Internet Censorship Just Started: Google & Twitter Are In

If you don’t know what Google is yet, you’re really lost. The two Internet giants – Google & Twitter – have both decided to pick up the pace on censorship and collaborate with certain nations that want certain pieces of their content blotted out, according to a Wired News article. I never thought this kind of craptastic catastrophe would ever ensue, because I thought that, well, people had brains, but it’s coming and it won’t stop. First it was the whole SOPA & PIPA debacle, then it was the craze about ACTA, and just a few days later, I find out that Google and Twitter are going to whip out some big-ass whiteout markers.

It seems that Google updated the policy on Blogger to allow countries to tell Google what they want blocked out. I had to do a double-take, because that shit’s just incredible! I understand that companies are under pressure. I mean, if ACTA passes everywhere, there will be no need for this stuff, but I suppose getting the cooperation of companies will help stop things like ACTA from passing, although it defeats the purpose of not having ACTA. It might as well have been signed by every single nation in the world, and it wouldn’t make a difference in comparison to what Google and Twitter agreed to do.

Of course, Twitter updated its policy a while back, but it surprised me to know that Google also followed suit. Who’s next? I think the next target might be Coca Cola, since some countries don’t have it and don’t want their users to know that there’s a better drink out there than their knock-off version.

There’s a lot of reasons why people are against this, and not all of them are against censorship because “OMG, they’re f**kin’ pirates!” That’s just a load of propaganda used to make people who aren’t pirates (pseh, right…) think that censorship is legitimate and protects their rights. Whenever I see people who believe this stuff, I see flag-waving, chest-beating, die-hard “freedom fighters” who believe that freedom has nothing to do with being free to do what you wish as long as you don’t step on someone’s toes.

Some of you might believe that the last thing I said on that paragraph relates to you, and offends you in some way. I understand that, as I am regularly offended by certain things as well. But, would you be promoting freedom by asking me to take that statement down? That’s merely my opinion and, just like you have the freedom to attack it, I have the freedom to keep it present. That’s what the Internet is about: Free expression. Let’s not forget the principle of being a global community. The Internet is the last place we can still express ourselves in. Let’s not lose that final hope.

HOW COMPUTERS WORK – PART 11 – USB [MEGA SERIES]

The universal serial bus (USB) is the best thing that ever happened to computers since power buttons. If you take a moment to think about how your life would be like without USB ports on your computer, you’d quickly find yourself hugging that little box of integrated circuits without question. Believe it or not, there was a bygone era when USB didn’t exist, which makes you think about how little compassion for end users PC manufacturers must have had back in the day. Almost everyone today wouldn’t buy a computer without at least 2 USB ports.

Before USB

Back in the day, when people used to tell you they were going to prepare food with an axe and a chicken in their hands, everyone was using either serial or parallel connectors on the computer. They looked like this:

So let’s say you’re back in the 90s with a PDA. You connect that sucker to the serial port. Computers usually have two of these, so that leaves room for a modem to connect to the web or something, right? And you don’t even sweat over adding a printer, since the parallel port is free. 20 years pass, and you have the iPod, wireless mice and keyboards, gaming pads, and tons of other devices. Where are you going to make room for all that without disconnecting something already on your PC? Things like these made IT guys panic and run around in circles back in the 90s.

The New Player in the Ballpark

USB was designed with the scope of saying “Why bother with all these different connectors that can only connect one device?” Seven companies sat in think tanks to come up with the design in 1994: Microsoft, Compaq (ugh…), DEC, IBM, Nortel, Intel, and NEC. Are you noticing a difference between banks and tech companies? Think “banks invented derivatives, and tech companies invented USB.”

What they came up with was much more elegant than anything developed before that day:

Everything in its design says “You’re a winner.” The best part of USB is that you can connect up to 127 devices to each port. You also might be enticed by the fact that the majority of devices available that interact with computers support USB, making the feature extraordinarily convenient.

Types of Connectors

The following is a brief list of the types of USB conectors:

  • Type A 
  • Type B 
  • Mini USB 
  • Micro USB 

Hubs

If you want to know how you’d ever been able to connect 127 devices to your computer through USB, look no further than the “hub.”

