January 25 2006
"Nanotechnology" is not the kind of computer Mork from Ork uses, and "WiFi" isn't the latest public television station. If necessity is the mother of invention, then the field of information technology is quite a breeder, spawning dozens of new words and acronyms each year.
As an instructor of information technology at Indiana State University, Nicholas Farha keeps abreast of the latest buzz in the industry. Students in his Data Communications Technology and Computer Software Components classes this semester know what he means when he refers to VoIP and dual-core processors. To help those of us who don't know Bluetooth from houndstooth, Prof. Farha has compiled some of the words most likely to be heard from our tech-savvy kids and at the water cooler this year, as well as an explanation of the technology behind them.
If you hear someone say, "You may already be blogging, but if you're thinking about vlogging, you've gotta have the bandwidth," and you have no clue what they're talking about, this list is for you.
WiFi: stands for "Wireless Fidelity" and is a set of protocols, or rules, governing wireless transmission of data and multimedia to a laptop or other mobile device. The original protocol 802.11b operated at 11 Mbps (megabits per second) but a later version, 802.11g is about five times faster, operating at 54 Mbps. The "g" wireless devices are "backward compatible" which means they can communicate with the slower "b" devices. An even faster version called "WiMAX" (802.16) is on the horizon and reportedly will support wireless networks over a 30-mile range at up to 75 Mbps, but these are only estimates. The WiMAX standard has been established, but actual equipment is not yet available to the public. For now and the immediate future, 802.11g WiFi is state-of-the-art.
Bandwidth: has almost become a household word now that DSL and cable access to the Internet has eclipsed the slower dial-up technology. Basically, for the purposes of average users, bandwidth refers to the capacity of the channel - the exact throughput of both incoming and outgoing data. The higher the bandwidth, the more data and multimedia information can be transmitted. A simple analogy can be made with water. We can get a lot more water through a fire hose than we can a garden hose. So thinking in terms of quantity, DSL and cable have the capacity of a fire hose, while dial-up has the capacity of a garden hose.
Bluetooth: is becoming a more common word because we are using this technology in our everyday lives. When laptops, cell phones, Web-enabled devices and the like are interconnected, this is called "convergence," and Bluetooth is what makes this possible. Bluetooth is a telecommunications specification that defines how PDAs, cell phones, laptops, tablet PCs, and other intelligent electronic devices can be wirelessly connected. Bluetooth is the technology that allows us to send e-mails over cell phones, talk on cell phones using a car's audio system, and do Web-casting. The primary drawbacks to Bluetooth are speed and distance. Transmissions are limited to short distances of 10 meters (about 30 feet) or less; and Bluetooth transmits data at 723 Kbps. But then "slow" is a relative term - our fastest dial-up modems only transmit at 56 Kbps. The other drawback is that students can have their cell phone hidden during class, and one of those sneaky wireless earpieces connected to their cell phone via Bluetooth.
Nanotechnology: is a rapidly growing segment of Information Technology. Nanotechnology is technology developed to create and use devices and systems at the molecular level, or approximately 1 to 100 nanometers in size. A nanometer is one-millionth of a millimeter, and to put this into perspective, a human hair is approximately 80,000 nanometers wide - we're talking small here! No longer exclusively the stuff of science fiction movies, current applications of nanotechnology include - nanocrystalline materials used in the manufacture of hard disk drive heads, advanced drug delivery systems, chemo-mechanical polishing with nanoparticles, and a new generation of laser technology, to name just a few. Nanotechnology is now a reality, but if you are into sci-fi, check out "Prey" by Michael Crichton.
Dual-core processors: is one of the latest hardware buzzwords. The central processing unit, or CPU, is the "brains" of our computers. In order to have a competitive advantage, Intel, AMD, Motorola and the other processor manufacturers for years kept making them faster and faster - 1GHz (gigahertz, or billions of cycles per second), 2, 3, 4, and so on. However, they began to reach the practical limit of speed, called clock speed, because the faster the chip is, the more heat it generates and the higher the power requirements. To resolve this dilemma, the manufacturers have begun shifting their focus from highest possible clock speed, to a different way of handling computational requirements - dual-core or multi-core processors. Two or more processors are attached together in one CPU chip to enhance performance with reduced power consumption, and provide more efficient multitasking. Simply put, it is the age-old "divide and conquer" concept - if we have a large task, the more workers, or cores in this case, that we have, the quicker we can accomplish the task. The two combined processors, even though slower in terms of actual clock speed, can still accomplish the task in the same or less time, but with much less heat and power consumption. These are very important considerations, particularly for small, portable, battery-powered devices such as laptops.
Thumb drives: also known as flash drives or pen drives, got their original name because they are about the size of one's thumb. This new "memory technology" is easy to use - just plug it into a USB, or Universal Serial Bus, port on your computer. They are quickly replacing floppy and zip drives, and may eventually even replace our hard drives. Thumb drives are very portable, and are not vulnerable to magnetic fields like floppies because they utilize flash memory chips similar to those used in digital cameras. These handy little memory devices can hold text, pictures and music just like our hard drives. A flash drive consists of a small circuit board in a plastic case with the USB connector protruding from the case, covered by a cap. Flash drives are powered by the USB connector and require no battery or other external power source. Capacities keep rising, and prices keep dropping.
Voice over IP (VoIP): is a relatively new telecommunications technology that allows us to use our Internet connection for making telephone calls, rather than using the traditional public telephone system. VoIP converts voice data into packets, or small, uniform blocks of information, and sends them using IP (Internet Protocol), similar to sending an e-mail. VoIP requires specialized hardware and software, but companies are already making adapters which will allow you to use your standard telephone for VoIP calls; all you need is Internet access. The primary advantage is that you pay no additional charges such as long distance fees, if you already have Internet access. Some providers use terms other than Voice over IP, such as IP telephony and Voice over the Internet (VOI).
Vlogs: are the "next generation" of Web logs a.k.a. blogs. A blog is an online journal or diary authored by an individual, and organized according to the date and time the information was posted. The owner can say or publish anything they want on their own blog. A video blog, or vlog for short, is an expansion of a blog that contains primarily video content. The video itself is linked to the vlog and is usually accompanied by text, images or other multimedia content. Vlogs took a jump in popularity with the release of the Apple Video iPod - and the availability of iTunes' Store's video content. Rather than "vlog," Apple's term is "video podcast," which already has been shortened to "vodcast."
Wikis: are similar to blogs except that visitors to the site can edit the content using a Web browser. Visitors to a blog can post comments, but they cannot alter the original postings. With a wiki however, the original content can be changed by any visitor. Once a wiki is established, it often becomes difficult to distinguish between the author's postings and reader comments and changes. Malicious edits or even simple mistakes or typos can usually be handled via an error log-like audit or review facility somewhat similar to the "Track Changes" function in Word. Wiki also can refer to the collaborative software used to create such a site. The term "wiki" means "quick" or "fast" in Hawaiian.
T9: is a Java-based text input method for cell phones and other intelligent devices. The more technical term for T9 is "predictive text input" which is embedded software that make typing words using those tiny cell phone keys easier by guessing the word the user is trying to enter. Most implementations include a built-in dictionary. T9 is a real time saver for all those text-message addicts out there!
Contact: Nicholas Farha, interim information technology program coordinator and visiting associate professor of information technology at Indiana State University, firstname.lastname@example.org or (812) 237-2865.
Writer: Katie Spanuello, media relations assistant director, Indiana State University, (812) 237-3790 or email@example.com