Monday, March 17, 2003

Restaurant Analogies for Computer Terms

By Charles Tan

In any specialized field, you will often, if not always, be surrounded by jargon. And while computers have gone mainstream and there have been attempts to make person-computer interactions as easy as possible, one inevitably runs into computer terms. Definitions of these terms seldom articulate what it actually strives to do, or at least it seems to quite a number of people. In this article, I will try to explain common computer terms using the restaurant as an analogy.

Hardware and Software: In computer terms, hardware consists of your computer components while software are the programs you run on the computer. For a cook to create a dish, he or she must first have the necessary materials: the meat, the spices, the sauce, and other ingredients. Hardware best describes this. A cook can’t get anywhere without the ingredients, and that is how essential hardware is. Software, on the other hand, is like the time-tested recipe. It manipulates and uses the ingredients to make a fine dish. Without a recipe, lettuce will remain lettuce, and crotons will remain crotons; it will never be the famous Caesar Salad people recognize. Similarly, hardware without software will remain unappetizing and won’t do you much good. It is with software, or programs, can the hardware be properly utilized.

Hard Drive Space: The word memory appears frequently in computer lingo so much so that people are confused by its usage. Suffice to say, Hard Drive Space is the memory best associated with our own concept of memory. Food in a restaurant needs to be stored someplace: whether it’s the stockroom, the storage area, or the refrigerator, it must be housed somewhere. Hard Drive Space does just that. Any software you might have is stored in the hard disk space. No free hard disk space means that you don’t have any place left to store that extra chunk of food.

RAM (Random Access Memory): Speaking of memory, here’s a term that confuses a lot of people. Over the years, it’s evolved and has many variants like DRAM and SDRAM but its usage is still the same. What distinguishes RAM from Hard Drive Space is that while the latter is memory involved in storage, the former is involved in actual use. For example, in a restaurant, not all the food they have in stock is actually fed to the patron. Select foods are chosen and presented on a table. RAM is the table which platter is served on. When you run a program, you move the program from the stockroom (Hard Drive Space) to the table (RAM). Multitasking, the art of running several programs at once, consumes a lot of RAM. An analogy of this is ordering a nine-course meal and all of them are placed on the table. Surely in this situation, one can’t eat comfortably since there is little space to maneuver and the table is tightly packed. This might cause the computer to slowdown at times or, depending on the operating system you’re using, crash or close a program. A computer crashes when you don’t have enough RAM. Using the table analogy, a lot of stuff is placed on the table that the table collapses. Macintosh computers, on the other hand, close the program that’s consuming the most memory in the event that it runs out of RAM. The metaphor for this is that instead of the table collapsing, one of the plates get pushed out so that the physical integrity of the table is kept intact in exchange for setting aside one dish.

Processor: There are several factors affecting how fast your computer runs. One is the RAM since the more table space you have to maneuver, the easier it is to prepare the menu. Another is the processor which is usually the main measurement of a computer’s speed. If RAM is the dinner table, your processor represents the cooks and the waiters serving you in a restaurant. The service you experience is dependent on them. Perhaps it might be faster cooks, efficient waiters, or simply more cooks and waiters. Whatever the reason, the faster your processor, the quicker things get done.

Cache: This is the third factor that dictates your computer’s speed. The computer is capable of remembering some of your settings or perhaps the website you visited and storing it in the cache. It makes the computer run more smoothly compared to one that has no cache. Perhaps you’ve been a regular in a particular restaurant so much so that the waiter recognizes you and knows at the very least the drink you are going to order for that meal and the fact that he doesn’t have to elaborate on the menu. That saves time in comparison with going through the rigorous ordeal of the waiter having to explain to you each and every aspect of the menu as well as recommending to you the various dishes available. The cache is the waiter that recognizes you and knows your preference. He doesn’t dictate what you’re going to order but he has an inkling of what to expect.

No comments: