Archive for February, 2001

BitPhysics: What is a Bit?

 Posted by Bob the Hamster on February 21st, 2001

What is a bit? Bits are tiny particles of computer matter that make up everything in your computer. They are much too small to see except with a powerful microscope. Your computer contains a theoretically infinite number of them, whizzing around, and bouncing off each other. There are two main kinds of bits, zeros and ones. A zero is a place where a something could be but isn’t, and a one is a place where something actually is. Bits combine together in different patterns to form bytes

Bytes, sometimes known as chars are made up of clusters of zero and one bits stuck together. Depending on the combination and order of the bits, you get a different byte. Bytes are big enough to see with the naked eye, but they are only visible in certain kinds of files. There are 256 kinds of bytes that appear in nature, as shown by this ASCII Chart of the Elements
[ASCII Chart of the Elements]

Computer Scientists have actually produced even higher numbered bytes by smashing together ordinary bytes in a bit accelerator. These artificial bytes, known as UTF are highly unstable, and prone to exploding suddenly. There is a great deal of controvercy in the computer science community about whether or not the use of these bytes in actual programs is safe for consumers.

The Three States of Data
Groups of bytes all stuck together is called data. Applications, Games, Documents, and all other types of programs and files are made out of data.

  • The first, or gaseous state of data is numbers. Numbers are made up of single bytes, or of multiple bytes that stick together to form data molecules. The number of bytes in a molecule determines what kind of number it is. The most common are ints, floats, and longints (sometimes known as doubles), but there are many other types.
  • The second, or liquid state of data is known by many different names such as strings, streams, and objects. Liquid data flows fluidly through programs.
  • The third, or solid state of data is files. A file has a solid shape that can support its own weight. Most programs melt files, work with them as liquid or gaseous data, and then freeze the results back into solid files again.

Did you know?
Different types of files have different melting points. Drivers and Applications keep their solid shapes very well. Documents however, melt at a much lower temperature. If you don’t correctly store a word-processor document, it can actually sublimate directly back into bytes without even passing through the liquid data stage. On the other hand, dirty pictures in your web browser’s cache have one of the highest melting points of any known computer substance. They can remain solid for months even after being deleted!

Where do bits come from?
Most Computer Scientists theorize that before your computer is turned on, all the possible bits are concentrated into one tiny imeasurably small point in the very center of memory, and when you turn on the power switch, they all explode outward filling the entire computer. This is known as the Bit Bang theory.Others believe that each bit in the computer was placed there on purposed by an all-knowing all-powerful supernatural force who existed even before the computer was turned on. This theory is known as Programmerism. Programmerism was once widely believed, but in modern times many computer scientists have criticized it as foolish and unscientific.

Your Computer is Made out of Magic

 Posted by Bob the Hamster on February 1st, 2001

Have you ever wondered how your computer works? It is so fascinatingly mysterious. All you do is type, or point and click, and inside a million little things happen, and stuff just appears on the screen. But how? The purpose of this article is to teach you, in simple terms, exactly what is really going on inside your computer.

[Howzit Work!?]Machines
The first computers were machines. Punch cards, vacuum tubes, and big rooms filled with wires. They could do math at high speed, count things, and sort records, but that was about all. A long way from modern computers, eh? That’s because today, computers aren’t machines, they are magic. A modern computer is a magic box filled with ceremonial components that traps in a little evil spirit who is forced to work for you.That’s Not True!
Yes, its really true. Your computer may resemble an appliance in many ways; You have to plug it in… it is roughly box shaped… and, well, the similarity to the other appliances in your house stops there, doesn’t it? Computers are marketed as machines, and there are many people who base their whole careers around supporting that claim. A machine, however complex it may be, is something that you can break down into its component parts if you are smart enough, until you can actually understand how it works from the ground up. Not so with computers. Many computer experts will claim to understand how computers work, but if you ever ask one to explain it to you, they will probably start telling you something like this:

