS)
Eyestrain is the number one complaint of computer users. Close eye work for long periods of time can cause blurred vision and dry, itchy eyes. Improper lighting or personal vision problems compound the syndrome.

  • Take frequent breaks. At least 15 minutes every 2 hours. Focus on distant objects so your eye muscles, which must flex for close work, will relax.
  • Use an adjustable monitor. Tilt and swivel the monitor for comfortable viewing. If possible, position the screen so you can look slightly down at it. With your eyelids covering more of your eyes, they'll have less tendency to dry out.
  • Eliminate reflections. With your computer screen off, look for any bright reflections from windows or lamps. If possible, reposition the monitor screen or shade the light sources to eliminate glare. Direct overhead lighting or a spot lamp that shines directly on your work, but not on your screen, is best. If you can't eliminate glare, buy an anti-glare shield approved by the American Optometric Association, but be aware that these shields may also reduce image brightness and sharpness.
  • Adjust your computer screen's brightness, contrast, and position controls. Learn how to adjust the controls for maximum readability and comfort.
  • Take care of your personal vision needs. If you are bothered by bifocals or astigmatism while working on the computer, see your eye doctor about getting glasses designed specifically for computer work. If you wear contact lenses, remember to blink often to lubricate your eyes.
Carpal-Tunnel Syndrome
This is a serious ailment and is classified as a Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI). Excessive typing or improper technique can inflame the tendons and nerves that pass through a tunnel of bone in the wrist. Symptoms vary from tingling to pain to numbness. In some cases, rest and a wrist brace are all that's needed, but severe cases may require surgery to widen the tunnel and relieve the pressure.

  • Take frequent breaks. At least 15 minutes every 2 hours. Stretch and relax your fingers, hands, and forearms. Hang them down at your sides and gently shake them.
  • Use a properly elevated wrist rest or a natural-style keyboard. Traditional typists believe your wrists should never touch anything. Granted, resting your wrists can be dangerous if it bends them backwards and narrows the carpal tunnel. However, a properly-elevated wrist rest keeps your wrists in line with your hands, reduces fatigue from having to hold your wrists up, and lessens the risk of Carpal-Tunnel Syndrome. Some of the newer "natural" keyboards have built-in wrist rests and are angled outwards for comfort, but these take some getting used to, and can create adjustment problems if you must regularly switch between keyboard types.
  • Exercise your hands and fingers. Squeezing a rubber ball, for example, will strengthen your fingers and wrists.
Body Pain
Inadequate furniture and long periods of sitting can lead to head, neck, back, and other aches and pains.
  • Take frequent breaks. At least 15 minutes every 2 hours. Get up and move around. Also, deliberately place some items you need out of reach so you are forced to get up occasionally. Stretch or walk on your breaks.
  • Use an adjustable chair. The best ones let you alter the seat angle, back angle, armrests, and height. Occasionally change the chair's position during long work sessions to give different muscles a chance to rest.
  • Keep yourself in good physical shape. Prevention is the best medicine. A regular program of stretching and exercise will help prevent body pain caused by less-than-ideal workplace ergonomics.


Social Costs of Computing

Lest we get carried away with the wonders of computing, we should also consider its less desirable side effects.

Computer Presumed Infallible
Many people think that computers are smarter than humans, that they never make mistakes. For example, you likely have never doubted the accuracy of a calculator. But it is dangerous to blindly trust the results of a machine, especially in light of the next item.

Garbage In, Garbage Out (GIGO: GII-goh)
Computers magnify human effort, good or bad. When you input good data, you get great results. But when you input bad data (garbage), things get really messed up! When computer troubles occur and customer service is interrupted, companies typically blame the computer. But in truth, humans, whether they be programmers or users, are the most likely cause of "computer" error.


Working with machines all day reduces human contact. Instead of speaking with a human bank teller, we use automatic teller machines. When we call a company nowadays, more often than not we hear a computer-recorded voice asking us to press numbers for further action. Grocery stores may someday eliminate human checkers in favor of computerized self-check-out systems.

Developments like these can make our lives more efficient, but does it make them more satisfying? In some areas, like psychological counseling, it would seem that computers couldn't replace the concern and involvement shown by a human. But dozens of years ago, an experimental computer counseling program had patients readily divulging facts about themselves that they would have hesitated to reveal to a human counselor!

Loss of Privacy/Freedom
Credit bureaus, the IRS, and the banks can all share information on us--and sometimes the information is wrong! Financially solvent people have had credit denied or revoked. Innocent people have been jailed over mistaken identity information gained from a national computer database. Personal email has been intercepted and read.

Job Displacement
The computer industry has created as many new jobs as it has taken away. However, these new jobs require advanced training and workers must upgrade their skills or be left behind.

Digital Divide: Haves vs. Have Nots
Today it's a disadvantage not to have a telephone. What will happen to the have-nots, those who can't afford computers, when the only way to communicate, bank, and shop is through a computer? What educational advantages and advancement opportunities are available to kids today who have a home computer compared to the have-nots who can't afford one?

Physical Issues
As we saw in the Ergonomics section, long-term computer use can lead to physical ailments. Some scientists are also concerned about long-term exposure to low-level radiation emanating from computer monitors. For the most part it's considered safe and shielding is being improved every year, but some still have reservations.

Energy Consumption
At about 4 cents/hour, computers don't seem to use much electricity. But if left on around the clock that's almost $1/day ($.04x24 hrs = $.96) or about $350/year per computer. Fortunately, new, energy-efficient "Green" computers and peripherals have been designed to go into "sleep mode" when not being used, greatly reducing power consumption.

But there's no going back!
Despite the problems computers cause, we will never return to the precomputer era. Why not? Because computers:

Provide fast service.
In our society we want everything "yesterday!"

Are extremely reliable.
Except for GIGO, computers rarely go wrong.

Perform dangerous or tedious jobs.
Computerized robots can disarm bombs, work with chemicals and radiation that would endanger a human, and do mundane assembly line work.

Store vast amounts of data in a small area.
An entire encyclopedia can fit on a disk the size of a small plate, greatly reducing the need for paper and deforestation. And today it's possible to forsake having your own copies of everything and simply access the most up-to-date information on the Internet.

Increase productivity.
Although computer time can be spent wastefully by some workers (playing games, emailing social letters, surfing the Internet), if we learn to use the computer efficiently and effectively, we nearly always get more work, of a higher quality, done in less time.


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System AcroMap

Here's the complete System AcroMap. As usual, draw it over and over until you can do it from memory. 

Spine S-CPOI
Write out S--  C--  P--  O--  I, then add an S in front of each letter of CPOI.

Spine Acrostic
Using S-CPOI, pretend you're at a luau with your sister. She's hungry and you spot some poi (Hawaiian taro root paste) on a platter, so you say:
Sis, See Poi!


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