PC Lube and Tune

The computer that ran a Fortune 500 company 35 years ago and paid all the workers, did the accounting, and managed all the orders had less processing power, memory, and data storage than a $35 Raspberry Pi that kids play with today. It takes vastly more processing power to play a video game than to process all the financial transactions of a corporation. You don’t need to know anything about computers to use your cell phone, ask Alexa to play a song, or to run apps on your smart TV set, any more than you need to understand the internal combustion engine to drive your car to work. However, computers are an increasingly important part of our lives and there is no benefit to being ignorant.

Companies that build computer chips put their factories on shock absorbers because the vibration from a truck driving on a nearby road can spoil the process. It requires billions of dollars to design the chip and create the factory. Then you buy the chip for $100 and to drop it into the socket on the board you just have to match the corner of the socket with the arrow to the corner of the chip with the arrow, drop the chip, and close the latch. PCLT is not going to tell you how to build the factory, but it may help explain how things work at the consumer’s end.

Most people just buy cars, but there has always been a culture of “hot rod” enthusiasts who take them apart and modify them. If you already put together custom computers with water cooling for maximum video game performance, then you are not the target audience. This site explains computers to the mainstream audience.

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An Introduction to PC Hardware- The PC may say Dell or HP on the outside, but inside it is assembled from a dozen standard components manufactured by companies whose names you have never heard. To make the parts interchangeable, all the standards are public. You can learn as much as you care to about how it all works and what the buzzwords really mean. No prior knowledge is assumed, and everything is explained in simple, clear terms.

Computers, Video Files, and HDTV - Once Netflix started to distribute movies over the internet, TV sets became “smart”. They have a CPU chip, talk to your home network, and run “apps” that you install yourself. Although the movie studios try to hide the content behind streaming protocols and  encryption, TV shows and movies today are just a file of digital data. It can be transmitted over the air by a TV station and received by antenna, read from a Blu-Ray disk, or sent over the Internet. There are a small number of widely used formats for this data, or an enormous number of alternate data formats used  by enthusiasts.  So after you learn about your laptop computer and your phone, the third most important computer in your house is the one you use to watch “Duck Dynasty”.

Character Encoding and Web Standards - The Web displays information in French, Hebrew, and Japanese. All national character sets can be embedded in the HTML and XML Web standards. The exact details about how this is done are fuzzy to most people in the US. They may even be hidden from people in specific foreign countries who use a Web editor customized to their local character set. This article is an attempt at a definitive explanation, accessible to everyone, of the standard, the problems, and the possible solutions.

Exception Handling in Java and C# - Every time the industry moves to a new language or runtime environment there is a tendency to forget everything we already know about good program design. This paper proposes “best practices” for program design in the new languages. It is based on some basic principles of practical Software Engineering that don’t change with the latest fashion. Rather than just declaring that one technique is “good” and the other is “bad”, this paper explains every decision with concrete examples and clear arguments. Exception handling isn’t an afterthought that you throw in reluctantly after everything else has been coded. It should be a central element in any professional component design.

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