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CS 101 - Frequently Asked Questions

And the most popular from previous years!

  1. What is a geek?

    The Jargon File (a glossary of computer programmer slang) defines "geek" in this way:

    geek (n.)

    A person who has chosen concentration rather than conformity; one who pursues skill (especially technical skill) and imagination, not mainstream social acceptance. Most geeks are adept with computers.

    These are people who did not go to their high school proms, and many would be offended by the suggestion that they should have even wanted to.

    ...With each year, geek culture becomes more visible, more defined, and more influential.

  2. How does the Internet really work?

    We'll cover the basic ideas behind the Internet (and networking in general) during the semester.

  3. How many different programming languages are there?

    Literally hundreds, if you count special-purpose languages.  In the '70s, a fellow wrote a paper called "The Next 700 Programming Languages".  However, there are only a handful of "language groups".  That is, there are languages which are considered to be related to one another, and these form groups.  There are about a dozen such groups, but few people would agree on the exact number.

    • How are they different, and why?

      There is an entire course of how they differ.  The main reason they differ is because they are intended to solve different types of problems.  There is no best way to solve every problem, so there is no "best" programming language.

  4. Why won't processors recognize anything but programming languages?

    Actually, processors don't recognize programming languages at all!  Any program code has to be converted (compiled is the technical term) to the instruction set of the processor.  To the computer, these instructions are just patterns of 1's and 0's that tell it to execute different operations.

    For a computer to execute something other than a programming language (I assume you mean a natural language, like English) someone would have to come up with a way to convert English to the processor's instruction set.  This is a huge thorny problem and researchers have worked on it for decades.

  5. How does motherboard circuitry/technology work?

    We may talk about this a little bit, but developing the circuitry is typically the job of electrical engineers.  This is discussed in more detail in CSci 270 and the digital electronics class offered by the Physics department.

  6. What do we make of Al Gore's claim to be the inventor of the Internet?

    Mr. Gore actually didn't claim to be the 'inventor' but he did use the phrase 'initiative in creating' and while you might interpret that to mean invent, it's not what he meant.  He did overstate his case, but many of those who helped develop the technologies used by the Internet credit Mr. Gore with understanding its importance, championing its development on Capitol Hill, and helping produce legislation for its continued development.  See Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn's discussion of this and also Al Gore and information technology (from Wikipedia).

  7. Does my computer have to be connected (to be on) and connected to the Internet in order for others to view my web page?

    For a webpage to be accessible on the Internet, it must be stored on a computer that is running software called a webserver, and that computer must be running with a connection to the Internet. Luckily, any webpage you produce for this class is stored on our CS webserver,, which is (almost) always on and connected to the Internet, so others can view your webpage pretty much 24/7, 365 days a year.

  8. What makes one computer faster than another?

    There are many factors that go into computer performance, and clock speed (the GHz rating of a processor) is just one aspect.  The advertising people may have the general public fooled into thinking that clock speed is the only factor, but it isn't.  The structure of the memory heirarchy is very important, as is bus speed.  A faster clock speed can be defeated by a slow memory or bus speed for most of today's software.

  9. Related questions:

    • Why is one computer 2.0 GHz and another 3.0 GHz?
    • How is this measured?
  10. What is the difference between computer science and computer programming?  What is the main reason for Computer Science, anyway?

    We'll answer these questions during the semester.

  11. Is there a difference between different types of computer programs?  Why do we use Java?  JavaScript?  Other languages?

    People tend to either the computer language their manager (or instructor!) requires, or if given the freedom, will use the language best suited to the job at hand.  We learn Java / JavaScript because they are current, used by many programmers the world over, and relatively easy to use in our labs.

  12. When did women become a part of or acknowledged in the computer science world?

    Lady Ada Lovelace is considered by many to be the first 'programmer' even though there were no computers for her to program in 1842!  She saw the computational potential of Charles Babbage's Analytic Engine and devised a method to program it.  The Engine was not an electronic digital computer as we know them today (it was to be made of gears and run on steam) but it was designed to perform general computations.  Well, in theory anyway.  It was never completed.

    The Ada Programming Language was named after Ada Lovelace.

    Grace Hopper (1906 - 1992) was a mathematician who worked on one of the first computers as a civilian employee of the Navy during World War II.  She was eventually made an officer in the Navy and retired a Rear Admiral. She worked on databases and was instrumental in developing the COBOL programming language.  She devoted much of her time to improving computer science education.

    Many of the women who helped pioneer the computer industry were not acknowledged until much later. As an example, see Jean Bartik's obituary in the New York Times.

  13. How do "mini" computers, like Palm Pilots, work?

    Usually these work the same way a desktop or laptop does, internally.  The main difference is in the input (using a stylus or other device other than a keyboard) but most of the difference is just miniaturization of the components.

  14. If we can build laptops with technology of the same - or better - than normal PC hardware, why can't we build better PCs?

    I guess I don't really understand the question.  Can you be more specific?  I would argue that some companies can - and do - build better PCs.

  15. How do video cards and graphics accelerators work?

    This question is beyond the scope of this course.  But at the electronics level, the behavior of these cards is similar to the behavior of the computer system itself. Video cards include their own processors and memory, and in a sense could be considered their own little computer-within-a computer, but specialized for handling graphics.

  16. What is nanotechnology?

    In general, this question is beyond the scope of this course.  While there are applications of nanotechnology in computers, it is not something a computer scientist is typically involved in.  However - maybe someday soon we will be.

cs101/computer_science_101_wiki.txt · Last modified: 2014/01/16 14:01 by scarl