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What's a computer?

Discussion in 'Tech Talk - Gadgets, Gizmos and Technology' started by phrelin, Jan 5, 2011.

  1. TBoneit

    TBoneit Hall Of Fame

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    My own feeling is that modern computing was around during WWII, I seem to remember that one was used to generate tables for 18" guns on Battleships for example and a code breaker I knew used to reminisce about the one used at Bletchley Park, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bletchley_Park
    "The Colossus machines were electronic computing devices used by British codebreakers to help read encrypted German messages during World War II." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colossus_computer"

    "The Enigma machines were a family of portable cipher machines with rotor scramblers" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cryptanalysis_of_the_Enigma
    Having tried out the naval version of the Enigma machine I was impressed by it.
     

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  2. phrelin

    phrelin Hall Of Fame DBSTalk Club

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    Northern...
    In the 1920's my dad worked with what he called "Hollerith machines." As explained in the linked item on Wikipedia:
     
  3. Stuart Sweet

    Stuart Sweet The Shadow Knows!

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    And I would argue that the coming of the internet, which has been called by some the third "great invention" of humankind (the other two being the wheel and the written word), separates all computing devices into pre-internet and internet-enabled.

    You can write using a computer. How will you distribute what you write? A printer? That's archaic when a blog post can reach millions instanteously. You can create a presentation but who are you going to show it to? The people who walk up to the computer?

    Believe me I wrestled with this. Without going into detail there were meetings and discussions and ironically I think it was the very fact that we had to have these meetings over e-mail and screen-sharing software that made my point.

    Phrelin's point is well made, that the term "computer" or "personal computer" is increasingly irrelevant. But I would be willing to bet that long before I retire, terms like "phone," "television," "computer" and "home theatre" will all be irrelevant as they will describe an increasingly singular set of capabilities. One of those key capabilities will be two-way, instantaneous communication.

    I don't know what tools teenagers in 2025 are going to use but I'll grant you this, there is no doubt they will be connected.
     
  4. phrelin

    phrelin Hall Of Fame DBSTalk Club

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    Unless, of course, in 2025 we have a world war involving only electromagnetic pulse bombs, in which case they would find themselves mostly all alive and well but "bombed back" to the late 1800's and unable to function, totally.:sure: ;)
     
  5. SayWhat?

    SayWhat? Know Nothing

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    But take the computer out of the truck and see what happens. Nada. You might as well put it up on blocks and use it for a giant planter.
     
  6. SayWhat?

    SayWhat? Know Nothing

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    More and more devices are connecting to the web that I wouldn't call computers. Things like TVs, refrigerators and other appliances in today's "smart homes". Then of course there are web-based security/traffic/tourist cameras all over everywhere.

    Yet, that smart phone has more computing power than many early desktops.
     
  7. davring

    davring Hall Of Fame

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    Most GM vehicles(in the last few years) can connect to the internet, my daughters new Camaro sends, via sat(Onstar I assume) a monthly readout of all systems on the car, from tire pressure, next oil change, etc. to her email.
     
  8. Marlin Guy

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    Stuart, I see your point... to a point.
    The term has come to mean a specific type of a device for a specific purpose in the common everyday vocabulary.

    But every bandage is not a band-aid, even though most people refer to them as such.

    I think the key here is that "Personal Computer" has been shortened to "Computer" and has become generic and household.

    Probably 99/100 of average Americans surveyed would choose a laptop or a desktop out of a lineup when asked to identify the "computer". They'd pay no attention to the smart phones, GPS devices, etc. on either side of it.
    Furthermore, perhaps as many as 60% would point to the monitor on the desktop system as the actual "computer".

    I'm not sure if dumbing down the vernacular is the wisest or most preferred approach, but it certainly appears to be the current trend.
     
  9. Stuart Sweet

    Stuart Sweet The Shadow Knows!

