Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Stupid Computers

It's an almost constant refrain heard by anyone in the IT industry.
"My computer's not working."
...or a variation on a theme. It stems from some common misconceptions about computers.
  1. It will do anything
  2. It will do it instantly
  3. It will do it flawlessly
It is my sad duty to report that none of the above are true. They are even perpetuated by the computer industry itself, setting a bar it cannot possibly reach.
  1. The least of the three problems. Computers can do a lot. But they have one critical limitation - they can only do what they are told to do, whether that be by a programmer or a user. Also, they are not psychic. If you pressed 'A' and meant to press 'B', it doesn't know that. It will do 'A'.
  2. Computers are only as strong as their weakest link. Speed is made up of a combination of factors that we have talked about on this blog before,  including, but not limited to, its processor, memory, hard drive and software. Any one of these could slow a system to a complete crawl. Now, I'm going to stick my neck out here and proclaim this as one of the single biggest user-caused problems with computers. I click a button. I give it four seconds. I see no sign of anything happening. I click the button again. At this point I have effectively doubled the work load on the computer and guaranteed the entire process will crawl over the finish line. As long as you're confident you pushed the button, give the computer a chance to do its job. If the software you are using was written after your computer was built, the chances are that it was designed to operate on higher specs than you have at your disposal. Ironically, the computer industry moves at a lightning fast rate.
  3. The physics of a computer are phenomenal. Processors deal with transistors that are nanometres apart. However, they're biggest strength is their biggest weakness. It is almost inevitable that there will be an occasional misfire. It is one of the greatest feats of recent times that the IT industry managed to get computers into most homes in the world when they are highly sophisticated pieces of machinery that are often operating on a knife-edge.
Accept the limitations of a computer, work within them, and you'll get along just fine.

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