This device contains different ports for peripheral connections and one USB port for connection to your computer. The device gets is power from the cable connecting to the computer, although it can sometimes get some of its juice from a wall adapter. Best of all, you can connect multiple USB hubs to each other, further extending the number of USB devices you can add to one single port on the computer.

Finally, Some Geek Talk!

The computer doesn’t just magically welcome every device and starts the USB party. Each device has to be queried while the computer is booting and running. When it’s done, each device receives a number – a process better known as enumeration. During this process, the computer also “talks” to the device, trying to find out everything about it much like how that guy in the bar wants to know your number.

While chatting it up with the allegedly innocent little device, the computer negotiates how it will communicate with it, using either of three modes:

  • Interrupt – For keyboards, mice, etc. This type of communication simply halts everything else for signals to pass. When you press a key on the keyboard, I think you’d prefer not to wait for a page to finish printing before the computer responds to your requests, right?
  • Bulk – The computer sends data in 64-byte segments to a device that communicates in this fashion and verifies each segment for errors. Printers most commonly use this mode of communication.
  • Isochronous – This is pronounced “I suck-erroneous.” Basically, the computer sends a streaming signal to the device and doesn’t even look twice at it. It comes useful in the case of speakers, which don’t need error correction and require a steady, timely stream of data.

The computer’s USB bus often has a maximum capacity of 480 Megabits (Mb) per second in bandwidth available. USB 3.0 raises the bar to 10 times as much. Nevertheless, if your isochronous and interrupt devices use 90% of that bandwidth, the computer will not respond to requests from other devices. This means that your ideal dream of having 126 speakers and one keyboard/mouse connected to your computer might not work so well. The other 10% of the bandwidth is reserved for bulk communication devices.

Remember when I mentioned that the computer queries devices during and even after its boot process? What I meant is that you can connect any USB device to your computer and disconnect it as you please. The computer will detect it and, in most cases, install its software. This is known as “hot swapping.”

USB 3.0

The advantages of USB 3.0 over the run-of-the-mill USB 2.0 aren’t astronomical, but significant enough to be worth an upgrade.

For one, your devices receive almost twice as much power (900mA/5V) in comparison to USB 2.0 (500mA/5V). This jump up in power allows you to connect more non-powered devices to the USB ports and demand more from them.

USB 2.0 also has another flaw corrected in the 3.0 release: The cable only has 2 wires for communication. 3.0 implements six wires, allowing it to transmit and receive at the same time instead of waiting for either. Note that while these differences exist, all USB 2.0 and 3.0 devices & computers are compatible with each other. If you plug a USB 2.0 cable between two USB 3.0 ports, though, you’re not going to reap the benefits I just mentioned. The cable, the computer’s ports, and the device all have to match up.

 

HOW COMPUTERS WORK – PART 10 – OPTICAL DRIVES [MEGA SERIES]

From a Quarter to a Roll of Duct Tape

There’s a ton of different optical discs out there, ranging from the size of a quarter to the size of an average roll of your friendly neighborhood duct tape:

  •  DataPlay Discs (500 MB Capacity – Tiny)
  •   MiniCD/DVD (185 MB – 1.4 GB Capacity – Small, about 7 cm in diameter)
  •  CD/DVD/Blu-Ray (700 MB – 25 GB Capacity – Large)

In this whole diverse world of optical discs, I assure you that all of the drives work in relatively the same way.

How Optical Drives Work

Each disc holds data within its plastic exterior. The shiny layer of aluminum below all the polycarbonate plastic contains fluctuations in the surface, which are then read by the drive using a laser and an optoelectronic sensor. Considering that discs spin at rates of up to 30000 RPM, the implications of this are enough to make anyone’s constipation disappear. By the way, did you notice how we are so capable of making such advances in technology and, at the same time, we can’t make a headache pill worth a damn?

Before we go further, here’s an optical drive’s guts. Enjoy:

The optoelectronic sensor is within the laser assembly, and I’m too lazy to photoshop that much. You get the point.