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    Is the vernacular getting dumber or are people simply acknowledging the pervasiveness of silicon-based, solid-state logic equipment in everything they own and smartly choosing to keep the term "computer" to mean that device specifically intended for both traditional computing purposes and electronic communication over the internet?

    Sorry that came out so wordy, I didn't know how else to say "most stuff that has a computer isn't a computer."
     
  10. phrelin

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    Northern...
    The automobile analogy here has led me to a further thought. We don't describe the vehicle as a Ford Mustang engine or Chevy Silverado engine. I guess a Ford F-150 would be a pickup truck powered by an internal combustion engine. And I guess my iPad is a [something] powered by an electronic computer. What the something is, I don't know. I think it has about as much in common with an Etch-A-Sketch as it does a tablet.
     
  11. Stuart Sweet

    Stuart Sweet The Shadow Knows!

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    Right you are. And the term "computer" isn't really appropriate for that. But in a world where we still "dial" telephones, "turn on" things that don't have knobs, and "roll down" windows, it's just another misnomer.

    Don't worry old friend, someone younger than us will coin a new term fairly soon for their computing / communication / entertainment portal device.

    To paraphrase an old movie, (The Money Pit) I think we should call it Meryl Streep.
     
  12. SayWhat?

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    Before too long < we > will connect to the web without the need of any external devices. We will have some form of implant available from birth that will be self-powered from our own body's electrical impulses..
     
  13. pfp

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    I absolutely consider my iphone a computer.
     
  14. YtseJammer1977

    YtseJammer1977 Mentor

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    Wouldn't a "computer" simply be a device capable of "computing"?
     
  15. Stewart Vernon

    Stewart Vernon Roving Reporter Staff Member Super Moderator DBSTalk Club

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    Stuart... here's something conceptually in your wheelhouse.

    You are an illustrator... and you use a computer to do at least some of that.

    Purists would argue that you are not an artist if you use a computer program that does some of the work for you.

    I, for example, stand a much better chance of painting the Mona Lisa via Photoshop than I ever would via paintbrush in hand.

    Note that *I* don't see it this way... but I'm extending the concept of what "defines" a computer to other concepts.

    Arguably, if an internet connection is required in your mind to make a computer a computer... I'm curious if you would extend that ever-evolving dynamic to other technologies.

    Am I a writer if I use Microsoft Word instead of pen & paper?

    Am I a designer if I use software instead of an artboard?

    Do I know math if I use a calculator?

    Is it still "reading" if I listen to an audiobook?
     
  16. HIPAR

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    It's a device that algorithmically manipulates input variables tor producing output variables.

    It doesn't necessarily need to be electrically powered to meet that definition.

    --- CHAS
     
  17. brant

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    I don't see how a pencil can be considered a computer using that definition. For one, it has no capacity to store information.
     
  18. 4HiMarks

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    Yeah. A pencil is, at best, an input device, in a class with keyboards, mice, and increasingly these days, fingers.
     
  19. Stuart Sweet

    Stuart Sweet The Shadow Knows!

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    Interesting analogy but in my mind it breaks down. You can still be an artist if your choice of medium is Photoshop. However, you are not automatically an artist because you use Photoshop.

    What you're talking about is the mental process. And the mental process is important no matter what your choice of tools. What I'm talking about is the utility of the tool. And I'm arguing that the communication portal aspect is a keystone of the utility of the computer, here in 2011 and beyond.

    My argument is that a computer without connectivity is like a car with rims but no tires. It is possible to operate it but its utility is severely compromised. You could argue that it's still a car, just one without tires. And I'd come back and say true, but it's designed to have tires. Just as a computer must be designed to connect, whether or not it does; I'd further argue that a tire-less car is no good as a car, unless it's used for a special purpose like going down train tracks.
     
  20. phrelin

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    And I would still be a human. But the tech press will start labeling us "human computers" even though they never before called us human stomachs or livers or....:sure:

    In other words something that has a computer as a part doesn't become a computer - or do computers really engulf everything they become a part of?:eek2:
     

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