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2010 April 17 - 12:00 am

TECHNOLOGY TODAY: Walking the Walk and Talking the Talk Means Learning the Lingo

“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names,” according to an old Chinese proverb. This isn’t always easy in the world of personal computers and the Internet, where new words seem to sprout as frequently as security software updates.

Acronyms, abbreviations, jargon and buzzwords serve two main purposes. They condense complicated concepts into shorthand words and phrases, saving time. They help separate the insiders from the outsiders. But they can be as confusing as a software licensing agreement.

Some terms ignore entirely the need to make sense. “TWAIN” is the name of a programming standard used in handling communication between software applications on one hand and digital cameras and scanners on the other. It’s an acronym, with the initials standing for “Technology Without An Interesting Name.”

Still, if you’re a “newbie” and want to become one of the “digerati,” you’ve got to learn the lingo. And if you’re an expert, you need to sound like one. You can’t walk the walk unless you talk the talk.

I’d nominate the following ten IT terms, many no doubt familiar, as among the most important you need to know today to be considered computer literate:

CPU. This is an acronym for central processing unit. A CPU, also called simply a processor, is the brains of the computer, its most important component, where most of the calculations take place that convert your keystrokes and mouse movements into results.

Domain name. This is the name that identifies a Web site, the part of a Web site’s address expressed in an individual and memorable way, such as “yourname.com.” Anyone can obtain a domain name by purchasing it from a domain name registrar.

Firewall. The term “firewall” used to mean fireproof walls designed to prevent the spread of fire. Today when most people think of a firewall they think of a computer system made of software or hardware or both designed to prevent unauthorized access to a computer over the Internet or a private network. Software firewalls are included with the latest versions of Microsoft Windows and the Mac OS as well as, beefed-up, in security suites.

MP3. This complicated abbreviation is short for MPEG-1, audio layer 3, with MPEG being an acronym for Motion Picture Experts Group, the standards body that created this file format. MP3 files today are typically music compressed for faster delivery over the Internet, with the sound removed that the human ear can’t hear.

Netbook. These small and increasingly popular computers are miniature versions of notebook computers, which in turn are miniature versions of desktop computers. Along with their slightly smaller size compared with notebooks, netbooks also typically lack an optical (CD-ROM/DVD) drive

RAM. This acronym stands for random access memory. Next to the CPU, it’s generally the second most important component of a component. Computers load programs and data from the hard drive, where they’re stored, into RAM when you work with them. In general, the more RAM a computer has, the faster it will run.

Text. This word for what you’re reading right now has been verbalized, with many young people today spending great amounts of time texting to one another. Using cell phones and portable digital devices such as iPods, as well as personal computers, you text by sending and receiving short text-based messages.

URL. This acronym for uniform resource locator is the unique address of any Web page. It’s what you type into a Web browser or click on as a shortcut or bookmark to surf the Web. “Link,” a related word, is a URL embedded in another Web page or email or other message, letting you click on it to open your Web browser to that page.

USB. An acronym for universal serial bus, USB is the most common type of computer port, or connector, used in today’s computers. It’s used most frequently to connect keyboards, mice, printers, scanners, digital cameras, game controllers and USB drives. Also called thumb drives, USB drives replaced the venerable floppy disk and all other would-be floppy disk successors for many uses.

Wi-Fi. This is an abbreviation for wireless fidelity and is the name of a popular wireless networking technology that uses radio waves. Wi-Fi networks and Wi-Fi enabled devices have made it possible to connect to the Internet in airports, hotels, coffee shops, restaurants, supermarkets, libraries and college campuses, as well as to connect multiple PCs to the Internet from anywhere at home.

Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book “Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway.”
He can be reached at
reidgold@comcast.net or www.reidgoldsborough.com.

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