NEWS AND RESOURCES

What's New in Technology for April 2002

Who’s In Charge Here, Anyway?
Joseph Campbell, noted author on mythology, told a story about one of the first computers made by the US government back in the 1950’s. The top computer scientists of the day had just completed the first, large-scale computer and asked the president at the time, Dwight Eisenhower, to initiate the first run. President Eisenhower was ushered into a large room with rows of refrigerator-sized units all hooked together to make this triumph of modern scientific achievement. When requested to give the computer a problem, President Eisenhower asked the computer: “Is there a God?” Immediately, the tape disks started spinning, little lights flashed on and off feverishly for what seemed like an eternity. Then the answer came: “Now there is.”

Humans have been toolmakers since we had hands to do so. The computer is simply another tool. Simple? Not really. The problem is that this tool is really, really complicated and it affects nearly every facet of our lives including finances, relationships, health, education, in short, everything.

Tools are a means for us humans to adapt the world to our purpose. With an axe and a saw, we can make a better shelter for ourselves and for our family. With a computer, we can what? Get better recipes for dinner, communicate with friends and family through email and instant messaging, find out more about a medical diagnosis that we or someone we love has received, provide better home security, and so on. Those are the good things. Computers can also be used for malicious purposes of theft, mischief (hacking), spying, warfare, and so on. In other words, human nature hasn’t changed much since the first stone axe was made, but we have developed increasingly sophisticated tools for the expression of that human nature.

Since the rules of survival are that we either change our environment or we adapt to it, still apply here and it’s not likely that computers are on the road to extinction, then we are faced with the question: “How do we adapt?” Put in a different way, how do we not let this tool use us?

On the practical, mundane level, this equates to asking yourself just how involved do you want to become in technology? How much computer power should I buy, do I get a high-speed line, do I need a CD burner? These are just a few of the questions.

We suggest that the first cut should be made on the limits of your budget and forget about the rest for the time being. Progress will take care of itself. However, one of the main issues for those who attempt to pay as little attention to technology as possible is that upgrading computer systems and Internet access can become a matter of necessity. The computer you got on sale five years ago won’t run some of the larger programs and you can’t open the image files that your children send you. And those image files take forever to download. So, you get up; get another cup of coffee, maybe another donut, while you wait. But after a while, most people realize that there’s better things to do in life than wait for a computer to finish what it’s doing. Let’s face it; the computer is the one in charge then.

So a choice has to be made: “How badly do I want those pictures my kids send me?” Well, if you're tired of waiting five or ten minutes for your family pictures to download or a minute or two every time you bring up a new web page, you are ready to start thinking about a high-speed connection.

Hardware (the computer and all the gadgets) used to be the hot items. Now that computer speeds have broken the 1 Gigabyte threshold, and computer prices have dropped considerably, the new thing really is connectivity. That is to say, the rate of communication between computers over the Internet is the new the big issue.

There are two basic ways you can connect to the Internet. One, the most common, is through a dial-up connection, which comes pre-installed on most computers. Remember the 28.8 baud modem? It seems like such a long time ago. And even the is now modem is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. The fastest they come now is 56 K and the entry level broadband is 2 to three times faster than the modem. And you can get speeds more than a hundred times faster than the modem.

As one might expect, shopping for broadband is like shopping for coffee at your local megastore. Actually, that's not quite true, it is a little simpler (but not much). The first item that you run into is if it's available at all in your area. Providers have online search engines where you put in your address and they will tell you if you are eligible or not for DSL (one of the many types of broadband).

DSL is delivered through carrier stations. And it is how close you are to these stations that will determine if you are eligible and then, if you are eligible, what speed you is available to you. The farther you are from the station, the slower the available speed.

Now, it would be easy if the details stopped there. But, we're not so lucky. There are many different flacors of broadband and DSL: ADSL, SDSL, ISDN, satellite, wireless, and so on. For those of you who are really serious about getting a broadband connection, we herenow refer you to a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide you with the aboverefernced information, Technet. There's also another site that techies know to go to when looking for info on broadband: DSL Reports. All the info you could possible want on DSL is there.

We hope you have found this at least a little helpful in your need for reliable information on the technical end of life. Staying informed seems to be the only way to stay in the driver's seat in today's whirlwind of technological development (I hesitate to call it progress). After all, wasn't it Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) who suggested that knowledge is power? Stay informed. And don't hesitate to call us with a question. That's what we're here for.

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