Archive for November, 2015

How do Software and Hardware Interact?

Posted in Digital Data, laptop  by Carol
November 23rd, 2015

You probably have heard of software, hardware, and firmware. I may even wager that you know the difference if you’re asking this question. But can you really understand the different ways these aspects of the computer function without understanding how they interact? I don’t know how you can know anything. But here’s some more stuff to know:

hardware softwareWhen you turn your computer on, the CPU (central processing unit) immediately starts executing software instructions from your BIOS (basic input/output system), which is a special chip on your main board. This program will then request more instructions from a specific hard drive, and your operating system will start to execute.

But how does this explain how the hardware and software physically do their jobs? I’m not sure it will, but think about how a mechanical music box works. Music boxes make particular melodies because they have patterns inscribed on them; patterns of nails, for example, which when a cylinder holding the nails rotates, will strike a keyboard in a particular sequence. If you were to use a music box as an analogy for a computer (which I’m doing), you would say that the particular pattern of nails on the music box is equivalent to the software on the computer, while the nails themselves, along with every other physical component of the box, fall under the category of hardware.

So back to your CPU: It has, like every other CPU, a particular manual describing which patterns of bits (analogically synonymous with the music box’s nails) do what. Bit, by the way, is short for binary digit. The first part of any pattern of bits is going to be the instruction, which selects which part of the CPUs circuits to open; it has a circuit for addition, a circuit for storing to memory or reading from it, etc. The second part of the bit pattern is the operand(s), which is the data that gets passed along to the circuit that is currently selected. It could be a number, a memory address, a register name, whatever.

hardware software broLet’s go back again in case that’s confusing: software is basically just a series of 0’s and 1’s. The operating system of the computer(that’s the software) is what reads the software code (which exists physically on the hardware) and translates it into binary. Software code, as it exists physically, is just a series of either magnetized or demagnetized pieces of metal (as in a hard-disk drive) or a series of transistors which either are switched on (meaning they possess electrical current) or switched off (meaning they don’t). The pieces of metal and transistors are tiny; they exist only on a microscopic level.

While software can change other software on versatile memory devices, “firmware” is software written on devices that are not versatile, like read-only memory (ROM). Firmware is the foundation for your device’s operating system and all other software, so it’s the most basic software on your device and it usually cannot be manipulated.

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Archive for November, 2015

How do Software and Hardware Interact?

Posted in Digital Data, laptop  by Carol
November 23rd, 2015

internet of things

“The Internet of Things” (IoT) joined the rank of tech buzz phrases when Kevin Ashton (cofounder of MIT’s Auto ID Center) first mentioned it in a presentation he made to Procter & Gamble in 1999. One decade later, the forward-thinker continues to elaborate on the concept in an article he wrote for the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Journal:

“Today’s computers- and, therefore, the internet- are almost wholly dependent on human beings for information. Nearly all of the roughly 50 petabytes of data available on the Internet were first captured and created by human beings- by typing, pressing a record button, taking a digital picture of scanning a bar code. Conventional diagrams of the Internet include servers and routers and so on, but they leave out the most numerous and important routers of all: people. The problem is, people have limited time, attention and accuracy- all of which mean they are not very good at capturing data about things in the real world.”

“If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things- using data they gathered without any help from us- we could be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost,” he continued. “We need to empower computers with their own means of gathering information, so they can see, hear and smell the world for themselves, in all its random glory. RFID and sensor technology enable computers to observe, identify, and understand the world- without the limitations of human-entered data.”

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Let’s back up for a second. For the record, a “thing” in the Internet of Things, can be a person, an animal, a vehicle, or anything else man-made or otherwise that has been assigned an IP address (a unique string of numbers separated by periods that identifies each computer using the Internet Protocol to communicate over a network) and provided with the ability to transfer data over a network.

For example, take the latest health-craze product known as the Fitbit. The Fitbit is, among other things, a pedometer that tracks the amount of steps taken by the wearer in a day. That information is then immediately sent to the user’s Fitbit account, so the user can track the changes of his or her daily movement. The Fitbit therefore occupies a space in the Internet of Things as it constantly transfers data, over a network, to be accessed by other devices.

Ashton believes that products like the Fitbit scrape only the tip of the Internet of Things iceberg: “It’s not just a ‘bar code on steroids’ or a way to speed up toll roads, and we must never allow our vision to shrink to that scale. The Internet of Things has the potential to change the world, just as the Internet did. Maybe even more so.”

That said, the Internet of Things has already come a long way from its humble beginnings; the first ever internet appliance was a lowly Coke machine at Carnegie Melon University. Its programmers manufactured it in the 1980’s with the intention of always knowing if it was stocked before they got up from their desks.

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