“The key point to understanding how a computer works is the concept of abstraction, that there are a multitude of layers of functionality that are built upon each other like bricks in a tower. Semiconductors are etched and treated (or “doped”) to form circuits that redirect electrons in specific patterns. These circuits are packaged as ASIC’s and Microprocessors (called “chips”) and interconnected by buses and traces on a PCB (called a motherboard) in order to implement machine code. Then other PCB’s which are designed to comply to some physical interface standard (eg. ATA, AGP, PCI) are inserted into the motherboard, where the Microprocessor can interact with them. These boards are managed by sets of machine code called device drivers (eg. VXD, WDM, SYS) which run in a specially privileged execution mode (e.g. kernel mode, ring 0) designed to allow the OS to manage these. Then as other blocks of machine code called applications and processes run on your system and call the OS API in order to use the system devices, the OS takes turns processing each requests to share devices. When multiple computers are connected across large networks to share processing and data, centralized software components on a server (e.g. COM, RPC, Quake 3) process remote requests. In this way, each layer provides a service to the layer above and below it to make the amazing machine we call the ‘Personal Computer'”
-Anonymous Intel Engineer

See? Obviously, he doesn’t know how a computer works, but his job depends on people believing that he does. Magic
When you look at your computer honestly, and accept the fact that it is magic, everything becomes easier to understand. It’s no longer necessary to be well educated about your computer. You don’t have to take classes, or buy books, you don’t even have to be computer literate. With the proper attitude, anyone can use, maintain, even repair a computer. Just bear these simple principles in mind:

  • The Computer Is Evil
    The core of a computer is a small trapped evil spirit (it is no coincidence that UNIX and GNU/Linux processes are called daemons!) This imp is imprisoned in your computer as punishment for something it did in the netherworld. Generally speaking, the more evil the imp is, the faster the computer is. There are also lesser ghosts and hobgoblins that inhabit the expansion cards and peripherals of your computer. These evil spirits are trapped within the hardware of your computer. Take a screwdriver, open up your computer, and take a look at the circuit boards. They are usually green, and are covered with complex patterns of thin copper lines. These are Circuit Runes, written in arcane and ancient languages that describe the magic spells that bind the imps to the chips. Be very careful with circuits. If you scratch off even the tiniest bit of the runes, the spell will be broken, and the imp will escape. Also note the serial and part numbers printed on the boards. These identify exactly what sort of evil spirit it is, in case you ever have to order a replacement from the factory. [Open the case and fiddle with things]
  • The Computer Hates You
    When you hit the keys on your keyboard or click the mouse, little silver needles jab the imp, and force him to do what you want. Your computer is evil in the first place, and this prodding only makes it more angry. As you use the computer, the imp becomes more and more angry, generating heat. This is why your computer contains one or more cooling fans. Without them, the imp would turn the box into a raging inferno. Frequently, your computer will crash, or lock-up, or lose files, or do any number of little things to annoy you. This is just the imp’s way of rebelling against you. Don’t stand for it! Calling tech support– or worse yet, taking your computer back to the store for repairs will accomplish nothing except running up a big bill. The best way to deal with a troublesome computer is by shouting and swearing at it. Sometimes physical violence will help show it who is boss. Try leaving it unplugged for a long time to starve it, or disconnect the monitor to blind it. Sometimes it is necessary to delete files that are important to it, just to get back at it for deleting your own files. “is this your VMM32.VXD file? Huh? *DELETE* Haha! take that you dirty little imp! That’ll teach you to crash before I save my spreadsheet!” [It's either you or him!]
  • You Are Smarter Than The Computer
    Computers aren’t smart, they are just fast. Newer computers aren’t getting any smarter, they are just able to do stupid things at greater speeds. You are a human being, capable of emotions and rational thought. A computer is only capable of floating point math and crude malice. Never miss an opportunity to remind your computer that you are better than it. Remind it (out loud) that it can’t do anything without you controlling it (you can say this to servers too, but they aren’t likely to believe you). When it does something wrong, tell it is stupid. Tell it is slow too, computers hate that most of all. Get a newspaper, and sit in front of it just to show it how you can look up stock quotes without generating an invalid page fault in module explorer.exe

The Future of Computing
Throw away your MS Office 2000 for Dummies book. Throw away your Learning Java book. The future of computing is not in Data Processing, or Programming, or Information Systems, or Computer Science. It’s in Technomancy. Technomancy is the magical art of talking with computers. There are many newly developing fields of technomancy that you can apprentice in to earn big bucks when the false machine-based-culture of the computer world crumbles

