Word of the Day: Icon

Ever since the Macintosh was introduced in 1984, icons have been the way we view files on computers. An icon on your computer screen represents an object or a program on your hard drive. For example, the folders you see on your desktop or in open windows are icons. The files that you see in those folders are also icons. The trash can on the Macintosh and the recycle bin on Windows are both icons as well.

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Icons are a visual representation of something on your computer. For example, a blue “e” on your screen most likely repersents the Internet Explorer program. An icon that looks like a sheet of paper is probably a text document. By clicking and dragging icons, you can move the actual files they represent to various locations on your computer’s hard drive. By double-clicking an application icon, you can open the program. Icons are one of the fundamental features of the graphical user interface (GUI). They make computing much more user-friendly than having to enter text commands to accomplish anything. Some Unix nerds would beg to differ, but I’m talking about normal people here.

– definition from TechTerms

Word of the Day: CMOS

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Stands for “Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor.” This technology is typically used in making transistors. The “complementary” part of the term unfortunately does not mean these semiconductors are free. Instead, it refers to how they produce either a positive or negative charge. Because CMOS-based transistors only use one charge at a time, they run efficiently, using up very little power. This is because the charges can stay in one state for a long period of time, allowing the transistor to use little or no power except when needed. Because of their wonderful efficiency, processors that use CMOS-based transistors can run at extremely high speeds without getting too hot and going up in flames. You may also find CMOS memory in your computer, which holds the date and time and other basic system settings. The low power consumption of CMOS allows the memory to be powered by a simple Lithium battery for many years.

– definition from TechTerms

Word of the Day: Terahertz

Terahertz is a unit of measurement sometimes used to measure computer clock speeds. One terahertz is equal to 1,000 gigahertz (GHz), or 1,000,000,000,000 hertz (Hz). Since the majority of personal computers operate between two and four gigahertz, most computer clock speeds are not measured in terahertz. Instead, terahertz is more often used to measure the total speed of computing clusters or supercomputers.

Like gigahertz, terahertz only measures frequency, or cycles per second. Since some processors require more cycles to process instructions than others, terahertz is not always an accurate measurement of overall computing power. Additional factors, such as RAM speed, bus speed, and processor cache, also effect a computer’s performance. Therefore, other units of measurements, such as MIPS and FLOPS are typically used to measure the computing performance of supercomputers and other high-end computer systems.

Abbreviation: THz.

– definition from TechTerms

Word of the Day: LIFO

Stands for “Last In, First Out.” LIFO is a method of processing data in which the last items entered are the first to be removed. This is the opposite of LIFO is FIFO (First In, First Out), in which items are removed in the order they have been entered.

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To better understand LIFO, imagine stacking a deck of cards by placing one card on top of the other, starting from the bottom. Once the deck has been fully stacked, you begin to remove the cards, starting from the top. This process is an example of the LIFO method, because the last cards to be placed on the deck are the first ones to be removed.

The LIFO method is sometimes used by computers when extracting data from an array or data buffer. When a program needs to access the most recent information entered, it will use the LIFO method. When information needs to be retrieved in the order it was entered, the FIFO method is used.

– definition from TechTerms

Word of the Day: Pixel

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The term “pixel” is actually short for “Picture Element.” These small little dots are what make up the images on computer displays, whether they are flat-screen (LCD) or tube (CRT) monitors. The screen is divided up into a matrix of thousands or even millions of pixels. Typically, you cannot see the individual pixels, because they are so small. This is a good thing, because most people prefer to look at smooth, clear images rather than blocky, “pixelated” ones. However, if you set your monitor to a low resolution, such as 640×480 and look closely at your screen, you will may be able to see the individual pixels. As you may have guessed, a resolution of 640×480 is comprised of a matrix of 640 by 480 pixels, or 307,200 in all. That’s a lot of little dots.

Each pixel can only be one color at a time. However, since they are so small, pixels often blend together to form various shades and blends of colors. The number of colors each pixel can be is determined by the number of bits used to represent it. For example, 8-bit color allows for 2 to the 8th, or 256 colors to be displayed. At this color depth, you may be able to see “graininess,” or spotted colors when one color blends to another. However, at 16, 24, and 32-bit color depths, the color blending is smooth and, unless you have some kind of extra-sensory vision capability, you should not see any graininess.

– definition from TechTerms

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