17 Dec 2014 : 'Computers' is a broad topic

My kid sister called me to cram information into her head before her computers exam (a mandatory, unwelcome module of her hotel management course). We had ten minutes to cover the entire previous year’s paper.

“What’s the digital revolution and how is technology fueling the digital revolution?” “Uh. I guess that everything is online now? Think about everything that’s different from when you were a kid (like two years ago). It just means that computers do most things better than humans so we let them. Probably. Nobody really says digital revolution.”

“What’s convergence?” “Depends on the context. Probably how laptops look like other laptops and smartphones look like other smartphones and nothing is weird.”

“What’s the difference between RAM and gigabytes?” “…are you sure that’s the question?” “Oh, no, RAM and disk. What are gigabytes anyway” “Look around your room. There are various places you can store things. The stuff that’s on your desk that you can reach quickly without having to search? That’s RAM. The stuff on the floor under the dirty clothes that you have to walk over to. That’s disk. Uh. If your desk disappeared every time you turned off your computer. Gigabytes is a billion bytes. Giga is just a prefix, like kilo. You know meter, kilometer? So bytes, gigabytes” “Oh, that’s the number beside the attachment when I mail something?” “Yes! So you have room on your desk and your floor for something billion bytes. A byte is a tiny thing. That’s all it means”

“The lecturer says if we ever buy a computer and we can have more memory or a free printer, take the memory. But you can’t just put more memory into a computer, can you?” “Sure you can. It’s a physical little rectangular thing. It goes clunk when you put it in properly.”

“Why is database security important?” “Why does Obama not want me to have his password?” “Ohhh.” “What if he uses the same password for more than one thing? Like, I get his pinterest password and who cares, ok, I’m going to pin some knit caps he doesn’t like, but actually he uses the same password for Facebook…” “ohhhh” “And maybe he doesn’t actually use his Facebook account so he doesn’t notice that I’m on there being him and asking someone to do something as a favour?” “!!!” “When you go to the doctor do they ever type information about you into a computer” “…yes” “That’s a database. Why would you want to stop random people being able to read that?” “!!!” “Ditto credit cards, and…  everything really.”

“What is the best way to add peripherals slash devices to a computer system?” “Dude, these questions are bizarre. Does USB sound familiar?” “I think there was something about USB and ports?” “Ok, say that.”

“Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Microsoft Windows and MacOS. It’s worth 18% of the exam” “Did you go to any of the lectures?” “Yes. Well, sort of? Nobody wants to do this class. It’s not that we mind computers. There’s just so much of it.”

And that I could not argue with. The rest of the questions included ping, whois, bittorrent, form factors, measuring speed and latency, dual booting vs virtual machines, “discuss cellular data transport”, “discuss mods and modders” and “do computers need a permanent IP address?”. Which are fairly difficult theoretical concepts if you have no knowledge whatsoever to hook on to. (This is not a backhanded complaint about the shameful lack of computer knowledge in hotel management students or anything. I applaud the college’s attempt to give these kids some background information. I’m not sure it works as a single subject any more though.

That said, schools teach “geography” and even “science”, which are also a bit broad, so I guess this is typical.

Anyway, she IMed me today to say that it went pretty well, and that she wrote down the desk/floor analogy as one of the answers. I should probably mail the lecturer and apologise.