Bits, Bytes, and Beyond

Computer technology has a lot of lingo, and if you’re buying a computer you need to know at least enough to understand the specs. Here’s a primer on the basic units of computer storage.

A bit is the tiniest piece of information on a computer–we can think of it as having the value of “0” or “1”, on or off. We don’t usually talk about bits, in the same way we don’t worry too much about pennies in our purchases: they’re too small to be of much consequence.

A byte is a less precise term, but today it is generally accepted as eight bits. You can think of a byte as enough space to store a single alphanumeric character or symbol. Computer storage is measured in multiples of bytes.

Armed with this information, we can add prefixes to form new terms for larger measurements:

A kilobyte (abbreviated KB) is roughly equivalent to one thousand bytes. Technically, it’s equal to 1,024 bytes, but rounding it to 1,000 is close enough.

A megabyte (abbreviated MB) is roughly 1,000 kilobytes or one million bytes.

A gigabyte (abbreviated GB) is roughly 1,000 megabytes or one billion bytes.

A terabyte (abbreviated TB) is roughly 1,000 gigabyte or one trillion bytes.

Mega = 1,000,000
Giga = 1,000,000,000
Tera = 1,000,000,000,000

A trillion bytes! That is a tremendous amount of memory for text, if you remember that each byte can store a character. If all we’re talking about is text, that’s more than 250 million pages!

These days, though, we store photos and music and videos, and it’s much harder to conceive of how much storage we actually need. Next time we’ll look at the difference between computer RAM and disk storage, and how much of them you might find on a new computer.


Kill your computer ( for a while)


A challenge!


From what you ask?

Well the Internet, TV, email, SMS text, Facebook the list goes on.


Here are a few reasons:


Well attention spans are it turns out are elastic in nature.

There is a school of thought that says, that all of this digital immersion, is in fact reducing out ability to focus for extended periods of time.   Unplugging will help you to focus.


Computers are actually quite useful tools when used properly.

But they can also provide a conduit for wasting time.  Unplugging will help you develop a healthy balance and allow you to focus on other activities.  Try exercise, reading, walk that dog!   It will certainly help make you healthy and reduce stress.



Not everything is important.

Do you wonder why your colleague hasn’t responded to the email you sent 10 minutes ago on a Saturday night?   Well life is about more that email and the digital world!


Pay attention to things that matter.

I was at dinner in a local restaurant with my wife and we noticed a near by table.  There sat a Dad, son and daughter engaged in handheld devices, while Mom, Grandma and Grandpa (I assume) sat actually talking.   Kind of sad I thought.

Kind of a strange article to find on a tech blog for sure.

But give it a chance you may be surprised.  There is a whole world out there beyond your computer screen.

Bob C



Spring Cleaning for your Computer

We get asked quite a lot about how to best clean a computer. Here are some tips to help you keep the shine on without damaging the components.

Cleaning Screens
Always turn off and unplug your computer before coming at it with any liquid, including cleaning wipes.

Cleaning the screen is best done with a dry microfiber cloth. Some computers come with a cleaning cloth, but you can also use window-cleaning cloths found at many stores.

If there are spots on the screen that can’t be cleaned with a dry cloth, water is your next best bet. Use a light spray, never on a hot screen, and take care that water doesn’t drip or spray into any crevices in the computer or monitor.

If water isn’t doing the trick, you can purchase spray or wipes specifically formulated to clean a computer screen. Again, don’t put anything wet on a hot screen, and don’t let liquid get inside the computer or monitor.

With any of these methods, be sure not to apply significant force to the screen. It is possible to break screens, so be careful.

Cleaning Keyboards
If you are using an external keyboard, unplug it from the computer before cleaning. If you’re cleaning a laptop keyboard unplug and turn off the computer before cleaning the keyboard.

Remove crumbs and debris by gently shaking the keyboard upside down over a waste receptacle.

For a more thorough de-crumbing you can use a vacuum with a dusting attachment to try to suck out crumbs.

Condensed air is also an option for removing debris from keyboards, but it has to be used carefully to avoid blowing things further under the keys.

Most computer manufacturers suggest water for cleaning keyboards. Use a damp (not dripping!) cloth.

For tougher cleaning jobs, we often use damp (again, not dripping) wipes to clean keyboards. These are not generally recommended by manufacturers, however, so use care.

As a last resort for an external keyboard (not part of a laptop) that has stopped working because of a sticky spill, you can run it through the dishwasher. Make sure you securely tape up any USB or other ports, and turn the drying cycle off before you run it through. After taking it out, turn it upside down for at least two days to ensure that it is completely dry before trying it out. No guarantees, but we have seen it work.

Cleaning a Mouse
Unplug the mouse from your computer before cleaning.

Older, mechanical mice can get a lot of gunk inside them. To clean:
Turn the mouse upside down and twist the retaining plate to remove it.

Turn it right side up to remove the ball. You can wipe the ball with a damp cloth.

Turn the mouse upside down again, and gently scrape off debris from the rollers inside the ball cavity. The trick is to remove the gunk without allowing it to fall into the circuitry of the mouse. As you scrape it off, periodically turn the mouse right side up and shake it out.

When you’re done de-gunking the rollers, reassemble the mouse and test it out. If necessary, take it apart again to finish the job.

For optical mice, a damp cloth on the exterior is all that’s needed.

Cleaning the Case
Always shut down and unplug your computer before bringing anything damp or wet near it.

You can wipe a computer case with a cloth dampened with water, or a commercial wipe.

You can use a damp cloth or wipe for the trackpad, but as with all areas on your computer, be careful around the crevices.


Using a Master Password in Thunderbird or Firefox

Recently we told you why we don’t like users to save their passwords in Thunderbird or Firefox. If you still want to save your passwords, set up a Master Password to protect yourself.

Thunderbird and Firefox are always offering to save passwords you enter. It makes life easier not to have to enter them all the time, but one problem is that anyone who opens your
Thunderbird or Firefox can request to view your saved passwords. A Master Password safeguards against that: in order to view saved passwords you have to know the Master Password.

Creating a Master Password
In Thunderbird, select Tunderbird–>Preferences (Mac) or Tools–>Options (PC). In Firefox select Firefox–>Preferences (Mac) or Tools–>Options (PC).

Click on the Security padlock icon.

Check “Use a master password.”

Enter a new master password, something you will remember but that is sufficiently secure to deter snoopers. You will have to type it twice, the second time for verification.

Click on “OK” and then close up the Preferences/Options, and you’re all set.

You will be asked for the Master Password any time you request to view saved passwords.

If you Forget the Master Password

There is a way to remove the Master Password if you forget what it is. The catch is that, for security reasons, doing this will also force Thunderbird or Firefox to forget all saved passwords.
In Firefox enter
into the Location Bar (address bar), press the “Enter” key and click “Reset”.

In Thunderbird Choose Tools –> Error Console, paste the expression
and press the Evaluate button. That will open a dialog asking you if you want to reset your password.