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Computers And Their Uses

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image CHAPTER OVERVIEW

Unit 1.1 Computers and their uses
Unit 1.2 Data, information, knowledge and wisdom
Unit 1.3 Convergence
Unit 1.4 Social implications: Environmental

image By the end of this chapter, you will be able to:

  • Describe the various reasons for using computers.
  • Describe the role and use of data, information, knowledge and wisdom as part of information management.
  • Explain convergence.
  • Explain the social implications of computer technology on the environment.

INTRODUCTION

To get a better understanding of the topics that will be discussed in this chapter, we will start with a quick review of what Information and Communications Technology (also known as ICT) is and how it is related to computers.

The term ICT refers to technology that gives access to information by using telecommunication. The information is obtained from either a telephone or a computer network. Users can access this information by using a computer, or a computing device, such as a smartphone. ICT also includes the most common and widely used network – i.e. the internet. Thanks to advances in technology, users can access the internet via desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

In Grades 10 and 11, you learned about different types of computers, such as the following:

  • Server: A server is a computer that has powerful processors, large hard drives and plenty of memory power. They are used in networks where large amounts of data need to be stored so that the computers on this network can access the data. Servers also make it possible for computers on the same network to share other devices, such as printers.
  • Workstation: A workstation is a computer intended for individual use that is faster and more capable than a personal computer. It’s intended for business or professional use (rather than home or recreational use). Workstations and applications designed for them are used by small engineering companies, architects and graphic designers.
  • Personal computers (microcomputers)/Desktop: A personal computer, or more commonly known as a PC, was commonly referred to as a “microcomputer”, because, when compared to the large systems that most businesses use, it is a compact computer with a complete system. They are the smallest, least expensive and most used type of computer. They are physically smaller, have a relatively small memory, have less processing power, and permit fewer peripherals than super and mainframe computers. Desktop PCs are not designed to be carried around because they are made up of separate components.
  • Laptops/Notebooks: Laptops are also known as “notebooks”. They are portable PCs that combine the display, keyboard, processor, memory, hard drive and cursor positioning device (a touchpad or trackpad) all in one package. Laptops are battery-operated and as a result, are completely portable.
  • Tablets: Tablets are smaller than normal laptops and are ultra-portable (easy to carry). They are generally cheaper than brand new laptops, and their processors and other components are less powerful than that of regular laptops.
  • Smartphones: Handheld-sized computers that use flash memory instead of a hard drive for storage. They have virtual keyboards and use touch-screen technology. Smartphones are lightweight and have a good battery life. (The battery life of smartphones varies, depending on the make.)
  • Embedded systems: Embedded systems, or dedicated devices, are stand-alone electronic hardware that is designed to perform dedicated computing tasks, for example automatic teller machines (ATMs), MP3 players and so on.

In general, computers have certain economic benefits – for example, they save paper, labour, communication speed and cost, and so on.

UNIT
 1.1   Computers and their uses

Throughout history, there have been many inventions and discoveries that have changed the way in which we live our lives. One such invention is the computer.

Computers have enabled us to make technological and scientific advancements, such as exploring the deepest depths of the oceans and outer space. Most of all, however, they allow us to stay connected with people all over the world.

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Figure 1.1: Internet usage across the world over a 24-hour period

In today’s world, most people living in a city will interact with a computer in one way or another and on a daily basis. This can be a simple interaction, such as stopping at a traffic light, or a more direct interaction, such as using a smartphone or laptop. One thing is certain, however: Without computers, our lives would be very different!

WHAT IS A COMPUTER AND HOW DOES IT WORK?

All computers, whether they are the smartphone in your hand or large, powerful servers, operate on the same five basic principles. These are input, processing, storage, output and communication. Each component of a computer performs one of these functions, but they all work together to make the computer work.

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Figure 1.2: The stages of the information processing cycle

In this section we will look at each of these stages and how they work together. We will also look at how these processes can get one computer to communicate with users and other computers. The five main steps are input, processing, storage, output and communication.

