What You Need To Know About Computers
I still remember the day in August of 1995 when a certain software company
released a new version of their operating system, a significantly revamped
release which promised to change the face of the computing scene forever; And
indeed, it did just that. On that day, reading about the new features of the
revolutionary OS, I felt the impending doom of my hobby/prospective career as
a computer techie. It seemed that computers, as a whole, were becoming more
automated. In the old days, computers did not have simple interfaces and
needed skilled operators to use them; Gradually, they became somewhat more
user-friendly, but still needed someone pretty knowledgeable to perform basic
tweaks like adjusting your memory configuration. But at that point in
history, I believe that the day was imminent in which computers would become
almost entirely self-regulating, obviating the need for a skilled technician
in most cases.
I began to search for a new career field, believing that there would soon
be no money in my field. But as time went on, the trend of increasing
user-friendliness began to take on new and interesting facets. Foremost among
them was the apparent trend of corporate domination; As the Internet
continued to grow in mass popularity and operating systems became
increasingly elephantine and incomprehensible beasts, users seemed to be
losing control over their computers, and the computers (or perhaps more
specifically, the companies which manufactured those computers) seemed to be
reversing the role, controlling the user rather than the other way around, by
spying on the user's browsing habits and preventing them from having direct
control over many aspects of their computers. Although this was largely a
software trend propagated by inflexible operating systems, it was also
propagated in hardware, by hardware companies manufacturing non-standard,
under-documented hardware that was deliberately difficult to reverse-engineer
to the user's own preferences.
I began to realize that there was a need for people who understood
computers on a truly fundamental level; Someday, the time might come when
people would have to piece together their own computers so they'd know
exactly what went into them, and would be able to control those computers the
way the original hackers of MIT did with their machines. There was a need to
know not only basics like how to partition a hard disk or make a web page in
pure HTML, but to actually make a computer from ICs and raw machine language
How much do you really know about computers? In the computer world, there
are many different levels of user knowledge; Some people believe themselves
to be knowledgeable because they can clear their web browser's cache or
format a floppy. Others know multiple programming languages and believe they
still know very little of all there is to know. The latter group are closer
to the truth; As with many other things in life, the more you know, the more
you realize how little you know.
Do you know electronics? You need to know the pinouts (and ideally, the
schematics) for every chip that goes into a computer, including the CPU, the
RAM, the ROM (BIOS), the chipset, and the various other "glue" chips that
piece these discrete parts together. You need to know how to make a modem,
how to make a monitor, how to make a printer, and how to make a scanner, from
nothing more than raw materials like steel, plastic, and sand.
Do you know programing? I don't mean programming in BASIC or even C or
Fortran; You need to know bit-level programming, the specifics of how to make
a BIOS and an operating system, from scratch, from absolutely no code at all.
Do you know communications? You need to know how IP, TCP, UDP, ICMP, IGMP,
PPP, HDLC, ATM, and Frame Relay work, at the bit-by-bit level.
Until you know all these things, you don't really know computers. Until you
can make a whole computer from materials buried in your own backyard, you
won't *really* be a computer expert. There's always more to learn out there.
The world needs people who can contribute to society as a whole by really
understanding how these machines work, and not just bowing to control by a
few megacorporations that make the hardware and software that make up the
computer. If you want to be a computer techie, you need to learn all you can.
Of course, if you're not a computer person and you just want to be an
end-user, well, there are plenty of other fields that need similarly
knowledgeable experts too...