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There is a recommended procedure on personal computers called “defragmenting.” What follows is a layman’s description of how a hard drive works and why defragmenting is important. Read the rest of this entry »

The process of designing chips starts with the construction of a computer model based on the design specification. The computer model is used to derive both masks and test programs used in the manufacturing process. Some people not intimately familiar with the process are dismayed to learn that the testing process, and indeed the test environment, almost never replicate the way the chip will be used in the final product. Here’s why this is not a problem. Read the rest of this entry »

I have posted on my personal website a one hour long video version of the “Technology Basics” series of articles already posted on this blog. I’ve run into some more problems with my laptop, so I’ve been unable to completely review the video. I would welcome feedback.

Computers operate by Boolean logic, invented by the 19th century English mathematician George Boole. Everything is done with base 2, so there are only the numerals one and zero, or true and false. The three basic operations are invert (the output is the opposite of the input), AND (true only if all inputs are true), and OR (true if any input is true). It’s possible to express any arithmetic function in terms of Boolean logic, and to translate back and forth from base two to base ten. From the biggest computer to the smallest calculator, this is what’s happening behind the scenes.
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Transistors are formed by diffusing different dopants into silicon in specific patterns. Circuits are formed by connecting transistors to one another with wires. Integrated circuits are single pieces of silicon having many transistors with networks of aluminum or copper traces acting as wires to connect them. The transistors and wires are formed by laying down patterns of different substances, layer upon layer. Read the rest of this entry »

A transistor is often described as a switch, but this is only partially true. It’s more like a valve or a faucet. If your faucet has only two choices, “on” and “off,” then it behaves as a switch, but most faucets have a range in the middle, and so do most transistors. If the range in the middle is used, we say the transistor circuit is analog. If all that’s used is “on” and “off” then it’s digital. Read the rest of this entry »

Silicon is an element, like oxygen or gold. It is the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust (after oxygen and ahead of aluminum). Things like sand and rocks are largely silicon dioxide. “Silicone” is rubber; silicon and silicone are not the same thing at all. Read the rest of this entry »

We’ve all heard the cliche that the world of electronic things is “going digital,” but what does that mean? If it’s “going digital,” where is it coming from? What it’s coming from is analog. You may be familiar with the word “analogy” meaning to explain something by comparing it to something more familiar. Analog represents the real world directly. It is continuous and interpolated. Read the rest of this entry »

This is the first in a series of posts covering technology basics.

We’re all familiar with electricity, as it comes out of a socket or a battery, but what is it, really? Electricity is basically charged particles (electrons) in motion, usually through a wire or other conductor. Remember playing with magnets in kindergarten? Opposites attract (positive to negative), and like charges repel one another. Read the rest of this entry »