INPUT

In the input stage, the data is entered into the computer. There are many ways to do this. In fact, there are as many ways to input data as there are input devices. You would have learned about input devices in Grade 10 but just to refresh your memory, input devices are things such as keyboards, touchscreens and microphones. The user inputs the data (for example, by typing on a keyboard or speaking into a microphone) into the computer. The device takes this data and converts it into a series of 1s and 0s (this is called binary code).

PROCESSING

The central processing unit (CPU) inside the computer then takes that binary code and does the calculations needed to get that data to display in a way that makes sense to the user. The CPU works with the computer’s memory to get instructions on how to display the information from the input device and stores it as pixels in the computer’s memory. This information is sent to the output device to be translated and displayed in a way that is useful. All of this takes a fraction of a second to do.

STORAGE

Storage is where the computer takes the input and stores it in its memory banks. There are many ways to store the data, but the basic process is as follows:

1.The CPU writes the data to the computer’s temporary storage, or random access memory (RAM).

2.The computer then waits for the user’s command to move the data from the RAM to more permanent storage. If that command is given, the computer writes the data to the disk drive.

3.Lastly, the computer saves the data in a location on the drive, either the default storage location or a location set by the user. The user can then recall this stored information at any time.

You can also store information using external storage devices (for example USB drives or external hard drives).

OUTPUT

Output is where the computer takes the pixels from the processing stage and displays them in a way that the user can see them. There are many kinds of output devices, such as printers, screens, video and audio devices.

These devices make the raw data usable and visible, allowing human users to interpret the data, turning it into information. This could be the sound waves of a song or the letters in a document.

WHY DO WE USE COMPUTERS?

Computers play a big role in our daily lives, because they can do the following:

  • Help improve productivity
  • Assist scientists to cure disease
  • Help architects design and construct intricate new buildings
  • Empower people from poor countries by opening opportunities across the world

In the following sections, we will take a brief look at some of the reasons why computers are used.

SAVING TIME

One of the major benefits of modern computers is that they can save us a lot of time and effort – from finding the quickest route to the mall using Google Maps, to sending an urgent email to a work colleague. Each activity is completed much faster and with much more ease; all thanks to the computer.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways in which computer technology helps to save time:

  • You can use an online shopping website so that you can do your grocery shopping from the convenience of your own home and have the groceries delivered to your home. By doing so, you save the time it would have taken to drive to the shop, do your shopping, drive back home and unpack your groceries from your car.
  • You no longer need to go to your bank to do transactions. Instead, you can use your bank’s online banking facilities to view your bank balance, pay your bills, or transfer money.
  • Instead of standing in the queue at your favourite take-away restaurant, you can order your food from the restaurant’s website.
  • You can view online traffic cameras and maps with traffic information to find the quickest route to a specific location.
  • You can do certain tasks, for example difficult calculations, much faster than if you had to do them manually.
  • You can find information quickly by searching on the internet, or on a database.

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Something to know

Computers can complete tasks that are impossible or incredibly time consuming for humans to do. For example, in 1624, Henry Briggs published a book containing the logarithms for 35 000 numbers that took him years to calculate. Today, a person with a computer could do the same work in less than five minutes!

COMMUNICATION COSTS

Computers have greatly reduced the costs of communication with people across the world. Video conferencing is much cheaper that buying a plane ticket and flying to a meeting, and sending or sharing files over the internet.

EFFICIENCY

Computers made it possible to obtain, store and record data both quickly and efficiently. For example, you can research any topic on the internet in less than an hour. Many repetitive tasks performed by humans can be time consuming and there is always the risk of human error. Using computer technology can reduce the time it takes to complete the task and it can reduce or eliminate mistakes.

SAVING LABOUR

The automotive industry is an example of how computers and automation can help with saving labour. It would take a person roughly two months to two years to assemble a car by hand. This is significantly longer that it takes when using computers and automation, which can produce a fully assembled and painted car in about 8 hours.