As mentioned earlier, a disc has fluctuations on its aluminum surface. The bumps on the surface are known as “pits” and the flat areas are known as “lands.” These fluctuations are so tiny, you literally need a very strong electron microscope to view them:

While the disc is spinning, a laser hits it and the light reflects from the disc either onto the optoelectronic sensor – when it hits a “pit” – or back onto the laser – when it hits a “land.” The disc drive assembly takes care of where the laser has to travel to hit its target. The pit represents a value of 1 and the land represents a value of 0. Sound familiar?

All those zeros and ones construct a file, and that concludes the “Optical Drives 101″ lesson. Congratulations!

 

 

HOW COMPUTERS WORK – PART 9 – THE HARD DRIVE & SOLID STATE DRIVE [MEGA SERIES]

What HDDs and SSDs Do
For the sake of simplicity, I’ll refer to both the HDD and SSD as hard disks. They both have the same function, so why not give them both the same name in this document?

Your hard disk stores everything on your computer, from the operating system to the calendar with the proctologist appointment to every single video, photo, program, book, or virus. This isn’t something hard to understand, so I’ll just move on from the subject. Just don’t confuse the hard disk with your computer’s RAM, which stores all active and running program data. There is something the hard disk does that relates to RAM:

Page File/Swap File/Virtual Memory
The hard disk on every computer contains a file that has many names, depending on the context you use it in and the operating system you’re talking about. The consensual accepted term is “virtual memory,” but Linux might refer to it as a “swap file” and Windows occasionally calls it a “page file.” This part of your memory stores parts of open applications that don’t necessarily need the speed of RAM, but need to go somewhere anyway. Operating systems prioritize what goes where, and I’m not going to get too much into that, but programmers might recognize the MEM_PHYSICAL flag in VirtualAlloc().

How HDDs Work
OK, so now we’re going to split things up into HDD concepts and SSD concepts. An HDD is a device that magnetically records data on metal platters, much like how a video tape records images in its tape. The HDD isn’t like a video tape, though, since it doesn’t need to rewind or forward anywhere.

Think of the HDD as a sort of vinyl record player. You can move the needle anywhere you want on the record without having to rewind on the track. HDDs use something called a read/write head to perform the function of the needle. However, instead of touching the disk, an HDD’s read/write head glides over the surface just a tiny distance from the platter. A single speck of dust getting between the platter and the head can corrupt any data transfer. That’s why HDDs are enclosed in an airtight metal casing.

The heads on the disk move across the platter to read and write data, and the platter spins consistently at a high speed (anywhere between 5000 and 11000 RPM) to make data access easier.

The Problem
Hard drives are cute, but not cute enough. Their data rates started dragging all other components of the computer down after processors got faster, RAM started storing data at much higher rates, and applications started demanding more and more transfer speeds. If your computer’s slow, chances are that your hard drive’s causing the whole shebang to run like a tortoise. This is mostly owed to the fact that HDDs use moving parts and mechanical read/write methods.

While every other piece of hardware on the computer has been upgraded and looks much different compared to its predecessor, the hard drive today is still the same hard drive used back in the dinosaur IBM Aptiva era, only with faster platters and new data retrieval methods. These improvements couldn’t quite keep up with newer components, and the idea of having platters and heads was abandoned altogether giving way to a new kind of data storage medium.

Solid State Drives
OK. Forget about moving parts and medieval magic. Let’s talk transistors!

This is what people said when they came up with the idea for a solid state drive that would hold all your data much like RAM does. If you have no idea how RAM functions, you should read up on the previous part of this series. In fact, an SSD is only a more sophisticated version of RAM and, with no moving parts, it transfers data just as fast as a RAM module. SSDs can reach up to twice the speed of dinosaur HDDs.

If you want to pack a punch, buy one and see how lightning fast it eats up all the data on your computer. Everything works almost harmoniously. No moving parts also equate to no noise – something for you to think about if you have a home office and the sound of a hard drive churning butter all day bothers you.

