Sometimes I'm frightened by how little I know about the field I profess to be in, which is computer science.
It's a strange discipline, really. The kind of knowledge you need to know to be considered proficient at computers is rarely taught in schools, and you have to pick up elsewhere.
Once upon a time, and this was pretty recent really, I had no idea what an Ethernet cable looked like. And I'm not talking ten years ago, but like 2-3 years ago. Which isn't to really say that I had no idea, only that it was not intimately familiar to me. Now you might wonder, why on Earth would I not know about that.
Until recently, which really means until the last ten years, personal computers were expensive. Until computers broke the 1000 dollar barrier, it was considered an expensive luxury. Usually, computers were priced around 1500 to 3000 dollars, but for the common person to buy a computer, a cheap computer had to be around 700 dollars or less, and now, if you want to go bare-bones, you can get one for 300 dollars, and that's really good enough for most people, who only plan to surf.
But until recently, I had no need to get my own computer. When I was undergrad, lo those many years ago, they had plenty to go around. At the time, they weren't even networked. And when they were, I had no idea how they were hooked up.
And when I reached grad school, well, they had computers all set up there too. There was no need for me to figure out how they hooked it up to the Internet. That was some IT guys job, not mine. I just worried about logging on and logging off.
And even when I started to teach, well, there was a computer on my desk, so I had no need to get one for myself, which, at the time, was still pretty expensive.
Eventually, a friend suggested I get a laptop, and he suggested a Mac, and I bought an IBook. It was kinda expensive, being around 1200 dollars or so, but I got a discount because they were releasing one of the early Mac OS X's.
In those days, which was like 2002 or so, wireless cards were still not entirely standard. The few students who had laptops (and those numbers were growing) had a pluggable wireless card. Macs were innovative, in that the card stuck underneath the keyboard, out of the way, unlike other PC laptops where they jutted out, likely to break. Users had to remove them manually when they were put away, lest they be snapped like so much graham crackers.
The wireless card, which Apple dubbed "Airport", cost another hundred dollars, but wireless connectivity was a must have, because getting Ethernet and finding a connection was not that convenient.
Thus, I had no need to touch Ethernet, pretty much until I got a job, and there was more hardware than I've ever really dealt with.
I remember when I was teaching computer hardware, and I wanted to "build" my own computer, so I spec'ed out the parts, and paid for it. Total price? About 1300 dollars. This included a monitor, a motherboard, a case, a hard drive, a floppy drive, even a computer desk. Sad thing? I never used it. Not even once. Well, just once to set it up. I eventually let a friend borrow it, and that was that.
Still, I became aware of things that no computer class still teaches you. Such as USB, Firewire, what the typical amount of RAM was, the typical hard drive, the typical clock speed of a PC, and so forth. All these were numbers I simply cared nothing about. Why should I care? They seemed like so many random specs, like people who obsess over the acceleration of a desired sportscar. Why should I care about clockspeed? Why should I care about RAM? The computer did what it was supposed to, so I didn't care.
But it was one reason I was curious about how to build a computer. Though expensive, it was one way to learn the pieces.
And do they teach that to you? No. Name a course that talks about Firewire, USB, Ethernet. Is it an introductory course? No. Is it a course in computer organization? No. I know, because I taught that plenty of times. Indeed, for the non-techie, there's an exasperating amount of crap that you must learn, each technology being replaced by new ones.
Why are computer science majors expected to know all of this? Because they own computers!
Then, there are things people learn because they play computer games, or play with their TV, such things as component cable vs. HDMI. If you don't play video games of have an HDTV, these things are unimportant to you. For years, all anyone cared about with a television was an antennae, or a cable, a plug, and a channel changer. Now, your typical HDTV comes with a gazillion connections, as much to play video games or display photos from your digital camera, as it is to watch television. And you know what? Obsolete in five years. Some new technology will come out, supersede the current stuff. DVDs, which marked the replacement of the horrible VHS tapes, are now being threatened with replacement by HD-DVD or Blu-ray. It's back to Betamax vs. VHS once again.
So I don't feel like an idiot calling tech support to get my Internet set up, and fortunately, they make it easy, and in any case, I had to call them up to get it activated.
Eventually, it will be much like the phone service, I think (unless cities are high speed wireless all the time). You call to activate, you plug in, and voila, you are done.
And that is that.
So I'm back on the Internet again.
Hooray for me.
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