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Figure 1.3: Robots welding in an automotive factory

ACCURACY AND RELIABILITY

Humans are emotional beings and can be affected by a variety of internal and external factors. We get tired, we make mistakes and we complain about the work that we need to do. On the other hand, computers are programmed to perform a specific task, in a very specific way and for a set duration. They will perform the task accurately, efficiently and reliably.

In the healthcare industry, technological advancements have improved the accuracy and, therefore, the safety of various medical procedures. For example, laser technology, surgical robots and nano devices are used to increase surgeons’ accuracy during operations.

In manufacturing industries, automated machines and robotics have increased the accuracy and reliability of manufactured products.

EFFECT ON TIME AND DISTANCE

The efficiency, accuracy and reliability of computers have changed the way in which we communicate with each other. They have allowed us to do the following:

  • Have conversations with friends and family in other countries (VoIP)
  • Have business meetings with colleagues in other cities (Skype)
  • Send instant random messages to people across the world (email)
  • Online banking, which allows customers to pay bills, view account balances, transfer funds from one account to another, pay friends and much more. Financial institutions have also given consumers control over their own security by adding features like the ability to freeze a missing credit card to avoid further charges. Over time, these controls will only increase as technologies like biometrics and facial recognition keep accounts safe.
  • Shopping has become a hassle-free task now and almost anybody can order products online after comparison with other websites. The boom and the resultant competition in the online shopping business are evident. Shopping sites are more interesting because of the huge discounts different companies are offering customers.
  • The internet is a very important tool for educators. The internet and its application is user-friendly and make students’ life easy. A teacher can use YouTube channels to teach students around the world. Teachers can use a blog in which they can share their career experiences with college graduates. There are various websites for teachers and students to use.

SAVING PAPER

Computers allow users to compile data using spreadsheets, write letters using word processors, send messages using email and complete forms using an online application. Each of these computer-related conveniences reduces the amount of time and effort required to perform these activities, but importantly, they reduce the amount of paper that gets used on a daily basis. This is very important as the trees from which paper is made, play a very important role in reducing the amount of carbon in the air.

GLOBAL COMMUNICATION, INCLUDING SOCIAL NETWORKS AND WEB TOOLS

One of the most-enjoyed attributes of computers is that they can be connected to form a network. This includes connecting the computers in a home, or an office, so that the users can share files. Networks can also span across a distance. The largest network is the internet, which consists of hundreds of thousands of computers across the world.

Computer networks have made it possible for users to use new and exciting ways to upload and share information. Examples of this include the following:

  • Social networks are specialised computer networks that allow users to have social interactions with each other by sharing their personal information. This includes their likes and dislikes, videos and photos. Some examples of social networks include Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram.
  • Web tools:
    • Blogs are a form of an online diary that allows users to share their daily experiences with others. Examples of blogging websites include “Boing Boing” and “PlayStation Blog”.
    • Wikis are specialised websites that allow users to share information. This includes all kinds of information; from the plot of a television show, to how photosynthesis works. The most famous example of a wiki is Wikipedia, but there are many other wiki websites dedicated to specific topics.
    • Vlogs (or video blogs) are a type of blog where nearly all the content is in video form.

imageActivity 1.1

d.Which of the following is NOT a reason why we use computers?

A.Saving time

B.Lower communication costs

C.Higher efficiency

D.Lower accuracy and reliability

e.Which of the following examples of computer uses does NOT help save time?

A.Using an online site for grocery shopping

B.Using online banking services

C.Using a web browser to play flash games

D.Using Google Maps to find a restaurant’s location

2.Choose a term or concept from Column B that matches the description in Column A. Write only the letter next to the question number.