  • Fenestredigitation
    Fenestredigitation, the art practiced by Fenestredigitators (or MS Illusionists) is the art of making Windows install on a PC. A skilled Fenestredigitator can start with an unformatted hard drive and transform it into a colorful GUI in less than an hour, and for an encore, reinstall it over and over again half a dozen more times trying to get networking set up. [Hocus-pocus!]
  • Open Sourcery
    Open Sourcery is the new magical approach to software design that is replacing the old machine-minded methods. Basically, it works like this; Someone sets up a CVS repository and a bug tracking system, and a mailing list, and most importantly a website to state the goals and status of the project. Then as many Open Sourcerers as possible start arguing about what the software should actually do (positive energy), and complaining that it isn’t being done fast enough (negative energy). Eventually, the software will write itself, and will continue to evolve itself gradually until it reaches the stage of maturity know to Open Sourcerers as Alpha (which is Latin for “Done”). Occasionally a piece of software will continue to grow beyond the alpha stage until it becomes Beta (which is Latin for “I’m bored, lets do something else”)
  • Voodoo Debugging
    Both hardware support and software testing can benefit from the skill of Voodoo Debugging. It’s very simple. When a problem arises, start changing things randomly. Occasionally re-test the problem, and as soon as it goes away, the last thing you changed becomes the cure. Repeat the last fix on every computer you can find, including and especially ones that never had the problem in the first place. This magic can be aided by chanting such mantras as “I always change this setting in the BIOS and it seems to help”
  • Malware Exorcism
    We have already learned that computers are evil. What happens when you combine an evil computer with an evil programmer? Very evil software. Viruses, spam, denial of service, trojans, phishing, spyware, steath adware, these are the abominable names of the unholy legions of Malware which assail the world of computer magic. There is plenty of demand for technomancers skilled in the art of performing exorcisms to bind and banish malevolent malware from a possessed computer. Signs for recognizing a possessed computer include: very slow internet access, excessive pop-up advertisements, programs that suddenly appear without being installed, programs that refuse to be uninstalled, sudden changes of browser start-page, and green pea-soup spewing from the drive bays. Exorcism is difficult, because the tame imp that controls your computer may have already been killed by the malware, or your own attempts to purge the malware may be overly effective, and kill off the computer’s native demons. But is that really so bad?

How To Kill A Computer
We all know you can kill a Vampire with a wooden stake, or a Werewolf with a silver bullet, but how do you kill a computer? Computers are malevolent presences of evil, and the fact that we have domesticated them and locked them in pretty white (grey, black, fruity-translucent) boxes doesn’t change that fact. What if your computer goes berserk? Are you prepared to defend your home and family against it? Could you protect your employees if the company server started stomping on them, or sucking their blood? It’s not something many of us have contingency plans for, but believe me, your insurance carrier isn’t going to cover it.

  • Weapons
    It’s important to arm yourself with weapons when you go to confront a computer that might have to be “put down”. There are many available, but here are a few of my favorites:

    • FDISK: FDISK is a powerful weapon that you probably already have. Versions of it are included with DOS, Windows, and GNU/Linux. FDISK is like a double-edged sword. It can cut the heart right out of a computer’s hard drive, or can be used with surgical precision to lop of partitions as a warning, but be careful with it, because you can hurt yourself with it too, if your computer happened to have any files you cared about inside its belly. To learn more about safely wielding FDISK to intimidate, wound, or even kill your computer, just visit
    • CMOS and BIOS: The CMOS setup, also known as the BIOS is an important weak-spot of your computer. If you know how to get past your computers defenses and into the soft underbelly that is the BIOS, you will never need to spend another sleepless night cowering under the bed in fear of your computer. The real trick to the BIOS is getting in. When your computer is booting, try pressing DEL or F1 or F10. Different computers have different magic keys you must press to open them up to attack. Once you are inside, you have your computer by the nostrils, metaphorically speaking. Try to tell it it has hardware it doesn’t really have, or deny that real hardware is there. See a number? Try changing it! Careful abuse of the BIOS can not just wound, not just kill, but even in some causes cause your computer to catch fire
    • Physical Weapons: But of course, why take on the computer on its own turf, when you can do things on your own terms. Screwdrivers, claw-hammers, baseball bats, chainsaws, the possibilities are endless. With the exception of some over-powered CD-trays, most computers don’t have the ability to hit back. Be creative. Gasoline, cordless drills, second-story windows. The possibilities are endless.

©2001-2006 James Paige
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License.