Unlike RAM, an SSD stores information and keeps it there. This technology is better known as flash memory, and you use it every day whether you like it or not. The process of flash storage differs from RAM’s method in that it keeps the electric charge between two transistors consistent and stores it, even after the device no longer receives an electric current.

This is achieved through a series of gates and something known as Fowler-Nordheim tunneling, a process through which electrons are forced through a barrier using a high electric field. You don’t have to learn about this process if you don’t want to. It’s not like I’m going to cover it, and if I do, I will explain it in much simpler terms.

HOW COMPUTERS WORK – PART 8 – RAM [MEGA SERIES]

What is RAM?
RAM, also known as physical memory, is essentially what stores everything open in your computer. It contains a repository of operating system libraries, drivers, open applications, and in some cases, rendering data for open windows. All the buttons in your program, every tab you open, and every video of Justin Bieber you click “Dislike” on is stored in memory until you close the Window it’s contained inside of.

How RAM Works
Just like the CPU, RAM stores all its memory inside a collection of transistors and capacitors. Read the CPU article if you have no idea what a transistor is.

Of course, the capacitors and transistors inside your RAM are much smaller and much simpler. Each capacitor in a RAM module stores a bit, the smallest possible increment of data in a computer. If you’re lost, read about bits and bytes first. If a computer wants to write a zero to a capacitor, it simply stops the flow of electricity to that particular capacitor by switching the transistor off.

There’s just one problem with this pretty picture of RAM: Capacitors can only store energy for a very limited amount of time. To counteract this, the memory controller on your motherboard ”refreshes” the capacitors at a rate equivalent to the “memory clock,” which is very similar to a CPU clock.

The Big Picture
So, since you now understand the internal workings of RAM, you should also be aware that your computer writes anything you open to its capacitors. This stores only what’s running at the moment and cannot store anything permanently. When you install a program, it’s written to the hard drive. When you open the installed program, its contents and all data associated with it is written to memory so that the program runs.

Types of RAM
Once you understand how RAM works, and what RAM does, you’re ready to learn the most common types of RAM on computers:

FPM DRAM (Fast Page Mode Dynamic RAM) – This is probably one of the oldest types of RAM that existed in personal computers. It pinpointed every single bit of memory that the processor asked for, one at a time. Imagine how “fast” it would “page” things.

EDO DRAM (Extended Data-Out Dynamic RAM) – This type of RAM existed much later and used the same method of data retrieval as FPM DRAM, save for the fact that the module didn’t wait for each bit to be retrieved. It simply retrieved the next bit in the next clock cycle once the previous bit has been located.

SDRAM (Synchronous Dynamic RAM) – This type of RAM cycles through columns of data, assuming that the CPU will grab data in chunks instead of single bits, making it work faster than its predecessors. Most computers built during the late 90s implemented this type of doohickey.

DDR SDRAM (Double Data Rate Synchronous Dynamic RAM) – To understand this type of RAM, think of the memory clock as a heartbeat. Every time the memory clock “beats” it has a diastolic and systolic rhythm – upbeat and downbeat. SDRAM only took advantage of the “downbeat” to retrieve data. DDR SDRAM, however, takes advantage of both the downbeat and the upbeat, making it twice as fast. This was improved further to yield DDR2 and DDR3 RAM.

RDRAM (Rambus DRAM) – A company named Rambus created a new type of RAM which works with a high-speed “Rambus” channel that helps accelerate the processing of read/write operations. Although not necessarily “better” than DDR SDRAM, it is worth a mention because the modules look cute. Oh, and the RAM modules tend to overheat, which is why they each need heat spreaders to help get rid of extra heat produced by massive electrical resistance.

VRAM (Video Memory) – This type of RAM usually exists in dedicated graphics cards for the sole purpose of storing rendering data and other things your computer would otherwise waste its own memory on. Although there’s many different forms of this RAM I prefer not to discuss, the important thing is that it has two different access ports: One for the CPU and one for a dedicated graphics processor known as the (GPU). It makes graphically intense applications run much more smoothly.