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3.Say if the following statements are TRUE or FALSE. Correct the underlined word(s) if it is false.

a.Computers have made it possible to talk to people face to face while being in different cities across the world.

b.The use of automation increases the amount of people needed in the production process.

c.Humans are more accurate, efficient and reliable than computers.

d.Computers lower the cost of communication.

4.Answer the following questions:

a.What is the difference between wikis and blogs? Give an example of each.

b.Explain what the storage and communication step in the information-processing cycle entails? Give two examples of storage in the information-processing cycle.

c.How does a computer contribute to saving the environment?

d.What are the negative implications of computers on society?

UNIT
 1.2   Data, information, knowledge and wisdom

Data is raw, unorganised numbers, signals, or facts. Without first organising or changing it, humans struggle to use data. For example, your school might have data on the names, surnames, addresses, contact details, as well as the results of every class test, assignment, test and exam of all current and past pupils stored on a computer somewhere. While this data is important to store, it could be hundreds, or even thousands of pages long and very difficult to interpret!

Information, in contrast to data, refers to facts and numbers that have been organised so that they are useful to people. For example, if your Mathematics teacher wanted to see how well your current class is performing compared to last year’s class, she might ask your school’s database to convert its data into averages for the two years. In this way, those thousands of pages of data will be converted into two numbers that can be compared easily. Similarly, the report you receive at the end of each school year takes all the data that the teachers collected throughout the year and turns that data into a single report that you can use to measure your performance.

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Figure 1.4: Data is raw facts; information is processed

imageActivity 1.2

1.What type of web tool is Wikipedia?

a.Blog

b.Wiki

c.RSS

2.What is the difference between data and information?

3.What software can be used to organise or interpret data in a school environment?

4.Explain to a fellow learner what each step in the DIKW pyramid means and then how it progresses from one step to the next.

5.You just received your CAT test results and comments. The averages of each question and of the test as a whole were given.

Explain how you would use the data and information to learn from the test and the experience to further deepen your wisdom. For example, how can you and your teacher benefit from the information and how would you learn from your mistakes?

UNIT
 1.3   Convergence

Convergence is a term used to describe a situation where multiple technologies are combined to deliver a new and more exciting product.

A smartphone incorporates various technologies that have been combined to deliver a product that can be used for a large variety of tasks. This not only saves you the hassle of having to carry multiple gadgets, but also saves money, as you only have to buy a single product.

To better illustrate this, let’s take a look as some of the technologies that have been integrated into the smartphone:

  • Phone: Like all other cell phones, the smartphone allows you to make and receive phone calls.
  • Camera: The smartphone contains a camera, which makes it possible to take and view pictures.
  • Video: You can use the camera on the smartphone to record videos.
  • GPS: Smartphones come equipped with a global positioning system (GPS), which makes it possible to track your phone and get directions.
  • Music player: You can use the speaker on your smartphone to listen to music.

Other examples of technological convergence include high-end luxury cars containing computers and video display for parking, smart televisions that allow you to play games and browse the internet, and smart refrigerators from which you can stream music, create a shopping list, and send messages.

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Figure 1.5: Technological convergence

imageActivity 1.3

1.Which ONE of the following devices is NOT an example of convergence?

a.Phablet

b.Tablet

c.Standard computer mouse

d.Smartphone

2.Explain what you understand about technological convergence and give four examples of it.

3.Explain how the convergence of devices benefits the user.

4.What technologies or components have been integrated into the following devices?

a.Multi-functional printer

b.A smart device, other than a television or fridge

c.Virtual reality

d.Google glass

UNIT
 1.4   Social implications: Environmental

There is little doubt that computers have had a massive effect on the world as we know it. Thanks to advances in technology, people all over the world have better access to food and water. They are better educated, more social and wealthier than ever before. However, this is not the only effect that computers have on the world around us.

The data centres used to host websites and the internet use more than 3% of all the electricity generated in the world, and this does not even include the electricity used by personal and work computers. Since most electricity is created by burning coal, computers are a large contributor to the greenhouse gases emitted by humans.

Other potential negative effects include the following:

  • Pollution: The factories that produce the computers contribute to noise, air and water pollution.
  • E-waste: This type of waste refers to discarded electronic devices that are thrown away and transported to landfills. Most of these devices contain non-biodegradable materials and heavy metals (lead, cadmium and mercury) that are toxic. The toxins can leak into the ground and contaminate the groundwater.
  • Health hazards: To extract materials, such as copper, silver and gold from old electronic devices, the old devices are burned. This process releases toxic smoke into the air, which, if inhaled, might cause health problems, such as cancer and kidney disease.

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Something to know

The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) is a system that was developed to help evaluate the impact of computer products on the environment. The method uses three classifications – i.e. gold, silver and bronze. These classifications are based on the materials selection, design for product longevity, reuse and recycling, energy conservation and end-of-life management to evaluate products. Companies, such as Dell and Apple, have started producing products with the aim of meeting EPEAT standards.

THE WAY FORWARD: GREEN COMPUTING

Green computing is the study of designing, manufacturing, using and disposing of hardware, software and networks in a way that reduces their environmental impact. This is normally done by making computers more efficient and making sure that computers are built from biodegradable materials.

Other examples of green computing include the following:

  • Printing: Using paper and ink in an environmentally friendly way by using recycled paper and printing on both sides of the paper.
  • Saving energy: Enabling the “Sleep” function on your computer so that it will go into hibernation when your computer is not in use.
  • Disposal: Properly disposing of and recycling old electronic devices.

imageActivity 1.4

1.Which one of the following is a potential threat to the environment that is caused by the widespread use of technology?

a.Increased power consumption

b.A paperless office

c.Refilling ink cartridges

d.Repetitive strain injuries

2.What is meant by the term “e-waste”?

3.What other ways are there to save energy when you use your computer? List at least two.

4.Does the selection of the type of printer also have an impact on green computing?
Explain your answer.

5.Do you think that green computing will have any effect on environmental problems? Give reasons for your answer.

REVISION ACTIVITY

PART 1: MULTIPLE CHOICE

1.1Which of the following devices is NOT an example of a dedicated device? (1)

A.Telephone

B.Barcode scanner

C.DVD player

D.Microphone

1.2Which of the following computers has the most processing power? (1)

A.Workstation

B.Desktop PC

C.Server

D.Smartphone

1.3Which of the following computers is portable? (1)

A.Mainframe computer

B.Supercomputer

C.Desktop PC

D.Laptop

1.4Which step in the information-processing cycle uses the computer’s CPU? (1)

A.Input

B.Output

C.Processing

D.Storage

1.5Which of the following devices uses convergence? (1)

A.Smartphone

B.Television

C.Kettle

D.Digital camera [5]

PART 2: TRUE OR FALSE

Indicate if the following statements are TRUE or FALSE. Correct the statement if it is false. Change the underlined word(s) to make the statement true.

2.1A compact computer with a complete system is known as a supercomputer. (1)

2.2Social networks have helped us to connect people to each other and have, therefore, increased the distance between people. (1)

2.3Wikis allow us to share our daily experiences with our friends. (1)

2.4An example of a microcomputer is a laptop. (1)

2.5People can share their knowledge of the world on social media. [5]

PART 3: MATCHING ITEMS

Choose a term or concept from Column B that matches a description in Column A.

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PART 4: SHORT AND MEDIUM QUESTIONS

4.1How would you use a computer at each stage of the information processing cycle? (4)

4.2How do you properly dispose of your old electronic devices? (2)

4.3Describe what convergence is. (2)

4.4As technology has evolved, computers have changed and, in some cases, improved our lives and ways of living.

a.List five reasons as to why people use computers. (5)

b.List five computing devices you use in your daily life and mention ONE way each of these devices has made your life easier. (10)

 [23]

TOTAL: [38]

AT THE END OF THE CHAPTER
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